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.
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1 comment:

  1. Agreed; this is a good song, for where they were in their careers, and where rock and roll was, in its infancy.