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.

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