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.

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