Friday, October 14, 2011

I Me Mine

Richard Furnstein: I feel bad about getting on George Harrison's contributions to Let It Be. Clearly, the man was on autopilot at this point; counting down the days until he could cash in his unused sick pay and vacation days. He couldn't help offering half finished songs to the miserable Let It Be sessions. To be fair, nobody else was really trying (except for a big bearded Paul delivering his greatest late period song in "Let It Be"), but somehow the mediocrity was most evident in offerings like "For You Blue" and "I Me Mine." It could come down to George's whiny voice (God only gave him one voice, you know) and self flagellating and dim lyrics. The Beatles were throwing a miserable party. Please let George take your coat. On second thought, keep it on. It's freezing here in Twickenham.

Robert Bunter: I disagree. In defense of “I Me Mine,” I’d like to point out that it offers a really unique sound that was never really developed elsewhere in the Beatles catalog or George’s solo work: a sort of grey, wintry waltz with strings, organs and diminished chords which is leavened with periodic rave-ups (I guess you could say he pursued the rave ups on LP three of All Things Must Pass, but still). In terms of arrangement, I’d rank this track as the best thing Phil Spector did for Let It Be … his strings and choirs suit the spiritual theme of the lyric, plus he edited an extra verse onto the end by taking a previous verse and repeating it. Lyrically, George is treading the well-trod Beatles ground of warning the world about the dangers of the human ego, but between the lines you can sense he’s really directing his barbs at the grasping, selfish fighting of Lennon and McCartney; and, beyond that, at himself. I think you’d have to admit, that’s further than most of the lyrics on this album take us. We’ve got a buddy song (“Two Of Us), a weird sensual party (“Dig A Pony”), a transcendental hymn (“Across The Universe.” OK, that disproves my point a little bit, but is that even a proper Let It Be track? Come on now. World Wildlife Foundation and all that. It should be considered separately), an unfocused rant (“Dig It”), an admittedly great McCartney hymn (“Let It Be”), a stupid folk busker (“Maggie Mae”), a Badfinger template (“I’ve Got A Feeling”), a 1958 retread (“One After 909”), a less-great McCartney hymn (“Long And Winding Road”), a Harrison stinkbomb (“For You Blue”) and a throwaway rocker (“Get Back”). With the possible exception of “Let It Be,” “I Me Mine” is the only track that maintains the Beatles’ status as a religious band.

Clearly, Harrison was on autopilot at this point; counting down the days until he could cash in his unused sick pay and vacation days.

Richard Furnstein: I have no idea what you are talking about. A religious band? Just because of the church organ? Listen harder and better, my friend. I could hear "I Me Mine" clogging up the arteries on Side Four of All Things Must Pass (flows nicely out of "I Dig Love") but the vocal take is closer to the restrained hysterics that defined that album's poorly received follow up Living In The Material World. I will admit that "I Me Mine" sounds incredibly delicious; it is by far the best Spector touch on the album. The production walks the line of becoming a full on choir in the barn rave up, but ultimately it is the unlikely restraint in the horn and orchestral swells that give balance to the song's bloated subject matter.

Robert Bunter: I don’t say religious band because of the church organ but because they were sent by God to bring Love to the Universe. And that’s just what they did, when they weren’t behaving like indulgent clods. What is bloated about the subject matter? “A heavy waltz … a dissection of the ego, the eternal problem” as George put it. Nothing bloated about that. OK, I’ll admit, that is a bloated thing to say. But the lyrics themselves are concise and well-placed. If you don’t like my take on “I Me Mine” so far, try this on for size: it is FAR SUPERIOR to its companion track, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Richard Furnstein: Well, I'm glad that statement is on the public record so that you can plead insanity in the future. This is making me think about everything that you've written in a new light. I'd love to hear your ridiculous theories on George's Gone Troppo or his "I Don't Want To Do It" from the Porky's II Original Soundtrack.

