In the mid-'70s, the punk sound sprang forth in the seedy downtown New York dives CBGB and Max's Kansas City, the fetid spawning ground of the cream of the crud, including the Ramones and Suicide and the Voidoids and Wayne (soon to be Jayne) County. Among their leather-jacketed, ripped-T-shirt number in that music scene were four fellows in dark mohair suits and crisp white collared shirts and skinny black ties, shaking their heads whilst crowding around one microphone to emit a high-pitch "woooooo" in unison. After all, what would be more punk at that time than being in the Poppees — a band that emulated the early Beatles, from their moptops to their Cuban heels?
The Poppees cropped up in the early '70s, begun by rhythm guitarist Bob (Bobby Dee) Waxman and bass player Pat Lorenzo. The Fab Four of the Bowery were rounded out by lead guitarist Arthur Alexander (not the singer/songwriter who recorded the originals of Beatles standards "Anna," "Soldier of Love" and "A Shot of Rhythm and Blues") and, later, drummer Jett Harris (not the original bassist for pre-Beatles British rock combo the Shadows). In 1975, Greg Shaw's Bomp label released the first of two Poppees singles. The A-side was a version of the Lennon-McCartney retread "Love of the Loved," which Scouse warbler Cilla Black brought to the U.K. hit parade in a brassy, adult version in 1963 and which the Poppees dragged back to its beat-group roots a dozen years later. However, the fake is more fully realized on the B-side, "If She Cries," a Waxman-Lorenzo original fittingly produced by label head Shaw in appropriate retrophonic sound. Lyrically, the song is a "swallow your pride or you'll lose that girl" advice song to a third party a la "She Loves You." Vocally, it nimbly employs all the Beatles' tricks from their harmony kit bag.
Three years later, the group's second single forced its way out: The topside, "Jealousy" (a favorite John Lennon topic) is a great single to play "spot-the-reference" to. Cleverly quoting several songs in the Beatles oeuvre, most notably their version of Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got a Hold on Me," this springy tune from the Waxman-Lorenzo songbook (as well as the flip, a Macca-esque "Long Tall Sally" take on Little Richard's "She's Got It") was produced by Cyril Jordan of the Flamin' Groovies, a band that could teach a master's seminar on faking Beatles.
Right after "Jealousy," the Poppees split into two: Songwriters Waxman and Lorenzo succumbed to their punky peers, figuring, "If you can't Beatle 'em, join, em!" They kept the Fake but ditched the Beatles with their new group, the Johnny Thunders/Heartbreakers-inspired Boyfriends, which released a couple of swell singles in '78 and '81, respectively. Meanwhile, Alexander and Harris kept their false Fab Four flag flying with their new quartet, the Sorrows. They put out two top-drawer LPs of skinny-tie power pop on a CBS Records imprint during the early '80s that went not so much Gold as Pewter on the charts. (This author recalls seeing the Sorrows in concert around 1980 and can attest that their encore rendition of "A Hard Day's Night" was note-perfect.)
A CD of released and unreleased Boyfriends sides issued by a Japanese label also include slightly different mixes of the two Poppees originals, along with a previously unissued song titled "I Love Her." While this lovely beat ballad is not identified as a Poppees track per se, its Fake Beatle-tude clearly marks it as F-A-B rather than "L.A.M.F."
Note: A special thanks to Bobby Dee of the Poppees/Boyfriends for checking in. Here you'll find a MySpace page for the two groups, with a full bio and several tunes.
A Bouquet of Poppees [all songs mp3]