Thursday, March 31, 2011

I Don't Want To Spoil The Party

Robert Bunter: Well, here we are. We've arrived at what I like to call "the standout track on Beatles For Sale." For my money, this is the crux of any argument that someone might try to make that Beatles For Sale doesn't sort of suck (other pillars of this argument are "No Reply," "Baby's In Black," "I'm A Loser," "Rock And Roll Music," "I'll Follow The Sun," "Mr. Moonlight," "Eight Days A Week," "What You're Doing," "Words Of Love," and "Every Little Thing"). How many ways can I say "I really love this band?"

John is taking another stroll down lonely street here, but instead of screaming himself hoarse with revenge fantasies or cries of anguish, he tries the old passive-aggressive routine. Who among us has not done this? "Oh, you guys just keep on having fun. Really. Don't mind me. I'm just miserable because the woman my heart needs won't give me a play. Go on. I'm just going to go for a walk." This approach is clearly the result of immature adolescent solipsism. What's obviously going to happen is, the narrator will go on his self-pitying drunken mope and the rest of the gang is going to keep right on smoking cigarettes and listening to their new Bob Dylan albums and making out with each other on shabby brown sofas in cheap wine-soaked basements. Later that night, she'll show up and pair off with Gibbs or maybe Loose Lon. That's what it was really like in late 1964/early 1965, and, as usual, the Beatles have captured the mood of a generation.

Richard Furnstein: Lennon debuts the Dylan-inspired plunk and strum that will later define his "Help!" material. However, his words are still miles away from his latest inspiration. Sure, we've all been there, and Lennon himself is no stranger to self pity. The song revises the jealous wanderings of the same album's "No Reply" or perhaps serves as a prequel to that song's revelations of love behind window shades. He wanders off from the party, somehow winds up on her block, and hides in the bushes until his stupid heart is finally broken. "How was your night, John?" "Total shit, but I wrote two pretty neat songs this morning..."

Keep on walking and stay strong, John Lennon. Your day of vindication dawns anew, just around the next bend.
Robert Bunter: But it's not all sadness for our country-twangled narrator. The bruised optimism of the middle eight ("Though tonight she's made me sad") gives every indication that it won't be long before the emotionally wounded hero is back on top. And when the syncopated drum thumps show up ("I still love her"), you just know this ol' cowboy might still have a few moves in him. Keep on walking and stay strong, John Lennon. Your day of vindication dawns anew, just around the next bend.

Richard Furnstein: There's plenty of fish in the emotional stabbing sea, John. Buck up. Look at the sunny side. Oh, hey, your young friend George Harrison is stopping by to deliver a concise country and western guitar solo. Doesn't that make you smile?

Robert Bunter: Pop quiz: who's singing harmony with John on the verses? You have two seconds. BZZZZzzzt. Time's up. It's John himself, using a revolutionary new recording technique called "overdubbing." McCartney could have just as easily handled the part (he pops in beautifully on the bridge), but the use of one man's weary voice overlapped twice effectively conveys the sense of self-absorbed immaturity that animates this early masterpiece.

Richard Furnstein: Masterpiece!? I know that night that Loose Lon showed up at the Naus party with Christie was a tough one for you, Bunter. I totally get how you relate to this one. Get it under control, though. This song is serviceable on the Beatles' most serviceable album. Still, five stars!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Long, Long, Long

Richard Furnstein: "Long, Long, Long" is the dusk weeper on The Beatles. The first strains of morning light find George shaking off the red wine and hashish burn. The youngest Beatle is surprisingly tender and direct here, delivering a simplistic love song in a dark and cloudy setting. It sets up a nice formula that George will later perfect on All Things Must Pass. Here, it's a simple and necessary break to the heavy groove side of the double album.

Robert Bunter: You know, for years, I used to skip this one whenever I listened to the White Album. I would literally get up and change the record. I must have played it once and made some snap judgement that this (mostly) quiet dreary dirge wasn't worthy of my attention. I'm serious! I did it every time. I'm always expecting "Helter Skelter" to go right to "Revolution 1." Doing this had the somewhat pleasant side effect of allowing me to "rediscover" this "lost gem" years later with fresh ears. But still - I feel a real sense of shame. Here I am, running off at the mouth as a Beatles expert, after spending years ignoring a side-ending song on the White Album. I can't even look you in the eye, Richard.

Richard Furnstein: A tragedy. You realize that George Martin was particularly keen on the first and last songs when he was sequencing Beatles sides, right? Listen to the joy and release in the final build and wail of this song. It's the sound of a vampire caught by the sun. Simultaneously basking in the warm rays of a new day and regretting and questioning the night before. The ecstasy in George's voice makes it seem like he's relieved that the sun has finally had its way. High end speakers (such as the gorgeous set of Krells in my study) are able to pick up George's bottle of red vibrating during the finale.

Robert Bunter: You're doing a really good job of describing this song evocatively.

Richard Furnstein: Ha, thanks. Speaking of "Long, Long, Long," this clocks in at a hair past three minutes. The mood and pace of the song makes it seem much longer. Usually, this would be a negative, but you never really want the lovely vibes of this song to end. George allegedly modeled the chords in "Long Long Long" after Bob Dylan's "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," another example of a song that is shorter than it feels. Sure, it's over eleven minutes long, but it feels about twenty.

Robert Bunter: The White Album often gives that impression of endlessness. By the time it's over (and Ringo has sung you to sleep with "Good Night"), you feel like you've been listening for a hundred years. In the context of the mental image you've painted for this song (bleary-eyed hungover George greets the redeeming warmth of the morning's rays), what do you make of the freaky ending segment? It sounds like he fixed a cup of coffee and then just decided to put some LSD in it. That eerie moaning might represent the experience of his humble plate of beans and English "crisps" starting to morph into acid trails while his ego dissolves. Time for another typical Tuesday!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Ballad Of John And Yoko

Richard Furnstein: An absolutely perfect single from the Beatles. "The Ballad of John and Yoko" is such a simple and fun throwaway that you can't imagine it making the cut on their albums; yet, it works perfectly as a anomaly in their catalog (and it is paired with the peerless "Old Brown Shoe").

Its delights are many, from the tropical breeze of the rhythm to the rock 'n roll ape piano. John wiggles his ass and throws Jesus Christ's name around all in the name of a lunkheaded pop number. Still, despite the parrothead trappings of this number, Lennon injects just enough self-importance ("think!") into the song to elevate it above similar Paul groovers like "Ob-La-Di."

Robert Bunter: Well, I don't know if I would go so far as to call this "absolutely perfect." We, the public, are meeting Lennon's latest incarnation for pretty much the first time here. In two short years we attempted to adjust ourselves to the psychedelic moustache-and-granny-glasses dreamweaver, followed rapidly by the terrifying, hollow-eyed malevolent spirit who haunts the White Album. Now, it's time for the weardo-beardo with his baffling wife, flying around the world in a white suit and babbling incoherently about "peace," which surely meant a hell of a lot coming from perhaps the most psychically violent human being on Earth. John's newfound self-importance grates, and the tune itself is mostly boilerplate shuffling. I don't think I ever consciously noticed the tropical undertones, however. Now that you mention it, I'm enjoying this song more. You know how I feel about tropical music.

