Saturday, January 31, 2009

Don't Let Me Down

Well, yesterday I missed one of the more significant 2009 anniversaries, that of the rooftop concert. It's definitely been observed elsewhere, as the linked article neatly summarizes, and I'm sure other tribute bands and fans that I don't even know about have been playing on roofs all over the world. Which is fantastic. The rooftop concert had to be one of the coolest things ever, just EVER, for the various working stiffs out to get a coffee. Can you imagine if it was you, minding your own business in the Dunkin' line, trying to remember what other calls you have to make that day, and all of sudden, from a nearby rooftop, you hear this?

Yes, it was a lucky bunch of Londoners who got to hear the rooftop concert, no doubt. It's the kind of thing you brag about to your grandkids. (For those who don't know what I'm talking about, allow me to point you to this wikipedia entry and have you scroll down slightly.)

"Don't Let Me Down" was left off the Let It Be album for some unfathomable reason (it would have improved it), but at least it was available almost a full year sooner than that album, as the B-side to "Get Back." The song is a simple yet awesome bluesy thing, a song to lean back a little too far in your chair to, if that makes any sense, but it's also some of the most nakedly emotional stuff John had done up to that point in his career. When I hear "Don't Let Me Down," I hear it as a warmup to the vulnerability of his first solo album, Plastic Ono Band, although whereas that album is so raw it can be somewhat cringe-inducing, "Don't Let Me Down" is still a song you can rock out to.

John's vocal is absolutely what makes this; his strained yowls of passion and paranoia just get into your bones. But as usual, what the band is doing is absolutely perfect too-- listen to Paul's bass, with that octave jumping weirdness he's doing, and you realize that Paul's totally the only person who would have come up with that for a song like this. Billy Preston, who has the distinction of being the only outside musician the Beatles ever bothered to credit on an album, seems to earn the credit here, especially on the bridge, where the paranoia seems to abate a little-- "don't you know it's gonna last" and all of that-- and Billy's keyboard grounds the band. I also love what Billy and Ringo do on the verses, how they play those three note figures that obscure the rhythm. That, and the 5-beat measure the band throws in for John at the beginning of the verses-- man, these are the flourishes of genius that push this beyond the standard 3 chord jam. Of COURSE. Just, wow. Love it.

So, sorry I was late to the rooftop concert, but at least we're here now. Watch the video again-- look how much fun they're having playing together-- and this is the Get Back sessions we're talking about! Awesome.

"Don't Let Me Down," released in the U.K. as B-side to "Get Back," April 11, 1969; in the U.S. as B-side to "Get Back," May 5, 1969.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Friday, January 30, 2009

Can't Buy Me Love

You know what song has been in my head since I woke up this morning? Do you know what song has been making me MURDEROUS?? Fucking "Bluebird," that Wings dreck from Band on the Run, Jesus, like the most unspeakably inane stupid song Paul ever wrote, that piece of crap that stands out like a disgusting zit on what's otherwise a pretty good album, "Bluebird," and I'm not linking to anything here because no one should ever listen to this song, ever. Oh dear God, how that song sticks in one's head until one wants to remove it via hammer.

(See, I already feel bad writing that, and in all the years he's been recording it's inevitable there'd be a few clunkers, and that is FINE, but Paul is so GOOD when he's good that I think I just get so DISAPPOINTED when he's less-good. It's like I'm his mom. I'm sure he'd totally freaking love that.)

Anyway, today my task is to find a song that's awesome, but also SO catchy it'll clear out the crud, and also a song written by Paul so I can love him again, and, hey, I just realized that I haven't listened to anything from A Hard Day's Night yet, which is weird since it's one of my favorites. The obvious selection is "Can't Buy Me Love."

OK, THAT is an awesome song. Paul wrote "Can't Buy Me Love" while they were staying in Paris playing shows there, and then recorded it soon after, also in Paris, in the same session where they recorded the German-language versions of "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand." So this would have been written pretty quickly, like so many Beatles masterpieces.

It's one of my favorites of Paul's melodies, for its aggressive, spat-out delivery and its addictive hook, and the way it's sort of bluesy and sort of Beatley all at once. (Formally, it IS a 12-bar blues, which they didn't write so often.) I love the way the guitars shuffle cheerily along, and Ringo keeps it simple-- then there's that really inspired solo from George-- I gotta call that solo one of my favorites, too, certainly of the early period stuff. But other than the solo, the instruments sort of keep out of the way of Paul's vocal, which is smart, because it's excellent, the way he sort of sneers at you on the lower notes of the verses and then whoops so ecstatically. It's a rare track that has no vocal harmonies on it, and I think that's a good move-- the Beatles were very good at knowing when enough was enough, and Paul's vocal does a lot here. (A very good version on Anthology I does have some harmonizing and arguably an even BETTER vocal from Paul.)

This song is so good they actually put it in A Hard Day's Night (the film) twice, but the above video is the first and superior sequence. In fact, it's probably the best one in the whole film-- the moment when the band finally breaks free of all the forces that are trapping them throughout the film. I can't decide if the song better informs the scene or the scene better informs the song, but I do know that I can't think of this song without thinking of this scene, and I can't think about either without getting a big smile. Yay!

"Can't Buy Me Love," released in the U.K. as a single w/"You Can't Do That," March 20, 1964; in the U.S. as a single w/"You Can't Do That," March 16, 1964.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Thursday, January 29, 2009

In Spite of All the Danger

I was listening to Anthology I the other day for my entry on "Roll Over Beethoven," thinking again as I did so about how I don't have enough songs to last the year and will probably have to double up on a lot of songs to make it, and how I really need to turn to recent additions to the canon in order to flesh out the blog. Then I listened to "In Spite of All the Danger" again and knew I had to listen to it again soon. The only song attributed to McCartney-Harrison, it's also the first Beatles recording ever-- done on a 78 acetate disk in this guy Percy Phillips' house in Liverpool in 1958, along with "That'll Be the Day." I think which is the A side and which is the B side is probably up for debate.

You know, this song is pretty good. I remember really liking it when Anthology was first released, but I haven't listened to it as much since (I never listen to the Anthologies as much as I listen to the proper albums; folks, there was a reason the band released the versions they did, you know?), and hearing it again after a while was a sort of awakening. See, what the Anthologies did do well, despite my griping, is take this very very rare track and make it available to us all.

I mean, yeah, the sound is terrible, but that somehow adds to the charm. It's as if the Quarrymen are singing from BEYOND THE GRAVE, which is practically true anyway. And this IS the Quarrymen, kids-- we've only got John and Paul and George on this, along with Colin Hanton on drums and a guy named John Lowe on piano. If you don't know the story of what happened to this record, it's economically told on Wikipedia, right here.

