Thursday, December 11, 2014

Teddy Boy

Richard Furnstein: Paul McCartney's songbook is full of sketches of the daily lives of simple folk. "Teddy Boy" fits well with better known songs such as "Eleanor Rigby," "Penny Lane," "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," "Lady Madonna," and "She's Leaving Home." They all provide a portrait of the quiet moments of common people. The subjects of these songs flutter about like impatient extras on a movie set: a middle aged man pours his morning coffee as a baby babbles in a playpen. A young woman runs to catch the morning trolley while tugging at her sagging pantyhose. A shadow lingers over these portraits, often in the form of death, loneliness, or shattered dreams. The Let It Be outtake "Teddy Boy" brings all three to the table as a widow and a child try to support each other in the changes following the death of a "solider dad." It's a vague story but the essential emotional cues are there: a child hugs his mother as she cries over a solider's photo. Paul can hardly narrate this touching scene, offering platitudes such as "oh my" or "oh no." You created this world of misery, man. Help these people out.

Robert Bunter: It seems to have been a default mode for him. When Paul sat down and picked up a guitar and let the ideas flow naturally, a seemingly infinite stream of strong melodic hooks and third-person Everyman portraits bubbled to the surface. “Teddy Boy” illustrates this particularly well, as it never developed past the fragmented rough-draft stage. Even the “completed” version that appeared on his debut solo LP McCartney sounds like little more than a sketch. It’s catchy enough, and the darker undertones you describe add a bit of depth, but few would rank this among his highest achievements. It doesn’t even shine very brightly alongside similar, roughly contemporary Macca throwaways like “Junk” or “Her Majesty.” Every time I buy another Get Back sessions bootleg or outtakes compilation and see “Teddy Boy” on the tracklist, I have to suppress a faint groan of disappointment.

Richard Furnstein: At least you try to hide your disappointment in this song. You can actually hear Lennon's deride"Teddy Boy" in the band's aimless Get Back recordings. His distaste surfaced in the form of  jokey voices, rambling asides, and square dance instructions during the song's protracted coda. You can almost feel the cold air and ambivalent vibrations of Twickenham Film Studios come through your speakers when you listen to this song. To be fair, Lennon was pulling this too cool for school routine on all of Paul and George's offerings during this period. It's just that he was actually right this one time.

"Teddy Boy" is much more successful on the McCartney album. It's still not much of a song, but the arrangement is tightened up significantly. To be fair there are probably 1.5 fully realized compositions on Paul's debut and it's still one of the best things he ever recorded. The recording offers many of the charms of the album: muffled drum tracks, light echo box tricks, the warm ambiance of the McCartney living room, and off-kilter Linda harmonies. The small touches such as the gorgeous "ooooooohs" at 2:02 and the fluttering ending really make the recording. I wish Paul, Linda, and Martha the sheepdog were still in that living room, pumping out lo-fi  delights on a dusty Studer tape machine. Stick around for dinner, there's a vegetable barley soup on the stove and Linda is making her famous yeast crepes. We'll listen to some old tapes together.

Robert Bunter: Yeah, it’s a lovely image. Too bad the McCartney album and its trappings of domestic contentment (warm, homespun songs about family and love accompanied by charming snapshots of Papa Paul chopping down trees, holding babies and picking his nose) is one big lie. Here’s the real facts: John quit the Beatles but everybody convinced him to keep quiet about it because they were in the process of a massive renegotiation with the record company and didn't want to upset the applecart (that’s my little joke). Paul is an emotional wreck and retreats to his Scottish farmhouse where he grows a beard and drifts slowly toward a full-scale Brian Wilson-style breakdown. Stops wearing belts. Vodka for breakfast, sacked out in bed all day, showers optional. Very optional. A reporter from LIFE magazine shows up and Paul screams in his face and throws his camera at him. The fans have started to speculate about whether he’s dead. One can only imagine what newlywed Linda thought of the situation. She had climbed aboard the Paul train just in time to see it run completely off its rails. Drunken sadness and paralyzing numbness gradually coalesce into fury. They can’t do this to me! So in an undisguised power play he cobbles together McCartney on primitive home recording equipment (by today’s standards, anyway – in 1970 it was state-of-the-art) and releases it along with a self-interview press release to tell the world that he’s quit the Beatles and doesn't care about them anymore. Against this backdrop, the Happy-Family-Man-Strumming-His-Guitar-By-The-Evening-Fire vibe that the album and its packaging attempted to convey ring chillingly hollow. You can build up sweet mental fantasies about tape recorders and yeast crepes, Richard, but the reality was considerably more hairy, smelly and toxic. I’m not here to sugarcoat the facts.

You can build up sweet mental fantasies about tape recorders and yeast crepes, but the reality was considerably more hairy, smelly and toxic.
Richard Furnstein: Paul's retreat to his country compound was part of a greater social trend at the end of the sultry sixties. The unwashed legions were retreating to the mountains--a new farm movement featuring malnourished children, diseased livestock, and bog-like conditions in the fields. Neil Young captured the simple pleasures of this movement on "Here We Are In The Years" from his 1969 debut album: "Go to the country, take the dog/Look at the sky without the smog/Look at the world laugh at the farmers feeding hogs/Eat hot dogs." Paul wasn't as dim witted or charming in his appraisal of country life. He just reverted further into the familiar comforts of mama-based blues and ballads built for wide open spaces. Want to play some mason jars and record it for the album? Great, we'll call it "Glasses." How about an audio hunt track to really "get back" to the origins of man? Here's four plus minutes of "Kreen-Akore." There were no expectations. John wasn't leering at him when he introduced some bone-headed blues like "Oo You." He didn't have to worry about George's sour puss appearing in the gatefold. Ringo didn't have to be bored during the sparse "Every Night." That's the charm of the McCartney album. It's beautiful and it's nothing at all.

