Thursday, October 8, 2009

Doctor Robert

I feel as though lately-- perhaps ever since I got back from South America almost a month ago-- I've been a bit under the weather, a bit deficient in energy. Hopefully that hasn't seeped into the blog at all, but I suspect it has (for one thing, until today I've been on a later posting schedule, because my ass can't seem to get up in the morning anymore). Maybe I've just been playing too much Beatles Rock Band, which has been ruining my eyes and frying my brain and putting me at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome (by the way, I swear I will actually write about the game here some day, but I think I've been too busy playing it to actually do so yet; there's a similar situation going on with the mono CDs, too). Still, though, there's always hope: I've got some cool things coming up that should reinvigorate me, including Halloween in New York (for this excellent screening, which everyone in the area should check out) and, more significantly, a new job starting soon, which I must admit I am pretty damned excited about. In the meantime, though, I'm dragging. What to do?

Frequently when I'm weighed down with fatigue (as John seems to be, too, in this YouTube still) and feel like I could use a burst in energy-- call it a shot in the arm-- I pay a visit to "Doctor Robert."

Oh, poor "Doctor Robert." Who ever names this one as their favorite song on Revolver? And yet what other Beatles song promises a shot of amphetamine delivered along with your vitamins? Well, "promise" is a strong word. This song more winks and dances around its homage to Dr. Robert Freymann, a New York quack who hooked up all kinds of well-to-do patients with all kinds of interesting stimulants on demand, until the state unsurprisingly revoked his medical license. Before it did, though, John Lennon was a frequent visitor. (At least this is my understanding. I've also read that this song might allude to the dentist who unscrupulously dosed John and George and their significant others with LSD in their coffees at a dinner party, but I think the commonly accepted theory is that it's actually Freymann, though it really might be a bit of both.)

Whomever it's about, "Doctor Robert" is a kickass little song whose only real weakness is that it almost can't help but be outshone by all the mind-blowing songs it shares space with on its LP. How kickass is it? Let us count the ways. For one, there's a slightly druggy feeling introduced from the outset with a kind of a drone sound-- we stay on an A chord about forever and a day, and Paul eschews the more complicated bass options available to him and just hangs out on the root of the chord forever. Above that, George and Ringo play repetitive lines that sound as though they couldn't be simpler, though George's guitar in particular has that ragged, dirty Revolver-esque sound that I love so much. John, you'll note, sounds like he's singing into a bucket or something, at least on the mono version (which is my preferred Revolver listening experience at the moment), but also manages to sound about as snide and cutting as ever. He's amused, though, too. This isn't what I'd think of as one of John's mean-spirited songs, really-- he's just laughing at the hilariously slick ways of the good doctor. Any second now he's going to stop pointing and laughing and say, "no, but seriously, can you help me out here, doc?" 

The best part is totally at the bridge, when all of a sudden Ringo cuts out, John comes in playing sustained chords on a harmonium, and John and George and Paul all break out into angelic three-part harmonies. It's a strange moment of near seductive beauty in the song-- besides providing a change in the texture here that's probably necessary just for us to maintain interest, it gives this sarcastic advertisement for Doctor Robert's goodies a note of sincerity. The more psychedelic tone here doesn't sound like we're just talking about amphetamines anymore, and it bolsters the argument of those who would claim that the song's target is wider than just Robert Freymann. It's probably just all about drugs in general-- the comedy of establishment types who surreptitiously dole them out to those with means, sure, but also the fact that this stuff does, indeed, make John and the other Beatles feel pretty darned fine.

Anyway, despite the droniness of the harmonic stuff here, "Doctor Robert" moves along at a nice little clip, and keeps cadencing on B major chords just to totally wig out all of us who have been grooving to the drone sounds in A. As always, the Beatles are smart as hell and keep us surprised, even in an acknowledged minor song on a masterwork of an album. This is some medical malfeasance that you can dance to. Well well well, I'm feeling fine, suddenly-- "Doctor Robert" always seems to set me right. Woo hoo!

"Doctor Robert," released in the U.K. side B track 4 of Revolver, August 5, 1966; in the U.S. side A track 4 of Capitol's loathsome Yesterday and Today, June 15, 1966.


  1. The bridge is actually my least favorite part. But the riff is so awesome, I would listen to this song all the time even if it had Revolution 9 in the middle of it.

