Sunday, April 10, 2011

You Know the Name: The Music of the Beatles, Pt. 9--Cadet Pepper, Where Are Your Pants?

11/27/1967

With Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles were still riding the psychedelic counterculture like a sweaty southwest Texas whore on a sweatier millionaires dick. Compelled once again to saturate multiple mediums, an hour-long movie of the same title was allowed out in public. A misalliance of ambition and acid, it was their first project to receive widespread critical derision. The album fared better under scrutiny.

"Magical Mystery Tour"--Did you know Paul is dead? Did you know the proof is in the songs and booklet art of this album, aka The Shittiest Tasting Pudding Ever? Oh yeah. People forty years on believe in this crap.

Out of the way with that, then.

Fluttering fanfare and a ton of promises. Who can resist a resplendent extravaganza masterminded by motherfuckers dressed up in animal costumes? Paul, better known to cuntjams as "The Walrus," is to praise/condemn for this concept. If Sgt. Peppers band slogs it out on stage night after night, Cadet Peppers racket-gang is working the side-hustle of England's own Merry Pranksters. Oh, the line between genius and charlatan is a fine one. It's fitting that Macca is the circus barker here, although truth be told, it's Ringo's beat--undeniable as death--that convinces the wary to hop on board.

"Roll up! Roll up for the mystery tour!"

That is suggestive.

It rolls along swimmingly , until 1:27, when everything slows down, like George Martin hit the organ grinder button. By the time it re-accelerates, the listener will either be immensely pleased with or feel gypped by the entire ride. Be forewarned and thus forearmed--sudden drops, dips, flips and flops may cause the ground to come alive with technicolor puke.

The film, while no great shakes, begins with the extended (and superior) version of this song, featuring a super Lennon mini-monologue.

"The Fool on the Hill"--Paul sings, tickles ivories and fingers the flute. For reasons that perished with each man, George and John both felt compelled to blow mouth harp on this 'un.

1967 was the year that the guys began their relationship with "spiritual advisor" Maharashi Mahesh Yogi. It ended as so many affairs do--unamicably, and after the discovery that one or the other party is a vile, slimy, seedy, two-faced scam artist. But maybe, if the expectorate of fortune splattered their faces, they got something lovely from it all. For a pair of people, that could be a child. For a band of people, a song.

I'll take "The Fool on the Hill" over a random child any day. Paul's misguided idolatry aside, the chorus is as expertly constructed a melody as can be found in his ridiculously prolific catalog of songs.

"Flying"--An instrumental, and the first song credited to all four band members. It also manages to be a fair approximation of the title. (Which is always a treat, when the name of a song and the actual song fit together like a newborn babe in its mothers arms. Some other fine examples are "Avalanche" by Leonard Cohen and "Vomit the Soul" by Cannibal Corpse.)

"Blue Jay Way"--George batting clean-up, but he always drew the intentional walks. Grumble grumble.

When not writing impenetrable lyrics intended to be sung through an infuriatingly preachy persona, George was quite good. "Blue Jay Way" takes inspiration from the mundane "waiting on a friend" scenario. Instead of line after stultifyingly dull line of hippie drivel, the title is sung twenty-nine times over the course of four minutes. Fair trade, I say.

I used to scorn this as George's worst Beatles song, but honestly, it's not even that terrible. "Within You Without You" is demonstrably shittier. "Blue Jay Way"'s worst sin is being importune, rather than being a poor tune. Would you believe I'm saying the stereo version is the superior one? True story facts. Mono lacks the spooky, tooth-chilling backwards vox effect that makes all the open space suddenly seem suffocating. Shades of Shades of Death Road.

"Your Mother Should Know"--Insofar as musical entreaties to narrow the generation gap and promote understanding and compassion between parents and children go, "Your Mother Should Know" smacks the snot out of John Mayer's pussy-baiting attempts at sensitive songwriting. This tune's so old-fashioned it comes out of the speakers in black and white with a derby on its head. By design it will either pull you into it or you will push it away with a yelp. Either way it will extend its gratitude for your time.

The nonsense faux verse works well as either the apex of the whole damn thing or an accidental parody (it's almost suspiciously spot-on for the latter purpose).

