Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Something

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? 

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