Monday, June 8, 2009

Money (That's What I Want)

Let's remind ourselves why we keep showing up on these Monday mornings to whatever job it is we do every day by listening to the last track of With the Beatles. For their second album, the band figured they'd redo the winning formula that so memorably closed Please Please Me and go with another kickass rocking cover, with John once again tearing flesh with his voice on the lead vocal.

Here they are miming "Money (That's What I Want)" on Thank Your Lucky Stars in 1963.

Originally recorded in 1959 by Barrett Strong, this song was the first hit for Berry Gordy's Motown label, and did some totally decent chart time in the States, though I think it was always a little more obscure in Britain. Have you heard the original, by the way? You know, you really should. Here.

The Beatles, who always tend to do covers as affectionate homages, remain particularly faithful to Strong's version of "Money (That's What I Want)," right down to the killer piano work. George Martin overdubbed the piano on his own after the main recording session-- in 1963, the Beatles were of course still cramming in studio time around all the touring stuff they had going, and there hadn't been time to finish this one up with the band actually around. Still, that piano ends up being crucial to the feel of the thing. For me, prominent piano on a rock song makes it sound, I don't know, more mellow, or something. You can get that great tinny percussiveness out of a piano, but the timbre always has this bright quality that sounds a little more relaxed and groovy. Whereas a guitar, like other string instruments, sings more-- and you can get more genuine anguish or angst or raging lust or whatever out of that. (I think Little Richard is one of the only ones out there who can get his piano to truly sing-- when he's playing, it sometimes sounds like the piano is going "whooooooo!" right along with him. But I think that has something to do with the nature of the songs he writes, too.) Does this make any sense?

Anyway, that was a long aside, only to say that "Money (That's What I Want)" is completely badass in its own right, but doesn't live up to the sheer over-the-top lustiness of "Twist and Shout" for me-- and I think that has something to do with the presence of the piano. Of course, it might also have to do with the fact that in "Twist and Shout" John is singing about how he'd like to have sex with me up against a wall, while in "Money" he's singing about how he'd like to, I don't know, rob me or something. And it's not even really fair to compare any song, not even this one, with the craziness of "Twist and Shout" anyway. Of course, that bit at the end when John sings "I want to be free!" (which is not in Barrett Strong's version, you'll notice) is a moment of genuine pathos-- and it's probably one of the most awesome moments in the history of John as a rock singer. And I need to also take a second to acknowledge how AMAZINGLY Ringo is drumming through the whole thing. He's freaking relentless, especially in the last repeat when he's doing something involving straight eighth notes but in a way, way cooler way than that sounds.

Okay, before I run and make some more of the money myself, I need to refer you to the version of this song on Anthology 1, which was recorded during a live performance in Stockholm in 1963. All the songs from the Stockholm performance are some of the best tracks on that album, and "Money (That's What I Want)" is no exception. For some reason I can't find it on YouTube or elsewhere to post here. Clearly there's no accounting for taste.

"Money (That's What I Want)," released in the U.K. side B track 7 of With the Beatles, November 22, 1963; in the U.S. side A track 5 of Capitol's craptacular Beatles' Second Album, April 10, 1964.


  1. This has gotta go on that John's vocals playlist you were planning, no?

  2. Oh hell yeah. (I'll get around to that.... one of these days.)