I don't know anything about how this song got written, but considering Paul and George wrote it at 16 and 14, respectively, it's very impressive, and already has Paul's fingerprints all over it. (By the way, not to get depressing or anything, but what did YOU accomplish when you were 16? Me, I think I was starting to write ghastly poems. It's safe to say that no one will be interested in them in 50 years.) I do suspect the melody is Paul's, for its sweetness and fairly wide range, and its ability to stick in your head for hours. The guitar solo is probably George's. At the time the band dynamic was such that John sang most songs, so John takes the lead vocal and Paul sings that adorable (and catchy) backup tune. What's kind of neat is that even though it's recognizably Paul's, it's still not entirely Paul yet-- you can hear a lot of what they've been listening to lately in this song. It's a little bit country, a littler bit doo-wop, a touch of Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly and the Everlys. It doesn't yet sound like a Beatles song, but that's not surprising given their youth, surely. To think they haven't even been to Hamburg yet!

Nevertheless, it's a sweet little song, it really is. Just like those other nice little songs from the late '50s that I have a soft spot for. And it's not just me, either. Paul seems to have become so fond of "In Spite of All the Danger" that he actually performed it on his most recent American tour, which was a pleasant surprise. And it's held up better than you'd expect, too. See for yourself-- here he is singing it in Madrid.

"In Spite of All the Danger," released in the U.K. and the U.S. side A track 4 of Beatles Anthology I, November 21, 1995.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Act Naturally

There's at least one reason to really like "Act Naturally," and that is that it's extremely fun to sing loudly and badly. My husband asked me what Beatles song I'd be listening to today, and I told him, and he was like "I'm not sure I really know 'Act Naturally'" (his fandom isn't as great as mine), so I instantly launched into "THEEEEEEEEY'RE GONNA PUT ME IN A MOOOVIE" and he practically ran out of the room. Try it at home! Seriously, this must be a fun-ass karaoke song.

So, on every album, the band allocated a song to Ringo to sing to placate his many, many fans. (Ringo has ALWAYS attracted a lot of fans. In his original band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, the same arrangement existed, wherein Rory, the usual singer, would introduce "Ringo Star Time!" and have Ringo sing a few songs. It was hugely popular.) Anyway, for the B side of the Help! soundtrack Ringo's song was meant to be "If You've Got Trouble," a Lennon-McCartney song you can hear the band slogging through unenthusiastically on Anthology I. After rightly trashing that song, they turned to this cover, originally released by Buck Owens in 1963. I've read a lot about how PERFECT this song is for Ringo, because, you know, Ringo is ALSO this aw-shucks guy who somehow managed to get famous despite lack of talent, and isn't that cute that he's singing a song about himself? I hate that kind thing. It's totally condescending-- Ringo is a damned good drummer who came of age in the middle of a musical explosion centered in his hometown, and he would have done fine no matter what happened to him. As it happened, his steady, nimble, subtly sexy drumming is just what the band needed to smoothe out the edges in their early style. He was born to be a Beatle just as much as John and Paul and George, so everyone can shut up about Ringo being the luckiest man in the universe or whatever, because it's lame, and you're probably just jealous.

Ahem. That said, Ringo IS the perfect Beatle to sing "Act Naturally" for actual musical reasons-- for instance, his affection for country music (if the Beatles thing hadn't worked out, he had dreams of being a cowboy), and the fact that his limited range does just fine for this uncomplicated melody. And, OK, his natural modest qualities fit the mood very well too (if Paul sang it it'd be all wink-wink and irritating). The song itself is totally charming and aw-shucks, with some nice playing by George and Ringo particularly throughout. Though Ringo loved it the most, all the Beatles liked country music, and it shows here.

The song was added to their tours in 1965, and in the U.S., where Ringo was particularly popular, Capitol threw it onto the B side of the "Yesterday" single (which doesn't exist in the U.K.). Good thing they did, too, or else Americans wouldn't have heard this one on record until Yesterday and Today came out in the summer of 1966. Tsk, Capitol. TSK.

Since Buck Owens's version wasn't released until 1963, this song wouldn't have been a part of their early stage act in Hamburg and Liverpool, which means they would have specifically learned a cover song after they had become famous. This was pretty unusual. I don't remember ever reading how this came to be, but it wouldn't surprise me if Ringo himself just liked the song so much he took it the band-- which would also have been unusual. At any rate, it marked the end of the Beatles' era of covers-- along with "Dizzy Miss Lizzie," also on Help!, it's the last cover they ever released.

"Act Naturally," released in the U.K. side B track 1 of Help!, August 6, 1965; in the U.S., B side of "Yesterday," September 13, 1965, and side A track 6 of Yesterday and Today, June 20, 1966.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

You Never Give Me Your Money

I have no comment on the frenzy in the Beatles press yesterday about the engagement and subsequent oops-no-engagement-to-see-here between Paul McCartney and Nancy Shevell, other than to note that Paul finally went for a brunette, which gives me hope that if I ever acquire a time machine I might have a shot at him after all. (Don't tell me you wouldn't do dirty things with a time machine. You know you would.) I'm actually more irritated at the news that Paul will be playing at the Grammy Awards show, because now I feel like I'm going to have to watch the damned thing. Ugh.

I was going to write about "Act Naturally" today, but there Paul went and stole the spotlight from Ringo-- isn't that just like Paul? Screw it. "Act Naturally" will wait til tomorrow, and today we'll do, um... "You Never Give Me Your Money."

The song that kicks off the suite on the Abbey Road B-side, "You Never Give Me Your Money" is a mini-suite all to itself, vascillating interestingly through different musical stuff with some good jamming and weirdness at the end to lead, via tape loop, into "Sun King." In his totally indispensable book Revolution in the Head, Ian MacDonald calls this the song that "marks the psychological opening of [Paul's] solo career," which seems about right. We find Paul in a rare introspective, sad mood here, clearly craving escape from the growing Beatles madness around him. It's OK, Paul. Soon we'll be away from here.

The opening melody seems atypically Paul-- its sort of monotonal melody, not to mention the wordplay in the lyrics, are more John-esque-- and he sings it with less of his customary showmanship and more true pathos. Then when we enter part 2, the "out of college" bit, Paul sings in an exaggerated tone that I swear sounds like a parody of a Paul McCartney song, as if he realized he needs to tell us a good story now to keep us interested. Because that "out of college" guy isn't him anymore. But like fiction writers who reveal heaps about themselves through their characters, Paul IS actually singing about himself. That vocal is so expressive, so hurt, that you almost get a lump in your throat when he sings "oh that magic feeling, nowhere to go," don't you? I mean, don't you have a soul? "Wipe that tear away," Paul sings, and now we're flirting again, and I do wipe it away, because it's going to be OK because Paul says so. Paul is going to drive into the sunset and find somewhere to go after all. (It was called Ram.)

It's so easy to talk about this song in terms of the Beatles Story and the misery of their financial problems and issues with each other, but beyond that it's a lovely piece of music anyway. Paul, as usual, plays the hell out of his bass, and piano, and probably half the other instruments, though if I'm remembering correctly that might actually be John on the lead guitar bit at the end, playing as if to say, "Man, I HEAR you." Paul might have revealed more than he meant to here, but at least it's clear that he wasn't (entirely) the bad guy that he frequently comes across as being in the last years of the Beatles. He is just as sad as we are that the whole thing's falling apart.

Here's a bootleg of "You Never Give Me Your Money" that I actually quite like because of the fun jam at the end, which, were it not for the edit into "Sun King," would be the perfect way to end the song. A note of sunshine at the end, as it were. 

