Dr. Kit O’Toole knows a little something about Dr. Winston O’Boogie, and Paul, George and Ringo, too. Kit is the author of The Songs we were singing, the lesser known tracks of the lads. She’s a woman who also has given us Michael Jackson FAQ. Kit may be found as a regular speaker at the Fest for Beatle Fans in New York, or Chicago. Among her other accomplishments, is her ‘Deep Beatles’ column for Something Else Reviews.
Beatles Magazine caught up with Kit, and she was kind enough to respond to some of our Beatle related queries. As usual, she offers insights, little known facts, and a fresh take on all of the Fab tracks.
BM:When was the first time that you saw or heard the Beatles, and what memories do you have associated with that event?
Dr. Kit O’Toole : This is a complicated question, as I actually had two early encounters with the Beatles. My father plays several instruments, and used to lead the guitar Mass at our church. Because of this, I was extremely fortunate to grow up listening to a wide variety of music. He used to play “Let It Be” in church, but at home would play “Norwegian Wood” and “Michelle,” two of his favorite Beatles tracks. I was in grade school at the time, so I had no appreciation for the Beatles at this point. Fast forward to my eighth grade chorus class—on Fridays we were allowed to bring in our own tapes to play for the group, and someone brought in the Beatles’ 20 Greatest Hits cassette. At the time I was steeped in 80s music (Duran Duran, Wham), so when I heard “Eight Days a Week,” it sounded very new to me. From then on, I was hooked—I bought every Beatles album (American releases, of course) on cassette.
BM: You did some fine work on Beatles covering some other artist’s work. Which ones are your favorites, and what about them stands out?
Dr. Kit O’Toole :I’m particularly a fan of their R&B covers, as they exposed American audiences to artists in their own country! Arthur Alexander and Larry Williams would have fallen into complete obscurity if not for the Beatles’ covers of their songs. Both artists were incredible songwriters; in Alexander’s case, he penned “Anna,” “A Shot of Rhythm and Blues,” and “Solider of Love.” Williams wrote “Bad Boy” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” two songs that have become beloved Beatles classics. Listening to the Beatles’ versions inspired me to delve deeper into the singers’ catalogs, and I discovered some true gems featuring stellar lyrics. It’s truly sad that these two artists did not receive the fame they deserved, but at least the Beatles helped to keep their memories alive.
BM: Tell us about the book you’ve written on Michael Jackson. What insights do you have regarding his work with Paul McCartney, and buying the Beatles publishing rights?
Dr. Kit O’Toole : Michael Jackson FAQ explores his art—how he developed as a singer, dancer, and songwriter. I decided not to explore his personal life because there are already so many books written about that aspect (their accuracy is debatable, but that’s for another day!), so I wanted to focus on the impact he had on music and performance. I do cover the duets Paul and Michael did together, along with their one collaborative music video: “Say Say Say.” They definitely had chemistry, as their voices blended perfectly. Just listen to “The Man”—while it may not be the best song they did together, it highlights just how well they harmonized together. Younger people have asked me why “The Girl Is Mine” was such a huge hit, as many feel it hasn’t aged particularly well. The answer? Having two superstars on one song was a HUGE deal in 1982, particularly two people representing different generations. It was an event even more than a single.
As for the saga concerning Michael purchasing the rights to the Beatles catalog, it’s complicated. What I can say is that there are two sides to that story, and that Paul did have the opportunity to purchase the catalog back in the 1980s but did not want to pay the listed price. Reportedly Michael’s attorney contacted Paul’s people, and they informed him Paul was not going to put in a bid; he then called Yoko Ono (a friend of Michael’s at the time) to ask about her plans. She informed him that she too was not putting in a bid, and gave Michael her blessing to purchase the catalog. So there are clearly different stories here, and the fact is that the whole episode is now ancient history. Michael’s estate sold its stake in the catalog back to Sony/ATV, so it will be interesting to see what happens next.
BM: Some of the Beatles ‘lesser known’ songs are rock solid. (I love ‘I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party). Tout some of the highlights from your fab book, “Songs We Were Singing”.
Dr. Kit O’Toole :I too like the lesser-known songs, and my book Songs We Were Singing (along with my Something Else Reviews column “Deep Beatles”) addresses the tracks that receive undeservedly less attention. B-sides, covers, album tracks, very modest hits—all songs are fair game in my book. I explore why they should considered as important as the major hits, and how they fit into the Beatles’ overall creative development. These songs often reveal the group’s musical influences. For example, 1964’s “I Call Your Name” has an unusual middle eight that long intrigued me. Why is there a sudden change in rhythm pattern? I soon learned that their instrumental section reflected bluebeat, a genre predating ska and reggae that found success in the UK. In the early 1960s, Jamaican R&B artists had some their material released by the UK record label Blue Beat Records; the genre subsequently became popular in England and even reached the US through tracks such as “My Boy Lollipop” by Millie Small. That break in “I Call Your Name” represents the Beatles’ attempt at replicating bluebeat. The Beatles absorbed so many musical styles, and all of those genres played a part in their original sound. My book explores that fact and even expands into solo rarities.
