Friday, May 27, 2011

You Can't Do That

Richard Furnstein: Hmmmm, maybe "You Can't Do That" isn't the best example of the influence of girl groups on songwriting of the early Beatles (especially Lennon). The song is decidedly "anti-girl," perhaps one of the most misogynistic lyrics in Lennon's resume. "I've got something to say that might cause you pain"/"I'm gonna let you down and leave you flat." These lyrics sing nicely (classic early Lennon monosyllabic meter) but suggest actual physical violence if the girl in the lyric continues to actually flirt with other men or any other actions that feed into Lennon's irrational jealous mind ("I can't help my feelings, I go out of my mind").

The title of the song says it all: "You Can't Do That." Not, "I Wish You Wouldn't Do That" or "That Really Hurts Me." Lennon lays down the law, and the judge, the jury, and the executioner seem to be incapable of making rational decisions. Run for your life, indeed.
Robert Bunter: John tries to talk tough over some boilerplate blues changes. The only thing that saves this blustery drag is the amazing vocals and a better-than-usual Harrison solo. Hey, listen to that cowbell! This is the quintessential early Lennon persona – immature, confused, angry, lashing out at the world and especially his meek and mild wife Cynthia. John just got back home from a carousing world tour with lipstick stains on his collarless jacket after countless backstage conquests. He notices out of the corner of his eye that Cynthia smiled at the gardener and proceeds to deliver himself of this screaming, hypocritical tirade. Hey, John, I know you’re angry but I’m going to go ahead and say that you’re completely wrong here.

Richard Furnstein: It's a blistering blend of influences. Like you said, George's honky tonk skronk stands out among the blues. Ringo's cowbell is there strictly to distract; while the cowbell usually helps push a meandering rhythm section into line, this serves more to cover up the venom in Lennon's words. Paul and George play the ladies in he shadows to great effect, echoing John's raw vocal.

The chorus is the true head-scratcher. "Everybody's green, because I'm the one who won your love." Gosh, that's almost sweet. John is admitting that the girl under his thumb is a hot commodity, something to drive other men to jealousy. Shucks turn to shivers when he follows it up with "But if they see you talking that way, they'd laugh in my face." John's admission of the female superiority quickly descends to relationship paranoia and social isolation. And the whole thing is delivered with a chipper, loose feel. Truly disturbing.

Robert Bunter: Yeah. It’s easy to read too much into it, I guess. John was just cranking out another rocker for side two of the soundtrack album. He wasn’t baring his soul, necessarily. I’m going to rate this as competent. It would be great for anyone else, but in the Beatles’ catalog, it’s a snoozer. I’d rather listen to “Dig A Pony,” “Flying,” “This Boy” or “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl,” thank you very much. “You Can’t Do That” is fine if I’m listening to Hard Day’s Night the whole way through or writing a blog entry, but otherwise I’m skipping it.

Richard Furnstein: "I'm going to rate this as competent." If only the same could be said for your analysis of this crucial juncture in the Beatles catalog. You've got artists expanding their worldview and putting themes of insecurity, jealousy, and revenge in an exciting pop format and you are bored? I feel sorry for your brain and your brain's ears.

Robert Bunter: That’s fine, Richard. Leave me alone today.

Richard Furnstein: Cool, I'll just be by myself listening to this great song and Harry Nilsson's incredible arrangement/Beatles tribute.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I'm Happy Just To Dance With You

Richard Furnstein: Chick chop! The rhythm's in the guitars, the Beatles insist. Ringo agrees and plods all over this song. It's girl group by numbers for John Lennon, who dumps the awkward and confusing lyrics on the youngest, worst toothed Beatle. "Before this dance is through, I think I'll love you to" kicks off the song and we're already baffled. Then the salacious Lennon claims that he wants to skip the formalities of love ("hand holding" and "hugging and kissing") and get straight to the dancing. Maybe Lennon is using "dancing" as a metaphor for "crippling co-dependent deviant sexual relationship built on Oedipal humiliation and primal separation anxiety."

Robert Bunter: I hate to say it, but I think this song is really at the bottom of the Beatles barrel. It is an absolutely wonderful barrel and I love every note these young men ever waxed, but "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You" collects several of the worst tendencies of the early moptop years. They had very quickly established a song formula of "startling new innovations." In this case, the novelty embellishments (unconventional minor key introduction and unique chord progression, vague mambo rhythm) come off rather limp and uninspired. Let me hasten to add the usual caveats: they were hugely overworked at this point, being chased around the world by throngs of hooting lunatics, jet-lagged, constantly under pressure from record companies, filming a movie and redefining their generation. So can you blame them for letting loose a few stinkers? I can't. It's fine. Who are we to complain? And yet: this one really suffers from appearing right after the geniuinely revolutionary "If I Fell" and the haunting "And I Love Her."  

