Friday, September 18, 2009

That Means a Lot

Today's funny little song dates, like its similarly unsuccessful sister song "If You've Got Trouble," to the Help! sessions. That's why I like this video, which features outakes from the film. (Thanks, Jedalmanko!)

By "unsuccessful," I don't mean to cast aspersions-- I'm just noting that neither of these songs actually made it onto Help! after all. Both songs had to wait until Anthology 2 for an officially sanctioned release, though they were widely bootlegged in the intervening years. I actually find "That Means a Lot" more compelling than "If You've Got Trouble," though I think both suffer from a needlessly thick, echo-heavy texture that makes it sound like the Beatles were, like, out of ideas or something. It's like "Ticket to Ride" was so kickass that they went and applied the same production principles to a few others, but much less successfully. And that's okay. Even the Beatles couldn't be unspeakably awesome all the time.

There's a difference of opinion as to who wrote this, as so frequently happens, with John totally blaming Paul for this song's existence and vice versa. Me, I'm disposed to think of it as a song they likely banged out together, a true work song, at a time when they were rushing to fill out an album. Paul had to have participated if he's singing it, for one thing-- occasionally John would sing a song that Paul wrote in the band's early days, but almost never would the reverse happen. At any rate, my ear doesn't lead me immediately to any all-John or all-Paul feelings. Any disagreements? That's cool. This is just my supposition.

In the end, the Beatles gave this one two good tries in the studio, but gave up and gave the thing away to one P.J. Proby, whose single version is the first track you'll hear below (it's a selection of three "songs the Beatles gave away"). I don't know a thing about Proby beyond what I read in that linked Wikipedia article, but listening to the recording, he sounds like one of those chanteurs that you don't hear any more in quite the same way. He probably recorded some mean Bacharach songs, though. And this single did okay, I think, though it never cracked the top ten.

I will say this: I prefer the Beatles' version. (Obvs.) But I will note that the Beatles seem to not know what kind of song they're dealing with, and the production seems a little labored, and the performance seems a little hesitant, and so on. Proby and his people have perhaps figured out what the song is a little bit better than the Beatles did. They went in the string-centric mid-'60s mid-tempo balladeering direction and stuck with it, and though I don't love it, it sounds like the tune was maybe realized in as good a way as any. I hope that makes sense.

I'm sorry to be too tired and uninspired to say much more. For what it's worth, I feel like the song's not bad as a Beatles song either, and there are those who might argue that it's stronger than some of the stuff on Help!, like "It's Only Love" or "Tell Me What You See" or whatever. But I disagree. In the end, "That Means a Lot" doesn't sound quite like a Beatles song to me in the way that those other so clearly do. So I'm okay with the fate of this one. Though when it pops up on Anthology 2, I don't skip it. Which makes it different from other songs I could name.

Yeah, we'll listen to something I can have stronger opinions about tomorrow. Sorry, kids.

"That Means a Lot," released in the U.K. and the U.S. disc 1 track 6 of Anthology 2, March 18, 1996.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, no one's saying this was the second coming of Leave My Kitten Alone, but I remember being excited the first time I heard it (*and* If You've Got Trouble, so sue me), and wanting to hear it again, which is more than I can say for some of the stuff on Anthology 3.