Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Honey Don't

Richard Furnstein: Sub-Monkees filler from the greatest rock band in forever history. It's a truly uninspired offering from an exhausted band. Ringo manages the simple country 'n western just fine. George is encouraged to "rock on one time" two separate times, but he sleepwalks through both cookie cutter solos. John is determined not to let the pace get out of hand as he anchors the song with his lead footed acoustic.  I know what you are saying, "Get in there, Paul. Save this mess." Paul checked out man. He's probably delivering his walking bassline while reading The Daily Mail or wondering if he can make it to the playhouse to see Jane Asher's evening performance. The song finally ends. The band nod to one another and nervously eyes the control room. George Martin pushes the intercom button and speaks in a measured professional tone: "Well, boys. It's a song and it's right around three minutes. Let's call it a day." Then they drove away in their brand new Aston Martins while smoking phenomenal drugs. It's just another Monday in the world of The Beatles.

Robert Bunter: The powerful Beatles unleash another crucial track, casting a loving eye to yesteryear and the Carl Perkins rockabilly roots they all shared. From the striking re-invention of the classic blues turnaround in the opening seconds, the Fabulous Four revisit the primal excitement of manly, self-assured rock and twang. John's powerful acoustic anchors the ship, while George's jazz-inflected major sixth flourishes and irresistible boogie-woogie set the sails of joy wide and high. Unlikely captain Ringo stands at the ship's weathered wooden wheel, a tight smile of grim approval on his face which breaks into a full-spectrum grin when the salty breeze blows in (from the west, as in country-and-western) on the guitar solo. Meanwhile, Paul's admirable restraint suits the occasion just perfectly. In his mind he was getting ready to write half of Rubber Soul and experiment with tape loops and William S. Burroughs cut-ups, but for the moment, Ringo's in the spotlight. Hang back and play the old classic riffs with conviction while Ritchie's calm hand guides the tiller. The seas are smooth and we're making great progress. What's the destination? SERGEANT PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, the greatest record ever made! All aboard, humans! The cooler is below-decks, help yourself to a goddamn beer. We're singing country music.

All aboard, humans! The cooler is below-decks, help yourself to a goddamn beer. We're singing country music.

Richard Furnstein: Imagine it in your mind: It's Autumn, 1964. A group of young geniuses check in as usual to Abbey Road's state-of-the-art studio in London. They were at the epicenter of creative change in an already turbulent decade. It's time to master their next holiday offering. The boys sit in calm wonder as they listen to the fruits of their recent sessions. Everyone is excited about John's clutch of songs about love and misery, sure. But a feeling of dread takes over once they listen to their final takes. They had all forgotten about that late night session where Ringo fumbled through a Carl Perkins number. To be fair, the song itself was crap to being with. The band's performance took that underwhelming Perkins number and added a layer of white calcium deposit on the limp pile of dog feces that is "Honey Don't." The band quickly debated inserting the infinitely superior "Leave My Kitten Alone" onto the track listing, but it was determined that they needed a Ringo song on the album. "It's not that bad, is it lads?" Ringo offered to his exhausted band mates. "It's terrible, Richie. We need to become a better band or we're going to have to break up," Paul replied. And then George said: "Hey, maybe we can add some weird instruments or something and re-energize?" John didn't say anything. He was working on A Spaniard In The Works and didn't really care to listen to "Honey Don't" ever again.

Robert Bunter: The times they were a-changing. The love revolution which the Beatles had ignited was progressing nicely. Strange new sickly-sweet smoke smells were starting to drift up to the streets from the shuttered basements of advanced bohemia. The children of the greatest generation were beginning to question the grey assumptions of Establishment rules, but slowly. The flower people are still just germinated seeds for the moment, waiting underground for the sunshine of Revolver to bring them springing forth from the brown, earthy loam of Rubber Soul. Beatles For Sale, meanwhile, was the spring rain. Gentle, melancholy showers that keep you inside for the afternoon but lay the groundwork for the morrow's budding sprouts. "Honey Don't" is the music that was playing on the AM radio during that gentle rainy afternoon, while you sat inside and listened and smiled gently to yourself about something that you haven't quite been able to put your finger on yet. Put the teakettle on the boil and consider purchasing a brightly-coloured, flowing cloak. Something tells me we're in for a hell of a summer.

Friday, September 23, 2011

All I've Got To Do

Robert Bunter: This great song seems to perfectly sum up the vibe of the Beatles' second album. Which is not The Beatles Second Album, of course. We're talking about With The Beatles. Get with the program! The show starts with a perplexing augmented chord. Then the song moves to a minor, with a herky-jerky stop-start drum beat that seems to burst with hesitant tension. John's voice is husky and emotional. The tension is broken when the drum beat normalizes for a few bars, then the whole thing repeats. The excitement builds on the bridge. Another verse, another chorus, fade to black. This song packs more of an emotional punch than a lot of the early rockers.

