Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Good Night

Richard Furnstein: Who is that friendly man in the clouds? He has the saddest eyes but the sweetest voice. The backdrop is painted, all soft tones and twisting branches. A frog jumps into a lake with a silent squelch. Look it's a doe! She just winked at us! What a wonderful world this is. I barely remember the terrifying abyss of "Revolution 9" now. I'm afloat on a makeshift raft and Ringo is telling me to ease off to sleep. The sun keeps creeping through the branches. I can feel the warm rays creep into the corners of my closed eyes. There's some quiet splashing happening near my feet. Do tadpoles leap? You'll get your wish soon enough, Ringo!

Robert Bunter: That’s it, Ritchie. Happiness is a warm bed. Just drift off into the land of clouds and pedestrian string arrangements. A chorus of buttery-smooth professional singers have been hired at a moderate expense, fresh from recording a radio advert for Gloanburg’s Noteworthy Crisps (“Now available in plain or brown flavor choices!”); they’re singing to you. Close your eyes and get swept away. Don’t look too closely at the dewy fawn or you might find the truth in its eyes; pay no attention to the improbable curves of the branches, which seem to suggest a non-random malevolent pattern. The universe is unfolding within a great and unknowable plan; everything has been arranged for your benefit. This pleasant fancy world might seem artificial, but it’s nothing to get hung about. Let the day’s cares drift silently away as your extremities slowly succumb to insensate numbness. Nothing is real. The gentle boatman will ferry you across the unknown waters of Lethe, the stream of Oblivion. Your blood is getting cold. You should have listened to the urgent warnings of “Glass Onion” and “Savoy Truffle” and “I’m So Tired,” but it’s too late for that now. Sweet dreams, Ritchie. You’ve just been tricked into dying by The Beatles.  

Sweet dreams. You've just been tricked into dying by The Beatles.

Richard Furnstein: Fair enough. We've been through a lot together, The Beatles. Thank you for making a bunch of great records, including at least 9 excellent solo recordings. I loved your movies and your officially licensed beach towels and John's books. Thanks for encouraging me to get into Indian food and Harry Nilsson. I guess it's time that the sun in my face turns out its light.

Wait, psych your mind. There's a lot of living left to do. I assume they'll release the Esher demos on 180 gram vinyl eventually. And what about "Carnival of Light"? Will that finally be released at some point? Will Dhani ever release a killer solo album? What about the Beatlemaniacal '12 convention? I hear Hugh McKracken is going to sign this year. No thanks sweet reaper Ringo, I ain't ready for that great milking barn in the sky yet. There's too much left to do and see here.

Robert Bunter: Ha, you passed the test. It turns out it was one of those Willie Wonka/King Solomon deals. The listener who ultimately embraced life was the true mother of the chocolate baby all along, because she wouldn’t “let it be” cut in half. Don’t you see, Ritchie? There was never any “magic ticket.” The magic was inside you, all along. It was you the whole time! The scales have dropped from your eyes. Smile and wave goodbye to the fading phosphorimage of the death deer and the large-nosed boatman. The White Album is over and you’re back to the real world. What’s next? 1969 and the Yellow Submarine soundtrack LP! Lots of comforting bright colors and joyful singalongs; no more creepy, saccharine George Martin string arrangements which are evocative of untimely death (note to self: avoid listening to side two of Yellow Submarine soundtrack LP).

Richard Furnstein: Wait, so we're not going to write up "Sea of Monsters" in a future installment? I have some heavy theories on that one.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I've Got A Feeling

 Richard Furnstein: Here's an interesting case. I can't quite figure out where I stand on this one. I know it's one of the better songs from the Get Back project, and one of the few songwriting collaborations from the period. I just can't shake the feeling that The Beatles are a million times better than this song. It just seems like something that came together quickly for the boys. It's built around a pretty pedestrian riff, kind of a wishy-washy A to D trance. It's saved (to my ears) by Paul's hairy man routine (later perfected on the Wild Life LP) and John pushing my childhood ears with his mention of wet dreams (predating his masturbation reference in "Give Peace A Chance"). Then it's all over and I don't know how to feel. Why am I so grouchy about this one? Robert, help me out.