Robert Bunter: It’s all in the mind.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

She Said She Said

Robert Bunter: Lethargic yet electrifying. Blurry yet stinging. Incisive yet incomprehensible. Ecstatic yet melancholy. John's early acid songs (besides "She Said She Said," there was "Rain," "Tomorrow Never Knows," and "Dr. Robert" with an honorable mention for "And Your Bird Can Sing") were full of contradictions. That's what happens when an already full-of-contradictions man has his brain scrambled by potent little colored pills that he keeps in a little jar by his enormous bed or also in the pockets of his colorful cloak. Oh God, it must have been amazing to watch John direct the rehearsals on these sessions. His dilated pupils pinwheeling crazily in impossible directions, he tells Ringo that he needs to fill every other measure with tom-tom fills that sound like the frantic yet slo-mo movements of a cat attempting to find its balance in zero gravity. George cackles inscrutably and blurs the lines between rhythm and lead guitar while watching the atmosphere dissolve. Paul is twirling a cane and doing a little soft-shoe, his bowler hat tilted at a jaunty angle ... then he picks up the bass and replicates the sound of a throbbing bloodstream, which makes the others smile with sizzling teeth. "Oh, by the way, on the bridge we're going to turn the beat inside out and reverse the flow of time. Mal, can you please prepare another serving of "crisps" and beans?"

Richard Furnstein: There are three moments of this song to live in. First, the recording session with Admiral Pinwheeleyes dictating the waltz bridge to his less zonked companions. I think you nailed that one, old friend. Second, the moment that the shaggy headed youth first heard this song, revealing a world of fear and chaos and gruesome discovery. They were just catching up with the playful marijuana games ("Hey Todd, play back that part on "Girl" again, is John smoking a jay?") and now Lennon removes the mountains, trees, and gentle deer from the landscape. It's all been replaced by a terrifying abyss where orange smoke plays the role of furniture, castles that house the wandering dead yawn out of the bubbling ground, and a series of malevolent fauns are at play in the whispering dew. Things have changed, Todd. It's brutal underground after you die. All you have is your mind to keep you company as your mouth fills with dirt. You know what the third moment is?

Robert Bunter: Of course I do, dummy. It's the party where this song was born (or was it? Get it?). Cast your mind back to Los Angeles, 1965. It's a brief break from the endless touring; they've rented a lovely house with a pool and filled it with semi-celebrities and gorgeous women with whom they do it, over and over again. John and George just had their first acid experience a few weeks ago, when they were unknowingly dosed by a horny dentist who wanted to drill Cynthia and Patti. Now they bought their own, and they're ready to try it again. Paul's not ready, but Ringo's more than game.

It's brutal underground after you die. All you have is your mind to keep you company as your mouth fills with dirt.

Richard Furnstein: Yeah, but Ringo's a lightweight. He takes a dose and then wanders off from the party a few times. He's redirected by the police, and is found later passed out behind a drum set in the basement. John's on cloud nine, though. It's the first time that his brain seems on center with everyone else. David Crosby's smiling eyes wander into his brain as they discuss Shunryu Suzuki and Norwegian women. It's a meaningful fix, like a helix fornicating with a three headed snake. Peter Fonda wanders up and gives new meaning to get your motor running and heading out on the highway. The motor is your psychological fears and the highway is psychotheraputic explorations of the inner spirit.

Robert Bunter: Fonda's not exactly a mental heavyweight himself, if you acquire my drift. So the drug takes a turn in his brain and he starts remembering the time he accidentally shot himself as a kid. He becomes fixated and starts mumbling about "I know what it's like to be dead." John tells him to bugger off, but it's too late. Once an idea like that gets into your acid trip, the fun is over. You may as well just head inside and try to have some dinner. The problem is, you're too confused from the drug to operate your knife and fork correctly, so you end up spilling all your food onto the floor. What a bummer. It's all you can do to drag yourself upstairs and do it with another three Playboy girls before going to sleep. Meanwhile, Peter Fonda is puking into the fireplace after he tried to eat the food you spilled on the floor. We're not in Kansas anymore. This is late August, 1965 at 2850 Benedict Canyon Drive in Beverly Hills. If you invent a time machine and go back there, be cool. Don't disturb the Beatles with your dumb obsessions. I'm certain that if it had been me, I would have behaved in an appropriate manner.

