Friday, April 20, 2012

Baby You're A Rich Man

Richard Furnstein: "Baby You're A Rich Man" is a celebration of the nouveau rich hippies and the LSD-addled visionaries that dotted The Beatles' path in 1967. The Beatles are both dazzled and disgusted by their vacant companions, while realizing that they fit right in with these newly minted millionaires. It's a theme that Joni Mitchell would milk to great effect on her mid-1970s fretless bass driven albums ("Oh man, dig these crazy, drugged out degenerates at this rich Hollywood party! I pity/understand them.").

The verses come off as insincere party banter ("How does it feel to be..."), asked by someone who doesn't really care about the answer. It's just idle chatter at the party before the next party. The person begins to tell John and Paul how they feel but then the tablet kicks in. The ebullient chorus comes in just as Lord Ferret Shoulders start his cosmic response. "Oh sorry, I didn't hear your response, I was chanting about how you are a rich man in a zoo of cowards in my brain. Pardon me while I fall in the swimming pool." I can't tell you how many times I've been at this party in my mind.

Robert Bunter: This one falls into a certain category of Beatle music that I’m very fond of, despite its limited merits: the mid-to-late period throwaway. I’m talking about the lesser tracks from Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine, b-sides like “The Inner Light,” outtakes like “What’s The New Mary Jane” and similar garbage (by the way, if you’re wondering why I didn’t mention “Old Brown Shoe” in that list, you clearly have no idea what an enormously important track that is and I would suggest you pay close attention to future “Let Me Tell You About The Beatles” entries for an exhaustive explanation). These songs don’t have the immortal importance of a “Hey Jude” or “Day In The Life,” but I’ll tell you what they do have: amazing Ringo drums, mellotrons, looseness, experimental attitudes, pointless overdubs, weird percussion shakers, tape loops, tambourines, groovy Paul McCartney basslines and so many other wonderful ingredients. The point is, even when the Beatles were self-indulgently coasting, they were providing us with interesting sounds and refreshing perspectives. OK, so maybe “Baby You’re A Rich Man” is the sound of John Lennon looking bemusedly down his nose at vapid paisley millionaires and doodling pointlessly on a Clavioline. I’ll have a second helping, please?

Richard Furnstein: Oh, certainly without a doubt. I'm always up for a little bit of fun with The Beatles. Just listen to Paul howl it up in the fadeout! Can I also mention how much I love the sound of this song? It's anchored by such a perfect foundation of psychedelic drums, slightly overdriven bass, and a thin saloon piano. It was the perfect soundtrack for the home movie footage of Beatles tropical adventures in the Anthology.

I didn't hear your response, I was chanting about how you are a rich man in a zoo of cowards in my brain. Pardon me while I fall in the swimming pool.
I can't tell you how many times I've drafted a tracklist for a post-Sgt. Pepper's fantasy psychedelic record comprised of these "throwaways." Think about the primal groove of "Rich Man" transitioning into the extended mix of "It's All Too Much." Think about "Hey Bulldog" as a central track to an album with garish artwork by The Fool. An album guided by Ringo's incredible huge drum sound and an increasingly unstable set of fantastic lyrics. I'll tell you one thing, the version of "Your Mother Should Know" on my fantasy album would go even deeper into the brain cathedral, all reverb chambers and milky light pouring holograms across a tiled floor. I wish The Beatles gave themselves a chance to linger in this space a little longer, they retreated to the Big Pink ("paint the entire room white") simplicity far too soon.

Robert Bunter: Well, we’re in agreement. The Beatles officially-issued catalog is nice, but it would be nicer if it was larger. Other fantasy albums: Lord Of The Rings soundtrack (there was, in fact, a brief discussion of the Beatles starring in a film adaptation, with John as Gandalf), The Album After Abbey Road (featuring “My Sweet Lord,” “Remember,” “Momma Miss America” and “April 1970”), Do It Yourself (1965 Lennon solo project). Now you go!

Richard Furnstein: I'm not playing this game with you if you insist on putting "April 1970" on the post-Abbey Road fantasy album. That song was Ringo's emotional response to the breakup of the band. Ringo: mindful of the past, looking to the future. Beautiful. It doesn't belong on an album of unity. I am intrigued by the idea of the Lord Of The Rings project, I wonder if it would have been much different from Bo Hansson's excellent 1972 imaginary Tolkien soundtrack.

Robert Bunter: “April 1970” on the post-breakup fantasy album was a joke, you nitwit. April Fool’s.

Richard Furnstein: Wait, is it April 20th already? You got me again, Bunter! I'll catch you next year!

Original artwork by Brian Langan.

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