Thursday, December 13, 2012

Money

Robert Bunter: The first two UK Beatles records (which I like to call “Please Please Me With Love Me Do And 12 Other Songs” and “With The Beatles”) were obviously derived from the brutal, punishing live sets they’d been perfecting for years in a series of foul, damp basements, crime-infested German beer parlors and smoky dance halls. Cover versions of American R&B rarities cribbed from scarce imported 45’s dominated the proceedings, with the balance gradually tipping toward John and Paul’s original compositions. They’d toss in a show tune or ballad for effect, but for the most part the setlists were designed to keep a bunch of sweaty black-and-white film footage teenagers in Elvis Costello glasses and bobby socks jumping up and down for hours at a time. The first two albums were crafted from the same template – start out with a lot of energy, whip up the pace with a few rest stops along the way, then sprint over the finish line with a barnburner. On the first record it was “Twist And Shout,” on the second album, “Money.” As great as these tracks are to listen to, I can’t help but feel a strong sense of “you had to be there.” Sure, there’s menacing piano riffs, pounding rhythms, throat-shredding vocals and a general sense of frenetic abandon, but what I hear more than anything else is the echo of a moment that had already come and gone by 1963 when this was released. The dank basement crowds hopping up and down for a stageful of leather-clad bruisers were already pretty much a thing of the past, replaced by packaged variety shows and established theatres within which collarless suit-clad teen idols bobbed their heads politely for crowds of pants-bedampened 12-year-olds.

Richard Furnstein: It saddens me to admit that you are right, sir. The magic was in the moment: a drunk George stumbling into his shaking Vox Amplifier; Ringo's sweat bouncing off of his pleading floor tom; Paul with both the angel and the devil on his shoulders, with his predator vision searching for this evening's beauty queen; and John's razor and bile voice projecting onto the loose stone walls, affixing to the crumbling structure like evil moss. George Martin tried his best to capture the magic. Indeed, his thick piano work is one of the greatest elements of the recorded version. However, it's easy to feel that something is missing in the final recording. Perhaps it is the result of the strict recording standards of Abbey Road. Maybe it was difficulty for The Beatles to become truly engorged in the sterile atmosphere of the studio--where George Martin's tea cozy was dampened, not the pants of innocent young adults. I posit that we perhaps are bringing unrealistic expectations to this recording. Sure, it's the final track on The Greatest Beatles Album (AKA, With The Beatles). As such, it has to both serve as a closing argument for an incredible set of primal rock songs and match the majesty of Please Please Me's final shredder "Twist And Shout." "Money" has everything, it's just that we have an odd feeling that we were here before.

Robert Bunter: The subsequent Beatles LP and single releases, from A Hard Day’s Night onward, were the event; the screaming stadium gigs were merely the shadow. The post-With The Beatles primal moments all happened on vinyl, over radio and television airwaves and in the ears/hearts/minds of a new generation. The global phenomenon was communal, shared across space and time. The callow, sweaty youth clutching his shoddy Capital stereo mix “Beatles VI” LP in the cashier line at Gloanburg’s Record Mart at the Springfield Mall in 1985; a wise old Japanese man chuckling softly at a re-run Beatles cartoon on satellite television in a dank Osaka noodle house; the pretty young office girl who was lucky enough to personally witness the Apple rooftop concert in 1969 from across the street; even the post-modern, decontextualized young lad with the Justin Beiber haircut, meaninglessly streaming rare bit torrent Get Back outtakes onto his web cloud mp3 accumulator and asking for a 180-gram vinyl copy of the Sgt. Pepper 2012 remaster for Christmas – they are all equal participants in a transcendent cultural experience. The primal, pre-Beatlemania dance hall rave-ups, unfortunately, were only for there and then. You blinked and you missed it. Listening to “Money” is no substitute. Frankly, other than the great Beatles shows, life was probably pretty lousy for those long-forgotten participants. Everything was in black and white, the air was briny with decomposing fish and all they ate was beans and “crisps.” Jitterbugging wildly to primitive beat groups was their only chance for emotional release; before long they grew up to be snaggle-toothed housewives or German gangsters, like their parents.


