Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Oh! Darling

Hey, kids! Here's a Beatles/punctuation pop quiz that I just came up with: which Beatles songs have exclamation points in them? One of them is, of course, "Oh! Darling"-- the others I haven't covered yet. Hint: each is awesome.

But forget those other songs, because today is "Oh! Darling" day, and boy is it ever, man, let's just fucking LEAN into these end-of-March blues, let's hang our heads low before the rock god that is Paul McCartney and jam in whatever way we know how, because spring is coming but man oh man we still got these blues.

I am on the record as adoring Beatles songs that are as driven by the vocal as this one is, and Paul's gut-busting vocal on "Oh! Darling" has an excellent and very famous story. This, like most of Abbey Road, was recorded in the first half of 1969, so it had been four or five years since Paul had gone into full-on Little Richard mode and screamed the shit out of a song. In order to do this one justice, he practiced his scream a lot-- screaming in the bathtub at home, coming in early to Abbey Road Studios to warm up the scream, and Lord knows what else. And if one day's take didn't capture the vocal the way he wanted it, he wouldn't even bother with a second take-- he'd just wait for the next day to start fresh. It sounds like Paul "Maria Callas" McCartney was in total diva mode, which is something I deeply respect. (I love divas.) And with "Oh! Darling" available in an earlier version from the Get Back sessions on Anthology 3, you can tell the diva-attitude was warranted. On that version you can hear poor Paul trying his best, but in trying to sound like a rock star, he comes off more like a game show host. His tone is just so pure when it should be ragged. Luckily, in the final cut, the vocal is exactly as it should be. Paul nails the "tearing flesh" sound that he could be capable of at his rocking best, and all the echo effect just makes it sound that much more retro and funky. He might be singing that he'll never do me no harm, but I don't even believe him. I also don't care. He can harm me as much as he pleases. (In his final interview in 1980, John sneered that he could have sung this song much better. But you know what? John's a dick.)

In John's defense, though, he and George are rocking the doo-wop backing vocals. (There's more of John's vocal on that Anthology track too-- I actually kind of like it played up.) John is on the piano here as well, reiterating the doo-woppy feel with those simple percussive chords. When the middle eights come in, and Paul's vocal gets particularly raspy, George is right there on guitar driving the beat, and Ringo swaggers sexily through his drum line, inserting fills leading into the middle eights that are so hot they're practically snogging the bass.

And, well, it's the bass that shares star billing with the vocal here on "Oh! Darling." If this song sounds like it could have been a solo Paul McCartney song-- and I know that this has been remarked upon-- it's probably because that diva streak that I do kind of love has made Paul emphasize the vocals and bass above all other elements here. I mean, that's okay. He's a genius, and they were breaking up anyway, and the song sounds amazing, so who am I to say anything? Speaking of amazing, WHAT A BASS LINE. It's practically singing a counter-melody, it's got so much personality. We're all clear on Paul's awesomeness on the bass, right? In case you're not convinced, please go back and listen again to "Oh! Darling" so you can properly appreciate the awesomeness of the bass. The line is so interesting, yet sounds so inevitable in the context of the song, that it's totally the work of genius.

All in all, a huge bright spot on Abbey Road-- the Beatles work together (for a change) and come up with this total unique bluesy doo-wop melange with a McCartney vocal so raw it's practically bleeding. Even this late, they still freaking had it, kids. Just imagine what they could have accomplished together if they all hadn't been such divas.

"Oh! Darling," released in the U.K. side A track 4 of Abbey Road, September 26, 1969; in the U.S., October 1, 1969.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Keep Your Hands Off My Baby

So, I made this list of all the Beatles songs I plan on listening to this year. I keep a hard copy at my desk and I scratch off each song as I knock it out. My biggest fear is that poor planning forces me to leave all the sort of weirder ones til the end-- the last thing I want to do is close this project out with the anti-showstopping finale of, say, "Sgt. Pepper (Reprise)," "Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand," and three random demos from Anthology 3. So although a spirit of randomness infuses what I'm doing here, there has to be an element of planning to stave off that disaster. At least I think so.

In that spirit, we're heading toward the treasure trove of Live at the BBC today, just because I notice that I haven't played that album in a while. And, you know, I quite like "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby." (I quite like all these tracks, actually-- picking favorites would be like picking one's favorite children.)

Isn't "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby" wicked catchy? Aren't you humming it to yourself even now? That's because it was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, writers of some of the catchiest songs in the universe. If I started throwing out their song titles you'd start humming those almost immediately-- "One Fine Day," "I'm into Something Good," "Up on the Roof," "Take Good Care of My Baby".... Do you see what I mean?

But back to "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby." This was a 1962 hit for Little Eva, whom you might remember for her love of the "Loco-Motion" (also a Goffin-King song!). Although I've never heard the original, and, sadly, can't seem to find any files of it to post here, I can kind of imagine how it would have sounded from what I know of Little Eva-- like a riled-up 16-year-old who might be singing cutely but would happily claw your eyes out if she felt threatened.

I actually really like it when the Beatles sing covers of what seem to be girls' songs. Maybe the most well-known of these is the Shirelles' "Boys," which Ringo sang lead on on Please Please Me. What I love is that despite what I've read of the Beatles' tendencies toward rampant sexism, homophobia, and other symptoms of distasteful laddishness in their youth (witness the legendary cruelty of John Lennon to their gay manager, Brian Epstein), they were happy to bend genders if the songs were good enough. Music trumped all, in other words. I mean, when people say things like "music can save the world" or whatever, this is the way in which I think it can save it-- good music can take a guy like a 22-year-old John Lennon with all his insecurities and his macho posturing, and inspire him to pour his heart and soul into covering freaking Little Eva. Know what I mean? It's kind of beautiful.

Of course, that said, the themes in "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby" are ones that John seems obsessed with in his own songwriting-- jealousy and revenge and that underlying edge of violence-- so he's at least on familiar ground here. And his vocal has that roughness, that slight air of the batshit-crazy, that I can't imagine Little Eva had in her original. Still, though, he sounds like he's having fun. In the chorus, on that little "haa-yaa-yaands" bit," it sounds heaps like he's singing "nyah nyah nyah" or something. I mean, the threat is a little more taunting and lighthearted here, is all-- a little less rooted in insecurity. Frequently, when Paul and George are singing backup to John, it's like they're the two bullies standing behind him casually punching their fists into their hands, as if to say that they have got his back. But here they, too, seem to be singing with laughs in their throats. Ringo, always a steadying influence, keeps everyone in check with some good shuffly stuff in his drumming-- stuff that makes you want to take a saunter around a dance floor with your own baby. Ultimately, everything seems in good fun. (Though I would still keep your hands off John's baby if I were you.)

"Keep Your Hands Off My Baby," released in the U.K. disc 1 track 6 of Live at the BBC, November 30, 1994; in the U.S. December 6, 1994.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


If you're ever lying around on a disgusting rainy Sunday, suffering from the lingering effects of insomnia and headaches-- or if you're just having one of those days when you hate everyone, and especially if that day is a HarriSunday-- you may as well listen to "Piggies," one of George's songs from the White Album. It sounds as though, on the day he wrote this, George sort of hated everyone too.

Or maybe it wasn't that he hated everyone. Maybe he just felt superior to everyone. George sometimes does seem to feel a little bit superior to us, doesn't he? You know, like how in "Within You Without You" he totally implicates listeners in the shallowness of contemporary life and so on. And then there's "Isn't It a Pity?" from All Things Must Pass, in which he essentially clucks his tongue at us condescendingly for not being nicer to each other. We're not as directly implicated in "Piggies," but the song does make me feel a little dirty, as though I'm doing something wrong by just existing and participating (albeit in only a small, pathetic way) in the capitalist machine. Or whatever. And sometimes it just makes me want to point out to George, look, two years ago you were singing "Taxman," so don't even talk to me about how I'm materialistic.

