Sunday, March 1, 2009

If I Needed Somone

We've made it into March, and in a way I'm quite surprised, seeing as how craptacular February was. March is already not promising to be much better-- there's some kind of wintry mix coming down here in Boston, and I woke up with a bit of a headache after attending a birthday party for George Harrison last night. (Two friends of mine share George's birthday, which was Wednesday, believe it or not, so it was technically a party for them, but George was celebrated as well.)

But thank goodness for the Beatles, as usual. On this HarriSunday, I crave something to chill me out-- I have a choir performance today and therefore will be focusing my mental energy on keeping away respiratory illness for one more stupid day, PLEASE, and willing the snowy stuff to stop and the sun to come out so people actually attend the concert. Here's to hoping. But first, coffee and "If I Needed Someone," George's sunny folk-rock track from Rubber Soul.

As you can probably hear, the guitar line in this song is a conscious tribute to The Byrds, who themselves started playing the 12-string guitars that made their sound so distinctive after seeing George with one in A Hard Day's Night. So the tributes really go all round here.

George had a few songwriting credits under his belt by the time "If I Needed Someone" came out, but this is certainly one of his strongest songs yet-- it might actually be one of my favorites on Rubber Soul. But then, I always like songs like this, with all this vocal harmonizing. George and John and Paul sound fantastic here, don't they? And the production of the vocals is just clean and ringing and brilliant, as the production is on most of the album. Still, though, it's really George's guitar that's starring here. Listen to the intro and you'll realize that it's over a drone-- the entire intro is done on one chord, which makes that little guitar figure hovering over it even more inviting somehow-- it seems to promise something magical. Amazingly, the entire verse stays on the same chord for almost its entire duration. Now, this was the same album that had George trying out the sitar for the first time (on Norwegian Wood), so it's safe to say that his taste in Indian music had already been awakened, and the drone here could be a conscious quotation of the drone used in classical Indian music. But I'm not sure it's actually conscious-- I think it more shows why George would have been drawn to Indian music in the first place. He just digs the effect. And so do I.

Before I completely leave off the musicological geekery, I want to point any interested persons to Alan W. Pollack's writeup of this song, which as usual is a fun read if you're particularly detail-oriented. Pollack points out that the verse is actually in the Mixolydian mode, which is the other reason why the verse melody sounds a little amorphous and mystical-- there's no leading tone. Mixolydian mode rocks. But in all seriousness, before I risk readers abandoning me, let me get off this level of detail and just freaking listen to the song again...

Here's the band performing it live in Japan in 1966. I believe this is the only song George wrote that really ever made it into their touring repertoire-- George frequently sang covers like "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" live, but not his own songs. That just shows how highly the other Beatles thought of "If I Needed Someone." Unfortunately, the video above shows the Beatles at their most exhausted-- the tour of the Asian nations was not the happiest of times for them, as has been chronicled elsewhere, and in another few months they'd give up touring altogether. The tempo's a little sluggish on the above video, which just makes them sound tired. Poor dears.

Oh, I haven't yet said anything about the lyrics. George is capable of some nastiness in even his early songs ("Think for Yourself," "Don't Bother Me") but he's at his best here, being kind of awkward and flirty and adorable. But despite the teenage angsty feel to the lyrics, the sentiment ages just fine. Check out the video below of George performing this with Eric Clapton on a clearly illegally taped video from their performance in Japan (again) in 1991. It's still awesome-- possibly more so.

"If I Needed Someone," released in the U.K. side B track 6 of Rubber Soul, December 3, 1965; in the U.S. side B track 2 of Yesterday and Today, June 20, 1966.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

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