Richard Furnstein: Is there a better use of a time machine than to head to that Beverly Hills home on that historic day? I'd play it cool as well. Maybe a dip in the pool (proper swimming attire optional!), eat some snacks (I am thinking fancy cheeses and salted pea pods), and thumb through their magazines. I'd be careful not to drastically impact the continuum of reality. Sure, I'd like to get in on that conversation with Pete and John, but I'd hate to throw John's creative drive off track. I would never forgive myself if "She Said She Said" didn't end side one of Revolver!

Robert Bunter: Oh man!

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Night Before

Richard Furnstein: It's cleanup time. Paul stumbles out of bed. The sheets are on the floor. He rolls an underfed fag and opens the shades. Is it noon already? Cripes, it's noon. What happened last night? He can't be sure. He smoked a lot of hashish with Donovan and was whisked away to an after hours Paki club. His collar smells like hashish, perfume, and regret. How did John and Paul write all of those amazing songs? A lot of living, a lot of loving, and a little rhyming. "The Night Before" is all half-truths and misremembered conversations. There was never a girl behind the song. Just an idea of a girl. Just twelve different girls from that very night before, their faces meld into one. Paul channels his imagined feelings with this imaginary woman, focusing almost solely on his own character flaws. It's Paul writing as John, all insecurity and aggression and misdirected anger towards women ("when I think of the things we did, it makes me want to cry"). Paul would later weep for real in his excellent relationship post mortems on Rubber Soul. "The Night Before" is the template; the sincerity of later gems like "You Won't See Me" and "I'm Looking Through You" is underdeveloped. The screaming and rush of emotion in this rocker carry the weight a long time.

Robert Bunter: Whooo, Rich! Go get 'em, boy! You just set the bar really high. How am I going to top that brilliant analysis? Alright: I'm going to put on my thinking cap here. Let's start with the music. It starts out warm and funky, all deep bass tones and what sounds like a combination of Rickenbacker strum and soulful electric piano. You could imagine some present-day crate digger DJ/producer mashing those elements up with a sparse, stripped-down snare beat, but he would need the master tapes in order to remove Ringo's blissful idiot bashing in the background. It's called "The Mersey Sound" and it sold millions of copies, Madlib. Go back to your turntables and vintage synth patches, Danger Mouse. You can't handle this dope joint. OK, that's just the first eleven seconds. Now you've got Paul's voice, passionate yet cool and restrained, like President Obama discussing fiscal policy with Jack Bohner (as I call him) on the golf course. Then, John and George appear in the background with their perfectly complementary harmonies, adding both musical and emotional depth; they're not casting judgement on the confused regret of the Paul-figure, but they're not pulling any punches, either. They know what happened at the club, they were there, too. It's the same emotional tone they adopted with "Ah, look at all the lonely people" on Rigby, as I call it. In fact, I'd like to posit that John-George backup vocals actually constitute ANOTHER MEMBER OF THE BEATLES with "his" own distinct personality and role. Okay, that's just the first verse. I'm going to start hyperventilating if I approach the bridge, the solo or Paul's amazing interpolations ("Yesssssssss" and "Yeah!") too quickly. Can you step in here, for a second? I need another cup of coffee.

Paul channels his imagined feelings with this imaginary woman, focusing almost solely on his own character flaws. It's Paul writing as John, all insecurity and aggression and misdirected anger towards women.

Richard Furnstein: Sure, tag me in. Here's the deal. This song starts like so much unfocused post-Hard Day's Beatles. Lennon's Hohner Pianet is the type of frosting they would throw on turd cupcakes from this era (think about the unnecessary gourd striking of "Tell Me What You See" or the saloon flourishes that fail to buoy "You Like Me Too Much"). However, the novel sound of John's choppy keyboards on "The Night Before" propel the rhythm and underline Paul's rough case of rockin' pneumonia. The bridge finds the boys employing an old trick: a percussive gear shift that heightens the urgency of the verse. And you know what? It works perfectly here. "Last night is the night I will remember you by." Shit, man. She's about to walk out of his life and Paul is ready to pause and rewind to the precious memories of the previous night. Chicks aren't just a well worn Maxell XL-II, man. You can't just rewind time. It doesn't work that way, Paul.

