‘Ooh, She Do Me . . .’

Having revisited Phoebe Snow’s cover of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” earlier this week, I was poking around various sites looking for other covers of the John Lennon-penned tune, and I was reminded of a different cover of a Beatles song by band with a very familiar name: Underground Sunshine.

The group, from Montello, Wisconsin, was part of my first full season of Top 40 listening, with their cover of the Beatles’ “Birthday” rising as high as No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the late summer and early autumn of 1969. That cover hangs in my memory for two reasons:

First, the record stayed long enough on the playlist of WJON, just down the street and around a couple of corners from us in St. Cloud, that I managed to get a decent recording of the record off of the radio on the late September evening that my sister was celebrating her nineteenth birthday. Not a big deal, but it’s always nice to surprise and please your older sister.

Second, as the Underground Sunshine’s record got its airplay during that late summer and early autumn, I was blissfully unaware of the song’s genesis, as I had only recently entered the world of pop and rock. Some months later, I heard the Beatles’ original (from the 1968 White Album) and pondered for a moment why the Beatles would bother recording another group’s song. I remain very glad, more than fifty years later, that I did not voice that thought aloud in the presence of any of my peers.

Anyway, the Underground Sunshine came to mind today – and as I write, I realize I’m kind of burying the lede here – with the discovery that the Wisconsin group had recorded “Don’t Let Me Down” and included the track on its only album, Let There Be Light, released on the Intrepid label in 1969.

The cover is a mixed bag: The tempo is just a hair slower than on the Beatles’ version, and the vocals are a bit dodgy, especially on the bridge. On the other hand, the organ solo – subbing for Billy Preston’s electric piano – works nicely. For a regional band’s album cut, it’s decent.

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