Richard Furnstein: I mainly agree with you, although I can find some pleasure in the dramatic chorus and the ghostly backup vocals (some strong Lennon moments back there in the reverb chamber). I mainly find myself loving this song because it's a Harrison vocal on a Lennon/McCartney original; allowing A Hard Day's Night to be the only Beatles album completely composed by Lennon/McCartney. It's a heck of an accomplishment for a band that was running on fumes after the first year of Beatlemania. Yet, as you point out, they were writing their strongest material yet and advancing emotions without dipping too far into schmaltzy waters. "Happy To Dance" is one of the missteps on the album. But, one of the Beatles low points ended up being a huge hit for the Lubbock Babes in the late 1980s. That's the music biz for ya!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bad To Me

Robert Bunter: The relatively obscure demo for this great early Lennon song (available on the bootleg "Acetates") was given to dorky Billy J. Kramer and his stupid Dakotas to cover. Well, that's just fine. What we can do now is, ignore the cover version and wallow in the supernal experience of hearing an early Beatles pop song in it's rough, acoustic, lo-fi demo form. Instead of sounding dated and corny, it sounds edgy and ahead of its time. It's like hearing circa-1992 outtakes from the happy album that Elliott Smith never got around to recording.

Richard Furnstein: "Bad To Me" starts in a manner similar to the contemporary "Do You Want To Know A Secret," sweeping music hall chords that give away to a conventional pop song. It's wholly superior to "Secret," as well as many of the original compositions on Please Please Me. You are completely right, Bob. The demo has a sweet Fading Captain Series toss off quality. Hit play on the dictaphone, whisper into the mic (Mal Evans is passed out on a nearby couch), and catch a bit of twilight genius in a jar. There's one word for its exclusion on the Anthology series: criminal. Thanks for throwing us "Lend Me Your Comb," Sir Paul Ono, but certainly there must be something healthier in the icebox? (Sarcastic tone.)

Robert Bunter: You want to know why they didn't include this on the Anthology series? They didn't think we could handle it. It's the same reason they didn't include "Carnival of Light" and the 27-minute "Helter Skelter." It was just such a huge mistake.

Richard Furnstein: Billy J.'s version deserves some attention. He delivers on the promise of Lennon's lo-fidelity recording, while minimizing the greasy haired hiccups and hip convulsions that were a mainstay of his dying breed. Billy J. injects a bit more manliness into his version; as a result, it loses the vulnerability implied in John's demo. Is that a mandolin I hear in the background? Perhaps a knowing nod to Phil Spector's well honed tones?

Robert Bunter: I guess so, but mostly not. I don't think there were any "knowing nods" to "well-honed tones" here, just a cynical cash-in on every level. Hey, the Beatles are big bucks - let's have this lurching ape sing one of John's castoffs and press it up in time for the back-to-school sale at Gloanburg's Shilling and Pence. The whole thing reeks. I'm sorry, man. I don't mean to be cross. It just irritates me whenever I start thinking about the Anthology, which true fans refer to as the Missed Opportunitythology. The legacy has been soiled, and I, for one, am about to puke. How about another out-fake of Penny Lane with the goddamn extra trumpet notes at the end? Oh, thanks, Apple. I've never heard that before. Get the hell out of here.

Richard Furnstein: Two (2) tepid versions of "Fool On The Hill"!? Thanks for the diseased water supply, Crapple Corps!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)

Richard Furnstein: Loosen up your cravat. Hide your sousaphone. Get out of here, calliope! The Beatles are a rock band and the reprise of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" is the one pure rock and roll moment on this stuffy concept album. Again, I'm going to hector you to throw out the limp stereo version of this track; the mono recording offers some perfect Ringo boom thwacking, piercing guitar interplay, and exciting crowd noise swells. Then, as soon as you get into the groovy, the track is over, spilling into some more pretentious mopery. The boys from the cover of With The Beatles have grown weird mustaches and have fallen completely into the recesses of the dark room. Marijuana and uppers were fun, but now they are into being terrified by their own imagination. The reprise is a beautiful moment of light in the claustrophobic (albeit brilliant) Sgt. Pepper's universe. It's the furthest thing from a throwaway.

