Beatles Wannabe

Face it: Pete Ham's not John or Paul.

Badfinger were the most storied of the Beatles imitators because they

were actually on the Beatles' label, Apple, in the early '70s. And

Paul McCartney wrote their best-known hit, "Come and Get It." And they

suffered a great deal at the hands of evil managers and record

companies. Still, there's maybe half an hour of good music in their

entire oeuvre, all of which you can definitely lead a meaningful

existence without ever having heard.

Their guitarist/vocalist was Pete Ham, a figure so minor in rock

history that his suicide by hanging somehow went unnoticed by Greil

Marcus in his scabrous essay "Rock Death in the '70s: A Sweepstakes."

But that doesn't stop the archivists at Rykodisc from clogging up our

cultural landfills with more garbage. For Golders Green is

literally garbage — demos, instrumentals, fuck-arounds and bouts

of lost confidence (like the 22-second "Gonna Do It") that Ham never

intended for regular release.

So anyone who listens attentively to this disc is akin to A. J.

Weberman, the journalist who stole Bob Dylan's garbage in 1970. Not

much was discovered then beyond the fact that Dylan spelled vanilla

with two n's. There's even less to learn about Pete Ham simply because

he's an infinitely less interesting figure than Dylan. In fact, the

major revelation of Golders Green is that reissue labels are

threatening to become indistinguishable from such dubious professions

as handwriting analysis, numerology and Titanic grave robbery.

And so it goes. "Goodbye John Frost" (RealAudio excerpt) sounds like "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da."

"Without You" ([RealAudio excerpt] which Nilsson and Mariah Carey would later rescue with

a properly improper dose of schlock) sounds like "A Day in the Life"

AND "I Am the Walrus." "Pete's Walk" is a waste-of-time instrumental.

The Beatles were well-known for their instrumentals — remember

"Flying" from Magical Mystery Tour? Oh, you don't? Hmmm ...

The liner notes do little to illuminate this detritus. Clueless

observations like " 'Dawn' is a true forerunner to a unique musical

style popularized by Stevie Wonder (Talking Book period) and

early Chicago" or "The strains of Pete requesting another cigarette

signals the opening of 'When the Feeling' " serve only to reinforce

the package's neurotic insularity. Golders Green is for "pop

music" fans who only know to delve deeper into their cultist idols

rather than dealing with the messy existence of the Backstreet Boys,

Limp Bizkit, Ricky Martin, Sarah McLachlan or Too $hort — pop

music in actuality rather than in theory.

Phony Beatlemania will never bite the dust; but is it so much to ask

that Beatles-imitator mania die out?