Robert Bunter: I'll tell you another thing you can't do - you can't deny that this song is brilliantly constructed. The chord progression sounds assertive and confident, until you get to that amazing chord (on "find" in "Now today I find") which just explodes with melancholy regret. When it repeats on the next line ("You have changed your MIND"), the impact is doubled. Then we're back to the aggressive Ray Charles sound on the tag ("Treat my like you did / The night before"). The second verse consolidates the triumphs of the first. The bridge twists the knife. The next verse is all about setting us up for the solo. Listen to Paul's voice at 1:30, when he says "Yesssssss" with an air of grim certainty. The unspoken rest of the statement is: "Yesssssssss ... I'm a full-grown man and I've just destroyed your heart with my great song. Now listen to my friend George because he's about to erupt forth with a series of distinctly separated musical thoughts, on doubled guitars. We're The Beatles and we're highly advanced. Yep."

Richard Furnstein: It was that easy for them. Paul wrote a great song in the morning, brought it to the studio. John would whine about not wanting to play guitar, so Mal Evans would dial up his rep at Hofner ("Send up a pianet this afternoon. Mr. Lennon is hungry for new sounds.") Time to start working out the arrangement. Killer from the start. Ringo gets in late (car trouble). It's cut in an afternoon or two days TOPS. The next day, they are in a field in awesome turtlenecks and drab wartime clothing, miming this song for the camera. In the evening, it's back to the clubs. More lies, loose women, and broken hearts. Hell, they had more albums to write and they needed constant inspiration. We were all hungry for new sounds.

Robert Bunter: Hungry for new sounds, new experiences, new frontiers of expanded consciousness. But not so hungry that they forget their craft, which was writing concise, beat-heavy pop songs for LP's. Maybe there's a kid in a record shop (Gloanburg's?) in 1965, looking at the Help! album. If I could rewind time, I'd go back there and hover behind him, just out of sight behind the next rack, and I'd say, "Go ahead. Buy it because it's the greatest record the Beatles have yet recorded. Better than "With The Beatles," better than "The Beatles Vs. The Four Seasons" on Vee-Jay, better than "The Early Beatles" on Capitol, better than "Something New," better than "Hard Day's Night" on Parlophone. It's better than all the other records they've put out. Go on. Purchase this thing and take it home. You probably should buy two and keep one shrink-wrapped mint. Trust me, kid." And then I would disappear and fast forward back to the present day, as I sit here facing my computer screen and looking at a shrink-wrapped mint first-press of "Help!" on the wall of my den. Do you know the identity of that little kid from the past?

Richard Furnstein: Christ, you won't stop bragging about that shrink-wrapped Help! Big deal, you didn't take the wrapper off. It's still a stereo version of the inferior Capitol issue of the album. I'm sorry that I don't have a pristine copy with all those instrumental fillers that clogged up the turdbucket American release.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Hard Day's Night

Robert Bunter: Dawning of a new growth. The four cheeky mopheads had just about conquered the world with their heavy beat, charm, bizarre good looks and passionate repetitive lunging motions onstage. Now they’re going to start breaking down more barriers than we’d even been aware of. The opening mystery chord, seemingly impossible to deconstruct (the secret is a hidden piano note), startles the ear. All of a sudden, John’s bizarre wordplay is pressed into service to complain about the adult themes of hard work, financial security and good love at home. Meanwhile, the flat VII chord (on the words “workin’” and “sleepin’”) takes unexpected liberties with pop conventions. Oh, did I mention it’s also a movie? In black and white when it didn’t have to be? Because it was more artistic that way? Everybody heard this and said to themselves, “Well, I guess we’re going to have to get used to being pleasantly startled by these talented lads from the seaport town of Liverpool, England. Hmmmmm.”

Richard Furnstein: The first chord shakes your teeth and blurs your vision. It's like Hiroshima filtered through a Rickenbacker 12-string. The boys don't hang in suspension long, there are bongos to be played and grimy streets to jog down. The Beatles are in black and white to heighten the contrast of these British Supermen from years of greyscale mediocrity. Ringo trips over Howdy Doody's limp body. George gives a friendly shove to Joe Dimaggio. Be careful with that stiff corpse Ed Sullivan, gentlemen. He's looking out for you. It's all so exciting: The Beatles are here! The world is going to be in color soon! No more atomic dread! We're all going to get laid!'
Robert Bunter: They were so unexpectedly and unapproachably cool, yet they chose as their subject the mundane concerns of workaday, 9-to-5 clock punchers. Just as they did with “She Loves You” and countless other triumphs, The Beatles encourage everyone to join the party. Not for them the sullen, exclusionary sneer of The Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa or (vastly overrated) Velvet Underground. They’re spreading the message to everyone with ears to hear, which equals more money. The more money they made, the better they got. It was a constant, self-stoking cycle of beautiful reinforcement which improved the entire planet. A Hard Day’s Night, you say? Brother, things just keep getting easier and easier! Whoo-wee! SHAKE IT!!