(Paul's goofy eyes and apparent nibbling of the mic make him look like a sleepy Cookie Monster.)

"You Never Give Me Your Money," released in the U.K. side B track 3 of Abbey Road, released September 26, 1969; in the U.S. side B track 3 of Abbey Road, released October 1, 1969.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Monday, January 26, 2009

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

I wonder if, after 25 days, the albums that I haven't even touched yet say anything about me. For instance, today's is the first post from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which seems sort of weird, doesn't it? Considering that it was the first album I ever bought and all, maybe it IS weird. I dunno. Maybe it's more because the album works better as a whole than as the sum of its individual songs, so I don't think of the songs as much.

At any rate, this was the first album I ever bought (yes, it was like 1991, but I was deeply uncool, and unaware of pretty much all the music actually being made in real time around me), and I bought it because I liked poems, and someone showed me the lyrics to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," which I thought made a pretty cool poem. I bought Sgt. Pepper on an audiotape at a Sam Goody's in a mall. Then I blew my mind for the next 3 months listening to pretty much nothing else.

"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" bears the weight of being maybe the pinnacle of psychedelic artistic achievement, with its oopsie! acronym, its very surreal lyrics, its weirdo production effects, and the fact that John's vocal sounds like he's singing into a toilet paper tube on the moon. But like everything else the Beatles did when they were on their game, it's such a GOOD song, so well-written at its core, and most of what makes it so good is actually in the guitars. The rest is icing.

For instance, that creepy and justly famous guitar figure that opens the song repeats under the first half of the verse, then goes into a drone for the second half of the verse so that Paul's bass can take over with a reply-- it's a line that's similar to the guitar's, but more marcato, and, even weirder, seems to be suddenly playing a waltz. Ringo's drumming a waltz-like beat, too. The effect for me is that the opening of the verse introduces a creepy feeling that settles into a familiar rhythmic pattern, thus gradually putting you at ease as the band whisks you along on this psychotic episode of a song. Neat, no?

But then there's no waltz anymore, there's this total shift into four-four and the head-bopping chorus. And, gees, Paul? You are wailing. It's always so embarrassing when I've been listening to a song as long as I've been listening to this one and have never noticed how fantastic Paul is on bass, but this is definitely one of those times. I think I'll go so far as to say that he really makes this for me. At least on this listen. Next time I might notice something else. Anyway, the chorus is so unexpected (inasmuch as anything can unexpected anymore on a Beatles track) and always sounds loud, no matter how loud you're actually playing it. I love it. I LOVE it.

So here's video from Yellow Submarine, which I didn't necessarily want to use-- this is best listened to with your eyes closed. But frankly, what with the endless incomprehensible stupidity about Beatles songs on the internet, I'm always afraid to just leave audio clips. But what the hell anyway, right? It's actually one of the best scenes in the movie.

"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," released in the U.K. side A track 3 of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, June 1, 1967; in the U.S. side A track 3 of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, June 2, 1967.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Roll Over Beethoven

I'm doing my listening a bit later in the day than I'd like to, having spent the weekend on Martha's Vineyard and the Cape consuming quantities of alcohol that make me nostalgic for college, when my stamina was better, and eating many many different kinds of chili. Back now, though, and before I rush off to the rest of my non-Beatles life (which tonight involves choir practice) I'm having a quick listen to "Roll Over Beethoven." I woke up this morning with this song in my head, which seemed as good a sign as any that today was its day. And it's a HarriSunday, I guess, so... off we go.

Originally written and performed by Chuck Berry, of course, this has got to be one of the most covered songs of all time, so what strikes me about the Beatles' version is its faithfulness to the original. They have clearly learned this from listening to the original record thousands of times-- George even sings it as though he's never been able to understand all the lyrics from the 45, which, I mean, I can't understand them all either. But it doesn't matter. It's basically a song about how great rock and roll is, and George's totally kickass guitar playing--itself a spirited imitation of Berry's-- says all that needs to be said about that. The Beatles tended to know when not to mess around with perfection. Their covers are filled with enthusiasm and reverence that makes their audiences love these songs as much as they do. 

The band had played "Roll Over Beethoven" at gigs practically since its inception, with John frequently taking vocal duty, though by the time they recorded it for With the Beatles it had been George's for a while. In the official non-bootleg Beatles catalog, there are three versions, all excellent, though the best might be the one from the first disk of Anthology, from a live performance in Stockholm. George is so freaking ON in that performance, Paul is wailing away in the background, and Ringo is absolutely on fire-- it sounds like the whole thing's going to fall apart at any point, but miraculously doesn't. The Live at the BBC version is another good one.

Of course, with Youtube, there are many unofficial versions too. Here's one from a live performance on English TV. It looks familiar-- I think it might be from the Anthology TV special, but I'm too lazy to doublecheck.

I've listened to all four versions now, dancing in my living room the whole time. ROCK. And now it's off to choir. So I'll just say that though I love this song, I in no way advocate the rolling over of Beethoven. I long for a time when classical and rock music can live together in peace and harmony.

"Roll Over Beethoven," released in the U.K. side B track 1 of With the Beatles, November 22, 1963; in the U.S. side A track 1 of The Beatles' Second Album, April 10, 1964. Excellent live versions to be found on Live at the BBC, December 6, 1994 and Anthology I, November 21, 1995.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Martha My Dear

Today's song choice is just a stupid reference to the fact that I'm spending the day on Martha's Vineyard for the annual Big Chili Contest. So, you know, I'm out of ideas when it comes to how to pick songs. Whatever. It's also the song that comes before "I'm So Tired" on the White Album, so, you know, it was RIGHT THERE when I was writing up yesterday's song.

Paul wrote "Martha My Dear" as a love song to, of course, his sheepdog. I like the Youtube video below, which is a slideshow of cute pictures of Paul and Martha hanging out.

She looks like she was a lovely dog, and I'm not even much of a dog person. It's no wonder Paul wrote such a lovely song for her.

I do think this is one of those charming Paul music-hall-ish songs that actually works-- it's not too over-to-top smarmy or giddy, and it's just silly enough. The orchestration is really effective-- and "orchestration" is exactly the right word, since it's basically strings and a horn section playing on this along with Paul on piano. His opening piano solo walks the fine line between a major and minor feel, which makes it sound a little melancholy. The entrance of the strings just intensifies that. An oompah-beat in the horns keeps us from getting TOO melancholy, but the song nevertheless maintains its thoughtful, muted feel-- this is a more serious love song than Paul sometimes writes. There aren't any guitars until the bridge, when they come in out of nowhere on a very simple two-note figure, jacking up the tension just a tad. But then when the horns take over at the bridge, some levity is injected. It's all really good stuff-- it makes for a song that's more interesting than it almost has a right to be.

As with many White Album tracks, Paul did this one entirely himself (presumably with George Martin)-- he's the only Beatle playing on it. That kind of thing saddens most fans, myself included, but let's give props to Paul for "Martha My Dear," which shows off how good an arranger he already was at this point.

