Saturday, February 28, 2009

Cry for a Shadow

I spent my morning at a very long dress rehearsal for a concert that my chorus is singing tomorrow. It's a concert with a lot of big singing on it, and I'm just all sung out. Freaking sick of singing, truly. I feel more instrumental right now.

So today, let's listen to "Cry for a Shadow," an odd one in the Beatles catalog for a couple reasons: it's one of only two officially-released Beatles instrumentals, and it's the only song that has a Harrison-Lennon songwriting credit. Plus, Pete Best is drumming on it, because it was recorded prior to Ringo joining the band.

The Beatles made their first commercial recordings as a backup band for then-famous Tony Sheridan on their second extended visit to Hamburg, in June of 1961. The single "My Bonnie," among others, was done in this session, but the Beatles got a chance to record a couple numbers of their own without Sheridan as well. "Cry for a Shadow" is one of them. My understanding is that early in the Beatles' career, they played many more instrumentals, which were sort of in vogue in late '50s pop, but this must have been a favorite. Though this recording first saw the light of day on a Tony Sheridan EP released in France in April of 1962 (and thanks to Beatles Discography for THAT tip, which was news to me!), it was first released in Britain and the UK after the Beatles had already become famous. In fact, completely by coincidence, today appears to be the 45th anniversary of the release of this single in Britain. But anyway, these days, the easiest place to hear it is on Anthology 1.

The song is a parody of the very-popular-at-the-time Cliff Richard and the Shadows (hence the title), who sounded, apparently, a great deal like this, right down to those random little screams Paul is throwing in. I've never listened to much Cliff Richard (my only real exposure is his "Living Doll" recording with the Young Ones in the '80s, and though I like the video and everything having to do with the Young Ones, the song is, um, not so spectacular) so I would never have figured out the connection without having read it several times in various Beatley tomes. But at the time Cliff Richard was Britain's biggest pop star, and represented a very establishment sound that the Beatles consciously tried to differentiate themselves from. Except for when they parodied it. Anyway, even if the parodic element is perhaps too dated (and, for anyone not from Britain, kind of obscure) to make sense anymore, "Cry for a Shadow" is a pleasant little diversion, isn't it?

I quite like the track's mellow feel-- I'm far more relaxed and chilled out now having listened to it a couple times-- and the way that George and John on guitars are doing so much with this very simple little melody they've got. They're making the melody sound more melodic than it actually is, if that makes sense, through smart improvisation and  just really good spirited playing. Pete's drums push the tempo a bit on the bridge in a way that I can get into, and otherwise is just as laid back as everyone else.

But one of my favorite things about this track is that you can't even really tell it's the Beatles. Because they're parodying the Shadows, the guitars just don't really sound like Beatle guitars, and the drumming (of course) sounds different from what we're used to on early Beatles records too. It could be any band-- albeit a solid, professional band-- on this track. Isn't that kind of neat? It's songs like this that show off the range the band had even this early in their career. Because they are awesome. And even listening to them play something like "Cry for a Shadow" makes me super super happy.

"Cry for a Shadow," released in the U.K. as a Polydor single b/w "Why," February 28, 1963; in the U.S. side A track 2 of MGM LP The Beatles with Tony Sheridan and Guests, February 3, 1964. Available today disc 1 track 12 of Anthology 1.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

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