Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Not A Second Time

Robert Bunter: The black-and-white Beatles. Four young men re-writing the rules and laughing every step of the way. Dark overcoats, gloomy London fog and minor-key tonalities somehow seemed bright and joyous when the moptops did it. “Not A Second Time,” like all of the other songs on With The Beatles, finds our heroes on the glorious cusp of much greater things – so much so that it’s difficult not to see these early triumphs as little more than appetizers for impending glorious entrees (like the bathtub scene in Hard Day’s Night, “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party,” the Sgt. Pepper's insert badges, Rubber Soul, the picture on the back of the Revolver sleeve,  the Penny Lane promo film, the Maureen Cleave interviews, “Hey Bulldog,” the White Album, the Apple boutique, Paul-Is-Dead rumors and, lord help us, “Old Brown Shoe”). But the wonderful “Not A Second Time” deserves to be appreciated on its own terms.

Richard Furnstein: I'll tell you what, I would run a "Great Lost Beatles Songs!" feature if I was a British music magazine editor. And you know what would be at the top of the list? Well, probably "Woman," a McCartney composition for Peter and Gordon (under the pseudonym Bernard Webb). Number two would definitely be "Not A Second Time." It takes a little digging to get to this one. It's buried deep in the With The Beatles tracklist and initially appears like a minor composition next to George's hair shaking reading of "Devil In Her Heart" and John ripping the house apart with "Money." "Not A Second Time" is John in a familiar early setting: perfect girl group melodies devoted to how women are the source of all of his pain. It's a reliable formula, and I think "Not A Second Time" is the best of the John songs about weeping. "My cry is through/Oh whoa oh!" might be my favorite couplet in all of Lennonland.

I’ll tell you what: I’d be bobbing my head up and down really hard and asking George for a cigarette. I don’t even smoke!

Robert Bunter: Yeah, all the usual ingredients are here – the lurching beat, piano embellishments, clever chord movement, tearful lyrics, double-tracked Lennon-moans. The thing is, those “usual ingredients” are “delicious” and I would love to “eat” them at every single “meal.” You can really hear the studio ambience on this recording, which makes it easy to picture yourself there with them, in the room. I’ll tell you what: I’d be bobbing my head up and down really hard and asking George for a cigarette. I don’t even smoke! Here’s something that’s great about this song: the fade-out. John has already served us a fully satisfying dish, and we’re ready to call for the check and gather our cloak from the lobby hangers. But what’s this? Dessert! An extra little section that evokes the rest of the song without repeating it. Thank you so much, Mr. Lennon. I plan to tip handsomely.

Richard Furnstein: It's all in the spirit of the season, my old friend. Lennon is breaking bread with us. He was a fool. Hell, he is the first to admit it! But let's realize that he's learned his lesson. Oh wait, now he's crying again in the outro. Listen, John. We're here if you need us. Forget about your girl troubles and pass the gravy.

Robert Bunter: Sorry guys. I've already eaten all the gravy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Richard Furnstein: A guitar that rudely walks through a sliding glass window at a fancy cocktail party. A fuzz tone that says "roll over, everyone." Eat hell, Chuck Berry. See ya around, Brothers Davies. Did you say something, Jesus and Mary Chain? John's here and he wrote a confusing song about politics, but oh you wouldn't believe the guitars and the lunkhead drums and Paul screaming like a hot plate of banshee meat. "Minds that hate"? Hey man, that sounds like a bum trip to me. Shake off the spooky feelings, Ringo's drums. Oh, did I mention George's lead? It's somehow even fuzzier! I can't even handle this. I'm trying to analyze this business and I'm just knocked upside the head with this song. Rock wouldn't feel this way again until "Cold Turkey" and then that was it, man. This neuters The Clash. Are you into hardcore music? Well, that music stinks and sounds like dirt.

Robert Bunter: And it's all the more amazing that this recording was done as a middle finger to the other Beatles, who'd rejected the slow, acoustic Revolution (1) as too slow for a new single. "Oh, it's too slow, is it?" So Johnny Moondog just increases the tempo and cranks up the knobs until every meter is in the red. "Take that, pigs. You can't tell me that's not a single now, can you?" But unfortunately, they could. It's just a B-side, because Paul had written "Hey Jude," one of the highest achievements of mankind, a song inspired by John's horrible abandonment of his first wife and son. Foiled again, John. It's a shame that you're a right bastard, mate. Your stirring political anthem will make a nice Nike commercial someday. This single is the main reason that The Beatles broke up. 

