Friday, April 3, 2009


It wasn't by happenstance that Liverpool ended up being the center of a major music scene in the late '50s and early '60s. Even in post-war Britain, it remained a fairly bustling port city, and teenagers could count on American sailors to bring some interesting records with them as they passed through-- much more interesting than what the BBC was playing in its allotted hour per week of pop music, which was presumably mostly of the Cliff Richard variety anyway.

I always imagine "Clarabella" coming to the Beatles via some strange channel like this, exchanged in some dark alley for God knows what in return. It was an obscure song even its time, I think, released by the marginally successful (in the States, anyway) Jodimars, a band made up of former members of Bill Haley's Comets. I've never heard the 1956 original recording and have no idea if it's even available anywhere. But I like to think that Paul, who apparently performed this song regularly, must surely do it justice in this version from Live at the BBC, which first aired on Pop Go the Beatles in July 1963.

I love songs like this-- there's so much drama crammed into a little over two minutes. There's that opening with Paul wailing all out of tempo and the band crashing in (it's an old bluesy move but this kind of thing still gets me every time), and then we get not one, but two solos! The first is John on harmonica-- how often does he get a straight-up harmonica solo, as opposed to just a catchy riff? I mean, this shit is sweet, is what I'm saying. (I'll bet on the original recording this was a sax solo or something.) In fact, I'm hard-pressed to name a Beatles song that has as much harmonica, period, as this one does. Listen to how that blue harmonica note brings in the chorus under Paul's vocal-- it's rad, right?

And then George comes in, seemingly out of nowhere, for a guitar solo that sounds kind of mellow and giddy at the same time. Of course, Paul's vocals are fantastic here-- he is all over the "woo!"s and the "yeah"s and the patented Paul McCartney screamy rock sound that gets me all excitable, singing a gigantic brag about how hot and oversexed his girl Clarabella is. I sort of love that, too-- in so many early rock songs, everyone just sounds so excited, and it's all about bragging about getting laid, or thinking about getting laid, or asking the question of whether tonight might contain the possibility of getting laid, or moaning about being denied in the quest to get laid. The pleasures and pains of these songs seem so simple and entirely relatable. I mean, I might have to turn in my feminist card or something for saying so, but I could listen to music like this freaking forever.

Or I could just listen to "Clarabella" five times in a row, as I've just done. Dig it, kids-- if a song like "Clarabella" doesn't rev up your Friday I don't know what will.

"Clarabella," released in the U.K. and the U.S. disc 1 track 19 of Live at the BBC, November 30, 1994.


  1. Megan, tracks like this one and others you've posted from Live at the BBC really show what a tight live band the Beatles were. You're right, they didn't use the harmonica in many songs, but when they did it was stellar!

  2. This is definitely one of the highlights of the BBC discs.