Friday, May 29, 2009

Polythene Pam

This is a very making-lemonade-out-of-lemons day for me. I'm back home from a business trip, but today is the first day of my week-long unpaid, unrequested vacation. You know, these-dark-times, recession, et cetera. Whatever. For a week I'm hanging out and making the best of it. But what's awesome is that two great friends are coming to visit today-- one from Alaska, and one from Chicago-- and both went to high school with me and saw me through some seriously geeky Beatle times with remarkable patience and fortitude. We've got a friend getting married here in Boston tomorrow, and it's all very exciting, and I've been trying to get the apartment as clean as possible all morning.

For whatever reason, I find that Abbey Road makes excellent music to clean to. It seems to have the right mix of sing-along-able-ness (when alone, I like to get as soulful and stupid as possible with the likes of "Golden Slumbers" and "Oh! Darling") with stuff you can really crank your bass to and jump around as you dust your furniture (e.g. "Come Together"). But as you can see, we've covered those. So just because it's on my mind, let's listen to this quick little ditty in the B-side medley.

I read someone on "Polythene Pam" once-- I think it was Tim Riley-- suggesting that just as Paul gets all nostalgic in "Golden Slumbers," John gets nostalgic in this song, though obviously in a very different way. His nostalgia is expressed by singing a song that's apparently about one of the Beatles' original fans from back when they played the Cavern. She got her name because she ate plastic. (Was this sexy? It sounds mentally ill to me, but whatever.) And John sings her song in as over-the-top a Scouse accent as possible. The lyrics are structurally similar to a limerick, and the whole thing just sounds like something an old drunk guy would scream in a bar. Which is awesome, right?

Note, too, the way that John is thrashing the hell out of his acoustic guitar, and the really interesting drumming that Ringo's doing-- he sticks to the toms, and drums pretty much on the beats, which is weird, and it makes it sound like there's a train going by or something. In a good way. When George comes in with an electric guitar that sings its line over the transition into "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," I think it's the first entrance of an electric instrument, and it sounds pretty sublime. That's a great underappreciated bit of guitar work from George, there.

I mean, "Polythene Pam" is basically a throwaway, but like all the tracks on the Abbey Road B-side, it's a throwaway with no small degree of merit. It's fun. It's funny. It's a minute and a half of a rocking good time. Dig it.

"Polythene Pam," released in the U.K. side B track 6 of Abbey Road, September 26, 1969; in the U.S. October 1, 1969.


  1. The percussion is awesome. Remember the old potato chip commercial tag "bet ya can't each just one?" It applies to Abbe Road --- Betcha can't just listen to one B-side medley song. At least i can't. Now, where's my CD ...

  2. It's very rarely that we get an opportunity to correct you, and even rarer that we'd want to, but I gotta speak up here on your note about the descending Harrison line being the first entrance of an electric instrument, only because it was just last week that I was noticing something cool about one of my all-time favorite parts: the E barre chords that Harrison(?) is playing. (I'm talking about on the D-A-E progression that also starts the song.) There's this one time where instead of just strumming the E in rhythm, he goes down the neck in between the strums, sounding almost like he used a whammy bar. It's at about 0:13 in the video above. If I stood silent for the omission of that, what would I be?

  3. Oh, thanks! No, I'm sure my ear didn't pick it up. I need to be corrected frequently and always appreciate it. Thank you for making the blog a better one.

  4. It may be interesting to note that Edward Lear‘s limericks, like the first verse of this, all have the weird quirk of repeating the first line in the last. Hence Lennon‘s Polythene Pam should be seen as an homage to Lear, right?