Anyway, George is in full on satiric mode here, milking the quasi-pastoral, "proper" sounds of the harpsichord and cello for all they're worth. The fake classical feel is helped out by a pretty even-sounding four/four rhythm with no backbeat (or drums at all) to muss up its preciousness. Then John and Paul join George on the last verse in exaggeratedly operatic, twitty voices. I guess what we're meant to take from this is that pigs like to listen to classical music. And as someone who happens to listen to a lot of classical music, I get irritated with this insinuation that everyone who listens to it is up for an Upper-Class-Twit-of-the-Year Award, especially from a guy like George, whom I love dearly but who, in 1968, didn't know what the hell he was talking about when it came to classical, okay?

See, shoot, I'm letting "Piggies" offend me again, which is really just silly. Most days I like this song more, when I can just sit back and let George have his little piece and listen to the cute piggy snorting noises. Still, it's never been one of my favorites. The tone is kind of off-putting-- maybe it sounded fine in the '60s, but this is exactly the kind of '60s sentiment that hasn't aged well. To say nothing of some clunkiness in the lyrics. ("What they need's a damned good whacking" is a line contributed by George's mother, and one which I sincerely wish she had kept to herself.) But have a listen anyway-- or wait to listen to it when you're in a more rotten mood. It tends to sound better on days like that, I feel.

"Piggies," released in the U.K. side B track 4 of The Beatles a.k.a. the White Album, November 22, 1968; in the U.S. November 25, 1968.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Step Inside Love/Los Paranoias

Sometimes, when I wake up early on a Saturday morning all folded neatly into the blankets and start to stretch myself out of sleepiness, I crave a little cuddle with Paul McCartney.

Oh, yes, Paul, I AM tired. And we ARE together, and, thank you, I WILL stay. Gee, Paul, I love it when you sing in that quiet way at the top of your range. And when you sing demos like this-- as you do so sweetly elsewhere on Anthology 3-- it sounds so intimate, as if you're singing right into the back of my neck. Sigh.

I sort of understand why you gave this song to Cilla Black to sing, Paul, instead of putting it on the White Album, because "Step Inside Love" doesn't sound as suited for the Beatles as it was for a pop diva like Cilla. But if the song had ended up like this, it would have worked very well on McCartney, your first solo album, don't you think? You know, it sounds all breezy and sweet and casual, like we're just hanging out in bed and you've got a guitar and you're making up some adorable songs to wake me up and the sun is streaming in the windows and this whole day is just going to be nice and simple and pleasant as that melody you're coming up with.

And even when you launch into this "Los Paranoias" song it's still all right, and I'm waking up a little more now listening to you and John messing around. Even though during the White Album sessions you guys all called yourselves "los paranoias" as sort of a joke about how you were beginning to hate each other, it's very sweet to hear you getting along at least for now on this throwaway. Hmmmm. The sound of happy Beatles is so pleasant to fall back asleep to.

At least until I remember-- oh, shit, it's Saturday the 28th, which means CRAP I have that all-day chorus retreat, what the hell time is it? Crap crap crap crap. Now I'm jumping up from bed and looking frantically for pants, because I have about 10 minutes to get there, and the next track on Anthology 3 is "I'm So Tired" but now I simply don't have time to be. Oh, Paul, I'm sorry-- we'll have to snuggle another time.

Before I go, though, here's "Step Inside Love" the way it was actually meant to be heard-- as the opening theme song to Cilla Black's 1968 TV variety show, Cilla. Eh, Cilla's great and all, but I still like Paul's.

"Step Inside Love/Los Paranoias," released in the U.K. disc 1 track 23 of Anthology 3 October 28, 1996; in the U.S. October 29, 1996.

Friday, March 27, 2009

You've Got to Hide Your Love Away

We've all felt a little "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" before, haven't we? Sure we have. A little moody, a little down in the dumps, a little sorry for ourselves.... Well, it's a miserably gray morning in Boston, and, I don't know, maybe today is a day for me to hide my love away, is all.

What's weird about the setting of this song in Help! is that it doesn't seem particularly sad at all. George and Paul are flirting, Ringo is earnest with his tambourine, and John is grinning like a mad man. But then again, Help! is kind of a weird movie, and the Beatles were fairly high throughout, and that's all fine.

"You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" is frequently held up as the pinnacle of John's so-called "Dylan period," which is probably true enough-- John himself admitted as much later. And there are actually some specific lyric similarities between this song and Dylan's "I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Have Never Met)." What people mean when they use the word "Dylan-esque" to describe this song, I think, is that it's entirely acoustic-- a first for the Beatles at this point-- and that the lyrics seem bitterly personal. Even given all of this, though, I can't help but wonder if "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" sounded more Dylan-esque in its time. The neurosis of the lyrics here sounds perfectly Lennon to me, albeit more gently written than in some other songs-- many other songs in which he's singing about his alienation contain an element of vengeance that's absent here. The elliptical nature of the lyrics are probably pretty Dylan-inspired too (I've always liked that "how could she say to me love will find a way?" bit). But the level of self-absorption and self-loathing is 100% John.

I love how the verses here are so simple, with this tiny pitch range that makes them sound almost like musical mumbling. And then out of nowhere John sings "hey!" and slaps the guitar in that way he does. Despite the presence in the Help! video of Paul's bass, in fact he and George and John are all on acoustic guitars for this one, with Ringo on tambourine and maracas-- so it's an all-acoustic, kind of quiet texture in which that "hey" moment just crackles. The other bit that I really like is that the vocal melody ends on the 5th scale degree, so it doesn't really sound resolved at the end-- it sounds in search of a resolution that it can't find. Rather than finish off the vocal, John lets the flutes finish the song off for him. And your fun Beatles fact of the day is that "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" is the first Beatles song to feature an outside studio musician, a flautist.

Now to turn my face away from the wall and face this stupid gray day. Blah.

"You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," released in the U.K. side A track 3 of Help!, August 6, 1965; in the U.S. side A track 4 of the crappy Capitol Help!, August 13, 1965.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous Beatles-Discography.com.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Have you guys noticed....

the changes to this site?

Just wondering. Instruments have gradually been wandering into the picture. Things are starting to get exciting. Is all.

(I am wicked excited.)

Hello Goodbye

Okay, you know what? I love "Hello Goodbye." I LOVE it. You want to make something of it? Because I know a lot of people who would. My two favorite Beatles critics, Tim Riley and Ian MacDonald, have nothing but scorn for Paul's perfect little cream puff of pop-- MacDonald writes its insipidness off as too-much-acid and ruminates on the sorry state of pop music in the mid to late '60s, while Riley barely bothers to give the song even a paragraph of critique. Even Alan W. Pollack, normally so genial, admits that he finds the song "campy" and "a tad over-produced."

And, okay, so maybe the most relevant person who dislikes the song is actually John Lennon, who thought it was asinine and got miffed that its commercial qualities ended up pushing his "I Am the Walrus" to the B-side of the single. (To which I say, he and Paul were both right in their ways-- "Hello Goodbye" is the more commercial, and "I Am the Walrus" is superior.) And songs over which the Beatles fought are frequently not the happiest songs for fans. So that's a strike against it. Another strike is Paul's sort of stupid remarks about the song at the time of its release-- I can't find the quote now, but I know he talked about black and white and yin and yang and about how the universe is full of this mystical duality that "Hello Goodbye" is somehow exploring. To which I roll my eyes and say that reading too much import into these lyrics is a task for someone far more stoned than I think I have ever been myself. And a third strike is the stupid ways this song has been used in recent memory, including a loathsome Target ad campaign and a cover by some horrible Disney brand, er, band called the Jonas Brothers that the kids seem to be into these days.

