Tuesday, February 22, 2011

You Know the Name--The Music of the Beatles, Pt. 2: Disembaudio


With The Beatles was recorded over three months in 1963. Slackers. Wankers. Slankers.

Just like the debut, it stretches fourteen songs long, with a near-even split of originals to covers: 8/6, to be precise. Although still nowhere effing near genius, With The Beatles is a striking step forward in that direction.

All in one calendar year!

"It Won't Be Long"--Genuine was their love for rhythm and blues and soul, but the Beatles were more impressive at covering the songs of those genres than at filtering the sound through their funnel. Country music was another matter, as With The Beatles features a few tracks clearly influenced by the sound of the American South that stand out for all the right reasons. (But what happens when they decide to redo a country favorite? Oh, just throw it to Ringo, see it won't stick, but put it on the album anyway. You know the one.)

Sprung primarily from the mind of John W. Lennon, "It Won't Be Long" is a comfortable intro song, a hot bowl of alphabet soup that contains not just words but wordplay ("It won't be long/Till I belong.") as well as some fail-safe "yeah"s, engaging scaling riffs and dramatic chords to take us out.

"All I've Got to Do"--White Liverpudlian attempts Motown. Culture shock the real story here, as apparently English youths just didn't chat up birds via the phone in those days.

"All My Loving"--A spirited slice of Macca. Razor-keen and good again melody over John's triplet tornado.

Paul receives an indecent amount of crap for being a virtuoso of the love song, an easy trade to ply, but among the most challenging to actually practice well. His one-time partner in crime was a vociferous poo-slinger. 'Course, he had credence over all the other critical spider monkeys 'cause he knew the guy and shared with him the matchless experience of being in the most popular, influential band in the history of rock. But even after all the vitriol of "I don't believe in Beatles" and "How do you sleep?", there were some records that Lennon in his well-earned recalcitrance just couldn't deny. This was one.

(Making this recollection from the night he died all the more gutting...assuming the story is true.)

"Don't Bother Me"--The real secret is, George Harrison can write great songs by his lonesome. His first composition to make a Beatles album is the second-best on the whole thing (trailing only the one sequenced before it), a lovesick ode penned while dude was shut up in a hotel room, just plain sick.

"So go away, leave me alone, don't bother me." This was the essence of Harrison within the band and so established, it proved the trio of songwriters as unique expressive entities fit for world domination.

Paul: flowery, fanciful, love is super.
John: excoriating, brazen, love is devastating.
George: "So go away, leave me alone, don't bother me."

The verses and Beach Blanket instrumental breakdown are fabulous sneers at well-wishers, and the middle eight is gently yet blatantly ominous. Really--don't bother the man. Internal rhyming means one thing: serious George is serious.

"Little Child"--Written for Ringo, and whew, it shows. Fun filler doesn't make anyone feel fuller, so toss it to Cap'n Big Schnozz over there, the guy whose job description includes the words "monotony" and "repetition" underlined in green magic marker.

Saving this track from bin status is the reality of John on harmonica and Paul at the piano. Excessively wonderful. Rock plus roll makes rollick.

"Till There Was You"--A remake of a track traced back to The Music Man, a play-turned-movie that I will never be arsed to watch. Acoustics and bongos and uber-romance, how could Paul say no.

"Please Please Mr. Postman"--The Carpenters did a really shit cover of "Ticket To Ride," but actually made this song sound...okay. Meanwhile, this is the second worst cover that the Beatles allowed to get onto tape. When I yearn for laughably dated treacle from the 1950s, I go to "Mr. Sandman," thanks much. Either way, it's a song about begging some guy for something.

"Roll Over Beethoven"--The initials of this track adequately describe the treatment Chuck Berry received despite his myriad of innovations to the nascent genre of rock.

There are few things I can safely say Americans do better than denizens of any other country. Singing the words "rockin' pneumonia" is one of those things.

"Roll Over Beethoven" belongs to a most peculiar species of song, those that can only be ruined by an incorrigibly untalented shit-fer-brains, or several of them in one place focused on a common goal of spoliation. Killer Kowalski riff, a good beat and you can fuck to it, and lyrics fit for movies wherein renegade youths drive real fast, crank the tunes too loud, and laugh at jokes only they get.

"Hold Me Tight"--Recorded during the session for Please Please Me, but, much like the scissors they give kids in grade school, didn't make the cut.

"You Really Got a Hold On Me"--John is sick of just ripping off Smokey and the Miracles, he wants to pay some downright homage! That's a good lad, always nice to ring home when you haven't in ages.

Pieces of three separate takes comprise this final version. George Martin should have insisted the fellas rip it out in one, or not at all. Chuck that chaff! The more studied you make your performance of a searingly sweet love ballad, the less authenticity shines through.

"I Wanna Be Your Man"--John and Paul ran into either the Rolling Stones or their manager on the street. Depends on who's telling the story. Anyway, everyone agrees that the Stones needed a hit single, being babies on the scene and all. Luckily, the original J and P Show had smashes to spare; they hit the studio, dredged up a song Paul had, tweaked it, and voila. The Stones' second single, "I Wanna Be Your Man," hits number twelve on the British charts.

It was no skin off any part of the body for John and Paul to provide their would-be rivals with a winner because neither thought much of it the song itself. They gave it to Ringo to sing, if that's any indication.

It's better than that though, a tidy chugger fit for warm nights and warmer bodies maneuvering those nights. George Martin's Hammond slips out of the chorus like the backdoor man of lurid legend.

(To those who like to impress via oddball trivia: this is the only song both the Beatles and Stones recorded.)

"Devil In Her Heart"--Ricky Dee got there first. The Beatles just switched the gender.

"Not a Second Time"--Shuffles out to...somewhere. Where the wind is gusty. Come back down, guys.

"Money"--Ending their first two albums with the two greatest covers they'd ever do? Another check in their column as One of the Greatest To Ever Do It. Barrett Strong's avaricious anthem is made wholly the property of four young men who soon enough would make the cash to burn alongside all that energy.

From the band that would proclaim "All You Need Is Love" when they found their own voice, this is fun stuff. Mind you, both those songs are illustrations of the same basic truth (which is why they succeed as individual tracks, despite the philosophical and moral contrast). Money is what you want, love is what you need. This is not to discount the very real necessity of financial solvency, or the hearts desire. But when it gets right down to it, the spirit won't further itself on a soul full of c-notes.

As if that isn't sufficiently head-spinning, "Money" subverts the conventional wisdom by being superior in stereo. The guitar three seconds in is just nasty as sucking down a mudshake, and the fuller sound is what you need, want and have.

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