Richard Furnstein: Much has been made of Paul and John's workmanlike collaboration on this number. Paul handled the drums (perfectly outfitted in sloppy snare static) and bouncy bass line while John provided the driving acoustics, piano, and the squirmish lead guitar bits. Tapes of these sessions reveal little of the joking or banter that highlight the early session recordings. Well, boo-hoo, these were men with serious haircuts and exotic foreign girlfriends that no longer had time to make dirty jokes for the benefit of a sniggering Mal Evans. The dream is over. Deal with the reality: three minutes of pure genius that drove idiot disc jockeys batty.

Robert Bunter: Yep. Forget about your pleasant monkeydreams, world. Wake up to the reality of a demented freak babbling to every media outlet who'd listen about how he and his inscrutable wife hold the secret to world enlightenment in a series of meaningless, fatuous slogans and then gets a persecution complex when the grey-suited 9-to-5-ers write unflattering articles. John Lennon is a lot like Jesus. That's the message of this tropical boogie.

Richard Furnstein: Mother, there's two strange men at the door. The one with the beard has a sack of acorns and an uncircumized penis. He wants to plant the acorns in our garden. The pudgy one with the dark hair just warbled at me and released a fly from her cupped hands.

Robert Bunter: A terrifying dream, to be sure. Is "garden" a metaphor for "drug diseased minds"?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Oh! Darling

Robert Bunter: The Beatles had an uncanny ability to parody established genres while simultaneously transcending them. This is one of those times. "Oh! Darling" comes on and the fools all think to themselves: "Hahaha! Listen to this! They're making fun of the '50s!" It's only later that they realize: there was never any music as good as this in the '50s! Compared to this masterpiece, the '50s sound like the '30s. Little Richard never sang a song this good, just like Brian Wilson never wrote a song as good as [obvious Beach Boys pastiche] "Back In The U.S.S.R." (actually, he wrote many songs which were way better).

Richard Furnstein: I think you just nailed what always bugged me about this one. "Oh! Darling" is the Beatles contributing some dated corn for empty nostalgia. It reminds me of those "in the style of the stupid '50s" songs from the Dirty Dancing OST. I'm just waiting for the ghoulish digital reverb saxophone to swoop in and impregnate my brain with sock hops and racial tension.

Robert Bunter: Listen to those backup vocals, those tom-toms, those tremelo guitar arpeggios on the bridge, that bassline! You are truly in the presence of greatness, and I don't know how you can just sit there and take it. The Beatles had three gears: great, perfect and just the most amazing thing you've ever heard. I'd put "Oh! Darling" in the latter category.

Richard Furnstein: You just described the appeal of the weakest moments on Abbey Road. Even the crap on that album sounds like a candy apple played through a diamond stylus. Much praise goes to Ringo and his sweet calf toms and George flexing his ego (I would contend for the first time!) and his perfect tones. Ringo and George truly reached into the bowl and polished some dank turds during this period.

Robert Bunter: Beatles lore tells us that John was resentful of the fact that Paul didn't allow him the chance to sing the lead on this track (similar to his bruised sense of exclusion from "Why Don't We Do It In The Road," which was recorded with Paul and Ringo only). He had a point, in the sense that it's very easy to picture what Lennon would have done with it ... he would have given it the same great throat-shredding Plastic Ono treatment that he gave to old chestnuts like "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" on the Live Peace In Toronto record.

But Paul does such a great job, it's almost impossible to imagine he would have the maturity to offer the lead vocal spot to his old friend John. He didn't need any help, but imagine if he had done it! It could have been just the thing to ameliorate the old wounds which were tearing these rock and roll brothers apart. Could it be that a Lennon lead vocal on "Oh! Darling" would have prevented the breakup? We'll never know. We can only ponder the possibilities on blogs.

Richard Furnstein: You did it again, old friend. I came into this discussion with a chip on my shoulder and left with a twinkle in my eye and a lump in my pants. I've got a case of the "Beatles What If's," doc. The only prescription is more Beatles. Spin this one again, Robert! I want to imagine John smacking his gum and delivering the hectic breakdown.

Friday, March 25, 2011

This Boy

Robert Bunter: I'm going to out on a limb and call this the first sophisticated song in the illustrious Lennon-McCartney catalogue. Sure, there were other tracks that hinted to listeners that this was more than some primitive shagheads who wanted to hold some girl's clammy hand, but when those melancholy jazz vocal harmonies come out of nowhere on "This Boy," we all found out that we were dealing with geniuses.

Richard Furnstein: I'm not going to deny that it is a unique pleasure in the early catalog. I am slightly insulted by the idea that many of the early highlights weren't sophisticated (I think we can both cite moments of genius in the early Beatles, dear friend). Clearly, this song gets a lot of attention due to the restraint shown by these fiery pillheads and the angelic stackings pouring from their middle class mouths.

Robert Bunter: I know! Where did they learn how to sing like that? How did they do it? It surely wasn't from the choirmaster at Quarry Bank grammar school, I'll tell you that. I'll tell you how they did it: by standing around and practicing singing all day and having that be their main deal in life, man!

Richard Furnstein: Like many early ballads, the release is key here. Lennon breaks out in full on wail mode. He steps out of the groovy harmony background to directly plead with the young lady. It's the one moment that really unifies this song with many of the early ragers. Oh, and I've always loved that George Harrison outro: a little island flavor to clear the air of some heavy teenage emotions. A little splash of warm pineapple juice in your tearing eyes. Speaking of tears, the "Ringo's Theme (This Boy)" scene from A Hard Day's Night will get me every single time. Pure beauty.

Robert Bunter: I would hate to be the other boy in this song, or the girl. Her betraying heart and his thieving Casanovery are about to receive a smooth, jazz-inflected beatdown by a melancholy man I like to call The Beatles. Watch out, jack! He's going to punch you in the skull and walk into the future with his beloved. Get out of the way if you know what's good for you.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Editor's note: Richard Furnstein and Robert Bunter are spending March 24th as they do every year, remembering and bemoaning the 1980 Beatles release Rarities. The controversial collection, intended to collect significant mono and stereo mixes, was a pre-Anthology disappointment to many Beatles enthusiasts. During their yearly March 24th retreat, Furnstein and Bunter will play the album and then debut and discuss their own rarities mixes. The two Beatles enthusiasts will then vote on which mix would have been a more suitable substitution for the hated Rarities compilation. Furnstein's 2011 mix allegedly focuses on rare session run-offs and improvisations on high quality bootleg mixes. Limited focus is paid to studio chatter, instead guitar noodling and bass runs highlight the collection. Bunter has compiled the finest jokes from radio session interviews, particularly jokes where John uses a funny voice.

