My friend Steve once uttered, “You’re the only guy I know who, when he’s not listening to The Beatles, is listening to something that sounds just like The Beatles.” I don’t remember for sure what was playing in the car that day but it could very well have been UTOPIA’s Deface the Music. This 1980 album by Todd Rundgren’s rock group, an homage to the music of The Fab Four, sounds so much like Liverpool’s Finest that you could be forgiven for thinking it was some long lost long-player of theirs. Of course, it doesn’t sound exactly like them, but it’s an incredible simulation that’s close enough for many a Beatlemaniac to enjoy.
I’m not sure what the impetus for creating and releasing something like Deface the Music was. Perhaps Todd & Co. were feeling nostalgic for the music they grew up on, or maybe it was that, when one of the group’s songs was turned down for a soundtrack because it sounded too much like The Beatles, they decided to do an entire album of soundalike music for fun. I’d guess the record company thought it was a mistake for Utopia to put it out but – it being the beginning of the anything goes ’80s – it might just catch on. It’s not like The Beatles’ popularity had waned at all even ten years after they’d called it quits, considering the success of compilations like Rock ’N’ Roll Music and the 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 best-ofs. Regardless of why they did it or why it was released, Utopia did Deface the Music and yet they actually didn’t deface it at all. From the opener “I Just Want to Touch You,” an “I Want to Hold Your Hand” parody, through “Take It Home” (a la “Day Tripper”), “Hoi Poloi,” the gentle “All Smiles” and closer “Everybody Else Is Wrong” (hello “Strawberry Fields Forever”), the album is a baker’s dozen of grin-inducing singles that may have even made the Mop Tops themselves smile. (Even if it was only with visions of suing for copyright infringement in their collective head.)
While Deface the Music is full of songs that sound like The Beatles, there are some clues that 100% homage wasn’t necessarily what Utopia had in mind. For one thing, the instrumentation that would have been strings in the ’60s is definitely played on late ’70s synths and so don’t sound authentic. Likewise, the production value (or what you could call the sound) is clearly of 1980 and not that warm but shimmery glimmer of Abbey Road circa ’66 or so. I always thought the mix was a bit murky and lacked some of that high end sizzle you’d expect, but this 2020 reissue, put out by Music On Vinyl from the Netherlands, nevertheless sounds really good. There’s no notation as to what the source material was for this limited edition vinyl pressing (MOV has never been clear about their sources), but Deface the Music sounds at least as good as an original US Bearsville/WB copy. If you’re a Beatles or Todd nut, you should have this one. Limited to 500 copies on silver vinyl (perhaps black wax will follow), this record is worth wrapping up and taking home. Or having delivered to your door by international courier. Or however the hell you can get it.
4/5 (Music On Vinyl MOVLP 2519, 2020)