One of the true delights of the mono version is Paul's impassioned scatting to wrap the song. He's fighting against the velvet curtain that is quickly closing on Billy Shears and the gang. Paul has delivered some impassioned scatting in his days ("Powercut" and "Hey Jude" come to mind) and the reprise is one of his finest Little Richard freakout moments. But what exactly is he saying? Let Me Tell You About The Beatles isn't quite sure, but we've assembled some opinions from Robert Bunter, myself, and some of our faithful readers.

Josh Newman: I be wanna be closer/You and me babe/Play the goddamn music music whooooo/Take it to the back of the mountain

Rick Flom: I will run in a gondola gong!/Rudy me, babe!/All of off-roads Rudy Bay in mom an animal!/(whoo)/Yeah you room, no. Nomad.

Robert Bunter: Wennalaaannnanaaa-henna-henna-how-WOOOOOOO!-thank you, we loved Beatlemania.

Brian Langan: You know you got it right?/You and me babe!/What about your pretty face in the back?/ Thank you baby, baby!

Nick Krill: Good Godfrey Dangels.....if i had a nickle for every time Paul went into ape mode at the end of a Beatles song. i can just picture all the other dudes sitting there in the control room rolling their eyes thinking, "Here he goes again, how are we gonna convince him to bury this in the mix this time?"

Here goes: Oh, you don't want to be standing 'round?/Would you wanna be dead?/I will walk you through the valley of the dead!/Yeah, you know to stand by me.

Thomas Hughes: You're normally scared, right?/You're really dead?/I look out back for abandonment./Yeah, you guys are bums

Richard Furnstein: Some great interpretations. And some real fodder for the Paul Is Dead community. I stand by my take:

Are you going to watch me tear?/You heard what me said/I don't goddamn with any Budapestians/Thank you very much and good night

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fixing A Hole

Richard Furnstein: Much like "Penny Lane," "Fixing A Hole" is evidence that Paul McCartney could match John Lennon in abstract, emotional, and unconventional songwriting. It's unlike anything else in the Beatles catalog (or in the subsequent McCartney solo work). The introduction suggests a McCartney old time revue, but the song quickly kicks into an unusual meld of progressive rock and carnival music while maintaining a loose druggy vibe (especially at the "where it will go" ending). A lot of credit goes to George for a series of innovative lead guitar bits, a series of swoons and honks that dance with and around George Martin's buttoned down harpsichord.

Robert Bunter: To me, this is the most “Sgt. Pepper-ish” of the tracks on this album. As you said, it sounds simultaneously old-fashioned and like nothing else that ever happened. This is one of those songs that must have left first-time listeners totally baffled. You can picture them seated on paisley beanbag chairs, staring at the LP sleeve and trying to figure out what dear Paul is talking about. At first we seem to be dealing with grey, dull home repairs on a cloudy day … but what do holes in the roof and cracks in the door have to do with Paul’s mind? There’s clearly more than meets the eye here. Paul doesn’t usually write about himself, so rare occasions when he does assume exaggerated importance – yet Fixing A Hole seems to cloak everything in wordplay and unclear pronunciations: is his mind “wondering where it will go” (referring to the rain that gets in) or “wandering where it will go” (referring to his drug-induced freedom of thought)? Does he mean “When I’m wrong I’m right [correct]?” or “When I’m wrong / I’m right where I belong?” It’s all just so inscrutable.

Richard Furnstein: To me, Paul's goals are clear. Again, we're looking at the Beatles on the edge of an extended holiday of mind expansion. No more carting Vox AC-30s to the Alabamas of the world. No more fitting in Murray The K into their mornings. Just a long road ahead of recreational drug use, scratch and sniff stickers, jazz rock (if you want it), and beautiful girls with intellectual, Buddhist parents. "I'm making the time for a couple of things that weren't important yesterday." Paul has his priorities straight and is gently suggesting you do the same. Compare Paul hinting at the idyllic future of peace and love to George bemoaning the intellectually and spiritually lazy. Paul is suggesting that it's all out there. You may want to reconsider your plans to take over your dad's barbershop. Have you been to San Francisco, man? Try it out, if you want. The air is moist, the tunes are ragged, and the burritos are delicious.

Robert Bunter: To me, you’re reading too much into it. I don’t hear any exhortations for listeners to embrace a carefree lifestyle here, although that’s undoubtedly happening elsewhere in the 1967-68 catalogue. Basically, I just hear a foggy-minded lyricist (tired?) who’s expressing himself in fractured, obtuse metaphors. Nothing wrong with that! Personally, I love this track.