In their place, Let Me Tell You About The Beatles has commissioned Miles Hall to report on his favorite Beatles song, George Harrison's slice of social commentary "Piggies." Miles is a young Beatles fan and friend. He currently resides in the Philadelphia area with his father, mother, and brother. At the time of his submission, Master Hall was unaware of the connection of the Manson Family Tate-LaBianca murders and this side two filler from The Beatles.

Miles Hall: My favorite part is when they play the piano. It's so musical. It's funny when the pigs play the dirt. It's so's about piggies and they make funny noises.

I like "Moonshadow" and "Blackbird" the same amount. But I like "Piggies" more. "Rocky Raccoon" is better than 'Blackbird' but worse than "Piggies."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

And I Love Her

Richard Furnstein: Paul McCartney is in love. Let him tell you about it. He doesn't pull any punches, love is the only noun and verb that can reflect Paul's feelings. Ringo's claves provide the steady heartbeat of this song; a call and response between two hearts with the cold resonance of a symphony of crickets.

Robert Bunter: Oh man, that's deep. McCartney is singing a melody of joyful devotion, but the downcast, melancholy chord changes and moody gut-string guitars sing a different tune. He knows that his wonderful relationship with Jane Asher (or whoever he was sparking when he wrote this one) is supposed to bring happiness and set his mind at ease, but deep down he is aware that life is fleeting and love is even more so. He's saying one thing and meaning another. In literature, that's called irony.

Richard Furnstein: It's a transient love; one born of young, misguided feelings. A potent brew, but he realizes that it could pass at any moment. "If you saw my love you'd love her to, I love her." He has no choice. This is a puppy love anthem. However, it is important to realize that puppies are easily distracted and can start chasing a paper cup down the street and lose their owners. "A love like ours could never die as long as I have you near me." Watch your love, love.

Robert Bunter: Yeah. It's like listening to a guy tell you about how happy he is while he's in the process of engraving a suicide note onto a piece of paper that he made from bits of his own torn-off skin and marinated in his tears.

Richard Furnstein: Yeah. "And I love her." It's like an afterthought. Oh, by the way, I'm in love. 

Robert Bunter: It's clever, the way they ended the song on that unexpected major chord (perhaps the only Picardy third in the Fabs' catalogue?), which just sets the listener up so perfectly for "Tell Me Why," which is coming up next on the wonderful A Hard Day's Night album.

Richard Furnstein: So we agree: it's one of Paul's prettiest numbers but also thematically and sonically baffling. Whoa, this was packaged with "If I Fell" for a single? Be still my beating heart!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Come Together

Robert Bunter: As I’ve said before, John Winston Ono Lennon was a terrifying nightmare of a man. So, naturally, he knocks it out of the park as Abbey Road’s leadoff hitter with this creepy groove-a-thon. We’re listening to an album that is eventually going to scale the heights of universal consciousness, human unity and cosmic equations between the love we take and the love we make, but the Beatles wisely chose to open it in the dank, steamy undergrowth of a funky hairy swampbog. “Come Together” sounds exactly like the Timothy Leary for governor of California campaign slogan that it started out as, but John’s menacing wordplay and ominous junkie strut belie such paisley sentiments.

Richard Furnstein: John gave us a lot of nightmare soundtrack pop. "Come Together" may take the creepy cake. He introduces a parade of jokers, cripples, disfigured mutants, and drug buddies in this song. "Hold you in his armchair, you can feel his disease." Thanks for the bad dreams, John!

Robert Bunter: On other contemporary Lennon scary music, the other Beatles (especially Paul) kept themselves at arm’s length. I guess they felt funny about letting weird trips like "Revolution 9" and "What’s The New Mary Jane" onto their family-friendly wax. But this time, they’re all right there with him. Everybody is providing full support, and, of course, doing it wonderfully. It’s great that the Beatles could all agree to put their freakiest foot forward onto the crosswalk of a street I like to call Abbey Road.

Richard Furnstein: The chorus doesn't even provide relief from this motley crew as the group quickly shifts from the dank grooves of the verse into a jarring and brief political statement. The chorus and smooth outro are the only safehouses here, all golden tones and spidery fumbling from all time greatest George Harrison.

Robert Bunter: You are 100% right again. Picture the vintage 1969 FabFan getting this thing home from the record store and onto the turntable for the first time. Each new Beatles album has been a revelation, a new direction. It’s impossible at this late date to overestimate the eager curiosity we all felt when the needle hit the lead-in groove. What must the reaction have been when the first thing we all heard was a whispered "SHOOT ME" and the coldest electric piano comping since Herbie Hancock fell into a subzero ice-pond.

Richard Furnstein: Ringo is the key to this song. "Come Together" would likely be just a boring Lennon absurdist list song (see "Mary Jane") without his steady and inventive beat. Ringo kicks off Abbey Road and makes it clear that this is HIS album and you are about to hear the best sounding/best played drums in the history of rock. Have a seat on behind those shimmering drums, Mr. Starkey. We put fresh calf skin heads on them yesterday. Sorry about the Paul taking the sticks on "Back In The U.S.S.R.," you were right all along. Thank you for gracing us with majestic presence and baffling talents.

Robert Bunter: I can’t argue with you about that!

Monday, March 21, 2011

I'm A Loser

Robert Bunter: My brain is bursting with excitement at the chance to talk about this perfect song. It seems shabby to even attempt to subject such a magnificent specimen to the disrespectful charade of verbal analysis, like trying to catch a beautiful butterfly so you can kill it and mount it on a piece of soiled brown corkboard.

Here goes: It's late 1964 - early 1965, and we're rapidly approaching the point where the Beatles become perfect: they're in complete command of their craft and performing like geniuses, so what do they do? They frown, don scarves and overcoats, and take the opportunity to expose their deepest vulnerabilities, allowing the rest of us mortals to feel like we're just like them. But we're not, because they just proved it with this supreme work of art. You couldn't do this, and neither could I. The reason? You're not God Lennon, as I call him.

Richard Furnstein:
Lennon takes off the costume from the Beatlemaniacal days and heads to the honky tonk saloon. The fit was getting a bit tight on his old Beatles suit (both figuratively and literally), so the visit to the country and western styles of Beatles For Sale was a necessary adjustment. Where Beatles For Sale or a solid song like "I'm A Loser" fails, it is in the Beatles' inability to completely give in to the stylistic change. "Loser" mainly feels like a redirection due to John's C&W acoustic shuffle (later taken to extremes by American-philes the Rolling Stones), George's prickly guitar work, and the face-in-whiskey subject matter. Beatles For Sale ultimately goes further into the saloon ("Baby's In Black," "Honey Don't," and "I Don't Want To Spoil The Party"). The fit is never entirely comfortable for our boys, especially in the harmonies and Ringo's bam-thwok.

Robert Bunter:
Yes! Oh, man. Please continue that line of analysis further, my friend!

