Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Besame Mucho

Some days just break you. It's barely 1:00 and I'm already all set for this one to be over, or to start over entirely, or something. I can't even begin to talk about it. BLECH.

I don't really have the energy or the time to devote to tackling a true Lennon-McCartney masterpiece today. But I would like to see if Paul hamming it up is going to cheer me up at all. So what the hell-- here's "Besame Mucho," a song that appeared frequently in the Beatles' Cavern lineup, and one that they thought highly enough of to pull out for both the Decca and the EMI auditions in 1962.

In fact, they liked playing it so much that you can find a ton of recordings of "Besame Mucho"-- there's at least one version they did live on a BBC show available on bootleg (it didn't make the Live at the BBC album), plus a poor-quality version on Live at the Star-Club, plus the Decca audition tape, which has been bootlegged all over the place. And those are just the ones that come immediately to mind. The so-called canonized version is found on Anthology 1, and it's from their audition for George Martin at EMI. That's the one you'll hear in the video above.

If your question now is a baffled "but WHY?-- WHY were they so enraptured with this song?", you should know that that's kind of my impression too. The song was apparently gigantically popular in its day, but perhaps it just hasn't aged well, or perhaps it's just not up my alley. "Besame Mucho" was written in 1940 by a young Mexican girl, and once someone wrote English lyrics to go with it, several cover versions became hits in the UK (and I guess the US too) throughout the '40s and '50s. So this totally classifies as one of "Paul's granny songs," as John would later deride them. And, I don't know, maybe the rest of them really hated playing this, but like some other cheesy covers Paul sang lead on, they sure as hell played "Besame Mucho" a lot for having hated it. (As someone pointed out in comments recently, it did behoove the Beatles to have a few non-rocking songs like this in their repertoire for the still-stodgy Liverpool club scene, so that's part of it too, I'm sure.)

Then again, I believe the version that really got Paul psyched was the Coasters', who at least have some cred with me (and with Paul). Unfortunately, I can't seem to find the Coasters' version anywhere on YouTube. But having spent a few minutes on YouTube looking for it, I can report back to you that "Besame Mucho" continues to be covered by such mediocre talents as Andrea Bocelli and that kid Sanjaya from American Idol. (Both of whom are far too mediocre to merit links.) And to my ear, the song deserves no more than a mediocre performer.

But of course the Beatles do a pretty damned good job on it. Paul is giving his all, of course, on the corniest vocal ever, but it does show off his pipes pretty well-- the song has a wide range, and he gets to show off how adorable and how light-hearted he is. And George and John are both right there on the quasi-Spanish guitars-- I mean, they really do have the feel of this one nailed. And I kind of like how Ringo comes in at the chorus and does these wicked long rolls. If nothing else, "Besame Mucho" shows off how well the Beatles play-- which I guess is why it makes sense to put it in your audition setlist.

I'm telling you, though, reports of the other Beatles hating this song have been exaggerated in hindsight. They sing the thing again in Let It Be, and as you can see below, everyone's kind of getting into it. In fact, I suspect this kind of hilariously overwrought performance of the song might be more in keeping with the way they actually played it back in the day, especially in Hamburg. But I don't know really. Anyway, hope you like this-- even I like it okay, and, admittedly, it has slightly cheered me up.

"Besame Mucho," released in the U.K. and the U.S. disc 1 track 21 of Anthology 1, November 20, 1995.

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