Richard Furnstein: Oh, so "I'm renovating my room in a colorful way, and when my mind is wandering there I will go" doesn't speak to a cultural and artistic revolution? Are you really that dense that you need your metaphors served with huge neon signs and academic validation of the Beatles significance from Bob Spitz?

Robert Bunter: Sometimes it's easier for me to understand your analysis of poetic and cultural meanings when you QUOTE THE LYRICS CORRECTLY. "Painting my room." It's not like we're talking about some dodgy Twickenham bootleg tracks here, it's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Band, the most important Beatles album, with key tracks like "Lucy In The Diamond Sky," "Within You And Also Without You," and "It's Just A Day In The Life."

Um...Did you know it wasn’t recorded at Abbey Road, and that the lead vocal was recorded at the same time as the rhythm track? I know those facts from my own personal memory and archive of obscure trivia books and old magazine interviews, not because I just Wiki’d it. You’re right about George’s great guitar work. I’d also like to mention the great background vocals. It’s nice to listen to the whole track while paying special attention to the backups, they’re great. Wasn’t there a thing on YouTube recently when someone posted up each of the four separate tracks used on Sgt. Pepper? That might be something for you to find and then include a link to it on this writeup so the readers can hear what I’m talking about, Rich.

Richard Furnstein: No can do. I'm filling the cracks that ran through the door, buddy. And your crack ain't one of them.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

With A Little Help From My Friends

Richard Furnstein: In a touching display, uber-humans John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote "With A Little Help From My Friends" to reflect on the role that friends play to support in times of weakness and doubt. Then, wisely, these infallible egomaniacs passed the song along to their tone deaf, large nosed, maligned drummer with the weak immune system. And, gosh, does Ringo deliver. It's by far his best vocal on a Beatles track; he fully conveys the simple beauty of the lyrics without adding too much weight to the song's more poetic moments ("What do you see when you turn out the lights? I can't tell you but I know that it's mine."). It all leads up to one of the most real and durable moments in the Beatles squishy psychedelic period.

Robert Bunter: Previous Ringo showcases fell into two categories: trifling goof-outs like "Yellow Submarine" and C&W showcases (the rumbling "I Wanna Be Your Man" is the exception that proves the rule, or something). "With A Little Help From My Friends" was the first time he graced a really substantial piece of material. In the context of the imaginary Sgt. Pepper live show, Ringo perfectly inhabits the role of the beloved, slightly hapless performer who gets trotted out for a happy tune after the theme song dies down. I wish that Sgt. Pepper's was real life and there was actually such a wonderful show and I was in the audience. I would drop my quarter-segment of Purple Flash about an hour before the curtain went up, so it would just be starting to kick in about halfway through the Sgt. Pepper theme. When I start to get sweaty and freaked out by my distorted perceptions, "With A Little Help From My Friends" will calm down my vibes and set me up perfectly for "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds". Most likely, I'd be staring with wide, dilated eyeballs at Paul McCartney and marveling at what an utterly terrific bass part he's playing here. When it gets to that great moment at the end when Ringo bellows "FRIENDS!" I'm sure that I would be totally enraptured.

Richard Furnstein: I think I would imagine that Paul's full bass guitar was actually played by the disembodied colored head of Oliver Hardy bouncing in time with the rhythm. In fact, this is my typical acid fantasy/nightmare when I stare into the crowd of faces on the album cover. Oh yeah, plus William S. Burroughs is melting and cackling that weird old man, junkie clogged throat cackle. But only in the right channel of my headphones. Does that make sense? I'm listening in mono, obviously.

Robert Bunter: I think this is up there with the all-time best Ringo moments. You've got the drum track for "Rain," the "This Boy" scene in the Hard Day's Night film, "I've got blisters on me fingers," and "With A Little Help From My Friends." It's just another case of the Beatles serving up heaping helpings of warm feelings and human smiles on a vinyl platter. I'll take seconds, please!

Richard Furnstein: What about the drum solo on "The End"?

Robert Bunter: Oh yeah, doy. "And the drum solo on 'The End.'"