Robert Bunter: I'll be goddamned if I know, man. This is the sound of The Beatles inventing beautiful '70s rock. Even in their death throes, they were pushing ahead and pointing us all toward a glorious future. Listen to those guitars howl and yowl; listen to Paul grunt and groan and holler; listen to Ringo's surprisingly dope beats ... present-day rap artists could sample that and have a hit, I'm telling you. Great bass, of course. And Lennon digs deep and flows beautifully. Then there's that unbelievable turnaround at 2:33. This and "Dig A Pony" are the high points of Let It Be (honorable mention for "Two Of Us"), and you can quote me. "I've Got A Feeling" is ragged and wistful, like a bunch of construction workers driving home from a Sunday overtime shift during a beautiful late-August sunset. "Hey, Hog Man, put in one of those goddamn tapes in the glove box. Whaddya got in here ... 'Beatles' tape, yeah. Rewind it back to the start of side two, that's a good one." Then he lights up a joint and they decide to stop in Gloanburg's Tavern for a couple of goddamn beers. That's what this song is all about, Richard.

Richard Furnstein: The dance of the common man. The grunts and thrusts that define our life stuff. It's all here. I get it now. And, you are right. Paul is setting up future Badfinger pantswets as well as his own gold lined mines of Wings. Let It Be was intended as a return to roots concert, and this is one of the more mobile songs on a stiff and artificial "new phase recording." Oh, and I did like the "hate to miss the train" bit, considering that they sequenced "One After 909" after this one (I contend that "One After 909" is the true high point of this album). It was a clever little connection, but I imagine Glyn Johns wasn't even thinking about this.

The dance of the common man. The grunts and thrusts that define our life stuff. It's all here. I get it now.

Robert Bunter: This song has a warm glow, even when it gets frenetic. The no-frills production complements it perfectly. You can hear how simple it was to write, and that's the beauty. Paul sat there mellowly cross-picking an A chord and sang the first thought that popped into his head; John enjoying the blissful second hour after a fix, free-associating over a similar chord pattern (who could forget this terrifying footage?)

Then, they joined the pieces together, just like "A Day In The Life" without the pretensions toward Great Art. Just a couple of lads playing their guitars. They sing what they feel. Paul has found the woman he needs and it's giving him a feeling he can't hide ... wise, creepy Lennon takes the long view, gently sympathizing with everybody who had a hard year and a wet dream. He skirts at the edges of not making sense, as he was so often wont to do, but somehow the emotional message is clearly audible: bemused resignation, weary acceptance, stupefied opiate rapture. I hate to keep referencing John's heroin use - cut the man some slack, he's 30 years dead - but I think it really had a lot to do with the mood of tunes from this period like "I've Got A Feeling," "Don't Let Me Down," "Sun King," "Because," "Look At Me," and a host of others.

Richard Furnstein: I think it's certainly fair to bring up. He was a straight parted zombie at this time. Something that always bugs me about this one is George. You get the sense he's drifting even further away than John. He just hangs back in his huge black haired coat, playing a Telecaster or something. The only person he can look in the eye is poor Mal Evans. It's a sad scene. Can you imagine that I saw a band play "I've Got A Feeling" as a tribute to George on the night of his death? You'd think you could rut out "Roll Over Beethoven," this song is George's sadness. He's absent mindedly picking out an A chord while thinking of eating toffees with Eric Clapton or watering his garden. R.I.P., Dark Horse. You deserved better.

Robert Bunter: I'm surprised you were even able to pull it together to go out on that awful, awful night. I remember I was just trying to hold back the bitter tears, listening to a bootleg tape of Gone Troppo outtakes. Then I heard the terrible news that George Harrison had died.

Monday, August 29, 2011

And Your Bird Can Sing

Robert Bunter: Oh yeah! Now we're talking! Whooo-WHEE. SHAKE IT! This is truly the peak moment of The Beatles. Right after the last chord stopped ringing in the control room after the final mixdown playback, the inexorable, surging wave of improvement and electrifying energy blasts that was The Beatles' Amazing Career finally broke and started to roll back. The lads still had a few good innings left to play, and plenty of tricks were still up their sleeves, but they would be played on a slightly lower field. You only get one chance in life to knock it so far out of the park that the goddamn baseball achieves escape velocity and heads right up into space orbit, into the center of the smiling sun, and this was when the Beatles took that chance. God was there and He caught that "ball" with practiced ease and the slightest hint of a smile at the corner of His mouth. He nodded and thought to Himself, "That'll do, Johnny. That'll do fine."

