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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

HELP! - side two

Act Naturally - Of the four Beatles, Ringo had been the critics' darling in A Hard Day's Night, and was generally regarded as the best actor.  With that in mind, the script for Help! put the drummer in the center of the action, even though the Beatles' roles were marginalized overall.  But Ringo was in on the joke - he knew that to be the best actor among four non-actors was no big deal and so, he chose this song for himself for his vocal spotlight.  He had gone the rockabilly route with his previous two offerings, but here, he goes for a true country and western number originally recorded by Buck Owens.  Once again, the boys show just how adept they are at playing in this style, with George turning in some fine guitar work and Paul providing authentic country harmony.  Ringo also seems to be playing his drumsticks on a table top in addition to his drum kit.

In the US, this song appeared as a single.  In his book The Beatles' Story on Capitol Records, Bruce Spizer reveals that Ringo was still so popular in the States that this was originally considered for the A-side, but wiser heads prevailed and Yesterday was given that position.

It's Only Love - Lennon's only original composition on this side is a lightweight piece that he later admitted he was never proud of.  He especially felt that he could have worked more on the lyrics.  Yet producer George Martin liked the melody so much that he recorded it with his orchestra under John's original title That's a Nice Hat (Cap).  The version by the Beatles features George Harrison once again employing his new tone pedal for some lovely guitar work. 

You Like Me Too Much - This Harrison composition was recorded during the February sessions for consideration for the film soundtrack, but didn't make the cut.  I Need You was easily the better choice.  This rather mellow number features John on electric piano and, according to the liner notes, both Paul and George Martin on the same Steinway.  Martin is clearly evident doing his trademark barrelhouse piano on the intro and in the instrumental break, where the two Georges play a musical dialogue.

Tell Me What You See - This McCartney number is also from the February sessions for the film, but was not used.  And it, too, is a mellow piece, sung as a duet by Paul and John.  This time Paul plays electric piano.  In addition to Ringo's drums, claves and a guiro provide some distinctive percussion.

I've Just Seen a Face - It has taken this long to get to the first truly outstanding song on side two, but it was worth the wait.  McCartney's folk/rock number takes off like a runaway freight train after a deceptive half-speed intro.  The words tumble out of Paul breathlessly until he reaches the "Falling" refrain.  Paul, George and John all play acoustic guitars and Ringo uses brushes instead of drumsticks, adding maracas, as well.  This was the first of three McCartney songs recorded on June 14th, 1965, each a different musical style, making different vocal demands on their composer.  Next was the screaming rocker I'm Down, released as a B-side.  And the third was...

Yesterday - The most famous song in the Beatles' catalog and one of the most covered songs of all time.  Paul had had this melody for over a year (George Martin claims that Paul played it for him at the George V in Paris in January of '64), but had only recently set proper lyrics to it.  Previous to this, it had been known by the joke title Scrambled Eggs.  He only did two takes of the song.  Take one is on Anthology 2, preceded by Paul teaching the chords to George Harrison.  Ultimately, it was decided that the other Beatles would not play on the recording and that Martin would score the song for session musicians instead.  This is where Martin's genius comes into play for the first of many times.  Rather than using a full orchestra, as numerous other rock producers had done over the years, Martin opted for a string quartet, which had the effect of making the recording tasteful, elegant and totally unique.  His score, with only a few suggestions from McCartney, is simple and achingly beautiful.  Paul also sings the song quite simply, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.  And the simplicity carries over into the lyrics, which are evocative and universal.

The problem for the Beatles, Martin and manager Brain Epstein was what to do with what was essentially a solo recording.  Everybody knew that it was good enough to be a single, but the others did not want it out as a Beatles record and Epstein would not release it as a solo Paul McCartney single.  In the end, they buried it as the thirteenth track on this album.  On Anthology 2, you can hear Paul's first live performance of the song at Blackpool Night Out, with George Harrison's introduction "...and so, for Paul McCartney of Liverpool, opportunity knocks."  The Help! album had not yet been released and so, the audience is completely unfamiliar with and unprepared for what they hear. 

Capitol Records in America could still do whatever they wanted at this point in time, and they knew a great song when they heard one.  They released it as a single by the Beatles on September 13th.  It was a smash hit.

Dizzy Miss Lizzy - Two Larry Williams rockers, this song and Bad Boy, were recorded at a session on May 10th, specifically for Capitol Records and the American market.  At the last moment, this song was added to this album, probably because George Martin wanted to stick to his formula of closing with just such a number.  John sings and plays Hammond organ, and George plays one of the most annoyingly monotonous guitar riffs ever throughout the song.  Yet, Lennon seems to have had a true fondness for this tune, because the Beatles played it on their final BBC Radio appearance soon after this recording session and added it to their live act.  John even played it with the Plastic Ono Band in Toronto in 1969, with Eric Clapton finding a bit more variation in the repetitive riff.

The UK and US versions of the Help! LP were released in August, 1965.  All of the side one songs appeared on that US album.  The songs on side two were spread out over three additional albums.  You Like Me Too Much, Tell Me What You See and Dizzy Miss Lizzy had already appeared on Beatles VI in June.  I've Just See a Face and It's Only Love would kick off sides one and two respectively of the US version of Rubber Soul in December.  And, in addition to being a single, Yesterday and Act Naturally would appear on the compilation album "Yesterday"...and Today in June of 1966, a full year after they were recorded.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

HELP! - side one

Seven songs, enough for one side of an album, had been the perfect number for the film A Hard Day's Night.  Staying true to form, it was decided that the same would be the case for the new movie.  As before, there was no title when the Beatles reported to the studio, so they only needed to record six songs before filming began.  Rising to the occasion, between February 15th and 20th, 1965, they produced eleven new numbers for consideration for the soundtrack.   