Richard Furnstein: My favorite "With A Little Help" memory is the bit on the Lennon Anthology box where Sean Lennon is singing the bridge of this song. Yoko asks John the title of the song and John is caught off guard. He eventually identifies it as "With A Little Help From My Friends" from the biggest album of all time. It's a touching moment, but it also makes you feel bad that Ringo has to wheel out this song every single night of his All Starr Band tours while John immediately replaced it in his memory bank with "Bless You," "Meat City," and "I Found Out." Poor Ringo!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Baby It's You

Robert Bunter: The early Beatles' girl group covers reek of ambiguity. Sure, they geniunely loved these emotional pop confections, which is obvious when you look at how much their own songwriting was influenced by them. Yet, you can't help but feel like they might be kidding a little bit. Hearing young George's phlegmy teenage baritone sha-la-la-ing in the background gives the impression of an almost ironic, self-aware cover of an oldies song by a group of young phenoms riding the crest of a totally new wave; an affectionate nod toward the curious relics of the past. Of course, when the Beatles recorded this in 1963, the Shirelles were their contemporaries, not an oldies act (actually, they were demonstrably more successful at this early stage). Still, it feels a little like the Ramones covering Bobby Freeman. But that's not to take anything away from the deathless sincerity of Lennon's vocal. His earnest tones practically leap out of the speakers, and there's nothing ironic about it.

Richard Furnstein: The sha-la-la-las are trapped in a reverb tank and it's giving John the blues. He fights through the anguish in a startling direct performance of this Shirelles song. He rarely reverts to the throat ripping that highlights many of the early covers. Instead, John is close to the mic, specks of dust taking flight from his newly tailored Beatles suit. George and Paul are in the shadows, pitching in with shas, las, and oohs, but they seem to understand that John is in complete control. He even answers his own set up "You know what they say about you?" with "Cheat, cheat." The other dudes are right there, but John doesn't want to risk losing the urgency of that line. It's the best moment in a flawless recording.

The sha-la-la-las are trapped in a reverb tank and it's giving John the blues.

Robert Bunter: At the same time, there's something campy about four young men in leather (OK, granted, they were in suits by this time, but remember, Please Please Me represents an idealized version of their live set from Hamburg or the Cavern) singing the Shirelles. The same gender ambiguity that was hinted at by their scandalously long hair and naughty, bold-fitting trouser seams is at work here. As was so often the case, the Beatles were at the vanguard of a revolution, flaunting a conscious blurring of outmoded sexual roles and show business conventions. These "boys" were neck-deep in all the women they could possibly handle. George, in particular, was legendary for his prodigious output and abundantly be-notched bedposts. By leaning in close to a shared microphone with handsome Paul McCartney and sha-la-la-ing fruitily, he was in effect saying, "I'm so secure in my masculinity, I can do THIS. What's the matter, Mr. and Mrs. Establishment, are you shocked? Have I offended your puny 'morals'? SHA LA LA LA LA!!! Now you'll have to excuse me, your daughter just threw her underpants at me. PERHAPS I'LL KEEP THEM."

Richard Furnstein: A lot has been made about the Beatles pumping out the bulk of Please Please Me in one day (and night) at Abbey Road. The band had that luxury by reverting to the lessons of their German boot camp. "Baby It's You" is my favorite "sleepwalking through the live set" moment of Please Please Me. It also highlights the girl group influence that set the Beatles apart from their brain dead bluesmen or plunky surf rockers contemporaries. The same drama and restraint that marks "Baby It's You" would serve Lennon well in his own excellent "girl group" compositions such as "Bad To Me," "You Can't Do That," and "Not A Second Time." You can keep your blues howl, Rolling Stones; the softer side suits Lennon better.

Robert Bunter: It's great when John screams, "Don't leave me all alone ... come on home" at the end while the track fades out. There's something about singing or speaking during a fadeout that adds a poignant urgency to the words. It's like hearing the melting witch bleating in the Wizard of Oz or the screams of someone falling off a cliff.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

She Loves You

Robert Bunter: Is there a word that is more conclusive than "perfect?" If there was, I'd use it to describe it to describe this song. It feels a little shabby to subject such a magnificent specimen to our usual pompous bloviation - like finding a rare butterfly on the wing, killing it, tacking it up to a piece of plywood and writing a blog about it. But I'll just point out a few things - fondling the breathtaking insect briefly with delicate cupped palms, before releasing it again to fly free and easy.

Richard Furnstein: After 100 (mostly) tedious write-ups, it's a real pleasure to arrive at the best Beatles song. Sure, "She Loves You" was their first great song and it would be trumped about twenty times in the catalog, but I stand by it as the best of the Beatles. It's without a doubt the most perfectly arranged song, establishing itself with a shambolic Ringospurt and concluding with an otherwordly ending, an overdose of melancholy and raw enthusiasm. The mono version is a wild animal of rock and roll recording. The gang "yeah yeah yeahs" are perfectly loud. The guitars chop (and in George's case, sometimes grace). Paul's bass provides some necessary muscle in this tinny performance. The song is 100% about Ringo's brutal punishment of his hi-hat. The cymbal is only spared when Ringo switches to one of his collapsing fills. George Martin and the Abbey Road lads seem incapable of controlling the monitors on the drums, the recording level swoons and sharpens several times during the recording. It's a beautiful mess of a song (and recording) and the entire foundation for the Beatles changing the world and raising pop culture standards. And, lucky us, it hasn't lost any of its primal excitement in years of heavy exposure.

