Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Little Child

Robert Bunter: I think there are really a lot of important things we can say about "Little Child," the primal crucial track on With The Beatles. It was on this song that the Liverpool foursome was finally able to shed their happy-go-lucky image and grapple with the darker side of the '60s revolution and changing social mores. Despite its early vintage, "Little Child" represents the ritualistic transformation of the John-figure from innocence to maturity. We all must understand this.

Richard Furnstein: Listen, I'm going to be honest with you on this one. I've got nothing to say about "Little Child." I couldn't care less about John's mocking pleas for physical love, the reckless harmonica tracking, and the motorisch refrain in the fade out. We've been there before. This guy had issues with women and a tendency towards self pity when he didn't get his way. Let's do something useful with this forum. Think outside the box. Actually, do you want to talk about "Listen To What The Man Said" from Paul's 1975 solo effort "Venus And Mars"? It's been on my mind lately.

Robert Bunter: Ahem. I think there are really a lot of important things to be said about "Listen To What The Man Said," the primal crucial track on Venus And Mars. The story of Paul McCartney is the story of a guy who could write the greatest songs in human history ("Penny Lane," "You Won't See Me," "Maybe I'm Amazed"), but his real pleasure was writing catchy throwaways that played to his natural strengths in the realms of melody and personal charm ("C Moon," "When I'm 64"). It was a source of real struggle for him. The intense, committed fans were wracked with desperate thirst for more life-sustaining liquid from the same deep, profound well from whence came "You Never Give Me Your Money," but the keeper of  the keys to the bucket was just as happy doling out paper cups of brightly-colored Kool-Aid like "All Together Now" or "Your Mother Should Know" to the ignorant slack-jawed masses. For Paul, it was not about providing the deepest artistic fulfillment to the most discerning of die-hards but reaching the widest possible audience and making them smile as much as possible. At times Paul seemed to struggle with the burden of being the goose that laid the golden eggs and strive for works of elevated merit, but then he might be just as likely to turn around and unleash a defiant piece of fluff like "Silly Love Songs" or "Her Majesty." You can see where I'm going with this, right? The final mind-bending truth is that Paul's throwaway fluff was in fact the High Art all along. His true medium was AM radio and magazine clippings, not 180-gram sealed audiophile deep-groove vinyl artifacts and gilded oil paintings. "Yesterday" and "Hey Jude" were the real fluff, the second-rate album filler. The Truth was hidden in plain sight on tracks like "All My Loving" and "Listen To What The Man Said" all along.

Richard Furnstein: Paul McCartney fully embraced the stadium pop leanings of Wings on the Venus And Mars album. Sure, there were sugary pop moments all over the two previous Wings albums (Band On The Run and Red Rose Speedway) and on the overblown "Live and Let Die" single, but they were tempered by the low-key experimentation of the fledgling band. Even the easy listening pop of "My Love" seemed somewhat lo-fi and weedy rather than glossy and smooth. Venus and Mars found Paul McCartney in full-on mega pop monster mode (look no further than the opening number "Venus and Mars/Rock Show," a "Band On The Run" style suite that paid tribute to the stoned masses who would come out to see Wings in American stadiums). "Listen To What The Man Said" is the only pop hit on Venus And Mars, and it was strong enough to provide all the support that was needed for the Wings Over The World mega-tour. Wings had become the well-tuned/profitable/muscularly musical machine that The Beatles never were.

Robert Bunter: John Lennon did more than his share of singing about how the world needed more peace, love and understanding, but it was McCartney who actually delivered the goods. Lennon's latter-day Beatles and solo output ranged from turgid to terrifying, with stops in-between for political harangues and trite sloganeering. Albums like Plastic Ono Band invite the listener to curl up in a fetal ball under a set of headphones and painfully absorb the heavy vibes. Nightmares, tears and perhaps, by the end, redemption. But meanwhile, if you were to just take off those dusty, stinky headphones and look out the window of your darkened teenage bedroom, you might see that the whole rest of the family is outside near the swimming pool, laughing and belly-flopping while a platter of freshly-grilled hamburgers and fruit punch sits expectantly in the July sunshine. And what's on the AM radio? I'll give you one guess: it's Paul McCartney singing "Listen To What The Man Said." Listen to that clarinet happily tooting along! Lennon's tortured, epic Statements bemoaned the walls that separate us and the lack of human communication, but Paul was content to provide the soundtrack to our lives and brighten up the air with a tune so sweet it might make your teeth fall out.

Here is one anonymous listener in a comment posted under the "Listen To What The Man Said" YouTube video clip: "Ten seconds into the song tears flowed down my face, hurting/longing for the days of this songs era, and the flood of happy childhood memories the song suddenly brought to me. I would do anything to go back to that time for just a little while." Here is another: "1975 - 7 yrs old, back seat of Mom's Plymouth Valiant, headed to the beach. God, I miss those days..." And another: "This song reminds me of Summer picnics by Lake Michigan...yes, the 1970's was a great era in music!"  One more: "When this song came out in 1975, My girlfriend and I loved to sing this song together in the car at the top of our lungs. We would then laugh until our sides hurt." Check the page yourself - there are dozens of them, each more heartbreaking than the last. Paul touched the hearts of a generation and brought real love and happiness into the world at a level that scary John, sanctimonious George and drunken clown Ringo could only dream of.

Don’t read too much into it, mate, it’s just a pleasant boogie that is guaranteed to shoot straight up to the top of the charts. You’re getting into a weird area.

Richard Furnstein: For all of their hair and blood, Lennon's most grotesque demonstrations couldn't match the brutal reality portrayed in this happy-go-lucky pop song. The scene is set early: "Soldier boy kisses girl, leaves behind a tragic world." It's a fun image: horny, stupid kids having drunk fun during liberty. However, we can interpret this deceptively simple lyric two different ways. One interpretation is the act of physical love gives the man and woman a temporary escape from the horrors of war and tedium of life. The other interpretation is that the tragic world is the result of their regrettable romantic encounter. That innocent kiss lead to the conception of new life. Unfortunately, human beings are inherently evil, resulting in a lifetime of damage, wreckage, and misery. I'm inclined to take the latter interpretation of this key lyric. Indeed, the intent of that line would be the first question that I would ask Sir Paul if I ever had the chance to meet him.Remember that The Beatles were a product of post-war Europe, much like the fine-tuned pop machine of Wings was fully realized following the Vietnam War. Paul certainly knows how to bring us into his tale of passion and tragedy.

Paul lets a little light into the house with the next line. The soldier is ambivalent to the tragedy surrounding his love: "But he won't mind. He's in love and he says love is fine." It's a classic call back to the monosyllabic word play of early Beatles, including the jumbled use of the word "love" which recalls classics such as "Things We Said Today." Paul seems to be saying that we're already stuck in this world, taking our slow steps towards death. We may as well make the most of our time here. Love is a simple fix, but it will still do the trick.

Robert Bunter: That’s all as valid an interpretation as any, but I think this is one of those cases where Paul is using the lyrics as a simple decorative vehicle for his intoxicating melody, performance and production. He did the same thing on “Jet,” “C Moon,” “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” “Hello Goodbye,” “Come And Get It” and so many others. To quote my beloved Nicholas Schaffner, “[Paul’s solo work] brings to mind a chocolate egg – tasty, if just this side of sickly sweet, but it crumbles when you try to sink your teeth in.” The soldier boy, “the people,” “the Man” – these are all just syllables for Paul to croon while those tasty bongos, lovely Linda harmonies, funky clavinet and sprightly Dixieland clarinets do their thing. “Don’t read too much into it, mate, it’s just a pleasant boogie that is guaranteed to shoot straight up to the top of the charts. You’re getting into a weird area.” But here’s the twist: Paul’s hasty lyrical sketches may have unwittingly pulled back the curtain on Paul’s true nature far more than any of John’s nude confessionals or childhood exorcisms. Who is the titular “man”? Maybe he is Paul himself, beholding his own reflection in an infinitely-regressive funhouse mirror. What did the man say, Paul? Tell us. We are you.

Richard Furnstein: Paul is certainly no stranger to phonetic scoot babbles--especially during some of the feel good/free and easy Wings period. Think of his wordless exultation that concludes "Powercut" from the Red Rose Speedway album. I think there is more to the story here. You are right that the secret lies with uncovering the mysterious "man" in the title. I think there are a few intriguing possibilities in Advanced Man Theory:

  1. Paul McCartney-Wings was Paul's show: a fully realized but necessarily loose outfit that Paul could manipulate to knock out some loose rock ("Soily") or mechanized pop sheen ("With A Little Luck"). Remember back to a haggard George battling Paul in the Let It Be movie about doubling a rote bass guitar line. George was right to fight back on the condescending Paul ("I'm only trying to help you."), and certainly used this moment to help realize the majesty of All Things Must Pass. Now Paul was reminding the record buying public that he was still the one to "listen to." His pop vision was true, steady, and--most importantly--financially sound.
  2. John Lennon-It's easy to imagine a dialogue between Lennon and McCartney during their solo years. The world was hoping that these long lost brothers would be drawn back together; following a string of clues and gentle winks in their assorted solo catalogs. This theory is garbage, however. Paul was singing about Linda or marijuana-induced wordplay. John was singing about himself or Yoko. It's sad, really.
  3. Brian Epstein-Paul was no stranger to looking back with love. The death of Brian Epstein signified the end of the brotherhood of The Beatles so it is easy to view him as this symbol of creative control and focus. There never was a "Man" for The Beatles. Politicians and police officers had little impact on the sheltered lives of geniuses and the gurus were quickly exposed and discarded. Brian remains as the only real position of authority who could advise these egomaniacs. 
  4. The Saxophone-My favorite theory. The Man is nothing more than the dancing, exuberant specter of the saxophone that runs throughout the song. The saxophone represents the loose and free sway of music on human beings. Paul is simply requesting that his listeners sit back and give in to the dancing spirit of this wild and gentle instrument as it scales the trees, giggles on the mantle, and peeks at us through an open window.
Robert Bunter: Now you’ve got the idea. The Man is all of these and more. Paul’s breezy lightweight lyrics are a blank page that listeners can fill with all sorts of heavy interpretations, or just take them as they are. Ob-la-di Ob-la-da and all that. Paul never lost sight of the true nature of his gifts, even while the rest of us kept waiting for him to mine a deeper vein. This song is a cheeseburger. Who is “the Man?” He is Ronald McDonald, doling out infinite billions of warm round brown patties to a drooling populace lined up hundreds deep at the front counter. It ain’t filet mingon, but nobody’s leaving with an empty stomach, either. Did you know that Tom Scott was the only person to play on all four Beatles’ solo albums? It’s true! At least, I think it might be true.

