Monday, February 2, 2009


Once more, in the interest of stretching out the Beatles' body of work to fit into a year, we're diving into the newer entries to the canon, in this case Live at the BBC. I've already extolled the virtues of this album quite a bit, but I can't resist the opportunity to do so again, because I'm still not convinced people get how tremendous it is-- I think it gets lumped in with the more-hyped releases of the '90s, Anthologies I, IIand III, which are a little weirder to listen to for fun. Those are interesting as historical documents, appealing mainly to geeks who want to hear the process behind the music. That's, you know, awesome, and I'm glad that stuff is out there, and I AM one of those geeks. But to just put on some music because you want to listen to it and bounce around your living room a little, it's gotta be Live at the BBC. If you've held off on buying this because it's not, you know, as real or something as the original albums, or because of the dearth of Lennon-McCartney material, or whatever-- just get it. It's amazing. I am a total evangelist for this album.

Anyway, today I'm listening to "Carol," a cover of one of my favorite Chuck Berry songs.


The original versions of some of the Beatles' covers are pretty obscure, especially nowadays (quick: who first did "Devil in Her Heart"?-- that's what I thought), but Chuck Berry's original of "Carol" is definitely out there, even if it's a little less well-known than some of the really iconic Berry songs like "Johnny B. Goode" and "Roll Over Beethoven." Berry's cut is, unsurprisingly, SMOKING. It's totally balls-out rocking, with this fantastic piano part, and these catch-your-breath bits before the chorus where the beat gets suspended and the instruments mostly drop out and Berry just practically moans Carol's name over and over. I mean, have you HEARD this song? You should. It is hot as all get-out.

So what the Beatles do that's interesting is cool it down a bit. George's lead guitar is, as so often happened in their covers, an affectionate imitation of Berry's. But the beat is different, less insistent-- they've given the rhythm a bit more of a swingy, shuffle feel, which actually seems appropriate for the lyrics, because it's very easy to imagine it being played to a hall full of dancing people. (In the Berry version, you can imagine that too, but it's, like, far sweatier dancing.) And John not only skips Berry's vocal moaning thing, he gives the vocal a really different feel. Where Berry is impassioned, John is glib. It's as if he like Carol, and thinks she's a great chick and stuff, but is trying to play things cool because he doesn't want her to think he's THAT into her. It's kind of adorably adolescent. The way he sings the name "Carol," especially, it's as if he's saying, "You want to go out? Because, you know, it's fine if not, I mean, I don't care." He even seems to forget her name on the last repeat of the chorus. But the little catches in his voice reveal his true feelings, and make it a nice performance.

I love both versions, really, and I love that the Beatles really made this one so much their own. They add a youthful reserve to the rock that is, in its way, as appealing as Berry's emotional urgency. For the hell of it, I'll leave you with this video of Berry in the '70s on British TV. Man, that guy is awesome.

"Carol," released in the U.K. disc A track 16 of Live at the BBC, November 30, 1994; in the U.S., December 6, 1994.
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