Robert Bunter: Back to the land? Sure, it’s wonderful that Paul could crawl into a filthy swamp and record a strangely beautiful solo album. But we’re supposed to be talking about “Teddy Boy.” It wasn’t a very good song and it came out of a particularly low point in Paul’s life. The outtake/bootleg versions of the Beatles attempting it are hard to listen to. It sits more comfortably among the half-baked platters and weird experiments of McCartney or the dismal vibe of the aborted Glyn Johns Get Back LP. Look Richard, I’m sorry but this whole discussion of yeast pancakes, stinky groat clusters, hot dogs, body odor, vodka, sheepdogs, sagging pantyhose and rotten Apples is making me nauseous. Let us have a little mercy and draw the soiled curtain of dismissal over this sordid chapter in Beatles history, shall we? Do you have any final thoughts?

Richard Furnstein: Yeah, hold on. Urp. No, that's better. I'm good.

Monday, November 3, 2014

I Wanna Be Your Man

Richard Furnstein: "I Wanna Be Your Man" is a sub-ape of a song with few redeeming qualities. It's a simple Ringo shouter in the vein of "Boys" and "Matchbox." The primal bashing and overworked cymbals can't make up for it's lack of depth and sonic shortcomings. The Lennon/McCartney composition was originally released by The Rolling Stones as their second single. It sure was nice of John and Paul to offer those illiterate hairdos some scraps as they were finishing another songwriting genius buffet. "Oh, you lippy chaps are hungry for some material? Why, have this throwaway tune that we were going to give to our tone deaf, childlike drummer." I guess Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were scared of being left behind in the new age of original rock compositions because they gratefully scarfed up that lean meal.

John and Paul later disagreed on the origins of the tune. Paul claimed that they worked it up from a Paul snippet with the purpose of providing a song for Ringo to sing on the second Beatles album. The song was the provided to The Rolling Stones when they requested a Lennon/McCartney composition to release as a single. John claims that "I Wanna Be Your Man" was written in front of the Stones. Imagine the look of humiliation on Mick's face when John and Paul were squeezing out this one in five minutes. "Wanna learn how to write songs? GRUNT, SPLASH, FLUSH." This is a better story and it seems like a classic Lennon ego trip. As a result, I'm more inclined to believe Paul's tale.

Robert Bunter: Yeah, Lennon was often inclined to embellish his memories so as to cast himself and The Beatles in a more flattering light. Furthermore, he seems to have had a real chip on his shoulder about the way The Rolling Stones were cleverly marketed by funnily-named Svengali Andrew Loog Oldham as the raw, bad-boy alternative to the squeaky-clean Beatles. The public image of the Beatles was drinking tea in genteel train cars with grandfathers and warbling “Til There Was You,” while the ‘Stones were getting arrested for urinating on gas station pumps when the attendant wouldn’t let them use the facilities. John resented manager Brian Epstein’s attempt to clean up The Beatles’ raucous leather jacket and hair grease image with collarless suits and bouncy smiles, and there were multiple times through the years where John took the opportunity to damn the Stones with faint praise, or even slag them off outright, as in the infamous 1971 Jann Wenner confessional. I’m not going to repeat what he said about Jagger’s dancing here because it was so mean. Paul was not above the same shenanigans. I seem to recall reading about a special listening party organized by The Rolling Stones to debut their latest release before an intimate crowd of beautiful rich hippie socialites and music industry cognoscenti. Of course, Paul comes walking in with an acetate of The Beatles’ latest single and he just happens to slip it to the paisley-eyed dandy who was operating the DJ station. “Oh, here’s our latest, maybe give it a spin and see what you think, wot?” and it was all seven minutes and eleven seconds of “Hey Jude.” We can only imagine how sour Mick’s roast mutton platter tasted after THAT humiliation. He sulked and pouted but no one could tell because who can tell if Mick Jagger is pouting? Meanwhile, Brian Jones went right home and almost drowned in his swimming pool. I’m sorry but these are the specific true facts.

Richard Furnstein: The Stones really did an excellent job on "I Wanna Be Your Man." It's got a great runaway motor take on the familiar Chuck Berry putt-putt. Brian Jones sounds very much alive on this track, harnessing some harrowing voodoo visions from his slide guitar. Mick Jagger's got a great rough presence on this. He may be pretty, but he's all man. Charlie Watts is reliable and steady in the back as usual. I imagine he smiled once during the recording and the rest of the Stones were relieved to see their elderly friend have some loose boogie fun. "Lookie Watts, e's 'alving a lark!" Bill Wyman sits back in the mix and just paddles swamp water everywhere. Sure, the guy was a Grade A dirtbag IRL, but he sure knew how to have fun on stage. Five stars. They totally make up for the crash and clamor of The Beatles' version.

Robert Bunter: Yeah, when you think about it, it’s funny that the Beatles had this muscular helping of Bo Diddley garage punk earmarked for droopy, short Ringo. He was the Beatles’ obligatory man-child, the template for every subsequent boy-band aimed at the screaming pre-teen demographic. These eleven-year-olds need a Davy Jones or a Joey McIntyre on which to focus the nascent storm of primal energy aroused by the driving rhythms and sweet sugar melodies without the threatening manic patter of a Mickey Dolenz or the broody, simian sulk of a Danny Wood. The more obvious physical appeal of dominant John, matinee idol Paul and sullen George were too frightening; Ringo presented the safe alternative of the runt. He was a full two feet shorter than the other Beatles and his droopy facial features and enormous nose suggested nothing so much as a damp, castrated Saint Bernard. The surging confidence of “I Wanna Be Your Man” would have worn poorly on any of the other three. Ringo was able to deliver the lyric like a cute kid reciting the lurid lyrics to  his favorite song on YouTube. How funny that in real life, he was guzzling Scotch and shaving four times daily just to beat back the beard.
Brian Jones went right home and almost drowned in his swimming pool. I’m sorry but these are the specific true facts.

Richard Furnstein: You can definitely see why The Beatles were determined to showcase their precious little sideshow attraction. You have to give the people a show: a little song, a little dance, and a little humor. Ringo was a flawed goofball there to lighten the mood. Even the name Ringo appeals to children while giving something for the older generation to lampoon. Listen to the broadcasters on The Beatles Live At The BBC collections treat him like a child. It's like Bring Your Ringo To Work Day. Sit in the corner and don't make too much noise, Young Richard.