Richard Furnstein: You are right, although he just did some stage work with Lennon. In a way, Tom Scott was the life glue that held this disgraced band of brothers together through the rocky (and rocking) 1970s. His expert gut control and breath force rocketed him to the top of the Los Angeles session men: a scene that the solo Beatles would rely on to anchor their temperamental solo recordings. Long gone were the glory days of "Little Child" and other carefree rockers. The only wind blowing in that time was from Lennon's primitive mouth harp. Friends supported friends, not a L.A. coke-twonker in sight.

Robert Bunter: Well that was an exhaustive analysis.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I'm Looking Through You

Richard Furnstein: Come in, old friend. Let's listen to the pure joy in the introduction of "I'm Looking Through You" together. Open a window. Hell, open every window. Change of plans: go outside and roll around in the flaking heather with Donald and Phillip Everly. What a goddamned pleasure. Let's get an early lunch. It's on me.

Robert Bunter: Oh yeah sure, that’ll be great, hoss. The Beatles are serving up a queasy menu of doubt, suspicion and insecurity. Yesterday’s simple infatuation and tender affection have curdled. The sour aftertaste is masked by a catchy melody and stabbing organ fills (!), but we’re dealing with a smorgasbord of uncertain adult emotions as the Paul-figure moves inexorably toward maturity. The seeds of the disillusionment and pain that would later flower on tracks like “You Never Give Me Your Money” and “The Long And Winding Road” are planted here, and you’re sitting there with a napkin tied around your neck, holding your fork and spoon upright next to your empty plate, smiling eagerly in anticipation of another helping. Get the hell out of here.

Richard Furnstein: Enjoy your steaming pile of heartbreak, pal. Paul was probably skipping a lot of meals when he wrote this song following the end of his relationship with the lovely Jane Asher. There was always sadness in Paul's early love songs. Songs like "Things We Said Today," "And I Love Her," and "I'll Follow The Sun" are undeniably beautiful and romantic, but seem like a songwriter attempting depth by hinting at potential loss and heartbreak. Perhaps Paul was just trying to replicate the light and shade of John's "love" songs, which were more about the euphoric balance of sexual release and emotional trust in a new relationship. The loss of Asher finally gave Paul a similar but distinct edge to his love songs. Paul wasn't merely venting on "I'm Looking Through You," "Drive My Car," and "You Won't See Me"; he was revealing the sadness and pain behind his dreamy doe eyes. It's a straight shot from here to the elegiac "Let It Be" or the funereal "Little Willow." Paul didn't need cloying strings ("Yesterday") or horrorshow expectorations (Lennon's "Mother") to convey loss to the listener. The power was in his brown eyes, his spidery fingers, and his steady stare into the quaking unknown.

We’re dealing with a smorgasbord of uncertain adult emotions as the Paul-figure moves inexorably toward maturity.

Robert Bunter: I think the key line is “You don’t look different/But you have changed.” Paul was not used to feeling a real sense of need in romantic relationships in 1966; his Liverpool youth and Hamburg adolescence were filled with casual conquests with Paul seated firmly in the driver’s seat. In Jane Asher he was confronted for perhaps the first time with a strong, independent woman with her own career, needs and wants. Paul senses that she has changed, but has she really? What’s different is the power dynamics between the two of them. He probably wrote this song after a trifling spat where he wanted to spend the night in but she wanted to go attend the opening of the new Joe Orton comedy at the Gloanshire Playhouse. Now, of course Paul could go out whenever he wanted and stay out till all hours with a series of faceless secret girlfriends, but if he felt like staying in, it was just expected that “his woman” would be right there with him to fix the tea and digestive biscuits. Well I’m sorry Paul, but that’s not how it works with mature modern relationships in the 20th century. Why don’t you just pick up your little guitar and write a song about it? Oh, you’re so disillusioned. Where did she go, Paul? WHERE DID SHE GO?

Richard Furnstein: There's a lot to unpack here. John's lyrics (even in the early years) tend to be the subject of scrutiny for his emotional state while Paul's lyrics are typically taken at face value despite his poetic interpretations of loss. Imagine if John had written "Yesterday," it would have been acclaimed as a heartbreaking tribute to Julia Lennon. Instead, the listener interprets "Yesterday" as a melodramatic exploration of puppy love. It's similarly easy to point at the Asher incident as an emotional awakening for Paul, as if he could only feel pain following a broken heart. Show the man some respect: Paul had experienced the death of his mother when he was 14 and had those wounds exposed again as he helped John through Julia's death a few years later. It gives a heavier spin on the loss suggested by the line "Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight." Paul (much like John) was developing his capabilities to express more complex emotions in the pop song format. Asher was simply the wrong woman at the right time, pushing Paul into a new emotional language. It was a new day and Paul no longer had an angel on his shoulder ("You were above me, but not today"). Things would certainly get better.

Robert Bunter: Well it makes sense that Paul would be taking some serious emotional strides at this point. All the Beatles were developing so rapidly in every sense: musical sophistication, political awareness, expanded consciousness, breaking social barriers, brown suede jackets. The magic spell they were under must have naturally applied to matters of the heart, as well. That’s always the point: all the Beatles always did whatever they did because it was the very best thing they could possibly have done right then at that moment. It just happened to be time for Paul to confront his complex attitude towards relationships with women, so he did it. With a minimum of fuss and a lovely tune.

Richard Furnstein: Rubber Soul was the start of a new era for The Beatles. They were now operating without contemporaries. There was no need to pad out their albums with rock chestnuts or modern girl group numbers: that musical language no longer contained the answers. They finally mastered the form and could now just smile and watch their pathetic peers scramble to keep up. You don't sound different/I've learned the game." Remember the scene from Don't Look Back where Bob Dylan eviscerates Donovan while running through a ragged "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"? The Beatles were now doing this to mankind. "I'm Looking Through You" isn't about Paul getting over some some green-eyed cutie pie. Rather, it embraced the new supernatural powers of The Beatles race, scanning the fears and emotional confusion of the trembling human beings after each of their miraculous feats. Better drain out your boots when you hear "Wait," animals.

Robert Bunter: Oh crap!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Strawberry Fields Forever


Richard Furnstein: An absolute and perfect work, “Strawberry Fields Forever” is the The Beatles at their best. It represents the peak of their songwriting craft, George Martin’s production and arrangement work, incidental and exciting floating instrumentation, and the unlimited creativity of the psychedelic era. Hell, I’d contend that it is the greatest creative work of the 20th Century. I feel weird dumping our typical giddy hyperbole on this masterpiece. Indeed, “Strawberry Fields Forever” has little connection to its only true sonic or songwriting antecedents (“Tomorrow Never Knows” and “In My Life,” respectively) as Lennon doesn’t reference or build on these prior works. Rather, he devises an entirely new language to tell the story of his brain. “Strawberry Fields Forever” is a completely unique animal; emerging tattered and strange from the ornate gardens of the mind. The song isn’t in the key of A; rather, it’s in the key of Air—a menacing and fragrant gas which disables the feeble human synapses and filters and resets the landscape below.  

Robert Bunter: Yeah. It’s an altered mental state. The unfamiliar instruments (Mellotron and some kind of zingy Indian harp), the tapes played backwards or slowed down, the improbable yet beautiful chord changes, the trick ending – they not only illustrate the lyric’s precise yet vague portrait of confused uncertainty, they evoke and induce it. The listener can’t help but viscerally inhabit Lennon’s haunted mindspace. I don’t care how mentally together and emotionally secure you are, when you hear this song, you know what it feels like to be a rich, unhappy, drug-addled human genius full of pain from the past, fears for the future and disorientation in the present. Objectivity dissolves. Lennon was able to manufacture similarly hallucinogenic effects on his other two attempts at audio drugs (“I Am The Walrus” and the aforementioned “Tomorrow Never Knows”), but what elevates “Strawberry Fields Forever” is the beauty. It shines through the confusing textures like a warm smile inside of a nightmare.

Richard Furnstein: The nightmare was certainly displayed in the promotional video for "Strawberry Fields Forever." The clip displays the band's new look--a combination of Victorian and lurid clothing, deviant facial hair, and the vacant, sad stares of internal psychedelic explorations. After an unheralded six months of creative chrysalis, they have emerged as underfed butterflies. There was nowhere to go but up: miles from the dull, patchy grass, through the pink smog, and into the pulsing light. Surprisingly, Paul McCartney is the most frightening figure in the video. His once friendly doe-eyes are lifeless (perhaps literally) and full of sorrow. Cloaked in a garish mustard-colored coat, he hops along the ground backwards and jumps into an expired oak tree. George and John have aged decades during their break from the public eye. Their gaunt bodies are hidden by technicolor fashions. Ringo looks the most familiar, but he is clearly searching for comfort in this strange world. The clip enters night during the slow, cello-drenched "no one I think is in my tree' verse. The tree is festooned with nylon spider web emerging from a piano. Is the tree fake? Is there truly nothing to get hung about in this caustic landscape? Ringo smiles with glee as they douse the piano in cans of paint. We (the viewers) are similarly baptized in these colorful new structures. Surely, everything that came before had to be scrapped as useless. This was it.

