Sunday, March 13, 2011

You Know the Name--The Music of the Beatles, Pt. 6: Fierce Bounce

12/3/1965

Under pressure to have a record ready for the holidays, the Beatles began the Rubber Soul sessions on October 12th with very little in the way of new material. In four weeks, the points of the magic square had finished the album that would mark the beginning of their most creative period, sweet sounds from a mixture slowly turning sour. Paul McCartney, like so many undisputed creative geniuses before and after, fell madly in love with his own vision and insisted on taking over the artistic reins, all the better to wend the band towards the sound he heard in his own head.

Growth, division.

"Drive My Car"--The guitar lick that kicks it all off would be the defining moment for a hundred other bands, but for the Beatles its just a toss, a precursor to bigger brighter and bosser. "Drive My Car" is actually end-boss status, and not cheap brutality like Jinpachi in Tekken 5, I mean hardcore hardship like Dracula in Castlevania Dracula X. The guitar and bass line follow each other like baby ducks behind mama, but the resultant sound is much less cute and innocent. There's a nonchalant duplicity in not just the music, but Paul and John on the mic as well.

A nice twist on the horny would-be Svengali tale, with the girl in the position of predator-proffering-prominence. If she bangs anything like Starkey's kit here, that is a better time. The last lines of the third verse are impeccably written, delivered, and surrounded.

Oh my goodness, Rubber Soul in stereo. Wow, so much wrong happening. This is the first album that throughout I am just gobsmacked at how shitty the "fake" stereo mix is. For this song especially. That cowbell can go straight up a cow's ass. It's so irritating in my right ear, like the clock that keeps time in purgatory or something similar. And the piano doesn't drop in so much as it sidles in, which for the uncertain is a vastly inferior arrival method. This is Shyamaylan-level panning.

"Norwegian Wood"--Perhaps most famous for George's hard-earned sitar bits, this is a sweet tale about a female journalist that Lennon was sticking it to, but couched in ambiguous language so as not to clue in his missus. Personally, I think the first three instances of infidelity are "gimmies." But the fourth time around? Whatever you got, I hope you got it good, 'cause you're about to get it bad. Ya greedy slime.

"You Won't See Me"--Paul fucked around on his girl--Jane Asher--as well, but to hear him tell it, theirs was an "open" relationship, so, no harm no furniture on fire. At three and a half minutes, this was at the time the longest Beatles song on record. It could lose a minute and be all the better for it, honestly. Macca's chorus is fantastic, as it is always super to hear a goofy horndog vocalize his realization that despite the fact he cannot, will not stop playing pogo dick, he really really loves his girl, his one true blue, his heart his soul, his "it's your turn this week, luv!"

Stereo brings rare treats, with slightly louder backing vocals and Mal Evans' sustained organ note higher in the mix as well.

"Nowhere Man"--Existential John, a soul trisected. Great for the art, rather not great for the artist and those who cared for him. ("I was starting to worry about him," Paul would confess years later.) This pessimistic projection was inspired by the persistent tumult in Lennon's life: ambivalence about his increasing fame, wealth, and artistic capabilities, as well as his rapidly disintegrating marriage (it is inadvisable to fuck a journalist, is the Trapper Jenn MD "The More You Know" moment of the day).

Paul's bass part speaks, and it says, "Fuck you, I am James Paul McCartney and I am the greatest rock star alive. Your girlfriend wants to drive my car. And maybe I'll let her. Beep beep. Beep beep. Yeah."

On its own "Nowhere Man" is fantastically melancholy. In the context of the album, it suffers due to some questionable sequencing. Both it and "You Won't See Me" feature "la la la" backing vocals, which give the songs a "samey" feel when heard back-to-back.

As opposed to the "lamey" feel of the stereo version. So abrupt, so unnatural-sounding. If you really really want to hear isolated instruments, this is a heaven send. But listening to it on headphones? I know stereo was still a nascent mixing method back then, but if anybody could work a fair miracle, it was George Martin and the boys. And they may very well have done so, if they actually cared about the stereo mix. But they didn't. Mono was it. Decades later, it shows.

"Think For Yourself"--George, rest him, sure could be a sanctimonious git. Always off in the corner, judging you. With his brownie. "Eff it, mate. I'm high, you're daft."

Funny thing, though, about smarmies. If they have this close bud who plays gnarlsty fuzz bass, they suddenly become worlds more tolerable! Even when they put the word "rectify" in a fuckin' rock song!

I keep waiting for the drums to slam and "Be My Baby" to break out, even after all this time.

Fun with stereo, 'cause we sure deserve it: listen to "Think For Yourself" in the left audio channel only. The fuzzy bass is gone, leaving just its unadorned baby brother, and gone also is the extraneous percussion. Not as good as the mono, but not bad.

"The Word"--So high. So, so high.

The Beatles are still the touchstone for anyone arguing that drug use opens up doors in the mind and soul that just can't be discerned whilst sober. I don't have any special problem with that; my only beef is the insinuation that illicit substances make one creative. You either have the artistic germ or you don't; no chemical introduced into the body can make it otherwise.

An informed decision is the best decision.

The Beat-mosts tell us that "the word is love" (Sonic Youth would complete the sentiment on "Flower" 25 years later) while we delight in the groove. Harmonium is the new harmonica. Drones buzz the loudest.

