Cliff Wilson ’80 wanted a casual sound for his recording of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” so he eschewed mainstream instruments in favor of nontraditional alternatives. He outfitted his daughter Hannah Wilson Rebrovick ’11 with a ukulele and her husband, Joe, with a kazoo. But Cliff needed something even less conventional to drive home the “family making music in the living room” vibe. He soon found himself banging out a rhythm with a spoon on a kombucha bottle while his family sang and danced around his in-home studio.
Meet the Weatles, the Wilson family’s 18-track Beatles cover album, was released last month. It features 10 family members including four Princeton alums: Cliff, Hannah, Cliff’s son Brad Wilson ’13, and Brad’s fiancée Maeli Goren ‘15. No mere quarantine diversion, the finished product is the culmination of over 1,000 hours of work over a year and a half for Cliff, who produced the album almost entirely by himself.
For all its familial charm, Meet the Weatles is also musically sophisticated. Cliff wanted to record every component from scratch, even songs with string quartets, clarinet trios, and kombucha bottles. That ambitious commitment nearly derailed the project before it began. In his very first attempt at recording drums, “the tom-toms were ringing and overwhelming the mix,” he explains. “I just couldn’t make it work, and I didn’t know what to do. I thought the whole project was in jeopardy.”
It turns out the Beatles had faced this problem, too. Ringo Starr solved the ringing issue by duct taping blankets inside of his drums during the recording process. Cliff found a more modern solution, purchasing a digital drum set off of Craigslist that allowed for much cleaner recording.
Soon it was difficult to contain the project’s momentum. “It just got bigger along the way,” Cliff says. “Once somebody got involved, then they wanted to do a duet with their spouse, and so on. We just couldn’t stop.”
Some songs on the album are particularly meaningful. “‘Ticket to Ride’ is the first song my wife and I had ever sung together,” Cliff says. The two met during a rehearsal for the song when their respective collegiate a cappella groups teamed up for a performance at Connecticut College.
Hannah and Brad’s solos — “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “A Day in the Life,” respectively — stand out as examples of the Wilson family’s artistry. “Those are the only two songs on the record that are really different in approach to what the Beatles did,” Cliff explains. “They wanted to do something different, and they stretched the album artistically.”
As far as Cliff is concerned, Meet the Weatles is already a success because it lived up to his quality standards and created lifelong family memories. “Just spending that time together in the studio was a blast,” he says. “Any other recognition, or getting other people to listen, that’s all gravy.”
Meet the Weatles is available on Spotify and Apple Music. The album is also available on the project’s website, which contains liner notes and personnel listings for each track, as well as anecdotes, family photos, and Beatles trivia related to the songs.