Finally...this is the second straight song where the mono recording gets its ass handed to it by its usually weak brother. In the case of "Mother," it's beyond arbitrary inclusion/exclusion; as the song progresses, the mix gets slushier. Stick a straw in it--it's done. Lennon pitched many a bitch over what he perceived as the "guinea pig" treatment of many of his songs in the studio, but where's Paul's outrage over this aural abortion? I dissuade anyone from even giving a few seconds to the Mono Mama. It's a waste of your time. Go straight for the stereo and don't ever look back.

"I Am the Walrus"--When I was a little girl, our family would get eggs delivered to our home by a man named Preston, who looked like Popeye in the devastating throes of middle age. My brother, eleven years older and wiser, called him "The Eggman" and always added "goo-goo gajoob" after it. I had no idea what the hell he was on about. "It's a song," he explained. (I don't doubt that a good deal of my intellectual curiosity comes from having six older siblings who just didn't want to answer my questions.)*

I very much feel for Paul McCartney at times, or at least as much as I can possibly feel for someone I will never be in the same room with. He gets harsh invective brayed at him from all directions, even those that defy compass readings. He deserves about 23% of it. Does the man not get an eternal "life pass" for insisting the producers of The Simpsons make Lisa's vegetarianism a permanent lifestyle choice? Do you really not ache a bit for the dude when you consider two of his lightest, albeit still fabulously written Beatles songs ever provide the bread to a sandwich wherein "I Am the Walrus" is the featured meat?

The marble score for this particular wagyu strip is a sweet 12. It starts with Lennon's lyrics, deliberate nonsense inspired by a classic scenario: the same schools that discouraged the young John's unorthodox thinking now, yonks on down the road, teaching Beatles lyrics in their classes. Feeling equal parts validated and disgusted, John took a playground rhyme from his boyhood ("Yellow belly custard, green snot pie/All mixed up with a dead dog's eye"), stole a snatch or several from Alice in Wonderland, and juxtaposed some other superbly silly-sounding syllable combos with each other. Not too dissimilar from the approach he took to "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," which, as we have already discussed, is a tad bit sort of shit soup. Where "Walrus" succeeds is in the evocation of sinister waves that crash around the song, rather than smack it dead in the face and send it flying willy-nilly. Those salient strings and ebullient exhortations in celebration of jabberwocky superfly, the persistent rhythm of that literal siren's song, struck suggestive young minds like an apple on Newton's noggin. (If absolutely nothing else, this song gave the world Electric Light Orchestra, whose mastermind Jeff Lynne made it his raison d'etre to recreate this song in a myriad of ways. Want "I Am the Walrus" as a disco love song? "Shine a Little Love." Wonder what it would have sounded like with even more orchestration? "10538 Overture.")

Of course there are flaws; every song's got one. The Mike Sommes Singers can go piss right off. That's "song over" for me right there. The snippets of King Lear from BBC Radio snaking in and round the orchestra approximate creeping death, which is great, and I can't bear to have that alongside "stick it up your jumper."

Oasis did a cover of this song. They also did a cover of the Revolver album known as their entire fuckin' career.

"Hello Goodbye"--Like pillow fighting that segues into an overly conscious snogging session. Hey, just because Macca's contradiction anthems aren't swimming in post-apocalyptic detritus doesn't mean they suck.

I challenge you to a duality. Ying and yang, ping and peng, stereo and lab. Ol' Boy coulda driven this conceit into the ground (black/white, day/night), and that he didn't can be looked upon as an act of humanitarian mercy. Myself, I have always regarded this song as a chicken salad sandwich. A fine lunch in a pinch, but if I can get a burger next time, I will.

"Strawberry Fields Forever"--The mad alchemist's potion. It's not too bad.

You know what's good? Banana pie. Also good, is peach pie. What if you put them both together to make one heavy metal mega-mecha pie?! That's a good time, kids. "Strawberry Fields Forever" is an equally tantalizing hodgepodge.