But enough of the negative stuff. It can't kill pop this powerful. Let's forget the covers and crap and listen to it the way it was meant to be listened to.

So why do I love "Hello Goodbye" in spite of all the baggage? I just DO. As Tim Riley points out, this is the kind of song Paul McCartney can write in his sleep. But so what? Can YOU write this song in your sleep? I know that I can't. I feel like we may as well acknowledge the kind of genius songwriter that can write a song this commercial, this lovable, this fun, this stick-in-your-head-able. If this is a perfect pop song, and I think it might be, then, I mean, rock on Paul for writing it.

The mechanics of the song are kind of neat, too. The vocal melody is all as simple as can be, basically arpeggios-- that is, Paul's lead vocal is just outlining the notes in the chord for much of the melody (listen to it on "go, go, go," for instance). But then opposite that, in the instruments, there's that repeating scale figure-- the bass will climb down the scale, and then the guitar will climb up it. Sometimes the upward scale is in the backup vocals ("hel-lo good-bye hel-lo good-bye!"). It's just so cool. It's like the most basic elements of music theory made into a song! Sometimes listening to "Hello Goodbye" reminds me of that scene in Amadeus when Salieri sneers at Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio (the opera which the Emperor feels has "too many notes"). Salieri notes with contempt that the opera's celebrated soprano aria is all scales. But what scales they are! Scales can be true music when handled with the right sensitivity, is what I'm getting at here. And in "Hello Goodbye" those guitar scales climb upward as if to reach the heights of the ecstatic. They become magic.

So maybe it's not cool to say that I love "Hello Goodbye." But I do. I say so with pride. I can't be the only one-- "Hello Goodbye" shares a record with "She Loves You" for the Beatles song that had the most consecutive weeks at the top of the British charts. Are there more sophisticated songs by Paul? Sure. But when Paul opened up his 2002 tour with "Hello Goodbye," there were about ten trillion people in the arena I was in who seemed perfectly happy to hear it. (Me, I was jumping up and down and practically bawling, but that's my standard reaction to seeing Paul.)

"Hello Goodbye," released in the U.K. as a single c/w "I Am the Walrus," November 24, 1967; in the U.S. November 27, 1967.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous Beatles-Discography.com.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I'm Looking Through You

I saw a very good old friend while in Chicago for these past several days, and today on Facebook I happened to read that "I'm Looking Through You" is her favorite song. So I figured I'd listen to it today. I tend to take these kinds of things as kismet, especially when I otherwise can't decide what to do, and especially when it's this friend, whom I shared some excellent Beatle geekery with back in high school.

"I'm Looking Through You" is for Jane Asher, Paul's girlfriend through the bulk of his career as a Beatle. They seem to have been a contentious couple, at least if you count the songs that she inspired, such as this one, "You Won't See Me," and "We Can Work It Out." (Then again, she also gets to say that "Here, There, and Everywhere" is for her, so it's not all bad.) But who's not contentious when you're as young and famous and cool as they were?

There's a quality to Paul's singing-- it's so resonant and, frequently, so pitch-perfect-- that even when he's rocking out I find it hard to believe he can ever be angry-- his singing always just sounds so ingratiating and sincere, even as it's winking. (Even in a song like "Helter Skelter," he sounds to me like he's just having fun being loud.) But here he comes as close to true ire as I can ever remember. And it's not just ire-- there's real sarcasm in the lyrics ("love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight" and all that), something we're more accustomed to hearing from John or George than our charming Paul. And an angry, sarcastic song sung over an acoustic guitar in 1965 tends to make people think of Dylan almost inevitably-- I've read some theories that this was Dylan-inspired, and probably it was a bit. But I feel like on Rubber Soul the Beatles really took the folk rock craze and made it their own thing. "I'm Looking Through You" just sounds like 100% Beatles to me.

That's probably partly because for a song with angry lyrics, it's so darned catchy. It's a great sing-along song. And the cleverness of the musical details is Beatley through and through. I love that the verses are all acoustic until the ends of them, when Paul sings at the high part of his range with something close to fury, and the electric guitar comes in out of nowhere, just crackles in on the tonic note with this totally awesome and emphatic on-the-beat thing. Isn't that rad? Yes, it is. The Hammond organ that comes in on that bit is actually played by Ringo, who's tight as hell. His drumming on this song is very cool too-- the unrelenting backbeat keeps the tension high, or keeps your head bopping, depending on how you're hearing it.

Isn't it excellent? Paul left these lovely scattered masterpieces all over his Beatles career-- even if "I'm Looking Through You" is overshadowed by some of his more obvious masterpieces, it just goes to show what a craftsman he could be even when he was all pissy with his girlfriend.

"I'm Looking Through You," released in the U.K. side B track 3 of Rubber Soul, December 3, 1965; in the U.S. side B track 3 of Capitol's crappy Rubber Soul, December 6, 1965.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous Beatles-Discography.com.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Anna (Go to Him)

Today's song is one of my sort-of secret favorite Beatles songs. Not that it's really a secret-- the song is awesome and I feel no shame in admitting this. But sometimes it seems like it's secret to me. I frequently forget about it a little. And then I play Please Please Me, and on comes "Anna (Go to Him)," and I just get all smiley and gushy all over. Or my poor husband gets subjected to me singing passionately along as we wash dishes or something. (Though he is very good-natured about it.)

But how can you not sing along? The vocal here just transfixes me. As with most of the Please Please Me album, "Anna (Go to Him)" was recorded on a day when John had a horrible cold, and you can hear it all over the album (see also "Twist and Shout"), but on this song the nasal raspiness of his voice seems to add an extra note of pathos. Check it out.

As has been recorded numerous times on this blog, I am completely infatuated with the way John Lennon sings. But here, I mean, gees. You can hear the pain just dripping off every note, especially on the bridge. Love it. I've read that this was one of John's favorite songs to perform, and I completely understand why-- he really gets inside this song somehow.

The song is so beautiful and soulful anyway that anyone could probably sing it and I'd love it. It was written and originally performed by Arthur Alexander, an R & B artist of the early '60s who never became as well known as he should have been, at least not according to Paul McCartney, who has said that the Beatles revered Alexander-- that he was always the artist they wanted to emulate (see the link on his name for the full quote). The Stones and the Who and Bob Dylan all covered Alexander's songs as well, so clearly he was a musician's musician. I don't know much about him, honestly, but I do know that his original version of "Anna (Go to Him)" is also lovely-- and he's not so bad a singer himself.

The piano line that tinkles sadly through Alexander's version becomes a wonderful little guitar motif for George on the Beatles' version. In most other respects it's a straight-on imitation, though Ringo's drumming is more present and really drives the mid-tempo shuffling beat of the thing. But what's most memorable is poor sniffly John wailing like his life depends on it. That's most of what gives the Beatles' version the rock and roll edge that Alexander's doesn't quite have. Where Alexander is despondent, John is just plain desperate, practically screaming. It's so amazing. If it isn't already, this should be your secret favorite song too. Listen again and tell me your gut doesn't squeeze up just a little bit.

"Anna (Go to Him)," released in the U.K. side A track 3 of Please Please Me, March 22, 1963; in the U.S. side A track 3 of Vee Jay's Introducing the Beatles, January 10, 1964.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Her Majesty

I'm sorry, kids, I know I'm getting into the realm of the really lame here, but "Her Majesty" is an official Beatles track and therefore must be listened to according to the rules I've set for myself. And I may as well do it while I'm traveling for business and am too exhausted to even spell anything correctly, much less write anything particularly noteworthy.

