Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Only A Northern Song: Part 3-They Just Play It Like That

Robert Bunter: This song was originally recorded during the anything-goes experimental era of the Sgt. Pepper sessions, hence the unorthodox recording technique: George recorded seven tracks on two separate four-track machines, leaving one track free for a metronome click so they could synchronize them. What a brilliant idea! "I guess you could say we invented eight-track recording!" The problem became apparent when it was time to mix the thing. Nobody could get both of the machines to start playback at the exact same time. They'd have two people hit the play button, but it would never come out exactly right. I can just imagine those sessions! Paul was probably going on and on about how this would revolutionize the industry, and how he might later take credit for it. John was imagining the ability to overdub even more formless shrieking onto tracks like "What's The New Mary Jane." Ringo was eating beans and "crisps" while George was meditating in the corner but actually he was thinking about how he would like to sleep with Ringo's wife Maureen, which he finally wound up doing in the 1970s. But after listening to Geoff Emerick and George Martin try and fail for the umpteenth time to start the machines simultaneously, they began to get disgusted. They were not very patient when it came to things like that. They probably called for their driver to come pick them up and take them to the Bag 'O Nails club where they sat with Keith Moon and Mama Cass and talked about hallucinations.

Richard Furnstein: It's odd that they chose this half-written crapfest to test their technological limitations. They managed the supreme piece of recording art that is "Strawberry Fields Forever" with a four track, but thought that they needed twice as much recording capabilities for George's moaning waif of a song. I'm surprised they didn't insist on a 48 track mixing board when they started work on "Don't Pass Me By." The Beatles are the greatest thing that humans have ever accomplished, but they certainly didn't understand the concept of "you can't polish a turd." The Fab Four (along with Chief Turd Polisher George Martin and Admiral Turd Buffer Geoff Emerick) would routinely try to make something from nothing. Sometimes it was pure bliss (cue "You Know My Name Look Up The Number") and other times you had to sit through endless vomit like "All Together Now" or "Only A Northern Song." The psychedelic years saw the biggest offenders of this trend, as a few toots of a horn or a backwards calliope were all that were needed to legitimize the lamest of acid-fueled half-ideas.

Robert Bunter: Everybody finally gave up and let this song onto the Yellow Submarine 1969 soundtrack album in a hideous "fake stereo" mix (highs on one channel, lows on the other), but it's surprising they didn't just release it in the horrible out-of-synch version they must have heard in the studio when they didn't hit the buttons at the same time. That would have been in keeping with the violent assault which this song represents.
The Fab Four (along with Chief Turd Polisher George Martin and Admiral Turd Buffer Geoff Emerick) would routinely try to make something from nothing.

Richard Furnstein: "Only A Northern Song" was originally slated to appear between "Fixing A Hole" and "Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite" on Sgt. Pepper's. Can you imagine if this actually happened? I don't need to imagine, I pressed a small run of Sgt. Pepper's original tracklists for my personal use in 1983. And take it from me, it's an absolute mess. You are barely coming down from the supremely incredible "Fixing A Hole" (remember: gentle fade) and the death chords of "Only A Northern Song" come blaring. Then you have to deal with John's fey psychedelia in "Mr. Kite," all the while wondering why you didn't just lift the needle during the perfect "Hole" fade. You are sitting there, completely not under the influence of acid, listening to some overblown handlebar mustache psyche-ooze. Oh, wise guy, think you'll just make an MP3 playlist in your iTunes? Great idea, but you don't even have the relief of an album side change to give you a break from the dreaded black hole of "Northern Song"->"Mr. Kite"->"Within You." It's a John babble sandwich with two thick overlong pieces of moldy George Harrison fumbling songwriter bread. Choke it down, fool. That's what you get for messing with perfection.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Only A Northern Song: Part 2-The Chords Are Going Wrong

Robert Bunter: The musical accompaniment of "Only A Northern Song" illustrates and enhances the lyric's description of a slightly-askew song performed by an absent band. Paul's bassline bobs and struts deftly as always, but he doesn't always change chords when the rest of the song does. The piccolo trumpets which soared so delicately above "Penny Lane" are stuttering and squealing discordantly. The tape loops that transformed "Tomorrow Never Knows" into a psychedelic mind trip are here, but they are deployed in the service of pure confusion rather than novelty and shock. The goofy voices of "Yellow Submarine" are in the background, but they're moaning strangely and mumbling "Heavy, heavy." The organ introduces the song with a churchy, strange sort of major sixth chord which has nothing to do with the tonality of the rest of the song, before funkily resolving down to a full major chord which seems to fix the listener with an evil, bared-teeth grin and bloodshot, demented horse-eyes. The guitars ... what guitars? There's no guitars.