Richard Furnstein: Good almighty, put on the mono version right now. Paul's bass is like a locomotive, tearing through boring British homes. He's exposing the pipes, you see Uncle Corky eating his crisps with tea. It's all over. Hey mankind, your dream was boring and inadequate and John and Paul wrote a new script and it rules so get in line or die. This is the future, man.

Robert Bunter: Beatles are the best band. Revolver is the best record. "And Your Bird Can Sing" is the best song. The blog is over. From here on in, it's all downhill and writeups about the Marvelettes covers on side nine of the Beatles At The Beeb bootleg box. Do I really have to dissect this wondrous thing? OK - the band is firing on all cylinders. The guitars are blasting out electric harmony parts while Ringo flogs the topside of the Ludwig ThunderTubs. Paul's bass is a locomotive, as you correctly noted. George's solo recontextualizes the universe of critical possibilities into new and compulsive color-shards. John and Paul sing harmonies that just make you want to die. And John's lyric uses the full power of his linguistic inventiveness and psychedelic flights of fancy. On paper, it's gibberish, but when you hear it sung (turn it up, man, turn it up!), the meaning(s?) is (are?) crystal clear. He's being accusatory, smug, self-assured, enigmatic, yet the whole thing is undeniably joyous. Get with the program.

Richard Furnstein: You are correct, my oldest friend. I don't tell you often enough, but I love you. To me, "Bird Can Sing" is one of The Beatles' under analyzed "reflections of rich dudes" songs. It's an elite group that includes gems like "Can't Buy Me Love," "Baby You're A Rich Man," "All You Need Is Love," and most of George's reflective material. The Beatles knew they were the hottest poop in the universe and were rich to boot. They slowly start to realize that there is more out there than cash, sleeping with Joan Baez, and wearing really cool clothes. There was love out there and peace and understand and curry. John seems to be singing to his fellow rich men who have it all, including a "bird that can sing." Hello, Marianne Faithfull. Come right in, Linda Eastman. We've been expecting you, Yoko Ono. Yes, the adolescent minds in The Beatles are simultaneously trying to expand (cue the sitars) while staying true to their schoolboy purpose (cue Chuck Berry lick). Girls? Shit, they can join the band. Get in the booth, honey. What can possibly go wrong? It's such an innocent idea that foreshadows the increasing rift as Yoko insisted on sitting next to John when he was in the toilet and Linda's father tried to get a slice of The Beatles' management pie.

Open a window, it smells like childhood pies.
Sure, your bird can sing, boys, but maybe let it squawk in silence. Yet, here we have The Beatles at their prime touting the virtues of money, culture, free love, and luxury automobiles. And it's beautiful. Open a window, it smells like childhood pies.

Robert Bunter: Hmmm ... I never really considered your girls-joining-the-band angle, although there's enough ambiguity here for many interpretations. I always heard the lyric as a Dylanesque put-down of a poor little rich girl who thinks she's Miss Sand but doesn't really know where it's at, like "Queen Jane Approximately" for example. But, you know the old trick of lyric analysis: you just turn it around. "Sure, Dylan was writing a series of withering insults about the fools that he saw everywhere he looked. But, really, on a deeper level, wasn't he really writing about ... HIMSELF?!" Viewed from this angle, I can get behind your "reflections of a rich dude" angle. Lennon's prize possessions (deluxe Vox organ stand, mahogany bookcase, colorful Rolls-Royce, rare art collection, novelty gag gifts) are really weighing him down. "You may be awoken / I'll be round," actually the voice of Yoko, singing to and through John from the future? It's not outside the realm of possibility.

Richard Furnstein: Exactly. Who will be awoken? And when? And how? Cue sitars. It's an exciting prospect: John Lennon, on the edge of "Strawberry Fields" and "A Day In The Life," considering the effects of his mind on the world (and possibly himself, consider the upcoming acid madness of Syd Barrett). It's the brash and dramatic dealings of an insecure genius, and we're still trying to catch up.

The resulting track is perhaps the band's most perfect recording. And this time I think I'm right.

