Friday, July 29, 2011

Day Tripper

Richard Furnstein: George Martin: "You boys write a new hit song yet?" John Lennon: "We wrote this riff that's really killer and it goes on forever." George Martin: "Well, let's wrap that up and get it on a single, it's been like three months since your last hit." Paul McCartney: "Cool. We'll make it about drugs or whatever but not really about drugs because we don't want it to get banned like my future solo hit 'Hi Hi HI.'" George Martin: "You guys sure like drugs!" George Harrison: "Oh hey, are you guys talking about drugs? They're great!"

They were looking down their nose at all the 9-to-5-ers shuffling through their daily routines, who didn't have fur coats and stylish Moroccan carpeting and Aston-Martins and grand pianos.

Robert Bunter: That's only a slight exaggeration of the "Day Tripper" demo tracking sessions! The boys were feeling arrogant and smug as they surveyed the square, conformist world around them through dilated pupils and the windows of their mansions and limos. Paul later explained that the lyric was actually a put-down of "weekend hippies." It must have made them feel even more smug to realize that nobody who heard this thing would know that's what they were singing about. Most people just assumed they were painting another unflattering picture of a woman, like the ones in "Girl" and "You Won't See Me" and "Drive My Car" and "I'm Looking Through You" and "Norwegian Wood." People didn't even know they were saying "prick teaser." How are they supposed to get their heads around a weird made-up insult like "Day Tripper"? They were looking down their nose at all the 9-to-5-ers shuffling through their daily routines, who didn't have fur coats and stylish Moroccan carpeting and Aston-Martins and grand pianos. But do you know what? It was those "Day Trippers" clocking in at the office day after day who paid for all those carpets. Think about that, Beatles, before you decide to write another goddamn insulting single like "Day Tripper." We can't all sit around on cushions and blow our minds all day. Somebody's got to mind the store.

Richard Furnstein: And mind the store they did, to the tune of number one singles for this and its infinitely superior flip ("We Can Work It Out"). "Day Tripper" is all cool detachment and casual wordplay, but "Work It Out" has greater aspirations towards explaining the human condition behind stoned and square minds. It is nice that "Day Tripper" has that RIFF, so that normal halfbrains can dig on it and think this song is about a trip to the beach or Six Flags or something. "Pack a sandwich, honey." "Oh, did you remember those Coke cans so that we can get half priced admission?" "Of course I did."

Robert Bunter: On purely music grounds, this is pretty innovative. Yeah, it's a repetitive riff, but just when you think you're hearing another 12 blues, the chorus comes in and takes us to a whole new place. Then you've got that great buildup on the bridge and those classic Beatle "AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH" backups. Paul's doing some nice things on the bass (especially those throbbing notes on the fadeout), and did I mention Ringo's insistent tom-toms and funky tambo? I've got to say: this is a killer single from start to finish. Lots to love here.

Richard Furnstein: Plus, it's like "who is singing lead?" And then you realize that it doesn't matter because they are both singing lead and they are the best singers and this may be a lesser single/melody/cultural concept from the (in transition) supermen, but you drink it all down and can't believe that this isn't ambrosia sex milk stuff. Seven stars out of five.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Baby's In Black

Richard Furnstein: A lumbering mess of a song. John Lennon dips his brush into the "color as emotional metaphor" palette once again, and the audience knows he is struggling to convey human emotions. To be fair, he was an emotional beast that probably found relief in the simple old rock color cliches (black is death, blue is sadness, red is sex or danger). His psychedelic period would find him approximating colors to help shade his disintegrating mind (tangerine trees, marmalade skies, et al). In "Baby's In Black," John stays as close as he can to the primary colors and emotions and still can't manage a coherent storyline. It's a love song to a grieving girl, but Lennon eschews empathy for the widow (?) and instead moans about wanting to hold her hand or some mess. C'mon, John. You can do better than this. We all know that you are tired and you guys are closing in on being a second-rate Monkees on Beatles For Sale, but you can turn this around. Here, smoke this. It might help.