"Martha My Dear," released in the U.K. side B track 1 of The Beatles, a.k.a. the White Album, November 22, 1968; in the U.S. side B track 1 of The Beatles, a.k.a. the White Album, November 25, 1968.

Friday, January 23, 2009

I'm So Tired

It's been a long week, and for various allergy-related reasons I'm pumped full of Benadryl, which makes me an absolute zombie for at least 24 hours no matter what. So today "I'm So Tired" seems like an appropriate song for me to wallow in. I've read in various places that I now don't remember that this song is sometimes associated with John's heroin use, which might be true-- I can't recall when he started using, and the hazy opiate-riffic stuff he was apparently into might have influenced the song's production. But this song was definitely written in India at the Maharishi's getaway, thus pre-heroin.

Drug-stuff aside, though, this is a Beatles song that frequently feels like JUST the song I want to hear. I used the word "wallow" above, and that's it exactly. Whether it's an episode of true insomnia, or just feeling too lazy to get out of bed and get a glass of water on a rainy Saturday at noon, that heavy, gross, tired feeling is perfectly captured here. Everything sounds sluggish, from the barely-there guitar during the verses to the lethargic almost-behind-the-beat drumming. Total musical Benadryl.

But compare this to John's other soporific masterpiece, "I'm Only Sleeping," and you see that by the time of "I'm So Tired" he's in a much darker place, taking out his rage at Sir Walter Raleigh and focusing mainly on his next drink or cigarette. The music doesn't just sound sleepy, it sounds hazy and miserable and probably hungover. As Tim Riley so perfectly puts it in his book, Tell Me Why (one of my all-time favorite Beatles books), it sounds like the band is "trying to get through the track without knocking anything over." But this is before the more pointed angst of the bridge, in which John's vocal becomes so impassioned it almost hurts to listen to, and the guitars and bass swirl around accusingly.

I'm honestly too tired to write any more. Have a listen, but be prepared to start dropping your head on your desk.

Or, if you prefer your Beatles songs backwards and creepy, enjoy this, courtesy of PF9ThePikachuLover!

"I'm So Tired," released in the U.K. side B track 2 of The Beatles a.k.a. The White Album, November 22, 1968; in the U.S. side B track 2 of the The Beatles a.k.a. The White Album, November 25, 1968.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Backwards Beatles

No, we're not doing the "Turn me on dead man" trick for the thousandth time, at least not today. I just want to draw people's attention to JBev, the intrepid fan who ranks each Beatles song in backwards order on JamsBio. It's an amazing effort and super-thorough, and even when I disagree it's fun to read.

And trust me, I DO disagree at several points. I put it to you: Is "Day Tripper" actually worse than "Only a Northern Song"? (Answer: NO NO NO.) Et cetera.

Seriously, give it a read! I've seen it linked from lots of places and only made it through the whole article now after a few days of returning to it, but it's interesting. And JBev seems to actually know stuff about music, and write elegantly about it, and isn't all just like "OMG THE BEATLES 
R SO RAD" as I am on this blog most of the time.

And Your Bird Can Sing

You know what's to love here? Freaking everything. Surely one of the great under-appreciated Beatles songs, "And Your Bird Can Sing" is a song I just like more and more each time I hear it. I don't remember ever calling it a favorite when I was a teenager, but somehow now it just gets me. Isn't it funny how a song like, say, "Tomorrow Never Knows" can sound almost dated now (though still fantastic), while "And Your Bird Can Sing" sounds fresher all the time?

This is from Revolver (unless you were an American fan and were forced to buy the odious Yesterday and Today, blech), which is frequently cited in the Beatle histories as the album in which the band just went REALLY off the charts, experimenting with all kinds of new sounds and experimental production stuff. I think mostly people are talking about songs like "Tomorrow Never Knows," as well as "Eleanor Rigby," "Love You To," "Yellow Submarine," and lots of others that played with all kinds of effects people maybe wouldn't have heard before. But perhaps less remembered is that the band also took the basic guitars-bass-drums setup that had worked so well for so long and stretched it out to near breaking--AGAIN-- such that songs like "And Your Bird Can Sing," not to mention "She Said She Said," "Taxman," etc., are some of their absolute greatest.

I'm digressing. Anyway, "And Your Bird Can Sing" boasts one of my favorite guitar bits by George, who utterly tears it up in the opening. The riff sounds aggressive and fuzzy and fun, like a giant musical pounce from a cat who just figured out that you're hiding the catnip in your hair. From there we rollick through John's verse, dig the nice little punches of 3-part harmony, and make it to the bridge, where George's guitar figure under the vocal just sets me off again. George is SO good on this song, you guys. Really. And then, dig the solo, in which the riff from the beginning is extended with the utmost elegance and raucousness to its natural conclusion, at which point we shift back to the bridge and onward. The guitar sounds so SUNNY in this song, doesn't it? There are elements of the guitar work here that remind me of some of the American garage band songs on Nuggets, but it still sounds unmistakably like the Beatles somehow, and I think it's that bright sound quality they always manage to get. They always seem to have more fun rocking out than anyone else does.

Vocally, it's fine work from John, who sings with a smirk that never veers too far into the realms of true mean-spiritedness.  As for the lyrics-- what do they mean? I don't think much, actually, though it's more than just stoner bluster-- I think it's John putting an In His Own Write sort of poem into song form, which he rarely did quite as purely and easily as here.

The phrase "perfect pop song" gets bandied around a lot talking about Beatles songs, and there are certainly several contenders for that title, but I nominate "And Your Bird Can Sing" as the Perfect Pop Song That Everyone Forgets Is So Perfect.

I think I need to go towel off.

"And Your Bird Can Sing," released in the U.K. side B track 2 of Revolver, August 5, 1966; in the U.S. side B track 1 of Yesterday and Today, June 20, 1966.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hold Me Tight

I don't have tons of time today, what with the rest of my non-Beatles life, so today I'm just going to dance around and listen to "Hold Me Tight."

Paul's clearly having a good time, delivering a fun and not very polished vocal (in a good way-- doesn't it sound like he has a cold?). He doesn't sound as flirty and sophisticated in this come on as in his some of his others-- he sounds more like he's just really super excited. Love Ringo's drumming too. It's just a totally fun, uncomplicated song, a perfect fit on With the Beatles, one of my favorite albums for its sheer danceability.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the release of Meet the Beatles, the as-always-vastly-inferior American version of this album, so I could have listened to this song then, but the inauguration seemed more interesting, ultimately. Besides, songs this fun defy such solemn exercises as celebrating anniversaries.

Since the actual video is sort of boring to watch, you'll have to amuse yourself by dancing. But how can you NOT?

"Hold Me Tight," released in the U.K. side B track 2 of With the Beatles, November 22, 1963; in the U.S. side B track 4 of Meet the Beatles, January 20, 1964.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Happy Obama Day to us all! Today I figured it was appropriate to pick some sort of political song, so today I'm listening to "Revolution." Because it feels freaking REVOLUTIONARY, what's happening today, doesn't it?

This is the one also known as "Revolution #2," the raucous electronic track that was the B side to "Hey Jude."