Richard Furnstein: A chill sets in the room. A funereal organ pushes out of every speaker, turning the desert landscape orange and then purple. The cacti are bleeding just as the sand trickles and moves towards some hidden drain. And all this before the drums kick in. It's a blast towards outer space. Constellations flicker and blur into a black sky. The singer is a headless aura, a suggestion of self. It doesn't really matter what form he takes, his voice only makes the night sky darker and more impossible to navigate. It's an unpleasant feeling, my blood runs light up here. DON'T ASK ME HOW I KNOW THAT.

Robert Bunter: I'm not comfortable with the way this is going, Richard.

The actual Beatles, who you thought were your beloved friends and advisers, are four dark men you will never meet and who regard you with barely-concealed contempt.

Richard Furnstein: This place isn't meant to make you comfortable. You are barely emerging from the clouds of a few potent segments and your childhood home is full of activity, mirth and movement. You advance from your room, where the striped wall paper seemed to be finding new vanishing points. The hallway appears vacant, but a bustling horn band creeps from underneath your sister's bedroom door. It's Sunday on BBC 1, but the hallway sends the galloping trumpet into a simultaneous reverse and forward motion. The Salvation Army band feeds like a music box; magenta twirls cough out as the tuba player is caught in the spokes. Mother's room is at the end of the hall; and there is talking come from the room. That man's voice isn't your father's; and his booming voice suggests a substantial mustache. Retreat. Run down the stairs: five to the first flight, turn left, four more, left again, the final four. You bound onto the wooden floor, just as you did as a 9 year old. Yet, you are much older, this is your childhood home and it is full of spirits and men and sounds that you have never heard or expected. You'd run out the front door and follow the grid to the woods, but the front door isn't there.

Robert Bunter: Here's something I don't like: George double-tracks his voice in unison through the entire song, except for the word "brown" on the line "if my hair is brown." Why the emphasis on that word? It's equally disquieting when he says "You're CORRECT," with what sounds like sadistic emphasis. You were sitting there in stuporous stoned rapture, watching the four Beatles chop and thump their way through another psychedelic dreamworld, when suddenly the George-figure looks directly at you and says, "If you think the harmony / is a little dark and out-of-key / you're CORRECT" and at the same time he takes off his face-plate, revealing the hideous snapping mechanical works that were underneath there the whole time and you sort of suspected it but kept nervously pushing that thought to the back of your mind because of the terrifying implications. The wonderful men who sang about "She Loves You" and "Good Day Sunshine" and "Getting Better" were actually disembodied electrical impulses etched violently into black polyvinyl choloride and decoded by your pitifully inadequate home audio equipment. The actual Beatles, who you thought were your beloved friends and advisers, are four dark men you will never meet and who regard you with barely-concealed contempt.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Only A Northern Song: Part 1-I Told You There's No One There

Richard Furnstein: Originally recorded for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, "Only A Northern Song" manages to be at once an effortless bit of psychedelic filler (as the title cooly states) and a harrowing soundscape of the changing vistas of pop music. George Harrison, irked that his songwriting efforts were published under Lennon and McCartney's Northern Songs Ltd. umbrella, tossed off "Only A Northern Song" as just that--contractual filler in which the harmonies, lyrics, and chords were secondary to the contractual and financial advancement of the Beatles' songwriting craft.

Robert Bunter: This is one of the most terrifying songs in the catalog. The startling fact that it ended up on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack LP, presumably aimed at young children, qualifies as pure abuse. The little kiddies had so much fun in the theater, watching Old Fred and the charming Beatle lads defend Pepperland from the Blue Meanies. Then they talked their mum and pap into purchasing a copy of the cartoon-adorned LP at Gloanburg's Shilling and Pence. They took it home and were ready to enjoy the goofy-voiced charms of "Yellow Submarine" and "All Together Now." Suddenly, a nightmare organ opens a creaky door into a harrowing, discordant world where the thick voice of creepy Harrison starts addressing them DIRECTLY, confronting the unformed child's mind with the stark reality of what they're doing: listening to a horrible Beatles song. Bleak trumpets and strange echoing little toy noises assault the ear as the grammatically-fractured lyrics torture the mind. Stop! I'm not ready for this. I'm an eight-year-old child! I'm going to have nightmares about this experience. I didn't know music could talk at you.

