Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Lovely Rita

It's a week from tonight that Paul is playing Boston! And though the playlists from the Citi Field shows (thanks to Steve Marinucci for documenting them so thoroughly over at the Beatles Examiner) seem unlikely to change too much, even if there are no surprises at all I couldn't be more excited. Whee!

So today, furlough day #3, I'm just going to dance around my house in my pajamas to some happy Paul songs, of which "Lovely Rita" certainly is one.

This song was actually written based on a real altercation with a meter maid outside Abbey Road Studios. Paul apparently came out of the building as the woman was writing him a ticket for parking illegally, and tried to argue his way out of it, but not in an obnoxious way-- in an apparently very friendly, charming, McCartney-esque way. Still and all, the meter maid was having none of it. And good for her, too. Her reward was to have the best "guess-what-happened-to-me-at-work" story EVER, and also to be immortalized as "Lovely Rita." (Her real name was Mita, or Meta, or something like that.)

So "Lovely Rita" is ostensibly a pretty straightforward rocker, which is kind of nice, but like all the tracks on Sgt. Pepper, it was sent through a ringer of studio effects-- the echo here is so prominent as to, occasionally, annoy me, though of course I'm mostly just used to this song sounding that way. But there's no disguising its rock lineage. It's even about sexual frustration, which is pretty much one of the oldest rock song archetypes ever-- and it's funny that Paul translates his struggle to get out of a ticket into the struggle to get into a chick's pants. Specifically, it sounds as though it's about Paul, or Paul-in-character, torn between his usual method of cutesy-wutesy flirting and just straight-up begging for sex-- he constantly sounds on the verge of descending to the latter. "When are you free to take some tea with me" and "give us a wink" and all that? I don't buy it this time, Paul. Paul is flirting with us here as adorably as ever, but he also sounds, for a change, kind of frustrated that he seems unable to close the deal. He only "nearly" makes it, after all. The on-the-beat backup singing provided by a grinning John and George for much of the song sounds like half impassioned plea and half churlish slap-on-the-ass. And as Paul gets more and more worked up about trying to get with Rita, the whole song literally breaks down-- the singers stop singing and start into the whooping, heavily breathing, and shouting, getting almost, almost, to some kind of climax, all over a reduced instrumental background. But the very end, with the little fizzle of piano, makes it sound to me like Rita left him hanging. Poor Paul.

But at least the whole atmosphere makes it clear that Paul can laugh about sexual frustration. There are some nice funny touches here, like the comb-and-paper that's creating the whistling effect you hear peppered throughout. And George Martin plays a particularly fun honky tonk piano solo-- which I'm pretty sure was varispeeded to sound faster and tinnier than it would have otherwise-- that becomes a part of Paul's musical argument. The piano sounds like another line of commentary in Paul's little musical flirtation here, all wink-winks and nudge-nudges.

Coming as it does after "When I'm Sixty-Four," "Lovely Rita" sort of carries on with the Charming Paul persona a bit, but at least Paul lets himself get a little raunchier here. And that's the kind of Paul McCartney I like the best. (Paul: call me!) Maybe it's not the most impressive song of his career or even on this album, but "Lovely Rita" is just so damned lovable that I can't resist it.

"Lovely Rita," released in the U.K. side B track 3 of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, June 1, 1967; in the U.S. June 2, 1967.


  1. My favorite line is: "Got the bill and Rita paid it."

    There's his love life problem --- he's cheap.

  2. Or, paying the bill is Rita's way of confirming that she is definitely not going to sleep with him.

  3. Maybe my favorite George Martin part ever.

    The beginning of this song -- the guitar part, and Paul's vocal, and the production on them -- is so awesome, the rest of the song is the tiniest bit of a letdown. Like I Want to Tell You, but 1,000 times awesomer. It's in the running for greatest moment on this album.

  4. Hmm, interesting compare there to "I Want to Tell You." Nice. Yes.

    That said, it's a totally great song and all, but "Good Morning Good Morning" coming on its heels always does more for me.

  5. REAL-ly! I like that song fine, but John's delivery is a black mark for me. Maybe he's trying to sound flat and uninterested, given the lyrics, but it's hard for me to muster up much enthusiasm for that track.