BM: If you had to narrow it down to a favorite Beatle, which one would be yours. Tell us a little of what draws you to them?
Dr. Kit O’Toole :That’s a tough question, because I alternate between John, George, and Paul. I guess I would choose Paul because I got into his music first before the Beatles and, subsequently, the others’ solo careers. His versatility continually impresses me—he can range from classical to rock to soul to even a bit of country. He is equally impressive at writing ballads and hard rockers. I always get irritated at the “John is the rocker, Paul the balladeer” oversimplification. In addition, Paul possesses a gift for writing memorable melodies and meaningful lyrics. He continues to grow as an artist as well—for example, “Riding to Vanity Fair” from Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005) contains lyrics as personal and biting as he had written even with the Beatles. He also explores dance and trance music, and even formed his own side project (the Fireman) to record more experimental material. Paul may not hit the bullseye every time, but I applaud his willingness to try new sounds and genres.
BM: Well we covered your favorite Beatle. so now we move onto albums. What is your favorite Beatle album, and why?
Dr. Kit O’Toole :At this point I would say Revolver is my favorite because of its groundbreaking qualities. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is an avant garde masterpiece that still holds up today with its sampling and looping techniques. The album ranges from Motown (“Got to Get You into My Life”) to psychedelic (“She Said She Said”) to Indian music (“Love You To”) to children’s songs (“Yellow Submarine”). George really came into his own on this album, with not one but three strong compositions—“Taxman,” “Love You To,” and “I Want to Tell You.” John and Paul continued to develop as songwriters and performers as well. “Eleanor Rigby” is sheer poetry, and one of the most unlikely hits that ever appeared on the charts, in my opinion. Revolver stands as a symbol of experimentation, sophistication, and the dawn of a new era: rock as an art form.
BM: The Beatles released wonderful solo music after they parted. Which would be your favorite solo album, and why does it stand out to you?
Dr. Kit O’Toole : All Things Must Pass continues to impact me the most because of its sweeping themes of love and spirituality. The timelessness of the songs really struck me recently during a Fest for Beatles Fans convention. Guest Neil Innes performed “Isn’t It a Pity,” and I teared up at the words. They mean even more today than they did back in 1971. As a whole, the album is such a sweeping work and so inspirational. George Harrison was such an underrated talent during the Beatles years, and All Things Must Pass was his statement to the world that a unique artistic voice had emerged.
BM: Which Beatles have you seen on tour? Please tell us about your fondest memories of these shows.
Dr. Kit O’Toole :I have seen Paul several times and Ringo once (and I hope to see the latter again this fall when he comes to Chicago). Ringo came to Highland Park, Illinois’ Ravinia Festival back in 1995, and it was I believe the third iteration of the All Starr Band. How lucky I was to see this concert—along with Ringo, the band featured the great Billy Preston, John Entwistle, Mark Rivera, Mark Farner, Felix Cavaliere, Randy Bachman, and Ringo’s son Zak. What a lineup!
As for Paul, two shows stand out, and both occurred during the 1989-1990 world tour. It was the first time I’d ever seen Paul live, so I was beyond excited. The first show occurred in December 1989, and I remember standing up during the entire show! The second was in 1990 at Chicago’s Soldier Field; it was the last show of the tour, so they even brought out fireworks to close out the show. The moment I’ll never forget is “Hey Jude”—I was seated on the field, and when I turned around and saw the enormous crowd holding up cigarette lighters (obviously it was during the pre-cell phone era), swaying in time to the rhythm, it was a moving moment.
BM: Paul has really done a lot to play the Beatles songs before a multitude of audiences. When it comes to the studio records which the Beatles did not tour to support, which songs stand out that Paul has done live for the first time?
Dr. Kit O’Toole: I love hearing Sgt. Pepper tracks, because back in 1967 there was no way to reproduce those songs for the stage. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” “A Day in the Life,” the title track, “Getting Better, “Fixing a Whole,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “Lovely Rita,” and of course the reprise all sound even better live (although I do wish he would add horn and string players to his touring band). During Paul’s 2017 tour, I enjoyed hearing him perform “In Spite of All the Danger”—seeing him recreate history right in front of the audience (who sang along with every word) is a moment filled with significance.
BM:At this point, would you like to see Paul and Ringo do anything together live, or in the studio?
Dr. Kit O’Toole: All these years later, Paul and Ringo still have electrifying chemistry. When they performed “With a Little Help from My Friends” during the Grammy Salute to the Beatles a few years ago, the theater exploded with energy and happiness. They have continued to work together occasionally, appearing on each other’s albums and showing up for various Beatles-related events. However, they have resisted touring together or collaborating on an entire album, and I don’t blame them. Anything they produce would be compared to the Beatles, and how can they possibly top that? Occasionally reuniting as friends is great, but trying to somehow recreate any semblance of the Beatles is probably a mistake.
By Bob Wilson