Robert Bunter: It wasn't just the video. The lyrics themselves are addressed directly and personally from the John-figure to YOU, the listener ("Let me take you down"), just like "I'd love to turn you on," "Isn't he a bit like you and me?", "Can you hear me?", "There's nothing you can do that can't be done," "You can syndicate any boat you row" and so many others, all the way back to "Oh yeah I tell you something / I think you'll understand." This approach would come off has presumptuous (at least) in the hands of a lesser artist, but John and the Beatles were confidently aware that they occupied a special place in the consciousness of their listeners. So, after a gracefully genteel Mellotron prelude, the lyric begins with our old friend John disarmingly offering to let us join him on a trip to Strawberry Fields. Informed fans know that this was the name of an orphanage just around the corner from John's childhood home in the Liverpool suburbs, where a young Lennon was fond of listening to the sprightly tubas and cymbals of the Salvation Army Band each summer at the annual garden party. One can even imagine the domineering young lad rounding up his neighborhood chums on the way to the fair by saying something like "Let me take you down 'cause I'm going to Strawberry Field" in a cute little British accent. But obviously John is working on a different level. He informs us that "nothing is real" and, more alarmingly, "nothing to get hung about." This casual, ho-hum attitude towards the existential riddles with which John confronts us - "It doesn't matter much to me" - is almost as terrifying as the cellos, reverse-time drum loops and old-man moustaches. 

Richard Furnstein: I beg to differ. John was not entreating the listener to take a "trip" down to the halcyon Strawberry Field. Instead, he was warning the listener that he was about to tell them the sad story of his shattered childhood ("let me take you down"). It's significant that he set this alleged idealist piece of nostalgia in an orphanage as he was finally ready to tell the story of a mother who left him (and then suddenly died in a senseless accident as she decided she was finally ready to become a stable figure in his life) and an absentee seaman father. In "Strawberry Fields Forever," John envisions himself as a ward of the orphanage rather than merely a visitor to its lush gardens with his caretaker Aunt Mimi. John realizes that he is nothing more than an unwanted child, despite the best efforts of Aunt Mimi and Uncle George to create an illusion of stability and normalcy following his primal scream trauma (the loss of his parents). Indeed, "living is easy with eyes closed" suggests both John escape from his loss as he retreats to his rich and fractured imagination and Aunt Mimi's well-meaning illusion of a normal Liverpool family. Perhaps as an orphan, John could have realized a greater sense of connection to humanity ("no one I think is in my tree") in an age when traumatized children didn't receive psychiatric care. He was hiding his internal damage caused by the loss of his parents to the world rather than wearing his injuries proudly as a state-declared orphan. The casual mention of "nothing to get hung about" suggests that suicide is the only way to really stop the bleeding. John would be more emotionally direct in revealing his pain during his raw early solo years ("Mama don't go/Daddy come home" and "One thing you can't hide is when you're crippled inside"), as he finally received the therapy and time for self reflection that he desperately needed. However, the grace and poetry of the pain in "Strawberry Fields Forever" is somehow more startling than the grotesque exposure of those later lyrics.

Robert Bunter: The shattered childhood material is all there, but it’s subtextual – indicated only by the title/refrain’s mention of an orphanage and the track’s pairing with McCartney’s “Penny Lane” as an explicitly two-sided meditation on their shared Liverpool roots. The sad little chap, squinting nearsightedly at the merry Salvation Army band and stoic war orphans of early-‘50s England is now grown up. His already hyperactive mental/emotional/spiritual Self has been rocketed to the highest levels of wealth and artistic acclaim, then magnified and distorted through his copious use of advanced pure mind drugs of the highest pedigree. The Beatles just made the decision to stop touring and John, at loose ends, decides to accept a minor movie role and spend a few weeks filming in Spain. During the interminable waiting periods between takes, he gently strums an acoustic guitar and ponders the uncertain future of his career as a Beatle, his stultifying, dead-end suburban family life with Cynthia and Julian, and, yes, the bleak reality of his broken youth. The primal, crucial questions of his life loom inescapably as he struggles to decipher their answers through a haze of THC and boutique-quality lysergic acid. Am I a madman or a genius? What is real and what is illusion? How can I maintain my integrity and awareness in the face of so much pain? It is startling to hear the John-figure -- so accustomed to delivering pronouncements from on high, flashes of righteous anger or cutting wit -- lost in melancholy confusion. Who is this politely confused old man with the granny glasses and moustache, singing “I think I know, I mean, ah yes, but”? Surely not the same confident authority figure who had (quite recently) commanded us all to turn off our minds, listen to the color of our dreams and say the Word.

The beauty shines through the confusing textures like a warm smile inside of a nightmare.

Richard Furnstein: It's easy to imagine John languidly strumming this chord progression on the set of of How I Won The War. Literally and figuratively in a foxhole during the making of Richard Lester's dark comedy, Lennon was nervously awaiting the next development in his life. "Strawberry Fields Forever" was a bold and risky direction for the songwriter: he was exposing himself (emerging from the foxhole) to the rewards and risks of its creation. The glorious demos for "Strawberry Fields Forever" reveal the endless options of this strange composition. A Beatles fan could spend a decade in the stark and gentle productions of these early versions (combined and compiled nicely as part of the Beatles Anthology). Later in his life, Lennon claimed to be unhappy with odd patchwork of lushness and strangeness that was unleashed to the world like a psychedelic Frankenstein's Monster. You can almost understand his concerns because the final product--while pure brilliance--was so unusual and seemingly incongruent with his original vision of the song.

Robert Bunter: The story of how “Strawberry Fields Forever” was pieced together from wildly different takes in the studio is one of those Beatles stories that have been re-told in every book and documentary film, but I’ll briefly summarize it here. The song was first debuted to George Martin as a solo voice and acoustic guitar demo that George Martin later said was “utterly breathtaking” even in a completely unadorned state. Since it was the height of the studio experimentation phase, however, they clearly couldn’t let it go at that. John asked Martin to score the track for cellos and trumpets, and the resulting take was utterly striking and unique. John still wasn’t satisfied, however, and suggested they start from scratch with a more ponderous, heavy rock version that emphasized Ringo’s drums. This, too, was an artistic triumph. John still felt something was missing and asked Martin to join the two takes together. The staid, conservatory-trained producer nearly fell from his velvety-cushioned rotating studio chair with incredulity at Lennon’s inexhaustible naivete. “But John! They’re in completely different keys and tempos! What you’re asking is impossible!” But John just smiled and gave him “that look” and said, “Oh, I know you can do it, George” and floated away before his very eyes (actually, this was accomplished with a simple series of ropes and hidden pulleys arranged over the studio rafters by assistant Mal Evans and Ringo). Martin, suddenly alone in the cavernous studio space, racked his brain for several hours before he thought of the (totally obvious) idea to slow down the faster one a little bit and then speed up the slower one slightly. Miraculously, it worked – the keys and tempo matched perfectly. This is the reason John’s voice sounds more druggy and strange in the later verses. It may be difficult for a non-musician to understand just how startlingly unlikely it would be for that to work.

Richard Furnstein: John's voice also sounded more druggy because he was consuming Olympian doses of d-lysergic amid at the time. Martin's role was clearly to translate a madman's babbling for the Top 40; seducing happenstance with a surgeon's steady hand. Indeed, the studio trickery of the "Strawberry Fields Forever" master is more than mere psychedelic colouring (think of the BBC airwaves captured during the chaotic "I Am The Walrus" fade or the swarming clavioline that haunts "Baby, You're A Rich Man"). It is an essential element of Lennon's storytelling. He once implored us to "Listen to the colour of your dreams"--a nice enough sentiment--before taunting "It is not leaving." In other words, we have reached the point of no return. The dripping many-eyed iguanas and undulating mindwave trails are here to stay. Are you in or are out?  

Robert Bunter: I'm out. There's too much more to say, and we've already gone on too long. Maybe we'll do part two someday. Maybe. That would be a fine place to talk about the fake ending, the Mellotron, and the fact that this and "Penny Lane" were pulled from the Sgt. Pepper lineup as originally conceived. Let's get the hell out of here.  

Richard Furnstein: Fair enough, old pal. This song is a burrito-as-big-as-your-head. Sometimes it is alright to get your fill and walk away. We're all adults here.

Original Beatles fan art by Matthew Heisler

Friday, June 21, 2013

Rock And Roll Music

Robert Bunter: This song is operating on many confusing meta-levels. It’s like a mirror gazing into a mirror or a beatnik contemplating a box of Morton’s salt (“Like, the girl in the raincoat is holding a small box of Morton’s salt which is illustrated with the same girl holding the same box of salt! Dig that, man! Real gone!”) You’ve got Chuck Berry, who was simultaneously inventing rock music and commenting on it. Then you’ve got the Beatles in the process of reinventing it, doing a cover version of the self-referential Chuck Berry song. Is it an affectionate tribute to an inspirational oldie of the past? An ironic comment on the stifling conventions of ‘50s rock – conventions that the Beatles were in the process of upending? Was this a crucial return to roots or a moldy bit of filler from the Cavern setlist to pad out “Beatles For Sale?” Does John actually say “It’s got a black beat” at 2:13? Is that how you’re supposed to pronounce the word “mambo?”