Robert Bunter: Much ink has been spilled on how the Beatles were "spokesmen for their generation," but songs like this one speak for all humans (and probably many of the more highly-evolved animal species) throughout the entire universe. The beat is as primal and true as the first sound you ever experienced (Mother's heartbeat in the womb, probably). The lyrics: simple pronouns that address the listener directly. It's your good friend, The Beatles, and he's got some wonderful news to share.

"YEAH YEAH YEAH." These four primitive young men, barely out of their teens, managed to hit upon the most fundamental human expression - simple affirmation - with the somnambular intuition of true artists. You could substitute "Amen" or "Hallelujah" without any intrinsic change in meaning. By using the lexicon of the hormone-jacked, gum-chewing teenage rock and rollers who were their primary audience, the Beatles completely transcend the burdens of rational thought. We are left with a pure, undiluted religious experience that hits right at the center of the brain and makes the listener's heart swell and explode.

Richard Furnstein: "She Loves You" is the ease your feet into the water moment for the Beatles. They were birthed into the filth of Liverpool to deliver the gospel of L-O-V-E to a changing world. Early efforts like "P.S. I Love You" and "Love Me Do" hinted at the greatness of this emotion and its ability to fundamentally reshape your life. "She Loves You" is the full on love revolution. For the first time, the Beatles seem to understand their greatness; they are grinning as they walk across the coals, staring down the terrified natives in the eyes. They'd probably walk on water, if only John wouldn't blow the significance of that move way out of proportion.

The subject matter of the songs suggest that the Beatles are fully aware of their powers. They are insanely handsome, charming, rich, and talented, but they are here to be your friends, to serve as matchmakers for the weak mortals who are suffering in love's cruel game. Where Lennon would typically tear apart the woman (women, of course, being the primary source of his abandonment fears and insecurities), he treats the female character in "She Loves You" with compassion ("apologize to her!"). She's made up her mind and she has trusted this band of superheroes to deliver her love decree. They do their job perfectly in "She Loves You," telling their friend about the woman's love and encouraging him to move towards the light and the gladness. It's a fascinating way to tell the story of love in a two minute pop song, all the while allowing the Beatles to seem like humble, wise friends. Friends you want to invite into your mindspace again and again again.

Robert Bunter: If you are saying to yourself, "Oh, come off it. It's one of their better early rockers but it doesn't get anywhere near the peak achievements of Revolver, Pepper, "Old Brown Shoe," and Abbey Road," I want you to go listen to this thing (mono, of course) as loud as you can get it to go. I don't care if you are at work. As you listen, think of those old black and white videos of kids screaming as loud as they possibly can and rocking back and forth like they were possessed by the Holy Spirit. Cast your mind back to a time when you were capable of feeling something so pure. Inhabit the moment. GAZE. Then, when it's over, play it back again. You're welcome. I accept your apology.

Richard Furnstein: You have no choice to play it back again. The suspended "you know you should" at the end of the song sets up a tidal wave of incredible rock and roll. The final "glad" levels all of your fears, communication mix-ups, insecurities, and anxieties. Your mind is now a blank slate, ready to accept the communion again and again. Yeah yeah yeah. Yeah yeah yeah. Yeah yeah yeah yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Original Beatles fan art by Thomas Hughes (

