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.


  1. These last two entries put the "mental" in monumental. Truly a great piece of work; congrats, gentlemen!