There were three distinct versions of the song recorded, the last two of which comprise the song heard here. On the first, John's vocals were recorded at a faster-than-normal speed, then played back at the standard speed, giving them the wobbly woobly effect of an approaching mirage. The second version, at Lennon's behest, featured cellos, zither and trumpets for that dreamier feel. He then asked George Martin and Geoff Emerick to work their studio magic and combine both sections to make a cohesive song. Armed with editing scissors, a pair of tape machines, and a vari-speed control, they spliced two distinct recordings (different tempos, different keys) into one masterpiece. The transition can be heard at one minute into the song, although given the limited technology available, it could have sounded far sloppier.

Cellos improve most songs. They're what I listen for and to most on this song.

The percussion ain't half bad, neither. Ringo's dismissers would do well to listen up. Look, I'm the second or third to stand up and mock Starkey's turns at the mic, but when he did what he was supposed to do, he did it with versatility and intelligence. Much like every other part of the song, there are moments when Ringo's playing comes perilously close to pretentious bluster. But the sense of restraint is always there. Well played. Literally.

Unlike Harrison, John is self-aware enough to blunt the edges of his spaciest sentiments. He's constantly second-guessing in this song, doubling back and it's "nothing to get hung about."

"Penny Lane"--Proof that no two kaleidoscopes present the same fractured design. Bright, perky, nonsensical ("blue skies" are "pouring rain," apparently) but not dumb. Smutty to boot (what with "finger pies" and a fast machine who keeps his "fire engine clean"), but oh God, that melody is as clean as a Brian Wilson piss-test ain't. This song not only features a piccolo trumpet, it features a piccolo trumpet solo.

"Baby You're a Rich Man"--Like "A Day in the Life," combines one-half Lennon (verse) with one-half McCartney (chorus) to create a pleasantly disjointed vibe. Wonderful intro. "How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?" is one of those killer lines that was destined to be overrated solely due to the face that it appeals to every denominator in existence.

The clavoline is the real star here. I will never type that sentence again. It's fantastic, though, it sounds like it was put in there just to jolt every turned-on person listening to it (approximately 99.4% of the audience).

It's not like I breathe jasmine or cry a unicorns tears, but I'm also not puerile enough to care what may or may not have been said by John Lennon near the end of this song.

"All You Need is Love"--Written hastily and recorded live for a television audience of millions because the Beatles just could not keep this secret to themselves anymore. "We need more love in the world," Paul said. "Love is allowing somebody to be themselves," Lennon remarked. Good golly Granddad, hide the scotch, 'cause some bullshit is about to wreck the door down.

That introduction...oh no. Not at all. They all deserved to be flayed and made to bob for razor blades in a vat of sour milk for that. "Looove looove love." Then again. Stop that. It's all so treacly I almost vomit from rolling my eyes so hard.

Oh but it's a baroque pop masterpiece! Screw that.

"Nothing you can do that can't be done."

Try sitting on the floor indian-style and willing yourself through the power of your mind to suddenly propel upward into the air. You cannot do this.

"Nothing you can sing that can't be sung."

More people in the world have no singing talent than do have singing talent. Less people need to try and sing. Maybe just hum.

"Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game."

What game? Monopoly? Connect Four? Scrabble? Did you know that "Za" as slang for "pizza" is now accepted in Scrabble games? Oh wait. I think he means the game of life, the one where you don't land on squares and boom you have a kid.

"It's easy."

No it is not. And that is a naive and disturbing outlook on life.

Now, I can hear the dissent. "Obviously the Beatles know it's not so cut-and-dried, but what they are trying to say in this song is so true and real and worth saying." Conscious simplification is still simplification! You need love. You need money. You need anger. You need hate. You need food. You need water. You need passion. You need respite. None of these things are all you need. It's amazing to me they did this song. Even with the pot haze and acid trails that followed them around non-stop during this time period, it's stunning to me that they sunk this low. What a shame to end a quality record so wretchedly.

Oh well. They could only go up. Right?


*Animals frontman Eric Burdon claimed to be the real life "Eggman," citing a sordid little story he shared with John Lennon about a Jamaican girlfriend who once cracked an egg on his stomach and then proceeded to suck his well-yolked dick. I...don't have any friends quite like that.

1 comment: