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.