Friday, December 30, 2011

If I Fell

Richard Furnstein: Good old soppy John Lennon has written a love song, or as close as a love song as he could get at this fragile early stage. He's offering up his heart to a young lady but can't stop bringing up his heartache from a recent relationship. The song quickly goes from the tender sentiment of the first verse to complete emotional insecurity and mind games. John's desire to love is trumped only by his desire to get back at his ex-girlfriend. "So I hope that you see that I would love to love you and that she will cry when she learns we are two" is such an incredibly twisted line. This is young love with an eye towards the rear view mirror. Hold me closer, tiny dancer. That girl that broke my heart is watching us...

Robert Bunter: You’re right about the lyrics – John’s still dealing from a deck stacked with anger, jealousy, spite, uncertainty and betrayal, thanks to his childhood traumas. But for me, the most noteworthy elements here are the musical construction and vocal performance. The melody and chord progression are just utterly lovely, the opening bars are an early example of the Beatles’ career-long habit of starting songs with an arresting intro, and the graceful Lennon/McCartney vocal duet is a small miracle of intuition. This melody would be completely beautiful as a solo Lennon vocal. It would also sound great with George chiming in on some gooey three-part chord stacking a la “This Boy.” A straight duet would have been nice, as well. Yet with their typically unerring instinct for perfection, they decided to use a combination of nicely harmonized lines and unison passages. Mark Hertzgaard described this as sounding like “two meadow hawks, gently gliding around each other” or something like that (I have the book in the car but I don’t feel like going down to get it), and I’ve never been able to listen to this song without remembering that beautiful image. He also described the piccolo trumpet on Penny Lane as sounding like a hummingbird who pauses briefly before a flower before hovering away in delightful patterns. What is this, “Wide World of Animals?” Nice imagery, Hertzgaard, and great song, Beatles.

John’s still dealing from a deck stacked with anger, jealousy, spite, uncertainty and betrayal, thanks to his childhood traumas.

Richard Furnstein: Without a doubt, you are right. Hertzgaard is right. The birds are right. You don't think hawks understand love? Spend some time at a bird sanctuary, son. You'll see beauty, joy, trust issues, in-flight doing it, and other emotional improbabilities. It's all here and dressed up in the loveliest arrangement and recording that The Beatles had yet attempted (yep, that includes "This Boy" and "And I Love Her"). Lennon gives it one of his single best melodies and this one goes in the all time Lennon file along with "Instant Karma" and "Strawberry Fields Forever." Absolute perfection.

Robert Bunter: What else is there to say? I remember the first time I heard this track, as a young man listening to a radio on a Saturday evening near a fireplace in Drexel Hill. Even at the age of seven, I recognized the presence of sophisticated adult emotions that I had no business knowing about yet. I was given to know the bewitching enchantment and paralyzing uncertainty of love. I remember jotting down some notes in my primitive child’s handwriting on the inner pages of my well-worn Trapper Keeper. I still have the paper … it says: “Bewitching enchantment … paralyzing uncertainty … consult Hertzgaard for bird similies,” and then underneath that there’s a drawing of a man sitting on a whoopee cushion and it says “BLAAAAAAT!” coming out of the seat. Those wonderful childhood days have passed, but this immortal song will never go away. Listen to it now, friends, and celebrate the beauty. Happy new year, Rich. 

Richard Furnstein: And a ding dong ding dong to you, too. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Robert Bunter: Try to hold back the tears as you wave the last goodbye from the driveway, Mum and Pappy Beatles. Your little boy George is all grown up. Remember the gawky little goon with the big teeth and intelligent eyes? Well, he’s got a beard and a wife and a narcotics conviction now. He’s written an immortal classic on his way out the door, just like his bigger, better brothers have been doing for so long. It’s not a blatant Lennon-McCartney knockoff (“You Like Me Too Much”), a curry-flavored novelty track (“Love You To”), an interminable, half-baked acid hangover (“Blue Jay Way,” “It’s All Too Much”), or the inestimable “Old Brown Shoe.” “Something” is the work of a mature craftsman and consummate professional, at the top of his game. Here’s the mental image for this one: mighty George stands seven feet tall and surprisingly fit, with his flowing beard and long hair, at the top of a mountain with the wind blowing and the clouds moving past too quickly in speeded up stop-time animation. His eyes have seen eternities; he stands on the verge of freedom. A pack of prime stallions rumbles by gracefully in the valley below (represented by Paul’s bassline and Ringo’s tom-toms); George, unperturbed, looks down and nods with solemn approval. You didn’t even realize he was carrying a guitar, but suddenly he is playing it and it’s the most beautiful solo you ever heard. Everybody starts to cry but George just stares into the infinite, spiraling center-point of limitless potential.