Robert Bunter: He was game. Ringo went along with the program and played the fool. The Ringo showcase slot would remain a charming feature on almost every subsequent Beatle record. The high point was “With A Little Help From My Friends” on Sgt. Pepper, a fine song in its own right and a perfect complement for the hapless drummer’s irresistible charm. The nadir, of course, was “Yellow Submarine,” which stinks up the otherwise sublime Revolver LP with his tuneless ode to an improbable contraption and the worst sound effects since Mel Blanc tripped on a duck and fell into a pile of bicycle horns. Honk honk! “I Wanna Be Your Man” is a bad deal and just barely warrants its inclusion in the Beatles’ catalog. No doubt it will be included in some future irreverent “Worst Of The Beatles” bootleg, along with “All Together Now,” “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Meat City (original 1966 demo).”

Richard Furnstein: Lo! I would still cherish that turd vessel and file it gently next to my copies of Press, Ringo's Rotogravure, and the John Lennon acoustic collection that has him playing a stupid Ovation Guitar on the cover.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

All My Loving

Robert Bunter: To this day, I can't tell the story without getting emotional. Furnstein and I went to the Paul McCartney concert together. He opened the set with some Wings stuff, to build the tension ("Venus And Mars / Rock Show" into "Jet"), then launched into "All My Loving." The video screen lit up with iconic black and white footage of screaming girls and the smiling young Beatles. In an instant, every one of the thousands in attendance had the exact same thought: "Mother of God, that is really him. He's from the Beatles and HE'S RIGHT HERE WITH ME NOW." It was like getting punched in the soul. Tears rolled down my face and I was far from the only one. It was a cheap showbiz trick, in a way; the kind of contrived, premeditated dazzlement that has long been Paul's primary approach (in stark contrast to Lennon's raw, in-the-moment inspiration). But how else could he have handled it? That moment needed to happen and Paul deployed it with the confident touch of a master. "All My Loving" was the perfect song choice. It stands tall among the very best of their earlier work, yet it never really garnered the reputation as a cultural milestone assigned to "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You." It almost managed to feel like an obscure album cut, even though it was probably the first Beatles song most Americans ever heard.

Richard Furnstein: What a great moment in our lives together as Beatles fans and friends. I wish I scooped up one of your careless tears and captured the shimmering drop in clear perspex: a testament to the power of time, love, and memory. What a feeling! I wanted to stomp my feet on the ground like those reckless teenaged girls in grainy black and white clips, but I was worried about crushing my nacho tray purchased before the show.

I always considered it a bold choice to kick off their first Ed Sullivan appearance with "All My Loving." It's a cracker to be sure, but it's a Paul song in an era where John was clearly being presented as the closest thing to a front man of the group. John, the group's primary songwriter during that period and the throat shredder who lead most of their songs, stood tall in the center of the pack: legs boldly parted as he strummed his custom Jet Glo Rickenbacker, smacking bubblegum, and his pointy nose acting as a divining rod to the teenaged American moistness ahead.. Paul was merely the side attraction during this era: the loose balloon-eyed, soft cheeked romancer who didn't even warrant his own microphone. Yet, there he was, leading the charge of The Beatles into foreign shores. "All My Loving" was the perfect choice. It's essentially a sequel to previous triumphs, building on the letter within a song format of "P.S. I Love You" and "From Me To You." This conceit managed to touch on both the innocence of young love and the hopeful correspondence of lovers in the previous wartime generation. "All My Loving" also suggests the day after the initial fumblings detailed in "I Want To Hold Your Hand." Nighttime was the right time. Now we have to figure out where we stand, babe.

Paul was merely the side attraction during this era: the loose balloon-eyed, soft cheeked romancer who didn't even warrant his own microphone.
Robert Bunter: The surging chord progression and irresistible triplet rhythm make the song throb with tumescent, propulsive inevitability. The genteel, politely romantic sentiments of Paul’s epistle are belied by the jackhammer pant-grind of the music track. The mental image is a young man seated at a constrictive desk composing a letter to his beloved in cursive script with a quill pen, but meanwhile he is bouncing up and down violently and pawing uncontrollably at himself with the other hand. His hair is disheveled and his face glistens with sweat. His eyes betray the brittle intensity of a madman. More ape than human, he nearly knocks over the inkwell as he stumbles around looking for envelopes and a book of stamps. The demented, hollering 13-year-olds who dampened the seats of every concert hall the Beatles ever played understood that rhythm in their bones. The four young men on the TV screen were wearing fresh-pressed tailored suits and had their hair washed squeaky-clean, but that was just a subterfuge to sneak the primal sex rhythm onto the staid airwaves of a repressed nation. The children understood.

Richard Furnstein: Paul was seen as the romantic of the band, but there's a sleazy quality to the lyrics that suggests that the heart and groin can't quite meet up. "I'll pretend that I'm kissing the lips that I'm missing." Love the one you're with, indeed. Imagine Paul sending that dedication out to his girlfriend from a pungent, tossed Manhattan hotel room. A cigarette dangles from his chapped bottom lip as he dampens the envelope on the cream colored top sheet. "Fly away little bird" he says as he slides the letter to grotesque errand boy Mal Evans at the hotel restaurant. Then it's a quick adjustment of his trousers as he heads out into the brisk February night. It's a disgusting cycle, but we're all just animals. The Ouroboros can't eat itself forever.

Robert Bunter: Ew gross. How about the U.S. stereo mix on this one? Right channel is all vocals, left is all music! Isolate the right channel and you can really pick out some fascinating details, like Paul’s huffing for breath at 1:52. Meanwhile on the left channel, I think Paul hits a wrong note on his little bass at 1:19. That bass line is nuts … as Carol Kaye said in that Beach Boys documentary, “That’s a JAZZ FEEL, man!” George takes the guitar to some nice places on his little solo segment. Speaking of “solo segments,” you’ve got Paul’s voice double-tracked in unison on the first two verses, then in harmony later. Why didn’t John or George jump in there? I’ll tell you why: because Paul cut the damn track perfectly. It didn’t need any other voices on that lead, and the others were cool enough to recognize that and not make a big fuss about it.

