Friday, August 7, 2009

Maggie Mae

Well, kids, I've been saving "Maggie Mae" for an occasion just like tonight-- a night when I'm so tired and out of time that only the lamest Beatles song ever will do. And tonight was such a night. I'm in San Francisco for a trade show, but met up tonight for copious cocktails with friends A.J. and Natalie, whom I call out by name in order to point you to A.J.'s excellent boozy books, which you should buy immediately. You should also read A.J.'s blog, which is all about cocktails-- it's over to your right in the blogroll. Anyway, tonight was awesome, but now I'm exhausted, and I gotta work a show in the morning, and I'm freaking listening to "Maggie Mae" in these last hours of August 7th (um, west coast time, anyway) and then getting my ass into bed.

"Maggie Mae" is a folk song straight outta Liverpool-- in fact, it dates to probably the 19th century, which would make it the oldest song the Beatles ever covered. And it's a nice and salty folk song, all about a prostitute who robs a sailor and gets caught. John sings it in such a thick scouse accent it's difficult to even understand the lyrics, though Lime Street, a major thoroughfare, is called out as Maggie's stomping grounds.

This track, like "Dig It," stands out on Let It Be as a random one-off jam session, as opposed to the other tracks, which are, you know, finished songs. I know that Phil Spector, who produced this, wanted to give the album a laid-back in-the-studio feel similar to the feel of the film, and he wanted to use some of the bits of the Beatles recording the old stuff that dates back to their sleazy club days in Liverpool, which they were feeling compelled to play during these sessions. I mean, I get that. But he screwed it up, in my opinion-- he either needed to include much more of the "Dig It"/"Maggie Mae" style stuff, or none of it at all. Even more insultingly, he used those two tracks as bookends to "Let It Be" (reportedly at John's direction), which just serves to deflate all the genuine artistry of that song.

Anyway, "Maggie Mae" is so clearly a one-off that I think you can only really enjoy it if you enjoy John singing in an adorably thick accent and elbowing and nudge-nudging his way through a vocal. You know, it's fine. But it's completely understandable why the thing would have been left off Let It Be...Naked. I'm no fan of that album, as I've stated elsewhere, but in revisiting this piece of history I think Paul realized the same thing that I did-- you gotta include this stuff the RIGHT way (as in, more of it) or not include it at all. He went with the latter, and that's fair. We'll always have "Maggie Mae," the official Beatles track that probably sounds the most like a bootleg.

Sorry to be lame tonight, kids. As I've said, I'm working all weekend, but I'll be blogging every day if it kills me-- just not always at predictable times.

"Maggie Mae," released in the U.K. side A track 7 of Let It Be, May 8, 1970; in the U.S. May 18, 1970.

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