Thursday, April 30, 2009

Good Morning Good Morning

As I get older and more boring and more prone to waking up really freaking early (like today, when I'm willingly working an early day in order to leave early for a meeting of a regional choral music consortium, of all things) I am becoming more and more the "you" of "Good Morning, Good Morning." But really, aren't we all?

And I'm convinced it's TOTALLY a masterwork, "Good Morning Good Morning"-- when I'm forced by conversational circumstances to talk about my few personal favorite Beatles songs, this one almost always finds its way there. This is the song I remember coming back to most often on Sgt. Pepper when I was about 13 and playing tracks over and over and over again in that beyond-obsessive way that young people can. I even remember spending an evening in college, when I probably had a paper or something I was avoiding, trying to notate the song's many metrical shifts just for the hell of it. (Others got drunk/high/laid. Me, I sat secluded, transcribing Beatles songs, trying to decide where the 5/4 bars were. Make of it what you will.) I don't think I ever bothered to transcribe any other songs, though, because I'm sure there aren't any songs in the canon as metrically fascinating as this one. The meat of the song, for me, is in its wicked cool rhythmic irregularities, which really just sound written to fit the jagged, snarled edges of John's lyrics. Yow, this is GOOD.

So start with the opening, which, following the rooster, is a giant crash of saxes and horns (courtesy of Sounds Incorporated, Cilla Black's backup band and a fairly successful group on their own too) so rollicking as to be kind of demented, and then the equally demented Beatles' voices singing the "good morning" refrain an irregular (and thus quite jarring) five times. If this hasn't gotten your attention, you're clearly a cyborg. Ringo's crazed drums zoom us out of the intro into the verse, and we're off into John's suburban nightmare.

Alan W. Pollack makes an analogy I've always liked, which is that in terms of lyrical content, "Good Morning Good Morning" is like "Nowhere Man" but less preachy. He's sort of right, but I think I would put it more that it's like "Nowhere Man" but more hopeless. At least in "Nowhere Man" John seems to offer a way out of the misery-- "the world is at your command," he sings-- whereas here there doesn't seem to be any element of hope beyond what's in front of us in the little, little world he's created. Plus, we're actually implicated, since he's singing at "you." That is, me. Why does it annoy me slightly when George does this kind of thing but doesn't at all here? It's not only that this song is better written than George's preachier songs, though it is. It's also that John's not so deadly serious about it. There's a dark, wry humor in the details, even in a line like "I've got nothing to say but it's okay," that makes this whole thing a lot more palatable. (And then there's that, as always with John, he's probably singing about himself as well as us. He was beyond sick of suburban living with poor Cynthia and Julian at Kenwood at this point, itching to move on, as he soon would, to something he could find more meaningful. He might be describing his own fears of mediocrity.)

Anyway, back to the music, and I gotta start by saying that RINGO IS A GOD. This might be one of my favorite tracks of Ringo's, honestly, which isn't surprising in a song so driven by its crazy multiple meters. (All over the internets, I've seen notes and comments from people praying that various of their favorite songs will be available on the Beatles Rock Band game. But this is the song I am personally praying to the Beatle gods for. I want to drum the hell out of this come September.) Everything about what Ringo's doing here rocks, from the resonance he gets when he comes down on those extra beats after verses like "call his wife in," to the intensity he puts into those soloistic fills, and just the way he's relentless on the beat underneath the verses. As relentless as the march of civilization, or something.

I have to also single out Paul, first of all for the guitar solo, which is short but awesomely sardonic (he has the solo, but George plays lead guitar elsewhere). His bass playing here is nothing to sneeze at either-- it variously acts a counterpoint to the vocal melody and to the horn part, always emphasizing the march of the beat and always doing something surprising. It's been a while since I had the opportunity to swoon over Paul on the bass, so: .

The outro might be the most famous part, though. This is where the song becomes clearly a part of the Sgt. Pepper dense-production aesthetic, though it's also hilarious in a way that makes me think it had to have been John's idea. The band and the engineers raided the sound effects archives at Abbey Road Studios, taking the rooster's crow from the beginning and riffing off of it to introduce a very silly series of animal sounds (which John asked engineer Geoff Emerick to arrange in order of who could eat, or at least maul, who). The Beatles continue to sing the chorus, repeating the line three times to keep it nice and jarring and dropping the "morning" for that extra jagged edge, but they're gradually faded out as animals seemingly stampede all over them, chased by what sounds like a pack of dogs on a foxhunt. As they ride past, one lone chicken clucks to itself-- except it's not a chicken, it's a guitar, and it's going to start playing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)." Producer George Martin absolutely deserves all the kudos he's gotten over the years for this, one of the coolest, weirdest edits on a pop album that I've ever been able to think of. Just, genius.

It all adds up to this deliciously twisted, strange, rocked-out ode to boredom-- expressed in the least boring music imaginable. Of course it appealed to teenage me, and of course it continues to do so now. Anyway, back to my boring bourgeois day! Good morning to me!


  1. Wow. This isn't among many people's favorites. But I like it a lot more now that I've heard it in mono. I don't know why, but John's vocal seems less devoid of interest or passion in the mono version.

    Rock Band is going to break a lot of people's hearts ... Reminds me of seeing a band live, and hoping they play your secret favorite that wasn't a hit. Taking my 4-year-old to a couple of tribute shows, one of them on Saturday, and if they don't play Yellow Submarine and I've Just Seen a Face and about 30 other songs, he's gonna be devastated.

  2. I know, right? What's wrong with people? Why do they not hear the greatness that I hear? Well, I guess everyone's got a few songs that they love against all reason, like you say.

    See, I'll bet tribute bands never bother to play this one. But I guess it's not going to be what your son is listening for anyway. Sounds like good times nevertheless!

  3. I don't know, I'm skeptical; I got to see Beatlejuice a few times, and if you did too, you know that Brad Delp was ridiculously spot-on; he really sounded like John and Paul. If these guys don't get it right, I'll be disappointed. And my poor little guy is just like me. Although when I saw the Beatles cover band at Epcot, I got overly excited, so maybe you don't process the voice as much in the moment.