Friday, March 25, 2011

You Know the Name: The Music of the Beatles, Pt. 7--Bigger Than Jereboam


Moving from Help! to Rubber Soul was like going from hackeysack to rugby; Rubber Soul to Revolver was a transition from Seuss to Proust. Taut, confident, daring, and tenacious, the Beatles felt freer than ever to experiment with the possibilities of sound, removing themselves further from their days as teen idols. Avant-garde art--music, film, painting, literature--was becoming a fast fascination for Paul and John especially, but Paul more so (despite various attempts at revisionist history that seeks to sustain the conventional wisdom stating that Lennon was the rebellious, envelope-pushing genius that kept the Beatles music vital. I know, it's hard for some folks to wrap their heads around the fact that the same guy who wrote "Yesterday" dug Stockhausen. But hey, James Joyce wrote some of the most inventive, alluring, demanding prose in history, yet he was obsessed with flatulence.)

Drugs were also open for exploration. Good ol' weed never left the picture, but as the go-to creative stimulant, it was forced to share space with LSD. That said, if you think drugs were the only reason the Beatles wrote and performed at the level they did, you can "x" out of this blog right about now.

Alternate titles: Beatles On Safari (which would have blown Brian Wilson's mind, although by 1966 it was already a minefield that had claimed several victims), Freewheelin' Beatles (which may have given Dylan a heart attack) and Bubble and Squeak.

The cover is a collage of black-and-white group pics cut free of mags, rags and newspapers, which were superimposed on a hair-happy Klaus Voorman line drawing. The Sgt. Peppers cover has been emulated/parodied countless times, but how many Revolver-inspired covers can you recall? It's too unique.

"Taxman"--Paul and George were at loggerheads for much of the band's existence. I don't pick sides, 'cause I didn't know either guy to plant a flag on either side, but damn let George get the first song on Revolver then outshine him completely. The bass parts could not be improved upon. I mean, the triplets starting at 0:55? That's "How To Dress Your Middle Eight To the Nines 101." Paul even provides the India-inspired lead guitar scrawl near the end.

Shit, dude. Let the Dark Horse breathe!

Or not, if he's going to be writing songs about the travails of the rich-beyond-sense rock star forced to pay taxes to an apathetic government. I get that George's income placed him in the so-called "super-tax" bracket implemented by Prime Minister Harold Wilson the very same year Revolver was released. I understand that people in this bracket had to pay up to 95% extra income in tax. Harsh. But, even after this travesty, was Mr. Harrison still able to live comfortably? Did he starve? Was he homeless? Was he a fetid cretin with three teeth? No? To all? Oh, cool, shut the hell up then. Besides...dimmer bulbs than Harrison knew enough to open up Swiss bank accounts.

The stereo mix on Revolver isn't as vexing as Rubber Soul, which is namely down to the bottom end getting a seat on the bus this time. "Taxman" does not reflect this improvement, however; the vocals are hard in the right channel, joined later on by tambourine and cowbell. Queerer is the cowbell not showing up in the stereo mix until the second chorus, whereas it can be heard during the second verse of the mono version. Like most 21st century poetry, no rhyme or reason.

"Eleanor Rigby"--Post-war emotional fallout, eating away at a person's skin from the inside out. It's worse to bleed internally. No one can tell you need immediate assistance unless they're paying close enough attention, and most of the time, they aren't.

Eleanor Rigby--the song and titular non-heroine--is dreadfully lonely. There is no redemption or closure here, which is the most enduring element, and rather unlike Paul, all things herded. "Buried along with her name/No one was saved." Fantastic. Depressing as a dead baby pile, but still fantastic.

The origin story of "Eleanor Rigby" is an engrossing chunk of Beatle lore.

Paul had the germ, but needed a little help from his friends. So, he went to John's house, got high and enlisted some chums to finish off a classic. You get high and enlist your chums to finish off a bottle of Cutty Sark. Almost every Beatle contributed lyrics, and band friend Pete Shotton suggested it all top off with the tragic ending of two lonely people coming together at last through the death of one.