Richard Furnstein: It's generally fun jabberwocky (well, as much fun as can be had at this dreadful pace) defined by wordplay and dismissive accounts of what makes a song. Well, that is until George removes the furniture from the room as the sound effects begin to envelop the languid backing track as the lyrics "And I told you is no one there" suggests circuitry and patterns have overtaken the songwriting process. Music lacking emotion, the ultimate trip. Syd Barrett would pursue similar themes in his contemporary recording "Bike" (from The Pink Floyd's Piper At The Gates Of Dawn). Barrett describes a host of physical objects (the titular bike, a mouse, a cloak, gingerbread men) that are physically manifestations of his lifestyle (and ultimately his love). The creature comforts are dramatically removed in the final verse where Barrett describes a "room of musical tunes" that create sounds like "clockwork." Again, the mechanical and artificial is the final stage of psychedelia. The bevy of sound effects and tape manipulations become a process; even Ringo's drums are now a slave to a recording process. The rock is dead and the machines are taking over. It's only a song that you request? Let's dial up the machinery, love!

Music lacking emotion, the ultimate trip.

Robert Bunter: This was George's "Glass Onion." Again, both songs directly address the reality of the relationship between a Beatles' record and its listener, in a tone that is markedly sardonic and confrontational. In these lyrics, John and George, minds clouded by boutique-pedigree acid, behold their fans. In three or four short years, they've watched them morph from hysterical 13-year-old girls to pimply, stoned teenagers with dead eyes and dumb thoughts. There's no way to communicate with these mental cripples. Let's just spit on them. After you play these tracks, you have to wipe the Beatlespit off your face. Just sit there and think about how dumb you are. We hate you. The idea that someone might have listened to this song while taking cheap, adulterated street acid is enough to make your imagination hurt. The organ intro alone is making me want to pull out one of my eyes so I can turn it around and stare into the other one. My mind is dead.

Richard Furnstein: "Signed Curtain" by Matching Mole is the atomic fallout of the takeover of the machines. Robert Wyatt's aching voice delivers a beautiful melody over rote piano chords. "This is the first verse" the lyrics tell us. Logically, they later tell us the emergence of the bridge, key changes, and "another part of the song." "Signed Curtain" takes the concept of emotionally resigned songwriting to its naked conclusion. The humans have long since left the room. The machinery has rusted or shut down. The only remaining element is raw awareness of self and the futile nature of artistic expression. It's a harrowing journey, and one that starts with some throwaway track from the Yellow Submarine album of filler and George Martin orchestration. Don't let Paul or Ringo see this, they may just claim that they invented meta songwriting. You know, the same way they invented MTV, house music, recording guitar feedback, Ozzy Osbourne, and casual sex.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hello Goodbye

Robert Bunter: James Paul McCartney's gifts as a composer and performer are vibrantly displayed here. An effortless sense of joy just leaps out of the speakers and makes you want to smile. There are those who criticise the relatively lightweight insignifigance of the lyrics (paired with "I Am The Walrus" on a 1967 single, it's one of the most obvious examples of the contrasting songwriting personae of John and Paul), but I say they're missing the point. This is a song for children, senior citizens, people from other countries and hippies, as well as normal adults. Simple words, simple thoughts and a melody that seems like it was already written, just waiting for Paul to pluck it out of the air and give it a fantastic studio arrangement with organs, fiddles and one of those percussion shaker things.

Richard Furnstein: "Hello Goodbye" is perhaps the best example of the complete superiority of Lennon and McCartney as songwriters, the Beatles as performers, and George Martin as a producer. Paul essentially delivers a 1910 Fruitgum Company song (complete with "Simon Says" nursery rhyme lyrics) and a perfect bubblegum melody. The difference here is the little touches. George Harrison is the absolute star of the show here, his backing vocals exemplify the psychedelic backing vocal sound of the time and his guitar touches such as climbing the major scale and a lovely descending figure are absolute gorgeous. "Hello Goodbye" is one of the perfect productions in their catalog and I will go to my deathgrave defending its perfect beauty.

