Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
After playing around with Help! on the mono box set, I went right into Rubber Soul, figuring that the blasts of three-part vocals on this album would be interesting in mono. I was right—and thus “Nowhere Man” and “If I Needed Someone” were particularly breathtaking, obviously. But “In My Life” struck me in a different way too.
This is a song that I’ve always felt I’m not appreciating enough. I really, really like “In My Life,” but people, you know, love this song. It’s one of the most frequently covered Beatles songs (a particularly odious Bette Midler version is one that I dearly wish I could get out of my head), and people like to whip it out for graduations and Lord knows what other kinds of solemn remembrances. Maybe that’s why I get into it less. But I can’t shake the feeling that people aren’t entirely getting this song. Although John began writing it as a nostalgia piece, and original versions referred to specific places in Liverpool with almost “Penny Lane”-esque attention to detail, I read the finished version of “In My Life” as anti-nostalgic. It looks resolutely forward. “These memories lose their meaning when I think of love as something new,” sings John—strong words indeed, aren’t they? And the memories themselves have been reduced to vague shadows anyway, all the specificity removed—which has the effect of making it more universal, but doesn’t diminish the song’s direction into the future. “In my life, I love you more”—more than all those people and things that came before, anyway. This is a love whose deepness has eclipsed everything that came before it, and forced the singer to reprioritize, no matter how often he might stop and think about the past. Sounds more appropriate for a wedding than a graduation.
Anyway, my own frustrations with what the song might mean aside, “In My Life” boasts a beautiful melody as well as all the clever production details that are so typical of Rubber Soul-era Beatles. I’ve read that this is a melody that Paul wrote, but John always claimed this song as his own—and neither of them is a trustworthy source much of the time, so I’m not really sure who to trust here. I know that the lyrics are John’s—this seems to be pretty much agreed upon—and I think I want to believe that John wrote the melody too, though he might have had some help from Paul, of course. To my ear, the melody, with its slightly plodding quarter-note rhythm, is very pretty but also sort of inelegant in a way that I hear as more John-like. If Paul had written this, I think it would have sounded a little more polished, or something. This is only my own intuition, though, so feel free to fight me on this. (It’s worth noting that the inelegance suits the serious yet self-conscious tone of the lyrics. It lends the words a good dose of realism. Don’t you think?)
As for clever details, what’s most frequently called out in “In My Life” is that keyboard solo, played by producer extraordinaire George Martin at half-speed and then sped up on the recording, not only because this made it much easier for him to play the ingenious counterpoint he wrote, but because the speeding-up makes the keyboard sound more tinkly and antique. John had asked specifically for a Baroque sound here, if I recall. (And see, there’s another reason for me to believe this song really belongs mostly to John—if Paul had written the melody, I think he would have been the one making requests of George Martin like that, don’t you?) I adore this keyboard solo, which I think brings the whole song up to a whole new level of greatness—so it pains me to admit that I love it less in mono. The clear Baroque counterpoint just doesn’t shine through as clearly in the mono version as it does in the original 1965 stereo version (which has been conveniently recorded onto the same CD, so we can compare the two). The lower voice seems a little clouded by the drumming, or something. It should be said that the drumming comes off better in mono than in stereo (as is the case with most songs I’ve listened to this way so far)—it’s somehow banging a bit harder and clearer, if that makes sense. But it’s a shame we had to lose some of the magic of the keyboard to get more of the magic of the drums. Oh well.
Also interesting about listening to mono and stereo versions of “In My Life” is the level of intimacy. In the original stereo, John seems to be whisper-singing right into my left ear with all the earnestness and near-angst that makes this song so special. (Sigh.) Mono gives you more of a wall-of-sound feel, with less differentiation of the vocal line, which has the effect in “In My Life” of diminishing that intimacy and making John’s double-tracked vocal sound a bit more resonant, a bit more confident, even. It’s as if the song means something a little different. I don’t know how better to express this, but it’s very interesting—the mono version makes me feel differently than the stereo version does. The song is still complex, but somehow brighter. Then again, I swear that falsetto moment at the end, when John’s amazing voice always gives me chills, gives me even chillier chills in mono. That moment seems more crucial, more climactic—it’s almost too intimate in the stereo version.
Anyway, this is what’s so fun about the new releases, right? Whether you prefer mono or stereo, the whole experience of listening to both just enriches the song so much. Not every song will demand as much written on it, perhaps, but “In My Life” is deeply serious for a Beatles song, and has always seemed to be asking a little more of us than some of the others. The simple clarity of the guitar work and the vocal, and even that easy rhythm, are misleading—there’s some kind of love here that we’re meant to feel much, much more deeply than we’re used to in a pop song. You know, I think I’m beginning to get a little better why people love this one as much as they do.
"In My Life," released in the U.K. side B track 4 of Rubber Soul, December 3, 1965; in the U.S. side B track 4 of Capitol's awful Rubber Soul, December 6, 1965.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
When I talk about the Help! album (as I recently did here, she said shamelessly) I tend to talk a lot about how John owns side A while Paul owns side B. I don't think there's another album that so clearly and neatly shows off the songwriting dichotomy, except for maybe Abbey Road (whose clearness and neatness is muddied quite a bit by the fact that George stakes his own gigantic claim to that album). But this supposition of mine means that I'm always maligning Paul's contributions to the actual soundtrack of Help! (the movie), which might be unfair. A slight Beatles song is frequently still a fun Beatles song, after all. (See here, here, and here, just off the top of my head.) And so we have "Another Girl," a nice little pop number that I quite enjoy despite myself. The video from the movie helps-- I love it, despite its very silly level of sexism. I can't even necessarily say why. It's just awesome for me. Maybe it's John's cute pink shirt.