Richard Furnstein: That's all I got! But really, this little gem is mainly a first draft of Help!", one of John's first huge songwriting triumphs. However, we shouldn't completely ignore the triumphs of this song just because he quickly perfected the model of the upbeat acoustic guitar misery-fest. "I'm A Loser" is a missive from the bottom of a night of drinking. It's tough to tell who John is singing to in this one; I mainly hear it as John singing to his own reflection. "You're a loser, pal. Sure, she brought out this misery in you but she had little choice. You are a loser at heart." It's hard not to feel for the sad clown in this one. The other Beatles keep this from going too far into the islands of misery. There is more pop and enthusiasm than you would expect from the naked lyric. In particular, Paul finds a nice little groove pocket in the sadness and his howls on the chorus are more naked glee than wailing. Don't get too sad, John, your superbuddies are hear to help(!) you out of this funk.

Robert Bunter: No doubt. Ringo's tambourine takes the chorus from brilliant to superhuman, Paul does just the right thing, George plays a solo so primitive it makes Buckminster Fuller look like Keanu Reaves, and dear John just breaks my heart with his candor and great harmonica playing.

Richard Furnstein: Oh yeah, that harmonica! That's like a trip to the filthy men's room for a snort of diphenhydramine and a splash of cold water to the face. Snap out of it, man!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Slow Down

Richard Furnstein: Finally, we've arrived at the best Beatles song! Granted, "Slow Down" just a Larry Williams played with ape-like focus. But, listen closely and you'll hear the most perfect rock song. Lennon rips his throat out and mails it to his "little woman," throwing in a beginner's guide to rock and roll asides (the shorthand: "OWWWW!!!," "AHHHHHHHHH!!!!," and "PFFFFFFTTTLTTTTT!"). I realize that reads like Don Martin prose. You just have to trust me that it sounds amazing.

Robert Bunter: Yeah! This is the perfect song for the summertime. Roll the window down and let the air in. Crank up the cassette deck ... it's time to rock with rockin' Johnny and the Beatles. Slow Down is as deep and funky as anything Robert Johnson or James Brown ever cut, it's just coming from a different angle.

Richard Furnstein: The whole enterprise teeters on the edge of climax. Ringo takes that cymbal to the senior dance and brings it home a woman. George slides and pops in the right way, spurting stray notes all over during the solo. Paul sits in the pocket like a superchampion. George Martin drives the whole enterprise on the piano, playing with the fervor of a younger man. As for John. Well, this is all you need to play the aliens from outer space when they are wondering why John Lennon which human had the greatest voice in Earth history. Good Lord, he can't even help one final woop as the song fades out.
Robert Bunter: Your assessment is correct, as usual. The Beatles play like masters. They're in completely assured control, but it doesn't ever lack excitement or seem sterile. Picture Albert Einstein, gently gliding down a winding country road on a well-tuned bicycle, gently exclaiming "Wah-HOO!" as he rounds the corner. Now you're getting the idea.

Richard Furnstein: Wait, what the hell happens at 1:13 in this song? Sounds like a gaffe with vocal double tracking. They didn't bother fixing it because you can't mess with a perfect recording. You can't make a strawberry sweeter or more red. You just smile and let the sweet berry goodness cover your face. When's the last time you said "Wahoo"?

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Robert Bunter: The pattern of candid self-examination that Lennon hinted at with Beatles For Sale confessionals like "I’m A Loser" becomes unmistakable here. Me, me, me. I’m feeling down, I need help, I’m insecure. The façade of the wisecracking, witty mopflop has cracked, exposing the terrified little boy that was always behind it to the unflinching glare of upbeat pop music. Pretty soon the frightened boy would be re-hidden behind a new façade, that of a smugly-enlightened psychedelic prophet preaching about a love revolution with dilated pupils behind granny glasses, only to re-emerge after he was betrayed by another flawed substitute father figure, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, or Sexy Sadie as I call him.

Is that an enlightening analysis? No. That’s what everybody already knows about this song. What can I add here? “Help” me out, Rich!

Richard Furnstein: Well, Lennon says it clearly before the first chorus. He's "opened up the doors" to a world of emotional discovery/pity. He's delivering the template for The Plastic Ono Band in a cool 2:20 of awkwardly upbeat pop music. George sympathizes with his situation by providing lots of descending glory. John's indecision and confusion is simulated by the delayed backing vocals on the verse. It's a jumble of swirling thoughts that highlight the issues of insecurity and hollowness. John kicks out the demons in the chorus, focusing his pleas for help. The naked voice in the chorus and the stripped down third verse carry the emotional weight of this song.  George and Paul's harmonies only serve to mask Lennon's fears and insecurity. The song would be too much of a suicide note without their deceptive sweetness.

Robert Bunter: I know! And another thing: how scary is it at the end, with that extra “Help me!” thrown into the coda at 2:10, right before the pretty “Oooooooh?” Pretty harrowing, that is. I wonder what this song would have sounded like if John’s original wish to record it with a slow tempo had not been jettisoned in favor of the uptempo arrangement they felt was necessary for a hit single … perhaps we’ll never know. But we can fantasize about it, and also record our own interpretations with rudimentary home equipment and standard-issue Mac DAW software. Did I send you that .wav file yet?

Richard Furnstein: Sure did! It makes Sleep sounds like Keanu Reeves!

Robert Bunter: Mission accomplished!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Martha My Dear

Robert Bunter: Hey, did you know this song is about Paul's sheepdog and not a woman?

Richard Furnstein: Well, now that we got that out of the way, can I say this is one of my favorite songs on the White Album? Of course it's about a dog. Only something as magnificent as a dog could produce such a joyous song.

It's also a great piece on Side Two of the White Album: the country side. Where Sgt, Pepper focused on suburbs and the technicolor release of recreational drugs, much of The Beatles (especially the second side) focused on the simple pleasures of country living. Beasts are everywhere on the record and nature influences both the textures and the lyrics. Sure, India had a role in shaping the lyrical themes of the White Album, but it's important to consider that the Beatles had all retreated to the country in their quiet, post-touring lives. "Martha My Dear" can be viewed as Paul's love song to his new freedom. The joy leaps from every second of this perfect record.

Robert Bunter: This is another example of that disquieting sense of looming dread that tints the entire White Album. What? Hey, we're having cute fun here! Paul is singing a playful ode to a wonderful, shaggy friend who he loves very much. So why am I completely terrified? Maybe it's because so many of the surrounding tracks are scary ("Piggies," "Glass Onion," "Wild Honey Pie," "Revolution 9,"
"Happiness Is A Warm Gun," "I Will," "Helter Skelter," and "Good Night," to name just eight).