Richard Furnstein: The song's protagonist claims to be a lover of rock and roll music. However, like many connoisseurs, his palate has become too specific to truly understand the simple pleasures of his obsession. He's haunted during his pursuit for the perfect beat. His nagging qualifiers are removing him from the primal joys experienced by the revelers described in this song. The song takes us on a colorful journey through modern jazz clubs, a rough and tumble American road house, jubilant parties filled with moonshine and slow-eyed women, and an exotic tango/mambo/congo land full of bananas and rum. Our hero has a great time on his voyage, yet approaches each of these scenarios with a dismissive and detached tone ("I must admit they had a rockin' band"). He returns once again to his plain hamburger with extra ketchup (rock and roll music), eating the fried patty while staring out of a greasy diner window.  

Robert Bunter: Yes. Yes. And then we have the late ’64, “Beatles For Sale”-era Beatles. They’ve just conquered the world with their radical redesign of rock and roll music’s original architecture, yet they are at pains to make sure all their new young fans know how they feel about Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Little Richard and Larry Williams. The kids are standing there in their stupid rooms staring at the front cover sleeve photo of four gloomy mop tops in raincoats and thinking, “Well, it’s really nice that you guys liked Buddy Holly enough to cover ‘Words Of Love,’ but wouldn’t that space on the album have been better filled by another ‘I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party’ or ‘No Reply’?” and meanwhile the Beatles are over here like: “Listen to the track. You must mind the roots that the blooms may blossom. Mind the roots.” And the kid’s like: “What?”

You must mind the
roots that the blooms may blossom. Mind the roots.


Richard Furnstein: You are truly an apologist if you think Beatles For Sale was a loving tribute to the roots of rock 'n roll. The cover depicts four weary men staring through an autumnal haze at the fickle consumer. It's almost a day after shot of those charming face-pullers from the sleeve of A Hard Day's Night. "Sorry, we're a little knackered today from being chased by girls and singing an exciting blend of sexually-charged original compositions. Would you like to hear a poorly recorded Carl Perkins song? No? Sorry."

The album's contents suggested a combination of emerging post-fame insecurities (especially for the overly sensitive John Lennon) and creative exhaustion. "Rock and Roll Music" is one of the few exciting moments on this album, especially coming after the misery triumvirate of "No Reply," "I'm A Loser," and "Baby's In Black." Lennon's voice shines like the best moments on With The Beatles; the reverb effect which weighs down the contemporary cover "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby" is a much better fit here. Staid, conservatory trained George Martin busts loose with a rollicking caveman piano overdub. The rhythm sections is sleepwalking through this standard, but its fun to hear Ringo play it high and loose with the cymbals while Paul takes his beast for a walk. No problem!  

Robert Bunter: Yeah, they were tired but managed to rally nicely on "Rock And Roll Music" and many other moments of Beatles For Sale, truth be told. It has a reputation for taking a dip in the quality control department, but that's part of the charm. This was a "typical" Beatles album, another product from the factory (hence the title). It's like when you're reading MAD Magazine and one of the little cartoons shows somebody reading a copy of MAD Magazine, it's always a perfectly generic copy, with nothing on the cover but the logo and a plain, unadorned portrait of Alfred E. Neuman. When I saw that, I wanted to own that issue. It's the same with Beatles For Sale. Rubber and Revolver and Pepper and White and Abbey and Let It (as I call them) are each so singular and unprecedented that they defy contemplation as mere albums in the discography of a talented beat group - they were epochal touchstones, culture-bearers, departure points for the sprouts of a new generation. But while everyone else is admiring the lofty peaks of those towering accomplishments, it is the unique pleasure of the discerning fan to wander in a journey of discovery amidst lowly, earthbound records like Beatles For Sale.

Richard Furnstein: Gosh, I feel guilty for every thinking that Beatles For Sale was an inferior Beatles product--marked by relatively poor production and an underwhelming tracklist. It's a vital piece of the whole. Nostalgia drives Beatles For Sale, both in the rock and roll sounds of their early years in Liverpool and Hamburg and in the yearning for the simplicity of life before their sudden fame. Did they not bleed during its creation? Yes, look at that Dixie cup sitting in the vocal booth. That's where John spit out blood between takes of "No Reply." Did they not sweat during its creation? Surely you can see the sweat crystals on George's leather guitar strap and the damp posterior grooves on Ringo's throne. And what of the fans? Did we not scream and woo and wonder at its (admittedly) lesser majesty? Of course we did. Get the hell over here, sweet love. Let your hair flow down and dance with me to this wild rock and roll music. They're playing our song again.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tell Me Why

Richard Furnstein: I'm here to tell you: this song reflects the true John Lennon. You can keep the patient dreamer of "Imagine." I don't want to hear about the guardian of childhood imagination in "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds." Get the hell out of here with the tender yet mad genius of "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Nowhere Man." Print out the lyrics for "Tell Me Why" and show them to your therapist. She'll tell you that the author is clearly hiding his self loathing behind his misogynistic aggression. He is obsessed with his own overwhelming sense of misery while being unaware of his the impacts of his emotions on other people. Textbook abandonment issues, related to a fractured relationship with a mother. While most adults enter into relationships for an emotional connection and sexual fulfillment, the protagonist of "Tell Me Why" only pursues women in order to shift blame and fears onto another person. It's pathetic, but what a backbeat.  

Robert Bunter: I can imagine that therapy session. “Mr. Bunter, why don’t you tell me about your childhood?” “Well, doc, actually I want to play you this song from A Hard Day’s Night and get your reaction.” “Mr. Bunter, we’re here to talk about you, not … what are you doing with that portable phonograph player? [sputtering] Mr. Bunter, this is highly irregular! [music starts to play, the attractive woman therapist’s hips begin to involuntarily rock and sway to the irresistible Mersey backbeat] Mr. Bunter! I have never … This is a therapy session, not an episode of Top of the Pops! [the song reaches the bridge] Oh, the hell with it! [therapist dances with wild abdomen]” Yeah, that would be quite a session! Whoo-whee! SHAKE IT! OK, but look: the lyrics may well point to John’s inner fears and issues, but when I hear this song, I’m not listening to the lyrics. I’m hearing the supreme confidence of a master pop craftsman at the top of his game. “She Loves You,” “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” were the three knock-out punches that really shook the world and launched a thousand black-and-white videos of shrieking girls and crowded airports, but in my opinion, some of the second-tier early rockers like “It Won’t Be Long” and “Tell Me Why” are even more galvanizing. This song makes me feel like I could jump over a building and dance on the head of a pin. Whatever inadvertent subtextual psychological revelations may have been lurking under the manhole cover are ultimately irrelevant. This is the song of a conquering champion on top of the world.

Richard Furnstein: You got that right. The Beatles play "Tell Me Why" during the finale of in A Hard Day's Night. It's a big moment. We finally get to see The Beatles perform live after an hour of watching them get chased by teenage girls, outsmart local cops, and babysit Paul's perverted grandfather. Sure, the exposition was hilarious and occasionally touching, but we were waiting for that rock n' roll party moment. The film footage of "Tell Me Why" is highlighted by a energetic upshift of girl screams. We see close-up shots of these poor girls crying as John and Paul jeer "tell me why you cried." I'll tell you why they cried, John and Paul. They cried because The Beatles destroyed their sad, quiet lives. Wondering which of their with horse-faced classmates would get the lead in the useless school play. Petting that short-haired goon Johnny Titus after the church ice cream social. Listening to their dying fathers smoke in the den. They thought they were happy, but The Beatles showed them that they were miserable. She's leaving home. He's leaving home. Everybody is leaving home. We're starting over.  

Robert Bunter: Yes, the sprouts of a new generation. The seeds of all that came after were planted here. Ringo's just bashing away on the goddamn cymbals, shaking his hair back and forth. The bass is playing jazz-inflected walking bass lines that add to the sense of accelerating propulsion. John's fantastic rock and roll voice has never been in better form, yet it has been nestled into a bed of utterly gorgeous close harmony singing from George and Paul. Here's a pop (!) quiz: what's the best part of this song, the intro, the verse, the chorus, the bridge or the ending? I dare you to answer me.  

Richard Furnstein: The answer is clear: ALL OF THE ABOVE. It's one of those hot typhoon Beatles songs where the individual pieces roll along with little regard for dynamics, despite its relatively simple structure. Similar to "It Won't Be Long," it kicks off with a shouting chorus. I'd particularly like to highlight the bridge. It's a simple build, but exactly what the song needs after the repetitive breezy verse. It's hard not to love Paul and George squeaking towards the falsetto on "Is there anything I can do." It's like they are mocking the hysterical cries of the lying girlfriend. The ending has a classic Beatles resolution, quickly descending in half steps before landing on the D major. That's the stuff!
  
Robert Bunter: Ha! You know, you’re right. I hadn’t thought about that. This song is just brimming with positive spirit and joie de vive. It’s perfect. It’s not uncommon for fans and critics to regard the Beatles’ accomplishments as somehow superhuman, usually because of later peak points like “A Day In The Life,” “Hey Jude” or “Old Brown Shoe.” But I would submit that they were already operating as gods on “Tell Me Why.” The whole is greater than the sum of the parts: four primitive, unschooled musicians from a hardscrabble port town with simple guitars and tape recorders somehow managed to trap lightning in a bottle. I’ve said it before, but we should all get down on our knees and give thanks that we are lucky enough to live in a world where “Tell Me Why” not only happened, but was captured on tape and is easily repeatable via simple audio reproduction technology. I tend to insist on original mono UK vinyl pressings in order to appreciate the holy scriptures in their fullest glory, but “Tell Me Why” is an exception. Go ahead, listen to a lossy mp3 with earbuds. Try a third-generation low-bias cassette dub on a primitive GloanTone Pocket Walkman. I don’t care if you’re hearing it through the walls from your sister’s room over a transistor radio. The Force will be transmitted just as strongly as it would have if you were right in the middle of the studio when they cut the take. “Tell Me Why” is as good as Beatles music ever gets.

