Thursday, January 8, 2009

Blue Jay Way

Dear Lord, here we are on January 8 and I haven't done a George Harrison song yet. Clearly it's that time. Also, after the pop songs of the past few days, I crave something a little trippier. So today I'll listen to "Blue Jay Way," featured in the Magical Mystery Tour film and on the British double EP and American LP of the same name.

My relationship with Magical Mystery Tour (the film) is complicated. As a Beatles fan, I think it's spectacular, a pastiche of the band jumping around and being adorable on God knows what quantities of psychedelics. However, as a person with a brain, I also recognize that Magical Mystery Tour is incredibly stupid-- as stupid as any film made by a bunch of stoned musicians on a bus with random circus freaks and acquaintances, but sans a director or a writer-- because, you know, they're such freaking geniuses that whatever they come up with will be awesome-- would be. But even worse than the film being stupid is that the music isn't really up to par either. Considering this is the next project they took on after Sgt. Pepper, these songs, it pains me to admit, are just not the strongest set they ever did. "Flying" is pleasant but boring, and "Magical Mystery Tour" is singable but slight. And do not even get me started on that Forrest Gump of pop songs, "The Fool on the Hill." (When I critique the Beatles? I do it out of love. Tough love. I'd still rather listen to this EP than to what most any radio station is playing at the moment.)

But I'm digressing. Want to see someone really drag the Beatles over the tough-love coals? Tim Riley does so elegantly in his Tell Me Why, my favorite of the wonky musical-nerd Beatles books. (He's even harder on Yellow Submarine. The film soundtrack.)

I'm digressing again. OK, so despite everything, despite ALL the Magical Mystery Tour baggage, I'm a "Blue Jay Way"apologist. I just like this song. Phooey on all you who call it dreary and pretentious. You can go back and listen to "The Fool on the Hill" again. "Blue Jay Way" rocks. George wrote it soon after buying a house in Los Angeles on Blue Jay Way, a real street (and probably one with much easier-to-steal street signs than Penny Lane, Beatles vagrants out there, not that I'm advocating anything). He had friends coming over one night, but they got held up due to an intense fog hanging over the city. While he was waiting, he wrote this song about being tired of waiting.

It's not the world's most promising or profound premise for a song, but in the production, they go nuts with the backwards tapes, Hammond organ, vaguely Eastern-sounding cello (I think it's a cello), and so forth, to imbue the song with huge psychedelic significance. There's some really sweet lazy drumming thanks to Ringo here too. The result of everything sounds dreamy and terribly fatigued, as if George himself might fall asleep in the middle of a verse. You might say it sounds FOGGY. There's a slight pickup in the beat in the chorus that helps change the pacing. But ultimately, this is true mellowing-out music, music that relaxes me deep in my bones and puts me into a 3-minute meditative state. In that sense, perhaps it's the closest the Beatles got to gamelan (though, actually, it sounds nothing like gamelan-- never mind).

If you'd rather listen to the song in a slightly siller context, you'll want to watch the video from the Magical Mystery Tour film. Truly, especially if you've never seen it, it's not to be missed.
And by the way, I was also pleased to see that someone on YouTube calling themselves PF9ThePikachuLover has taken the time to record and transcribe several Beatles songs backwards, which is truly the most groovy way to play them. Here's "Blue Jay Way" backwards for you-- loads of Paul is Dead clues here for the chronically paranoid as well!

"Blue Jay Way," released in the U.K. on Magical Mystery Tour double EP, side D track 1, December 8, 1967; released in the U.S. on Magical Mystery Tour album, side A track 4. November 27, 1967.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

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