Richard Furnstein: Real chills, there. "Something" is one of George's rare graceful songwriting efforts. The bridge was always a trouble spot for young George--earlier efforts were marked by awkward transitions and percussive cover-ups or, in the case of the psychedelic years, he would forgo the bridge (and often a second chord) completely. Here, it's the most beautiful moment of "Something," transcending the effortless elegance of George's descending chord structure in the verses. He proved to John and Paul that he could stand up straight and tall with them. He passed the test and was ready to enter the world a man. I know you already said that, Robert. But it's true. And I'm crying.

Everybody starts to cry but George just stares into the infinite, spiraling center-point of limitless potential.

Robert Bunter: Don’t cry, Richard. This isn’t just another former-goon-finally-writes-great-song story, like those of Bill Wyman (“Je Suis Un Rock Star”), John Entwhistle (“My Wife”) or Roger Waters (“Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict” … no, just kidding. It was “Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk.” No, LOL. “Time.”) See, you're smiling again! Tears are for children, Richard.

George didn’t write this primal, crucial ballad because he wanted to live up to the standard set by John and Paul. He wrote it because of the same reason why any man ever does anything: he was in love with Patti Harrison, nee Boyd. The unstoppable adolescent hormonal force that inspired the early moptop puppy love throbbers has given way to a very mature, adult sophistication. George’s lyric emphasizes the ineffable, complex nature of his feelings; “somewhere,” “something,” “somehow” – he’s not sure where or what it is, despite the assurance that “I believe (and how!)” The most intense moment in the track (not counting the immortal guitar solo, of course) emphasizes this uncertainty: it’s the “I DON’T KNOW” on the bridge, when George’s soft, mellow vocal tone is raised to a roar. There was a time when he was happy just to dance with you; now he’s caught up in a dense yet ephemeral fog of conflicted emotions. The music seems to float like dawn mist above a warm salt marsh; Paul’s bass provides a gentle, tugging undertow, Ringo’s elementary beat is the very essence of simplicity, George Martin’s effective string arrangement sweetens the mood without becoming cloying.

Richard Furnstein: Let's talk about that solo and the string arrangement for a minute. Word is that George delivered the solo live in front of the orchestra. It's one of the most beautiful and perfect mental images ever. George absolutely delivers his greatest solo, just pure love beams shooting into the sparkling eyes of Mrs. Boyd. I'd kill for some video of George recording the solo with the orchestra. I can't believe everyone kept it together to keep bowing and plucking and whatever it is that string players do. I'd give anything to be there in that moment, just like I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Freddie Mercury delivered the "Okay!" in "Under Pressure" or when Chess Records brass first heard Howlin' Wolf sing the line "When the fish scent fills the air, they'll be snuff juice everywhere" in "Wang Dang Doodle."

Robert Bunter: Yeah, there are a lot of great musical moments in history to be celebrated. If someone invents a time machine, you’ll be the first person I consult when I enter the destination coordinates. But there’s another thing we have to discuss: the infamous extended outro of “take 37.” On this rare outtake, after the familiar “Something” ends, we hear the Beatles continue playing. A strange, downbeat piano figure is repeated (played by John), while the others join in the dirge, slowly building in intensity. Eagle-eared listeners will note that the riff they fall into would be partially appropriated by Lennon on the tune “Remember” from the crucial “primal” album. In his “The Unreleased Beatles” writeup, excellent author Richie Unteberger speculates that this might be the sound of the Beatles playing a funeral requiem for their own doomed career. I love how he prefaces this flight of fancy with “I may be reading too much into it, but …” You’re not reading too much into it, Mr. Unteberger. The Beatles are no longer four human men, they are an archetypal force of the universal mythos. Their story belongs to us, and there is no such thing as “reading too much into it” or “preposterous speculations about the meaning of each detail of the songs” or “making up a bunch of ridiculous mental imagery of your fantasies about what the recording sessions were like.” In fact, Mr. Unteberger, if you’d like to contribute to this blog, we’d be honored to hear your thoughts on the “Mother Should Know” mono mix and the imaginary heavy machinery that Lennon was operating on “Ticket To Ride.”