I don't think Paul even realized how scary this song would be when he wrote it. He probably thought it was a nice little ditty for the grannies and little kids to dig. To his credit, by the time the actual recording sessions rolled around, he could see the writing on the wall. He obviously requested George Martin to write a score with horrifying strings and tubas in order to give the uncanny aural impression of an unhinged madman staring you unblinkingly in the face with the kind of exaggerated, immovable grin that is usually symptomatic of clinical dementia. Horrifying 1968-era Lennon and creepy Harrison must have chuckled softly with grim approval when sweet little Paulie recorded this nightmare, knowing that innumerable LSD-incapacitated fans would hear this track and start to have harrowing bad trips. It wouldn't surprise me if they tried to claw out their own eardrums in order to stop hearing the eerie "Look what you've donnnnnnnnnne" falsetto on an endless loop in their tortured skulls.

Richard Furnstein: I have no idea what you are listening to, Robert. This is an insanely beautiful track without a hint of fear or drug induced mania. Paul created it by himself, and it's the better for it. He completely gives in and delivers a lovely and cohesive track. The acrimony and second guessing that plagues much of the White Album is nowhere to be found. He pleads with his dog not to forget him, putting words to my greatest fear as a dog owner. You mean the world to me, crazy beast, don't just go running off with some other schmuck that buys the 25 pound bags of Trader Joe's kibble. What we have is special. Let's make these years together count, silly girl.

It's also my duty to inform you that Slade provided a perfect contemporary cover of "Martha My Dear." 

Robert Bunter: I love it when the Beatles sing about dogs!

Richard Furnstein: Are you making fun of me?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Eleanor Rigby

Robert Bunter: Huh? What? [shakes head violently back and forth while making a comically-exaggerated 'bibblebobluhblbublblblb' cartoon sound effect indicating surprise] I beg your pardon? I was listening to a band of carefree, merry-go-lucky shagmops sing happy tunes of teenage lust ...did somebody flip a switch? What is this dreary, baroque lament? Insistent cellos, minor key chromaticism, a lonely spinster, a pathetic priest and she dies pointlessly and unmourned at the end? I
don't understand what has happened.

Richard Furnstein: What happened is the old reliable twentieth century of humankind and its unshakable desire to throw out the old and progress into a new age. We had electricity, flight, the atom bomb, Little Richard singing about forbidden pleasures, and then Paul decided to take the next huge leap with "Eleanor Rigby."It is pop music without the beat instruments, boneheaded lyrics, and overt sexuality. I take that back, it ain't even pop music. There's no real point in imagining the Beatles working through this song as a rock quartet. The recording is driven by a simplistic and creative string arrangement, while ignoring the crashing cymbals and other rock and roll conventions that drove their early albums. Listen to the strings push the verse melody. Listen to the unexpected force of the opening "aaaaaaaaah's." The acceleration in the middle of the verses is a perfect set up for Paul's reminder that these are lonely people. Your hearts should It may just be Paul's greatest story song. The characters are vivid and sympathetic: sketches of two lonely people, the title character (a crone who had everything but love) and the celibate Father McKenzie.

Robert Bunter: It's true. You're right. And not only did they do that, they also proved themselves, as ever, the masters of striking contrasts. Did you know that this was issued as a single with Yellow Submarine on the flip?

Richard Furnstein:
Sure was, but I refuse to really acknowledge the singles that were taken from albums. "Paperback Writer" b/w "Rain" is the only Revolver-era single in my mind. So, you are wrong in my eyes.

Robert Bunter: Get over it, Rich. The point is, they went from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Richard Furnstein: Ringo delivered the knockout lyric here, describing the good Father MacKenzie "darning his socks in the night when there's nobody there." It's an absolutely beauty, and Mr. Starr doesn't received co-writer credits on this one. For shame, Lennon and McCartney! Give the drummer some.

Robert Bunter: Oh for Christ's sake.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cry Baby Cry

Richard Furnstein: John puts his finest Paul disguise and writes a gothic fairytale about simple (if not affluent) characters living their lives. No judgment is provided by the narrator, just a knowing wink of the routine and mundane. Is there anything more expected than a baby's cries? Lennon balances the frenzy and fantasy of his verses with the "Oh, life!" refrain. It's an effective way to move the storyline, but also the same songwriting offenses that later fueled John's rage at Paul. It's essentially "Ob-La-Di" in a posh English countryside setting. Paul's third world drama is replaced by Lennon attempting to capture the warts and farts of the upper class in a psychedelic jar. He uses cooler words than McCartney, to be sure.

Robert Bunter: Despite the McCartneyesque lyrical and songwriting constructions, this song just screams "White Album Lennon track." It's got the elegiac sadness of "Dear Prudence," the ADT drum sound of "I'm So Tired," the "Heartbreak Hotel'-length delay on the piano and vocals of every White Album song with piano and vocals, the Oedipal undertones of "Julia," the creepy sound effects of "Revolution 9," and the subtle mood of menacing doom that the entire record reeks of.

Richard Furnstein: It's not so much doom as a creepy sense that something is askew in this doll's house. Characters like the King of Marigold and Duchess of Kirkaldy are highlighted in compromising positions; namely, domestic duties that betray their posh surroundings. The overall effect is like walking past a room and finding someone unexpected out of the corner of your eye. You aren't supposed to be here, Beatles fan. The rich and famous are busy adjusting their wigs and trying their best to play "common people." What gives you the right to view their sad act? The mundane activities are quickly disrupted by the appearance of supernatural forces, truly exposing the vulnerabilities of the ruling class. Ghosts and the great beyond dog us all. The seance scene confirms the sense that something isn't quite right (and the looming bass piano notes only add to the suggestion of dread).

Robert Bunter: The same John who just wrote "Glass Onion" to tell us all how much he resents being our psychedelic fantasy dreamweaver weaves a psychedelic fantasy dream on this one. But while Lennon was tripping on LSD and reading his Lewis Carroll anthologies, the rest of us were growing up - FAST. I remember where I was in 1968 when I first heard this fantastical miasma ...

Richard Furnstein: Oh, this song and dance again. The "fantastical miasma" of 1968. You were in seventh grade, popping pathetic boners to "How Green Was My Valley." I guess hindsight is 20/20 and paisley shaded and on angel dust.

Robert Bunter: (hurt) OK then. I guess I don't have anything else to say about this song.

Richard Furnstein: Gosh, I thought you'd at least give some love for Paul's "Can You Take Me Back" snippet. Wait, are we analyzing that one separately? I could get way heavy into that one.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Nowhere Man

Robert Bunter: I get chills just from reading the title of this song. Hands down, my favorite Lennon track. Entire career. Yup.

Richard Furnstein:
I've known you for 36 years (I still have the receipt from our "getting to know you" lunch at Beatlefest 1975 in my hope chest), so I realize that you are given to moments of misguided hyperbole. However, you may be right or at least damn close to right this time (I'm shutting off the part of my where "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Instant Karma!," and "Mind Games" live). It's a dang perfect song with my favorite guitar Beatles guitar solo. The solo is a perfect combination of technical simplicity and heavens-splitting treble tone. It's the sound of George trying to coax the lazy daydreamers from their somnambulistic state.

