Sunday, February 8, 2009

Old Brown Shoe

Another excellent Sunday for me-- the weather is getting better all the time, I'm two Bellinis into my day thanks to a pleasant brunch date, and my husband is puttering around sipping a Fernet Branca (there was a LOT of brunch) and whistling "Old Brown Shoe." And it feels like an "Old Brown Shoe" kind of day, sort of breezy and sunny-- perfect for today's HarriSunday.

George wrote this massively catchy song on the piano, which was rare for him, and which led him to write these totally odd chord progressions. (I don't normally link to the wonky musicological notes by Fan Extraordinaire Alan. W. Pollack, but in this case I will, because the song is actually that harmonically interesting. Click here if you are a huge music geek dying to know about George's use of flatted sixths-- and otherwise just trust me that the chords are weird.)

The breeziness that I like about this is really coming from Ringo's drumming, which is all dotted and rollicking. But everyone is playing the hell out of their instruments. Can we please talk about the bass here? Can we please acknowledge once more that, whatever his other gifts, Paul is a god on the bass? Yes, we can. The bass is totally infectious on the verses, and my God, on the middle eight, when George is singing "If I grow up I'll be a singer," the bass is doing that triplet figure that's just crazy and awesome. But what follows is even better: George's guitar solo here is probably the most ass-kicking one he ever played as a Beatle. I don't know why George's vocal is mixed in such a way that it sounds like he's singing into a malfunctioning megaphone (he's actually singing into a corner of the studio), but since the vocal line is kind of muttery and lyrically dense anyway, the effect is that it just gets out of the way for the amazing melodies of the instruments, which is actually a pretty good thing.

George worked on this during the acrimonious Get Back sessions and then returned to it during the Abbey Road sessions. It's a testament to the level of non-appreciation the others had for George that in the end it landed on the B-side to "The Ballad of John & Yoko" instead of on an album-- for my money, it's better than the likes of "Maxwell's Motherfucking Silver Hammer," and it should have been on Abbey Road-- but that would have meant that George had the three best songs on Abbey Road, which would not have been acceptable. Thus history consigned "Old Brown Shoe" to be one of the last Beatles B-sides, and though it got added to Capitol's Hey Jude in 1970 and to Past Masters years later, I've always felt that it ranks among the most underrated and under-loved Beatles songs, along with the likes of "And Your Bird Can Sing." Because it's definitely one of George's best.

"Old Brown Shoe," released in the U.K. as B-side of "The Ballad of John and Yoko," May 30, 1969; in the U.S. June 4, 1969.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

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