Richard Furstein: Good save. I was hoping we'd get around to the "Remember" tag. There is too much to consider in this song. We've already touched on the songwriting maturation, divine love inspiration, and majestic solo angles. We could probably write a book on the James Taylor connection (Taylor already delivered "Something In The Way" to Apple Records), the incredible possibilities of Paul's melodic bass playing, and the beauteous union of all four Beatles (and Billy Preston) on their swan song album. And, gosh, we haven't even discussed how Frank Sinatra called "Something" "the greatest love song ever written" (he may be right!) but then attributed the song to Lennon/McCartney. That guy was always getting things wrong though. He also beat up women and was chummy with the mob. Hey, come to think of it, I'm surprised he wasn't better buds with John Lennon!

Robert Bunter: You know, that Sinatra thing was a big deal to Paul McCartney. I just saw this YouTube the other day of an interview where he explains how all the Beatles were equal forces, and that’s his evidence for George’s status. “You know, we wrote most of the songs, but George wrote ‘Something’ and that’s the one that Sinatra sang, you know?” or something like that. You can look it up, I think it’s called “Paul discusses John’s death” or something and Paul’s wearing a sweater in it.

Richard Furnstein: Oh, that's helpful, the video of Paul where he retells a Beatles story for the thousandth time while wearing a sweater? I'm sure that'll be easy to find. Any other videos you want to suggest? Maybe a good one of Ringo saying "peace and love" poolside in Los Angeles? 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Time (Is Here Again)

Richard Furnstein: The secret is O-U-T spells out: this is a top tier Christmas song of all time, up there with "Wonderful Christmastime," "Merry Christmas, Darling," and "Christmas Don't Be Late." Would you expect any less from The Beatles? They practically invented the modern Christmas with their regular winter album releases and continued new product for the holiday season. I sure hope the George Harrison Living In The Material World book is sitting under my tree this year! But yeah, this song includes the best elements of that magical period after Sgt Pepper's and before The White Album. Ringo's drums sound huge, the band seems to be having fun (even George!), the lyrics are a fun mess. I'm feeling the spirit, heavenly angels.

Robert Bunter: Me, too! The Beatles observed Christmas just about every year of their career, with the charming fan club flexidiscs as well as their wonderful Christmas albums, like "A Collection Of Beatle Oldies" and "1962-1966." I wouldn't expect any less from them - after all, Christmas represents an utterly primal, crucial aspect of human existence. Long before Christ, we have annually celebrated rebirth and renewal during the bleakest, coldest part of the year. Naturally, The Beatles, which represent the finest aspects of the spirit of the Universe, aren't going to play it cool like other famous beat groups and let the celebration pass unremarked. Lift up your hearts and give thanks and praise. Yeah yeah yeah!

Richard Furnstein: The Christmas singles are an interesting listen this time of year. John's usually impersonating mentally handicapped Scottish people. Paul genuinely hopes you have a wondrous day and all your wishes for the new year come true. Ringo is usually confused by something in the recording studio, but manages to say something witty. George surprisingly played the droll card. "Christmas Time (Is Here Again)" is the only real song on these discs, but what did you expect? They were busy writing like 35 great songs a year. They didn't have time to actually try to write carols in their downtime. There were drugs to take and islands to buy. Let's all give thanks for these supermen

Robert Bunter: There would be plenty of time for that when they got to the solo years. Let's consider that output. Lennon managed the best hook, I think, on "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." It's kind of wonderful that he would even make an attempt. Paul's "Wonderful Christmastime" is catchy but it reminds me of stores. Stores like Bamberger's and the long-gone House of Bargains in Springfield. That is not a good association. C-minus. George whipped out his "Ding Dong Ding Dong" in 1974. It's pretty weak, frankly. The Roy Wood-esque arrangement is welcome, but he was capable of much more. Ringo was "wrong-o" when he allowed "I Wanna Be Santa Claus" to reach the marketplace. It's awfully repetitive and nobody's ever going to like it. 

I'm feeling the spirit, heavenly angels.