Robert Bunter: Truly, we can all celebrate what Paul was doing here. He's speaking directly to the heart. Spare us your inscrutable riddles and acidhead nightmares, John - we're having a pleasant celebration on Paul's side of the record. Surprisingly, I will make the exact opposite point when we finally get around to examining "I Am The Walrus," one of Lennon's purest artistic triumphs.

It's all candy, they tell us. The colours are there to delight.
Richard Furnstein: Bubblegum music is a beautiful thing, and the Beatles did a lot to add to the art form ("She Loves You" as the shining triumph of the genre). "Hello Goodbye" is an attempt to channel the disposable pop song into a perfect piece of art. Check the promotional clip for "Hello Goodbye," the lads are having great fun (despite the uncertainty that they were facing the death of Brian Epstein and the future psychodrama of the White Album), even playing with their previous moptop image and referencing Elvis Presley's hip shaking. It's all candy, they tell us. Grab every shining nugget in the bowl, children. The colours are there to delight.

Robert Bunter: Paul was the one with the most consciousness of world music. From the Latin flavors of “Step Inside Love” and “Los Paranoias” to the later flirtations with reggae (“C Moon,” “Jet,”) and non-specific exoticism (“Mamunia,” “Kreen Akore,” “Loup (1st Indian On The Moon)”), it was McCartney who was quickest to exploit the groovy sounds and rhythms of faraway cultures. The trick ending on “Hello Goodbye” is a nice example of this tendency. It functions a bit like the gospel explosion at the end of “Ticket To Ride” – the singers and band top everything off by throwing back their heads and shouting with joyful abandon. Better get your passport stamped! Suntanned Paul is ready to greet you with a lei as you disembark from a jet airplane called music. Next stop: Pepperland!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Carry That Weight

Richard Furnstein: Without a doubt, the lightest of the lightweights in the Abbey Road medley. "Carry That Weight" is not much more than Ringo bellowing in the cavernous Abbey Road studios and some lovely callbacks to the momentous "You Never Give Me Your Money." It's a reassuring final sprint for the boys; reminding us once again that they were human beings all along. Ringo's tone deaf shouting lent a similar everyman sheen to art house numbers like "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill," "Flying," and "You Know My Name Look Up The Number." "Carry That Weight" is his final shout in his Beatles costume, following this moment he would ascend to the heavens during his rapturous drum solo in "The End."

Robert Bunter: Lightweight? This song weighs a ton. You do realize that this is the sound of the Beatles confronting their impending breakup and the knowledge that the rest of their lives will be defined by the enormity of what they'd accomplished over the past ten years or so, right? How do you think it felt to be in that studio, shouting along with Ringo on what they just knew was going to be their last hurrah? I'll tell you how it felt: they were crying. John looked over at George and there were tears rolling down his face. That made John start to well up, and then he looked over at Paul and remembered the first time they met at the Woolton fete. Paul was just singing, not really crying, but then he looked up from the microphone and remembered the time he and Ringo stayed up all night talking in Rishikesh, and thought about how the whole thing was going down the pan and they were breaking up. George Burns was there, too. He was holding a top hat to his chest and trying to keep from weeping. I have the footage.

How do you think it felt to be in that studio, shouting along with Ringo on what they just knew was going to be their last hurrah? I'll tell you how it felt: they were crying.
Richard Furnstein: Fair enough! I just meant that there's not much to the song. All the cool bits are from that other song. But, sure, this band went from crusin' for some sweet hand holding to reflecting on how they devoted their twenties to dramatically shifting cultural and artistic trends. It's like Paul knew that he was facing the next lifetime alone. No more John to carry the burden of lean years (London Town). No more George to lend sweet harmonies and licks to every little thought that he put on tape (he'd have to keep Denny Laine on salary for the next ten years for that). No more Ringo to trumpet the childlike innocence that fueled their creative process. A dark road laid ahead, filled with triumphs, missteps, McCartney/Starr co-writes, breast cancer, assassinations, synthesizers, and Nigel Godrich productions. Can you carry that weight? Well, dig in, brother. It's coming.