"Her Majesty" is a weird one-- a little ditty by Paul that closes out the beyond-awesome medley on side B of Abbey Road. As a close to that medley, though, it's an anticlimactic letdown. In my opinion. When "The End" comes to, well, its end, and the guitar has hit that last ecstatic note, and the silence becomes tinged with that weighty feeling that silence always does after a tremendous performance, and you just want to THINK about "The End" for a minute-- "Her Majesty" comes on, like a radio alarm clock that's waking you up from a fabulous dream because it's time to go to work, or the dentist, or something. And then it just cuts itself off. And then you've lost something; the silence that follows "Her Majesty" is different from the silence that follows "The End"-- it's much less fraught. I know that the Beatles sometimes liked to be flippant about their legacy, especially going into the '70s, but it's kind of ridiculous.

Paul liked it, though. "Her Majesty" originally had a place in the middle of the medley, and might have fit in fine there, but Paul decided to take it out at some point. The engineer, who never threw anything the Beatles did away (wisely), re-edited the tape and ended up splicing the first bit of "Her Majesty" onto the end. Normally, this would have been deleted in the final mix, but when Paul heard it there, he decided he liked it as a coda, so on it stayed. Oh well.

Here's a long version of the song available on bootlegs. As you can hear, "Her Majesty" didn't exactly have any grand musical qualities that Abbey Road missed out on. It was mainly Paul tootling around. Really, all the songs in the medley are kind of like that-- half-written doodles of songs that come to be so much more when spliced together cleverly into one large unit. Except for "Her Majesty," which to my mind suffers for its coda status. But enough! Let's listen.

"Her Majesty," released in the U.K. side B track 11 of Abbey Road, September 26, 1969; in the U.S. October 1, 1969.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous Beatles-Discography.com.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

It's All Too Much

Let's make these last few hours of March 22 the most tripped-out HarriSunday that ever there was by listening to a song that can only be described as being, like, TOO MUCH, man. Dig it.

Here you're listening to the long-ish version of "It's All Too Much" from the Yellow Submarine album. There is an even longer version available on bootlegs-- with an extra verse and a much longer, more protracted coda-- as well as a super-short version (which, weirdly, features the extra verse only elsewhere heard on bootlegs) that was actually played in the Yellow Submarine film. But they're all products of one crazy-long jam session. The song itself was inspired by acid and meditation, as George freely admitted. You don't say.

Actually, I love this song deeply-- the feedback at the beginning seems awesome and kind of un-Beatle-like, the Hammond organ is all sunshine and rainbows, Ringo on the drums is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING (which I truly realized for the first time listening just now), and even though there's a lot of psychedelic production here, the actual melody of the song is quite beautiful, and it's a nice love song in its way. Don't you think? Oh, and we've got another patented Harrison drone here-- once again, George clearly dug the drone common in classical Indian music, and used it to great effect in the rock medium.

That's all I've got tonight, but it's a song better not talked about anyway. It's a song better to just, like, live. YES. Let's listen again, this time to the movie version, just because Jeremy dancing with the Chief Blue Meanie is so cute.

"It's All Too Much," released in the U.K. side A track 5 of Yellow Submarine, released January 17, 1969; in the U.S., January 13, 1969.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous Beatles-Discography.com.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

How Do You Do It?

Sorry, kids, but as forewarned this is my fastest blog post ever. I have spent the entire day in a gigantic convention center crafting a beautiful, beautiful booth that will no doubt lure in all kinds of buyers interested in writing POs for my company. Oh yes. They will come. But I am exhausted, and about to head out for dinner in Chicago, and to go hear Czar, a regal metal band (I do occasionally listen to other music) and I am squeezing a Beatles listen and a shower in as quick as can be.

So, let's all listen to "How Do You Do It?"-- the song that producer George Martin wanted to be the Beatles' first single. They didn't very much like the song, and protested that their own songs were better. Martin didn't really believe them even after they delivered "Love Me Do," which is, indeed, much better than "How Do You Do It?", which was written by some kind of professional songwriting team that I am too harried to look up at the moment. Anyway, Martin ended up giving this one to Gerry and the Pacemakers, who had a #1 with it, so Martin's instincts weren't completely off.

The Beatles' version, on Anthology 1, is played with plenty of skill and even more indifference. So let's listen to this one with the bemusement that it so richly deserves, and then let's rush on with our lives and hope there's a better song tomorrow.

"How Do You Do It?," released in the U.K. and the U.S. disc 1 track 23 of Anthology 1, November 21, 1995.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous Beatles-Discography.com.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Good Day Sunshine

It's so easy to hate the gut-wrenching cheerfulness of today's song, it's true. Especially in the early mornings when just being awake seems to require an insurmountable level of self-will. When you discover that Paul was inspired to write "Good Day Sunshine" by the Lovin' Spoonfuls' "Daydream," it might just make you hate it that much more.

But "Good Day Sunshine" has more to it than meets the ear-- and I hope I don't even need to add that it's way better than "Daydream."

I want to throw this out there, because I've never been able to figure it out: When I was first getting into the Beatles, I bought all the albums on cassette, because I didn't have a record player or a CD player yet. Now, we all know about how the British (Parlophone) and American (Capitol) versions of the albums were released differently in the '60s. (Summed up very briefly here.) My cassettes were of the British versions of the albums, but weirdly, they ALL had a COMPLETELY WRONG SONG ORDER. In some cases it was mixed up beyond all hope of recognition, and in some cases, like on the White Album, it was mostly correct with just a few weird meaningless changes. I can't figure out WHY the song order would have been wrong. And when I got the albums on CD years later, they'd all been corrected. Did anyone else experience this? Anyway, that weirdness from my childhood continues to color my perception of the songs and the albums. On my cassette version of Revolver, "Good Day Sunshine" was the very first song. In reality, the album should have "Good Day Sunshine" as the first song on side B. The correct opening song of Revolver is "Taxman." Now, imagine how differently YOU would think about this album if you listened to all the songs out of order and "Good Day Sunshine" was the first, as opposed to "Taxman." It just sets an entirely different mood.

So anyway, I used to hate "Good Day Sunshine" largely because it just seemed way too upbeat to kick off an album that featured such dark masterpieces as "She Said She Said," "Taxman," "Eleanor Rigby," and so forth. I was so relieved when I learned it's not actually the opening song, I can't even tell you. And now I've come around on the song-- it makes me genuinely happy. That's why I'm listening to it at the beginning of a business trip-- I'm expecting it to work its usual magic.

I love this song partly for the way that it tricks you. The refrain ("Goooood day suuuuuunshine") sounds like it's in a different meter from the rest of the song, but in fact it's just really cleverly syncopated. The whole song is in a simple four-four beat, actually. Paul makes the rhythmic weirdness of the "Good day sunshine" line even weirder by singing it three times, which is more irregular and funky than if it had been sung twice or four times. And since the song opens with the refrain, it takes your ear that much longer to figure out where the beats actually are. It is all just hella neat.

When the verses pick up, the rhythm is much more straightforward, and most of the song's life is in the piano, which has the right air of percussive jubilance to go along with Paul's happy little lyrics. George Martin and Paul are both playing piano on this, with Martin doing the more soloistic bits, including the excellent piano break at the bridge, which somehow manages to sound like an old-timey ragtime piano without sounding at all corny. The lyrics themselves are, of course, super-duper happy and pleased with themselves, but to be honest I think their over-cheeriness is made more palatable by Paul's opening line, "I need to laugh." It's as if from the beginning he's warning us, "look, I'm just the kind of person who needs to be this happy from time to time, and tell you all about it in in song, OK?" And all he NEEDS in order to laugh is for the sun to be out. I mean, frankly, I kind of envy that, but I also appreciate that he's putting it out there for us off the bat. Besides, how could I not be won over by that piano?

