Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I Just Don't Understand

Meg's Beatle Gender-Bender Theorem: When the Beatles cover a song originally written for a woman to sing, it rules as much as or, frequently, more than the original. (See: "Boys," "Baby It's You," "Till There Was You," "Please Mr. Postman," "To Know Her Is to Love Her," etc. etc.)** And here comes "I Just Don't Understand" just to drive the point home.

This song was a hit in 1961 for the beautiful Ann-Margret, who was a fabulous dancer but, in my opinion, not the best singer the world has ever heard. I mean, okay, she can carry a tune and she's got a ton of charisma, and she's putting it all to use here-- almost as if she herself knows she's better off snarling than singing. It just all feels a little theatrical. John Lennon, though, can sing the shit out of this song.

See, John just sings this melancholy little waltz with the right mix of despair and palpable danger. Ooh, dangerous John. Do you hear a little bit of a threat in that cool yet quivering way John is singing? This reminds me a little of "You're Going to Lose That Girl"-- the vocal on "I Just Don't Understand" is somewhat more fraught, as John seems to be holding it together less well, but it has the same threat.

Now that I've maligned Ann-Margret (whom I actually am a huge fan of), I should at least give you her version too so you can decide for yourself. Her arrangement is very heavy on the harmonica.

You can hear why the Beatles were drawn to this song, I think. There's a sexy/angry vibe here that I can totally see appealing to John. And they really make it something special, to my mind-- not just because of John's hugely sexy vocal, but because of George's awesome guitar work. Doesn't that rock? It's a nice little riff that he repeats in response to the sung melody, but it's also some pretty cool surf-guitar-sounding warbling in the instrumental bridge. Yet George sounds a little under-rehearsed (for him, you understand-- he's usually SO solid) on his solos, which makes me think that this song might not have been in their repertoire for very long. (There's some barely discernible awkwardness in Ringo's drums-- or is that just me?-- that bolsters the argument for me.) It's great, though, and if they'd wanted to work on this one it could have been even more amazing. John, certainly, has got the feel of the thing down.

"I Just Don't Understand" is here thanks to its inclusion on Live at the BBC, which frequent readers know is a favorite of mine, particularly for these odd little live covers that you'd never hear (legally, that is) otherwise. So love it. And that's it, because for the next few days I'm alternating being in the office with being at a (local, thank goodness) trade show, and (heavy sigh) time is at a premium. More from me soon.

**[Meg's Beatle Gender-Bender Theorem Corollary: When the Beatles cover a song originally written for a woman to sing, but put George on lead vocals, it still rules, but noticeably less so. (See: "Devil in Her Heart," "Chains.")]

"I Just Don't Understand," released in the U.K. and the U.S. disc 2 track 17 of Live at the BBC, November 30, 1994.

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