Friday, May 6, 2011

Two Of Us

Richard Furnstein: What an opener! As the curtain rises on Let It Be, an inebriated John Lennon introduces the sad play ahead of us. His absurd babble in a shouted middle class accent suggests a good time ahead. However, the dipping quality in the songwriting and the feeling of resolution in many of the album's songs quickly dissolves this mood. 
"Two Of Us" is one of the prettier moments on this grimy posthumous collection. It's a Paul number, but is anchored by his Everly Brothers-esque harmonies with John. It's hard not hear this one as a loving tribute to the classic pair's early days as working class rabble-rousers (lifting mysterious latches, aimless joy rides). Paul insists it was written for Linda McCartney. It's a sweet sentiment, but the endless memories discussed in the lyrics point more to an old chum than a relatively new love with an American bird. I'm not buying it, Paul.  Why do you need to lie now? You are actually going to write some of the most incredible love songs ever for Ms. Eastman, including “My Love,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and “Every Night.” I’m sure she can handle you writing a song for your old bespectacled chum.
Robert Bunter: The idea that Paul was writing this one about Linda is patently ridiculous. The Beatles liked to look down their nose at the obsessively analytical fans who “read too much into it” and make assumptions about what was going on in their actual lives and how that affected their art. That’s all well and good when Lennon wants to spit acid at us (“Glass Onion,” “I Am The Walrus”), but if Mr. Sincere-Pursed-Lips-and-Arched-Eyebrows Paul McCartney is going to sit there and try to tell us that “Two Of Us” was not a stirring tribute to the rapidly-evaporating relationship with his adolescent partner-in-crime John Winston Lennon, well I’m just going to look him in his beautiful doe eyes and say, “No, Paul. I’m sorry but if that’s what you think this song is about, you are wrong. Let ME tell YOU about the Beatles: ‘Two Of Us’ was written about John and it’s sad and lovely. The sooner you own up to this, the sooner I’ll leave you alone. I can tell you want me to go away but I won these backstage passes fair and square from Andre Gardner at the 102.9 WMGK ‘Breakfast With The Beatles’ Trivia Buffett at Gloanburg’s Tavern in King of Prussia and I have every right to be here. By the way, do you have any real buffalo wings that aren’t vegan substitutes? I couldn’t find them on the hospitality tray.”
Richard Furnstein: Blatant lies aside. Paul does a good job of summing up the adolescent male relationship here. It’s like James Joyce delivering “Araby” in three minutes and thirty seven seconds. A triumph that would make your old pal John proud. His coming solo career would be constantly reaching for simple words to sum up the human experience, and Paul really excels at capturing young male love in this song. All gum hunting, toad licking, and stone skipping in the fading rays of summer. It’s truly gorgeous and seems devoid of the cold, heavy knit vibe that infuses much of Let It Be, tied with Beatles For Sale as their most “winter” long player. “Two Of Us” is the ray of light. The Beatles may be “going home,” but not without whistling down that long and dark path. Perfect love and a song in their hearts.
Robert Bunter: You have really phrased that beautifully. There’s not much I can add, except to invoke the bittersweet aura of pinwheels and monkeydreams: the magic of boyhood friendships and the unbearable sadness that accompanies their inevitable dissolution as the curtain falls on childhood and the stark realities of adulthood scatter yesterday’s clubhouse promises like so many shiny round marbles on the asphalt playground pavements of days gone by. Two young, laughing friends who thought things would never change, until things like women got in the way and the day dawns when these schoolyard soulmates find themselves grown up, with almost nothing remaining of their once-strong bond except a shared obsession with the greatest band that ever lived (a band I like to call: The Beatles) and the daily blog updates they write together. It’s all they have to cling to. That’s what it was like for John Lennon and Paul McCartney when they sang "Two Of Us."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Back In The USSR

Richard Furnstein: What an opener! As the curtain rises on the Beatles, we are left with a band of satirical British long-hairs completely skewering American pop history. Where the Beatles of old were quick to pay tribute to the American rock and roll 45s making their way into their disgusting port town, this band of drugged out weirdos seem at once to be paying tribute to and lampooning the music of Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys. Even weirder, Paul wrote this one in India; so while his moaning about a dreadful flight makes sense, the tribute to U.S. boogie is a touch unexpected.

Robert Bunter: It's strange for the Beatles to be parodying Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys (which, as you have accurately noted, is what they were doing here, Rich). At this point, the Beatles were pretty close to godlike, while Chuck Berry was playing sweaty toilet rock in dank blues clubs and the Beach Boys were drifting headlong into mental illness, drug abuse, legal battles and creative irrelevance. For Paul to come along and goof on them with a mocking chorus of falsetto "oohs" and crypto-communist lyrics was a case of rubbing it in.

Richard Furnstein: Speaking of "rubbing it": what was in that paper bag? My money is on some exotic erotica that old Pauly couldn't find in Mother Russia. Paper bags usually suggest something illicit should be hidden. Booze seems unlikely, as the whiskey flowed liked water on international flights during that time period. Pornography seems slightly more likely. Remember that Lennon's flaccid uncircumsized member on the Two Virgins album cover was concealed by an anonymous paper wrapper. Perhaps the paper cover is a good metaphor for this song; the band is wrapping the madness, misdirection, and wild obscurities of the White Album in a gooey boogie opener. It seems to be too gentle of an introduction into a world dominated by warm guns, blocked kicks, and a Ringo fiddle-infused original.

