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.


  1. Only the brilliant prose of Jenn could compose something this exquisite.

    I have loved these Beatles records for years and years - and I am enjoying reliving them again through this thoroughly unique analysis.

  2. Thanks not just for your comment here, but for the SXSW coverage at your own blog. Loving it.

  3. I have been following this series so far but I had to stop reading after you used the "Paul did this, YOU did this" joke for the nth time. Rock stars are superior beings with magical powers; your readers are scrubs with Dorito crumbs on their sweatpants, we get it. In such moments your analysis is no more edifying than this kind of fawning

  4. My readers are generally pretty fantastic just for being my readers. Sorry to turn you off, but when I happen upon a certain angle I dig for a particular review, I will use it. This angle was intended to be humorous. Mileage will always vary, but I'm glad ultimately I took the risk.

    If it's Paul getting crap you want to read, you can at least check out The White Album review when it arrives. He certainly comes up with Cheeto fingers more than once there.

  5. I personally enjoyed the Paul running gag and i didn't think it was dragged out any farther then needed IMO

    Actually the first instance during Here, There, and Everywhere is my favorite line in the whole review and whole series of Beatles reviews

    I can't wait for the forthcoming reviews, it's like waiting for chocolate syrup on ice cream