Saturday, May 23, 2009

Teddy Boy

Back in the '50s in Liverpool and Hamburg, the Beatles were all what the English called Teddy Boys. Originally the style was meant to be some kind of Edwardian revisitation (hence "Teddy"), but it merged with a look influenced by the American rock & roll greaser scene, and what you got was kids in huge jackets with velvet trim, super-tight jeans, and pompadours. My understanding is that the Teddy Boy (and Girl) thing was one of the first uniquely teenage trends the Brits had seen, and as in the States, the whole vibe terrified the teenagers' square parents. There's a really good story I read somewhere about how Paul's dad wouldn't let his sons wear the tight jeans that they were dying to wear, and so Paul let his father buy him a pair of normal jeans, but took them to a tailor every single day to have them taken in just the slightest little bit while he waited. So very gradually, over the course of a month, his pants got tighter and tighter, until they were cool. And when his dad railed against him for wearing them, Paul triumphantly showed him the label and proclaimed his innocence.

So the concept of Teddy Boy-ism would have been practically synonymous with just being a teenager, with all the youthful passion/violence that entailed. I read about the existence of the song "Teddy Boy" before I ever heard it, because as a kid I geeked out on reading a lot of Beatles books before I'd gotten into the solo career stuff much, and I assumed that "Teddy Boy" would be kind of an homage to both a youthfully transgressive Paul McCartney and the rock & roll scene that was was so exciting to him then. So you can imagine my disappointment when I actually heard the song.

"Teddy Boy" has never lost this faint sheen of disappointment for me, because I wanted it to be something other than Paul doodling around with a pleasant little melody about a boy who's gonna take care of his mom. Oh well.

We're counting this as a Beatles song because of the presence of the demo above on Anthology 3, so it's in kind of on a technicality. But Paul wrote it during their time in India in 1968, along with a ton of other songs that did make it onto Beatles albums, and Paul played a couple demos during the Get Back sessions. (The Anthology version is an edit of two separate takes. Believe it or not, one of them was a full six minutes or so, which-- argh.) What kept it from getting onto an album was that the other Beatles hated it.

But as with "Junk"-- another song which I feel could have benefitted heaps from more revision-- "Teddy Boy" found a home on McCartney, Paul's first solo album. Here's that version.

I wouldn't mind my own incorrect expectations so much if the whole song wasn't so slight anyway. Whereas "Junk" is at least stronger to begin with, "Teddy Boy" just feels little flimsy. There's nothing wrong with it, exactly. But the domestic drama isn't particularly compelling, and Paul hasn't bothered to flesh out many details. I don't know. Again, it's like, Paul, you know I love you, but you gotta consider finishing all your songs before you release them. Is all.

So, not my favorite. I think I'm going to go back and listen to my covers list again, because that's what a real Teddy Boy would prefer to do.

"Teddy Boy," released in the U.K. and the U.S. disc 2 track 6 of Anthology 3, October 28, 1996.


  1. It's like this: I like this song better than Junk. Junk goes nowhere for me. I wish it had never been born. I am OK with this 'song' because it is mildly amusing. I also never heard the 'McCartney' version. So my only exposure to it was as an outtake from the Anthology discs, and in that context, I was fine with it, which is more than I could say for Junk. But if you want to say this should never have made it onto an album (especially a Beatles album), well then I'm with ya.

  2. I stand by the argument that "Junk" at least has a better melody. There's more there there.

    But they're both lame in the context of Beatles stuff. It's like Paul hit a wicked dry spell. This might just be me lately-- the more I listen to McCartney these days, the less I'm into it. Ram is where he starts getting super interesting to me. My feelings on these things evolve, though.

  3. You are way more conversant on McCartney's solo career than I am, so I concede the high ground to you there. You are also just a little pip, and so while I did not get into the Beatles much before you did, agewise, I had been listening to them longer when the Anthologies came out, just before my children put me into a home. Resultantly, the freshness of the Anthologies appealed to me in a way they might not have to you, although you certainly got into the BBC discs. The live tracks on the Anthologies were fine, but it was the unreleased tracks and alternate takes that floated my boat highest. I LOVED Leave My Kitten Alone, and loved the experience of hearing If You've Got Trouble and That Means A Lot. But I thought the unreleased tracks and alternate takes paled by the time the third disc came out. I liked Come and Get It OK, and I thought some of the jokey stuff, like Los Paranoias, was fun. I assumed Teddy Boy was in that latter category. Maybe I just like it because you can hear John not slitting his wrists during it.

  4. This might be a fair assessment. I listened to Live at the BBC to death as a high schooler-- I heard them as either new Beatles songs, or dirtier, messier live versions of songs I already loved-- whereas Anthology just struck me as a lot of tracks that weren't great. Even Anthology 1, which has more live stuff, left me cold at the time, with its weird Decca audition material. I listened quite a bit, but I couldn't love it like I loved BBC.

    Over the years I've dug the Anthologies more, though. And "Leave My Kitten Alone" would have won me over anyway anyhow.

    Oh, but you're wrong that I'm conversant in Paul's solo career. I'm not at all-- McCartney (the album, which is what I meant above) is one I've liked less lately. but it's still worlds above others. I think I only made it through Pipes of Peace once. I can't be an expert in stuff that sucks. That said, Paul's last few albums are all ones I can support. (Not so my husband, who walks out of rooms when I play Memory Almost Full.)

    (And: I am not THAT little a pip.)(You make it sound so bad, to be a month shy of thirty!)