Richard Furnstein: "How about the U.S. stereo mix on this one?" Did you honestly ask me that question? Put that mix in the garbage can with the rotting banana peels and used adhesive bandages. It's not even on my radar, man. You know my original issue Parlophone mono is one of my prized possessions. Do I look like some stupid slack jawed teen buying Meet The Beatles! at a Woolworth's in Baraboo, Wisconsin? "All My Loving" as a side closer? No thank you, sir. Please get yourself the hell out of here already. There's the door, you monster.

Robert Bunter: Ha! Great! Terrific!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Honey Pie

Richard Furnstein: Oof. Get a load of this shiny turd bouncing around with a top hat and cane. How did Paul McCartney find the nerve to unleash this stench in the hallowed halls of Abbey Road? At best, he should have dropped this stinker in the comfort of his own home, never to be revealed to the world. Close the lid, flush, and walk away. "Honey Pie" should be nothing more than a scratchy demo created on his Brunnell tape deck: a holy grail for the many McCartney Cold Cuts devotees. As it stands, The Beatles should have provided a barf bag with The White Album instead of that collage poster. At least then unsuspecting rock and roll fans would have someplace to deposit their chunky mouth waste after hearing this awful song. I mean, COME ON.

Robert Bunter: Listen more deeply, friend. “Honey Pie” is indeed the third installment of what was to become a long line of McCartney’s affectionate tributes to the prewar music hall supper-club standards that he so admired (“When I’m 64,” “Your Mother Should Know,” and certainly many more in the solo years – a process that culminated in 2013’s geriatric Kisses On The Bottom standards album, a brilliant late-career masterpiece which will one day receive the same critical re-evaluation that belatedly dawned on McCartney II and Wild Life). You would be correct to turn up your nose at Paulie’s smirking, saccharine platter (or at least as correct as you are about anything else to do with McCartney, which is hardly at all). “Honey Pie” is elevated by its context. Alongside the sour, dark and frightening moods of much of the accompanying material, Paul’s soft-shoe shuffle seems less like a carefree romp through a rose-colored yesteryear and more like a grown man wearing a tiny little boy’s sailor suit and holding a balloon and lollipop on the outskirts of some nightmarish construction site where three other men are grimly setting about the business of tearing down your fondest illusions with poisonous tools and jagged vehicles. The man-child hugs his balloon tightly to his chest and closes his eyes. His face is covered with stubble and the sailor suit needs washing. He hums a happy little song to himself and tries to ignore the stench of death but it creeps in. Listen to that chord on the word “crazy.” This song is every bit as heavy as “Glass Onion” or “Revolution 9” for them that have ears to hear. Listen … listen.

Richard Furnstein: Sure, this malformed batch of rock candy makes some sense sitting next to the sleaze boogies of "Revolution 1" and "Savoy Truffle." We have George Martin to thank for his wise sequencing choices for The Beatles.* Indeed, The White Album may be his greatest track listing accomplishment.

Okay, let's find something to like about this track. George Martin's arrangement connects the rooty-tooty tin pan alley sound with black and white movie schmaltz. The clarinets make the song. Paul does a great Ringo impersonation with his delivery of the line "in the U.S.A." In fact, I always hope that it is Ringo, straw boater clutched to his chest as he passionately delivers that lyric. I was shocked to read that John even bothered to play anything on this cloud of granny flatulence, but there he is poking out that jolly guitar solo. It truly was a team effort to make something this rotten. The Beatles didn't polish the turd, they just wiped a tea towel over it and got human waste all over their hands. Wash up, boys.

Robert Bunter: If you’re willing to acknowledge that the song makes some sense in context, I’ll meet you halfway and admit that there are some cringe-worthy moments. Paul’s falsetto warbling of “oooh … hah … I like this kinda hot kinda music, hot kinda music, play it to me, play it to me honey with blues” is really goony, and you can just tell that he thinks he’s kidding around, but you know deep down that he meant it. Let’s face it, this kind of music is at the primal core of McCartney’s soul. When you hear Paul slip into that debonair crooner mode (from “Besame Mucho” on the Beatles’ earliest crude EMI demo acetates to the aforementioned recent Kisses On The Bottom digital download disc file), you’re really listening to the deepest soul of the man. He can’t help it, and it’s beautiful.

Richard Furnstein: It's true. The gentle shuffle and swing of the music hall was in young James Paul McCartney's bloodstream. His father Jim was a trumpet player and pianist in Jim Mac's Jazz Band in the careless twenties. I've always heard Paul's granny music tendencies as his attempt to connect with the frivolous age of his parents, before the gloom and urban decay of war took over sooty England. In a way, it's easy to hear these songs as Paul's primal scream: the harrowing echoes of childhood. The lost promise of the youthful smile in photos of a mother that died when was 14 years old. While John drained his gleets all over the studio floor during his punishing exorcisms on Plastic Ono Band and the "Cold Turkey" single, Paul chose to channel his loss and anger into levity, thrown voices, and bubbling trumpet lines. "My Mummy's Dead" b/w "Daddy Won't Buy Me A Bow Wow." I guess we all have to face our demons on our own terms, Robert.

You’re really listening to the deepest soul of the man. He can’t help it, and it’s beautiful.
Robert Bunter: I really agree with everything you’ve written there, Richard. The reason Paul’s granny material is so vexing is that he was quite evidently capable of crafting extraordinary work in any style of music he put his hand to. C’mon, man! How about another “Penny Lane,” another “Helter Skelter,” another “Blackbird,” another “Maybe I’m Amazed”? Quit ladling out tepid bowls of Uncle Swabson’s Olde-Time Buttercreamed Oaty Meal when we know you’ve got a perfectly divine spiced crown roast of premium-grade top loin there in the kitchen, just waiting to be served! Well, I’m afraid that’s not always how it works. Stop being a pig. He’s provided you with plenty of nourishment over the years, thank you very much. I’d like you to take a little mind-journey with me here, OK? You’re a kid and you’re Paul McCartney’s nephew. He gives you wonderful presents and you love him very much but you don’t get to see him often because he’s still quite busy. A visit with “Uncle Jimmy” (as you call him) is a rare treat. But then there was this one time when you got to spend a whole weekend there. Mum and Pap dropped you off at his Scottish farmhouse for some quality time and it just so happened that his then-wife Heather Mills was away that weekend and none of the other family were visiting. Just you and him. He is charming, doting and attentive. Fixing breakfast, taking a walk by the lamb pasture, watching a little TV. Then, in the cool September evening as the sun is starting to set, he sits down at the piano in the parlour. He’s going to sing you a few songs! Even as a young child, you’re aware that a private musical performance by Paul McCartney is a rare treasure. So what’s he going to play? “C Moon”? The middle part of “A Day In The Life?” “Kreen-Akore?” Get the hell out of here! He’s going to play the simple, beautiful music that lies closest to his heart. “Stardust.” “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie.” “September In The Rain.” “My Funny Valentine.” He’s going to look you right in the eyes and smile. The two of you have never been closer. With songs like “Honey Pie,” we all have a chance to be that nephew. His name is Bobby. Little Bobby Bunter McCartney. If you want to turn your nose up at that and quarrel about tracklists and guitar solos, that’s fine. Me and Uncle Jimmy …. uh, I mean … hypothetical nephew Bobby McCartney and James Paul McCartney … will be right here in the front parlour. We’re doing just fine.