Richard Furnstein: Kudos to you, old friend.  This is goddamned life.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Savoy Truffle

Richard Furnstein: "Savoy Truffle" was George Harrison's attempt to create a world of psychedelic colors. A fantasy land intended to rival the dripping funscapes established in "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," and "Glass Onion." Yet, where John Lennon's landscapes were created out of manic fury, terrifying childhood nostalgia, and a steady hand for Jabberwocky, Harrison's fantastical lyrics were a droll recitation of weird British candy bars. It's a long way down from the startling lysergic visions of tangerine trees in marmalade skies to the turd-shaped creme tangerine and coconut fudge bars in the window of an old time sweets shop. George never really advances the metaphor or changes the lyrical focus of the song (unlike the preachy undertones of the contemporaneous "Piggies"). As a result, we're left alone in the sweets shop as George continues to pile the disgusting fudge bricks on top of the shop's rusty old scale. Quantity over quality. "Let's be freaks and sing the candy catalog over some scuzz rock." Thanks, but no thanks.

Robert Bunter: Naw. It’s not on that plane! You’re looking at a tuxedo and complaining because it’s not a linen jumpsuit. The lyrics of “Savoy Truffle” don’t seem to amount to much because they don’t need to. Sometimes a few funny words and long vowel syllables are all you need, especially when they’re chosen to adorn a steaming, sizzling pile of greasy funk that sticks out from the rest of the decidedly un-funky “White Album” like a sore thumb. The deeper meanings are there if you want them – George’s bhagavad-inspired assertion that momentary pleasures of the flesh (maya, chocolate lumps) will surely bring toothaches and the inevitable dentist’s drill of karma. But that’s really beside the point. This track is all about the funky clavichord, brisk snare rolls and sassy horn charts. The whole thing simmers and bubbles like a stockpot full of pungent soup. I, for one, am eager to dip in and ladle myself out a hot meal.

Eric Clapton eventually reveals his true self to be nothing more than impatient desire as he opens the wrapper (Pattie Boyd's multi-colored micro mini skirt) and takes a bite of coconut candy bar covered in buttery white chocolate with 2 large almonds on top.


Richard Furnstein: Your point about the karmic implications of the momentary sweet desires aligns nicely with the true subject of the song: Eric Clapton. George wrote the song about his old pal's sweet tooth, but it's easy to connect the refrain to Eric's future betrayal of The Beatle in his successful pursuit of Mrs. Harrison. The "Savoy Truffle" is presented as the original sin--a tempting indulgence which carries significant risk. George seems all too sure that his friend will ultimately reach for the ultimate sweet treat. He is after all an out-of-control junkie with crooked teeth. All is revealed in the sturdy bridge as "what is sweet now turns so sour." Eric eventually reveals his true self to be nothing more than impatient desire as he opens the wrapper (Pattie Boyd's multi-colored micro mini skirt) and takes a bite of coconut candy bar covered in buttery white chocolate with 2 large almonds on top.

Robert Bunter: Yeah, the relationships were pretty tangled and complex. George clearly looked up to Clapton as a virtuoso “real” musician and treated him with respect; he was drafted into the “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” sessions as a premier figure on the London blues scene, a “heavy.” At the same time, Eric “God” Clapton was naturally star-struck to be in the presence of a Beatle, even one as phlegmy and sanctimonious as George “Dark Horse” Harrison. Affairs were further complicated (as you’ve noted) by Clapton’s tumescent desire to bed and wed George’s toothsome wife, Patti “Layla” Harrison. The nicknames flowed as freely as the wine and joss sticks in the elite echelons of the 1968 pop scene – even also-rans like Mary "The Cushion" Hopkin and Jackie "Burgertime" Lomax got into the act.  

Richard Furnstein: I'm glad you mentioned Jackie Lomax. "Savoy Truffle" is clearly related "Sour Milk Sea," Harrison's White Album-era composition which was later recorded by throaty bluesman Lomax with assistance from Harrison, Clapton, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and famed sideman Nicky Hopkins. I'd argue that "Sour Milk Sea" is superior song to the leaden "Savoy Truffle," although much of that can be credited to Lomax's hair on fire delivery.

Robert, what's your take on the dismissive "Ob-La-Di" reference in "Savoy Truffle"?  

Robert Bunter: It’s bad, man. Real bad. George was starting to hate Paul’s smiley-face songwriting persona and his growing assertiveness meant that he was willing to insert a dig at “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da” right there on the same album. He even contemptuously gets the title wrong (“We all know Ob-La-Di Bla-Da”) because he can’t be bothered. It’s not the only self-referential moment on the White Album, either. John places his own turd into the punchbowl with “Glass Onion.” Earlier manifestations of the Beatles’ psychedelic period playfully altered the group’s image – the brightly-costumed fairground musicians of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or the wizards and walruses of Magical Mystery Tour. By the White Album, however, the self-awareness just hangs in the atmosphere like a sour cloud. George and John take potshots at Paul in their sardonic lyrics while Ringo’s over here cowering in the corner with his can of goddamn beans. And where is Paul? He’s with George Martin in a completely different part of the studio (THEY WERE RECORDING IN SEPARATE STUDIOS BY THIS TIME) supervising the sublime French horn overdubs on “Mother Nature’s Son,” one of the finest moments in human history. The whole thing is disgusting.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Blackbird

Richard Furnstein: It's a quiet night in for Paul. He pads around his London flat in his woven khussas. Time for a little tea and breeze. A lonely bird called from beyond the black, sharp images dancing across his window glass. "You and me, pal. You and me." Then he grabbed his standard D-28 (strung backwards, of course), sat on a helpful beanbag chair, and joined the lonely bird in a song. Whip-poor-will and wait. Keep waiting. The night will burn off eventually.

Robert Bunter: To me, this is the most beautiful song Paul ever wrote. I think it's better than "Yesterday," "You Won't See Me" and "You Never Give Me Your Money," or "the three second-most-beautiful McCartney songs that all start with 'Y'" as I call them. I will admit that I was surprised, after many years of listening to this song, to hear Paul explain that it was written as an oblique statement of support for the civil rights movement. For me, it was always a song about his own sublimated yearning for independence from the stifling confines of the Beatles' insectoid chrysalis to the free-flying avian future of mature development that was Wings. But the subtexts are really beside the point. It's a beautiful melody and lyric. A baby could understand it. Purity. Simplicity. Unadorned acoustic fingerpicking, no effects on the vocal, don't be afraid to let the mic pick up the sound of your foot tapping on the floor. It's a natural affair. There's a goddamn bird with a broken wing hopping around on sad little bird feet and this earnest, beautiful man is encouraging it to muster its resources and take flight. Are you telling me you wish the other Beatles had been in the studio for this session? You want 1968-era Ringo tom-tom plodding and Lennon's tortured falsetto? Maybe we'll have George add some of the beefy horn sections he was experimenting with on "Savoy Truffle." Yeah, that would be a GREAT idea. Get the hell out of here.

"Blackbird" was always about Paul's sublimated yearning for independence from the stifling confines of the Beatles' insectoid chrysalis to the free-flying avian future of mature development that was Wings.

Richard Furnstein: Hey, great point. Much as been made of the solo recordings aspect of The White Album, but I can only think of one of the songs that would have benefited from the full band arrangement ("Why Don't We Do It In The Road"). The sparse and solo-focused songs are some of the most effective on the album (think "Blackbird," "Julia," and "Martha My Dear"). There is a confidence in the individual pieces of The White Album; it's as if The Beatles were asserting that they were more than the raucous backbeat or the distinctive harmonies. They were producing pure musical love. Is that Clapton on guitar? Is Yoko singing backup? Is John making the pig noises? It doesn't matter, simp. Focus on Paul's voice here--a single beam of light in a pristine clearing. Nothing else matters.

Robert Bunter: Much has been made (by me, here) about the way Paul’s tendency towards crowd-pleasing, eager-to-delight showmanship can serve to obscure the primal essence of the man. I would submit that “Blackbird” actually exemplifies that phenomenon, even though it seems like an exception to the rule. The sparse production and intimate setting seem to be at pains to cue the listener that, hey, this is the real McCartney, caught in a personal moment, behind the curtains – as you evoked so beautifully in your opening statement about the pajamas and the beanbag chair.

Richard Furnstein: Thank you, kind friend.

Robert Bunter: As we listen, our mind’s eye conjures these fantasies. A little too readily, if you ask me. Paul paints a self-portrait of a wistful dreamer cradling his backwards-strung guitar and whistling a little tune for his own personal amusement, and maybe that of the injured crow hobbling around his windowsill. Finally. The man behind the eyebrows. I love you, Paul. Yeah, well, keep your powder dry, Kemosabe. The whole thing is just as much of a contrivance as “Your Mother Should Know” or “She’s Leaving Home.” I’m sorry, but there is only one Paul song that allows us to glimpse the reality of its composer, and that song is “Fixing A Hole.” There’s a lot to unpack there, but we don’t have time right now. We’re talking about “Blackbird.”

Richard Furnstein: Thanks for the reminder. "Blackbird" is the first in Paul's esteemed bird series. The later installments ("Bluebird" from Band On The Run, "Single Pigeon" from Red Rose Speedway, and "Jenny Wren" from Chaos And Creation In The Backyard) share the fragile beauty and reflective tone of "Blackbird" but never reach its wondrous heights. I could write pages about Paul's oaky voice and his absolutely perfect guitar part (still the only part to play when testing out a acoustic). I'll tell you what absolutely slays me, though: the gentle tapping on the body of the guitar. The organic rhythm box would also help define "I Will," but it's almost more effective here. Again, we're down to just Paul. A man with a guitar in a room surrounded by lovely Disney birds. The pulse you hear isn't brutish Ringo and his unforgiving stickplay; it's simply Paul tapping the box. Flesh hitting wood. All come free.