Richard Furnstein: The slow drag on that augmented chord is one of my favorite Beatles moments. The boys just got done rearranging your pubescent brain with "It Won't Be Long," and that funny chord helps you settle into one of a few primal steamers on With The Beatles (their best album). Lennon keeps it minor, but Ringo's sloppy gallop gives this song plenty of rock and roll push. There are few progressions prettier than that F#m-Am-E resolution in the verses. Mercy!

Robert Bunter: Yep.

The skeleton of all that was potent and groovy about these alien geniuses.

Richard Furnstein: "Yep." That's all the second song on the best album by the greatest musical group in world history gets me? From a supposed Beatlemaniacal expert? Disappointing. This is the second song on the album that saw The Beatles in the international spotlight. The hitter before the knockout "All My Loving" (the crucial All Corridor). A song that linked The Beatles' love of primal girl group sounds (dig those distorted drums and simple soaring backups) to their sweaty testosterone filled stage show. The skeleton of all that was potent and groovy about these alien geniuses. A song that fades away like a late summer's day, all still air and content sighs. "Yep." That and a plate of meatballs gets you a greasy handshake in Little Italy, my friend.

Robert Bunter: Yep.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Maxwell's Silver Hammer

Robert Bunter: We're faced with a problem here. It's the eternal Paul McCartney question: how could such an abundantly gifted man turn out so much sub-par material? The same man who served up such sumptuous feasts as "For No One" and "Power Cut" was just as happy doling out a ladleful of weak soup from the cheap tin stockpot on tracks like "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" or "Morse Moose And the Grey Goose." But the problem goes deeper than that. These songs are all good, without exception. The man truly can do no wrong, and that's what's so frustrating. I mean, who in their right mind is going to complain about one of the songs on Abbey Road? "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is wonderful - it's easy to get your head around, and has a lot of appeal to little kids. The melody is catchy and the chorus has an infectious, lurching groove that has a lot to recommend it. I'm glad this thing exists, and I'm glad it's taking up precious space on side one of Abbey Road. Space that could have been filled instead by an immortal masterpiece like "Junk" or "Back Seat of My Car." Sigh. Thank you, Mr. McCartney. I really appreciate all that you've done for my life. I'm sorry for implying that, despite your considerable gifts, you have so often squandered your potential with tossed-off potboilers and second-rate ballast.

Richard Furnstein: Oh my. I've been dreading pulling this card. "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is behind probably forty percent of any ill will towards Mr. McCartney. It's like if "Rocky Raccoon" and "Honey Pie" and "Teddy Boy" had a disfigured gloss child. I can sit here and tell you that the drums sound great and the synthesizer in the third verse is lovely, but we would both know that I was hiding my silent rage. And to think this overlong turd comes after the one-two punch of "Come Together" and "Something." "Maxwell's" is Paul taking his last step towards Wings freedom (and to be fair, it would have been an excellent single in the post Wild Life era) in both sound and self-focused control (the sessions were notoriously tedious and long). I'm having trouble here. I love this band, but I wish this song never happened.

Robert Bunter: Paul is playing for the broadest possible audience, just like when he shoehorned "Til There Was You" into the raucous rock assault of With The Beatles. You have to realize, he's not trying to please the Bunters and Furnsteins of the world. He'd already done that with glorious triumphs like "Mother Nature's Son," "I'm Down," "The Night Before" and "Helter Skelter." "Listen, lads: I've written enough for you. You and I both know what I'm capable of, and it's truly great. You can sit there and wet your pants over the rare "Carnival of Light" bootlegs (which I've decided to let you listen to and keep) but there is a whole world of children and old ladies out there who also need music to listen to. I'm inclined to please everybody, unlike John who only cares about himself and George who only cares about God. Sure, it's possible that my eagerness to please comes from my traumatic childhood and emotionally distant father. I'm willing to grant you that. Please, everybody, if we haven't done what we've could've done, we've tried.

I'm skipping to the next track. Dang, it's the crummy "Oh! Darling." Can we jump past this one? "Octopus's Garden"? What is wrong with this album?

Richard Furnstein: Oh please, don't compare this to "Til There Was You." That was a nice breather that suggested their gentle musical roots while looking forward to future treats like "Yesterday" and "I Will." This is Paul trying to write a story song (and failing) with more high handed/misguided social commentary than your standard issue early 70s Lennon song. It's all audio candy.

I guess it's neat when Paul giggles after singing the word "behind" (supposedly in response to John mooning him). That's a fun story but I don't have to sit through this. I'm skipping to the next track. Dang, it's the crummy "Oh! Darling." Can we jump past this one? "Octopus's Garden"? What is wrong with this album?