Robert Bunter: Well, of course that's what you would say. But think about it: this is John doing what he does best, and he does it the best he's ever done it. On one level, he's singing about society: the staid, button-down nine-to-fivers who sleepwalk through another day of life without stopping to smell  the lovely odors ... so anxiously acquisitive of the pointless crumbs, they never lift their eyes to the loaf - the abundant loaf of life-bread which shines all around us in this benevolent, integrated universe. Then, of course, there's the next level: introspective, 1965-era fat Elvis-period Lennon is pondering his own lack of direction and personal self-realization. The world is at his command, yet he is empty inside. But, here's the twist: on the deepest level, he's really singing to ME! ROBERT JULIUS BUNTER!

But, also, you too. Without being judgmental (like a certain filthy Beatles guitarist and spiritual scold I could name), beautiful John gently points out that, Hey - don't we all have a little growing up to do? Maybe we all have room to improve. How does sweet John do this? I'll tell you how: by writing a gorgeous melody and having his three friends perform it flawlessly in a breathtaking display of human beauty.

Richard Furnstein: Yeah, that harmony is out-of-this-world. I think the studio recording of "Nowhere Man" was a bigger death knoll to their touring life than complicated studio creations like "Tomorrow Never Knows," deafening teenage nerds, or Imelda Marcos death threats. They could easily dodge many of those roadblocks, but the harmonies on "Nowhere Man" are the true point of no return. Sure, they played it live, and did a pretty damned good job, but it is clear that the beauty of their arrangements and approaches were being lost on the soggy brained masses.

Robert Bunter: And do you know how this song happened? Did you hear the story?

Richard Furnstein: Did I "hear" the story? Did John Lennon personally ring me up in 1973 to tell me the story of "Nowhere Man"? Did Derek Taylor send me a postcard with the story? Did Paul McCartney Skype me last week to discuss this song? You know none of those things happened. So, why don't you tell me this "story" that you half remembered from the same well thumbed source material that we both have.

Robert Bunter: Ahem. John had been sitting by his pool at Weybridge, trying for hours to write a song that would have personal and social significance and nothing was happening. He gave up and took a nap. "And I finally gave up and lay down. Then 'Nowhere Man' came, words and music, the whole damn thing as I lay down." (Lennon, 1980). I personally think, if there's a God, He's the one who really wrote Nowhere Man and gave it to John through divine inspiration. The credit should read 'Lennon-McCartney-God.'

Richard Furnstein: I do love that story, a classic from the final Playboy interviews. I expected more from you than a quick visit to to confirm your facts, though. You are on notice, Bunter. Take your time, don't hurry, indeed.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'll Get You

Robert Bunter: This is one of those early Beatles songs that perfectly captures the delicious, excruciating excitement of lusty adolescent infatuations. They manage to nail the unstoppable-boner-while-you-stare-at-her-kneecaps-in-algebra-class vibe here much more successfully than similar efforts like "Thank You Girl" or "Please Please Me" (great as those songs are - don't get me wrong, reader!). For my money, the only early Beatles pant-throbbers that top this one are "It Won't Be Long," "I Saw Her Standing There," "All My Loving," "Hold Me Tight," "Any Time At All," and "She Loves You."

Richard Furnstein: You are such an unstoppable boner: do you even realize that you left "Slow Down" off of that list?

Robert Bunter: I was clearly only identifying original compositions. Please try to keep up.

Richard Furnstein: Fair enough! The verse chugs along with the gentle staccato of raw skin against corduroy, the only release is provided by a flush Ringo aggressively paddling an open cymbal. It's all tension and release without a proper resolution. Save that sort of massive payload for a single, this is just a b-side.

Robert Bunter: Woah! Back off, man. This track is noteworthy for a dual Lennon-McCartney lead vocal where they're mostly singing in unison. Also, no lead guitar break. The harmonica was hastily overdubbed at the last minute.

Richard Furnstein: I've always been perplexed by the first verse in this song ("Imagine I'm in love with you..."). It's like a logic problem about adolescent love. I drew a little chart and have determined that A can only love C if B imagines he lives on the fourth floor (as previously stated, B must live on the same floor as C, but A and C can not be in love). It makes a lot more sense when you look at my drawing. Wait, what the hell do these lyrics mean?

Robert Bunter: A politically-incorrect McCartney once remarked, "I [also] liked that slightly faggy way we sang: 'Oh yeah, oh yeah' which was very distinctive, very Beatley." This raises (?) interesting questions about the true nature of the singer's oft-repeated intention to "get you in the end." The ambiguous songwriting origins of this track (some sources say it was mostly bi-curious John in the writer's seat, though McCartney has claimed it was a mutual job) do little to quell the controversy that continues to dog this inflammatory debate.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Can't Buy Me Love

Richard Furnstein: I really really want to be jaded about this song. It's a pretty mindless McCartney story song (part of his "Diamond Rings Collection"), features standard bashing from all four members, and provided the title to a regrettable Patrick Dempsey film with loose moral and social messages. Having said that, it's really hard to dislike this one. Paul shouts in that perfect way; Little Richard without all the threats of casual buggery and confounding slang. Ringo makes it personal against his cymbals. John and George stay out of the gee-darn way; this song isn't about them and their six string egos. Let Paul steer the boat for a bit.

Robert Bunter: Yeah. I think you have to put yourself back in 1964 to really analyze this one. With ears that have been spoiled by the intervening years of sonic delight the Beatles dished out like so much ice cream, "Can't Buy Me Love" definitely sounds a little impoverished. Dopey 12-bar blues changes, poorly-doubled guitar solo, sub-par lyrics. I'm sure the kids who bought this thing back in those primitive early years received it as a sonic revolution, but I want to go back in a time machine and yell in their face: "You have no idea what's coming down the pike, stupid punk kid. If you think this song is great, you're wrong. IT STINKS." But, really, it doesn't. I would be wrong in that scenario.

Richard Furnstein: While the lyrics are pretty incidental to this song, it does suggest a greater conflict with the Beatles during A Hard Day's Night. The band were clearly financial secure, the only limitations on this pod of incrediwhales were time and trust. "Can't Buy Me Love" strives for an emotional security. It's a tough lesson for a band of manchildren, who often secured their sexual needs in Hamburg with low cost, physically fearsome prostitutes. The Beatles' rapid ascent to fame certainly raised serious questions about emotional trust. Keep in mind, this is a band whose natural leaders were still coping with the deaths of their mothers. Paul hides all of this with some throwaway lyrics like "my friend" and "diamond rings," but the message of emotional dislocation is clear.

Robert Bunter: Yeah, what a shame the Beatles can't find true love because the women around them are too materialistic. I'm sure it didn't have anything to do with the fact that they drank to excess, paid off their castaway girlfriends to hide out-of-wedlock children, cheated on their wives and sexually assaulted terrified 15-year-old groupies in the dank concrete hallways of innumerable baseball stadiums and sports arenas.

