Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Richard Furnstein: Oh, dear angels. Pray tell me this: what would have happened if The Beatles actually recorded George's White Album outtake "Circles"? The song is particularly ghastly in his demo version as the wheeze of the chord organ blends with George's heinous breathy voice. The resulting effect is like a flash of warm air leaving a tandoori oven on a cool morning. But what more could have been? Would John have played along? Would Paul bolster George's thin but dreamy chorus? Surely, Ringo would have propelled this dreary and (obviously) circular number with his primal drumming. "Circles" certainly had some promise, but it was the wrong time for George to deliver an ambiguous moaner to The Beatles. Clearly, he was on probation after plopping "Blue Jay Way" and "The Inner Light" into the toilet bowl of the world.

Robert Bunter: Yeah. Sometimes it seems like the guy had just two speeds: sizzling ("Taxman," "Savoy Truffle," "I Want To Tell You") and plodding ("Long Long Long," "Within You, Without You," the aforementioned "Blue Jay Way"). "I Me Mine" actually managed to shift from plod to sizzle in the space of one track. "Circles" funereal organ dirge takes George's tendency toward sour lethargy to a ridiculous new extreme. The lyric offers some ham-fisted moonbeams-and-patchouli philosophizing with none of the poetic evocativeness that Lennon could bring to similar material like "Because" or "Across The Universe," as well as recycling some lyrical ideas ripped off from Lao Tze ("He who knows does not speak / He who speaks does not know") which would re-appear on "The Inner Light" and the inartful use of the word "swine" on an album where he'd already offered a song about swine. That being said, it's not clear that this was ever really in the lineup as a serious contender for the White Album, unlike the superior "Not Guilty," which was extensively developed over many recording sessions, then dropped at the last minute along with John's harrowing "What's The New Mary Jane." It's not really fair to be so critical about what was probably a very stoned demo session to work out some rough ideas for future development. I can certainly tell you that it would be unfair if some future bloggers found my early '90s homemade cassettes and pointed out the immature charmlessness of "Tony's Raga" or "You Will Enjoy My Style." Unfortunately, all we have to judge the potential growth of this song is the rough 1968-era demo. If only George had managed to find the time to polish this particular turd during his solo career, with all the technological advances that were available during the early 1980s. Oh well, guess we'll never know what might have...

Richard Furnstein: Hold on! I have to stop you right there. I have with me a rare early 1982 pressing of a George Harrison album called (get this) Gone Troppo. I don't think anyone has ever really heard it, so it could be the ultimate Beatles rarity. Especially now that Paul McCartney has issued the AM radio promotional mono mix on 180 gm delicious vinyl. Check out the cover, it looks like one of those stupid 5 for $10 shirts that clog up depressing seaside towns like Oceanside, California or Wildwood Crest, New Jersey.

George finally got around to recording "Circles" for this ultimate collector's choice release. Gone Troppo also features some classic dreary numbers like the navel-gazing "Mystical One" and the inadequate tropical ooze of "Greece." Wait a second. That actually sounds pretty great, right? Wrong. It stinks.

"Circles" funereal organ dirge takes George's tendency toward sour lethargy to a ridiculous new extreme.
Robert Bunter: Okay, fun's over. We both know about Gone Troppo already. It could have been so wonderful. When rich rock stars go to tropical lands and get inspired, the results are often breathtaking. Tropical soft rock combines the breezy cheerfulness of island lifestyles with just a hint of salty ocean tears; the wistful melancholy which foreign people call "tristes tropiques" ("the sadness of tropical lifestyles" in English). The longing for a place that is both perfect and impossible; the disappointing reality that waits at sunrise when the last of the coladas has worn off. Forget about Jimmy Buffet; gaze deeply into the world of Michael Nesmith's "Rio," Kevin Ayers' "Caribbean Moon" or Bill Wyman's "Je Suis Un Rock Star." The possibility of George Harrison dipping his feet into these beautiful clear waters is intriguing, but unfortunately "Gone Troppo" falls flat. Any of the other Beatles might have been more suited to a coconut-rock cash-in record, I'd wager.

Richard Furnstein: John came close with the sweeping ocean breeze calm of "Beautiful Boy." Paul's explorations into the tropical mind during the Wings years usually yielded loose "reggae" with manic shouting and funny voices. I imagine Ringo tried for the frond and mango set at some point, but who wants to listen to those records?

As for the Gone Troppo version of "Circles," it's a pleasant enough exploration of the White Album sound. The obligatory solo George slide guitar seems particularly poignant and lonely in this mix. In fact, this recording could be George perfecting the melancholy bloat template that was established by his putrid second solo album Living In The Material World. Why exactly did George dig up this lonely Kinfauns sessions outtake to serve as the closer for his indifferent 1982 album? Creative bankruptcy: the same reason that he gave away "I Don't Want To Do It," an outtake from All Things Must Pass, to the Porky's Revenge! Original Soundtrack. Sadly, George often lived off the scraps of the fertile period between The White Album and All Things Must Pass. The next golden age never really came (despite some justifiable good will for Cloud Nine). I guess he was too busy racing cars or puttering around his gloomy gardens to actually write songs.

Robert Bunter: You're right. It's a sad deal. I'd just like to close with this great passage from Albert Goldman's slanderous "The Lives Of John Lennon,"1 about how Double Fantasy was originally conceived as "a reggae album with tango attitude":
"...Signaling Fred to fetch the recording gear, John sang and strummed, while Fred beat on a guitar case, until Lennon was satisfied he had gotten down what was in his head. Then, lighting up a joint, he kicked back contentedly and began to paint in rapt tones his vision of his great comeback album. It would be an album soaked from end to end with the soft, sensuous sounds of the Caribbean. Bermuda was in the Caribbean, wasn't it? It wasn't! Well, fuck it! What difference did that make? It was an ocean isle, tropical and sexy, full of the sounds and moves of rhythm and blues. In fact, if they really wanted to get the right sound, they should go to Jamaica! Go to the same studio that Bob Marley used! Get down with the Rasta men and smoke ganja in big spliffs or hash in chillums. Then they could get that deep-down, superfunky bass-box sound that comes straight from Trenchtown. You couldn't get that sound in New York. No way!" 

1  Goldman, Albert. 1988. The Lives of John Lennon. Chicago Review Press.

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