You know what else wins me over? The way that the refrain repeats at the end of the song, and then suddenly does that little half-step-up key change at the last second. It's the kind of key change that's frequently used in pop songs, but the restraint here is so awesome-- the key changes ONLY at the last repeat of "good day sunshine," and then the effect of all the Beatles' voices spilling over as it fades out sounds totally magical-- or, really, it sounds like the musical equivalent of sunshine. So rock on, Paul. If you're going to write a song this upbeat, you may as well write it this WELL. Come on, listen to it one more time and tell me you're not smiling by the end.

"Good Day Sunshine," released in the U.K. side B track 1 of Revolver, August 5, 1966; in the U.S. August 8, 1966.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous Beatles-Discography.com.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Just one more.

The Beatles in Lego.

How obviously am I procrastinating on my packing for my trip to Chicago tomorrow morning?

An easy game to play.

Two of my great loves are the Beatles and trivia. Which should be abundantly clear by now here on the blog. I'm not particularly good at trivia games, but I like to play bar trivia, you know, talking shit about the other teams and obnoxiously high-fiving team members and stuff like that, and I also like to play Trivial Pursuit and do pretty much the same thing. My husband, who is actually incredibly good at trivia games, is usually the quieter, classier team member who's actually, like, ANSWERING the questions, whereas I tend to be yelling and and drinking and keeping score and coming up with bizarre wagering strategies.

The one kind of trivia I do excel at is Beatles trivia-- at the bar, I always pray for Beatles trivia questions, because THEM, I will know the answers to. But alas, it rarely happens. That's why I think it's so cool that Sandra Lean-Fore of Australia has invented a Beatles trivia board game called Beatriv. (Thanks to BeatlesNews.com for the tip.)

I do very much like my trivia games in board game form, so I'm psyched to see this out there. Be sure to also read Sandra's fascinating story of fandom and how the game came to be here at the Beatles News blog.

You know, there was another Beatles trivia game once, I think in the '70s. I have NEVER found this again on Google or anywhere else. All anyone ever seems to remember is the Flip Your Wig game, released by Milton Bradley in 1964 as part of that's year's merch blitz. (I've never played it, and wouldn't say no to it as a piece of memorabilia, but the game itself sounds kind of dumb.)

But I have played another game, I swear, one with trivia questions. See, in college, I had this friend who was obsessed with the Star Wars movies. And she had a Star Wars Trivial Pursuit game, which was cool and stuff, but she couldn't play it with anyone we were friends with, because the rest of us were not real Star Wars fans and never got any questions right and just weren't that engaged anyway. Well, she brought a Beatles trivia game once back to the dorm from her parents' house to show me, and I was talking about how I'd have the same problem-- no one to play it with. So she and I came up with this genius idea where we'd play her Trivial Pursuit (just because we liked the pies) but I'd ask her the Star Wars question cards, and she'd ask me Beatles question cards. And it worked fairly well for a while, even though the Beatles game was terrible-- there were many typos, and some answers were actually WRONG, which was infuriating.

But it totally existed. I wish I remember what it was called, Anyway, it's a good thing there's now a better game available-- at least in Australia. Because the only other game out there for game-loving Beatles fans is the Beatles Monopoly game that came out last fall. Which is fine if you're a Monopoly fan, but I prefer the trivia myself. 


It's been a long time, kids. A long time since I started this blog. Which I did as an outlet, or as a distraction from the rest of the stupid crap going on with me (don't ask), or something-- and I can now vouch for Beatles music doing wonders for a girl's mental health. It's true. But just Wait, right? More good stuff is sure to be on its way.

Honestly, I don't think "Wait" turns up in anyone's list of favorite Beatles songs. Even the Beatles themselves didn't love it-- they originally recorded it for inclusion on the Help! album, but decided that such non-favorites as "Tell Me What You See" and "It's Only Love" were stronger, so dropped it off the final LP. But when they had space on Rubber Soul, out came "Wait" again-- they just beefed up the percussion in those later sessions to make it sound more like the other Rubber Soul songs.

Maybe that's why it sounds to me like Ringo is having the most fun on this. It's one of those songs in which the tambourine somehow reaches epic greatness-- it's practically the most important instrument in this arrangement. The tambourine's shimmy as the beat slows down at the end is the closest this song gets to something profound. And that's Ringo. His drumming is pretty infectious too-- check out that cool fill he does as they go into the chorus and you can just hear how much he's digging this. (Or faking it super well.)

Though it's not one of the really famous ones, "Wait" is a half-Lennon, half-McCartney hybrid. The verse and chorus are John's, and the bridge ("I feel as though you ought to know") is all Paul. Certainly the tense downward chromatic motion on the verse is something it sounds like John would have come up with. But otherwise, "Wait" feels a little unremarkable, a little slight. I don't know. It sounds like a bridge between Help! and Rubber Soul-- a love song just sophisticated enough to be interesting thanks to some excellent percussion and some weirdo harmonic action, just waiting for that special touch of something or other to bring it into the realm of rock psychedelia. Just me? Maybe. I don't know-- something about the guitar work anticipates "And Your Bird Can Sing" to me, though of course it's not quite there yet. But they're very much on their way. In the meantime, we can enjoy this pleasant diversion of a song. After all, nothing is wrong with "Wait," except that, to the Beatles, it was clearly just another song.

Speaking of being on one's way, as of tomorrow I'm in Chicago for work for a while. I'll be at a pretty gigantic trade show trying to get all the people to buy what my company's selling. Trade shows in general, and this show specifically, always EXHAUST me-- it's all standing on one's feet in uncomfortable shoes and remaining cheery while living on nutritionless convention center catering and reading people's badges to try to figure out who to flag down. So though I expect to keep listening, I might be posting later in the day, or in an abbreviated fashion, or not at all-- though I'm hoping it doesn't come to that. Apologies in advance if I seem off in any way in the next several days.

"Wait," released in the U.K. side B track 5 of Rubber Soul, November 30, 1965; in the U.S. side B track 5 of the bastardized Capitol Rubber Soul, December 6, 1965.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous Beatles-Discography.com.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More on non-digital Beatles.

Oh, for God's sake.

Look, I'm not saying the Beatles aren't worth more than 99 cents a song. They are. But like it or not, there's a longstanding market value that's been assigned to mp3 files, and that is it. If you move them into some super-cool online Beatles ghetto with its own weird formatting or software, you LOSE sales. You just do.

What they need to do, first of all, is bugger off with all the iTunes talk anyway, because that's not the point. The point is that we want digitally remastered tracks that sound better than the CDs made with 20-year-old CD remastering technology. Release them gradually, album by album, on iTunes. Each album's remastering is a new media blitz waiting to happen. You can drag this out over the course of a year, even, and keep the public interested in reliving those Beatley memories as the albums come out in new, awesome form. And yes, you can sell the tracks for 99 cents each. With the built-in media attention, you will make a lot of money. Just do it. For the love of Christ. I mean, is there something else I'm missing here that's keeping this from happening?

Honey Pie

So, I've decided that I need to listen to songs like "Honey Pie" right after I've listened to songs like "Lucille," in order to remind myself that, despite today's evidence to the contrary, PAUL MCCARTNEY IS COOL. And he really is, kids. Yes, he's made some bad decisions. Yes, his solo career is chock-full of songs that he should have just left as lullabies for his kids and skipped recording, to say nothing of certain dubious duets, but, no, forget his solo career. We're not here to talk about it. NONE of the Beatles had satisfying solo careers, so there's no use bringing any of it up here.

