Beatlefan Executive Editor Al Sussman looks at a refreshingly unassuming Beatles podcast that a group of young fans are doing.
If you’re a regular or even occasional listener of the more popular and long-running Beatles podcasts available online, you may have detected a down-the-nose, cynical, elitist tone that has crept into some of them, with a certain amount of pontificating. (Full disclosure: Until recently, I was one of the pontificators.)
It’s one thing to, hopefully, impart information that the average listener may not know, but not everyone appreciates being talked down to. If you’re one of those disaffected listeners, I’ve recently discovered an entertaining alternative — a podcast called “Screw It! We’re Just Gonna Talk About The Beatles.”
When I first encountered this podcast via iTunes, the original description said that it was begun by a group of Los Angeles comics who were so pissed off by the results of the 2016 election that they decided to get together and just listen to Beatles albums and talk about them. A newer description is somewhat more refined, saying that their purpose in doing the podcast is, “We just want to because we’re obsessed with the band, like any rational human.” (The podcast can be found here as well as at iTunes.)
The creator of “Screw It!” is Will Hines, an L.A.-based actor-writer-producer who also performs and teaches improv with the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Other participants in the podcast include fellow 20- or 30-something creative types within the L.A. scene (most with a UCB connection) who have a common love of The Beatles and their music. Among the more frequent participants are singer-songwriter Ariana Lenarsky, writer-TV producer Curtis Gwinn, writer-actor Ben Rodgers, musician Joel Spence, writer-actor Adam McCabe, Canadian-bred producer-director Brett Morris, actor-writer-director-singer-dancer Heather Woodward, actor-producer Connor Ratliff, actor-casting director-improv coach Wayland McQueen and his writer-actor wife Katie Plattner, comedian Jackie Michele Johnson, sole U.K. native James Bachman, writer-actor Jen Krueger, and writer-actor Lynsey Bonell.
As you can see from that list, only a couple of professional musicians are involved with “Screw It!,” and no know-it-alls. Therein lies the podcast’s charm. A short introductory episode by Hines was released on Jan. 12, along with the first main episode, in which Hines, Gwinn, Rodgers and Lenarsky listen to The Beatles’ “Please Please Me” album (yes, they do play the recordings while they listen, which could cause problems in the future). It has the feel of listening in on, well, a listening session with a group of millennial Beatles fans.
To be clear, if you’re a hardcore fan and you can’t abide hearing any inaccuracies, this may not be your cup of tea. In his podcast notes for the first episode, Hines says, “Although the band was still taking shape (Ringo, after all, had just joined the week before they recorded this), there is still plenty of evidence on this record of how great The Beatles were.” His overall point is fine, but Ringo Starr had been a Beatle since the August before the “Please Please Me” LP was recorded in February 1963. The first review of the episode said, “Listened with interest until hosts stated ‘P.S. I Love You’ and ‘Misery’ were covers on the Beatles’ first album. Do you homework …” Indeed, Hines has brought up the “Do you homework” crack on occasion and freely admits that, while they do some research, neither he nor his cohorts are Beatles “experts.”
Somehow, though, that lack of Beatles “scholarship” gives “Screw It!” a charm missing from a number of other podcasts. These really are gatherings of young people, albeit all within the pop culture world, listening to and showing their appreciation for Beatles music, so the historical bloopers are less irritating than one might expect.
The group did 14 shows between mid-January and mid-April, covering each of the EMI/Apple Beatles albums, with some of the period singles thrown into the mix and a few episodes ending with a Beatlefest-type sing-along to one of the discussed songs. As well, various participants would throw in alternate takes from the “Anthology” sets.
No sermons about the riches on the Twickenham “Get Back” rehearsal tapes or the Esher demos for what became the White Album. In fact, for the “Let It Be” episode, Hines simply engineered and made it an all-female panel, and the dissection of “Let It Be” thus gave way to a discussion of the sexiest Beatles songs, with the consensus being that John Lennon provided most of those.
After the shows examining each album came two mini-episodes, one on the similarity between Paul McCartney’s and TLC’s songs called “Waterfalls,” and another with Hines’ Aunt Sue, who saw The Beatles live as a sixth grader in 1964. Then came two full episodes in which the group nominates John songs vs. Paul songs. In between those came an “emergency episode” that Hines labels “nerdy and specific and fawning and fun,” as the group plays the remixed “Sgt. Pepper,” just weeks after they did an episode in which they listened to the standard stereo version of the album. Finally, in the podcast’s 20th episode, Wayland McQueen polls the group with a set of “which song” questions.
In the meantime, Hines set up a closed Facebook group for “Screw It!” (saying that virtually anyone who asks can join). From the comments and submissions I’ve seen, most of the Facebook group members are also millennials or slightly older. I happily haven’t seen much of what one might call the “usual suspects” from Facebook’s sometimes ponderous Beatles discussions, save for Tom Hunyady, himself a youngish Beatles fan and host of the McCartney “2 Legs” podcast.
Hines has been taking suggestions for topics for what he calls the “second season” of “Screw It!,” which may or may not be a good thing, since some of the suggested topics do veer toward Beatles nerd territory. But, the first set of episodes of “Screw It! We’re Just Gonna Talk About The Beatles” are a charming escape from the pomposity that has crept into much Beatles discussion online, and, if you don’t mind the occasional historical blooper, are well worth checking out.
— Al Sussman