Robert Bunter: You're not going to get any argument from me about that one. Now we're just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I'll give you a hint: it's old and brown.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)

Robert Bunter: Hoo boy. Rubber Soul just got really sophisticated. We're talking about mature attitudes, adult problems, exotic instruments, evocative scale patterns. We're talking about the changing dynamics of male-female relationships in the early blush of pre-feminist role confusion. Forget about "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You," teen-bopper - John is not going to be happy until the two of you have made adult love, and probably not even then. He's just going to ponder your frustrated encounter and write a beautiful song about it. Then he's going to burn down your stupid apartment. That's what "So / I lit a fire" is about. He later revealed that in an interview.

Richard Furnstein: That's right. The Boys are all grown up. They held your hand, but only when they were luring you away from the bar to have adult sexual encounters in your cheaply furnished apartment (that's what "Norwegian Wood" is, think Ikea and dimming halogen lamps). You're a liberated chick right (or "Bird," if you want us to walk you through this entire process)? Cool, then adult sex is just what the doctor ordered. Cuddling ain't on the menu, I'd rather sleep in your bathtub than curl up in your princess bed. No offense, I'm just a complicated rock star.

Robert Bunter: Complicated. That's exactly the feeling. "I've got a lot on me mind, dear. I've been experimenting with mind-expanding drugs, writing songs with Paul McCartney and buying a house. Did I mention I have a wife and child? There's a lot for me to deal with right now, and your coy flirtations and manipulative games are not helping." Much speculation has circulated that "Norwegian Wood" was written about John's affair with journalist Maureen Cleave - HERE she is flirting with Bob Dylan. That must have been some crazy evening. Soft light, a frisky Beaujolais paired with smoked kippers, French cigarettes from a brass pocket case, Donovan's latest on the hi-fi. Maureen whispers something, John mumbles and adjusts his sunglasses...

Richard Furnstein: I feel like I'm watching the intimate details of mating rituals on some late night PBS special on the honey badger. It's simultaneously tender, primal, practical, and savage. "Norwegian Wood" seems to discuss the foibles of the western male--all unfocused sexual energy and swagger--colliding with the promise of sexual independence and release promised to all young women in the rock and roll wars. Your downfall is either drink or women. You either sleep in the bath because you are too drunk to know any better or you fear intimacy that advances past the frilly things. It's a N.O.W. badge come to life, fitting awkwardly in the realities of late nights, surging hormones, fame lust, and sexual manipulation.

You're a liberated chick, right? Cool, then adult sex is just what the doctor ordered.

One thing I was never clear on: should this song make you feel sad for the characters? Is it just a numb slice-o-life commentary? Where do you stand, Bunter? Is it more "Good Morning" than "She's Leaving Home"?

Robert Bunter: Wow, great question. You've cut right to the heart of the matter. I think we're dealing with John's marijuana-induced emotional detachment. He is not sure how to regard the woman, the situation or himself. So, he presents us with this gauzy, impressionistic series of vague images and leaves out the conclusions and emotions. There is a sort of sadness here, but it's evoked by the absence of emotion rather than its presence. None of McCartney's deftly-betugged heartstrings for this old boy (who I like to call Johnny "Moondog" Lennon). He's just going to serve you up a raw plate of painful reality and let you draw your own conclusions. The road to "A Day In The Life," the ultimate masterpiece of aching detachment, starts here.

Richard Furnstein: Let's put a bow on this one, because this is another gift to the faithful readers. I would like to recognize the use of sitar on the track (hard to believe that George was able to manage good taste in his early days on that yawning, cranky beast of an instrument). George picked up the sitar after seeing musicians cradling the stringed monsters on the set of Help! George must have incredible luck pulling new sensations from movie sets. His first wife and renowned Best Looking Beatles Wife Patti Boyd was a fringe benefit from the shooting of A Hard Day's Night. Any idea if he pulled anything interesting in the shooting of Let It Be?

Robert Bunter: An old brown shoe. Hahahahahahahahahaha!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Happiness Is A Warm Gun

Richard Furnstein: I'm completely stymied. How do you even approach this incredible pile of genius? I just thought it over in the shower and considered a few angles: 1) Yoko as savior of John's creative genius; 2) John's late period ability to unravel time signatures while still preserving his gift for melody; 3) the well trod "history of rock" angle (progressive to heavy to anthemic to doo wop, all in under three minutes); 4) the mutual heroin/heroine fixation; 5) John's frequently creepy lyrical themes. It's all there, and it's all great. It's hard to comprehend this song happening. Please tell me about The Beatles. How is this possible?

