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.