Thursday, May 28, 2009

My Bonnie

I need to kind of rush this one (what else is new?) due to oversleeping and other work stuff to do this morning. So here's "My Bonnie," which is interesting historically if not musically. Though it's kind of musically interesting too, in my opinion. Or at least pretty darned listenable.

This historically interesting part is that the single "My Bonnie"/"The Saints" was the Beatles' first commercial release, though it wasn't under their name. They're performing here as the backing band to Tony Sheridan. The Beatles played a few different times in Hamburg, beginning in 1960, and their pill-fueled all-night 7-hour shows in the madness of the city's red-light district have become the stuff of legend. This is where they cut their teeth, really, such that when they went back to Liverpool it is said that no one could believe how amazing they had gotten. They weren't the only English rockers playing there-- interestingly, people in Hamburg really loved Merseyside rock and roll long before the rest of the world took to it, so the Beatles played in seedy clubs alongside other Liverpudlians like Rory Storm and the Hurricanes (Ringo's first band), Gerry and Pacemakers, and several others that I'm currently blanking on because I'm rushing myself. Tony Sheridan, while not from Liverpool, was among this English rock scene, and at the time was a lot more famous than the Beatles-- famous enough that he was all set to record an album with Polydor, a German label. And he liked the Beatles, so he asked them to come play on the record and be his backup band. When the record was released, the Beatles were credited as the Beat Brothers for some reason.

The other historically interesting thing has to do with a kid, Raymond Jones, who one day walked into Brian Epstein's Liverpool record store, NEMS, and asked if he had a copy of "My Bonnie." This for some reason (cosmic intuition, perhaps) sparked Epstein's interest enough that he sought out the Beatles at one of their lunchtime gigs at the Cavern-- and the rest is history. So if not for "My Bonnie," we might never have heard of the Beatles at all.

The song itself is just a rocking cover of the folk song. But it DOES rock-- Tony Sheridan's not a bad singer, really, and the Beatles are backup-singing their hearts out behind him, particularly a frenetically whooping Paul. (They sing as though they knew this was their big chance to impress someone.) And George's guitar solo is genuinely awesome. It just sounds like the whole thing was a blast to record. It's totally danceable, even if it's a little silly.

So when the Beatles got HUGELY famous a few years later, various tracks from the sessions with Tony Sheridan were released under various guises. Some tracks from that session, like "Cry for a Shadow" and "Ain't She Sweet," are Beatles-only tracks, so while I don't think they made it onto Sheridan's original My Bonnie album, you can bet someone at Polydor dug them up and released them later.  At one point in 1964 I think "My Bonnie" was actually #4 on the American charts-- one of the Beatles' famous accomplishments was dominating all 5 slots in the top 5, and I'm pretty sure "My Bonnie" is part of what made that possible. Sheridan suffered the indignity of having these tracks actually released in the U.S. and elsewhere as Beatles' songs "featuring Tony Sheridan and guests." Ouch. Anyway, several tracks found their way onto Anthology 1, which is now the easiest place to hear them, and also the reason why they fit into my version of the official Beatles canon for Year in the Life purposes.


1 comment:

  1. What interests me historically is that these songs (My Bonnie, When the Saints Go Marching In, You Are My Sunshine, Swanee River) were apparently the cutting edge of starmaking vehicles in 1961. They were so tame compared with what rock turned into in the next few years, spearheaded, of course, by our lads.