This is my favorite version of the song for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that John just says "count me out" in the first verse and doesn't fuss around with that "out/in" business as he does on the acoustic "Revolution #1" from the White Album. Man, not to be down, but what a lame quasi-controversy THAT was. But the other reason this track rules is because of that killer fuzzy guitar bit at the beginning. Just, awesome. Everything about this track is just more musically interesting to me. I particularly love the piano solo (which I'm pretty sure is played by a session musician)-- it carries the rocking spirit through, but it also mellows out the aggression with a bit of a boogie-woogie swing feel. It's sort of perfect, rollicking away under the guitar work on the bridge.

This was the Beatles' first overtly political song, but apparently they'd been feeling some pressure to do one, considering they were the most famous people in the world, and this was 1968, a massively politicized year. So this is John's response to the movement. Of course in later years John was associated more with over-the-top peacenik-ery, but "Revolution" sounds genuinely angry to me. It sounds like a guy having a debate with himself, trying to contain his rage at everything that's wrong with the world in order to be pragmatic-- as in, let's see the plan before we burn stuff. At the time, radicals thought John was a big sellout because of his denouncement of violence, but I think it's safe to say that the likes of Abbie Hoffman didn't do much long-term good for progressive causes. In the end, John was right.

"Revolution" can sound dated now, with the talk of destruction and Chairman Mao and so forth. But I think that if today really is the beginning of something new, then it's because of the message here in "Revolution," which is that change, even when brought on by righteous anger, is best achieved through the power of just working together, pragmatically and peacefully.

Oh, hell, just listen to the song again. Dig the music, dig the fuzzed up guitars. Because I am way out of my league talking about this stuff.

"Revolution," released in the U.K. as B-side of "Hey Jude" single, August 30, 1968; in the U.S. as B-side of "Hey Jude" single, August 26, 1968.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Monday, January 19, 2009

I'm a Loser

Because my team was creamed in bar trivia last night. Because my snow boots seem to be letting in water just when I need them most. Because I'm at work on MLK Day and left my husband at home still sleeping soundly. Because I'm too lazy to make the coffee I need to overcome the laziness. For all these reasons and more, "I'm a Loser" today, okay?

Perhaps "I'm a Loser" live in Paris. That does sound a bit more fun, doesn't it?

This one's generally considered the first song or so in what John later called his "Dylan period," in which he tried to write songs that felt more personal and less obsessed with teeny-bopper romantic intrigue. The lyrics show that he can't get completely away from that story line, though, since the "loss" is that of a chick. Still, compared to what came before, this is a turn inward, one we'll see again with future songs like "Help!" and "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away." John later professed that songs like this were more heartfelt than anyone, perhaps even himself, knew at the time, and that in fact his own feelings of loser-ness were always with him. Which is super-relatable.

The Dylan-esque feel comes through in the more acoustic sound here, too, with John on acoustic rhythm guitar and harmonica. The beat sounds more country than anything else, though; in fact, it's one of the most country-sounding Beatles originals I can think of. What I love most is that out-of-time introduction, where John's hurting so bad he's just gotta say it a second time. It's kind of melodramatic and awesome.

The song is a good head-bopping time. "I'm a Loser," but this is a beat I can dance to! Yes, let's all dance and cry and wail, because tomorrow we will probably still be losers. Happy Monday!

"I'm a Loser," released in the U.K. side A track 2 of Beatles for Sale, December 4, 1964; in the U.S., side A track 2 of Beatles '65, December 15, 1964.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Sunday, January 18, 2009

HarriSundays: Here Comes the Sun

Not that I need a reminder to give George his due, but I decided that Sundays are now HarriSundays, mainly because I can't not use a pun if one occurs to me. And if I choose to kick off HarriSundays with "Here Comes the Sun," I've made a triple pun! Gads, I'm a loser.

"Here Comes the Sun" was written when George was feeling kind of cranky and moody like I've been a lot lately. He skipped work during the height of Apple Corps madness, when the Beatles were pretending to be businessmen and doing sort of a lousy job, it turned out. Musically, they were in the middle of the miserable Get Back sessions, wherein their vitriol was flaring up right and left, such that almost everyone quit the band temporarily at some point (including George).  So one day George played hooky and went to hang out at Eric Clapton's house, right went spring was beginning to come to Britain. Walking in the garden with his guitar, he wrote this happy little song, probably one of the best he ever wrote, and certainly a standout on Abbey Road.

The guitar riff at the beginning is so iconic that it actually sounds like musical sunshine streaming into a kitchen window. When the Moog comes in, it just seems like exactly the right touch, as if the sun just became a little stronger and more shimmery. There are strings, but they're sort of hanging out in the background and letting George and his guitar do all the singing. (Paul, too, who's doing the harmonies.) When George begins the verse with "Little darling," it sounds much more intimate than his vocals frequently do, as if he's whispering in your ear, "wake up! It's sunny!"And then the bit where it goes into the syncopated triplet figure, first in the guitar and then in the vocals-- it's like the musical equivalent of spinning around in a garden.

I'm writing this watching the snow come down out the window, just looking forward to spring. It's only January 18 and it's already been a long cold lonely winter. Blech. In New England I feel like the radio plays this song a lot more as spring comes. That springtimey happy feeling is just something so universal. "Here Comes the Sun" makes you want to raise up a Maypole and then just skip the dancing to lie around under it, giggling to yourself. Or just singing along. It's almost impossible not to-- as I was playing this my husband started singing "doo doo doo do" from the next room almost without realizing he was doing it.

I think above I talked a lot about the production, but the melody is strong enough that it sounds excellent with simple acoustic backup, as here at the Concert for Bangla Desh. (That's Pete Ham of Badfinger with George.)

"Here Comes the Sun," released in the U.K. side B track 1 of Abbey Road, September 26, 1969; in the U.S. side B track 1 of Abbey Road, October 1, 1969.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Two Paul-links...

Had to take a quick sec to link twice to I Read the News Today, one of the best blogs out there for Beatles-related news items. First, here is video of Paul on The View this week, charming the pants off all the ladies, including some unseen ones in the audience. He's plugging his new Fireman album, which I desperately need to buy since I keep reading and hearing about it everywhere.

And here is a news item noting that Paul's "secret show" at Hollywood's Amoeba on June 27, 2007 will be released as a CD EP. It's previously been available on vinyl only. I linked to a brief clip from the show just a couple days ago, and I'm sure there's more video out there for the enterprising googler.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What You're Doing


what you're doing


feeling blue and lonely

Paul seems a little irritated with us in "What You're Doing," doesn't he? He kind of yells those stand-alone words at the beginning of the verses like he's jabbing his finger in our chests. John and George join him on those words as if to say "Yeah! Jerk!" It makes us want to squeak out, "Um, sorry! I'm just a fan!" But, see, this is Paul, so it's not for real: on the words "why should it BE so much to ask of you" it totally sounds like he's flirting with us again. We can breathe easy until the next verse.