Okay, point is that sometimes, despite the fact that Paul is wicked cool (see "Lucille," "Why Don't We Do It in the Road," "Let It Be", and about a thousand others), he sometimes indulges that very uncool part of his brain that likes to whistle songs like "Honey Pie" to itself. But who's to say what's cool or uncool anyway? My understanding is that this song is a straight-up homage to the English music hall scene of the 1920s (I say it's my understanding because I have no real personal experience with this music), and that was most certainly cool to a particular generation, no doubt. And anyway, who am I to hint that something is uncool for being old?-- I, who consider Little Richard the arbiter of cool about 50 years after his prime, I whose mp3 player consists almost entirely of classical choral music and old-school rock and roll, I who write a daily blog about the Beatles at the ripe old age of 29?

Frankly, I am the last person on earth who should be judging anyone for coolness. So maybe you should just listen to "Honey Pie" and judge for yourself.

Among cool people, "Honey Pie" has been almost universally vilified. My July 2006 issue of MOJO, an all-Beatles theme issue, constantly references this song as one of the worst, and JBev at JamsBio names it the second-worst Beatles song ever, calling only "Revolution #9" more painful. Ouch. Ian MacDonald, normally a committed a-PAUL-o-gist, begrudgingly notes the accuracy of the parody before writing off its "air of faintly smarmy pointlessness." (He truly has a way with words, MacDonald does, which is why his book is a must-have in any Beatles library.)

I guess it's MacDonald who nails down my main problem with "Honey Pie"-- I just can't figure out what it's doing on the White Album except as a vehicle for Paul to be adorable. Now, this is the WHITE ALBUM, with its notorious stylistic incongruity, and yet "Honey Pie" still makes me wonder what the heck Paul was thinking. Paul, we KNOW you're adorable! It's a solid song, actually-- very singable-- and unlike a lot of White Album songs, the other Beatles are playing on it. Playing WELL. Check out George on the bass! It's a great line he has, actually. You can tell that the rest of the band has followed Paul down this dementedly uncool path through his brain, because they're totally nailing the parody of the sound Paul's going for. And I really do appreciate a good parody, which this sounds like to my untrained ear, so I want to acknowledge that the art of parody is alive and well on this track. Despite all this, though, it sounds absolutely perfect to give to someone else. Paul gave a lot of songs away, and why not this one? I don't know.

All that said, well, I might be uncool (and in fact I deeply, deeply am) but I sing along when "Honey Pie" is playing. Yeah, that's right. So shoot me. I also like silent movies and Angela Carter's Wise Children, so maybe there's something about the era being parodied that speaks to me. Whatever else it is, "Honey Pie" is an anomaly in the Beatles canon, and it's OK to hate it, though I don't particularly. I love hard-rocking Paul and foxtrotting Paul alike, myself-- even if I do prefer the former most days.

"Honey Pie," released in the U.K. side D track 2 of The Beatles a.k.a. the White Album, November 22, 1968; in the U.S. November 25, 1968.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous Beatles-Discography.com.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Whither remasters?

Today, Gibson has a piece up about the ongoing misery of waiting for a remastered Beatles catalog. For those not aware, the catalog hasn't been remastered in like 20 years, basically since the first CD releases, and, technology moving along in the way that it does, now the Beatles sound crappier on the kids' modern music-playing devices than, say, the Four Seasons-- which gives that old Vee-Jay album some new resonance. Think about it: today, in the Beatles vs. the Four Seasons, the Four Seasons win.

Anyway, the article also talks about the work of Purple Chick in releasing all the stuff that Apple is too dumb to release on its own-- and it IS dumb, because if history has proven anything, it's that Beatles fans will buy the same stuff in different formats over and over and over again (myself included) and that there is still, after 40+ years, a gajillion dollars to be made. I mean, look, I work in sales, which is maybe why I don't understand why Apple doesn't just want to make this money already. Am I being shallow?

Instead, Purple Chick is making NO money releasing some of the best bootleg material out there. Google Purple Chick and you'll see what I mean. But, shhhhh. You didn't hear it from me. You heard it from Gibson.


Hey! You!

Ready to dance?


Because it's "Lucille," kiddies! Yow!

Oh, you know, kids, it's so great that Live at the BBC came out and we could get a chance to legally hear Paul McCartney ROCK THE SHIT out of some "Lucille" while he was a young lad and the Beatles were a young band. There have been versions available on bootleg forever, but most of them are from the Get Back sessions, which featured the Beatles, you know, getting back to playing some of that old school rock and roll that had gotten them excited about music in the first place. But none of those dusty Get Back recordings are as killer as hearing the Beatles doing it live in 1963, when fame was still kind of a novelty, and when they actually all liked each other.

"Lucille," of course, was a Little Richard single, and Paul's Little Richard impression was part of what had gotten him into the Beatles (nee Quarrymen) in the first place. And Paul does totally nail it. I LOVE Paul singing like this, really I do-- he just sounds so freaked out just to be alive.

By the time they performed this on the BBC in October of 1963, they had already done it tons of time in their live set, and their expertise shows. They have that pleasantly messy, shuffly sound of their early years here, but the playing itself couldn't be tighter, the guitars just awesome on that repeating figure that drives the song. That figure mimics the horn parts on Little Richard's original, but it also has to imitate the percussive sound of the piano, which was Little Richard's instrument of choice here. For a guitar band, the Beatles make the most of their strings, I think, twanging the guitars for all they're worth to keep the percussive feel going. It totally works.

And George on the solo! I mean, listen to this solo and you instantly get why girls wanted to throw themselves at him. Seriously, it's really fantastic-- it's a solo that's flirty and coy and panting all at once.

So, Saint Patrick's Day in Boston tends to be this kind of raucous, ridiculous festivity that always makes me want to hide in my bedroom until the crazies outside have stopped throwing Guinness cans at each other and barfing in the driveway next to my building. And since Paul's "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" period came later, and I couldn't think of another Beatles song that seemed appropriate, I am celebrating this weird holiday by just listening to a song that I feel, under the right circumstances, could bring out the crazy in me. And crazy seems to be the point of this day around here anyway. Afterwards, I'm drinking beer at the Belgian bar across the street, where nothing green is on tap, thank God.

Anyway, in case you're not feeling the crazy yet, here's Little Richard live on "Lucille" for you. It's one of these cases in which I can't decide if the original is actually better or not-- so I'll leave it up to you. Happy inappropriately-observed Saint Patrick's Day! Wooooooo!

"Lucille," released in the U.K. disc 1 track 31 of Live at the BBC, November 30, 1994; in the U.S. December 6, 1994.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous Beatles-Discography.com.

Monday, March 16, 2009

You Can't Do That

Sometimes, when I have no other real inspiration, I turn to DM Beatles to figure out what happened on this day in Beatles history, and then figure out how I can reference a song based on whatever interesting thing is there. Today in 1964, apparently, was the U.S. release date of "Can't Buy Me Love" c/w "You Can't Do That," and since I already listened to "Can't Buy Me Love," it's going to have to be "You Can't Do That." That was sure easy-- thanks, Dmitry!

Another Angry John song that I confess to having a deep, dark affection for, "You Can't Do That" was written for A Hard Day's Night and "performed" (via miming and lip-syncing) as part of the concert scene that comes at the very end of the film. In the end, however, the song was dropped from the film, I guess just for timing or something, though I'm sure there wasn't a Beatlemanaic in theatrical audiences who would have minded sitting tight for another few minutes to hear one more song-- even if it WAS a song about John being kind of an asshole to his lady.

Luckily, the film footage remained intact, and in fact was broadcast on an episode of The Ed Sullivan Show in May of that year to promote the movie. So there it is above, along with all the screaming girls from the film-- including a brief glimpse of my favorite, a puffy-eyed George fan in a sailor dress.

