Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Til There Was You

Richard Furnstein: The emergence of doe-eyed Paul McCartney: the ladies' choice. Paul graced the world with his manboy presence, with a quiet sparkle in his doll-like face and a jutty rhythm that worked through his broad shoulders and confident knees. John was the leader and--at the time of With The Beatles--the primary songwriter of The Beatles. Paul was merely a nice accent piece; he'd provide gentle relief from John's frequent misogynistic breakdowns as well as a solid Little Richard impersonation. It always seemed unusual that Paul's "All My Loving" kicked off their Ed Sullivan appearance. I'm not saying was suffering in the George sub-basement, but he really wouldn't emerge as a true counterpart to Lennon until possibly "Yesterday" or Rubber Soul. "Til There Was You" was essentially a showcase of this limited concept of Paul's role in the band: a rough balladeer who sang as much with his large eyes as his honey throat. Is there any real difference between this and similar showcases for Ringo as the C&W goofball?

Robert Bunter: Of course there’s a “real difference,” Richard. Remember, this elegant show tune was part of the group’s repertoire since the rough-and-ready days of Hamburg 1962 at least, if not the mythical Liverpool Cavern itself. This wasn’t some light-in-the-loafers smoochery tacked on for sales appeal by “fancy” manager Brian Epstein or staid, conservatory-trained producer George Martin. This song is part of the underground root-ball from which the whole Beatle plant would eventually grow – the budding sprouts of emotional directness and harmonic sophistication that define the Paul-stalk of this magnificent plant are audible here. If the Beatles had consisted entirely of Lennon’s ferocious moods and angular artistic sensibility, their sublime balance of forces would have been disturbed. Paul warbles a bit of sweet poetry with disarming sincerity and the ladies swoon, but behind the sweet fragrant meadows and winging birds there is a terrifying emptiness. We’re not getting any of Paul’s real emotions, just a nicely crafted bit of Tin Pan Alley doggerel and a lovely melody. This may be the ultimate McCartney song, not despite but because of the fact that he didn’t write it.

Richard Furnstein: It certainly has the vital life-stuff of later sophisticants like "Things We Said Today" and "Yesterday." "Til There Was You" finds a man lightened by love embracing the bustling life and activity that surrounds him. Every step along the noise, warmth, and light of the waking world is a pure delight. While The Beatles would fully mine this territory in the psychedelic years (the cartoonish "tangerine trees and marmalade skies" representing heightened senses), Paul's childlike wonder truly sells this song. Does he pronounce the word "saw" as "sawr"? That's adorable.

"Til There Was You" is so exaggeratedly mawkish you could imagine The Beatles making goony faces and miming spastic convulsions at the kids when the mums, dads and Mr. Epstein were looking the other way.
Robert Bunter: This track also represents the first hints of self-conscious parody and pastiche in the group’s catalogue. “Til There Was You” seems to be delivered with a bit of an ironic wink; on the one hand, it seems to say “Look at us! A gang of drunken provincial teds with loud guitars, but we can play standards, too. A little something for everybody, ‘ey wot?” At the same time, the song is so exaggeratedly mawkish you could imagine them making goony faces and miming spastic convulsions at the kids when the mums, dads and Mr. Epstein were looking the other way, not unlike Eddie Haskell charming Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver with a little soft-shoe dancing but meanwhile he just dared Beaver and Whitey to climb up onto the billboard and fall into the ersatz soup bowl and the firemen have to come and get them down. This mischeivious, parodic approach would become a career staple, especially for McCartney: “When I’m 64,” “Your Mother Should Know,” “Honey Pie” and “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance,” to name just four.

Richard Furnstein: "Til There Was You" should be nothing more than a sweet contrast on With The Beatles, their greatest (and most rocking) LP. However, the performance of the song at the Royal Variety Performance would elevate the song in the story of The Beatles. In this performance, Paul plays the sweet bard singing into the deep eyes and hallowed loins of the busty young Queen Elizabeth II. It was a huge moment as this group of rough lads with dead mothers from Liverpool were introduced to the ruling class that they would soon replace in terms of wealth, social culture, and national pride. Lennon later let tried to assert The Beatles (or rock and roll culture) had surpassed Jesus Christ and a host of associated angels. Bold, to be sure. I'd say the America-baiting "sacrilegious" comments and the burning of Beatles records by cross-eyed American rednecks had their origins in the ego trip that was the performance of this gentle number from The Music Man.

Robert Bunter: I would say that, too. And that’s why I would say you were wrong at the outset when you tried to tell me this crucial landmark was in the same ballpark as Ringo warbling his way through “Act Naturally” or “Honey Don’t.” When you look under the surface, you’ll find that there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye, not unlike the episode of ALF where bumbling paterfamilias Willie Tanner reads an accidentally-discovered space diary and learns that the wisecracking, happy-go-lucky orange Muppet he calls “Alf” is in fact Gordon Shumway, a highly-advanced space traveler who spends sleepless nights in the garage brooding over the fate of his doomed romance with sweet Rhonda and the countless melancholy light years which preclude the redemptive return to his primal home on the planet Melmac.

Richard Furnstein: Ha!

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