Friday, September 25, 2009

Rip It Up/Shake, Rattle, & Roll/Blue Suede Shoes

If it seems like I'm trying to get these Anthology tracks out of the way, it's kind of true-- if one is going to write a blog like this one, one should try to end on a high note, and there are a few tracks that I'd like to get out of the way. Especially on a Friday night after an extremely long day, after a bit of beer. (I know, I know, I'm only barely making it this Friday, but cut me some slack, kiddies! And, um, thanks.)

Anthology 3 gave us a legal taste of all the bootlegged goodies from the Get Back sessions, in the form of this track, which is basically a half-assed medley of three classic rock and rollers. Dig it.

Maybe "half-assed" isn't entirely fair. But I think it's fair to admit that this sounds a little unfinished, don't you? See, here's the thing: January of 1969 saw the Beatles working on an album to be tentatively titled Get Back, which was to include some old-school covers of songs like the ones featured here-- combined with back-to-basics rocking originals. This was all in reaction to the artistic excesses of Sgt. Pepper and, to some extent, to the rampant genre experimentation that found its way onto the White Album. Get Back ended up morphing into the album that became Let It Be, and along the way it kind of lost its reason for being, such that almost nothing of that original mission was left. But at the same time they were trying to record Get Back, they were also filming the movie that was to become Let It Be, so practically every second of those sessions was recorded. And that meant bootlegs to death. I think I read a statistic once that something like 80% (or more) of Beatles bootlegs were all from this one month of recording sessions in January of 1969, which makes sense considering the reels and reels and reels of tape run. And it was only right that Anthology 3 acknowledge the bootleg tradition, even if half-assedly, here.

"Rip It Up/Shake, Rattle, & Roll/Blue Suede Shoes" is typical of the Get Back bootlegs in its fragmented feel. Although the Beatles had this kind of vague idea that it would be nice to put covers on their album, I get the distinct sense that they didn't think it through much beyond that. The Get Back bootlegs (and indeed, Let It Be the film) are full of aimless jamming that seems not to get them any closer to nailing down an album setlist. At no point do the Beatles seem to decide to actually commit to one song over another. They know these songs in their guts. And they're playing them on autopilot. Nowhere in the Get Back sessions do you get the energy that's so palpable in, say, the entire Live at the BBC album. These are guys who have been playing together so long they almost sound bored.

So, here we have a track of some messing around. And the track has more energy than a lot of the bootleg stuff, so that's cool. The majority of this track-- ostensibly devoted to a cover of a Little Richard song, followed by a Bill Haley and the Comets song, followed by a Carl Perkins song (obviously made famous of Elvis, but I like the Perkins version myself)-- is "Blue Suede Shoes." It feels as if the previous songs are warm-ups to "Blue Suede Shoes," really. That one boasts a wicked awesome John Lennon vocal, a hilarious bearish harmony vocal from Paul, and some seriously funky guitar courtesy of George. Paul's sharing keyboards with Billy Preston, but it's Preston who I suspect is carrying that badass solo in the middle. By "Blue Suede Shoes," they're all playing fairly tightly, perhaps remembering when they used to, you know, enjoy playing together, and they do all right by it.

In the end, though, the Anthology 3 editors were perhaps right not to include more stuff like this. On this legally sanctioned album, we get a taste of the bootlegged stuff, and then we quickly move onward. It's just not the best work. And in comparison to their mind-blowingly-awesome work as a live band in their early years (so gorgeously captured on Live at the BBC), nothing on the Get Back sessions lives up. So here we are at A Year in the Life, getting it out of the way. Hell, if they put it on an Anthology, I'm honor-bound to cover it. And anyway, don't try to tell me that John Lennon singing "Blue Suede Shoes," not matter how tired and jaded he might be, isn't at least a little bit interesting.

"Rip It Up/Shake, Rattle, & Roll/Blue Suede Shoes," released in the U.K. and the U.S. disc 2 track 7 of Anthology 3, October 28, 1996.

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