Richard Furnstein: I think you are wrong. I love those songs, except for Ringo's song because it is garbage. I can probably do without hearing "Happy Xmas" ever again. Melissa Ethridge and her Ovation 12-string may have ruined that song forever. "Wonderful Christmastime" and "Ding Dong" are personal favorites. Sometimes I want to be reminded of going to Amesway with my mother, man. And George had the nerve to write a New Year's song.

Robert Bunter: I'd like to say "Happy Christmas" to all the people, everywhere. I hope you find a copy of the 2009 remastered mono box under your tree, and that it's not counterfeit like THIS GUY'S was.

Richard Furnstein: Happy Christmas, everybody and I hope you're having a lovely time and all the best for the New Year, peace and prosperity and all that. And much love (kissing noises).

Friday, December 16, 2011

Long Tall Sally

Richard Furnstein: One of Paul McCartney's finest throat bleeders, "Long Tall Sally" was the boys' latest search and destroy album closer. Yet it doesn't even close an album, it opens an EP. The boys were wise to showcase all originals on the A Hard Day's Night album, it made the toss off rocker collection Long Tall Sally extended player a thing of pure rock beauty. Like egging the dean's house, prank calling the frigid beauty's house, and making lewd gestures in the malt shop. This is the sound of newly hemmed school pants cracking under the teenage pressure. Paul is out of his mind on this. Heck, they are all out of their minds on this. Listen to that solo, Mr. Voltero. There won't be an economics mid term today, we're too busy fornicating in our minds.

Robert Bunter: I didn’t realize until I read Tim White’s excellent “Tell Me Why” that “Long Tall Sally” and “Tutti Frutti” are filled with secret slang signifiers from the gay 1950s underground. That’s amazing! Little Richard is really overdue for a reevaluation. Sure, he’s probably in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and he’s always name-dropped when you list the original pioneers, but I’d submit he deserves to be ranked on the same level with revolutionary, transformational figures like Bowie, Dylan and Bolan. The staid, conservative parents of the ‘50s were frightened enough by the spectacle of their crew-cut, bobby-socked offspring writhing and jumping while a black man screamed and kicked over the piano stool, but they would have keeled over on the spot if they knew what he was really on about. It’s like Frankie Goes To Hollywood frontman Holly Johnson said when asked about the controversy surrounding the “Relax” video: “The kids didn’t know anything about all that, they just think it’s a party.” I doubt The Beatles were 100% hip to the full implications, either, but I submit that they wouldn’t have cared, if they were. Paul turns in the first immortal vocal performance of his career, while the “boys” bash and crash gleefully in the background. Exciting!  

Paul's here to deliver the Cliff's Notes to Lil Rick. Leave your wig and high heeled boots at home, sir. Prince ripped you off, you say? Fascinating. If you don't mind, I'm going to get back to listening to London Town.

Richard Furnstein: My favorite thing about Little Richard is Paul McCartney. He made it so we never had to listen to Richard's primal (yet admittedly crucial) rock ploppers about illicit skiffle shack rendezvous in the heart of a dank bayou. No sir, Paul's here to deliver the Cliff's Notes to Lil Rick. Leave your wig and high heeled boots at home, sir. Prince ripped you off, you say? Fascinating. If you don't mind, I'm going to get back to listening to London Town. Little Richard is just a weirdo that would appear on kids shows with frightening makeup, yelling and sweating at an inappropriate volume. Gimme Sir McCartney anyday.

Robert Bunter: You know, I want to respond indignantly and insist that you show some respect for one of rock’s founding fathers, but, let’s be honest. I never listen to Little Richard. I don’t really want to. When I’m in the mood for that sort of thing, I’ll put on Esquerita. I don’t even know if Little Richard still walks among the living. Please check that out and let me know. Also: London Town is great! A truly underrated album with some lovely moods and emotions. The shimmering, effervescent beauty of “I’m Carrying,” the murky rock of “I’ve Had Enough,” the bleary European portraiture of “CafĂ© On The Left Bank” and “London Town” – I would definitely rather listen to this than some old Little Richard sides. Anyway, “Long Tall Sally” is a great track. I don’t have very much more to say. Let’s talk more about London Town.
Richard Furnstein: London Town is often discussed as suffering in the wake of punk rock music. Well, I'm sorry, Legs McNeil. While you were off pogo-ing and gobbing your wobbly toothed disease at some trust fund lunkheads, Paul was off exploring textures and harmonies with his great love and great friend. I hate to tell you, but Paul already gave you his punk in numbers like "Long Tall Sally." Now it was time to enjoy the Scottish countryside and have children. We all have to grow up eventually. Never one to settle, Paul would later tip his golden cap to the new wave with "Spin It On" from Back To The Egg. But you never listened, did you, Legs?