Robert Bunter: McCartney/Starr co-writes? Huh? (shakes head in startled disbelief and makes cartoonish "e-yada-yada-yada" noise) Do mine ears bewitch me? Hold on a minute, I'm going to consult the computer about this. [...] I don't see anything. You made that up, right? Please tell me there aren't really any McCartney/Starr co-writes.

Richard Furnstein: Hold on to your butt! No, seriously, hold your butt closed. Poop is going to escape your body when you hear this song.

Robert Bunter: That song makes Wild Life sound like Band On The Run!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Don't Pass Me By

Robert Bunter: Oh GHOD, do we really have to sit here and listen to this turd? Hands down, the worst song in the Beatles' illustrious catalog. It makes "What's The New Mary Jane" sound like "You Won't See Me" or some shit. Did you read in the Anthology book where Ringo talks about how he wrote this? "The White Album was really great for me ... I wrote my first song! I just know a few chords, so I sat there and played ... a few tokes later, I had the track! It was great doing the recording session with that crazy fiddler!" That's an exact quote. Maybe it didn't occur to him that he would be stinking up one of the Beatles' greatest albums, which I like to call: "The Beatles." It would have been better if he'd just sang one of his goddamn insufferable Carl Perkins covers, like in the good old days. Two thumbs down for the nadir of 1968.

Richard Furnstein: Whoa, back up the truck. I mean, hit the stop brakes, feel the dust kick up around you, take a look in the rearview for safety, quickly reverse down the middle of Areyoushittingme Street. Better yet, look at yourself in the mirror. Is there a gaping, festering hole where a normal human sized brain would be? Because I'm putting this top tier of the 30 song marathon (jog don't run) of The Beatles. It's not just a pity tug, I genuinely believe in the power of this one.

Robert Bunter: Listen, I don't say things like all that stuff I just said lightly. I gave it quite a bit of thought. I suppose your going to make one of your typical arguments by going on about how much you love the vintage analog compression on the crash cymbal. I'm just going to go ahead and list the things this song lacks: charm, wit, musical interest, social commentary and a justification for placement alongside such masterpieces as "Sexy Sadie" and "Mother Nature's Son." C'mon, you're not going to lie and tell me you enjoy listening to this trash. It's me, Richard. C'mon.

Richard Furnstein: I do genuinely enjoy it, and here's why: it's Ringo's coming out party. He was kicking around the basic idea for "Don't Pass Me By" since the days of finely pressed suits. Then it may have found its roots in Ringo's early role as the new boy, the drummer that could be replaced easily. Years of personality (and impressive drumming) seemingly placed him as an equal in the Beatles, but the making of the White Album seemed to disrupt the "all for one" vibe of albums like Revolver and Rubber Soul. Let's be frank: Paul was a better drummer (drool over the perfect drumming on "Dear Prudence"), George was only beginning to address his emotional scarring from years of playing the undercard, and John was increasingly detached from his oldest chums. "Don't Pass Me By" is Ringo clanging his salad fork against the fine china, while telling the table how it will be. We're moving forward together, fellas. This isn't up for discussion. Oh, and I wrote a song. It's making the double album, it would make the single album, and because it's a Starkey Songs original, it'll carry more historical significance than a basketful of "Julias," "Honey Pies," and "Glass Onions." Deal with it.

Ringo's coming out party stinks.

Robert Bunter: Ringo's coming out party stinks. He came out, then he wrote "Octopus' Garden," then the party was over. Now it's time for a bunch of lousy Richard Perry productions, tours with Peter Frampton and poor fashion choices in the Anthology videos. Listen, I love Ringo. He's the greatest, and I'm glad he got a song on the album. The publishing royalties were probably very helpful when he needed to purchase cocaine and brandy in the 1970s. Let me reiterate: I love all the Beatles, especially Ringo Starr. Most of all.

