Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I Call Your Name

As anyone who reads this with any regularity knows, I have soft spots for a whole lot of Beatles songs that maybe, it could be argued, are undeserving of my affection. Maybe they're a bit awkward or spotty or somehow less than masterpieces. Oh, but I love them anyway. Because, you guys, I am a fan. It's pretty much the definition. I can be critical as the mood strikes me, but in the end any of these songs are more appealing to me than just about any other pop music, ever.

And so we come to "I Call Your Name," one of the scrawnier Beatles songs-- and yet I won't hear a word against it. Not a word. Because it is adorable.

"I Call Your Name" was actually one of the first songs that John ever tried to write-- it dates back God knows how long but certainly, it would seem, to his teenage years. (Lennon armchair shrinks have speculated that it's about his mother, who died when he was 17. Or at least unconsciously so.) The early date of composition probably explains the song's short (one could say "stubby" phrases) and adolescent lyrics. It's almost sing-songy, this one.

It also explains why they gave the song away to another of Brian Epstein's bands, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. They put it on the B-side of their single "Bad to Me" (which is surely the worst Lennon-McCartney song ever written-- thank God the Beatles never chose to revisit that one). Here's a video of the Dakotas doing it. But feel free to skip it. I've concluded what I pretty much already knew-- the Dakotas were not that great a band.

So anyway, John was apparently unsatisfied with the way the Dakotas did this song-- I can't imagine why-- which is why he decided the Beatles should do it too. Perhaps he had some affection for this song from his youth such that he wanted more control over the sound. (I guess if the song meant something special to John, it's another argument for it being a little bit about his mother.) In the end, the song was still judged too weak to end up as a single or on an LP, and it ended up as the only Lennon-McCartney original on the Long Tall Sally EP.

That's basically a fair distinction, I think. Still, there's some cool stuff going on here. Note that the verses and the middle eight have really noticeably contrasting rhythms happening. Once John starts in on "Don't you know I can't take it," George's guitar part starts in on this really infectious eighth-note line that drives the song a little faster, with Paul giving him solid bass support on the up-beats. This was apparently a conscious attempt to emulate the sounds of ska, which in the early '60s was still fairly unknown outside of Jamaica, but had been discovered by the Beatles thanks to import records. Now, this is one of those Beatles phenomena that I've read about rather than heard myself-- I definitely don't know enough about ska (or, really, enough about music generally) to have noticed this myself, but John called it out in interviews that I've read, and I think I know what he's talking about. That's only the more obvious rhythmic shift, though. In the guitar solo, the beat shifts again into something with a bit more swing to it. Do you hear it? I think it's being driven more by Paul this time-- George takes his solo in characteristically cheerful, bright style, while Paul starts in on a noticeably more percussive walking bassline. And Ringo, who I presume has been responsible for hitting what sounds like a tin bell or other metallic instrument on the beat for much of the song, lets up here, sticking to a simpler backbeat with prominent cymbals. And then they go back to the middle eight for the ska thing, and eventually back to where they started in the verse.

Not all of the transitions are as neat as they could be, truth be told, which is part of what makes the song sound a bit awkward and adolescent. It also sounds a little unserious, what with the teenybopper tragedy in the lyrics juxtaposed with all this fun with rhythm and a particularly smiley-sounding vocal from John. So, you know, not a masterpiece. But even on songs like this, you gotta love the Beatles for playing around with new and different sounds. LOVE.

"I Call Your Name," released in the U.K. side A track 2 of Long Tall Sally EP, June 19, 1964; in the U.S. side B track 2 of The Beatles' Second Album, April 10, 1964.


  1. It's also kind of slight musically, by which I mean not a full-sounding song. It doesn't feel like any vocals or guitars are doubled. But I like it too.

  2. I agree with Troy's observation of the song being "thin," but for a little ditty, it's still a catchy tune. And it has John's voice --- hey, sing the phone book, I'll listen. The song's not upper echelon stuff by any stretch, but there's some interesting things going on, as you point out, Meg. The tempo shifts are pretty sly and smooth.

    Like, what happened to your new picture, Meg? I saw it in yesterday's post. Now, today, gone! It was very nice.

  3. Er-- I decided I preferred anonymity, Frank. I guess. I didn't like to see myself staring-- it's bad enough on Facebook.

    Anyway, right on to all you guys. I was expecting more sneering at this song. You know what bugs me? When people prefer the lame Mamas and the Papas cover.

  4. Oh, hell, I forgot they covered that song! Shows how memorable their version was for me. I did/do like Monday, Monday.

    Regarding your picture. I thought it was a nice one of you. But, i understand what you mean about seeing yourself stare back at you every time you post.