Robert Bunter: Yeah, it’s a light moment on a record that doesn’t have too many of them. Only McCartney’s very similar “Mother Nature’s Son” and Lennon’s pastoral “Dear Prudence” are in the same room of the crazy, endless house that is the White Album (Lennon’s “Child Of Nature,” an outtake that was cut from the White Album lineup and later repurposed as “Jealous Guy” on Imagine, was cut from the same lovely cloth). Otherwise it’s just a nightmarish collage of tiger hunts, oedipal love ballads, cannibalistic swine, unabashed monkeys, terrifying playground equipment, wounded bloody raccoon cowboys, soiled sheepdogs rolling around in their own filth, hairless car crash victims, insomnia, guru betrayal, lizards crawling on windowpanes, violent revolution and toothaches.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

All You Need Is Love

Robert Bunter: The year is nineteen something-or-other. Some guy invents satellite television technology, capable of using space machines to beam pictures and sounds across the entire globe! Then, in 1967, some TV producers decide to create a program for everybody. The climax of the show would involve the post-Sgt. Pepper Beatles, at the very height of their cultural influence and creative powers, performing and recording their newest single absolutely live, in real time, before an audience of millions. They had no reason to think that exponential leaps of genius and sophistication that marked the progression from "She Loves You" to "Yesterday" to "Tomorrow Never Knows" to "A Day In The Life" would not continue indefinitely; even the most curmudgeonly critics would have allowed that "if they keep on at this rate, their next record ought to be quite good!" Wonderful. Let's prepare the studio and order up some cameras and session musicians. "What are we going to do, lads?" asks staid, conservatory-trained producer George Martin. "I've got a little number that'll do nicely," said handsome Paul. And he sits down at the piano and plays a brisk minor key ostinato. "Let's all get up / and dance to a song / that was a hit before / your mother was born," he sings, and before he can even finish the next line, Ringo throws a large, heavy-bottom ashtray at his head. There were still cigarettes burning inside of it; Paul's brightly-colored satin blouse could have easily caught fire as he lay unconscious from the impact. But he deserved it. Can you believe that he actually offered up "Your Mother Should Know" for the Our World global satellite broadcast? No, I am not making this up. After Ringo threw the ashtray, John reached over and pulled on the back of Paul's hair as hard as he could, which really hurts when your hair is the length that Paul's was in summer 1967. Paul screamed (he sounded just like Little Richard, listen to the actual session outtakes on rare bootlegs!) and George took the opportunity to karate chop him in the lower ribs. There was no fracture but an ugly purple bruise about three inches below his nipples was there for weeks. Mal Evans poked him in the behind with a sharp cane. The playful locker room horseplay and brotherly tussles that had long characterized the Fab Four's studio sessions had taken a decidedly ugly turn. 

Richard Furnstein: Thanks, Robert. You set that up nicely. The Our World programme (program here in the States) was a talent show for the world. Each of the civilized nations with television technology provided entertainment (including comedy skits, Hungarian juggling, traditional dance, and songs) for the live broadcast. I'll tell you what, they should have just cut to the chase and shown "All You Need Is Love" twenty times. Can you imagine sitting through this endless program for three minutes of The Beatles? It must have been torture. They probably had teasers before each commercial break: "Coming soon: THE BEATLES live from England." That was that, you were stuck in your chair for hours, staring at some confusing samurai swordplay, hoping for the salvation from the greatest band on the planet. Suddenly, there they were! They looked just like the creepy aged faces on the cover of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (except John and Paul lost their progressive mustaches). While the Sgt Pepper's album cover's heaving forest of exploding flowers and garish frocks was drained of all its color in the broadcast, the array of beautiful people (plus Mal Evans), willing hippie women, and stuffy old English session players provided an even sharper view of the love revolution. Look, the Rolling Stones stopped by! The Pepper sleeve told us about that band. I should check them out at some point.

Robert Bunter: So, the group wisely decided against using Paul's less-than-stellar "Your Mother Should Know" in favor of John's anthemic mission statement "All You Need Is Love." It was a simple, catchy tune with a nice universal message that really rings true. Even Paul had to agree that it was the right choice for the TV program, after he regained consciousness with the bruises under his nipples and on his behind. And yet - "All You Need Is Love" ultimately represents a disappointment. Lennon was at his best when writing about his deep personal emotions and somehow managing to strike a chord of resonant universality with the larger outside world, on tracks like "In My Life" and "Nowhere Man." When he sat down to consciously address humanity ("The Word," "Give Peace A Chance," "Power To The People," all of Some Time In New York City), more often than not he was wont to trip over his own inflated ego and serve up a platter of stale broadsides. There were exceptions ("Revolution," "Imagine," "Isolation" and "Working Class Hero"), but I'm putting "All You Need Is Love" in the former category.

Richard Furnstein: Cut Lennon some slack. Do you think it was easy for him to relate to the common man? He couldn't sing of straight happiness or love; his emotional ideal was based on dependency and abandonment fear. His nightmares were full of horrific fanged visions. Yet, Lennon had an ongoing desire to make that connection. Hence, his worldwide plea for peace and love was anchored in familiar melodies ("Three Blind Mice," "The Song Of The Marseillaise," "She Loves You") and offset by a uniquely Lennon clipped verse melody. There you go, World: you've heard it before but you haven't heard it before. Do you love it? Of course, you do, it's got Keith Moon playing brushes on a snare while Mick Jagger wears a ridiculous Lennon face jacket. Forget Haight-Ashbury, "All You Need Is Love" resides at the corner of Fabulous and Lysergic. Time to clock in at the ol' drop out factory.


It’s no wonder the hippie dreams of the ‘60s faded into the clouds like so much happy smoke, leaving behind only the seedy crumbs and vague, burnt peanut butter stink of yesterday’s stash box.
Robert Bunter: OK, fair enough. Lennon was so advanced, he needed to simplify his message lyrically and musically so it could be understood by all humans, from the most urbane sophisticates to the most primitive children. As a longtime Beatle fan who falls somewhere in the middle, let me just admit that this song is on my list of skip-overs. I’ve been over-exposed to it my entire life. There it was on the 20 Greatest Hits cassette. Then I got it on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack LP. Then, there it was on the “Blue Album,” 1967-1970 and on Magical Mystery Tour. That’s not even counting its appearances on the latter-day greatest hits collection One and the trapeze mashup record Love. And the original 1967 single. And the Our World footage appearing in every single Beatles documentary, from the immortal Compleat Beatles to the Anthology. I’m sorry, but the song just isn’t that good. It was lazily written and poorly produced. It is lyrically oblique and musically uninspired. It’s no wonder the hippie dreams of the ‘60s faded into the clouds like so much happy smoke, leaving behind only the seedy crumbs and vague, burnt peanut butter stink of yesterday’s stash box. It was the Beatles’ job to write, perform and record a song that would unify the world and heal the lingering wounds under our nipples and on our behinds. Instead, John served up a platter of warmed-over fortune cookie riddles and Glenn Miller horn charts. The Beatles would record the necessary world-unifying track soon enough (it was “Hey Jude”), but they didn’t put it up on the satellite TV and therefore everything went down the pan until finally they broke up.

Richard Furnstein: Gosh, I'm surprised you didn't complain about Ringo's poor drumming performance in the broadcast video. Listen, I'm sorry if you can't appreciate Lennon's cool gum-chewing detachment in the dreary verses. It's too bad that you can't hear the beautiful swirl of the finale as a mantra (the fanatical George Harrison later claimed it was a "subtle bit of PR for god"). What about George's squeaky but emotional solo? If only you could delight in the cello driven string section, old friend. I think there's a lot to love here. It has always represented the excitement of the transitional points of The Beatles. While in many ways a retread of the sophisticated pop symphonies of Pepper, the weird combination of live and backing tracks alone make this a completely unique recording in the world of The Beatles. (Side note: have you ever imagined what the backing track sounds like on its own?) It's certainly not The Beatles' fault that this song was anthologized to death; it was merely a single with a worldwide premiere. A snapshot at the transition from the wide eyed lovers of life in Sgt Pepper to the garish confusion that marked the Magical Mystery Tour/Yellow Submarine era. The Robert Bunter I used to know would lament that we don't have a full album of these miracle sessions. Another branch in the mighty Beatles oak tree cut short by the changing seasons.

Robert Bunter: I’m not taking the bait. This track is weak and I think deep down everyone knows it. John certainly did; I would refer you to the following quotes: “[All You Need Is Love] wasn’t our best track” (Crawdaddy, 1971); “…a real low point, creatively speaking” (Rolling Stone, 1973); “Frankly, Dick, I was just phoning it in. Me heart wasn’t in it, we just figured we had to cut a track for the telly-vision program” (Dick Cavett interview segment, 1974); “Garbage? Yes.” (Creem, 1977). Now, I will grant you that artists themselves are seldom the best judge of their own work, but I think we ought to at least give him the benefit of the doubt. One little-known fact about these sessions is that the Beatles played oddball instruments on the backing track – John strummed a banjo, Paul thumped a double-bass and George scratched away on a violin. I will admit that I would love to hear those isolated tracks. They probably sounded like Flatt and Scruggs. VERY flat and Scruggs, that is! Look, the song is far from terrible. John’s assessments (“another steaming pile shoveled onto the dung-mound of our post-Pepper doldrums” –East Village Other, 1972) were overly harsh. I’m just saying this is ultimately a pedestrian effort that does not deserve to be numbered among the greatest hits. That’s all, Richard.

Richard Furnstein: Here's a quote I'm more interested in: "It was a fabulous time musically and spiritually"--Ringo Starr, poolside, Los Angeles, California, 1995. He's right, we're both wrong. Let's go get some Mexican food, old friend. I'm buying.