Note I said "almost every Beatle." Shotton claims Lennon didn't contribute syllable one. McCartney, ever the generous chap, credited John with "half a line." Lennon, till the day he died, told interviewers he'd written "70%" of the lyrics to "Eleanor Rigby." Who do I believe? Well, large talent and large ego intertwine so passionately, who can tell? Being a creative artist almost demands you be a self-aggrandizing twat as well.

The stereo mix gets the gas face. The separation is no more offensive than usual, but during the chorus, the vocals and musical track come together in both channels, with the vox even louder. (Mind you, I'm listening through headphones, so this won't be so jarring a transition on a decent set of speakers.)

"I'm Only Sleeping"--The ratiug on this 'un musta blew heads from Hertfordshire to Honolulu upon first listen. (Check out the mono for some effects that the stereo lacks. A testament to exactly how little they cared about the stereo mixes when they just take out whole awesome parts.) But pioneers blaze trails destined to be trod upon by all manner of acolytes who in turn will beget their own acolytes who in turn will have little or no time for whatever came before. In the end, the gold you made is judged (many times by bronze brains) against what future hands melted and molded it into.

Lack of historical perspective is disconcerting, but free from such head-spinning juxtaposition, "I'm Only Sleeping" exists as a drowsy stagger through a mist of Vicks Vapo-Rub, a chemical lethargy celebrating laziness as mediation as peace. Lennon, you somnolent bastard.

"Love You To"--George Harrison bestows 'pon the throng hippie crap dressed up as hippie crap. Time is finite and love is both our salvation and our doom, it is the beginning of the end of the beginning, and WILL YOU PUT DOWN THE BOWL AND STOP IT ALREADY. The 1960s in three words from someone who didn't live through them: tripping balls deep.

A song so underwhelming George and Ringo are the only Beatles on it. The intro reminds me of the sand levels in every Mario game from 64 on, and I hate the sand levels. So randomly sinky.

The stereo version sounds a bit sparser, and makes "Love You To" more palatable for it. Still nothing I'd delay my dinner for.

"Here, There and Everywhere"--Paul wrote this song. You wrote your name on a baggage tag in the airport.

Whew. Aphasia almost won out here.

Only a heart sheathed in Sidney-grade armor can resist such an alluring ambush. Paul wrote this by John's pool? You write grocery lists by the pool. If you even have a pool.

McCartney took inspiration from the Beach Boys ("God Only Knows") and Marianne Faithfull (vocal delivery) and a few other things we will never be privy to and created the most magnificent love song in the Beatles discography, and thus one of the most potent spells cast by any magician of the arts. "Here, There and Everywhere" always brings to mind loose-limbed bodies moving in light green and blue breeze, major adoration to minor affection to back again. Everything is elevated, from the unusually high register Paul reaches, the purposeful "ooh"'s from John and George, the gentle finger-snaps, it all comes into focus through the lens of love.

There's so many songs about sex, but the thing about the sex (well, there's that many things about sex) is that the anticipation exceeds the actual event so frequently. So it would stand to reason that songs touching upon the sensual suspense would be greater than those dedicated to humpy pumpy. I know, I know--there's nothing overtly erotic to be located in Macca's lovestruck ballad, but listen up. He wants his love to be here, there and everywhere. Doing this, that and everything. Follow that light, and see where it's extinguished.

"Each one believing that love never dies/Watching her eyes/And hoping I'm always there."

John Lennon just loved this song, and he had jack to do with it. George Martin put on a hat just to take it off. More importantly, I am in love with it, enough to make it my second-favorite Beatles song. Not even its inclusion. in the "Phoebe Gets Married" episode of Friends can tarnish its luster. In stereo, it remains immaculate.

"Yellow Submarine"--So, how does one follow an achievement like that up? One leaves it up to Ringo, one does.

Paul wrote this in bed. You sleep in bed.

Despite the enthusiasm of analysts to assign deeper, druggier, more socialist meaning to "Yellow Submarine," the truth remains that it's a friggin' children's story. About a submarine that is colored yellow and can be found in the rickiest of Watters. Bubbling and squeaking.

It's so goddamn whimsical I could shit out Care Bears. I am in a way loathe to loathe such a kind-hearted trifle, but again...this song was expressly written for children to enjoy, so fuck it to hell.

Stereo gets fucked twice sideways in a walk-in freezer for omitting part of the songs saving grace, John's crazy-Captain shouts (specifically, "A life of ease!" I missed it, anyway.)