Robert Bunter: Yeah, every one of those ideas deserves its own lengthy exegesis. If the Beatles were a house, this song would be a weird, musty closet in a forgotten corner, filled with strange implements, unnameable smells and implications unthinkable in sane, daylight hours. Lennon could do creepy better than anyone, and White Album Lennoncreep beats all other terrifying Lennon eras (I'm including Plastic Ono Band and "Beautiful Boy," too.) We've just finished George's melancholy dirge full of gently weeping guitars and smug, judgmental evaluations of our spiritual development. It's almost the end of side one. Time for some light relief! Paul, have you written any songs about your dog? Oh, wait, it looks like John is here and he'd like to introduce us to a world of perverts, junkies, lizards, toilets, nuns and firearms. At least there will be some nice music! Oh, wait: section one is weird jazz, section two is tense, agitated rock and section three is like a '50s rock revival, except the Brylcreemed greaser of 1958 is now a decade older and he's addicted to drugs. His leather jacket is crusty with mold and blood and his eyes aren't right. Oh well, there's always side two!

It looks like John is here and he'd like to introduce us to a world of perverts, junkies, lizards, toilets, nuns and firearms.

Richard Furnstein: Jesus, I don't even want to think about that aging greaser, full of methamphetamine and regret, fidgeting in the corner of the malt shop while leering at school girls. It's like a lost innocence pizza with everything on it. Still, I bet even that guy (I'm naming him Leo in my mind) would be terrified of this song. He starts off lulled into Lennon's hypnotic guitar (like a harpsichord played backwards in a gentle breeze) and then the bottom falls out and we're welcomed to the mean streets. You know where you are, baby? Needless to say, you are in a jungle and are going to die, but you'd better have a shiny pair of hobnail boots to get you through the endless obstacles in your path. What are hobnail boots, you ask? You child, you aren't ready for this world. This is the world hidden in your dad's pornography stash, between the stereo adverts, the swollen tired nipples, and the musty (de)scent of mildew. It's all hair and blood and phlegm. Watch your step.

Robert Bunter: That's a lot for us all to think about. Lennon was very proud of this track, and I can't say I blame him. One gets the impression that this song wasn't difficult for him to write, despite the jarring key, tempo and time signature changes. It has an effortless feeling, like John just dropped a tattered fishing net into the swampy underbogs of his unconscious mind and swept up a few of the slimy, unearthly creatures which were swimming around down there the whole time, even when he was just singing things like "Twist And Shout." With heavy eyelids and a quiet, opiated moan, he slowly drags the net out of the water. The startled, noxious aquacreatures snap and blink and click and hiss in the unfamiliar sunlight and oxygen while Lennon surveys the day's catch with grim satisfaction. If you touch them, they'll sting your finger before they shrivel. That's what it was like for John to write "Happiness Is A Warm Gun."

Richard Furnstein: Not far from the truth, surely. But can you imagine what it was like for Ringo when John wrote "Happiness Is A Warm Gun"? He was probably driving to the studio in his new Bentley, listening to acetates of his "Don't Pass Me By" working tapes. "Hold tight, Richard," he'd tell himself. "You are almost there. Hit them over the head with this when they least expect it." Then he arrives at Abbey Road and realizes that John's all strung out and has been babbling in the corner for hours. Paul's working out "Junk" on the grand piano. "Maybe I won't release this one..." Paul thinks. George is reading about elephants or something. Then John is like "Let's try that one about the gun," and poor Ringo has to switch time signatures to meet the crazy drug-fueled whims of his increasingly distant yet undeniably brilliant band leader. I'm here to tell you: I'm sure those acetates didn't sound as good on the trip home. Ringo was just getting used to the idea of roots rock (The Beatles had The Band fever for some reason) and thought his first song would fit nicely in the new mode. Meanwhile, John took the concept of roots rock and ran it through a blender with a few tablets, his childhood nightmares, and his crippling love and anxiety for a weirdo Japanese artist.

Robert Bunter: You've got a real point there, Rich. Let's just summarize: John went fishing in the darkest part of his brain and dredged up a 1950's greaser in a world of moldy pornography, which created drumming difficulties for ace sticksman Ringo Starkey. Just a typical Tuesday in White Album land, the scariest place The Beatles ever invented. Can you take me back where I came from? Turn left at Greenland.