Friday, March 15, 2013

P.S. I Love You

Richard Furnstein: Paul McCartney was a dangerous young man. His loose balloon eyes would draw the helpless ladies of Liverpool into his warm cloak, where a dark cloud of aftershave and sweat would swarm around their wilting bodies. The women were easy prey: Paul would snatch them up like a giant ripping the roof off of a girls' school. He always seemed to be the secret man in a gaggle of boys. "P.S. I Love You" finds Young Paul reaching Aleister Crowleyian levels of control over sexual energy and power. The song--a breezy appropriation of Buddy Holly's white man samba--seems innocent enough. The P.S. of the title may even be a reference to Holly's figurehead of rock and roll innocence, "Peggy Sue." There's something sinister going on in this song. John Lennon serves as the dashing wing man on this recording, gently easing his friend into each line of the verse. Paul remains steady and confident during the pitch to Earth's women. He only breaks a sweat during the climax of his mating call ("YOU KNOW I WANT YOU TO remember that I'll always-YEAH-be in love with you"). You don't even really notice that the man is screaming until he comes down off that powerful run to join the measured tone of his buddies. It's powerful stuff.

Robert Bunter: Well, that’s just it. Paul’s greasy charm was irresistible, and the whole song is delivered with brisk professionalism. It’s difficult to listen to this one and not form a cartoonish mental image: a single blue spotlight illuminates the shabby wooden stage of a darkened nightclub. A quartet of unctuous smoothies sways gently back and forth as they effortlessly sketch a gentle tropical melody; the singer cradles an old fashioned microphone and leans into the foreground of the frame at an exaggerated, physically impossible angle. His eyebrows arch and tighten with hideous sincerity; his pursed lips glisten with shiny secretions. The audience members are the featureless black silhouettes in a George Peed album cover. The sincere intensity of Paul’s contrived insincerity begs all sorts of questions. Is it possible to tell a lie so well that it becomes your truth? The real Paul McCartney and his emotional feelings might be the real illusion; the cartoon nightclub crooner in our mind’s eye, the reality.

Richard Furnstein: The music suggests motion: a tender blend of the precision stride of a seasoned nag and the comforting creaks of a an tugboat. Where are we going? Paul suggests that he is "coming home again to you, love." It's a nice image, but Paul is reluctant to put a timeline on this return. It feels more like a tender kiss off from a man who realizes that his future his full of tender fragrant nubs, moist jazz cigarettes, and the simple elegance of teak. Paul's never coming home. His love is still true; in fact, he loves you so much that he can't break your heart. I'm sorry. It has to be this way. You'll understand years from now. See you around, sweet Penny Lane.

Paul's never coming home. I'm sorry. It has to be this way.

Robert Bunter: Penny Lane – the heartsick, immature Liverpool dalliance whom smarmy Paul is brushing off with a casual letter and postscript – is US. The fans, the record buyers, the listeners – from the damp screaming 12-year-old in the upper decks of Shea Stadium to the sad, fat old man with a shopping bag full of officially-licensed Apple Corps towels, jackets and Magical Mystery Tour DVD’s at Beatlefest 2009. The “letter” is actually the record album itself; “treasure these few words while we’re together / keep all my love forever,” he tells us. “Send a few extra bob to the fan club and you may even receive an autographed glossy photo and a lock of hair shipped via postal mail!” Paul seduced the world and then tossed us aside like so many nickels and dimes, scattered across the rumpled bedsheets of our lives from where they fell out his pants pocket during the tussle and roll of physical love. Thanks for the trinkets, Paul. I guess I’ll just hold onto them and treasure the memories. PS, I love you. But … who are you?

Richard Furnstein: That's the burden that James Paul McCartney must carry. He's just a man who was sent to this planet to keep our memories alive. George and John are dead. Ringo doesn't want to sign autographs for you anymore. It's all on Paul. You say it's your birthday? Let me play you this Paul McCartney song. Are you sad because you are lonely? Here is a magic spell called "No More Lonely Nights." Wait, you want him to live forever and play a thousand songs in a single concert? I'm sorry, he has to travel to Pittsburgh in the morning to heal their citizens. But aren't you glad that you heard "Mrs. Vanderbilt"?

How much are these memories worth to you? That depends. Are they truly longer than the road that stretches out ahead? I'm not sure if there is an answer. All I know is that I want more of it. Forever. Give me your collected letters of John Lennon. Give me "Press To Play" in multiple formats. Give me Ringo and Steve Miller jam sessions. Give me the overpriced remastered mono vinyl box set (rumored for an Xmas 2013 delivery). I want it all. I'm alive.

Robert Bunter: Yeah, I want it all, too (London Town illustrated songbook and “Take It Away” 12” single with the picture of him holding the teacup, please). I’m human. But you’d better go into this thing with your eyes open. The thing you really want is the one thing you can never have: Paul McCartney’s true heart. I’ll bet that even when you were in his actual presence, you found yourself staring at the pixilated eyeballs on the JumboTron and not the flesh and blood human at the other end of the sports arena. Paul’s voice is an electronic signal coming out of a speaker, his face is a 8"x10" glossy promo photo and his soul is a haunting melody that captured the heart of a world called Earth, I’ll bet not even Paul McCartney knows who the real Paul McCartney is at this point. He looks in the mirror and sees an album cover; his grandchildren visit for Boxing Day and he gives them autographs. He sits down at the piano and everything he plays is a Paul McCartney song. His burdens are as weighty as his gifts. The love you take is equal to the love you make, but at what cost?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sun King

Richard Furnstein: Let's welcome another creamy sunrise, brought to you by The Beatles. Their heliotropic tendences were previously on display in the energizing bounce of "Good Day Sunshine" and the welcoming of the first blast of spring in "Here Comes The Sun." The only relief from the overwhelming feeling of loss in "I'll Follow The Sun" was the image of the sun as this unattainable state of love and happiness. The rooster's crow in "Good Morning Good Morning" underpins the tension, hope, and tedium of the start of a new day. "Sun King" is a lovely ode to five in the morning. The crickets are slowing down, ready to surrender their rhythmic grip on the night. There is nothing but promise and hope at this time of day. The taxpayers are starting their early morning routine. The babies are gazing into their mother's eyes during the morning feeding. The Beatles always represented total renewal: each new Beatles album was a rejection of their previous take on pop music. These four supermen were there to gently guide mere mortals through life. "Here are the tools that you will require to pass through this world, children. It's so fine, it's sunshine. It's the word, love. Carry on with love."  

Robert Bunter: "Sun King" strikes a deft balance between parody and sincerity. On the one hand, the implied image of an exotic tropical people greeting their primitive deity and chanting gibberish could have been lifted from the pages of "A Spaniard In The Works" (one of Lennon's wordplay-and-doodles books). At the same time, the mood established is one of genuine joy and warmth. It operates as a bit of a companion piece to "Here Comes The Sun," which precedes it on side two of Abbey Road. But where George's sunsong finds him exulting in the joy and freedom that he can see in his solo life beyond the suffocating constrictions of the latter-day Beatles, John seems to be retreating into the beguiling yet illusory warmth of a languorous heroin nod. In his opiated mind, the smiling happy natives are greeting the life-giving sky orb and praying for a bountiful harvest. But in the real world? He's "asleep" with his head slumped down at an uncomfortable angle, barely supported by the atrophied muscles in his noodle-neck. The tendons are straining but he doesn't even feel it. Yoko is slumped next to him, in a similar state of numb dishevelment. They are in Ringo's small Montague Square flat which he's letting them use while construction is completed on their massive Tittenhurst estate. Above them on the wall is a condom filled with stale piss that Yoko tacked up as a conceptual art project. I'm sorry, but these are the facts.  

Richard Furnstein: I just checked Lewisohn. You're actually telling the truth. However, I'm willing to give John Lennon some credit for the wonder and optimism of "Sun King." Think about it: Lennon's songs on Abbey Road are pure vampiric misery, "Come Together," "Mean Mr. Mustard," and "Polythene Pam" are full of dripping, elderly perverts and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" presents a desperate vision of codependent love. I'm willing to blindly accept the optimism and romanticism of "Sun King." If nothing else, I don't want Lennon to continue to disintegrate into the lurching horror figure of the "Come Together" villain. I want a future of Imagines and Beautiful Boys. I want to believe that Lennon is welcoming the new day with songs like "Sun King" and "Because." Time to open these blinds, Yoko! Let's clear out these room service trays. Throw those resin-caked spoons in the dustbin, love. I hear they are serving waffles in the lobby until 11. C'mon, grouchypants. You love waffles. We'd better hurry!

In John's opiated mind, the smiling happy natives are greeting the life-giving sky orb and praying for a bountiful harvest. But in the real world?


Robert Bunter: That’s a beautiful image. I can imagine a white pajama-clad John gallantly operating the make-your-own waffle station as smiling Yoko wipes the dreams from her eyes. A few startled fans wander over. “Is it really him?” “Why, of course it is! Would you like them extra brown? How about a dab of huckleberry jam and powdered sugar? It’s natural!” Yeah right Richard, get into the real world. There was no waffle station at Ringo’s Montague Square flat. It was an apartment, not a Days Inn. Do they even have waffles in England? Let’s focus on the music. This song is cut from the same cloth as “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Hold On” from the Plastic Ono Band album. John seems to have discovered hard drugs and how to flip the tremolo switch on your amplifier and go from an E to an F sharp minor at approximately the same time. I’ll tell you what this track reminds me of: the Beach Boys’ “Smiley Smile.” It has the same prominent organ (!), lovely harmonies, goofy humor and heavy-lidded stoner haze.  