"She Said, She Said"--So George is partying and tripping paper plates and then suddenly he gets all paranoid and "George is gettin' upset!" and he thinks the life is leaving his body. Fellow room-occupier Peter Fonda interjects and provides what self-absorbed addicts regard as "comfort": a gross story about ten-year-old Peter, who was likely called "Pete" or "Petey" at that tender age, accidentally shooting himself in the stomach and "dying" three times whilst on the operating table. "I know what it's like to be dead," he told George and John.

A person who has evaded the Big Sleep will often feel that they have passed over into the Big Awake, a sublime comprehension of the mysteries of existence. These people wax ecstatic on Multiplicity, or seek every day in every way to remove themselves from the tyranny of materialism, and if ever faced with them, you may not last more than two minutes, so tread wisely.

Lennon took this unsettling experience, switched the gender, and behold, a jangly jumble that rewards repeat listenings and features...Ringo's greatest performance ever? Hmm, let's break up into small groups and discuss this.

"Good Day Sunshine"--Paul wrote this at his best friends house. You pass out drunk on the couch at your best friends house.

An awful damn cheery helping of the ol' soft shoe, replete with piano rolls and positive vibes ricocheting off walls and floors. Top hat tuneage, spiffy and steppin' out.

"And Your Bird Can Sing"--Possibly a Stones diss, but disappointingly scorch-free if so. The "bird" supposedly refers to Marianne Faithfull, siren/Stones hag/candy bar spokeswoman. "But you can't see me," Lennon claims (rather unconvincingly), a little too close to a future, even druggier, far stupider John for my comfort level.

To hear it in stereo is a better deal, with the lust-throat tightness and effortless swing more immediate to the ear. It's not double-bolt rock 'n' roll, but it'll do in a pinch.

Note that only two of the album's fourteen songs surpass three minutes (topping out at 3:08 for "Love You To," which, if you will recall earlier in the review, is hippie crap). Another reason the Beatles kinda ruled. Brevity. Soul. Wit.

"For No One"--Paul wrote this song while on a Swiss skiing holiday. You, on the other hand, ski during your Swiss skiing holiday.

Love affairs reeking of promise, why do they die? Utilizing the always-tricky second-person narrative, Macca details a collapsed romance, a story that is only as interesting as the teller makes it to the listener. The content is basic, but Paul's pace control and cadence mastery push it to the finish.

"Doctor Robert"--I could make a list of Beatles tracks that are treated with apathy by most of the fanbase that I just happen to regard as the bee's knees, but don't you think this blog is enough? I mean I write it all out longhand, then type it up. I'm only one woman, after all.

Charles Roberts was a real-life, punch-him-and-he'll-sue doctor based in New York, whose generous prescriptions of illicits made him beloved by celebrities both fake (Warhol's entourage) and real (the Beatles).

The guitar always does it for me, grit-textured and grinding like a junkies bones. A catchy ode to the seedy enablers lurking in the nooks.

"I Want to Tell You"--George increasingly felt fettered within the band. By most accounts, he became disillusioned with being a Beatle the quickest, and it may not have happened if John and Paul put the time, effort and care into his songs that they did with their own compositions when it came time to record.

I want to tell you

My head is filled with things to say

When you're here

All those words, they seem to slip away

I want to tell you

I feel hung up but I don't know why,

I don't mind

I could wait forever, I've got time

It's not a stretch to say George is passive-aggressively addressing his bandmates (perhaps Paul more so). Although that's a personality trait I rather despise, it's preferable to hippie crap.

"Got To Get You Into My Life"--We've had songs with strings, now bring in the brass! (Not for nothing did Earth, Wind and Fire cover this. That, and the exquisite bridge.) Horns blare and bluster, but it's Beatles wholeheartedly, unabashed fans turned pugnacious artists.

Who is Macca so hot after? A doctor, a lawyer, a groupie? No, it's just weed. Dude is so mellow he makes corpses seem uptight. I roll my eyes, but Paul rolls up another joint. I gotta hand it to him, he takes the simplest, silliest song subjects possible and produces sweet honeysuckle tendrils.

The stereo version sounds good if you're high. I suppose.