*Two crucial clunkers in Martin's album sequencing for the band are the brutal side closing covers on Beatles For Sale ("Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey" and "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby"). However, this was probably due to lack of quality material for the album.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sie Liebt Dich

The Beatles recorded German language versions of two of their biggest early hits--"She Loves You" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand." It was at once a nice look back to their roots playing dingy rock and roll in Hamburg and a globe-dominating cash grab for German listeners. It's interesting that they didn't duplicate these efforts for larger international markets (Portuguese, Spanish, Mandarin). They would soon discover that their true language--perfect and exciting songs delivered by handsome ambassadors from heaven--was spoken everywhere. The world would later push back against the global revolution provided by these men. Think of Imelda Marcos and her henchmen aggressively revolting against innocent Ringo's disparaging comments about the Philippines or angry rednecks stomping on copies of Meet The Beatles after Lennon's "more popular than Jesus" remarks. 

As a musical offering, "Sie Liebt Dich" is a fascinating document of the band at the peak of their live powers. The Beatles recorded the song from scratch due to the fact that the "She Loves You" master tapes were destroyed after mix down. As a result, Beatles scholars can enthuse at the raw ride cymbal technique and George's razor sharp guitar sound. Our resident experts, Herr Bunter and Herr Furnstein, were appropriately inspired by the exotic tongues of this crucial oddity. 

Robert Bunter: Gibt es ein wort, das nicht mehr schlüssig als "perfekte" wenn es war ich würde es ihn zu beschreiben, beschreiben dieses lied. Es fühlt sich ein wenig heruntergekommen aus, für solche eine herrliche muster auf unsere übliche pompöse bachchans schwafelei - wie eine seltene schmetterling auf der wing tötet es sie heften sie bis zu ein stück sperrholz und einen blog schreiben. Aber ich habe hier einige sachen - schlagring trug die atemberaubende Insekt kurz mit zarten hohlen handflächen vor der freigabe noch einmal zu fliegen ganz einfach und kostenlos. 

Richard Furnstein: "Sie liebt Sie" ist die einfache ihre füße ins wasser moment für die Beatles. Sie wurden ins leben gerufen in dem ganzen dreck aus Liverpool zu liefern das dvangelium von L-O-V-E auf eine sich verändernde welt. Alle, die vor dem war aber "subtle energetic bullshit." 
Anfang wie "P.S.  I Love You" und "Love Me Do" deutete auf die größe dieser emotion und seine fähigkeit, grundlegend verändern sie ihr Leben. "Sie liebt Sie" ist ganz in der liebe revolution. Zum ersten mal die Beatles zu begreifen scheinen ihre großartigkeit sind sie mit einem grinsen als sie zu fuß über die kohlen wenn man die verängstigten bewohner in den augen. Sie würden wahrscheinlich auf dem wasser laufen wenn nur John würde nicht in die luft sprengen die bedeutung der bewegung weg aus der anteil.

Bewohnen den moment. BLICK. Dann, wenn es vorbei ist, spielen es wieder zurück. Nichts zu danken.
Das thema des songs deuten darauf hin, dass die Beatles kennen sie ihre befugnisse. Sie sind wahnsinnig schön charmanten-reichen und talentierte aber sie sind hier, um zu deinem Freund um zu dienen als matchmakers für die schwachen sterblichen, die leiden in der liebe das grausame spiel. Wo Lennon würde normalerweise auseinander die Frau (Frauen ist als primäre quelle für seine aufgabe aengste und unsicherheiten) behandelt er die weibliche figur in "Sie liebt Sie" mit mitgefühl ("Entschuldigen Sie!").  Sie ist aus ihrem kopf und sie hat darauf vertraut, daß die Band von Superhelden, ihrer liebe. Sie machen ihren job perfekt in "Sie liebt Sie" sagt ihr freund über die frau der liebe und ihn ermutigen, den weg des lichts und der freude. Es ist ein faszinierender weg, erzählen die geschichte der liebe in einer zwei minuten pop song alle die während der Beatles zu scheinen wie bescheidene weisen freunde, die Sie einladen möchten, in das also immer wieder erneut. 

Robert Bunter: Ich möchte, dass sie gehen, um zu hören, was dieser (mono, natürlich), so laut, wie man bekommen kann es gehen. Ich weiß nicht, wenn sie bei der arbeit sind. Wie sie hören, denken sie an die alten schwarz-weiß-videos von kinder schreien, so laut sie nur können und schaukelte hin und her, wie sie durch den heiligen geist besessen. Manchmal müssen wir schritt weg von der gigantischen tier vor uns und ganz einfach, "it ain't my elephant!" Werfen sie ihre gedanken zurück in eine zeit, wenn sie in der lage, das gefühl etwas so rein waren. Bewohnen den moment. BLICK. Dann, wenn es vorbei ist, spielen es wieder zurück. Nichts zu danken. Ich akzeptiere Ihre entschuldigung.