Richard Furnstein: That's wild, but it's also wild that they didn't fade this one out. It features one of the more indecisive endings in the early Beatles catalog.

Robert Bunter: Also: nice use of acoustic guitar from the wonderful, creative early Beatles on this delightful track.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Your Mother Should Know

Important note: This write-up exclusively refers to the mono mix of "Your Mother Should Know." While the mono versions are the default version for all analysis on this website, the particular sonic elements of the mono mix of "Your Mother Should Know" are fundamental to the writers' artistic and analytical approaches to this song. Mr. Furnstein strongly advises that you throw out or delete any stereo versions of "Your Mother Should Know" in your possession. Mr. Bunter, on the other hand, considers the phasing on the mono "Your Mother Should Know" as the greatest misstep of the mono catalog. 

Richard Furnstein: A processed, overdriven bass introduces this number, and you take that as your chance to break free from the dance. You are arm and arm with a lovely young woman. You are quickly pushed away from a ballroom where a band of mustached gentlemen play a lively pop song. The dance is quite lovely, but the combination of the punch and the young lady's perfume has made a touch of fresh air a priority. Ahem. Perhaps a quick smoke and a tour of the gardens?

Robert Bunter: It's difficult to continue the train of thought beyond the last fleeting ... uh ... what were you thinking about? This song is catchy.

Richard Furnstein: A crazy thing happens on the way to the exit. The innocent pop song coming from the ballroom becomes increasingly distant and menacing. The piano ricochets from the chandeliers that line the hallway. A tambourine remains steady despite your increasing distance. Your steps quickly fall in line with the swing of the band. You pull away from your date just as the singer breaks into a wordless "da da da" verse, you are feeling quite woozy. You stop and hold the walls, running your fingers over the texture of the wallpaper. As you run your nails over the wall, wincing at the roughness of the ivory stripes and the silky resonance of the purple piping, the song ends. What exactly was in the punch? What the hell are they playing in that ballroom? We need to get the hell out of here.

Robert Bunter: You're scaring me, Richard! It's quite possible that the terrible mono mix on this weird track was Lennon's revenge for McCartney's allegedly sabotaging "Across The Universe" with amateurish production techniques. The first time I heard it on the new mono box remasters, I almost ran my car off the road. I thought crap only came from butts! I mean, the phasing is all wrong. A wise man once said this mix sounds like a can of flat soda floating in a toilet bowl. And that man was me.

Richard Furnstein: I think you need to reevaluate your entire whitewashed life if you think the mono mix is terrible. I never cared for the stereo version but the mono mix is a genuine highlight of Magical Mystery Tour. A postscript, I threw up all over my date. The punch wasn't spiked, the shrimp was bad.

Monday, March 7, 2011

I Feel Fine

Robert Bunter: This is the middle period of the Beatles. They hadn't gone totally psychedelic yet, but they were outgrowing the elementary  world of "I love you, yeah/Yeah yeah yeah." They'd given up scotch-and cokes in favor of marijuana (which they hilariously referred (!) to as "reefer" or "the infamous jazz woodbines"). You know how it is when you first try marijuana: the most mundane details of everyday life begin to sparkle with portentous significance. You stare in slack-jawed wonder at a segment of your corduroy pants or the colorful fish darting back and forth in your primitive dorm room aquarium. Well, imagine how much more earth-shattering those early experiences were for the Beatles in 1964 and 1965 - there was no such thing as a mundane detail in their lives! Here you are, visually collapsing into your filthy fishtank, while George Harrison is pondering a never-ending series of high-powered celebrities, intellectuals, artistic innovators and beautiful women. Then, it's time to go to work, which consists of creating immortal works of supreme art with your three best friends, discovering new sounds and making millions of dollars. These were four men who had gone so far beyond the world the rest of us live in, you could never possibly understand it.

Richard Furnstein: A little touch of cheeba sets off this rocker. The dank dangerous feedback (I seem to remember the Anthology film or some other Beatles production claiming it was the first feedback ever in world history or something equally false and idiotic) represents entering a strange dark smokey room with weird smells and girls with slow eyes. The Beatles quickly shake off the lethargy with a poppin' little groover. There's not much here beyond the chorus, and even that is over so quickly that it hardly registers. It's hard to imagine George Martin getting worked up over this song when the Beatles delivered it: "Gentlemen, you just recorded your first completely pedestrian number one record."

Robert Bunter: Here's another interesting feature of this track: the cymbals. Personally, I don't like overly-busy cymbal playing, but that's what we've got here. I consider this a Ringo misstep; in my mind, this song would be better served by a laid-back, stoner dub groove as opposed to the arrogant mambo with which Starkey assails us. Still, it's hard to argue with a song like this.

Richard Furnstein: I'm sure Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer Ringo Starr would love to take percussion advice from you; a gangly white man with an irregular heartbeat. I think the Beatles realized that this song was a bit slight, so they quickly rewrote it as the stellar "Paperback Writer." Thanks for giving us the choice to completely opt out of the bland riffola swing of "I Feel Fine."

Robert Bunter:
And, guess what else? There are barking dogs at the end! You can barely hear them, but they're there. Turn the volume way up, you'll hear it. I love it when Beatles songs have dogs at the end! Submitted for evidence: "Hey Bulldog," "Lovely Rita," and "Good Morning Good Morning."

Richard Furnstein: And that's just a ruff list!

Friday, March 4, 2011

You Won't See Me

Robert Bunter: Oh, yeah. Now we're talkin'!

Richard Furnstein: One of the best breakup songs in a long line of breakup songs from the early Beatles. We are used to hearing John lament the loss of love; tearing his larynx and stumbling for simple rhyme schemes to describe his pain. Paul comes into this breakup in full peacock mode, he's here to end this situation and move onto greener pastures. Shit's broken, plain and simple, and there are few remaining days in this relationship. Every line is a brutal indictment of their failing love ("time after time you refuse to even listen/I wouldn't mind if I knew what I was missing"!!!). Taken along with the Beatles quick ascent artistically and culturally, this song seems to be a kiss-off to a woman that can't take the next step with these British supermen. This isn't "You won't see me? Why won't you see me? I love you and need you." It is "You won't see me. You'll look for me but I'm on a different level now. Have fun at your boring parties with your oafish friends." No one I know is in my tree, darling. I'm off to outer space.

Robert Bunter: Yup. This is where the rocketship of the Beatles interstellar career achieves critical mass and escapes the Earth's gravitational pull, headed straight for the planet Excellence in the galaxy of Groove. Everyone is firing on all cylinders, and having a good time doing it. The fun is infectious - you just know that they were smiling when they recorded every note of this beautiful bastard. Let me say this to our readers: it's entirely possible that every time you've ever listened to this song, you've been so busy enjoying the great chord changes, the fun "ooo la-la" backup vocals and mature lyrics, you didn't pay attention to the bass. That bass line deserves a Grammy award. Makes James Jamerson sound like Keanu Reaves!