"Tomorrow Never Knows"--John's psychedelic baby, a tape loop masterpiece that answers more questions than it asks--literally. "Turn off your mind," how Leary. Life like death. "Love is all." Which it is, but it sounds cooler when it sounds like the world is melting around you.

Lennon despised his singing voice, and instigated engineer Ken Townsend to invent Artificial Double Tracking (ADT). This would make the recording process easier for the Beatles, and became industry standard until the 1980s. Ho-hum, another day in the life.

I imagine that this song is a good recreation of a fairly decent acid trip, but Ringo's drums always conjure up the debauched dastardly nights leaving me beholden to a sober friend.

That's not a complaint.

Forty-five years on, "Tomorrow Never Knows" still engages my ears and forces its way into my head. Not so much for the stock-philosophy, but my own feelings and thoughts as so inspired. It's the style of the substance that enriches me as a listener of not just music, but life.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

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


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 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.

Friday, March 11, 2011

You Know the Name--The Music of the Beatles, Pt. 5: Semaphores and Chromatophores


A trio of certainties:

1. One successful film starring a wildly popular band of young men will beget another.
2. That film will not be up to the quality of the one preceding it..
3. The accompanying album, however, will be better.

Finally, an album that gives the discerning listener a chance to hear the individuals that comprise the whole. For John is not interchangeable with Paul who is in turn not at all synonymous with George. (Insofar as Ringo goes, he has whatever personality they decide to give him for any one song--which is all he gets.) All three were brilliant translators of their own distinguished muse, creative demons with halos that became increasingly incorrigible when faced with greater fame, riches, and expectation. To stave off immolation, the Beatles wielded the shield of introspection.

"Help!"--A plaintive cry from a man who one cliche-ridden night looked hard in the mirror and saw a swirling morass glowering back.

It's a brave soul who'll flick open the blade to carve open their fleshy bulwark, exposing the most vulnerable parts of themselves to an air that may cause it to wither. It's a strong tongue that is able to admit a weakness that no thick-headed will to power-speech can overcome.

The idea of a real man being a man who holds his emotions so close to the vest that they leave an imprint on the skin of his chest is ridiculous and immortal. It greases the gears that power the planet, yet stymies progress simultaneously. Contradiction and turmoil are real, more true-blue than any silly sub-standard of living passed on from fucked generation to fucked generation.

"Help!" is real. Which isn't to say songs about failed or flailing romances are fraudulent. But they're easier to write. Songs like "Help!" take some digging, conjure up unpleasant memories, produce vital fluid. Lennon felt that in all his time as a Beatle (which ultimately was not all that long) he wrote only two "genuine" songs, this and "Strawberry Fields Forever." Second-guessing this is pointless; he wrote the fucking songs. He knows what he's talking about.

The commercially-driven decision to quicken the tempo disappointed John, and indeed it sparks off images of mad-lad hijinks through the narrow streets of London rather than a desultory everyman turned demigod wrestling with pain and pleading for a remedy. Conversely, the contrast in lyric and tune juxtaposes neatly with the idea that contradiction as supreme impetus.

The stereo and mono mixes offer different lead vocal takes, on this and other songs, but nothing too drastic all told--John does sound a bit more assured in mono, and thus less in need of assistance, but trust that he's in dire straits all the same. His mates, being mates, are sympathetic, particularly George with his "broken chords" during the "Won't you please" sections.

"The Night Before"--All Paul. Wall to wall. Posted up like a mailbox.

More mates being stand-up here: over a punchy strut, Paul laments a fairweather love while John and George provide a mellifluous response from across the Salisbury Plains. It's fairly sublime stuff considering that it's just, again, a lamentation of a fickle bird. I quite dig Paul candy-coating the reason he's so friggin' distraught--ridiculously fantastic sex.

"Treat me like you did the night before."

What, when she taught you how to play chess? No. When she manipulated her limbs in a manner akin to an Olympic gymnast? More like. I see you and your filthy rock star ways, you filthy rock star.

"When I think of things we did/It makes me want to cry."

Like your very first checkmate? Never. Like the blowjob that made you see spiracles? Always.

