Friday, October 16, 2009

Two of Us

The official story on "Two of Us" is that Paul wrote it as an early love song to Linda Eastman. But if you're a fan, you absolutely can't help but hear it as a song about Paul and John together, as young friends and artists and collaborators, spending someone's hard earned pay. So let's all drink a toast to Lennon-McCartney, kids, and listen to "Two of Us," and hope that all of us have or will have a relationship quite as amazing as this one in our lives. You guys, I love this song, probably more than is reasonable. Excuse me while I swoon.

The album released as Let It Be was, of course, built from sessions of what was to be called the Get Back project, and maybe that's why the song sounds kind of retro. There's that slight Buddy Holly sound in the spare on-the-beat percussion, for instance, and more obviously, there's the Everly Brothers-esque singing-- it all sounds like a throwback to some of the first songs John and Paul played together. The singing in particular is more overtly Everly-esque than a lot of other two-part singing in the Beatles catalog. John and Paul sing in such unvarying thirds that the effect is the classic Everly effect, wherein it becomes hard to tell which line is supposed to be the melody-- you end up hearing the two pitches in each interval as one functional musical unit, each pitch becoming subsumed into the greater whole of that solid third. You might go so far as to say that the two voices become one, and that the whole idea of a unity made of two separate parts is maybe somehow kinda-sorta alluded to in the lyrics of "Two of Us" as well. Isn't that neat?

To further heighten the feeling of two parts uniting, John and Paul are both playing acoustic lead guitar here, eschewing any guitar-driven star quality. In fact, the most impressive guitar work here is done by George, who's playing a pleasantly elaborate bass line, though it doesn't sound very bassy as he's playing it on an electric guitar. He's actually, if I may say so, playing the bass in the manner of someone who's used to playing guitar solos-- it's downright soloistic. The effect in the verses is that Paul and John are strumming in a kind of friendly lockstep, while George on the bassline dances all around at their feet like an eager puppy or something. Does your head hurt yet with all the hammering of the metaphors I'm doing? Ringo, meanwhile, is playing in what might be the most unshowy way he ever has, except for the way that his simple fill holds our hand as we cross from the refrain into the bridge sections. Maybe he figures the rest of them have some stuff to work out.

But anyway, "Two of Us" is obviously not entirely a throwback kind of song-- in fact, there's a beautiful kind of non-symmetry to it that marks it as very Beatley. I'm talking mostly about the fact that the verses do some funky things with meter, and it's all the more delicious for being handled so smoothly that you practically don't even notice it. It's one of those situations in which the metrical shift makes the text sound a little more naturally spoken, so you hear the shift as very natural. In the first bits of the verses, the "two of us riding nowhere" parts are in 4/4, though even this is imperfect, with a little half-measure of two beats that sounds very natural thrown in the middle. But then the refrain slides seamlessly into 3/4, beginning on the word "home," and just as easily slides out of it during the instrumental breaks that come after. There's another big shift that's handled with equal grace when we go from the refrain into the bridge and suddenly go from G major into the parallel g minor. Although the effect is that the entire bridge sounds significantly darker than the verse, it feels totally right, just the way it feels right for the sun to sometimes go behind the clouds. It lends those more wistful lyrics-- "you and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead"-- the musical heft they deserve. And of course Paul's singing on his own here. He's a little more inside his own brain. But he doesn't need to say anything more about what the memories are-- John already knows exactly what he's talking about. That's what's so beautiful about this.

I guess most people wouldn't necessarily call "Two of Us" the best Beatles song ever, and I guess come to that I wouldn't either, but I still find it unspeakably poignant. It's Paul writing it that way, of course, just squeezing my gut the way that he's capable of doing with these sweet little melodies the gods apparently whisper into his ear as he sleeps. But it's also the poignancy of the words he's written. I don't want to take them apart too much-- the "burning matches, lifting latches" stuff sounds like half truth-half wordplay anyway and doesn't want to be analyzed much-- but the delight here is all so simple. "It is so fun," says the song, "just to hang out with you. We have so much fun together!" It's a very easy, very youthful sentiment, and it always makes me smile. I defy you not to be cheered up by "Two of Us."

In Let It Be, they show and early rehearsal in which they're playing this one like a rock song, which ends up not working at all. They were wise to scale it back and folksify it, no doubt. But the rehearsal is still a fantastic clip. John and Paul are having so much fun that you feel like you're watching something that's almost intimate. It's gorgeous. It somehow nails the feeling that's at the heart of this band for me. It makes my gut hurt.

"Two of Us," released in the U.K. side A track 1 of Let It Be, May 8, 1970; in the U.S. May 18, 1970.


  1. I think the same thing. Including about this really about being John, not Linda Eastman. How long had Paul been dating her by this point, anyway? What kind of memories could they have had?

    Also, until I looked it up, I always thought the memories were "longer than the road that stretches out of here."

  2. I know some people feel Paul suffers as a songwriter sometimes because he's so private, and unwilling to bare his soul. But he pretty much bares it completely in this song. "Unspeakably poignant" is a good way to put it. I love it. I'm a fan of the naked version of Let it Be (for a lot of reasons) and when you listen to the lineup of Two of Us, following by I've Got a Feeling, followed by One After 909, it's an amazing little trilogy of the John-Paul magic.

    (And while I'm not in the I hate Yoko camp, it is sort of amazing how, in that second video, when the camera cuts to her, she just kind of sucks all the air out of the room. )

  3. I have always had a soft spot for this song, too. I imagine it was written about Linda, but the lyrics don't have to be taken too literally. Everything is fair game in capturing or creating a mood, or as a listener interpreting, IMO.

    I got a kick out of the harder rock playing-around version you posted. You'd never know they were at each other's throats the day before or after.

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  5. How could anyone think a song with the line, "You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead" could be about Linda rather than John? More overtly than any other song in the "Let It Be" sessions, this one is about Paul's desire for John and him (and by extension the group) to get back to where they once belonged. --Paul Lewis