Sunday, July 12, 2009

Love You To

HarriSunday is upon us once again, and it's looking like it's going to be a good one. Once more I'm spending big chunks of my weekend cleaning my always-messy apartment for forthcoming houseguests while cheerfully fending off a hangover. But the sun is shining, the coffee is good, the ibuprofen is kicking in, and Revolver is revolving merrily in the stereo. Hey, you know what's a good song on a day like today? "Love You To."

George Harrison's first foray into strictly Indian music-- the sitar line on "Norwegian Wood" doesn't really count-- probably sounded pretty surprising and mind-blowing when it was first released. This certainly wasn't something that other pop groups were really trying out, after all. Remember that George was first inspired to check out Indian music during the filming of Help!, a film that doesn't exactly show the greatest understanding of Indian culture that you've ever seen on screen. The bumbling, human-sacrifice-obsessed villains are really just played for gratuitous exoticism or something, and I'm thinking that that was likely par for the course at the time. So for George to actually take Indian music seriously, and to so elegantly harness its complexities into a 3-minute pop song, must have been rather a big deal.

Although George never learned how to read western music or anything at all about traditional western theory, he did eventually study Indian theory and learned to notate for Indian instruments so that he could write parts out for the musicians he worked with, so he was indeed taking this very seriously. (It would have been nice if Paul, who still doesn't know how to read and write western music, had shown the same respect for classical music before he went dabbling into oratorio composition with his staff of transcriptionists. But I digress.) But since this is George's first Indian experiment, I don't think he was doing the notating just yet. In fact, I don't even think that's him playing the complicated sitar part, though it's sometimes credited to him-- I think it's much more likely all the Indian instruments are being played by hired musicians, and I base this not just on my own gut (the sitar line here is a lot more complicated than the "Norwegian Wood" one, after all) but on the judgment of some of my favorite Beatles critics, too, so hopefully I'm not too out of line.

Unlike George, I know next to nothing about Indian music, so bear with me as I try to talk about this. "Love You To" does a couple things that are typical of very traditional Indian pieces-- the very slow, out-of-rhythm, improvised-sounding introduction for solo sitar, for instance. There's a sense of metrical freedom that's very Indian as well. Others have gone through this song and figured out where all the bars of 4/4, 3/4, and 2/4 time are, but I've never had the energy myself, and doing so seems like it would be going against the Indian ethos somehow anyway. Suffice it to say that "Love You To" plays fast and loose with western rhythmic structures. And it's not just in the metrical shifting-- listen to the sitar solo in the middle of the song and you can hear how deliberately it's obfuscating any sense of strict rhythm. At the end, the instruments all shift seamlessly into a faster tempo, and this mucking about with tempo is pretty typical of the style as well. And of course we have the drone going under the whole thing, and the near-lack of harmonic motion that makes true classical Indian music so difficult to listen to for a lot of westerners (including me). But George is pretty good about making it sound poppy too. I mean, that repeating sitar riff becomes a key part of the melodic structure-- it's as solid a little riff as any of the memorable Beatley guitar riffs, something nice to ground our ears.

Even if songs like "Love You To" aren't necessarily your cup of tea, I still feel we should give it up to George for going so out there on a Beatles album. I'm sure this was a gigantic risk, but as it happened, it paid off, and it makes Revolver all the more fun and weird and groundbreaking.

"Love You Too," released in the U.K. side A track 4 of Revolver, August 5, 1966; in the U.S. side A track 3 of Capitol's craptacular version of Revolver, August 8, 1966.


  1. Not a big sitar fan. When George plays it with note and phrasing "like a guitar," it has an interesting, captivating sound. But, the drone that you so well discussed is a real yawner for me. I remember seeing Harrison back in the 70s when Ravi would tour with him, and George would "disappear" on stage for a half hour (seemed like days) and let Ravi play. A song or two would have been okay, but it went on and on and on. I'll second your observation, though, that the song Love You To does help give Revolver its groundbreaking feel.

  2. I love the drone; it's usually a tamboura, isn't it? I was thinking yesterday that I would like to get one and play with it in rock songs. I think it fits well with what Paul was already doing on bass, where he on some songs would stay on the root while the song went to a VII or whatever progression it had. (Tomorrow Never Knows is probably the best example.)

  3. Troy, yeah, the drone is usually a tamboura, and I think whenever you hear an Indian drone in Beatles songs it's always a tamboura. And good call on Tomorrow Never Knows. But they like playing with drones-- Getting Better is the recently-covered song that does something kind of new and fun with it that most sticks out for me now.. Good call on Tomorrow Never Knows, too. And of course you should get a tamboura. You should get a tamboura immediately.

    And Frank, yeah, the Ravi Shankar bits of George concerts always seemed painful. Indian classical music has lot of REALLY long pieces. And it's long pieces that lack all the harmonic motion that our western ears are used to, so they tend to be soporific. I was reading Alan W. Pollack's writeup of "Love You To"-- see the Notes on the Beatles link over to the right-- and he says he spent a good year of his life trying to train himself to like Indian music, but it just never took. It just comes from a totally different cultural place. Music, it turns out, is NOT the universal language.

  4. Do I sense a Year in the Life pledge drive to get troy a tamboura in the works? Come on, who's with me?

    Paul on Friday. Just sayin' ... See where he played Mull of Kintyre on Saturday?