Richard Furnstein: The world is all money and sex from this point forward. "Why on Earth should I moan/'cuz when I get you alone." It's all tip toeing around the honeybush with loosened ties and askew hairdos. Palms of the hand paddle the plaintive rawhide on the bongo in a suggestive manner and the cowbell provides all the innovation and rejuvenation you need in the bridge. It's a veritable barnyard in here, darling. Let's go away for awhile.

Nice bongos. Cultural revolution. Musical innovations.

Robert Bunter: So, I guess that’s all there is to say about this early smash. Great stuff that we can all relate to. Nice bongos. Cultural revolution. Musical innovations. Just another day at the salt mines for four excellent humans who wore moptops instead of hard hats. Now it’s Friday. Cash the check, make dinner reservations and don’t worry about making the bed. It would be pointless to bother with that tonight.

Richard Furnstein: Why wouldn't you bother making the bed... Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I get it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

If I Needed Someone

Robert Bunter: A somewhat pedestrian Harrison effort is elevated to greatness by the vocal harmonies from ace vocalists John L. and Paul McC., as well as the groovy arrangement. Lucky for George, the chiming Byrds 12-string, funky tambourine and inventive, strutting basswork are there to transform his dopey lyrics, lumbering chord progression and thick, phlegmy voice into a gem that almost manages to hold its own against such immortal divine masterpieces as “Nowhere Man,” “You Won’t See Me” and the eternally charming Ringoshuffler “What Goes On.”

Richard Furnstein: I love this one. (Singing) "Oh who killed the miner? Say the grim bells of Blaina." Woops, wrong song, but you get the idea. George was in frantic "who am I?" mode at this point. He was way into Indian music after hearing some extras play a raga on the set of help. Then he got way into David Crosby and went out to San Francisco to hang out with the diseased masses. Hey man, pick a lane. You are making us all nervous.

To be fair, George wouldn't be fully comfortable in his skin until 1973's Living In The Material World LP, where he decided to just focus on his talent at writing miserable dirges with unnecessarily complicated chords.

Robert Bunter: Yeah. What I'd say to George is, "Hey, the Beatles set the trends, not follow them. We don't need any more Byrds songs. Why don't you stick with your strengths, which include clumsy lyrics and thick, phlegmy vocals?" But we should cut him some slack. As he pointed out, John and Paul had a head start. They'd already written all their dumb songs before the group got famous. George had to write his dumb songs and have them appear on immortal masterpieces like Rubber Soul. Oh, life!

"Hey, the Beatles set the trends, not follow them. We don't need any more Byrds songs."

Richard Furnstein: Let's stop right there, Robert. I can't let this go any further. I think it's important for you to remember that this song is in the top 75% of Rubber Soul, perhaps the greatest album by The Beatles. It's a chimer, sure, but don't let that diminish its beauty. George plucks out the melody in primo McGuinn fashion and carries the "aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah's" in the solo by himself. The Beatles had to write songs like this so that The Monkees had a better idea how to mature. Chime and whine, let's get it on.

Robert Bunter: Oh, wait, I made a mistake. I forgot about the part about how I love this crucial Rubber Soul gem. It's got that perfect mid-period Beatles sound that I enjoy listening to so much. You've got to look at everything in context. Good job, Dark Horse. It's nice to hear your music.

Richard Furnstein: If there was a Beatle that was better at writing the soundtrack to The Beatles Saturday morning cartoons than George Harrison, I haven't met him!

Robert Bunter: You've never met a Beatle, Richard. The closest you came was shaking hands with Joe English from Wings at Beatlefest 1994.