Of all the Fake Beatles to come down the pike in recent years, one of the most remarkable was the Kaisers. From 1993 to 2002, this Edinburgh quartet released five studio and one live LP of the purest beat-group sounds this side of Hamburg's Star-Club. Clad in skintight trousers and sporting mile-high quiffs, they were essentially the Fab Four before that group started combing their hair over their foreheads in emulation of German art students.
The band applied its verisimilitude to the 1962-63 aesthetic not just to appearance but to song selection -- a mixture of note-perfect originals and the prevailing R&B cover tunes (recorded in glorious mono) that were in the repertoire of every beat combo of the era, from the Big Three to the Swingin' Blue Jeans. The Kaisers' exactitude also extended to the painstakingly created artwork: from the type style to the period-evoking black-and-white photos -- and especially to the liner notes, the main focus of this post.
Those of you who are fans of rock 'n' roll of the British early-to-mid-'60s variety may be familiar with the condescending sleeve notes on the back of those LPs. Seemingly written under duress by some put-upon NME or Melody Maker scribe who makes no bones about the fact that he would much rather be listening to George Shearing than the caterwauling claptrap before him, the term "faint praise" would be too generous. There's something very stiff-upper-lip about carrying a negative review on your band's own album that is utterly charming in this hagiographic age.
As stated earlier, the Kaisers were sticklers, and that's where the esteemed critic Wilhelm Wimbledon enters the picture, for he is the personage trusted to explain the group to the record-buying public. Take the concluding passage from the boys' debut long-player, Squarehead Stomp: "What more can I say about this disc? If unintelligible shouting over a cretinous off-key back beat apparently recorded in five minutes with the minimum of rehearsal is your 'scene,' I dare say this record will be a treasured addition to your popular music collection."
Here are some choice lines from the back of the Kaisers' second album, In Step With the Kaisers: "[I]t was back to work for the tight trousered quartet as they threw themselves blindly into another melody free rhythm and blues workout." Wimbledon's notes reach a particularly frustrated tone on the third LP, Beat It Up!: "I suppose you'd like to read some teen rave type comment on the 'music' lurking within this typically garish sleeve, but it seems that space is at a premium due to the somewhat overlarge photographc study of your favorite foursome below."
The poor fellow clearly must have been driven beat-mad by the time of the Kaisers' fourth album, Wishing Street, as a new, more sympathetic liner-note writer, one Joseph Budge, offers up an almost positive statement: "[It] features a clutch of brand new numbers...recorded with an unprecedented clarity of sound that facilitates almost complete audibility of both words and music." Not standing for such mollycoddling of rich, pampered pop stars like the Kaisers, Wimbledon gives that softie Budge the sack and reclaims his position behind the Underwood for the band's fifth release, Shake Me! After expending a paragraph or four comparing them unfavorably to Elvis and Cliff, he terms the group lazy and spoiled by success, finally getting around to summing up the entire 14-song album with these words: "They call this the 'new sound.' I thought someone had stepped on the cat's tail for a moment." Reminder: All these words appear on the Kaisers various albums and singles.
You can keep your Lester Bangs and his so-called iconoclastic ilk. True gonzo rock journalism begins and ends with Wilhelm Wimbledon!
Mach Schau: A Kaisers Bouquet (all songs MP3)
Hipshake Shimmy Kitten (an uptempo shaker from Squarehead Stomp)
Like I Do (a tender ballad from Beat It Up!)
Time to Go (a harmonica-propelled rocker from Wishing Street)
No Other Guy (any title similarity between this Shake Me! song and the beat-group standard "Some Other Guy" is surely happenstance)
What You Gonna Say (the lower-fi 45 version)
Shake and Scream (this live version of the Kenny Lynch tune is Fake Beatles twice removed)
Cry for a Shadow (this B-side is technically not Fake Beatles, as this is originally a Real Beatles song, but it qualifies, being Real Beatles doing Fake Shadows)