Checking out stereo. What happens to the bass in these mixes? It sounds like it's waving to my ears from the inside of the Grand Canyon while I'm peering down like, what the hell are you doing in the Grand Canyon, bass?

"Michelle"--Paul's baby, save the "I love you"s provided by John under the influence of some Nina. Winner of the 1966 Grammy for Song of the Year. Not bad for a friggin' novelty number--he's speakin' French, y'all!

Only Paul and Ringo actually play on "Michelle," with John offering backing vox while George fucks off in the corner, munching brownie number nine and snickering about what a bubble butt Cynthia Lennon has.

Songs don't get much more stunning; this is a truly timeless composition. Recordings like "Michelle" are among the reasons I'm an avowed Spiritualist. Gifted people can capture glimpses of souls in intermediary states of existence, as the spirit inexorably progresses, and recognize the true profundity of the process. Most people cannot. In the middle of the extremely gifted and the perhaps blessedly ignorant lay the restless antennas, who detect the detritus and toil to transform it into something the corporeally-centered world at large can relate to and rally behind. All your favorite artists fall into this category, regardless of their personal beliefs.

If you put every living woman who was named after this song in the Grand Canyon, my little buddy "stereo bass" wouldn't be so alone anymore.

"What Goes On"--The first song to feature a Ringo writing credit, and wow, it's country influenced!

George thought John and Paul didn't care much for making his songs the best they could be, but poor Ringo. Shame...this chugger could have been a real stand-out with some effort.

New name for the stereo version: "Bass Is Gone."

"Girl"--John breathes about a dreamale, the kind of woman who makes you feel unbearably guilty for fucking that journalist. Except not. What a linear thinker I am, this song is clearly bleary. It's about weed, or it's about the Christian idea that suffering must precede true happiness, or it's about tits, but about a full-bodied girl, no that is not it.

The chorus is as immaculate as the single word it is comprised of. Makes me wanna sprawl out on a Persian rug and conk out until the reek of saffron forces me awake.

"I'm Looking Through You"--Paul again inspired by his failing relationship with Jane Asher. Folksy as shit, so I'm sitting Indian-style on the rug right about now, rocking back and forth, murmuring "Throw some, throw some Rogan Josh on that bitch." Ringo rocks the Hammond here, and unwittingly provides the Monkees with like a third of their catalogue. Seriously, just close your eyes and visualize some boy hijinks involving running up and down a shoreline, sun setting in the background. Yep.

Disillusionment makes a sad Macca. "You're not the same." You used to let me fuck three other women a week, what happened?! John got less grief from that journalist!

The stereo is just, ugh, so boneless.

"In My Life"--This one and "Eleanor Rigby" are the most contentious compositions in the whole discog, so far as who wrote what. Paul credits himself with all the music, while John countered that Paul provided only the harmony and middle eight--odd, since "In My Life" doesn't actually have a middle eight. Hmm.

Who you believe says a lot about who you prefer, or does it? I'm a Paul fan-girl through and through, but I don't blindly think his word is gold. I think either man could have realistically come up with the Miracles-inspired track.

You can't doubt how redoubtable "In My Life" is, though. Plain-spoken and flawless, from Lennon's double-tracked vocals that just make his sentiment more devastating, to the perfect electric piano solo, I'd want to claim it as my own too. Keeps it simple, but not stupid. Keep in mind, the heart is the strongest muscle in the body.

"Wait"--Dates all the way back to Help!, and sounds it. Not a diss, by the way, but I kinda resent the way the chorus is all happy hog shit while the verses are just demo-status.

"If I Needed Someone"--George was off in the corner, brownie crumbs all over his shirt, silently judging Roger McGuinn, when he decided, "Eff it. We're the greatest intentionally misspelled animal name band around."

As much crap as I throw at Ringo, he really is outstanding behind the kit. In the pocket like lint or pennies destined to drown.

"Run For Your Life"--Really? You're going with this song? Crazy little thing called domestic violence? Black and bluesy? A little bit me, but mainly a lot bit you, you slag?

The chorus melody is as incredible as Lennon's ridiculous jealous-guy misogyny. Mind you, I find "Under My Thumb" by the Stones more offensive. (The smug power-tripper Jagger voices just makes my skin crawl.) But I'm not really into ranking threats against women. Anyone who really truly knows me is aware that I grew up in a household where violence against women was a frequent occurrence. I could tell you some stories to chill your flesh. I won't. Hell, you're a human being on this planet, you have your own horror stories...you don't need mine. I'm sure you won't have to stretch your imagination too far.

Lennon's own abashed admissions to beating his first wife make this song the definition of "guilty pleasure," and in later years he called it his least favorite Beatles song.

The most infamous lyric, "I'd rather see you dead little girl, then to be with another man" was jacked wholesale from Elvis' "Baby Let's Play House (So I Can Beat the Hell Out of You In Every Room)". We also have "You better keep your head, little girl, or you won't know where I am." That's right; be like he wants you to be, or die. Leaving is not an option, unless it's you leaving the planet. Or spending your life on the run from a sick obsessive asshole, changing identities and isolating yourself from friends and family for the sake of your life. Run run run.

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