Pop & Hiss

The L.A. Times music blog

« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

Composer-artist David Barratt talks tackling entire Beatles catalog with the ukulele — and Barack Obama

January 11, 2011 |  5:00 am


Composer and artist David Barratt just wanted to inject a little ukulele into the Beatles catalog. And for nearly the past two years he’s been doing so — one track at a time.

For his weekly “Beatles Complete On Ukulele” series, Barratt has been tackling all of the original Beatles recordings (185 of them, in case you forgot) and pairing them with different artists and his beloved ukulele.

The idea for the project came to Barrett and music producer Roger Greenawalt after they organized a marathon benefit concert where all the Beatles' songs were performed over 24 hours. The money ("hundreds of dollars in a brown paper bag," he clarifies) was donated to Warren Buffett — the philanthropist billionaire who is the third-wealthiest person in the world according to Forbes — after he sustained a bit of a dent in his finances because of the economic crisis.

David “It [just] continued from there,” Barratt said. “As a music producer, I just started cranking them out one at a time. [The ukulele] is the perfect instrument. You can buy a good one for 50 bucks. They are easy to travel with. They are gorgeous to put into an arrangement — and they don’t take up a lot of sonic space.”

Though the tracks have featured performers as diverse as Samantha Fox, heavy metal band the Historians (who take on “Magical Mystery Tour” in Hebrew), and British New Wave group Wang Chung, Barratt snagged President Obama for their 104th cover, the inspirational anthem “Let It Be.”

“Even with all these current troubles, Obama is the most charismatic person on the globe,” Barrat said. “I wanted to put a full gospel choir together, and it was a great arrangement. It doesn’t get any bigger than the president of the U.S.”

Of course, Obama’s schedule doesn’t quite afford him the time to schlep to a studio and lay down vocals — plus, he is a little busy — so Barratt took on the daunting task of collating all of the commander in chief’s weekly addresses and cut out the words he’d need to constitute the lyrics. He said the process took him about two days to complete. 

Fortunately, the weekly addresses are transcribed and available to the public on the White House's website. Barratt was able to load them all into Microsoft Word, which made it easier to search and cut the words he'd need for the track. It was a herculean task, he said, “but the vocals sounded so fantastic.”

Barratt said the project is strictly a labor of love.

“Everyone is doing it for nothing. There are a lot of musicians, and it’s not a lot of work for most of them. It’s a really fun project to do,” he said. “I’ve always done work for the sake of the music, not for anything else.”

The "Beatles Complete On Ukulele" series began Jan. 20, 2009 (Inauguration Day), and will conclude July 31, 2012, the eve of the London Olympics. All of the tracks are available for free download on their website.

Take a listen to the Obama-featured "Let It Be."  

— Gerrick D. Kennedy

Photos: (Top left) President Obama. Credit: Olivier Douliery / EPA.

(Top Right) The Fab Four: George Harrison, left, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr in April 1969. Credit: Bruce McBroom / Apple Corps Ltd.

(Bottom) Composer and artist David Barratt. Credit: David Barratt.