Saturday, February 14, 2009

Things We Said Today

Since yesterday I wrote about what I feel to be a massively overrated Paul McCartney song, today I feel honor-bound to write about a massively underrated Paul McCartney song, "Things We Said Today." I adore this song, and I don't think most critics give it the credit it deserves-- except for lovable musicologist Alan W. Pollack, who totally gets it, and whose piece I recommend reading if you're feeling particularly geeky today. But anyway, "Things We Said Today" is one of those little Beatle masterpieces that sits quietly minding its own business on the B side of an album, waiting to change your life forever. (See also, most famously: "Yesterday.")

Paul wrote this on a boat in the Caribbean while on holiday with Jane Asher, as well as Ringo and his girlfriend Maureen Cox; he had strayed down to the lower decks and apparently never lost a certain queasiness as he composed. Nonetheless, what an amazing result-- it's so MATURE, much as I sort of hate that word. Compare this song with "And I Love Her," the other minor-key McCartney ballad on A Hard Day's Night. That song is beautiful, but there's a certain clear-eyed youthfulness to it, whereas "Things We Said Today" takes love a great deal more seriously and feels much more melancholy. Here's the album version (though a fairly uninteresting video).

Rooted in the extremely interesting (for them) key of A natural-minor, with a bunch of weird excursions into B-flat territory, the song has a harmonic nebulousness that perfectly complements the lyrics, which are all about the uncertainty of the future.

OK, I just reread that sentence, and I am clearly descending into wonkiness, so, all apologies. AHEM.

So the lyrics project nostalgia into the future-- someday we'll remember things we said today-- and show a keen awareness that what's happening right now is a crucial moment in the relationship, though the natural minor key sounds, to my ear, musically uneasy about the whole thing. The whole concept is so much more adult than in other Beatles songs, in which, you know, I love you and she loves you and we'll all be true and so on and so forth. But to counteract the potential dreariness, these lyrics, are accentuated by percussive piano playing by John and a real snap to George's guitar that keeps the song from ever sounding plodding.

Then at the bridge, it abruptly goes into A major. When the Beatles wrote songs in minor keys, which actually wasn't terribly often, they frequently liked to throw in this switchover in the bridge to major (on this very album, it happens again in "I'll Be Back"), and here the major key signals a whole new burst of energy-- the guitars seem to be revitalized. This is particularly evident when they played it live, as in the Live at the BBC version of this song, or in the video below, which features them playing live at the 1964 Indiana State Fair. The video quality is poor, but you can still see John suddenly get very excited about playing in major-- as if he feels like he can rock out a bit more now.

One thing both the live versions do is close the song halfway through the verse, on the lyric "we'll go on and on," which, for me, is an even more wistful ending than the one on the album version. They must have decided that they preferred it that way, and I think I do too, if I had to choose.

Isn't this an amazing McCartney ballad? Surely one of the great unheralded ones. Even Paul himself doesn't seem to get it-- when he's spoken about it, he's congratulated himself on the interesting harmonic stuff going on, but even he doesn't seem to think that it's one of the best things he ever wrote. Am I insane? No. The song rules. I could listen to it forever.

Gad, I just realized that I wrote about a Paul ballad on Valentine's Day, which I didn't do intentionally and kind of grosses me out, as everything about this insipid holiday does. Well, goodie. Have a happy stupid Valentine's Day if you're celebrating it. Frankly, the sentiments in "Things We Said Today" are more than this holiday deserves.

"Things We Said Today," released in the U.K. side B track 3 of A Hard Day's Night, July 10, 1964; in the U.S., side A track 2 of Something New, July 20, 1964.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

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