Sunday, March 6, 2011

You Know the Name--The Music of the Beatles, Pt. 4: Starts At a Penny, Drops Dead On a Dime

12/4/1964

I won't lie...this was a difficult one to get the victory underpants on for. By and large, Beatles For Sale is buttcheeks. It is unquestionably the cock-staple of the entire catalogue. Just look at the title; always makes me envision a truck driving down the street, getting the funniest looks, four young lads with desultory faces hanging out the open side-long window as some oddly-accented man with plentiful facial hair hangs out the window of the passenger side door whilst banging a tin can against said barrier between him and certain injury, all the while screaming, "BEAAAATLES FOR SALE! GET YOUR BEEAAAATLES FOR SALE! GET 'EM WHILE THEY STILL DON'T STINK!"

The boys look busted as hell on the cover, the inevitable side effect of touring your ass off, shooting movies, banging groupies, giving good media head, and yes yes recording music. All of which aided and abetted the general mediocrity of this album, but none of which deterred their rabid fanbase from placing 750,000 advance orders, at the time a record. The phenomenon could not be stopped. And don't they seem thrilled.

"No Reply"--For a potential cuckold, Lennon never seems very furious here. Even when he claims "I nearly died!" I don't believe him. Phil Collins sounded more distraught when faced with the same scenario in "Misunderstanding."

"I'm a Loser"--Misspelled on original pressings as "Loseer." Which is still far more tolerable than "looser." Of all the spelling errors which raise a phoenix-like homicidal rage inside my gut, that's the screamer.

John as Dylan. "I'm a loser/And I'm not what I appear to be" says it as good as any. "Is it for her or myself that I cry?" shows self-awareness that these early songs generally lacked. Still, Lennon doesn't go many leagues deep into self-loathing; there persists that general vibe of "Yeah, I'm kind of a phony, and I blew true love, but I'm beseeching you in song to not make the same utterly tragic mistake I did. Meaning I remain cool in the bigger scheme. Despite this rather douchetastic straw hat."

(Everyone loses in stereo, as John is just way too loud. Like a blue whale in a goldfish bowl.)

"Baby In Black"--A mournful track inspired by Astrid Kirschherr, a photog friend from the Beatles salad days in Hamburg. Always skipped.

"Rock and Roll Music"--This is more like it. What is it? Rock and roll. One is all it takes for the guys to make Chuck Berry's classic their very own, right down to the willful mispronunciation of "hurricane" and the phantom "and" of the title. This is a song meant to leave throats and butts sore. Save the ice packs and lozenge spray for later.

"I'll Follow the Sun"--Paul, like his partner of a few songs ago, is unappreciated by his paramour. But while John is being underwhelming, Paul is being poetic and philosophical: "Tomorrow may rain, so I'll follow the sun." A lesson for any woman that Maccas do not grown on trees, so show some due appreciation if you are so lucky.

"Mr. Moonlight"--This is the worst song ever on a Beatles album. "Rocky Raccoon" might be the worst original composition, but this is the dubious overall champ of chaff.

It has a lot which suggests, before you hear note one, that it really won't be very bad at all. Originally performed by Dr. Feelgood and the Interns, it was written by a Roy Lee Johnson. What an impeccable middle name! Featuring a Hammond organ? Rich creamery butter, more like!

I don't know exactly what went wrong; the Beatles are the most overly-documented band in history but I've never read an in-depth look at precisely why "Mr. Moonlight" is so rancid. I have a list of the Top Ten Things I Would Rather Have Shoved Into My Arid Womanhood Than Listen To The Beatles Version of Mr. Moonlight, y'all. And I have to specify, because the Hollies did a cover of this around the same time and it was actually okay. The Hollies! The band who made a semi-career out of decimating Bob Dylan songs!

The Hammond section sounds like the theme to any number of movies featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Crap ahoy, the signal sounds.

This song is so bad that my dear friend and fellow Beatle freak Patrick didn't even rip it to his ITunes. And he fucking rips everything. Well, there was another Beatles song that he left off too. But you'll have to wait for that reveal.

I don't believe in Beatles no more, mama.

"Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey"--Scratch that; faith restored. Sorry to make you get up, mom! Love you!

Paul ain't Little Richard, and he ain't even John's anomic white boy take on black rock, but this'll do, boy. This'll do. I can almost hear the wistful wave goodbye to their past in these covers. The clean break necessary for growth is closer to realization.

"Eight Days a Week"--Lennon never liked this one, but I bet Lennon never liked tacos, either. Prove me wrong if you can, but I think he would just hate the way the shells would break.

Sublime in its sappy simplicity, so need I tell you who wrote it? And for not thinking too highly of it, that's one hell of an anguished, needful little exclamation leading into the chorus there at 1:29. Favorite part of the song? For me, probably. I look forward to it every time, I can hear it in my head in the seconds leading up, and ah damn, it rattles my chest every time.

First song to ever fade in? Maybe. First song ever brought into the studio unfinished for the fellas to gussy up? Fa sho.

"Words of Love"--Paul idolized Buddy Holly, and I wonder if he was too intimidated to attempt a better song. Pity, 'cause my Beatle sense tells me they would have ripped the hide off of "Peggy Sue."

"Honey Don't"--First on the Honey Don't List is 1. Give Ringo A Song, but aahhhh, you did it anyway! Damn you, English manners. Carl Perkins' proto-Time Warp Tickers Theme is given a lifeless run-through, while I am reduced to tears, knees stuck to the carpet, hands clasped raw begging for CLEAN BREAK CLEAN BREAK CLEAN BREAK.

Second on the Honey Don't List: Try To Make a List Cooler Than Jenn's List Mentioned in the Mr. Moonlight Review.

"Every Little Thing"--Although Paul wrote this song, he let John take over lead vocal duties, a rare occurrence in their maddeningly wonderful universe.

Imagine the Potions class at Hogwarts being taught by Professor McGonagall instead of Snape and you've got the feel of this one. Not as greasy, or sexy, no soul shot through with holes, but much more soothing and liable to turn into a cat and back again. Also, less sibilance.

"I Don't Want to Spoil the Party"--A very personal song for Lennon, the rather trite scenario of a lonely dude stood up by his girlfriend at some party where hopefully everyone's having too much fun to notice anyway much less use it against him in the future is actually a gentle cover for deeper feelings of alienation and hurt. The music doesn't sound near as worn-down as the words over it, and how sad that he's actually going to seek her out. Also sad is rhyming "sad" and "glad." It doesn't make me mad, but there are greater combinations to be had.

The prominent memory this song stirs up in me involves my dad. In the 90s Roseanne Cash did a cover of "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party," and how she goes from "Seven Year Ache" to that is a ponder for sure. The only reason I even knew about Cash's cover was because my dad played country radio constantly. Me and my dad didn't have many conversations real and true (understood to mean exchanges of more than five sentences per person in one face to face setting) because neither of us really knew how to talk to the other.

It was a bold me that spoke up in the kitchen that day.

"That's a Beatles song. I mean originally."

After a few anxious seconds silence, my dad growled out--in that inimitable cornbread 'n' gravel voice--"Yeah, well, this here's the good version."

"What You're Doing"--Some beautifully intricate picking and a freakin' drum intro distinguishes this Macca cruiser.

"Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby"--More Carl Perkins. This is it. This is the break. I heard the snap. It's like Dave Dravecky's arm in stereo, except it sounds better in mono. Boom goes the gyromite, and soon, zoom go the Beatles.

Demarcation points are rarely so breathtaking. The first phase of the Beatles ends here, and the second, much more intensely creative phase, looms.

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