It’s that one golden rule of music… never cover a Beatles song!
But rules were made to be broken and by the late-sixties, a whole swag of up and coming artists had attempted to cash in on the Fab Four’s songwriting genius and craftsmanship. But it was a young, drug-addled Joe Cocker who changed the game by including elements of hard rock and soul in his brilliant bastardisation of ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’. The Mad Dog himself proved that it could be done; the Beatles can be covered successfully and without ridicule.
Late-sixties Adelaide, Australia was a sleepy hollow at best. Isolated from the bustling east coast, surrounded by desert and crawling with an inexplicable amount of churches per capita, the town was conservative, boring and essentially under English Catholic rule. Essentially, like many out of the way places, rock ‘n’ roll made the town elders quite nervous. Enter Zoot.
Fronted by the boyish, teeny-bopper charm of Darryl Cotton and featuring a young Beeb Birtles (future Little River Band), Zoot were essentially a “beat pop” band taking their cue from early Beatles staples and other acts like the Pretty Things and Gerry and the Pacemakers. The band forged a reasonable career and quickly found themselves in the collective consciousness of baby-boomers right around Australia and New Zealand. But hanging over their heads was the one thing that always stuck in their craw; the boys from the rough suburbs of Adelaide were sick to death of being labelled teeny-boppers. Just once, they yearned to be taken seriously.
Gen X’ers may remember Rick Springfield from his uber-massive early eighties hit ‘Jessie’s Girl’. Millennials may know him as the washed up, sick pervert playing himself on the Showtime series Californication. But before megastardom, the New South Wales native was shipped down to Melbourne to help revamp the recently relocated Zoot. The year was 1969 and beat pop was all but dead. Hard rock had taken over the Aussie airwaves and seemed to be settling in nicely.
In true Springfield fashion, the new recruit strutted into rehearsal claiming that this is how we’re now going to do things now. The results were almost immediate, and before long, Zoot had themselves their first bonafide hard rock hit ‘Hey Pinky’, a tongue in cheek homage to the band’s earlier, poppier days. Then, in 1970, came superstardom.
Taking a leaf out of the Joe Cocker book of roughing up traditionally crafted pop songs, Zoot set about recording the most perverse and quite possibly the greatest Beatles cover of all time ‘Eleanor Rigby’. Holy crap! What does one say about this song? Purists of course will say that it makes a mockery of the primarily Paul McCartney written gem. Well, screw ’em. Those of us who love a good headbang think differently. This is better than the original. There, I said it.
What Zoot do on their version of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is rock ‘n’ roll trickery 101. They keep it simple. Amps up to eleven, three chords, 12 bars, no nonsense, straight up your ass strut. Whilst the vocal sound is still unmistakably Cotton -he opted to stick with his teen-idol voice on this track, a decision that proved to be absolute genius- the additional overdrive of Springfield’s guitar plus a rhythm section that had finally made the step from chicken to beef, meant that Zoot had at long last found their street cred. The boys from the rough side of Adelaide were no longer made a mockery of in their home suburbs, and before long, the band became staples and innovators in the early Oz pub rock scene.
Nearly fifty years on, Zoot’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is still remembered fondly, still played to death, and has even been covered by a few hard rock and punk bands along the way. Other than the lyrics, the song is completely different to the original, rendering it a seperate entity altogether. Those who know know, ‘Eleanor Rigby’ belongs to Zoot now.