"You've Got to Hide Your Love Away"--Lennon as Dylan again, and this time blatantly so. Feel the prick of the patchy facial hair on a careworn face hidden by that insanely ugly hat will you for the love of Pete Seeger take that off yer friggin' head! Do genius and heat both exit the body via the same route? Hmmm.

The gentle acoustics and near-subliminal percussion are coasted alongside perfectly by John, who almost out-Bobs his new hero. (I still think the Traveling Wilburys existed solely for Jeff Lynne to remake this song over and over, much like he started ELO to plop out endless variations on "I Am the Walrus.") The flutes on this song represent the first instance of outside musicians on a Beatles track, and make fantastic sense to boot.

Considering this song I must consider a greater, graver question. Why must we women be so wicked? Well, we kinda have to. Men won't give us equal footing on political grounds or social grounds...the glass ceiling in the workplace has not been shattered into oblivion just yet...and physically, well, need it be said? Given the host of disadvantages, mind games are the only way we can feel like real players. I don't condone it.

I would hope that men and women worldwide can join together in decrying how much louder the vocals are on the stereo mix of this and most of the songs on Help! Honestly now.

"I Need You"--George's first original on a Beatles album since With the Beatles is a serenade to Patti Boyd. A relationship that would totally end well. Hey, at least there were no tattoos involved. I think.

Sloppy riffing, afterthought vox harmonics. Stereo just accentuates these flaws. When it comes to songs called "I Need You," well, it's just like chocolate--America does it better.

"Another Girl"--Macca for the very first time provides lead axe work, via that nasty solo near the end.

Keys open doors, unless the locks are changed. But what happens when the keys are changed? Beatles in a nutshell.

Country like a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits dripping with butter and jam. Clearly, our man has moved on from "The Night Before."

"You're Gonna Lose That Girl"--So is John threatening to steal his mate's bird just to make a point, or out of sincere concern for her well-being? The latter, I'd say, though I'm more than a bit swayed by the 50s style dude-group vibe this song exudes. Shiny suits, bow ties, pompadours, kill 'em with kindness. This song features a tempo shift that's really like a mood shift that is in actuality a pole shift.

Finally: Ringo plus bongos equals, what else? BINGO.

"Ticket to Ride"--So ends the "Help!" soundtrack portion of our program. There's a stormy heaviness bordering on menace here, in the caveman plod 'n' roll of Ringo's drums, in the shimmering-now-shuddering chord work (which guts the fish a bit more in stereo, to its credit).

Song meanings are important to many, not so much to others. Per Macca, the ticket in question is one that will earn you a ride on British Railways. But then Lennon said that it referred to cards carried by Hamburg hookers meant to indicate the waters were clean, so dive right in. I believe in both interpretations. A whore riding the train. Harlot on the rail! So poetic. Anyway, just crank this shit. But if you need me to implore you that, we both got problems.

"Act Naturally"--Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show wanted to get their pitcher on the cover of the Rolling Stone; Buck Owens wanted to make the Grand Ole Opry. Here's to dreams coming true, even if they are piss-poor.

Putting this song on this album is like featuring clams in a documentary about frogs.

Friggin' Ringo.

"It's Only Love"--John said this song featured a "terrible lyric," and frankly that's brutal. Yes the first words are "I get high," and there's never much promise inherent in such a salvo, but it only improves. Praise due. This is a nice song to sit on the porch and drink sweet tea to.

"You Like Me Too Much"--Snoopy could scouse shuffle to this in a French cafe while wearing a scarf, I don't doubt. George makes up for his earlier, plainer sin. Still, not a hair of a hint that this same would someday write and sing "Something."

"Tell Me What You See"--Gentle, watery, bright-eyed beseeching. The solace of a McCartney composition is always the ideal counterpoint/part to the jostle of a Lennon original. Their chalk and cheese relationship is still being misinterpreted by otherwise intelligent fans as we speak.

"I Just Saw A Face"--I love how, title-wise, this song answers the previous one. Paul on both, to boot.

Like "When Doves Cry," this song lacks a bass track. Unlike "When Doves Cry," this song doesn't make me think of a very skinny black man with a John Waters moustache emerging slo-mo from a bathtub. Manic in the way John Denver flew planes.