Richard Furnstein: Cool, well, I'm glad we agree on our love of Ringo Starr. The Luckiest Beatle manages some fun little moments on this recording. Yes, the drum sound is enough to carry the flimsiest of songs (and the tune does indeed test the limits), Ringo howls with an appropriate level of anguish in his voice, and the manic fiddle (the mono mix is again essential) is aiming for country but winds up as an unusual C&W, raga, drugged out English genius amalgam). Great fun, and let's give Ringo a hand for the "You were in a car crash/And you lost your hair" line. Have fun with it, Ringo. Everyone is staring at you now, dazzle 'em!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I'm Only Sleeping

Richard Furnstein: Notorious lazy bones John Ono Winston Lennon continues his descent into self important "life-as-songwriting" with "I'm Only Sleeping." Using the template of "Help!," John writes what he knows (self-loathing and drug-induced stupors). It's a trick he would continue through the Sgt. Pepper era, only the promises of Eastern mysticism and Yoko Ono's progressive caterwauling would push Lennon's creative output to adopt the imagination displayed in his early short stories.

We could all learn a thing or two from this overweight, emotionally-stunted drug abuser when it comes to things like how we should stay in bed all day, or how easy it is to ignore your wife and child.
Robert Bunter: Hey, who wants to take a nap? ME! The great John Lennon penned a wonderful ode to sleeping and I find it simply wonderful. I think this is one that everybody can relate to. The chord changes have just a hint of Motown, but the sleepy acoustic strumming and yawning backwards guitars were pure Beatles. This is a true highlight of the "Yesterday And Today" album.

Richard Furnstein: It's pretty neat that George Harrison, he of superior teeth and slightly above normal intelligence, managed to complete define the backwards guitar solo in this early man attempt at studio trickery. Imagine that: "Shall we flip the tape for the solo?" Sure, says George, then he continues to draw a map away from the treasure (pop music perfection) to the startpoint (coordinates that I like to call innovation and inspiration). And he draws the damned map in perfect handwriting. Listen to that guitar solo. Don't forget to hang onto your butts in the process!

Robert Bunter: This is a song that shows the influence of drugs. John is tired because he's spent most of the past five years running around like a lunatic, and also because he's smoking reefers every two seconds. He's just saying: hey, don't wake me up. But in a deeper sense, isn't he also criticising all of us as we scurry through our drab nine-to-five routines? We could all learn a thing or two from this overweight, emotionally-stunted drug abuser when it comes to things like how we should stay in bed all day, or how easy it is to ignore your wife and child. Later, he would write "Rain" which explains how dumb we are for trying not to get wet from the rain. He's just so advanced and we need to start taking the hint.

Richard Furnstein: I got a head start by napping during your verbose and confused interpretation of this pop song. Great job!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dig It

Richard Furnstein: This aimless jam fades in and fades out, the ultimate sign of a lack of cohesion or direction. A snake eating itself. Imagine it's the year 2011 (which it is) and the Beatles are still there in cold Twickenham studios running through a list of things to "dig." Can you imagine that complete recording? It would be a fascinating look at the people, agencies, and social constructions of the times.

Back to the song, it's at once the worst recoding on Let It Be and the greatest representation of the Beatles at this time. Lennon takes the lead because he's an egomaniac and you get the idea that full band jams can only originate from him. I'm sure if George tried to lead the band through "Thanks For The Pepperoni" or some other garbage, John would just sit there, twiddling on his Fender VI or berating his Japanese wife or writing nasty reply letters to Todd Rundgren in the NME. And can you imagine a jam with just George, Paul, and Ringo? Sure you can, it would be great and I would covet that early generation bootleg with all of my soul.

Robert Bunter: Oh, yeah. I'd forgotten that I was talking to my friend Richard Furnstein, who doesn't like the Beatles' album Let It Be. I guess I should take this opportunity to explain that the Beatles, a singing group from Liverpool, decided to make an album that would reflect a natural, unvarnished presentation. The idea was to include random noodling, studio chatter, excerpts from aimless jams and a bare-bones production style as the framework to offer such magnificent gems as "Two Of Us," "Dig A Pony," and "I've Got A Feeling." Part of that effort was this song called Dig It, which was excerpted from a much longer track. It helps to foster the impression that you're peeking behind the curtain, hearing your favorite band in their candid moments. Plus, it's got a nice chugging groove (thanks, Billy Preston! Richard, Billy Preston was a man who helped the Beatles in early 1969, FYI) and some goofily inspired off-the-cuff ranting from a great vocalist who I like to call John Lennon. There's certainly nothing wrong with this song!