Like its A-side, "You Can't Do That" is a 12-bar blues that doesn't really sound like a 12-bar blues, though I think it does sound pretty bluesy sort of intuitively anyway. In fact, it's harder and grittier and dirtier than any original song they'd yet done up to this point, to my ear. A lot of the dirtiness is coming straight from the mouth of John Lennon, who is completely kicking ass on the vocals. There are many, many songs on which I could single out John's vocals as fantastic, but "You Can't Do That" really gets to me in particular-- it sounds like his voice is just shredded with agony. Not agony about losing the love of the girl in question, though-- it's the agony of having people potentially laugh at him that's putting that's making him distraught, according to the lyrics. Yes, "You Can't Do That" definitely provides more fodder for armchair Lennon psychoanalysts, a role that many Beatles fans seem to end up playing. (See also, among early songs: "If I Fell," "I'm a Loser," and many many more.) I might like to call songs like this Angry John songs, but really it's all about his crippling insecurity.

Nevertheless, though, if you can get past the fact that John is clearly a wounded man, the song freaking rocks. Paul and George sing backup like their lives depend on it, spurring John on to new heights of bitterness. I particularly like their move into a nice three-part harmony bit in the bridge, when the song goes into minor. There's something about the tight way they're singing that just ratchets up the tension another notch.

And I need to single out Ringo, who drums this really cool super-syncopated line the whole way that emphasizes the song's edginess. To say nothing of George's guitar solo, which is practically a prolonged growl with pitch. This is the first song that George used a 12-string Rickenbacker on, by the way-- he received the guitar from someone or other after their first appearance on Ed Sullivan, and had it restrung so that the lower tone of each octave was sounded before the higher tone, which I guess sounded really awesome to guitar geeks (I'm not one)-- but apparently that's what makes the guitar sound so ringing and pure on this song.

I'm so glad Dmitry steered me to "You Can't Do That"-- it perfectly captures my mood on this dreary Monday. Grrrr. I hope people leave me alone today, is all I'm saying.

"You Can't Do That," released in the U.K. as B-side of "Can't Buy Me Love," March 20, 1964; in the U.S., March 16, 1964.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous Beatles-Discography.com.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I Want to Tell You

Today is HarriSunday, and it occurs to me that I haven't yet tackled George's contributions to Revolver, all of which are substantial and interesting. He actually had three songs on that album, which was to be a career high (for a single-disc album), and rightly so, because all three not only rock but contribute something ineffable to one of the Beatles' all-time greatest albums (and my personal favorite for sure).

On its surface "I Want to Tell You" might seem to be the least interesting of George's Revolver songs: after all, "Taxman" is snide and awesome, and "Love You To" is his first truly Indian song and noteworthy just for that. "I Want to Tell You" might seem less memorable or something, but there really is tons to love here.

The lyrics here are all about the frustration of not being able to express oneself properly, and that tension is totally reflected in the music, which is practically an exercise in creating musical tension and then diffusing it. The tension is mainly in the piano line (I believe Paul is playing it), which has this absolutely relentless dotted melody under the verses. That line becomes almost maddening, in fact-- especially the bit on the first verse when George is singing "when you're here" and the piano hovers neurotically on those two pitches, a moment that recurs on each repeat of the verse. The rhythm here is hugely nerve-wracking, and the pitches aren't helping either-- they're holding their weird dissonance over the chord just long enough to make your teeth hurt. Though Ringo is drumming a pretty steady backbeat here, he's doing so with particular bombast, which somehow makes the music that much more fraught. All of this makes the moment of release-- when George sings "slip away" on the first verse-- a huge event, just amazing. The dissonance resolves back into the home key, the drums cut out and are replaced with the sweet hiss of maracas, John and Paul jump in with sublime vocals, and instead of the dotted piano rhythm, our ears turn to that guitar riff that opened the song with its groovy slow triplets. Whew.

My husband just walked into the room as I was listening to this and remarked that the piano bits of the song always puts him on edge. In fact, I was listening to the same bit several times in a row just to get a feel for it, and he had to grab his head and run out of the room. Behold: the power of dissonance!

Anyway, there are some other kind of cool elements that mark this as all George, like the drone-esque structure. The vast majority of this song happens on one chord (an A major chord, for the record), which seems to be in keeping with the drone that's central to classical Indian music. (He did this kind of thing in "If I Needed Someone" too.) And the lyrics are 100% vintage George. Poor George-- George the perennially insecure, George the self-aware, George who seemed most at home inside his own brain. I love the sentiments of the lyrics, which are totally relatable for the teenagers who still made up most of the Beatles' audience in 1966, but take on almost more meaning to grown-up awkward introverts (such as myself).

"I Want to Tell You," released in the U.K. side B track 5 of Revolver, August 5, 1966; in the U.S., side B track 3 of Capitol's bastardization of Revolver, August 8, 1966.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous Beatles-Discography.com.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Hello Little Girl

Here's what I feel like today: something cute and uncomplicated and breezy and fun. So let's listen to "Hello Little Girl," which seems to be the first song John ever wrote-- and I do think it's entirely his based on what I've read. He wrote it back in 1957, the year he turned 17, but it was still judged to be strong enough to bring out for the failed audition at Decca on New Year's Day, 1962-- which means we get to hear it on Anthology 1.

Of course, Decca turned down the Beatles, not seeing the gajillion-dollar opportunity in front of them. (Paul on Decca management: "I'll bet he's kicking himself now." John: "I hope he kicks himself to death.") And though history has not been kind to Decca's decision, I have to admit that listening to this song with the ears of a record exec looking for some kind of next big thing does not exactly make me see dollar (pound) signs either.

But consider the context: the Beatles were playing original songs, which was practically unheard of at the time, and their original songs were totally good-- they did this one and "Like Dreamers Do" as well, both now available on Anthology, as well as a bunch of covers-- and that alone should have been enough to make Decca take a second look. And I hear in "Hello Little Girl" tons of potential. It sounds like a cross between an uptempo Everly Brothers song and Bruce Channel's "Hey Baby" ("Hell-ooooooooo....") with a touch of skiffle-- which should have been enough to make them notice that if nothing else, these songwriters could do good imitations of popular songs, which can't be bad from a commercial perspective, right? (By the way, "Hey Baby" came out in 1961, so this couldn't have actually been an imitation-- but that's the first thing I think of when I listen to this nevertheless.) If George's guitar sounds tentative on the solo, and if Pete's drums are a little less defined than they could be, there's lots of other good stuff to single out, mainly in the vocals, which are as thick and expressive as they could be. The whole thing makes for a pleasant little shuffle around a dance floor, really, don't you think?

Of course, it's much much better that the Beatles found their way to EMI's Parlophone and to producer George Martin eventually, because without George Martin I doubt that anything would have been the same. So the Decca people were fated to be idiots, I guess. For what it's worth, George Martin correctly deemed "Hello Little Girl" too slight for the Beatles and inferior to the likes of "Please Please Me," their first number one, but did think it good enough to give to the Fourmost, another Merseyside band that Brian Epstein brought to EMI in the wake of the Beatles' ridiculous popularity. And the Fourmost had a number 9 hit with it-- which isn't bad for a song John wrote at 17, I'd say.

"Hello Little Girl," released in the U.K. and the U.S. disc 1 track 19 Anthology 1, November 21, 1995.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous Beatles-Discography.com.

Friday, March 13, 2009

If I Fell

Since I listened to one of my personal favorites yesterday, I figured, why not indulge myself today with another of my personal favorites, albeit one that's completely different stylistically, and send the week off on an indulgent note? Well, sure. So how about "If I Fell"? It's been a while since I listened to anything from the A Hard Day's Night soundtrack, and this one is fairly superb. So kiddies, let's slow it down-- grab a partner and have a dance to a ballad that only a damaged genius could write.

