Sgt. Peppercorn's Marathon more physically taxing than running an actual marathon, according to a mad who's done both
Each year, Joe Peppercorn and a cast of musicians play the entire Beatles catalog in chronological order over the course of 12-odd hours, an impressive musical and physical feat. With this year's event — now dubbed Sgt. Peppercorn's Marathon — taking place at the Bluestone on Saturday, Dec. 30, Peppercorn List-ed the most difficult Beatles songs to recreate live.
“It's All Too Much”
A simple song on paper: two chords with a drone. But how do you make it interesting and do justice to George's lovely melody? This may be the only song whose Marathon performance peaked at the first one back at Tree Bar (then Andyman's Treehouse) in 2010. This year we decided to scrap everything about the song and pretend we are the Who.
“Within You Without You”
Complex instrumentation and time signatures abound on this one. It's one of a handful of songs we call a “work in progress” — songs we know are going to develop year after year before mastering them. This song relies on our violin player, Sam Kim-Schnabel, to pull visceral expression out of a simple melody and lead the band with her playing.
“Please Please Me”
Beatles' songs are often deceptively difficult, and depend upon an unhealthy and obsessive attention to detail. The way these vocal parts weave in and out of one another in the chorus is genius, but also intensely difficult. This song is always on the cusp of disaster, and I am relieved that no footage of us playing this song the first several years exists.
“Tomorrow Never Knows”
This song has one chord and a lot of '60s psychedelic flourishes — most notably the tape loops and effects that give the song its distinct character — so it took us a few years to figure it out. Our bass player, Chris Bolognese, is a genius musician, and he transforms this song into an intense rave up. I adopt an Iggy Pop/Nick Cave persona and channel my personal demons from any given year into disheveled catharsis.
The harmonies are not especially hard, but singing them 12 hours into a show after playing 220 other songs is Herculean. I ran a full marathon this year, and I can now attest: Playing this show is far more difficult and painful than running 26.2 miles.
“Rock and Roll Music”
Chuck Berry was a genius, and the Beatles played his music respectfully, if not quite as soulfully. Trying to cover this as well as the Beatles did and not turn this song into a nightmarish, hideous-cover-band-at-a-crap-strip-mall-dive-bar-butt-rock-massacre takes finesse, which sometimes we have and sometimes we don't.
The greatest rock vocal harmony of all time is John Lennon's harmony in the fourth verse. When he jumps high and sings, “Then you can start,” it's just everything I ever need in life. It's also what leads into the “na-na-na” sing-along chorus, and gives that part its emotional springboard. The na-na-na's are a staple of live concerts, but they must be earned.
“Sie Liebt Dich”
I don't speak German, and these harmonies are hard enough in English.