Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Richard Furnstein: It may not be the Beatles' best song, or even Paul's finest (I'd currently reserve that honor for "Take It Away" or "Arrow Through Me" or "Mrs. Vandebilt"). But it may just be Paul's most important song. You have to consider that at this point in the Beatles, Paul was still the under card in the band. Sure, he got a lot of singles and a song like "Yesterday" was a huge advancement, but John was really driving a lot of the development of the band and was the focal point of the first handful of albums. John delivered "Strawberry Fields" as a single and you think it would be "Game over, greatest song possible. Paul, come up with some dross for the flip." But, NO. Paul stood firm and responded with a beautiful companion song. An ode to English whimsy and everyday beauty. A song about giggling at your surroundings and finding love in the air around you. The instrumental break after the fireman verse is pure beauty; a moment when all of the characters are in flight, bumping into one another, dishes tumbling, children laughing, a dog hiding under a desk. Sure, Paul wrote dozens of knockouts before this, but he never quite managed to best John. With "Penny Lane" he firmly asserted himself as a creative equal.
Robert Bunter: Hmmmmmm...I guess you're right! I never thought of it like that. I'll tell you one thing: this is a song that can give strength to all of us. Like Paul's omniscient narrator, we can all regard the scurrying mundane people who populate our all-too-brief lives with affection, humor and, yes, love. Sure, there's a dark side to the barber, banker, fireman, the pretty nurse, the little children. We'll learn about it soon enough when we flip over our original first-pressing mono 45's and listen to "Strawberry Fields Forever" (by the way, if you're listening to this cut on Magical Mystery Tour, 1966-1970, 20 Greatest Hits or One, you probably don't deserve to read this blog). We all have problems, each and every one of us. But on a day like today (the skies are blue, yet it's raining), why not smile? Cherish every moment, cut the normals some slack, live in the now.
Paul manages to wrap up every positive message the Beatles tried to embody in three minutes of pure bliss. Seen in the blinding light of Penny Lane, similar attempts by John ("All You Need Is Love") and George ("Within You, Without You") ring somewhat hollow. Show, don't tell. That's the secret to writing songs that evoke an intoxicating sense of "freedom, energy and sheer happiness." (Hertsgaard, 1995).
Richard Furnstein: This song is one in a series of mid to late period Beatles songs where you have to wonder what John Lennon provided to the final recording. Did he do the tremelo swells? Play a tinny acoustic that was cut from the mix? Did he just pop into the studio to lend his voice to the childish "four of fish and finger pie" joke and then duck into the B studio to take acid and stare at the walls or cut up and reverse recordings of the London Philharmonic Orchestra? It's a great accomplishment that Paul created thegreatestsongeverwrittenbyhumanman without much assistance at all from all time genius John.
Robert Bunter: You're definitely correct about that, man. I love you, Richard. You've been a great buddy for many years.