Here's another by John-- many of my favorite Beatles songs are by John, which is just one of those things that's a matter of personal taste-- and like others of his early songs, a lot of the action lies in the vocal harmonies. John LOVES the vocal harmonies (it's just one of the things he and I have in common-- we're so compatible!). The skills honed in those old Everlys songs serve John and Paul well here, though "If I Fell" sounds nothing like an Everlys song and entirely like a Beatles song, due to its sheer sophistication. In fact, this isn't so much in the style of "Yes It Is," where the melody IS a sequence of blocked chords, as it is true counterpoint. Both Paul and John sing specific and quite different melodies-- not the way the Everlys did, using the harmonic power of major thirds to blur the question of which line is the real melody-- but in a way that's more similar to what composers did a lot back in the 16th century, actually writing melodies that sound independent of each other, until they're put together and magically become far more than the sum of their parts. In John's counterpoint, Paul's and John's different melodies go off on their own merry ways (making for a fair few open fourths and fifths as they go, mind you) and then come together in that ringing unison that recurs throughout-- on the first verse it's on "I must be sure." It's a really cool imposition of structure there. And all of this is really not like anything else John had ever written, by the way.

So with the vocals driving the song, the other instruments basically keep out the way, which is fine, though George's guitar bits punctuate things nicely, and Ringo is as steady as ever on the drums. That leaves me to talk about the lyrics, which are some kind of masterpiece of neurotic bravado. See, John totally wants to fall in love with you, but before he can do so he's going to need you to promise to love him first, and most importantly, to love in a totally devoted, monogamous way that's going to preserve his fragile male ego and avoid hurting his feelings, ever. If you can do this, he will achieve his goal: revenge on his ex-girlfriend. Oh, and also a committed, loving relationship. But that's more like icing on the cake.

Seriously, the lyrics to "If I Fell" are wicked twisted. It's like love re-imagined as negotiation with a dictator. But it also reveals heaps about John's genuinely fragile emotional state. He HAS been hurt before (see all the various Lennon biographies to count the ways) and, knowing what we know about John, we can hardly blame him for trying to assert some control over the situation. Of course, at the time the song came out, the world knew a lot less about John, and I think this whole little drama was heard as no more than teeny-bopper histrionics, but even heard that way, the lyrics remain weird, I think.

Still, the singing makes the whole sentiment seem much more beautiful than it actually is, which is a neat trick. (Paul does this kind of thing too in songs like "I'll Follow the Sun," but you can't imagine Paul writing a song with lyrics quite this weird, could you?) And "If I Fell" still moves me-- it's actually even more moving when you consider it in the context of the wounded-John persona that would move to the forefront in later years. So, enjoy.

"If I Fell," released in the U.K. side A track 3 of A Hard Day's Night, July 10, 1964; in the U.S. side B track 2 of United Artists' A Hard Day's Night, July 13, 1964.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous Beatles-Discography.com.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hey Bulldog

If you ever need a pick-me-up-- and lately not a day goes by, it seems, when I don't-- you can do no better than to listen to "Hey Bulldog," an oft-forgotten track that is totally one of the most kickass songs they ever released.

So I have this close friend who I went to high school with, and at the time she was dismissive, if not actually contemptuous, of my affection for the Beatles. It just wasn't her scene, and that was OK, and I never really pushed Beatles on her or anything, at least not too aggressively. And then one day, years after we'd left high school, I was in her car and she put on a mix tape that someone had made her that had "Hey Bulldog" on it. I expressed surprise that she was actually listening to a Beatles song. And she was like, "I listen to this song OVER AND OVER AGAIN," and I was like "ME TOO," and she practically spoke in hushed tones when she said "this song is AMAZING." Thus is the power of "Hey Bulldog," people. Of all the Beatles' songs she'd ever heard, it took "Hey Bulldog" to finally win her over. Respect the Bulldog.

I love the story of this little video too. See, the band got together in February of 1968 to hang out in the studio and film a promotional video for "Lady Madonna," but in the course of messing around John basically wrote a song, based on a little snippet he had in his head. And then they just recorded it. (That means that the "Lady Madonna" promo video shows them actually playing and singing "Hey Bulldog." Which is weird, actually.) It wasn't until years later-- I want to say in the late '90s, when they were promoting Yellow Submarine's theatrical rerelease-- that Apple released a "Hey Bulldog" video, edited out of bits from the "Lady Madonna" video. And that's what's above.

The original title was "Hey Bullfrog," but when Paul started barking at the end and cracked all the others up, it became "Hey Bulldog" instead. And that's really in the spirit of the song, which came together in this absolutely slapdash, off the cuff, relentlessly casual way-- and yet is one of the most mind-blowing songs in the canon as far as sheer crazy off-the-hook rock.

"Hey Bulldog"'s totally rockin' status is only amplified by the fact that for much of its life it lived in unfair obscurity, squeezed onto the Yellow Submarine soundtrack. For a beloved film, Yellow Submarine has a fairly unbeloved soundtrack album, I think it's fair to say. "Hey Bulldog" was one of only four original songs in the movie, but got CUT from the movie in all but the European prints, although these days if you buy the DVD you do get the scene back in all its glory. Behold:

Cinematically, I understand why the scene was cut-- it comes from out of nowhere and kind of screws up the pacing of the epic Blue Meanie chase-- but cutting this scene meant they were cutting what was far and away the best original song in the movie. Oh well. At least they've made it right now.

So how does this song rule? Let me count the ways. It's written on a riff that's almost as infectious as the more famous one in "Day Tripper," but interestingly, it starts as a piano riff-- which might be unique among Beatles songs (at least I'm not immediately thinking of another one). The riff is great on piano, but when George's guitar comes in on it, it becomes kind of euphoric. It's a tremendous riff-- after the refrain when they have piano and bass and guitar all playing it in unison it's NUTS, right? George's guitar on this is just killer all around, really-- it's one of my favorite solos of his. Remember that they were working on this song after most recently doing Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour. While those are both albums that I love... it's just so nice to hear George stepping away from the sitar for a second and rocking the hell out of his guitar again, you know?

Actually, that goes for the whole band. You can totally imagine this song as dating back to 1965, before everyone had gotten into the more decadent edges of psychedelia. Please understand that I do really like that stuff, but I also like that they found their way back to rock, too. "Hey Bulldog," historically, is kind of the beginning of the Beatles finding their way back to their roots. It's like the bridge to the Get Back project.

Anyway, I'm digressing again. What else do I love about "Hey Bulldog"? Well, I particularly love Paul's bass, which I think I hear something new to love about each time I listen. At the moment, my favorite bit is that one when John is singing "you can talk to me" in the refrain and Paul is playing this really simple two-note figure, just on a perfect fourth, and it somehow gets tenser and tenser and more drawn out, so that as he gradually adds extra notes it takes on this huge significance. Am I getting too wonky here? Probably. OK. Anyway, I also adore Ringo's stuff, particularly what he plays when everyone else has the guitar/piano riff, which is drumming that you feel in the pit of your stomach. And then there's John's completely perfect vocal. Sigh. He is truly the greatest rock singer ever, and this is one of my favorite performances of his-- the way he makes that word "lonely" all blue gives me shivers.

I know I have gone on and on, but can you believe they threw this song together in a DAY? It's a song any band would kill to have done. Do we need any more proof that they are geniuses? No. Do I need to stop dancing to myself in my desk chair? Probably.

"Hey Bulldog," released in the U.K. side A track 4 of Yellow Submarine, January 17, 1969; in the U.S. January 13, 1969.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous Beatles-Discography.com.