Ringo famously didn't get a true drum solo until the B side of Abbey Road, but he gets to show off nicely here with an introductory lick that grabs our attention. And George has come up with a snide little guitar riff to underlie the song's plea. But the best bit if at the end when the drums are in the spotlight again, and then Paul's bass just sort of hums into that one note before going into a small, random solo all its own for the fadeout. Nice attention to detail, that.

What you're doing if you're listening to "What You're Doing" is most likely listening to the Beatles for Sale album (or perhaps just listening to the non-video above).  I always feel like I have to defend Beatles for Sale. It's not their strongest effort, but I say it's underrated. It sounds gestational to me: the album that needed to be made before they could make Help! and all the genius moments there, which in turn needed to be made before they could reach the true levels of genius in Rubber Soul. So anyone who's rough on Beatles for Sale, man, you gotta, like, RELAX and let them GROW. And if you're a U.S. fan looking at your copy of Beatles VI and are all like, "what?" at this whole conversation, then let's just say you got screwed.

Since Paul has such a fondness for the ukelele, I thought I'd also post this treat from YouTube. Enjoy.

"What You're Doing," released in the U.K. side B track 6 of Beatles for Sale, December 4, 1964; in the U.S. side B track 1 of Beatles VI, June 14, 1965.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Friday, January 16, 2009

Drive My Car

Of all the egregious, horrible tricks played on Beatles fans in the U.S., one of the worst had to be the Capitol version of Rubber Soul. For the love of God, is there a more cynical Capitol album than this one? In its attempt to capitalize on the brief flare-up of folk-rock circa 1965, it opens NOT with "Drive My Car," today's song, but "I've Just Seen a Face"--which, though a fantastic song, rejiggers the whole album and puts it in the context of folk-rock, which was an American trend that was probably affecting the Beatles only moderately, if at all. "Drive My Car" was relegated to Capitol's craptacular, never-should-have-been Yesterday and Today album.

To hear Rubber Soul as intended, with "Drive My Car" as the opener, reminds you that despite the Beatles' dabbling in more acoustic and other more experimental sounds on this album, they are still the rock band that we know and love. Even the title is just loaded with innuendo. Love it.

Paul notoriously loved writing songs that were also stories, and we get an affecting little story here-- our protagonist meets a girl who flirtatiously offers him a gig as her driver when she gets famous. The punchline is that she doesn't even have a car yet. In this song, Paul fills out the story just enough-- the girl is charismatic and universal at the same time. It's worth remembering that Paul didn't get here on his own: the song was originally titled "Baby You Can Wear My Diamond Ring," but was rewritten by John, who rightly cited the pansy-ass-ness of that title. From there, I presume the song wrote itself.

On each listen, I hear George's flirtatious guitar lick, Paul's piano line, and especially Paul's all-over-the-place bass, sort of all at once, each contributing to the tight arrangement. I also find it interesting that "Drive My Car" is driven less by the characteristic McCartney melody than by the kind of one-note yelling melody that John employed more frequently. All in all, just a wonderful accomplishment-- it would have been a single from any other band, a recording this polished and flippant all at once, but for the Beatles it opened their most mature album to date.

Rubber Soul is just amazing compared to what predated it, isn't it? "Drive My Car" is the perfect opener-- it's absolutely in the rock idiom of the Beatles, but it sounds so much more professional and polished than anything that's come before, and you can just tell that they're thinking more minutely about every aspect of the recording. We're getting to that point in the their career where they sound less like a totally awesome band and more like magic. At least for me. (And I should say, I adore BOTH phases.)

Just because video is fun, here's Paul at Amoeba in Hollywood, on my birthday in 2007 (sadly, I was NOT there), opening the song. He's still singing it in the same key as when he recorded it when he was 23. That's because Paul is a god.

"Drive My Car," released in the U.K. side A track 1 of Rubber Soul, released December 3, 1965; in the U.S., side A track 1 of Yesterday and Today, June 20, 1966.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Some Other Guy (in which I am thwarted by math)

The bitter realities of math are setting in, kids. The subtitle of this blog is a lie: there is, in fact, not a Beatles song for every day of the year. Not a unique Beatles song, anyway, and not a 100% authorized non-bootleggy Beatles song. (I'm sticking to the catalog here, more or less, just because that's what's readily available to all. I don't want to be one of those sites that's all smarmy about who owns the rarest, weirdest Beatles recordings; I'd lose that battle, and anyway it's a BORING battle. If you want bootlegs, there are a zillion other sites to talk about them.) I'm not sure why I didn't think of this sooner. But I only count a little over 200 unique songs in the official catalog, and that's IF I did potentially asinine things. Like write about "Sgt. Pepper" and "Sgt. Pepper Reprise" as two separate posts, or separate out the different pieces of the B side of Abbey Road, or write about the various Across the Universe versions in individual posts (maybe less asinine?), or bother to write anything at all about studio jerkoffs like "Maggie Mae."

So what to do? I don't really want to write about solo stuff; even when I like it, it's never as meaty or interesting. No bootlegs, as I've said. Maybe I'll end up repeating myself-- I mean, it's not like I haven't already listened to every song here about 10 trillion times. Well, whatever. Fact is that at bare minimum, I'm going to have to look beyond what the Beatles released in the 1960s. And that leads me naturally to what I feel is the best of the Beatles post-mortem efforts, Live at the BBC.

This came out when I was in high school, right before the flurry around the Anthology project, and it was pretty exciting to have new stuff to listen to, though it was fairly different-sounding to a high schooler like me who considered "Tomorrow Never Knows" and such like to be the TRULY, you know, DEEP stuff from the Beatles catalog. I feel differently about it now. I think this album is the best way to (legally) experience anything approaching seeing the Beatles live. It's all live shows recorded for BBC Radio between 1962 and 1965, lots of covers and early stuff, and it's raw and full of mistakes and totally high-energy and just fun as hell to listen to. There is certainly profundity here for those who seek it.

"Some Other Guy" was recorded, my handy liner notes tell me, on June 23, 1963, in front of a live audience at London's Playhouse Theatre. The errant screams from the fangirls on the recording make it that much more immediate. The song was written by Leiber-Stoller-Barrett (which explains why it's so good) and performed by Richie Barrett, but for some reason it never became much of a hit. There's a terrific grinding almost-only-one-note guitar solo to kick it off. Then John and Paul start in singing together, spitting out the mouthful of lyrics, which are all about being lonely and stuff, but come off as way more euphoric (as happens in rock and roll) thanks to the beat. It's rare to hear the two of them sing together in unison the whole way through like this-- and it sounds like they're racing toward the finish.

If this one's unfamiliar to you, you gotta fix that. At least check out the video below, from the Anthology documentary and shot in the Cavern. I'm not positive the overdubbed recording is the exact same as from Live at the BBC, but I think it probably is.
If you can't at least bop your head around to this song, you might be a cyborg.

"Some Other Guy," released in the U.K. disc 1 track 11 of Live at the BBC, November 30, 1994; in the U.S. disc 1 track 11 of Live at the BBC, December 6, 1994.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why Apple Sucks (an aside).