Robert Bunter: I think you’re giving this early gem short shrift. You’re hearing a “lumbering mess,” I’m hearing the first evidence of a new emotional maturity from a guy who I like to call John Lennon. Dealing with the subject of death, even in such an oblique way, is pretty bold for a 1964 pop song. This was the third sad song in a row on Beatles For Sale; you can imagine the kids’ reaction! They ran to Gloanburg’s Shilling and Pence on the first day it came out, waiting for more yeah-yeah’s from the four floptops. Suddenly, they are confronted with the four shellshocked, gloomy faces on the cover. Look at Ringo there! He’s staring at you like, “Hey, what the hell do you want from me?!” Then they give it a spin and right off the bat we get what I like to call “the three really sad songs that open up Beatles For Sale.” Sure, the mood will lighten up with “Rock And Roll Music,” but we will never regain our original innocence. By the time those first three songs had finished, we had all learned a thing or two about darkness … a thing or two about life.

Richard Furnstein: I have no problem with heaviness or emotional maturity, Robert. I just want some more depth. "Baby's In Black" is just the scent of death in a room, but you can't find the source. Is there a mouse rotting in the walls? Is the Chinese restaurant dumpster festering in the summer heat? Where is that smell coming from? Lennon smells it, but can't pinpoint who dealt it. Harrison's lead guitar suggests the confusion (his attempts at tension are the true highlight of this recording, check the warped misgivings at 1:37). Paul's game and keep the proceedings chipper as usual. Ringo is locked into an uncomfortable rhythm and sounds relieved when the song finally runs out of petrol after two minutes. Sure, we learn something about life, it usually has to end in death.

John stays as close as he can to the primary colors and emotions and still can't manage a coherent storyline.

Robert Bunter: You want more depth. Well, that’s just fine. Why don’t you listen to terrifying Plastic Ono Band outtakes and stare at the butcher cover in a candlelit basement? It’s just as well that Lennon and the lads didn’t see fit to confront “the source of the scent of death” on this spirited, Everly Brothers-influenced waltz from 1964. Do you know what I think? I think you’re just looking for something to criticize. You’ve got a point about Harrison’s guitar solo, though. It sounds like one of those shifting psychedelic liquid blob movies that they used to show on the screen behind bands at pop concerts and be-ins. He takes his very indecisiveness and makes it into a crucial musical element, all bloopy and out-of-focus.

Richard Furnstein: No, you're right. I'm just looking for something to criticize. This song is so weird and uneven because it has to be. John's getting his fangs out and he will later go straight into the tomb for "Come Together" and "Cold Turkey." The entire band is stretching here. It's not necessarily pretty, but if I want pretty I'll put on my mono pressing of The Family Way soundtrack.

Robert Bunter: Yeah, or Thrillington! Hahahahahahahaha!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I Need You

Robert Bunter: I'd make a serious case for this one as the best of the early George tracks. My man Harrison didn't really develop his own voice until about Revolver, so the yardstick by which I measure the early stuff is, how close does this come to the glory of a Lennon-McCartney song? "I Need You" goes a long way in that direction. It's got a beautiful mood (two lovers having a deep relationship discussion in the mellow sunset glow at the end of a melancholy Sunday in London) that is sustained nicely throughout the song. Of course, it wouldn't be an early Harrisong without some really clumsy lyrics. "[You] said you had a thing or two to tell me / How was I to know you would upset me?" anyone? He uses two words that don't rhyme ("tell" and "upset"), but he figures it's okay because he just repeats the word "me" in both lines. And do you know what? It is okay. It's completely fine. I'm not going to sit here and pick nits when I could just bask in the wonderfulness that is George Harrison's 1965 track I Need You. Richard?

Richard Furnstein: Harrison the prize fighter heads back in the ring with "I Need You." He's still in the welterweight division, but is no longer suffering humiliating losses such as "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You" and "You Know What To Do." This track from Help! suggests that Harison is slowly working his way up the ranks; delights such as "If I Needed Someone" and "Love You To" are right around the corner. "I Need You" is still a bit unformed and ugly (the uneven volume pedal touches that disrupted the contemporary recording "Yes It Is" and the cowbell and moan bridge that attempts to cover up George's inability to significantly vary the melodic range), but fits well along with the awkward pre-Rubber Soul efforts from John and Paul.

Meanwhile, John, high on marijuana, gives it the old pump-and-
strum on his Guild Jumbo and moans nicely on the background harmonies.

