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!

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