If you are as sick and tired as I am of waiting for the remastered Beatles catalog, you can drown your sorrows in this piece at A Beatles' Hard-Dies' Site. It perfectly captures my own and every other fan's vitriol on the idiocy of the ongoing state of affairs between EMI and Apple. Also, it once again makes fun of the White Album pen! Truly, we all need to make fun of that pen (and then cry into our drinks) for the rest of our lives.

I'm Down

Like many people living in Boston, I am feeling DOWN, mainly because it's supposed to be about zero degrees for the next week, or something. I don't usually even mind cold weather, or at least not the cold weather typical of a Boston winter. I LIKE winter-- I like the way you warm up as you walk, and how nice it is to come inside and have a cup of tea, and I like wearing fuzzy sweaters. But honestly? It's been cold and icy here for way too long, and the low temperatures are, frankly, a bit more midwestern than we're used to. This kind of weather affects everything, so that no matter what else is going on, I tend to get all crabby.

That's why I'm listening to "I'm Down" today. I AM down, and I need to listen to something totally rocking and upbeat and kickass. Paul wrote this as an homage to the stylings of Little Richard, whom he'd already covered awesomely. From Paul's first unaccompanied wail, the song kicks right in and pretty much doesn't let up in its blowing-of-your-mind. John and George's backup vocals seem to be mocking Paul and cheering him on at the same time. Both George and Ringo are in amazing form, Ringo just barely holding the whole thing together with wild drumming, and George contributing one of his best guitar solos ever. What I love is that "I'm Down" is so much more than a Little Richard impersonation-- it truly belongs to all the Beatles, rocking as hard as they can in their own inimitable way. Though driven by Paul's vocal, this is a song that only a band (a good band) could to this well. That's why it's so weird that Paul actually recorded the first tracks by himself, in the same session as "Yesterday." Anthology offers an earlier version with just Paul that's absolutely worth a listen.

"I'm Down" replaced "Long Tall Sally" as the Beatles' usual final number in their stage show, and it's easy to see why. Just look at how much fun they had with it at the Shea Stadium concert.

John playing keyboard with his elbows is killer. I mean, part of why they're cracking up so much is that they know no one can even hear them. They're almost just doing it for themselves, and having a blast. I suddenly feel way, way better.

"I'm Down," released in the U.K. as side B of "Help!" single, July 23, 1965; in the U.S. as side B of "Help!" single, July 19, 1965.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

All Together Now

Today I once again have a great tip from DM's Beatles Site, which alerts me that on this date in 1969 the Yellow Submarine LP was released in the U.S. The film was released in the States November of the prior year, and this was its (belated) soundtrack, which means that side A features Beatles songs from the film (asterisk asterisk) and side B features film instrumental pieces by George Martin.

Yellow Submarine was done to fulfill a contractual obligation the Beatles had with United Artists, and it was planned to require the least amount of actual Beatles' participation possible-- as a cartoon. All the band had to do was submit songs for a soundtrack, though they didn't even REALLY do that. Only four new songs made it onto the film soundtrack, and then one of them (the best one, in my opinion) didn't even make it into the film's U.S. version for some ridiculous reason. (Though the "Hey Bulldog" sequence has thankfully been restored in the latest DVD version.) None of the four songs are particularly substantive, but then, they were saving their best songs for their real albums. It just must have been kind of a bummer to pay for an LP and find you got 4 songs, 2 songs you already owned, and a whole side of not-that-great movie soundtrack stuff.

Anyway, despite the Beatles' lack of more active participation, Yellow Submarine is an AWESOME movie with wicked cool animation, a weird sense of humor, and a healthy appreciation of the mythology of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Despite their disdain for the project, even the Beatles loved it when they saw it at. Who couldn't?

I'm not going to listen to "Yellow Submarine" today, because, obviously, that belongs on Revolver. Instead, I'll check out "All Together Now," one of the four film originals, which they seem to have liked enough to have included in the film twice (there's a reprise at the end in which the Beatles, live and in person, lead the audience in the song). It's a song that works for the sunny-eyed optimism of the movie: a children's song that's as brainless as a jumprope rhyme. And they bring out fun instruments like ukelele and banjo and harmonica (played by George), and add a rousing final chorus of (I presume) all the various people hanging around the studio. But it definitely doesn't capture all the fun and magic and youthfulness of "Yellow Submarine," no matter how much they're trying to do so. There's just less to hang all that wonder on.

I don't know. I don't feel like there's much else to say. I always like listening to it, but now I have a feeling that I'm going to have it stuck in my head all day.

"All Together Now," released in the U.K. side A track 3 of Yellow Submarine, January 17, 1969; released in the U.S. side A track 3 of Yellow Submarine, January 13, 1969.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Monday, January 12, 2009

I've Got a Feeling

Oh, Let It Be album. Poor Let It Be album. Released half-assedly, produced bizarrely, written off by the band almost immediately... No matter how many versions of "Across the Universe" we might hear, there's no helping that the first one we heard was on the messy, overwrought little Let It Be album. While Let It Be Naked tried to reclaim some of what might have been, it's really no use, is it? Considering the hours of time and tape that went into it, and all the promise of the Get Back project as originally conceived, Let It Be is doomed to always be a disappointment.

Which is a real shame, because there are a few really nice moments on it. Let's check out one of my favorites, "I've Got a Feeling." It's probably the last true collaboration between John and Paul, and the version on Let It Be is from the Apple rooftop concert, so the song is to some degree free of the two central problems with the album (which are that [a] the Beatles hated each other, and [b] Phil Spector's production sucks).

I believe John and Paul actually got together at one of their houses to work on "I've Got a Feeling," which must have been the first time in a while at this point. They married Paul's song, which makes up the verse and bridge, with John's "Everybody's Had a Hard Year," which he'd tinkered with during the White Album sessions. The marriage works, and I like the finished product quite a bit, but what does it mean? It might just be knowing what was going on in their personal lives that makes it sound to me like John is sarcastically putting down Paul's impassioned, rocking love song. Or maybe it sounds more like Paul is wailing about the woman he's found against John's part, which stands in for the buzz of the mundane life-- which continues to go on and on and on in spite of people falling in love. I don't know.

Anyway, for a band that hasn't played live in a long time, they are all on their game here. And Billy Preston's keyboard meshes just right into the whole. George's guitar? Epic. Still, though, my favorite bits are Paul and John singing "oh yeah" "oh yeah?" "oh yeah!" "oh yeahhhh" "ooooh yeah" to each other. Their partnership, for all it's been through at this point, is still alive. And it's at the heart of everything.

"I've Got a Feeling," released in the U.K. side B track 1 of Let It Be, May 8, 1970; in U.S. side B track 1 of Let It Be, May 18, 1970.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Please Please Me

I don't want to go too overboard celebrating landmarks in Beatles history, but today's is big and important enough to merit it. Today in 1963 the "Please Please Me" / "Ask Me Why" single was released in Britain and kicked off the Beatles' history-making career-- a career without which the world would be a crappier place. Hurray for today! (And thanks to DM's Beatles Site for the tip.)