Richard Furnstein: They were originally going to call The White Album "A Doll's House." But it's full of the dolls that are missing limbs, have rust tears coming out of their dead porcelain eyes, and spiders crawling over their stunned remains. "Warm Gun" is one of the scariest rooms in that house.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I've Just Seen A Face

Robert Bunter: I've got to tell you, I'm coming up short on this one. I just can't build up a good head of steam for this C&W-flavored Rubber Soul gem. Sure, it's nice, but it's not on the level of a "You Won't See Me" or "I'm Looking Through You." It's totally charming and loveable, like any Paul McCartney song, but it just doesn't have the sauce that makes me want to wax bombastic about every little detail.

Richard Furnstein: That statement just proves that you are completely unqualified to seriously discuss the greatest band of all time. I know you grew up with the bastardized Capitol LPs, so I can almost forgive the Rubber Soul mistake. I had to make do with the inferior Capitol pressing of Rubber Soul until my local record importer was able to secure the beautiful EMI vinyl. Oh the follies of youth!

Still, move over, Simon, get lost, Garfunkel. There's a new man in town and I like to call him Paul The Magnificent. He'll be doing both of your jobs for now on. He's also going to make Little Richard, Brian Wilson, and Phil and Don Everly redundant. What's that you say? Is he some kind of super robot creation that can match and better these musical legends? Good question, but NO. He's just a man with a sweet cherry voice that manufactures melodies like it was a natural biological function. I know you are sad now, but you'll be pleasantly surprised when you hear his genius music.

Robert Bunter: Yeah, get lost, everyone else. The world has finally been blessed with a singer-songwriter of considerable gifts. Oh man. Look, I'll take McCartney over Little Richard or Don Everly any day, but you're proving my point. "I've Just Seen A Face" is totally groovy, but it's a throwaway. Paul could write songs like that in his sleep. Now, I'll take Paul's sleep-composed throwaways any day, but while McCartney was snoozing his way through "I've Just Seen A Face," an emotionally-damaged, half-deaf Californian had just written "In The Back Of My Mind," "Please Let Me Wonder" and "Kiss Me Baby." What's my point here? I don't know. I'll still take McCartney over Brian Wilson any day, but I'm not going to pretend like "I've Just Seen A Face" is better than "Guess I'm Dumb."

Richard Furnstein: Hey, I don't want to get into any sensitive areas here. I know your affection for surf rock. I will say that "Seen A Face" (as I like to call it) is one of the top tracks on my Get Your Bass On tapes. I take popular songs that lack bass guitar and add my unique low end skills all over the basic tracks. It's mainly as oddities for the bass boy tape trader community. "A Face" is probably the only "full band" Beatles song that lacks a bass track, which is surprising because a little bit of McCartney Rickenbacker honey would go a long way on this staple. I'm working up my Get Your Bass On track for "When Doves Cry" right now. It's right raunchy.

He's just a man with a sweet cherry voice that manufactures melodies like it was a natural biological function.

Robert Bunter: No bass? Hmmm. I never noticed that. I should be ashamed of myself. I assume it was to contribute to the "singalong around the bonfire while wearing a baja" atmosphere, which is also fostered by the little extraneous vocal noises that happen at the beginning of the solo (at 1:02). I would be intrigued to listen to the results of your bass tapes. What a thought! "I've Just Seen A Face" with full production. It probably sounds like this:

Richard Furnstein: Sort of, but it's a Roland TB-303, so its more of a Cameo feel. You should hear the cosmic funk I spew all over "Love Her Madly."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Richard Furnstein: Here it comes, I'm sure we can go deep over this one.

Robert Bunter:
Think again: a nice Paul ballad with some sweet strings. Done. Will I receive a check or is that just direct deposit?

Richard Furnstein: An unnecessarily hasty assessment, to be sure. "Yesterday" is the emotional turning point in The Beatles' career. I'll argue that it's Paul's first truly great moment (on album FIVE!) because it so drastically upped the standard for Paul's next year of revelatory songwriting (think "I'm Looking Through You" and "Eleanor Rigby"), as well as allowed John to think past his "moon/June" explorations of pain. And the world is yours once you get that man thinking in stark terms about his emotional damage. Exhibit A: Plastic Ono Band. "I'm not half the man I used to be." John could bleat all over "Cold Turkey" and shave off his hair and curl into the fetal position, but Paul nails the terrifying loss of stability and happiness in that one casual line of single syllable words. His life has dramatically changed in one day; a loss so unthinkable that he questions his position in life and the universe. And all this is delivered in an absolutely perfect melody.