Richard Furnstein: Thanks, Robert. I appreciate the sarcastic instruction on the Beatles. I was simply stating that the "peek behind the curtain" was probably the closest representation to the raw Get Back concept. You can't have the beautify of "Let It Be" or "Dig A Pony" without the voyage on the dirt roads of rock n' roll. "Lookin' for 'Don't Let Me Down," guv'ner? Best drive straight through some incoherent jams on "Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues." You know, the Get Back album, right, Robert? Didn't you beg me for a cassette dub of my freshly purchased pristine early generation vinyl at Beatlefest 1993? I remember you said you would buy your own but you were saving up for a Sega Genesis or some garbage Frank Zappa rarities collection.

Robert Bunter: I don't remember any of that. So what is your point? The Get Back/Let It Be gems are strewn haphazardly amongst various crappy rock and roll jams? Thanks for the bracing insight, I didn't realize I was talking to Nicholas Schaffner over here. Criticising Dig It for being pointless and tossed off is like criticising Tony Danza for being a talentless oaf - sure, it's true, but that's the whole idea. If it were up to you, a prime specimen of charming lowbrow trash like "Who's The Boss" would have had tried for the polished look and feel of a class series like "Highway To Heaven" or "Father Dowling Mysteries." Sometimes "aimless and tossed off" is just what the doctor ordered. Can you "dig it?"

Richard Furnstein: When I think of your grave, all I want to do is "dig it."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Across The Universe (World Wildlife Fund Version)

Richard Furnstein: Good morning, the Beatles. Let's open the curtains, it's a lovely day. Some flapping birds and maybe a frog jumping into a crick. Wait, who is that cosmic specter at the window? John Lennon? The National Health glasses seem to tell the tale. And he's singing a song and it is WEIRD.

Robert Bunter: John Lennon's spirit was a collection of contradictions, taken to the farthest extremes. The same wracked, tortured freak who upset everybody with “I Am The Walrus,” “Yer Blues,” and “Revolution 9” is equally likely to calm us all down with a blissful, gauzy dreamscape like “Across The Universe.” I really love it! This is a beautiful mood that we can all get into.

Richard Furnstein: The World Wildlife Fund version of "Across The Universe" strips away the Phil Spector molasses to get down to the essentials (if you choose to ignore the cheap sound effects and squawking female backing vocals, which I suggest you do). There's a lot to enjoy in this song, meandering Lennon poetry (initially inspired by Cynthia Lennon's nagging), half baked spiritualism, and a gliding acoustic guitar that matches the cloudy brained lyric.

Robert Bunter: People don’t usually mention this one in the same breath with the heavy Lennon classics like “Strawberry Fields” and “A Day In The Life,” but it belongs there. I think it’s a major achievement. Lennon reportedly felt slighted by McCartney’s production ideas (basically, “Let’s do it really loose and sloppy, with a second-rate vocal track and then we’ll bring in some random girls to squawk on top of it, OK?”), but what does that have to do with anything? Was John so blissed out and lethargic that he didn’t have the gumption to insist on a higher-quality production concept? It was probably one of those passive-aggressive, poor communication things. Smiling Paul with his loose, anything-goes recording philosophy (except you’ll notice he was never quite so experimental when it was time to do something like “Hey Jude” or “Hello, Goodbye”) meets heavy-lidded, inscrutable John who is off on a cloud and just waiting for the group to break up anyway so that he can get on with his inferior post-Beatle life.

Richard Furnstein: An inferior life that included lots of squawking girl vocals and dodgy mantras (Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé).

Robert Bunter: But that’s not all. You’ve got surly, pimply George with his dusky complexion and second-rate moustache sitting in a lotus position in the corner, just reeking of bad vibes. And then there’s Ringo, whose benign attitude and hangdog mug masked even greater insecurities. You can just sit there, Ringo. No drums on this one. Plus, a disgusted George Martin behind the producer’s glass window, frowning at this group of talented yet emotionally immature young men who were in the process of throwing away their greatest gifts because they couldn’t apply the messages they sang about so beautifully (love, peace, harmony, communication) to their own dysfunctional lives. The next thing that happened was, John got his revenge on Paul by adding the shoddy phasing effects to the mono mix of Your Mother Should Know. Everything goes in cycles. That’s what’s happening here.

Richard Furnstein: Your timeline is off and I don’t appreciate that cruel speculation. You know my thoughts on the mono mix of “Your Mother Should Know.”