 Robert Bunter: You, Richard Furnstein, have again nailed it. It’s that magic! 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Golden Slumbers

Richard Furnstein: Paul is a tugboat captain on a sea of oozing strings. A friendly anamorphic frog from a forgotten Disney moving steering us through the heavy shadows of a painted jungle. It's sleepy time on Abbey Road. Paul ushers out the creepers and shaking perverts from John's section. Yet, while Paul promises a lullaby, he never quite delivers. Paul offers his promise to the sleepy children, but then we either get Ringo bang crashing his well loved calf skins or the surging "Carry That Weight." It's then we realize that Paul already sang us the lullaby and the band is about to break up. Melodies come rushing back. The future is beautiful.

Robert Bunter: Sure, everything is beautiful when you’re asleep. Lack of awareness is the only respite from the harsh realities (John Lennon) that surround us. Go to sleep, Paul (he’s singing to himself). Being awake is too painful. “Once there was a way to get back homeward.” Well, James, that’s in the past. Nobody’s going home to the dank stage of the Cavern where you discovered what it means to be truly alive… nor to the screaming crowds and black-and-white overcoat years of Beatlemania … nor to the sunny psychedelic vistas of the “Paperback Writer” video shoot … nor to the joyful “Hey Bulldog” overdub sessions … There’s no way home anymore. For the man who believed most faithfully in the beautiful dream the Beatles represented, the cold, brittle sunshine of 1969’s reality was intolerable. Paul was the only one who never lost faith or quit. When the others bickered and frayed and spaced out, he was always trying to corral the boys into another wonderful project or set up another ramshackle tour on a magic, colorful bus. Now, with the dream falling apart, he attempts a desperate lullaby in the vain hopes of recapturing the departed glory of the past. Paul’s contributions to the long medley of Abbey Road’s second side are a heartbreaking, elegiac swan song for the group’s entire career, and it’s all just so beautiful and sad it make me have to cry.

Lack of awareness is the only respite from the harsh realities (John Lennon) that surround us. Go to sleep, Paul (he’s singing to himself). Being awake is too painful.

Richard Furnstein: There are a lot of tears to go around, especially on a day like today. But listen, I think Paul was looking forward to the trip home. "Golden Slumbers" is a companion piece to "Two of Us." Where "Two of Us" was a nostalgic trip back to the youthful promise of skiffle and finger pies, "Golden Slumbers" is a resigned whisper from a man facing his thirties. It's time to hang up the nappies and tuck in the rugrats. See ya in the papers, John. Stop by when the All Starr Band is making the rounds, Ringo. Good one, George. We're men now.

Robert Bunter: Looking forward to the trip home? Don’t you see, Rich? THERE IS NO WAY HOME. Once there was a way, but no more. I’d like you to cue up this track on your copy of the new 2009 stereo re-master of Abbey Road and listen to dear Paul’s voice on the words “smiles awake” at :43. That, my friend, is not the usual wonderful Paul McCartney intensity voice (“Long Tall Sally,” “Hey Jude” or “Oh, Darling!”) I would submit that that is an utterly primal, crucial expression of deep pain; possibly the most genuine vocal moment that Mr. hide-your-inner-pain-behind-a-wall-of-showbiz-schmaltz-and-good-guy-charm McCartney ever committed to wax. Your vision of a resigned acknowledgement of the solo future is bewitching, and maybe that’s even part of what’s going on here. But I think that vocal moment belies such pat explanations. Oh, wait, what’s that? You don’t own a copy of the 2009 Abbey Road stereo re-master? I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was dealing with somebody who doesn’t care about having all the Beatles’ albums. You’ll just have to forgive me.

Richard Furnstein: I'm completely and utterly leveled. 

Robert Bunter: I’m sorry man. I didn’t mean that. I’m just really emotional today.