Richard Furnstein: Well, Paul's a monster on the bass on his tracks on Rubber Soul (I've already wet my pants over "The Word" in this forum). I want to focus on a lot of the amazing vocal tracks on this song. John's cool regret fuels the "no, I wouldn't, no I wouldn't" call and response in the chorus. George and John provide a fantastic bed of "oooh's" and la's" to sweeten Paul's acerbic lyrics. Try listening to Paul deliver the scorching "feels like years" at 2:41 without getting chills. Human beings did this, and that's why we rule over everything. The song is so incredibly strong that even the brutal version by The Godz has a primal power.

Robert Bunter:
No doubt about that! Hey, try this experiment: listen to the song all the way through. Then put it on again. Now turn it up. Play it again, from the beginning to the end. Now repeat the process until you've torn out every hair on your head in a fit of sheer ecstatic frenzy. Eagle-eyed readers who look at my photo might see that I've been the guinea pig for this experiment already!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dig A Pony

Robert Bunter: This song is a personal favorite of mine. As I said before, on the last couple Beatles albums John experimented with an astonishing variety of new musical directions that he never really followed up on in his solo career. "Dig A Pony" is one of these - it sounds like a hard-rocking soul band playing natural wooden electric guitars and singing into old-fashioned microphones on a floating dock moored atop a placidly drifting river during a warm golden summer sunset in a beer commercial. I know I'm repeating myself here, but I would have been perfectly content if the Beatles had made three or four more LP's exploring this musical in depth. I'll tell you one thing: I would have purchased each one of them on the day of release, and I would still cherish them today.

Richard Furnstein: I hate when the word "sensual" is used to describe music, that word always evokes standing halogen dimmer lamps and boring Portishead records. However, this song is a true sensual festival. Lennon is in full on creeper mode here, using the word penetrate, singing like a lady, and advocating doing "roadhogs" (fat biker chicks?). It's Lennon's weird party and primarily sex people were invited. Avoid the dip. George steps up and delivers a pant tightening solo. Ringo is all even thrusting and cymbal (symbolic?) climaxes. Paul just does what Paul always does, sings the high and creamy parts and undresses you with the doe eyes.

Robert Bunter: Then there's the lyrics: some classic Lennon non-sequiturs and absurdisms, the likes of which we haven't heard since "And Your Bird Can Sing" or "I Am The Walrus." This is a guy who could write some wonderful psychedelic animal songs. Why couldn't we have had some more? As much as I love the Beatles, I think the strongest emotion I feel about their output is regret that there wasn't more of it.

Richard Furnstein: Just listen to John and Paul let out those little effeminate howls before George's solo! I can't get enough of that one millisecond of human history.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Thank You Girl

Robert Bunter: The early Beatles sing a happy crappy song about how terrific it is to be in love. It's nice, but I file this under "filler." I'll give credit to John and Paul for a typically dynamic, passionate vocal performance here. However, beyond that, I'm not really hearing much greatness on this one. Sorry, Rich. I know you like this track a lot.

Richard Furnstein:
I sure do. There's a lot to love here. A melody built on ninety percent single syllable words; making their use of "eternally" sound like the most sophisticated exotic word in the English language. Paul and John conjure up the magical third voice in the best moments of this song; the starkness of the track reveals a lot of beauty.

Robert Bunter: Hmmmmm. Well, I guess you're right about that. Did you ever notice how much reverb Capital put on this thing? The UK mono master is a whole different animal. It's like, first there was this one bland, unremarkable animal. Then, I found out about this dry, uninspired mono animal.

Richard Furnstein:
Of course I've noticed how much amazing reverb is on this thing. The end of the song goes deep into the cave, with only Ringo's stellar fills breaking through the fog. More about that ending, the final return to the pleading "oh-oh's" comes quicker than you would expect. It's a pleasant surprise, especially since the song is all about the final descent into Ringofill Caverns. Take a listen to this beautiful edit of the finale from Take 9, where our heroes are just working out that perfect ending. It's from my personal vault.

Robert Bunter: Alright, a neat little curiosity. It's true that this song is absolutely amazing. The lyrics represented a real breakthrough. Also, the gimmicky harmonica was an embellishment that the Beatles had not yet already done. Can you smell my sarcasm here? As John Lennon once said, "[The song was written by] Paul and me. This was just a silly song we knocked off." McCartney seemed to agree, describing it as "a bit of a hack song, but all good practice." It's nice that they had a chance to practice, so they could finally write some good songs after they got finished with "Thank You Girl."

Richard Furnstein: I'm sorry that this song isn't high brow enough for you. I guess it's only the best for a man who eats Triscuits and processed American cheese slices in his stained Toyota Yaris during his lunch break, all the while laughing like a hyena to Howard Stern sexually intimidating a poor female intern. Yes, only first class seats on the Robert Bunter Express. Can you smell my sarcasm here?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

There's A Place

Robert Bunter: This song from the Beatles first album (Please Please Me, as I call it) eerily foreshadows the later philosophical ideas that would animate John's subsequent work. John is singing about how he can retreat to an inner sanctuary of his own thoughts when the external world becomes too harsh. He would echo the same message in psychedelic songs like "Rain," "Tomorrow Never Knows," and "Strawberry Fields Forever," of course, but it's a bit jarring to hear such epistemological solipsism from vintage 1963 Lennon, back when life was in black and white and he hadn't visited America yet.

Richard Furnstein: The penultimate track on the first Beatles album was the perfect place for a brooder. Give the people what they want: squeeze in a little melancholy right before the euphoria of "Twist and Shout." It's a touch slight, but only in the way that rock and roll before the Beatles was slight. They seem to play to their influences on "There's A Place" rather than blowing the old guard out of the water. Two bits of "There's A Place" transcend the Crickets-aping: the slight tricks of the chorus (including some falsetto to really work up the girls) and the dramatic final verse. That verse has John and Paul belting "And it's my miiiiiiiiiiiiiiind/and there's no tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime" like their young lives depended on it. I've just gotta get a message to you, they seem to say. Stand still and let me yell in your face about this magical brain place, girl.

Robert Bunter: Beatles lore tells us that on the day when they recorded this album (in ten straight hours on 2/11/63, which I consider a personal Beatlemaniacal holiday and take off work for each year), John had a bad cold. You can really hear it on this one. The stuffy nose just adds to the mood of introspective melancholy which has already been established by the major seventh intervals and lonesome harmonica. He sounds like he spent the previous night standing outside in the English rain, wearing a long black overcoat and smoking cigarettes, looking into the window of a restaurant where his beloved was obliviously enjoying a plate of beans and English "crisps" with another man. In his pocket is a well-used personal hanky, given to young John in 1958 from his beloved Uncle George (George Toogood Smith), who also gave him his first instrument (a banjo!).

Richard Furnstein: Snot too shabby, Beatles!