Richard Furnstein: Ja ja ja! Ja ja ja! Unendlichkeit...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Getting Better

Robert Bunter: This song is joyful and infectious, but it doesn’t really fit into the Sgt. Pepper concept. It would have made more sense alongside “Good Day Sunshine” and “Got To Get You Into My Life” on Revolver. Pepper is an extended meditation on show business and identity that slyly upends the backpack full of roles and expectations the Beatles were carrying around by 1967. The album opens by announcing that the Beatles have been replaced by a groovy band of satin-military-suit-clad tuba players who are about to take us on a magic carpet ride around the world (and … elsewhere?) The rest of the album uses jump-cut editing splices to whisk us from a psychedelic boat ride (“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”) to a soap opera (“She’s Leaving Home”), a circus (“Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”), an exotic Eastern mystic sermon (“Within You Without You”) and an old-time soft-shoe revue (“When I’m 64”). Sure, you’ve got the John-figure lurking in the background throughout, with his spooky moustache and dead carp eyes slowly leaking bleeding Everyman nightmares into the corner of the frame (“Good Morning Good Morning”) before finally pulling back the curtain on the whole charade (“A Day In The Life”) and leaving the listener’s contextual framework in shreds. But for the most part we are strapped safely into the lurching cart of a hallucinatory funhouse ride. In that context, Paul’s relatively earnest and autobiographical “Getting Better” sticks out like a sore thumb.

Richard Furnstein: You clod. "Getting Better" is central to the Sgt. Pepper concept: a song cycle about the promise of renewal in the Age of Aquarius. The bright and bold sleeve for Sgt. Pepper represented an about face from the pen and ink wanderings of the Revolver color. Lennon suggested that we "listen to the colour of [our] dreams" at the conclusion of Revolver. Sgt. Pepper boldly insisted that everything required a fresh coat of paint ("I'm painting my room in the colourful way.."). Paul's entire Sgt. Pepper concept was about escaping the greyscale images of The Beatles. What better way to do this than to don marching band jackets, pick up shiny brass instruments, and adopt a new, garish monicker (truly only bested by the daft "Colonel Tucker's Medicinal Brew and Compound" concept). "Getting Better" is clearly about self improvement, about wiping the slate clean after past transgressions (domestic abuse, poor academic performance, anti-social tendencies). Suddenly: a new day to change one's scene (or as much as possible: "I'm doing the best that I can"). Paul's message of hope carries through the remaining Sgt. Pepper songs: the scenes include reclaiming happiness in the golden years ("When I'm 64"), reclaiming spirituality in the modern age ("Within You Without You"), coming to terms with the ghosts of childhood ("Strawberry Fields Forever," "Penny Lane," and "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite"), experimenting with mind expanding drugs (the turned on businessman of "A Day In The Life" and "Good Morning Good Morning") and taking decisive action towards this progress (the lanky teenage rebel in "She's Leaving Home").

Let's tear the whole damned thing down.
Robert Bunter: Hmmm, well I guess you could say that there’s more than one way to look at it. As usual, the extra baggage about the contemporary cultural shifts of the so-called Love generation or “extended meditation[s] on show business and identity” (Bunter, 2014) only becomes obvious in hindsight. That reminds me, an interesting thing happened on March 21, 1967, early into the “Getting Better” sessions. At this point, all the Beatles but Paul had tried LSD. John, George and Paul were in the studio doing some vocal overdubs when John decided to take a pill that he thought was speed. A touch of amphetamine, just the thing to add a little zang to the otherwise tedious process of hanging out in Abbey Road with the most talented and charming humans who ever lived recording an album that represents not only the undisputed peak of their career but one of the highest artistic achievements of the 20th century. Of course, you can guess what happened. He took the wrong pill and started an acid trip right there in the booth. Ringo’s pores became eerily distorted and disproportionate (which later inspired the “Sea of Holes” scene in the Yellow Submarine cartoon). Paul was wearing a strange necklace thing that started to look like paisley sausages. Mal Evans was levitating like a can of beans. Uh-oh. John excused himself from the vocal overdubs. “Sorry lads, I’m not feeling quite right for some reason.” Thus it fell to staid, conservatory-trained producer George Martin to take his young friend up to the Abbey Road rooftop for a bit of fresh air. Pretty soon the others realized what was going on and rushed the hell up there to make sure John didn’t try to swan dive right off the side because on acid you assume that you’ll just gently float to the ground or maybe actually fly. Problem is: you don’t. There’s just a pile of paisley sausages on the iconic Abbey Road crosswalk and a bunch of screaming girls who were hanging around outside the studio and that’s it for the Beatles. The others fetched him back inside and Paul gave him a ride home. When they got there, Paul said to himself, “OK, this is the night for me to try acid for the first time. I’ll take it with John so he doesn’t feel so alone and frightened.” And he did! Paul’s first trip was March 21, 1967. They both talked about it years later in interviews. John: “We got into a heavy thing, staring into each other’s eyes, saying ‘I know, man … I know! I KNOW.’” This is a sweet story to contemplate. They were still young men who’d been through a lot together. Not just the group’s meteoric rise to superstardom, but the loss of a parent. It was not the kind of thing that macho young greasers like John and Paul would ever talk about out loud, but with their inhibitions relaxed by mind-altering drugs, they were able to communicate everything in those three simple words: “I know, man.” If I had a time machine, I would certainly set the dial for March 21, 1967 and lurk outside the sitting-room window at Weybridge so I could witness this tender scene firsthand. I just hope they don’t see me and become frightened.

Richard Furnstein: Don't spook the horse. "Getting Better" also ties in with Peter Blake's elaborate cover art for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Clubs Band. The photo finds The Beatles posing as a marching band, supported by a cast of entertainers, philosophers, addicts, scientists, gurus, and (most harrowing) their childish 1964 selves. It's as if they are saying, "we are nothing more than we, dear friends." Lewis Carroll begat Aleister Crowley begat William S. Burroughs begat Marilyn Monroe. The Beatles are standing on the shoulders of giants, offering the finest artistic output of humans developed with the greatest sound recording techniques and equipment. You are truly blessed. The Beatles are staring out at you (the pimply, soggy listener) as if to challenge you to make the next move. In front of their feet is a lovely garden/funeral arrangement. A collection of flowers ready to explode in the summer of 1967: aching anthers pulsing with the pollen of new life.