Are you into hardcore music? Well, that music stinks and sounds like dirt.

Richard Furnstein: It was getting ugly, that's for sure. John was a few years away from the primal scream, but this song serves as an escape from the rage and frustration that had been developing for years. Even John's appearance at the time suggested a fierceness. His angular Liverpudlian features had sharpened even more; he now looked like his face could open a can of Heniz Beans (soft stomached Ringo's favorite). The Beatles faced a peculiar artistic dilemma after the peaks of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's (not to mention the personal and business issues brewing since the death of Brian Epstein), and The White Album was a band trying to simultaneously strip down while pushing forward. That's certainly a weird road to travel, but they found a way to charge and change in "Revolution." They would certainly go back to the Chuck Berry well again (that was Lennon's default rock mode), but "Revolution" was ultimately their most successful attempt at hairy rock.

Robert Bunter: John makes a good political point along with the sonic assault. If you want to topple the system, what is your plan to replace it? Rebel John liked shaking the foundations of society as much as anybody, but he had enough wisdom to realize that the denim-clad rabble marchers carrying megaphones and peace signs were, all too often, a bunch of callow ego-trippers. Lennon could be a dope, but I'm giving him big points for this one. You want to change the world? Mow the damn yard. Clean up the dishes. Tend the to the washing. That's how you do it. Nice electric piano by studio ace Nicky Hopkins on this track.

Richard Furnstein: I made a promise to myself long ago that I would consider a write up on "Revolution" to be perfect once the stellar piano work of Nicky Hopkins was acknowledged. That day has come. Alright!

Monday, November 21, 2011

I Will

Robert Bunter: An interesting case. In the midst of The White Album's dark moods and unsettling undercurrents, McCartney offers a slight, seemingly inconsequential love song. You're thinking to yourself: well, of course he did. That's his modus operandi. But I think there's more than meets the eye here. By shoehorning this lightweight "Beatles VI" outtake (it's not really, I'm trying to make a point about its anachronistic sound while offering the usual scornful derision for the Capital/American butcher albums) onto the uncontested heavyweight champion of heavy Beatles records, I think Paul was trying to prove a point to his sullen, sardonic colleagues. There's nothing wrong with simple tunes of limited ambition but lovely sentiment; if the lyrics seem corny or half-baked, it's because you've spent too much time swilling acid segments, screaming about your childhood or pondering the infinite in Rishikesh. This is a nice melody and it will be selected by young newlyweds for untold future generations as their first dance. They will look into each others' eyes and smile gently while shuffling awkwardly to the mild gallop of the beat and vocalized bassline. For them, "Piggies" and "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" are worthless. They're just trying to enjoy the moment of a lifetime and then hopefully sit down and get a chance to try the roast beef without being constantly interrupted by well-wishers. These are the nice moments of life.

Richard Furnsten: I agree completely. Imagine leaving the dank overcoat and toothless grime of London for the cheerful kurtas and toothless majesty of Rishikesh. I'm frankly surprised that The Beatles didn't write more variations on "Butterfly Kisses" in that setting. Mike Love alone could be inspired to write endless Indian fingerpicked fantasies about does gently lapping the pools of an emerald waterfall. "I Will" is a true wonder. Paul's melody is one of his guaranteed red stamp all time "how did this not exist before Paul wrote it" treasures. John throws on a bunch of percussion without slipping in his old British lady voice or making jokes about erections or disabled people. Ringo plays some nice bongos and boy oh boy I wish there were some beautiful photographs of him hitting the calf skins on this session. The visual in my brain is striking and I wish the rest of the world could see it.

Robert Bunter: You know, I don't think "I Will" was among the tracks the boys previewed to each other on the Esher demos. Hold on, let me consult my copy of "From Kinfauns To Chaos" disc one. Wait a sec.

Richard Furnstein: Oh for chrissake. The fact that you still rely on "Kinfauns" for your Esher demos needs instead of something credible like the Acoustic Masterpieces box, the purplechick bootleg master, or one of the lovely Vigotone editions is total proof that you are out of your element.

Robert Bunter: What? I'm back. Nope, "I Will" was not on the Esher demos. That actually makes some sense; two of the White Album songs that sound most like Esher demos ("Blackbird" and "I Will") were not actually recorded on that magical, mythical day. The mostly-solo acoustic presentation, with lo-fi recording ambience and playful background percussion is a beautiful setting for Beatlemusic. I wish they'd done more of it. Luckily I'll always have my copy of "From Kinfauns To Chaos!"

