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.

1 comment:

  1. I think I read that this track sounds different than others on this disc because the source material isn't from the BBC; it's from someone's home recording off the BBC broadcast. Or something like that.

    Ah, found it at

    Kevin Howlett: "Some people phoned up and said they had some tapes. One journeyed down to London with his five inch reels and that's how Keep Your Hands Off My Baby appeared on the album. Over the years, it's really been a process of putting the Beatles archive back together really, as more and more stuff has come to light. We came across two ten inch reels with 'The Beatles' on the spine. One of these was a half hour reel featuring them larking around for the 65 Christmas show. The other half hour reel included them performing I Feel Fine and She's A Woman. It had false starts, takes which broke down half way through and talkback between the group and the control room. It was fascinating. It's just a question of how well the material has lasted over the years and in what form. I can remember George Martin saying to me that a disc is quite a good storage medium and that he was quite happy to master from it."

    Guided as much by the demands of sound quality as by musical perfectionism, the album was compiled by Beatles producer George Martin over several years, but precise mixing dates and details are not available. In the case of Keep Your Hands Off My Baby, Martin realised that Lennon's performance was so staggering that the abrupt drop in reproduction quality paled alongside the impact of the music. Elsewhere, there are moments where the sound on the thin, flawed tapes distort a little, or waver in volume.