Saturday, August 8, 2009

Good Night

Since I seem to have slipped into a nighttime posting schedule, and since I'm freaking exhausted after a full day of work stuff at a trade show, I'm finding myself more drawn than usual to this sweet little lullaby by John. Of course, Ringo takes a memorable lead vocal. Let's all hope I make it through this post without falling asleep myself.

But yeah, John wrote "Good Night" as a lullaby for his son Julian, who turned 5 in 1968. Actually, I'm not sure he so much wrote it, as just sang it to him when he put him to sleep, in the way that you would sing a little nonsensically to your kid. But at some point he apparently decided that "Good Night" would make a good track for the White Album. Here's the thing: heard as a song to Julian, "Good Night" is very sweet and kind of special, and the image of John whisper-singing it to his (famously) kind of neglected son is pretty intimate. And when I imagine how John must have sounded singing it, I think of "Julia" to the Nth, you know, just in terms of that intimate, intensely quiet singing. So I think it's interesting that John has gone out of his way to distance himself from that kind of intimacy: by giving it to Ringo to sing, by leaving out all the other Beatles from the musical arrangement, and by giving George Martin instructions to make the orchestral arrangements as schmaltzy as was humanly possible. It's as though John wanted the song to sound like a parody, and it kind of does.

Martin delivered the goods on the schmaltz, all right. Listen and you'll hear all the elements of the most cheesetacular easy listening stuff your grandparents like-- there's a celesta chiming away (which I think George Martin is playing) and these weird tweeting little flute lines, and what sounds like one of the larger Beatles orchestras ever assembled to play those warm, syrupy violin parts. It's the chorus that really gets me-- it sounds like a few singers pulled from the giant Hollywood choruses who sing those reprises at the ends of animated Disney films. And, you know, it's exactly what John asked for. It's weird, isn't it? I mean, the effect is fine, and it's pretty and so forth, but so unsubtle that John must have been trying to make this sound kind of sarcastic. As if expressing love for his son was somehow weirdly uncool. Am I being too hard on John? I don't know. I mean, maybe he just wasn't sure the song was that great. It IS a little thin-- more could have been made of the lyrics, if I'm to get picky-- but it's a lullaby, for God's sake. It's all about mood, not great poetry. And the mood is nice. So I don't quite get this decision.

That said, Ringo DOES deliver as sweet a vocal as could be desired, in that guileless Ringo way. And it's a likable song-- I like it quite a bit, even if I'm not sure what John was going for exactly. Ringo has said that people tend to assume that Paul wrote it, which just goes to show that those people are not listening as well as they should be. As we all hopefully know by now, the whole John-was-the-rocker, Paul-was-the-pussy cliche is dumb-- John wrote great ballads, and Paul wrote great rock and roll. And if you are actually listening for where they do differ, it's obvious that "Good Night" is a Lennon song. The melody does that Lennonesque thing of hanging around just a couple of notes-- which is part of what makes it easy for Ringo, with his limited range, to sing. Paul would never have written a ballad with such a small pitch range. And he likely wouldn't have written a ballad, much less a lullaby, that does so much strange harmonic stuff-- this one lingers in the ii and iii chords so much that the home key becomes, for me, a bit cloudy. (Or maybe I'm just too tired right now.) That's more of a John touch.

Okay, on that note, I really do have to say good night. I'm going to try to get up earlier and back on a morning schedule so that tomorrow's HarriSunday happens as usual before I have to go off to more trade show madness. Good night, everybody. Everybody, everywhere. Good night.

"Good Night," released in the U.K. side D track 6 of The Beatles, a.k.a. the White Album, 


  1. Hope you're managing to see *something.* Bars don't count! Well, maybe a little. I was there for work with limited time too. If you can spare two hours, climb the Filbert steps up to Coit Tower, then down Russian Hill, to the switchbacky section of Lombard St., which puts you on Hyde, where you can grab a streetcar and hang on the pole all the way to Union Square.

  2. Thanks, but I won't have time this trip, I'm sure. But I've made it up to Coit Tower on previous work trips in which I did have time. That's part of why I'm not really feeling the sightseeing and whatnot this time. And don't knock the bars! I've already been to a couple awesome ones, and if I'm lucky I might even get to expense the tabs.

  3. It sounds like great times - my first drink was at the Fog City Diner. I had ordered a Roy Rogers (as I was 9 years old) and they gave me a Rob Roy. I guess they must serve 'em in diapers in the Bay City.

  4. Hey, thanx for that collage of images for "Good Night". One of my favorite images of Ringo is at 28 seconds. Those images don't show the stress that was boiling around that time in the studio. I remember the first time I heard that song, I had aquired my copy of the White Album in the early 1970's and put it on the record player, what an amazing experience that was! But side 4 of course treated us to Revolution 9 and you know, I just sat there listening to it,,I really didn't know what to make of it, then on came Good Night after that. It kind of soothed you after the chaos of R-9. The part of Rev-9 where the crowds are yelling "block that kick!" or something similar and then it fades and the celestial sound of Good Night comes on, what a play on sound. Years later in high school I was such a Beatles nerd, I used to have this little reel to reel tape player, it had all of these Beatle songs I recorded, I'd play it all day at school when I was able to. The retro thing had not happened yet and the Beatles hadn't had a resurgence of popularity yet so it was funny how many people didn't know who the Beatles were. On that tape I had Good Night, and I played it for a group of people who were blown away by it, they only knew the Beatles as the ones that sang Yeah Yeah Yeah. Such memories. Thanks for reminding me of those. Bill