Thursday, March 26, 2009

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

1 comment:

  1. I love Hello Goodbye as well. Why is it so offensive to some people? Like you say, it's just a good little pop song, nothing to get their knickers in a twist about!