Robert Bunter: There are a lot of people (James Paul McCartney, as I call him, is one) who will tell you that "Yesterday" is the best song the Beatles ever recorded, and they're correct. You're right, it's a stunning exploration of the pain of loss. Superficially it's about a failed romance, but you can tell he's really talking about the loss of his mother. Paul often told the story of how the melody came to him in a dream, fully-formed (no lyrics, though). He went around for a month or two playing the tune to everyone who would listen, asking if they recognized it, since certainly he couldn't have written it in his sleep. But you know he was just being coy; I think he knew all along that it was his. Supposedly, everyone was annoyed at having to hear the thing over and over again. Do you know how much I would have enjoyed the chance to listen to Paul sing this song to me, one-on-one, in a personal situation? The answer is, I would have enjoyed it a great deal. Anybody who got to hang out with the Beatles on a personal level back then and got annoyed with them about anything was a goddamn fool. I'll take the chance! Of course, Paul did sing this song to us, that time when we went to the concert together. I want you to know that that was a special night which I will never forget. Anyway: so the song came to Paul in a dream. You know what other song came to Paul in a dream? I'll tell you: "Let It Be." Or at least it was a dream that inspired it. A dream about his mother. We should all thank goodness that we have been blessed with these supreme products of beautiful McCartney's dream life. I'd just as soon not be subjected to Lennon's hideous nightmares, George's clumsy sex fantasies or Ringo's pedestrian dreams about common subjects like riding the bus or a plate of Heinz beans.

Richard Furnstein: That was a special night, indeed. I remember getting a big tray of nachos (hold the salsa, extra 'peƱos, por favor) and chowing down during the opener (a tape of Paul McCartney remixes including a mind expanding version of "Temporary Secretary"). Then Paul and Da Boyz came out and leveled the place. "All My Loving," third song. Tears. There were crucial moments sneaking around every corner, and then Paul came out with his reverse strung Martin acoustic and we knew we were in for a treat. "Blackbird"? Yes, of course. "I'm Looking Through You"? Hoho, why not? But, it was "Yesterday," yes, "Yesterday," that leveled me. Where Paul McCartney, that little speck of genius three football fields away, crawled into my brain and gave me a case of the shivers. I've heard this song, what, thirty thousand times in my years? Yet, it absolutely leveled me. Paul knows that there is a shadow hanging over all of us. It's a song that simultaneously makes you want to leave this mortal coil behind at the same time that it makes you want to celebrate the beautify of life, genius, and melody.

Robert Bunter: Woah! Back off, man. No, just kidding. What a show! It was like, even the nacho salesman seemed to sense that it was a special night for all of us. I think "Yesterday" stuck in John's craw a little bit. He used it as a needle to sting McCartney in "How Do You Sleep?", and if I remember right, he had some dismissive remarks about it in the infamous 1970 Rolling Stone interview. I think he just reacted that way because he knew that Paul had been given a gift from the gods of song and he wished he'd gotten it, instead. Is there a comparable Lennon song in the Beatles catalog? A career-defining, undisputed beloved masterpiece? I'd argue that there isn't. What are you thinking, "Strawberry," "Day In The Life"? I don't know. They were important, but not as universal; they had more to do with John Lennon than the human race. I'm drawing a blank here - what do you think?

"We don't want any of that Montovani rubbish."

Richard Furnstein: Well, to be fair, Allen Klein suggested the "only thing you've done was 'Yesterday'" dig. And you know what? Fine. What was John going to say, "the only thing you've done is play the best bass guitar in world history and write piles of amazing songs and helped make my amazing songs better"? No way, because if he said that there would have been a reunion album in 1972 and Paul would have been berating George to come up with better riffs for "Wild Life" or "Mary Had A Little Lamb." That didn't happen, luckily. John knew that "Yesterday" was Paul's ace in the hole; his non-snarky, slogan-free anthem for the world. All John wanted was to connect to the human race. He got there in his quieter moments ("Oh My Love" and "Because") but tended to miss when he went for the big anthems and gimmicks. "Yesterday" is a beautiful song with a perfect arrangement (keep in mind it is the prototype for sensi-dribble like Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)") that still stops grown men in their tracks.