Robert Bunter: Speaking of gardening, that was how the idea for the song originated. Paul was chatting with his groundskeeper -- the gentle and reliable Reginald Peake--and asked “How’s it going?” to which Peake replied, “Well, it’s getting better!” and of course Paul got “THAT LOOK” that he used to get when a song was brewing and ran back inside to the piano to effortlessly immortalize the fleeting remark of a common landscaper. Meanwhile, poor old Peake is still standing outside with his pruning shears, staring at the empty space where Paul used to be before he ran back inside, like “What? What did I say?” Later, Paul gave him a signed copy of the finished LP. It was a first-press mono Parlophone in mint condition with all inserts and OG inner sleeve, but the clueless gardener played it repeatedly on his shoddy common-man portable phonograph causing noticeable wear, audible scuffs and unforgiveable surface noise. For the rest of his days, he derived great joy from hearing the record, especially proud of his “star turn” on Side One and the heavy breathing at the end of “Lovely Rita.” When ol' Reg passed away in 1979 from advanced gout, the album was bequeathed to his daughter who kept it in appalling conditions of humidity and heat, not even bothering to store it in a simple two-bit poly bag. That gorgeous inner sleeve (designed by the Apple-contracted Dutch design team The Fool)? Seams split to hell. It was just stacked up on her dumb shelves in a sloppy pile with all her other stupid records. Her kids used to play with it and busted the damned thing all up.

Richard Furnstein: A harrowing vision, to be sure. Paul had a talent for highlighting the minor victories of the diabetic underclass. The sad, pock-marked visions provided depth to such chestnuts as "Another Day," "Eleanor Rigby," and "London Town." The inspiration behind "Getting Better" is less specific; rather, it seems to represent an entire generation rather than one lonely misfit. In that sense, "Getting Better" is a companion track to "She's Leaving Home," showcasing the larger cultural shifts at play. The key lyric in "Getting Better" is "the teachers who taught me weren't cool." It's certainly a minor offense, but the catalyst for a philosophical and lifestyle shift. "Getting Better" offers a life-and-how-live-it manual for the youth who were leaving their parents in the sad suburbs and embarking into a world of discount barbituates, aimless new age explorations,  and primal/hairy sexual intercourse. The sharp and confident introduction of "Getting Better" announces the new chapter. The treated piano and slack single coil electric guitar bursts open the door into the new world. It's a choose your own adventure moment. How are things getting better for you, love? A hippie collapses onto a diseased bean bag chair in a grimy tenement in The Mission. A pot-bellied, cocksure man opens the door to his bachelor pad, wafting in the freedom of divorced life. A diminutive hippie stares out from between the curtains of her straight black hair: "I won't become a Mrs., ma. I'm going to grad school." A slender, wild-eyed Yogi finally masters the King Pigeon Pose after weeks of careful attention to breathing. A young man finally saved enough money to purchase his dream muscle car and is off to cruise the hamburger stand. Martin Luther King's dream. Stonewall. Let's tear the whole damned thing down.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tomorrow Never Knows

Richard Furnstein: The siren call rips through the pitiful black and white landscape: drooping trees, soggy undercurrents padding morning lawns, gray waves of houses, resilient concrete patches. We had no reason to expect this. Indeed, “Tomorrow Never Knows” came out of nowhere. It is recognizable as a pop song but really has no sonic or thematic antecedents. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is more of a tense loop of raga, supporting a suspended loop of film. It suggests a build of towards a shocking act of violence, but never quite truly releases. The grainy image of a man’s grimacing face as he lunges forward quickly reset in a comical jerk, only to start again. The fool! He’ll never get there. Here we are and there we were and now we are back again. 

Robert Bunter: Yeah. It would be fair to call this track "acid-influenced," but more in the sense of actual corrosive pH <7 aqueous solution than the LSD that actually inspired it. John, newly-introduced to the world of mind-altering drugs, had a copy of Timothy Leary's translation of the Tibetan Book of The Dead, in which Leary updated the ancient instruction manual for navigating the afterlife into a set of instructions to help acidheads avoid bad trips. He recorded his own voice reading the instructions on a primitive three-track Brunnell reel-to-reel, then ate the drugs. It was probably not the actual text as much as the sound of his own disembodied voice that blew his chemically-enhanced mind. The Lennon-reads-Leary home tapes remain the unreleased holy grail of Beatles bootleg collecting, along with "Carnival of Light," Ringo's "Welcome To My House" and the actual audio of George Martin's voice over the studio talk-back mic saying, "Gentlemen, you've just recorded your first number one" from the "Please Please Me" sessions.

Richard Furnstein: The fascination with the Tibetan Book Of The Dead was classic Lennon: a desperate embrace of the exotic along with a simple philosophical solution. It also highlighted the specter of death that wrapped tight around The Beatles during this period: from the grisly album cover shoot for the U.S. release Yesterday and Today featuring our stoned heroes draped in chilled flank steaks and glassy-eyed dolls to the media's questions about an official Beatles policy stance on the Vietnam War. Once again, The Beatles were in transition. Where in the past they were caught between their working class roots and their sudden fame, they were now in the grey area of various metaphysical states: life and death; knowing and unknowing; ascent and descent. Lennon sets up this delicate balance in the indecisive and mysterious lyric of "Tomorrow Never Knows": "Relax, turn off your mind and float downstream/It is not dying/It is not dying." It's clear we aren't scaling the misty mountains of Tibet. Instead, we're on a brightly colored sail boat in the narrows of the Mekong River, held afloat by murky waters. Mysterious, diseased clumps drape around the paddles (leaves? vines? meat? doll limbs?). The banks of the river are full of even more mystery as the sweltering, interlocking mass of vegetation seems to breathe and blink. Your weary fatigues read "DEADMAN" while you blink through a reassuring trickle of sweat. Don't get too comfortable, you are alive. 