"Please Please Me" was originally written by John in the manner of a Roy Orbison song, like "Only the Lonely" or a similar mid-tempo piece. When John played it for George Martin, it sounded a bit too dreary to work, and it was Martin who suggested speeding it up. They did, and when they brought it back to the studio, it was awesome enough such that Martin could say his extremely famous line from the control booth: "Congratulations, boys. You've just recorded your first number one record." And so they had.

The song works so well, I think, because it mixes the right formula of perfect pop and total raunchiness. George Martin, of course, really wanted the Beatles' first single to be "How Do You Do It," which is ALL pop and no meat at all, which is why they detested it. But "Please Please Me" is more interesting in so many ways. John's awesome harp line on the opening chords launches into the shared John and Paul vocal, Paul wailing away on his one-note line up top. Then in the "Come on"s John gets throatier and throatier, truly pleading, while George and Paul sing back, Paul just getting higher and higher and more elated.

I always hear the vocals most prominently on this song, because the close harmonic singing is extremely good, and because the guitars, as awesome as they are, are really just punctuating that-- just supporting the ramping up of the energy. The exception is the drums, with Ringo's rolls and his quick stops making for a really unforgettable beat.

Some might think this is dated, but I think song sounds as sexy now as it did in 1963. Even if the song isn't LITERALLY about oral sex, as some have stipulated, it's definitely thinking some impure thoughts. I mean, truly, when he sings "Come on" John is all but snarling up your skirt. For all its poppy breeziness, "Please Please Me" is dripping with genuine desire. That's why the non-debate about Beatles vs. Stones, or Beatles vs. Elvis, or whatever, is such crap: the Beatles could, and did, rock as hard as anyone. They launched onto the national scene with a song that would heat up countless dance floors. And within a tight pop formula, with clean production, they were capable of making millions of girls think the dirtiest thoughts of their lives.

"Please Please Me," released in the U.K. as a single w/ "Ask Me Why," January 11, 1963; released and ignored in the U.S. as a VeeJay single w/ "Ask Me Why," February 7, 1963.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Saturday, January 10, 2009

For No One

I'm feeling a little melancholy today. Very January, if you will. And after the giddiness of yesterday's "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da," I'd prefer to wallow in something a little different. Something like "For No One."

I love this song. I LOVE this song. There's so much understatement, so much unsaid. The lyrics maintain a respectful distance, keeping the story in the second person, and the line in the chorus "a love that should have lasted years," sounds like something an outsider would say. But they take on a weight of real regret in the context of the rest of the story, and in the context of another amazing melody written by Paul.

The music has a nice level of understatement too, just bass and piano and some soft drumming by Ringo in the background, who, if memory serves, is the only Beatle other than Paul playing on this song. The piano part is very simple, really just a backbone holding the song together. And then in the chorus, the piano goes into wobbling eighth notes, which sounds almost like background music from a soap opera-- which it pretty much is. It's the vocal that has the gorgeous melody that's the meat of the song-- a melody that's taken over and transformed by the horn that comes in at the bridge. With a melody this good, it's not surprising that everything else is in the background. Most importantly, though, every bit of music on this track contributes something to the mood of restrained sorrow.

"For No One" is an excellent song for a snowy day. Try putting it on, going up to the window, gingerly finger the curtains as you look out, and let a single, perfect tear hang from your lower eyelash. It's that kind of song. But also so much more.

"For No One," released in the U.K. side B track 3 of Revolver, August 5, 1966; in the U.S. side B track 2 of Revolver, August 8, 1966.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

Friday, January 9, 2009

A couple asides.

If anyone's curiosity was aroused by my comparatively lame post the other day on "Strawberry Fields Forever," I want to point them to, where the Song of the Moment right now is an excerpt from Woody Lifton's Pop Go the Beatles radio show. The show is based on Woody's mind-blowing collection of unreleased Beatles recordings, whether studio outtakes, live performances, interviews from random radio stations-- if it exists, I think Woody has it. Anyway, the Song of the Moment comes from Pop Go the Beatles, and it's not really so much a song as it is George Martin himself talking you through the various versions of "Strawberry Fields Forever" as they were recorded. It's really fascinating, and gives you a closer look into how that masterpiece of recording was made. Check it out.

You can download bits of the Pop Go the Beatles Show in podcast form on iTunes if you search for it-- perhaps the ONLY way to listen to the Beatles on iTunes, despite protestations from every corner-- but to get all of what Woody's got, you'll need to buy the multi-multi-multi-CD set, which would frankly be an excellent investment.

In other news that may or may not be good, I have just this moment read about a forthcoming film based on the childhood of John Lennon. Um...... um. Hmm.

Beatles News links to the Guardian's article about Kristin Scott Thomas being cast as Mimi, John's aunt, and Ann-Marie Duff as Julia, John's mother. Matt Greenhaigh, who wrote the screenplay for Control, the film about Ian Curtis, did this screenplay as well, so maybe it won't suck. The director is Sam Taylor-Wood. It's his first film.

My feelings on this are trepidatious. I'm sure I'll see it, but, I mean... Isn't John Lennon enough of a mythological figure already without mythologizing his childhood in film?

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da

I was talking to a good friend (and probably the only person who ever reads this blog) about favorite Beatles songs the other day. I'm never able to name only one favorite of my own, though I do have some songs that always end up in my list of favorites. She, though, knew exactly what her top three were, and one of them was "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da." To which I said something like, "Oh. Hmm. Wait-- really? Your favorite? Of them ALL?"

I mean, I don't dislike this song by any means. On its own terms, it's just fine. But I've always considered it sort of a romp, sort of too breezy for its own good. I decided I needed to reexamine it and see what I was missing.

Paul wrote this based on the "ob-la-di, ob-la-da" line that a Nigerian conga drummer he knew in New York would chant during performances. It's apparently a real Yoruban phrase that means something along the lines of "life goes on." I guess the happy-go-lucky feel of that appealed to Paul, who was inspired to write one of the most conventional love stories ever, setting the protagonists' march to domestic bliss to a vaguely African/Caribbean beat.

Listening to it again I'm really struck by how clean and well-produced it is. I get the sense that every element here-- from the raucous piano banging at the beginning, to John and George's goofy "Yellow-Submarine"-esque background noisemaking, to the simple-yet-perfect bouncy bass line, to the understated glee of the sax-- contributes to the feel that Paul was going for. That's why it's always been so surprising to me that sessions for "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da" were some of the most contentious in Beatles history, with Paul insisting they do about a zillion takes with all sorts of variations to get it JUST RIGHT. The other three Beatles weren't even that hot on this song to begin with, and overworking a light number like this when they had their own songs they wanted to get to seems to have made everyone murderous. It is safe to assume that, cheerful as John and George sound here, they were THIS CLOSE to wringing Paul's neck.

Given all that, it's amazing that the song does achieve such lightness. More than anything, the recording is a testament to the Beatles' professionalism. Plus, I must admit, it's a solid little song anyway-- a strong melody, an excellent lead vocal by Paul, and an all-around good time. It's still not my favorite EVER (I'll never be able to come up with just one favorite anyway), but I get the appeal a lot more now.

"Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da," side A track 4 of the White Album, released in the U.K. November 22, 1968, in the U.S. November 25, 1968.
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