For Paul to come along and goof on them with a mocking chorus of falsetto "oohs" and crypto-communist lyrics was a case of rubbing it in.

Robert Bunter: You're 100 percent correct, as usual. The fabs' darkest and most unsettling album opens with a taste of the old pep rallies, drive-ins and sock hops. The question is why? I'll tell you why: if they'd opened the record with the melancholy, elegaic luminescence of track number two ("Dear Prudence"), our souls would have been so overstuffed with bliss that they'd explode and we'd never make it to side two. The Beatles knew what they were doing when they sequenced their album sides, and that was never more evident than it is on the White Album. Here's how I look at it: side one is a series of juxtapositions of happiness and sadness, side two is all about animals, side three is heavy rock (plus more animals: "Me and My Monkey," eagles and worms on "Yer Blues" plus the ape-like George Harrison's vaguely simian "Long Long Long"), and side four is about social problems. That's what we're dealing with here.

Richard Furnstein: Much has been made (by Mike Love) of Mike Love's "contributions" to the creation of this one. Allegedly, Love suggested the bridge's tribute to the lovely ladies of Russia (like California girls, but with grotesque Communist monsters). Good one, Mike. I'm sure Paul couldn't get there on his own, he was only a super genius who could write perfect pop songs about complex human emotions. Thanks for holding his hand and suggesting a reference to surfing or classic cars, you balding one trick pony.

Anyway, wanna know my favorite part of this one? Listen to George's scorcher of a bended one note lead coming out of the bridge. This is rock power and exhibit 2674 in why you need the mono version of The Beatles.

Robert Bunter: Yeah, "back to mono" as Phil Spector said! Hahaha. I love it. Let me say another thing about Mike Love: he was surely a malevolent, poisonous influence on the mellow vibes of the Beatles India trip, just like he was back home as he was destroying the Beach Boys. I wouldn't be surprised if Stink Love (as I call him) was the real reason George and John finally got fed up and caught a taxi home. Spending a minute with that guy is like enduring an eternity, let me tell you from personal experience.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Drive My Car

Robert Bunter: What an opener! As the curtain rises on Rubber Soul, we are whisked away to a world that none of us had ever seen before. Sassy guitar and assertive bass set the scene, right before thudding toms and funky tambourine make their entrance. Suddenly, we're hearing the comfortable voice of our old friend Paul McCartney, but what's he talking about? He's having some sort of cryptic dialogue with "a girl" who has ambitions of making it in show business and wants to offer our narrator a job as a chauffeur. As the dialogue continues, it becomes clear that she has no idea who she's talking to.

Where does that leave a line like "you can do something in between"? I'll tell you where, straight in the dirty gutter with the rest of the rock and roll filth.

Richard Furnstein: I'm not sure if I should be confused by this story (a story song about a chauffeur audition with an ironic twist?). I assume any rock songs about cars are actually about sticky bedroom matters full of childish puns. Where does that leave a line like "you can do something in between"? I'll tell you where, straight in the dirty gutter with the rest of the rock and roll filth.

Robert Bunter: Where the hell do you file this one? Arch social commentary? If so, the message is muddled and unclear. Women are selfish and dumb? Love is for sale? On the other hand, maybe it's just a funky answer to the sounds of Stax and Motown which were filling the Beatles' ears and the lyrics are beside the point. I'll tell you one thing: placed back-to-back with Norwegian Wood at the beginning of side one, the boys were definitely not going out of their way to paint a flattering picture of contemporary femininity. I guess it makes sense: the women in their lives at this point consisted primarily of screaming lunatics chasing them around, boring wives, the Queen of England, and sophisticated, coy mistresses like journalist Maureen Cleave. Then it's time for "You Won't See Me," "Girl," "I'm Looking Through You," and "Run For Your Life." Sorry, ladies: the Beatles hate you.

Richard Furnstein: They may hate women, but they clearly love children (both boy people and girl people), because this song is for the young at heart. There is an empty headed exuberance in the "BEEP BEEP BEEP YEAH" refrain for the undeveloped child brains. Children can relate to the "what do you want to be when you grow up" conceit of the song, and the options presented to the wee ones are typically limited ("I drive a car like Daddy!" or "I am a movie star!"). Hand it to Sir Paul to write a catchy, lunky tune that relates to both children, misogynists, perverts, and beat rock enthusiasts!