Sound Advice: ‘Yellow Submarine’ cover is best left submerged

By  Tim Neely

Question: I have a 45 from 1968 with picture sleeve, and on it is comedian Milton Berle singing The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine.” My copy is a DJ copy, but could you please let me know if this single was sold in stores or was it just for DJ use? If you should have any more info on this single, I would appreciate it. P.S.: I have every Beatles tribute album and CD, and this version of “Yellow Submarine” is not on any of them.

  — Joe Carbone, via e-mail

Answer: Joe, I want to thank you. Your e-mail introduced me to a Beatles cover that makes William Shatner’s sound positively normal.

Milton Berle’s version of “Yellow Submarine” is truly wretched. Recorded in 1968, in the wake of The Beatles’ movie, Berle gets through half of the first verse and one chorus before the sound effects and bad jokes start to fly, including parodies of Tiny Tim and the late-1960s’ “fad” of hijacking planes to Cuba.

Admittedly, “Yellow Submarine” isn’t one of The Beatles’ greatest songs, though it’s a lot of fun. But in listening to the Berle version — there are downloads floating around the Internet — I get the strong suspicion that he couldn’t stand the song, but someone thought it was a good idea for him to record it in a last-ditch attempt to become “hip” to the Summer of Love generation.

The single was issued on the VMC label (# 726). I can’t find any evidence to suggest it came out as a stock copy, though it probably did. A prominent dealer has a copy, complete with picture sleeve, for sale for $25, if you must. As to why it’s never appeared on any Beatles “tribute” or “golden throats” album, I suspect one of two things. First, and most likely, the rights owners either won’t license it, or, as it was on a small label, no one knows who owns the rights. And second? Maybe, just maybe, even compilers of bad Beatles covers CDs have their limits.

Question: Going through some old records in a flea market, I came across this record by Richard Barrett from The Valentines. It’s on an MGM yellow label (K12616), “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” backed with “Remember Me.” The song is very doo-wop. Is this pre-Platters? It sounds as if he might be backed up by The Valentines.

— Jeff Dady via e-mail

Answer: Yes, this is the same Richard Barrett who was with The Valentines, a doo-wop group that recorded for the Old Town label in 1954 and the Rama label from 1955 through 1957.

After a lack of success, The Valentines broke up. Barrett primarily became known as a record company executive, first with George Goldner’s new End and Gone labels. He had hits with Little Anthony and The Imperials, The Chantels and The Dubs, to name three, and he was involved with most of the pre-“Shout” recordings of The Isley Brothers. He was still in the business in the 1970s as the manager of The Three Degrees of “When Will I See You Again” fame. At the same time, Barrett embarked on a solo recording career. He was signed by MGM, and in 1958, he released two singles on the label and one on the Metro subsidiary. The first of these was the 1933 Jerome Kern-Otto Harbach song “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” which was on the market by February 1958, about nine months before The Platters’ version made the charts (November 1958).

Barrett’s version, with an unknown backing vocal group, possibly the Sevilles, spent one week on the Billboard Top 100 chart, the immediate forerunner to the Hot 100, at #94 on April 28, 1958. The Platters’ similar version went all the way to the top spot. In the early 1960s, Barrett, under the name “Richie Barrett,” co-wrote and recorded the original version of “Some Other Guy” in 1962. Later that year, a young group from Liverpool, England called The Beatles was captured on film at the Cavern Club singing that song.

Barrett’s version of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” is neither rare nor very valuable. A truly near-mint copy might sell in the $40 range, but nice playing copies can be found for considerably less — under $10 in some cases.

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