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.

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