Ringo plays some nice bongos and boy oh boy I wish there were some beautiful photographs of him hitting the calf skins on this session. The visual in my brain is striking and I wish the rest of the world could see it.

Richard Furnstein: Makes complete sense to me. Why do you need to demo "I Will" and "Blackbird"? They both just existed in the magical air before Sir Paul could conjure the collective melody dust and present the gift of vision to the world. You don't need to record loose acoustic versions in George Harrison's house to preserve these fleeting melodies (no offense to John, who dominates the Esher sessions). "I Will" isn't a delicate song despite its wispy qualities. "I Will" was meant to exist eventually. It's structure and lyric were a gift from God. He just decided that the world was ready for this song in 1967. God let a lot of cavemen go to hell before he decided to drop Jesus into their lives. Paul is indeed the light.

Robert Bunter: The placement of "I Will" in the crazy tracklisting of the White Album is worth mentioning. Paul flaunts his bad-boy side with the freaky blues grease of "Why Don't We Do It In The Road," then does an abrupt 180 into cutesy-Romeo mood with "I Will." Our ears are becoming accustomed to the low-key acoustic sound palette, which John proceeds to deploy to devastating effect in "Julia." The Beatles displayed more emotional range and breadth of inspiration in that single three-song excerpt than most other bands manage to conjure in an entire career. I'm talking about limited artists like Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye, the Cars, Joni Mitchell, Tribe Called Quest and Radiohead. I'm sorry but it's the real truth.

Richard Furnstein: Sure, but pick any three song stretch on The Beatles and prepare for a mindblow. "Honey Pie"->"Savoy Truffle"->"Cry Baby Cry"? Complete annihilation, man. And that's like the weakest corridor on that album!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Yellow Submarine

Richard Furnstein: The Beatles decide to write some kid friendly music. One problem: children's music stinks and this is no exception. John and Paul seemed to know it: giving Ringo the responsibility to go to the barn and shoot the sick dog (sing lead vocals). George Martin did his best to cover up the corpse stink on the dreadful basic track, dumping lots of woooshing sounds, British jibberish, and klaps and flaps and torts. Sure, I've heard the stories of John running around the studio with a sanitary napkin on his head during the overdubs. Let's get serious, was there ever a Tuesday night when this raging alcoholic didn't have a maxi pad taped to his forehead?
The one true turd of Revolver and a repeat customer as well. We would be forced to repurchase this song on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack. It even made it to the top sellers album 1, because it was a double A-side with a string driven death ballad.
Robert Bunter: What a killjoy! As usual, you have missed the point. The delightful whimsy of “Yellow Submarine” was not aimed solely at little kids, that was just a side benefit. It was aimed at the childlike sensibility of an entire generation. Values of togetherness and love are evoked along with a welcome dose of playful absurdity. The Beatles’ consistently innovative use of recording studio technology are deployed in the service of a fun singalong instead of turgid, ponderous duds like “For No One” or “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Mindful of the past, yet looking toward the future. Beautiful!
Richard Furnstein: Here is the future: me skipping past this song on my compact discman or ignoring side one of Revolver completely. Whimsy can only carry you so far. This song gets as far as Ringo bleating out "in the toooooooooooown" before I'm running for the exits like a toasty night at the Beverly Hills Supper Club. You’ve been wrong before, Robert, but your defense of this song over “For No One” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” should land in front of an officially sanctioned Beatles crime judge at the next Beatles convention. I feel sorry for your ears and the part of your brain that controls your ears because they are clearly broken, Please delete my number from your phone. Please remove the ring tone that I made for you out of the flubbed bass run in Take 17 of “I’ll Get You.” You don’t deserve the beauty of this world or the next. Shame.

George Martin did his best to cover up the corpse stink on the dreadful basic track, dumping lots of woooshing sounds, British jibberish, and klaps and flaps and torts.

Robert Bunter: Ha! You fell for it again. Hey, your fly is down. Whoop! Made you look. Got your nose! It’s so easy to get your goat, you should hang a “free goat available” sign outside your home. OK, fun’s over. Let’s get down to business. “Yellow Submarine” is a drag, but you have to admit, the animated cartoon feature which it inspired was a truly joyful psychedelic romp. Also, the “Eleanor Rigby / Yellow Submarine” single is a fine example of the striking contrasts they deployed to such great effect (“Strawberry Fields” b/w “Penny Lane,” “Lady Madonna” b/w “The Inner Light.”) From the sublime to the ridiculous; fun for the kiddies, the dawning of a new growth. Beautiful!