Robert Bunter: Your Vietnam imagery is valid as usual, although it is safe to assume that Lennon’s geopolitical awareness at this point was shallow and uninformed. I’m sure he was unhappy to read about mounting body counts and atrocities as he scanned the Daily Mail over his morning cornflakes at Kenwood, but the Vietnam War that would eventually become part of his generation’s collective memory thanks to Oliver Stone and Francis Ford Coppola (handsome young men tromping through bright green jungles with stuff written on their helmets while “Nowhere To Run” or “Purple Haze” plays on the soundtrack) didn’t exist in 1966 unless you were there. I think it’s more likely that the abrupt about-face of “Tomorrow Never Knows” was equal parts psychedelic drugs and the hubris of genius. You can imagine how much fun it was for the twenty-something Beatles to make these bizarre, unprecedented noises in the studio, knowing that they would blow the minds of LP listeners the world over. The message of psychedelic consciousness and Eastern philosophy basically boils down to “we’re all One, the ego is an illusion.” How ironic that Lennon chose to declare this to the world by adopting the persona of an enlightened prophet on a mountaintop delivering inscrutable platitudes to the masses, in the context of a ground-breakingly innovative pop album. Yeah, right, great job destroying your Ego, Jesus Lennon. Maybe you still need a few more sessions.

Richard Furnstein: Without a doubt. Certainly, Ringo's ego was through the roof during the first studio playback of the "Tomorrow Never Knows" basic track. A million miles away from the garbage can plod or tambourine enhanced rattle of contemporary pop records, it was clear that Ringo's bass drum was the mountaintop from which John addressed the pathetic masses.The snare is similarly massive: a hollow shot pulsing through the streets on a winter morning. The cymbals suspend in the air like a hesitant plague of locust. In contrast, the tambourine track for most of the song is a delicate eastern accent; the shift to a sloppy rhythm in the end of the song is one of the few textural shifts in the production. In many ways, we need the steady ground provided by the rhythm track. Sure, it's scary and edgy, but it clearly isn't going to let us fall from the heavens. 

The phased out drum track on the version on the Anthology set is more grounded (i.e., you can actually imagine a human being playing it without the assistance of magick or synthetic properties) while exploring an equally innovative pattern and sonic balance. Both versions redefine the use of a core rock and roll instrument, much like the treatment of the bass on "Paperback Writer." In the context of "Tomorrow Never Knows," however, the startling drum track is a piece along with the cacophony of bleeding seagulls, loping bass guitar, reckless violas, and raga droning. "Tomorrow Never Knows" is the perfect balance of the uptight looping rhythms along with the accidental harmonic inventions of the cut-and-paste foundation. There is nothing deliberate in this wash of sound, yet everything is perfect. The Beatles would take this concept further with the chance transmission of a BBC performance of King Lear providing the nervous edge of the finale of "I Am The Walrus." All of this beauty had to come from somewhere, as impossible as that seems. 

Here we are and there we were and now we are back again.
Robert Bunter: Yeah, the use of random chance and unidentifiable tape loops was both sonically and conceptually appropriate. I think it was Paul who told all the Beatles their homework assignment was to record random sounds and bring them back to the studio the next day. John ended up providing the backwards trumpets which provide the distinctive “psychedelic seagull” sound. George contributed the Technicolor orchestral washes that crop up every so often, courtesy of an old BBC broadcast. An uncharacteristically inspired Ringo tried to record himself gargling with his beloved Heinz beans and then play it backwards, although these tapes unfortunately ended up on the cutting room floor, along with the beans. These strips of tape were physically cut and looped back on themselves so they would repeat infinitely. These sounds were all going full blast at the same time, but by moving the faders up and down on the mixing board, the Beatles and their studio crew were able to deploy them strategically as needed. The guitar solo was Paul’s otherworldly “Taxman” break, played backwards. Of course, it goes without saying that these studio techniques were light years ahead of what the Beatles’ so-called “contemporaries” were into. Mick Jagger had just figured out that he could pinch his nose for a contrived “carnival barker” vocal tone on lame psychedelic music hall filler like “Something Happened To Me Yesterday” and maybe Brian Wilson was using some extra harmonicas to double the bassoon parts on his latest sappy ode to his wife’s SISTER while he’s still married to his wife and she knows damn well what those lyrics are about. Get the hell out of here.

Richard Furnstein: And that was just the "hep" community. Imagine the sad American teenager, with his cracking beatle boots and reckless hair style. This pathetic half-man was just turned onto marijuana by Rubber Soul (look at the dangerous tilt of that album sleeve; listen to the slow drag on "Girl") and now Lennon was beckoning him to crawl further inside his mind and listen to the colour of dreams. He was hopelessly behind the times once again. Luckily, the back cover of Revolver provided a visual guide to help their fans through the Lysergic experience. The photo features the fab four wearing expensive sunglasses, seemingly sharing a joke. Ringo (everyman) is at the center of the circle. His stunned smile and disengaged body language suggests that he is having a psychedelic experience. It's almost as if the lenses of his sunglasses are displaying startling technicolor fantasies. It's a casual and lighthearted photo, but there is something unsettling about the composition. It's as if John, George, and Paul are psychedelic manifestations of Ringo's trip. The figures flank the short and childlike Ringo. They all seem to provide a role in Ringo's psychedelic voyage. The always adventurous and malicious John is clearly encouraging him to go further into his mind. He's dressed in a psychedelic frock, suggesting he has passed through the prism and has been realized as a spangled cosmic manifestation. George is dressed like a cowboy, a grounding influence on Ringo. We can look at him as the counter figure to Lennon, perhaps the gentle spirit guide. Paul looks on with a stoic expression. He's the expression of reality. He seems to be concerned about Ringo's voyage (and the draw to the cackling Lennon figure). Naturally, Paul found greater comfort in the earthly delights of marijuana than the mind expansion of psychedelics. 

Robert Bunter: That’s just exactly right. Humble, homely, slow-witted Ringo represents YOU, the listener. The Beatles are extra-terrestrial divine avatars who are rearranging your synapses with their disorienting sonic distortions of context and perspective. You’re just sitting there in slack-jawed wonder, grinning at the pretty colors one minute, then suddenly cowering from the bleeding, diseased furniture and dissolving wallpaper. Everything in the Universe is one undivided entity of awareness and Ego is an illusion and we’re all one. The Beatles instructions to “turn off your mind” are redundant. They already did. I hope you have one of those automatic tone-arm return mechanisms on your record player.