Robert Bunter: "Oh! Darling" is the best song on Abbey Road's first side and you're just being difficult. What about my point? It doesn't matter if you think "Maxwell's" represents failed candy or misguided social commentary. It's not there for you. Weren't you listening earlier when I pretended to be Paul McCartney talking to us? Wouldn't it be great if that had really happened, including the part about getting the "Carnival of Light" recording to keep? I think the best thing for us to do is keep listening to "You Won't See Me" and "Lady Madonna." Songs like "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" are there for the other people. The other dumb people who caused Paul to squander his considerable potential on insipid fluff. AAAAArgh. I'm about ready to hit myself over the head with a goddamn hammer. It's difficult to simultaneously hold two contradictory opinions.

Richard Furnstein: Paul is a dead man. Miss him. Miss him. Miss him.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Robert Bunter: The "Paperback Writer"/"Rain" single was released on 6/10/66 (four days after the birth of ace guitarist Steve Vai), two months before the appearance of the Revolver LP. That means "Rain" can be definitively marked as the moment the world learned of the Beatles' psychedelic revolution. They were leaving everybody in the dust. Everybody had just finished growing their hair out and twisting to the primitive rock of the early albums ... suddenly, Beatles For Sale, Help! and Rubber Soul taught us all that we need to learn about smoking reefers and complex adult emotional situations. That's certainly going to take some getting used to. Well, don't get to comfortable. Your head is about to get whipped back violently when you spin this new one. "Paperback Writer" is, like, Paul being Paul, but somehow he's doing it twenty levels higher than he's ever done before. But when you flip the record over, you're staring Lennon in the face and his pupils are dilated to the size of funhouse mirrors. Complex molecules are coursing through his rapid bloodstream and he sounds slowed down and speeded up at the same time, and he's talking about how people react to the weather but you know he's really talking about the essential unity between the internal and external universe of experience, but how do you know that? You've never had thoughts like that before, you're only fifteen years old. And why do your legs suddenly feel like they're vibrating with motionless internal thrumming, like a bell that was just rung but instead of becoming still the vibrations just get stronger as it goes on?

Richard Furnstein: Ah, yes. The times were a-changing approach. Dad just figured out how to sniff out the reefer on their weekend clothes and then old Tommy and Alice started dropping purple windowpane segments. No grisly evidence. "Eat your cornflakes, love. Your eyes look sickly." "Why don't you sit on a cornflake and eat your semolina pilchard, Dad. I'm not hungry anymore. I don't have to eat your square corporate flakes and evaporating milk, dragonface.

Robert Bunter: Yeah, it was like that show “The Wonder Years.” Ringo famously said that he felt inspired by otherworldly forces when he recorded “Rain’s” unbelievable drum track (“I know me, I know my drumming … and then there’s “Rain.”). It is certainly a great drum track, but I think Ringo’s giving himself short shrift. He recorded plenty of great drum tracks. You know who else did? (whispers): Paul McCartney. Here’s what really happened: Ringo was sleeping off a night of “the jazz Woodbines” and a few too many “crisps” and beans. He’s passed out on the sofa where Mal Evans is usually sleeping in Furnstein’s write-ups. George gently covers his ears, Paul sits at the drum throne and does the track, John smiles sardonically and nods his giant head in grim approval from the control room. When he woke up, he thought he’d done it. Hey, it was the ‘60s. Nobody’s keeping score, right? In every subsequent interview when Ringo marveled with astonished humility about his burst of inspiration, Paul was suppressing giggles in the other corner of the room. Ringo always wondered why but didn’t ask any questions for fear of learning the truth, a truth which, maybe, deep down, he already knew. What’s the difference? “It’s just a state of mind.” That’s what this song is really about.

Richard Furnstein: A titillating scenario, to be sure. It would explain Ringo's utter confusion over the genesis of this (admittedly) sloppy and overblown track. Give me the thwacking on "Hey Jude" any day (or for a little Paul brilliance, the killer endless drum fill on "Dear Prudence"). Don't look so bewildered, Ringo. Close your mouth, fix your motor cap, and thank the man when he says you are a great drummer. It doesn't do you any good to look with wonder at your inanimate drum sticks. They can't provide you answers.

Robert Bunter: How dare you! I was kidding. Never doubt the power of Ringo, that’s lesson number one in Beatlemaniacal primary school. I could point out the uniform excellence of all the instruments, voices, lyrics and production on this track, but you’ve heard it all before. Schaffner called it “a vintage Lennon mind game,” which sums it up perfectly. I love the way this song makes my brain feel. Richard, what do you think of the stereo mix? I’ve been listening to this thing in headphones all morning. It’s pretty extreme, like most of the stereo mixes, but I’m not really against it. The vocal harmonies tickle my right eardrum and the separation is beneficial to the tambourine.