Richard Furnstein: Boy, my face must be red! That's the oldest trick in the Beatlebook! Of course you are right and you were right. Who am I to get angry about anything Beatles related? See you tomorrow morning for rare record digging and heavy Mexican food. I love life! "Look at John, will ya!"
Robert Bunter: Well, I’ve won this round on points, I think. Score one for the ‘Bunt! That almost makes up for “Rocky Raccoon” and “Good Day Sunshine.”
Richard Furnstein: I'm still mad about those, actually...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

Robert Bunter: Another one of the absolute uncontested peaks of Lennon's crucial songcraft. No! It's not. But it's an intriguing side alley that runs alongside the strange, magnificent, enchanting street that is side one of The Beatles (The White Album). It's got the effortless, tossed-off quality that betrays it's origins as an acoustic campfire singalong from Rishikesh, but that effortless quality is an illusion. The bizarre chord progression, obscure yet penetrating lyrics, shifts of meter and creepy, bared-teeth mood are cut from the same dark cloth as "Happiness Is A Warm Gun," "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey" and "Glass Onion." You'd think a guy like me would be happy to hang out with John Lennon under any circumstances, but I'll tell you what: I'm not going anywhere near the terrifying campfire singalong that this song represents. Our camp leader has a weird look in his eye behind the granny glasses, this unfamiliar Japanese lady is making me feel uneasy, and who the hell brought a Mellotron out here to the woods?

Richard Furnstein: A frightening thought. The listener is lulled into an exotic world (red wine in cups, suited monkeys clearing tables) where leisure and mental awakening sits next to poverty and bug eating. The Don Flamenco runs that open this particular terror fantasy serve as the soundtrack to some grainy credits. We see the back of a Caucasian hunter ambling up a hill, okapi pelts draped over his corn fed frame. He reaches the apex of the hill just as the gang singalong starts. Ringo once again is the loudest in the room. Tell me more about the campfire, I can't get that image out of my head. Fascination and retreat. The fear of the unknown. Kill or be killed.

Our camp leader has a weird look in his eye behind the granny glasses, this unfamiliar Japanese lady is making me feel uneasy, and who the hell brought a Mellotron out here to the woods?

Robert Bunter: "Bungalow" Bill is actually William "Billy" Shears, the Ringo-esque Everyman from the happier days of Sgt. Pepper's first side. Remember those happy moments? That was back when group singalongs represented heartening declarations of brotherly togetherness. Those days, Mr. Shears, have passed. As the bumbling, mustachioed Englishman trundles his way out of the dusky gloaming, he is confronted by a really large fire. His haunches clench nervously in his colonial hunting garb and drab festoons. The long-haired, bestubbled hippies seated around the fire are garbed in dhotis and saris. He pretends not to see or hear as the lyrics of their hypnotic, pagan song start addressing him directly, mocking his hollow machismo. 

Richard Furnstein: The band leader leers at him over his glasses (far sighted?) as he delivers the verse with a chiding tone. The lyrics seem to build up Bill's manly exploits in the heart of darkness while poking at the flabby insecurities hiding under his puffed chest. It's a heavy handed commentary on masculinity in the late 1960s (a hunter is reduced to a cartoon character, much like the fictional Captain Marvel). Way to be a man, Bill. We just couldn't help notice that you brought your mother along, you insecure manchild that can't do your own laundry or heat up a can of soup.

Robert Bunter: "Hey, come on over and join the fun, Bill. We didn't mean to frighten you. No, please. It's just a meditation retreat. Ha ha! Come on, would you like some wine? Look at these lovely girls! Surely a brave, virile hunter like yourself is not afraid of a few scrawny, wild-eyed freaks, are you?" Look, this whole fantasy sequence is a lot of fun, but the truly terrifying implications of the two Beatles songs with characters named "Bill" or "Billy" only becomes fully apparent when you watch every single one of iamaphoney's YouTube videos. Let's wrap this thing up. "Bungalow Bill" is really scary, just like most of Lennon's work from this period. Can we agree on that, Furnstein?

Richard Furnstein: No doubt! "His mommy (mummy?) butted in" always put "Revolution 9" level scares in me. John Lennon didn't need brown acid. He didn't need bad junk. His mind was scarier than any hippie nightmare that mere drugs could conjure.