CD Review of All This and World War II by Various Artists

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All This and World War II
starstarstarno starno star Label: Hip-O Select
Released: 2006

Quick question: in what decade were there illegal pharmaceuticals flowing freely enough to result in someone green-lighting a movie-length collage of World War II footage – both actual and from film – set to a soundtrack of Beatles covers?

Only in the ‘70s, my friend. Only in the ‘70s.

Even if you’re a connoisseur of Beatles material, this film – entitled “All This and World War II” – may have flown under your radar. Indeed, I pride myself on being a pretty big Beatlemaniac, and I’ve never seen it…nor do I suspect I ever will, short of some kind soul providing me with a bootleg copy. The likelihood of it ever making it into legitimate video release is probably pretty slim, given the cost of licensing both Beatles songs and the film footage that was utilized. Thankfully, that hasn’t stopped Hip-O Select from reissuing the movie’s soundtrack in a limited-edition set of 5,000 copies.

If the thought of 28 Beatles covers, many of which you’ve almost certainly never heard before, has your mouth watering, let me remind you once more that this is a product of the 1970s…which means that for every Bryan Ferry or Peter Gabriel track, you’ve got one by Helen Reddy or Leo Sayer. Also appearing are the Bee Gees, preceding the dreadful film that served to kill their career momentum (as well as Peter Frampton’s) dead in its tracks: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which might’ve already crossed your mind when you first started reading this review. Fortunately, despite this being just a truly bizarre project no matter how you look at it, the soundtrack to “All This and World War II” is a fun, if admittedly uneven, listen.

The musical styles covered by this set are varied, with Frankie Valli doing a better-than-you’d-ever-imagine take on “A Day in the Life,” Frankie Laine giving a countrified rendition of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” and Keith Moon giving “When I’m Sixty-Four” all the music hall he can muster. Helen Reddy’s “The Fool on the Hill” drifts into schmaltz, however, and Leo Sayer is in similar territory on both “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road,” the latter pair no doubt giving Paul McCartney more nightmares than Phil Spector’s botched production job on Let It Be ever did. Actually, Sayer is all over this damned thing; his attempt to “rock out” on “I Am the Walrus” is so ridiculous that you’re likely to burst into laughter during the chorus, if not before then.

Both of Electric Light Orchestra’s founders show up, with Roy Wood doing short but sweet versions of “Lovely Rita” and “Polythene Pam,” then having Jeff Lynne make up for it by offering a bloated six-minute-plus medley of “With a Little Help from My Friends” and “Nowhere Man.” There are a pair of legitimate rock classics here, thanks to Elton John’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and Rod Stewart’s “Get Back,” and a few should’ve-been R&B classics, too, with Tina Turner bellowing “Come Together” and the Brothers Johnson funking up “Hey Jude.”

Inevitably, “All This and World War II” doesn’t leave the listener wanting to run out and see the film…which, as noted, is a good thing in this case, since they can’t…but it does, in some cases, inspire one to check out some of the artists who aren’t as well known nowadays as they were in the ‘70s. (Best example: Ambrosia, who do such a good version of “Magical Mystery Tour” that it made it into the Top 40.) Then again, it also reminds you why people laughed at Leo Sayer. Whatever the case, Hip-O Select has done an exemplary job of reproducing the way the set looked when it originally came out on vinyl, and those who hold this obscurity close to their heart will be giddy to hear it again…even if they’ll probably find that it hasn’t all aged that well.

~Will Harris