"Yesterday"--For my money, "Here There and Everywhere" is Macca's most exquisitely rendered love song. I'll obviously elaborate when I get to Revolver, but suffice it to say that particular song is still to my mind radically underrated. This is not to degrade "Yesterday." Three thousand cover versions can be wrong...but they're not.

I understand why "Yesterday" is so universally beloved. So do you. Listen to it. While Paul's chord changes defy the routine, they are decorated with saccharine strings (that are affecting and effective regardless, damn them) and simple words.

All my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they're here to stay
Oh I believe in yesterday


Why'd she have to go
I don't know, she wouldn't say
I said something wrong
Now I long for yesterday

So basic.

That's why we listen to music instead of reading it from paper.

Paul's phrasing on "Yesterday" is simply brilliant. Tunefully disconsolate in the verse, then halting and haunting in the chorus.

This one broke the Beatles beyond the teeny-bopper demographic, for which any fan of theirs should be grateful. Still, it remains too soft for many to swallow, and was famously dissed (along with "Michelle") by a likely-green Dylan for its dime-a-dozen stench. It was also not-famously degraded by a fat NYU student in line for a Sonic Youth concert at Central Park in 2002 for Paul's original lyrics: "Scrambled eggs/Oh my baby how I love your legs." He used this as his main argument that John was the superior songwriter. Unbelievable. And there I was just about to tell him how much I loved his performance in Se7en.

"Dizzy Miss Lizzy"--"Hippie Hippie Shake"? Oh no. It's better. Fathoms so. Mainly 'cause Tom Cruise never douched it up in a movie whilst this played in the background. A nice cap to a fine record, this cover was suggested by manager Brian Epstein to justify his salary. Well done! Beats piss out of "Mr. Moonlight." Tight and loose, neat and frayed, cut and cured. The fuckin' Beatles.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

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


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.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

You Know the Name--The Music of the Beatles, Pt. 3: Give the Drummer Some


The Beatles! On the big screen! Hear the sirens and screeches, delight in the custard-like caterwauling of carnally confused cornfeds! The clarion call of strings that sends the world atwirl and the steady pulse that holds it in place is all around! It's Beatle-goddamn-mania, and your parents are real peeved! Women and girls are going fruitbat psycho over the juju carefully concocted by these huggable rebels and their gruff handlers! But don't be sad, Michael; it doesn't mean girls will never like you--they just won't ever like you the way you are right now. Follow the devil-might-deign example of these laugh-a-minute moptops and you'll be beating back the finger pie with two whole hands!

I'm so glad I'm not reviewing the movie. What kind of witch with words, what sort of sorceress of sentences would I have to be to construct paragraph after paragraph expressing one sentiment and keep it interesting? The movie is just hysterically great. How do I get that across without causing a readers eyeballs to force themselves free of their sockets so's they can roll onward to freedom in a blessed land where they shall never be subjected to my writing ever again?
Lucky for you and your balls, I can do the album a bit more justice.

"A Hard Day's Night"--Sure-fire cure for the sequencing headache blues. Put all the songs actually in the film on side one, and all the ones written for the movie yet absent from it on side two.

A Hard Day's Night was the first Beatles LP filled with naught but their own compositions and not shockingly, it is my favorite of their pre-Revolver material. 9 of the 13 tracks were 100% Lennon creations (his songs outnumber Paul's in the catalogue on the strength of this album) and despite my avowed Macca fangirl status, he would have been hard-pressed to match his mate track for track.

I said 100%. Oh, okay. Ringo helped a bit too, with a delightful malapropism that gave title to song, album and film. Quirky bastard done blessed a trilogy of greatness.

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is the perfect song to kick off an album, a film, a day, a night, an affair, a mission, a quest, a new beginning, the's so unimpeachably good. Yes it's basic boy-loves-needs-wants-girl and that's hackneyed, but only in the same way that breathing can be considered "hackneyed." It's love, pretty much, and it hasn't been improved upon.

"When I'm hooooome"--see, that's cool like a good friend. But the subtle baby cowbell just under it? Love, straight up, I tell you.

The opening chord that sparks from George's Rickenbacker twelver has been dissected. Also bisected. And is responsible for the creation of numerous sects worldwide. Less effort and relative brain power has gone into the amelioration of several national economies than the anatomization of this single strum. (Fadd9, by the by. Name a dog after it, why not.)

