Sunday, May 3, 2009

Three Cool Cats

Still feeling a bit silly and breezy on this May weekend, and I sort of want to get outside and do outdoorsy things, so for HarriSunday today we'll have a quick listen to "Three Cool Cats." Meow.

This song, which found its way to Anthology 1, was part of the set that the Beatles played at their Decca audition. The Decca people have gone down in history for being stupid enough to actually reject the Beatles. (One of my favorite Beatles quotes: Paul-- "I'll bet they're kicking themselves now." John-- "I hope they kick themselves to death.") But then when you look at the Decca setlist, you start to wonder if it was the best conceived setlist ever, and if it really showed off their true potential. Other than "Money (That's What I Want)," there's none of the harder rocking stuff that I personally love most from the Beatles early on in their career, and there's some stuff that sounds like they were trying to make nicey-nice with squares of a certain generation, like "Till There Was You" and "September in the Rain" and freaking "Besame Mucho." But clearly fate had greater things in store, for if Decca HAD signed them, they wouldn't have worked with George Martin at Parlophone, and Beatles history would have been much different and probably less interesting. So everything worked out in the end.

And yet all that was still in the future when George took the lead vocal on "Three Cool Cats" for the Decca execs. This adorable almost-novelty song was written by Leiber and Stoller and originally performed by the Coasters, released as the B-side to their "Charlie Brown" single.

While the original is fairly hip, thanks to that smooth vocal sound of the Coasters (who totally rule, by the way), the Beatles' version has a sort of sublime silliness to it. The faster tempo they take helps. Note too that the Coasters' version only does the bridge once, but the Beatles repeat it, because the "hey man save one chick for me moment" is awesome enough that it merits repeating. (For the record, I've played the song a few times now, and my husband, who is pacing around the apartment idly, cracks up every single time that part comes on. Rightly so.) George delivers an excellent vocal here, don't you think? He sounds as assured and snarly and sexy and potentially dangerous as a truly Cool Cat should sound. He also adapts the Coasters' horn solo to guitar effectively, if slightly tentatively.

And with that, this cool chick is heading out for brunchies.

"Three Cool Cats," released in the U.K. disc 1 track 16 of Anthology 1, November 20, 1995; in the U.S. November 21, 1995.


  1. I'm fond of George's vocal as well. Yes, some of their early covers were a little goofy, but I think this one's more in the Sheik of Araby category -- it was supposedto be funny and therefore cool.

  2. it's also quite hard, if not downright impossible, to listen to material decades after it was created and, knowing the history of the band, try to listen with ears that ignore that history and the period and the sound of the period and judge it fresh. If that makes sense. I've had XM for about six months now, and jump around between all the marvelous stations and hit the 50s and 60s channels quite regularly, and i am amazed that while all the "oldies" can be fun to listen to, some hold their own today, while others just don't. They can't achieve any sort of "glory" beyond the period in which they were created. If that makes sense. I'm probably just rambling. I've been known to do that ...

  3. No, I get you as totally as someone who doesn't really listen to oldies can get you. Right or wrong, I tend to believe that most non-fans of the Beatles entirely lack a sense of historical awareness. They have no idea what ground the Beatles broke. I think the same is true of Beatle fans who dismiss the band's early period. Of course, by not being into oldies, I guess I'm guilty of it too, but everyone's gotta draw the line somewhere. Better to have one that's drawn 10 years before you were born than one that's drawn at Metallica and Motley Crue.

  4. As a youngish person who didn't get to experience '50s and '60s radio as it was happening, I have to say I've always really liked it. When I was young, I think it sounded MORE novel than what top 40 radio was playing-- it might have just been the difference. A lot of oldies station fodder is very singable, too, and since I was one of those kids who basically sang nonstop (no doubt inciting murderous thoughts in everyone around me), I dug it. And while I understand that the likes of, say, Neil Sedaka is hopelessly irrelevant to music today, I still enjoy him, as well as sillier songs like "Three Cool Cats." (I listen to a lot of classical music too, which some would say is irrelevant, though it's usually less silly.)

    Even if you're very familiar with the oldies, it's just impossible to hear how groundbreaking the Beatles were. I've tried to really get it by immersing myself in Bobby Vee and stuff, but it's unpleasant, and so to a large extent I take it on faith. That's OK. I think they rock with or without the groundbreaking angle, but I think the other big argument for their being groundbreaking is that I still want to listen, and still hear new stuff.

  5. Back on the topic of them being funny -- I downloaded some Revolver-era sessions over the weekend, and was listening today. You should hear, on tracks where they're turning down the other three tracks so you can isolate the fourth, how much the Beatles were goofing around with the backing vocals on stuff like Paperback Writer and Taxman and even Rain. They were really straining to hit the high notes, and sometimes making light of it as they did it. I think it was just acceptable traditionally to goof on yourself in a way no one does in music today. I can't quite put it the way I want to, but if you listen to the tracks, you might know what I mean.

  6. I can see that. But consider that they also had practically limitless time, since they were making EMI gazillion pounds/dollars a minute. And that by the time of the Revolver era they felt super, super comfortable in the studio, which it took time for them to develop. Originally, I know, they were a bit intimidated by the experience.

    That said, I clearly need to listen to some of that stuff. I'm woefully unschooled in bootlegs generally-- it's a huge gap in my knowledge.

  7. I'm far from a bootleg expert, but I've been chasing the feeling I got hearing the Anthology discs since ... well, since their release. I mean, I was excited when I heard If You've Got Trouble, you know? Then again, I'm the kind of guy who was into the Sacred Cowboy mashups. Still am, really.

    Last winter, there was a Times piece about how the catalog hadn't been updated. It mentioned the Purple Chick series, and I found a lot of those on Even being a huge fan specifically into alternate versions, some of the Purple Chick stuff is too subtle for me. I got their alternate Abbey Road album, and on the first play I'm hearing appreciable differences, and on the next play I'm not so sure. But these Revolver Sessions are my favorite yet. You can hear Ringo's voice breaking on Yellow Submarine, as well as who's singing what parts in the backing vocals. (I had one of George's notes wrong.) You can hear what the backwards guitars on I'm Only Sleeping sound like the way they were played (forwards). You hear all kinds of notes you otherwise wouldn't hear. You just have to be willing to sit through take after take of songs, knowing that maybe you might hear something supercool, but maybe it'll be for five seconds at the end of a three-minute song, or maybe it'll just be an instrument, isolated, that doesn't really reveal much you couldn't hear on the original recording. Maybe it'll be an alternate stereo version (which maybe you'll be able to put your finger on the differences, or maybe you'll just know you like it better than the original version (or not)), or maybe you'll sit through a whole take without being sure what you gained from it.

  8. All I have to say is thanks for posting the Coasters version. That kicks ass (and frankly, kicks the Beatles version three ways til Tuesday, as fun to listen to as their version is).