Richard Furnstein: I gave him proper consideration. I'm just not putting "Rain" in the holy trinity, Bob.

I'm not hungry anymore. I don't have to eat your square corporate flakes and evaporating milk, dragonface.

The stereo version? Must I? Okay, let me dig it out. Well, it at least has the drums front and center in both channels. John's vocal is buried to the left, furthering adding to the transistor radio vocal effect. Hell, this isn't bad, but what do I expect with The Beatles. It's actually got a bit more pop than the mono version, which emphasizes the vocal and tambo tracks a touch more. The drums seem a bit less like an overgrown monster tearing through the garden in mono as well. Hey man, it's all here for us to enjoy.

Robert Bunter: Ha! You fell for it. The mono mix is inarguably superior because of the bass frequency response and the added clarity on the tom-toms. Sorry to break it to you, but you’ve been Buntered again! Word to the wise: Beatles stereo mixes stink, get with the program.

Richard Furnstein: I'll get you in the end.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Twist And Shout

Robert Bunter: The Beatles demonstrate the primal power of the rock music which animated their youth. Three chords, a beat like rolling thunder, sexualized dance instructions and the tonsil-shredding vocals of a husky young man with a chest cold who'd been recording all day and knew there would be no "take two." Wait a minute, what's that George Martin? You actually did two takes?

Okay, well, my point is still valid. The final track from the Beatles' first record pounded the whole thing home. It's difficult from the vantage point of today's ubiquitous hard rock brutality to know just how galvanizing this track was to the world on which it was unleashed. People hear this song today and they think of Ferris Bueller prancing around on a parade float. When they heard it in 1963, they started having knife fights and humping each other. You gotta realize, it was different times.

Richard Furnstein: Oh, you've heard this one a million times before? I'm so sorry. You only have a man ripping his throat out to tell you about this dance party that he's having and you can barely pay attention? Put it on again, feeble mind. Sounds slow, right? WRONG. The song isn't a simple line dance about truancy, it's a slow, violent lurch into the mind of man. Sure, they could've played it faster. They could have done a "Nothing's Shakin' (But The Leaves On The Tree)" treatment on this one, but you'd miss the point. It's the stern faced pulse of the climbing "Aaaaaaaaaaaah's" that do you in. It's the heave and pounce of the finale that finally slow your heart. Get the Hell out of my dance hall, party's over.

Robert Bunter: This is the peak to which the entire record has been building. He's yelling at the female subject with the unrestrained abandon of a drowning man screaming for help. She's shaking it up (baby); due to the constant, urgent dance motions, even the demure tailoring of her primitive hoop skirt and knee length bobby socks are unable to conceal the excruciatingly delicious motion of her recent upper developments and rear butt end. The constricting social mores of pre-1964 homogenized culture can't hold anything back anymore; the tighter they try to constrict our freedom of movement, the more stimulating the friction. A generation of tumescent/squishy youths has now learned the raw truth first-hand; the wisdom that used to be scrawled on washroom walls and speculated on in hushed locker-room tones. You can't put the genie back in the bottle. It just popped out.

The demure tailoring of her primitive hoop skirt and knee length bobby socks are unable to conceal the excruciatingly delicious motion of her recent upper developments and rear butt end.
Richard Furnstein: You know who's chaperoning this little frilly socked teen fantasy, Robert? That's right: RINGO. He's the only one keeping this whole shebang in order. It's a pungent blend of hormones in the gymnasium, but Schoolmaster Ringo is keeping it right. He's got the lights low, but not too low. It's a gentle rat-a-tat tap on your shoulder as you are drawn into the squelchy pool of fragrance behind her ear. Perhaps this occasion calls for some punch, Mr. Bunter?

Robert Bunter: It's always Ringo. No matter what The Beatles do to your mind, Ringo is always there in the background, with that look on his face. What else can I say about this song? Although the original recording (first by a forgotten group called the Top Notes, then by the Isley Brothers) was only a year old when they recorded this, the hyper-advanced Beatles seem like they're doing a knowing, ironic tribute to the quaint oldies of a bygone era. I think we've covered this analytical ground before), so I'll not expound any further. Lennon's primal vocals blaze a trail toward "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" and the Plastic Ono Band album, of course. You don't need me to point that out to you. Anything else, Richard? Let's wrap this up, I'm going to go outside. It's a beautiful day.

Richard Furnstein: Fine by me. I feel like analyzing this song is like Step One in telling you about The Beatles. We should have covered this first instead of "Lovely Rita." We've grown past this analysis of the old grunt and poke rhythm while Mr. Lennon shreds his tonsils.

Oh, daft. Did we mention he was shirtless when he took this vocal take? I think the only other shirtless vocal take in the catalog was Ringo's lead on "What Goes On" (allegedly performed as a birthday gag for a sulking George). Facts!