The stereo version is a few seconds longer, which to some folk is like discovering extra pages in the Koran. Ya know. Incidentally, this was the first Beatles album recorded on four-track tape, ostensibly allowing for "good" stereo mixes. Interesting idea. I do have a soft spot in my head for the minimal stereo sound here, though, it's like shimmying while sitting 'cause you're trying to hold back the urge to pee.

"I Should Have Known Better"--"Just a song," the author was heard to remark. "It doesn't mean a damn thing."

1964 was the year the boys met the Bob, as in Dylan, who turned these quite alive men on to weed and better lyrics, both independently and dependently of each other, I would imagine. John says this is their first song to reek of Zim's influence, but shit if I can hear it.

"If I Fell"--It's a love-a-line with Lennon over here. Probably the most Macca-esque tune he ever wrote. You know how those go: first it creepy-crawls into your ears, tickles the hairs, slithers bewitchingly to the brain, then it's game over. The dual lead vox is not at all fair and is actually killing me, Smalls.

Oddly--and unnecessarily, she was seen to underline--the stereo version double tracks John's opening vocals.

"I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"--George got ornery, so John threw him this bone of a bone. Proof that despite the evident giant strides, it was tough to abandon the simple formula that scored 'em more pussy than a Chinese stereotype.

"And I Love Her"--Song five! Oh hi, Paul! My Wiseauian surprise and delight over meeting you here cannot be contained. While "And if you saw my love/You'd love her too" is not precisely "Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds," it's that sort of plainspokenness that helped make a phenomenon.

"Tell Me Why"--So much iiiiiiiiiii. Ay yi yi. Also, that double-tracked vocal crap again in stereo.

"Can't Buy Me Love"--Unusual for the Beatles to paint so blue, but it works. Tight like frog ass, with Ringo's beat the ready steady rocketship to rocket hips. It was George Martin's stroke of genius to start off with the chorus. Totally blowing that guy a kiss right now.

(If you are reading this right now, I'm going to assume that you are familiar with the "Paul is Dead" controversy. Maybe you're not a student of the shit like some people, but you have a comfortable familiarity with the basic story. It's just that popular. What many missed was the message sent by the Beatles on the cover to the "Can't Buy Me Love" single. Of the band members, Ringo is the only one looking at the camera. What does this tell us? That Richard Starkey, ladies and gentlemen, is going to live forever. Gear!)

"Any Time At All"--John Lennon always hated his singing voice. That's crazy; that's not too far from the mental process of an anorexic. Think about it; firm belief despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. But yeah, he would beg George Martin to smother his voice in effects much like one applies gravy to biscuits.

"I'll Cry Instead"--John giving us glimpses of the inner turmoil that would never truly leave him. "A chip on my shoulder that's bigger than my feet."

"Things We Said Today"--Macca, you magnanimous bus stop.

Your sort may or may not enjoy this sort of thing. My sort does, most certainly.

Written whilst on a vacation in the Bahamas with then-girlfriend Jane Asher, this ode to "future nostalgia" is no less affecting in retrospect because the relationship didn't last. Love doesn't work that way. You can isolate those fantastic moments from the unfortunate ones and neither becomes less than what they ultimately are. Rose-colored nothin'.

This is perfect, head to soles, the greatest song the Beatles ever recorded. The verses, the chorus.  (Essentially a master course in how to double-track vocals.)

The Beatles did middle eights like a motherfucker. The one here is so out of place it's right where it needs to be.

The stereo isolation is unbearable. It's like keeping a parent from their child, and vice versa.

"When I Get Home"--Great intro, great chorus. "My baby," hey don't sneeze, one of the greatest songs ever is just imploring someone to "be my little baby." And don't cock your head at "Gonna love her till the cows come home," 'cause this is the Beatles, so you know it's only the bestest cows. Like Irish Dexters or something.

"You Can't Do That"--What, satisfactorily follow up "Things We Said Today"? True, true. But hey hey, the Monkees made a whole albums worth of material off the first few seconds along, so. Peppy but not peppery.

"I'll Be Back"--Gee, that's kinda anticlimactic. Oh well. I'll be back too. See you then.