Richard Furnstein: I definitely hear the connection to the half-realized jokes and weirdness of "Smiley Smile." The other obvious connection is to Fleetwood Mac's "Albatross." The Beatles lift heavily from Peter Green's composition, referencing the song's reverb-drenched atmosphere and the storm-like undulations of John McVie and Mick Fleetwood. The Beatles rise above the mentally unstable yet dreamy textures of classic Mac with a lush wall of harmonies. Then, in order to separate themselves even more from England's new sensation, Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison toss out a series of playful Italianglish terms. It's as if they were returning once more to assert their dominion over Europe. Where The Beatles once recorded their popular hits in German (“Sie Liebt Dich” and “Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand”), they soon realized that Beatles was in fact the universal language. Kids in Arizona related to their dank London vibes. Beatles tapes and blue jeans were the foundation of the Russian black market. "The Inner Light" plays over a supermarket P.A. in Vishakhapatnam. Some guy in Zimbabwe picks up "I'll Get You" on a transistor radio. It's real.  

Robert Bunter: You’re right, that’s a really valid point that has a lot to do with the song “Sun King.”

Friday, February 15, 2013

Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey

Richard Furnstein: The winter's almost over, dear friend. Come inside, we've been expecting you. A wild man with fangs and lady hair will take your coat at the door. Don't mind those STAB-STAB-STAB guitars, things will settle into a fun groove. There are plenty of girls here. Have a look around. Hot with ten T's, pal. "HOTTTTTTTTTT." Look at them. They are smoking cigarettes and are dressed like beautiful women from another age. Skin and teeth and caring eyes. Sensitive pulsing. Comeoncomeoncomeon, let's keep moving. What's that sound? Is that a cowbell? Christ, that's a cowbell! Anything goes!

Robert Bunter: We have all been invited to John Lennon’s terrifying 1968 party. His childhood was difficult, his early adulthood was consumed with inhuman fame and creative development, and he’s spent the past year or two in a weird haze of drugs and mantra chanting. But don’t worry, he’s met a strange Japanese artist and now we can all join in the celebration! “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey”’s stabbing guitars, cowbell clanks, exuberant lyrics (and the bevy of attractive ladies which you seem to have conjured up in your overheated mind-dreams) seem to offer the promise of a raucous party, but as usual with John Lennon, everything is terrifying. What a celebration! Some freak is screaming a bunch of incomprehensible riddles in my face and yelling about monkeys … the imaginary attractive teeth ladies look like they don’t want to have anything to do with me … the punch has been laced with Purple Segments and the deli meats on the hospitality tray have long since spoiled. I don’t want to spoil the party, but please excuse me while I curl into the fetal position and silently cry while I wait for this thing to be over. The drumbeat is damaging my mind.

Richard Furnstein: The drumbeat is damaging the drums! It's a physical affair. I'm sure lowly assistant Mal Evans was calling the local Ludwig rep to get a line on some replacement heads after this session. It's even more devastating in the sequence of The White Album. Paul just delivered the soothing cradle cap massage that is "Mother Nature's Son," and then John creeps into the room like a crocodile arriving late to a picnic. All purpose and desire.

The monkey of the song is typically Lennon symbolism: the slow-eyed and mysterious creature hiding behind his flaking facade. This inner-self provides the wisdom to adjust to the challenges of a world full of evil. The symbol of the  monkey is not quite as simple as a reference to Lennon's junior varsity heroin addiction or even the rhesus monkeys that would steal food from the Maharishi's camp and defecate in the cabins. "Monkey" hints at a common Lennon theme: the renewal of self and the redemption of love. Indeed, it's almost a first draft of "God" from the Plastic Ono Band LP. The heights suggested in the lyrics are about emotional connection to the self (and the angelic saving presence of Mother Yoko Ono). It's a notable progression from The Beatles equating emotional heights with common drug use in their early recordings. George Harrison would often equate this feeling with spiritual enlightenment, but John just embraced the hollow perfection that is The John Figure.



John creeps into the room like a crocodile arriving late to a picnic. All purpose and desire.
Robert Bunter: On another level, this is an extension of the sort of throwaway-rock-and-raver-with-a-cool-guitar-lick that John had pioneered on earlier tracks like “I Feel Fine” and “Day Tripper.” But so much had changed in the brief few years that separated them. At the time of their unveiling, “Fine” and “Tripper” (as I call them) seemed a bit ominous and intimidating in their own right – creepy feedback and cryptic lyrics. Yet, they were hit singles that fit comfortably into the nascent development arc of their Merseybeat sound. Nobody is likely to have nightmares or bad trips inspired by “I Feel Fine,” even though it has those unsettling barking dogs tacked onto the end during the fadeout. The same cannot be said of “Monkey.” Lennon’s trademark acidhead optimism (“The Word,” “All You Need Is Love,” “Baby You’re A Rich Man”) seems to be operational with lyrics about flying high, going deep, ease and joyfulness. Yet, they have been warped and distorted into what I would argue is a just as much of a bared-fangs horrorshow as “Glass Onion” or “I Am The Walrus.” Lennon was in the middle of a really dark period (by the way, here are the periods of Lennon’s life: birth to 1956, happy; 1956-1963, dark; 1963-1968, happy; 1968-1972, oh my God, so unbelievably dark and terrifying; 1972 – 1980 relatively OK with a few cloudy patches) in 1968, and you can hear it on this track. The peppy hippie slogans have soured into bizarre riddles and monkey dreams. During that breakdown section where the drums dissolve and the babbling cacophony of voices is temporarily faded down, the collapsing walls of the party you initially described start to leak onto themselves and the monkey bites its own head off.

Richard Furnstein: Lennon often finds comfort between two states, suggesting severe depression. Lennon muses, "Your inside is out/And your outside is in/Your outside is in/And your inside is out." Sure, it may initially seem like instructions for a fun new dance. However, it was no longer about innocent fun for John Lennon. This was the same man who also switched in and out in the lyrics for "Revolution" and called the suicide hotline in "Yer Blues." Somehow, much like on "Yer Blues," Lennon corrals this isolation and fear, delivering a powerhouse rock band performance on the fractured White Album. Listen to Paul yelping helplessly in the background (at the 1:40 mark). He's deep in the moment. You imagine the four men locking into place, finding a way to shoot electrical salvation into each other's hearts. I imagine the ceiling of the studio was dripping with the sweat of millionaire geniuses. Catch a drop on your tongue and you may find your way back to Hamburg or Julia Lennon's loving arms. Heavy stuff for two minutes and twenty five seconds of pop music. "Brother, can you take me back?" 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Matchbox

Richard Furnstein: "Matchbox" is a lonesome hitchhiker's lament. Ringo stands by the side of the road, thinking about what brought him to this place. He's closer than home than his destination, and he's not even sure if she's waiting for him when he finally gets there. All he has is a name and address on a scrap of paper in his wallet. Why would she give him her address if she didn't want him to visit. He sang to himself while shuffling down the tall grass: "If you don't want Ringo's peaches, honey, please don't mess around my tree." It sounded good and all was right. The sun felt like noon. It's a million miles to dinner, friend. A beat up truck speeds by our weary traveler. The driver never even looked at poor Ringo. 

Robert Bunter: The lyrics are a collection of blues clich├ęs that date back to the turn of the last century, maybe earlier – “poor boy / long way from home,” “wondering if a matchbox would hold my clothes,” “if you don’t like my peaches” and “let me be your little dog ‘till your big dog comes” are all part of the standard repertoire. So there’s Ringo, sitting by the side of the road and lamenting his lot in life. Woman troubles. Oldest story in the book. Mistakes have been made; of course they have. Hers or his? Maybe the fault lies with Fate, written into the great big book in the sky where some damn fool dreamed up the plot of this crazy one-way street called life. Ol’ Ringo’s scraping the bottom of his personal barrel and there’s not much left in the tank. Someone once said “The blues ain’t nothing but a good man feeling bad,” but where does that leave Ringo? He wasn’t that good.  

Richard Furnstein: Quotable Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez (great baseball name, but non-Latino) once famously said, "I'd rather be lucky than good." Hell, I'd rather be Ringo than lucky, because Ringo is both lucky and good. Is there any other word to describe his life than lucky? From the Rory Storm days to an aging Ringo goofing off with Todd Rundgren at the Iowa State Fair, he remains a solid basher, a competent howler, and a moody charmer. Ringo is just a lucky man in a cruel world. Yet, he gave "Matchbox" his all, but it's still just a D-side on a relatively forgotten Beatles release.

Someone once said “The blues ain’t nothing but a good man feeling bad,” but where does that leave Ringo? He wasn’t that good.

Robert Bunter: Yeah, but it’s fun. The lyrics are downcast but Ringo’s irrepressible double-tracked vocal is the sound of energy and joie de vive. Usually the Beatles’ Ringo showcases involved the three superior talents of the band propping up their hapless, affable drummer, but on “Matchbox” we must award the MVP honor to Ringo. His drumwork and vocals are the only things to really recommend this one; the others are just phoning it in with some blues-by-numbers guitar lines and piano pounding. Even George Martin’s production is lackluster … the stereo mix of “Matchbox” belongs in the Worst Beatles Mixes Ever Hall of Shame along with the queasy mono “Your Mother Should Know.”  

Richard Furnstein: The stereo is an absolute mess. It's probably one of the most disorienting mixes of the early years. The inoffensive backing track is split across the stereo image to heighten the abrasive tone of the cymbals and George's 12 string electric. Listen to those cymbals collapse into the left channel during John's putrid guitar solo. Absolutely terrible job, EMI braintrust. The mono version is a huge improvement.

You are right, Ringo's voice is the only real highlight of this one. He's using his man's voice on "Matchbox," providing an interesting contrast to the puppy dog/poor boy lyrics. He never dips below a holler, so it's a relief that the song flashes off at the two minute mark. The mono version has a softer treatment of Ringo's locomotive vocal.

Robert Bunter: I’m pulling for a revival of this on the next All-Starr Band tour, maybe we can get Kenny Wayne Sheppard to play some blues.