The dank basement crowds hopping up and down for a stageful of leather-clad bruisers were already pretty much a thing of the past, replaced by packaged variety shows and established theatres within which collarless suit-clad teen idols bobbed their heads politely for crowds of pants-bedampened 12-year-olds.
Richard Furnstein: Think about it: The Beatles represented the Allies, returning to Germany to check on a defeated nation. They found a generation of reckless degenerates, wallowing in their life mistakes and burning through stolen Jewish gold. The Beatles were swept up by this world of "no tomorrow" sleaze: living in a porn theater, swallowing dusty pharmaceuticals, and hobnobbing with beautiful hipsters named Klaus and Astrid. The best things in life were indeed free for these charming Brits: unprotected sex, mystery pills, misguided "happenings," and delicious weisswurst sandwiches from the club's canteen. They would later attempt to bring the excitement of Hamburg back to Liverpool (and then the world) but the vibe was shattered. Sure, the casual sex, drugs, and sandwiches would grow along with their fame, but The Beatles soon became a tedious job. Their version of "Money" came at the right time; they knew they had made their choice and were willing to accept everything that came along with it.

Robert Bunter: Yeah, it’s clear they were making a deeper point with this particular song choice, not unlike “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby” on Beatles For Sale. The group’s relationship with money evolved over their career. From a group of showbiz phenoms on the make (Reporter at press conference: “Will you sing something for us?” Beatles, in unison: “We need money first.” Reporter: “What are you going to do with all the money?” Beatles, in unison: “What money?”), by Revolver they had matured to complaining about Her Majesty’s 95-percent tax rate for their income bracket. During their spiritual phase, they shunned the material world, asserting (incorrectly) that “fun is the one thing that money can’t buy” and spitting contempt at materialistic “Piggies.” By the time of Abbey Road’s elegiac “You Never Give Me Your Money,” the same economic windfall that had been the source of so much gleeful celebration in 1964 (“Let’s write ourselves another swimming pool!”) had soured the relationships at the heart of the band and dissolved the very Love which they’d evoked so convincingly in song. John’s harsh delivery of “Money” in 1963 reflects these budding ambiguities. One the one hand, the song is a sarcastic, ironic lampoon of crass materialism; yet one simultaneously gets the distinct impression that they meant it.

Richard Furnstein: They definitely meant it. "Money" represents the vikings at the start of their voyage: The Beatles are full of ambition and ready to feast on the world. Compare the verve of this recording to the resigned millionaire sign-off of the previously mentioned "You Never Give Me Your Money." Better yet, put on John Lennon's crass lurch through the song on the Live Peace In Toronto 1969 album. Lennon can barely stay awake in this bloated version. His white suit on his ghostly frame, expensive habit in his arms, and late period Howard Hughes beard make him seem like a terrifying hippie dream of the monopoly man. Eric Clapton adds some professional solo work. High dollar to be sure, but lacking the heart and craft of Harrison. Yoko is dancing in a bag. Does anything scream "money" more than performance art? And who's that on bass? The very embodiment of the artistic and intellectual freedoms of those German salad days: Klaus Voormann. 

Robert Bunter: Klaus. Hip German existentialist friend from the early days. Drew the cover of Revolver. Played bass on many solo records. A total key influence and behind-the-scenes buddy. Klaus. Never wrote a cash-in tell-all book; always playing it close to the chest in his cordial appearances in Beatles documentaries. Solid dude. Voormann. Call him up if you need a favor, or just to talk about the old days. A knowing nod, a whispered word, a hand on the shoulder. Don’t worry, it’s all been taken care of. It’s good to hear from you, Klaus. A friend. Klaus.

Klaus.

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