Robert Bunter: Let's take a glance at the musical arrangement. Ringo keeps it simple and steady, with a little added percussion on the bridge (cowbell? claves?) for emphasis. Paul is admirably restrained on the bass, sticking to the roots and fifths. In years to come, George would complain about Paul's busy basslines on tracks like Something, but of course we know that he was just being bitchy because McCartney didn't want him playing stupid call-and-response guitar lines after every stanza of Hey Jude, which would have been really obnoxious and I have to say Paul was right in that case. But here, Paul gives him nothing to complain about. "I'll just keep it simple, OK, George? In fact, I can hardly be bothered to contribute to this thing at all, because I treat you as a second-rate talent and belittle your contributions. It's nice that you have written a song called I Need You based on that stupid D-chord thing where you wiggle your pinky around on the E-string which sounds like something I might have tossed off in 1963. You'll have to excuse me, I need to go get ready to record "Yesterday," "I'm Down," and "I've Just Seen A Face" in one single session. Yes, George, I'm telling the truth." That really did happen. Meanwhile, John, high on marijuana, gives it the old pump-and-strum on his Guild Jumbo and moans nicely on the background harmonies. And in the center of the stage is George Harrison, singing earnestly and doing that volume-swell trick with the guitar knob. Sure, it's not as revolutionary as Lennon inventing feedback or McCartney bringing in a string quartet, but what do you expect from the least talented of the three main Beatles?

Richard Furnstein: Self righteous moaning? Musically tedious drones? Uneven teeth? Curry stained fingertips?

Just kidding, Dark Horse 4EVA. R.I.P., George. We will never forget you.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Robert Bunter: One thing I really like about this song, besides the fact that it's like sweet audio butter that melts deliciously in my brainpan, is that it represents the Beatles just being Beatles (circa 1969) the very best they could. They weren't parodying the music of another era ("Oh, Darling!," "Maxwell's Silver Hammer") or writing about themselves ("You Never Give Me Your Money," "I Want You (She's So Heavy)". It's just some vintage cosmic Lennon wordplay, sweetened with some vintage beautiful McCartney/Harrison harmonies, buoyed by some vintage harpsichords, topped with some vintage primal Moog synthesizer tones.

Richard Furnstein: That's a great point. "Because" is The Beatles at their most sophisticated. It's a gorgeous and classical song with very modern touches (the aforementioned Moog) and an unusual progressive feel. The story goes that Yoko was playing Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" on the piano (don't be so shocked; she went to Sarah Lawrence and came from money). John heard the C#m lurch and requested that she play the chord sequence backwards. It's not just a good story, it's an effective metaphor for the unusual sound of this song. The chords go backwards--and yet point to the future. Like a time traveler crashing his jalopy of a vessel into a Victorian garden. It's the twee "throw back the clock" promise of Sgt. Pepper's realized without the garish psychedelic dressing.

Robert Bunter: One thing this song is missing: Ringo! I can imagine him adding a sweet spoken passage, a la Good Night. It would be during the synthesizer solo, and he would say this: "Who knows why the world is round? Wot if a tree fell in the woods and no one was there to listen? Wot if they gave a war and nobody came? Things are more like they are now than they’ve ever been before. It's one of the many mysteries of the cosmic universe" or something like that, in his inimitable Liverpool accent.

That’s a great point. Wait: no, it isn’t.

Richard Furnstein: The message of "Because" is clear: Love is timeless: it's a finely tailored suit embracing raw emotion. An orphaned working class British child can have his world changed by an avant Japanese lady who cares more about screams and liberal arts fartery than Chuck Berry riffery.

Robert Bunter: That’s a great point. Wait: no, it isn’t. I’m not sure what one thing has to do with the other. But still – this is a great example of Lennon’s beautiful, dreamy side. His wit and cleverness are ever-present, yet baby-simple. He’s gazing at the slowly revolving reference frames of our ever-shifting natural world (spinning globe, blue skies, high winds) through the dazed, narcotized eyes of a sleepy, smiling infant who’s been fed one of those morphine-laced teething formulas that they used to give to babies in 1911 before they realized how harmful that was.

Richard Furnstein: Speaking of harmful: how about the complete shift in the musical understanding of this song following the Anthology alternate mix? Anthology provided a gorgeous acapella version of this song, which highlighted the angelic voices of our snarl-toothed heroes while forsaking the minor key tension and innovative arrangements that truly elevated the recording. Two vocal only versions emerged after the Anthology version: an Elliot Smith cover in The Royal Tenenbaums and the opening birds in the reverb tank version that opened the underrated Love stage production soundtrack. Hey, I love the voices of John, George, and Paul more than anyone else, but let's not forget that a weird and beautiful song lives underneath those suspended vocals.

Robert Bunter: I have nothing to add. Another triumph!