Sunday, May 1, 2011

You Know the Name: The Music of the Beatles, Pt. 13--Look What We Found


The Beatles regarded albums and singles as two separate entities, valuing the former above the latter, and even refusing to release individual sides from two of their most beloved albums (Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles). As a result, some of the group's most well-known tracks never made it onto any official album.

In 1987, the Beatles discography was made available on CD for the first time, and an additional treat was in store when a two-volume collection arrived not long after that compiled all these lonely hearts. Past Masters is, at the very least, a tidy history lesson. The band's growth and progress is on display, from the hit factory that aspired nothing loftier than to break a sweat, to drugged-up pioneers of exceptional artistic bravery, to stubborn malcontents on the verge of collapse.

DISC ONE (October 1962 to July 1965)

"Love Me Do" (original single on Parlaphone Records)--The main difference between this and the version that appeared on Please Please Me is who's playing drums--Ringo here, Andy White on the album. In their never-ending pissing match with the English, the Scots should never fail to at least once a week bring up how Andy White just killed Ringo Starr. Holy shit. But why stop there? Everything about the Andy White version sounds better. (And lest you believe I'm just throwing darts at Starkey, "Love Me Do" just isn't "Love Me Do" without his tambourine part.) There's a dearth of energy here that makes me wonder if the fellas had to do a show in Azkaban before hitting the studio.

"From Me To You" (A-side, released 4/11/1963)--The title was inspired by "From You to Us," the name of the NME's letters column. Irrefutable proof that once upon a time, said rag was not just tolerable, but influential as well.

Patrick and I get our fight caps on over two songs on Past Masters. "From Me to You" is one of them. I believe it started when he said that the song was the weakest one featured on the 1's album. My forebrain could not process this fully.

"Weaker than 'She Loves You'? 'The Ballad of John and Yoko'? Is this some sort of elaborate attempt to get my systolic blood pressure reading up to match my body weight? You can't believe that."

Oh but he does. Patrick regards "From Me To You" as a pure yawn, whereas I feel it's just as catchy as one. Some of the Beatles most impeccably realized melodies are in here, sweet yet powerful, heartwarming without being gut-churning. It smacks my gob to realize it isn't universally beloved by the fandom.

"Thank You Girl" (B-side, released 4/11/1963)--For defending "From Me To You"? No problem.

A brief missive of appreciation to the estrogen brigade, because frankly, they made the Beatles. Of all the things a group of young men could bestow upon a woman, a half-assed song beats gonorrhea any day.

Yeah, this one's standard as a knock-knock joke, right down to the harmonica, but John and Paul find some more space here to show off their yelling ability. Girls, when a guy starts shouting platitudes, you are the recipient of a love most divine. "And eternally/I'll always be/In love with you." Really, you will never require panties again.

"She Loves You" (A-side, released 8/23/1963)--Sly to use the third person, 'cause hearing someone talk about what they're feeling, doing or about to do can get trite.

One of several that John and Paul knocked out side by side, ear to ear, nose to nose, whilst cooped up in an artless hotel room, hurling ideas teeming with what they knew and what they thought they knew up against walls painted some horrid shade of impending death, over and over, till they either stuck or shattered.

The quality disparity from the verses to the chorus is jarring to me personally. The chord pattern is P to P for pied to piper, but that legendary refrain NO NO NO.

"I'll Get You" (B-side, released 8/23/1963)--You got A-sides. You got fuckin' A-sides. There's B-sides, and then there's hysterical B-sides that win again. Is this the worst Beatles song to feature the word "You"?

Well, love songs are like love affairs. They can't all be winners. Some of them will result in the fabulous exchange of thoughts and fluids and make you dream of immortality. Still others will make you want to bludgeon your paramour with a cement block you left in the freezer overnight.

"I Want To Hold Your Hand" (A-side, released 11/29/1963)--Washing the brains of chickadees after conjuring up a mischievous lather, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was The One, the first Beatles song to hit number one in America, and as much as that chafes Brit crotch, said feat was and in many minds still is the barometer of true success for musical acts.

If I'd been a young lass in 1963, I would've been right there in love. I wouldn't have been screaming myself hoarse, but still. How could I resist three cute English fellas (and the drummer) and their innocent yearnings. You wanna hold my hand, you wanna get some milk too and share it? Music to sensibly shake my modestly skirted booty to.

"This Boy" (B-side, released 11/29/1963)--While I was typing out "B-side," I thought, Yeah, no shit. Really nothing else to say.

"Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand" and "Sie Liebt Dich" (released 3/5/1964)--If you wonder why the Beatles would redo two of their early singles in the language of romance, I suggest you do the history. They got traces of black, red and gold in their collective DNA, baby. So when EMI's West German branch called, the boys were like, "What the bloody hell is Odeon Records?" Then when they found out, they got to work creating songs that are funny to listen to once (much in the way it's amusing to watch a video of yourself having sex, laughing to keep from screaming in horror) and then never again. Now, if they'd switched the yeah's for ja's, the replay value would be insane.

Certain facts about these novelty songs are far more interesting.

"Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand" actually translates to "Come Give Me Your Hand," which is far more in the German spirit (although not as much as "Give Me Your Hand Or I'll Rip It Off" would have been).

"I Want to Hold Your Hand" was resung over the original track, but "She Loves You" had to be replayed, as the original two-track tape could not be located. Some listeners claim this is apocryphal, and both tracks are the original with new vocals, but just listen: "She Loves You" is played at a faster tempo while retaining the original key of the song. The key would have changed if it was just a matter of the tape being sped up.

Finally--I speak German. You are a pastry. It should be said "deesh," not "dick." Come on, guys. Whoever helped them with the pronunciation brought a catheter along.

"Long Tall Sally" (1964 EP of the same name)--Check out one take Paulie over here. Macca's Little Richard turn--especially the "Wooooo!" does a fan proud. Intimidation is always a factor when you're tackling the track of an in-fact master, but "Long Tall Sally," from toes to eyeballs, is one of the best covers the Beatles ever did. Put this 'un on next time you have to clean a room or two. You won't actually get any cleaning done, but you won't care.

"I Call Your Name" (Long Tall Sally EP)--"I can't sleep at night/Since you've been gone."

"'Cause I've been too busy shagging/Countless other birds/WOOOOO!"

"Slow Down" (Long Tall Sally EP)--Turning Larry Williams' original into an Uncouth Joseph (Sloppy Joes to certain Americans, steamers to others).

I don't even know what that meant. I'm sorry.

"Matchbox" (Long Tall Sally EP)--This was Pete Best's vocal turn live, so of course it goes to Ringo here, all you drummers sound alike to me! Goddamn, most boring EP ever.

"I Feel Fine" (A-side, 11/27/1964)--Ah, so much better! A country-tinged (not -tinted) foot tapper with a verse structure that both looks and sounds like a fresh chain link (you know). The sheer quality of the track itself is often overlooked due to its place in music history; "I Feel Fine" was the first song to use feedback as a recording effect. (Hilariously, they had to tell Parlaphone that it was accidental, or its inclusion would have been disallowed, as feedback violated the label's stringent sonic standards code or some such.)

"She's a Woman" (B-side, 11/27/1964)--Roaming soulfulness, so forgive it for treading the path most traveled by, won't you?

In 2008, neuroscientists discovered that the heart has its own independent nervous system--its own "brain", if you will, or even if you won't--and can thus send messages to and receive messages from the traditional brain. And the brain obeys! That's pretty cool.

Heart to brain: "Keep doing what you're doing!"
Brain to heart: "Back at'cha."

I bring this up because I think that my heart reacts rather strangely to love, and the manner in which it does reminds me of this song. Your heart may react to the novelty of love with fireworks, rainbows and pizza, compelling your brain to compel you to go nuts and get some new clothes, new music, new furniture, all the better for the new you! Don't stay indoors, the heart implores, enjoy the vast expanse of the world and convince yourself it's all a visual metaphor for your life at this moment.

My heart, however, processes love by suddenly making me very sleepy. And I don't say that to dis this song. It's fine. But I kinda just wanna curl up and think about how romantic love would be the best thing ever if you never got out of bed.

"Bad Boy" (Beatles VI, US LP)--The US releases were like a shit pickle that swam in piss instead of brining liquid. Just because the record companies sought the validation of the voracious American super-consumer doesn't mean they actually liked any of them. Another Larry Williams redo, the intro is suggestive of the edgiest sixties rock made by unkempt vandals, but that's where it stops.

"Yes It Is" (B-side 4/9/1965)--"Ticket To Ride" was the A-side. Damn. Some superlative tri-harmonies on display but little else of note.

"I'm Down" (B-side 7/23/1965)--The flip of "Help!" fares better, with one of my favorite vocal arrangements to appear in a Beatles song. Embodies no less than four formulas of the music scene at that time, but executes each one perfectly.

As Rubber Soul to Help!, Past Masters Volume 2 is to the first compilation. Check this space tomorrow for the final post of the Beatles Discography review.

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