Robert Bunter: We're really pushing deeply into this song and coming up with some fascinating insights. This blog is amazing, I just wish that I was someone else so I could read it and nod my head emphatically. You're totally right about Lennon's attempts to connect with the human race. What else should we say about this one? We need to give some love to Sir George Martin. His decision to use a string quartet was brilliant. Supposedly the boys resisted at first ("We don't want any of that Montovani rubbish"), but it just perfectly captures the lyric's mood of nostalgia. Close attention to Paul's solo guitar demos shows that the unbelievably tense, brittle chord which first shows up at the 25-second mark (after "Suddenly" and before "I'm not half the man I used to be") was not in the original harmony as Paul wrote it. We're told that Paul assisted with the string arrangement, but who knows if that one particularly inspired chord was him or Martin? I think it might have been Martin. "Paul, why don't we just have the strings do this [plays heartrending chord on piano]?" "Yes, George, that'll do. That'll do fine," says Paul, with tears pouring down his face. Then you look over at the control room and Ringo and George and John are crying. Then the camera pans to the ceiling, and there is a lap dissolve into the future, where two groan men with nacho crumbs on their face are weeping and singing along in the upper deck seats of a crowded sports arena, while a much older McCartney sings the same immortal melody. Then, in a faded-in superimposed image, you see the ghosts of John Lennon and George Harrison and Harry Nilsson sort of benignly smiling down from slightly above, nodding in otherworldly approval. The camera pans and you notice that a heavily-disguised Ringo was seated behind us the whole time (checking out his old buddy's current set), watching with a sort of grandfatherly contentment and thinking to himself, "Yes, that'll do, Paulie. That'll do just fine."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I'm Down

Robert Bunter: Oh, yeah, sure. Nothing much here. Paul just decided they needed an old-fashioned throat-shredder for their live set once he got sick of singing "Long Tall Sally." Strictly routine; another day at the office. Let's just take an elementary roll and rock chord structure, add some primitive lyrics. What's that John? You'd enjoy playing the organ? Yawn. Sure, no problem. Maybe we can add some vocal harmonies to the mixdown from the stereo dub track. That's it. We're all done here. Wipe off the mixing board and call the driver to take us over to the Ad Lib for a scotch and coke. WE'VE JUST RECORDED THE SINGLE MOST ELECTRIFYING SONG OF OUR CAREER.

Richard Furnstein: Business as usual at the belt-'em-out factory. Set the Paul robot to "L. Richard Screamer" and make sure the china cabinet doesn't tip over, because the waves are getting dicey. I've gone on and on about Help! as a confusing period of mild transition for the boys (witness half steps of advancement like "Yes It Is" and "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away") but this period also saw The Beatles retreat to the comforts of primal rock. "I'm Down" sits along "Leave My Kitten Alone" and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" as throwbacks to an easier time, where the suits were ready made and the drugs just made you frantic and ready to fornicate.

Business as usual at the belt-'em-out factory.

Robert Bunter: Listen to that organ at 1:28. I guess nobody had thought of running it directly into the board ... it's clearly recorded from a microphone, which is obvious because you can hear the cheap plastic keys clicking as John plays his absurd solo. This is the second time the Beatles used a cheap organ for comic effect. Can you guess the other one? I'll tell you: it was "Mr. Moonlight." That organ cracks me up! Hahaha! Of course, we all know that during the Shea Stadium concert, John felt so ridiculous playing this solo, he started hopping around and playing with his elbows. If you notice, the others have very divergent reactions to this memory. Paul talks about how great it is that John kept a sense of humor during the nerve-wracking moments of their career; then Ringo comes on and says that he felt it was evidence of John having a nervous breakdown. Who was correct? George. He just stood there and cracked up.

Richard Furnstein: That gig was the shake it out, it's the end of the road moment for our boys. Brian Epstein was slowly losing control over his boytoy project and touring became more complicated (cue lackluster live version of "Nowhere Man"). I think The Beatles were scared of Imelda Marcos or maybe Marv Thorneberry from the Mets. Who knows? I only know that they were in Shea Stadium, drugged up and killing it about twenty years before Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, and Len Dykstra would make it cool again. Pioneers in the world of music AND baseball. Is there anything that they didn't do? The answer is: are you even bothering to ask me that dumb question?

Robert Bunter: What about those bongos? Hoo-whee! Shake it! Let's turn up the volume and play it again!