    Oh, and congratulations on the new job. And Rock Band ...

  2. Some people have mentioned Bob Dylan = Dr. Robert, but I don't believe it . . .

    I see you hate the US versions of Beatles albums - I actually like them - it's like the Beatles on shuffle - and "Rubber Soul" is particularly successful . . .

    Do you have a birthday song ready for tomorrow ?

  3. Yeah, sorry, Anon, I guess I DO hate them-- I hate that the US versions are different only out of greed when the Beatles actually tried to craft albums that were solid start to finish, you know? Capitol just ignored all that. I think it sucks. And since I didn't really grow up with the Capitol versions, they always sound off to me. Rubber Soul is the one lots of Americans defend as pretty good, but the Capitol Revolver-- which lacks Dr. Robert, And Your Bird Can Sing, and I'm Only Sleeping-- is really bad. (I bought it in a record shop years ago, but I returned to the Parlophone CD pretty quickly.) And Yesterday and Today is kind of lame too, a pastiche of different mid-Beatles styles.

    Troy, no love for the bridge? I adore it-- it's surprising, and it adds depth that, for all the song's pleasantness, wouldn't be there otherwise. (Also, thanks for the congrats. It is very good news for me indeed.)

  4. I was with you on the US vs. UK versions - but i grew up with the US versions, so i have a fondness for them, and fell in love with them again about 9 years ago . . . listening to the Mono box - i've re-appreciated (if that's a word) the original UK versions - except for "For Sale" (G Martin being beastly to George H - programming his song LAST!.) But the US Rubber Soul has a nice acoustic feel . . . The UK versions of PPM, AHDN, Help!, and Revolver are all obviously superior. . .As for "Greed" - it has to do with the royalty rates - in the UK - royalties were divided from a set amount. In the US - the royalty is based on each song - so an album with 14 songs would cost Capitol more than 11. As with anything Fab - I'm glad there are many different ways to appreciated the Beatles with all the different versions . . .including those goofy US album covers

  5. Bridge just doesn't seem to fit. It's not awful, it just doesn't work for me. When I write (well, wrote), I love to mix up different parts into a song, a la Happiness is a Warm Gun, but the parts have to fit together, and I don't think that bridge fits. That would be another great list/post. I might be a little elitist on this topic; it also bugs me when a bridge far outclasses the rest of the song, as with What You're Doing. Well, that one doesn't far outclass the whole song, but it's far superior to the little 12-string riff that recurs. Leave My Kitten Alone is an example of a verse/refrain and bridge that are perfectly matched (and awesome), while The Long and Winding Road features a verse/refrain and bridge that are evenly matched and not so appealing (to me).

    Not one to pry, so let me say only that if you wanted to share details about your new job, no one here would mind. In return for all the great reading you've given us this year, I think it's fair to say that Frank and I are kind of rooting for you. I'll especially miss the posts that began "You guys!" It's also not impossible that I'll reread the site each day next year during my commute, this time actually listening to the (remastered) songs.

  6. Also - after you've run through the Beatles catalogue - i hope you critique either
    a> solo catalogue
    b> Beatles videos - as videos - since you seem to be interested in film . . .

  7. Anon, good suggestions... I suspect I'll comment more on the solo work, though I happen to feel it doesn't merit the attention of a daily post, so I'll more likely be picking and choosing. Good call on the vids. I do love them so, and I do have so many opinions...

    By the way, if anyone has any other ideas for what's to come when this thing is over, do share. The whole blog will likely become less organized, but if you're dying to have me write about anything in particular I'd at least consider it.

    Thanks for rooting for me, Troy! It's sweet to hear. The new job is... excellent. Particularly in light of the soon-to-be-former job. As Ahme said, I can say no more. Or at least doing so here feels a little untoward. The new job keeps me in the world of publishing and the world of sales, which is where I've been working, but is also totally different, and is at a different company with a whole new vibe that I'm looking forward to experiencing. I'm happier just thinking about it than I've been all year. (In fact, this blog was started to make me feel happier or more distracted, and it worked, but the new job is what I've really been after all along.)

  8. I knew Dr. Freymann and he was definitely not a "quack".
    Read his book (if you can find it) "What's so bad about feeling good?"