Help! - The title song, recorded on April 13th, 1965, was covered in my previous blog.  Naturally, it leads off the album.

The Night Before - Lennon had dominated the first soundtrack, penning five numbers, but McCartney's contributions, Can't Buy Me Love and And I Love Her, were blockbusters.  Harrison comes up with his own composition this time around, and each of John's songs is noteworthy, but Paul's are merely serviceable.  The Night Before is a pleasant enough song, with a double-tracked lead by Paul and backing vocals by John and George.  It features a rather odd, choppy guitar break by George and has John playing electric piano throughout instead of his usual rhythm guitar.  Director Richard Lester uses this number for the Salisbury Plain sequence, but doesn't show a full performance, cutting away from it midway, then repeating the instrumental break and truncating the ending.

You've Got to Hide Your Love Away - An acoustic number by Lennon, strongly influenced by Bob Dylan.  At times, it even sounds as if John is trying to sing like Dylan.  A beautiful piece, quite unlike anything the Beatles had done up to this point.  It also marks the first time that they asked producer George Martin to bring in a session musician to help them complete a recording.  The final verse features a flautist (Johnnie Scott, according to Mark Lewisohn) overdubbing both tenor and alto flute parts.  I always thought Lennon should have played harmonica instead, but he chose flutes to keep the song from sounding too Dylanesque.  Pearl Jam went the harmonica route years later on their cover version for the I Am Sam soundtrack and, to me, it sounds perfect.  In the film, the boys perform this number in their communal flat, with John, Paul and George vying for the attention of the priestess Ahme, played by Eleanor Bron.

I Need You - This is only George Harrison's second composition to be recorded but, from this time on, he will write all of his own material with the Beatles.  The song is on a par with Paul's songs for the soundtrack, adequate for the purposes of the film.  The outstanding feature in the mix is George's use of the tone pedal, which he uses here in a more conventional manner than he would later in the same session on Lennon's B-side Yes It Is.  Lester also uses this song in the Salisbury Plain sequence of the movie.

Another Girl - McCartney's second soundtrack number is a fast-paced pop song, featuring Paul on lead guitar.  In Mark Lewisohn's book The Beatles: Recording Sessions, the entry for February 15th indicates that George spent quite a while trying to get the sound that Paul wanted with the tremolo arm of his guitar.  The next day, Paul came in and simply played it himself.  It is possible that the roots of the animosity that George eventually felt for Paul could be traced to this moment.  Lester uses this song for a fun sequence on the beach in the Bahamas. 

You're Going to Lose That Girl - A great number by Lennon with strong backing vocals by Paul and George.  Overdubs include Paul on piano and Ringo on bongos.  In his book Tell Me Why, Tim Riley says that this lyric is the "inverse narrative" to She Loves You - instead of rejoicing in a friend's love, the singer threatens to steal her away.  This is one of those Lennon-McCartney compositions that is so good that any other group could have released it as a single and had a guaranteed hit.  Lester places this early in the film as a recording session in the studio.

Ticket to Ride - The hit song from the spring, already covered in an earlier blog.  Martin sticks with his usual strategy by bookending the album side with the two singles.

These seven songs make up the Beatles' entire contribution to the American LP Help!  Capitol has taken a lot of heat over the years for their soundtrack, but it is truly not very different from the United Artists album A Hard Day's Night.  UA rounded out the eight Beatles tracks on that record with four instrumentals by George Martin.  Capitol put five tracks by Ken Thorne on this album, plus a pseudo-James Bond intro before the title song.  And it is not an exaggeration to state that one aspect of Thorne's work would soon have an impact on the consciousness of Western youth culture...

The fictional cult of Kaili from somewhere in the mysterious East was the invention of screenwriter Marc Behm.  Lester naturally made sure that all departments supported that fictional creation in some concrete way, from the sets to the costumes to the music.  Thorne's idea was to add unfamiliar Eastern sounds to his orchestrations and so, he employed Indian musicians for some of his tracks, including a version of A Hard Day's Night played in an Indian restaurant sequence.  When it came time to shoot that scene, George Harrison was fascinated by the Indian instruments being employed on the set, particularly the sitar.  

The rest, of course, is history.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Help! b/w I'm Down

Shea Stadium - August 15th, 1965
 
An exclamation point made all the difference.

As was the case with A Hard Day's Night, the Fab Four's second movie went into production without a title.  The original script was merely called Beatles Two.  Ringo suggested Eight Arms to Hold You because of the statue of the goddess Kaili, and this was actually used as the working title for a while.  When the producers came up with the title Help, they were told they could not use it because another project in development already had the rights to that title.  According to director Richard Lester, it was only after adding the exclamation point that the rights were secured, and John and Paul were once again ordered to come up with a title song.  And, as before, it was John who came in with the goods.

Although he had to write a composition with a predetermined title, Lennon somehow managed to write a deeply personal song.  He picked up the same theme he had tackled in I'm a Loser several months earlier.  If anything, as the group was in the midst of shooting this silly James Bond parody, John was feeling even more trapped by his fame as a Beatle.  Years later, he would describe this time as his "fat Elvis" period (even though Elvis himself hadn't reached that point yet in 1965).  The lyrics reveal his vulnerability beneath his alternating happy-go-lucky and smart-ass exteriors.

There are no electronic tricks to catch the ear this time, just an immediate vocal attack at a frantic pace by John, Paul and George.  Once they settle into the verses, they employ an ingenious device that has the backing vocals by Paul and George anticipating every line sung by John, then linking up with him to finish alternating lines.  There is also no instrumental break here as in other recent singles.  Instead, most of the band drops out and John repeats the first verse solo, with the others slowly joining back in both vocally and instrumentally until they recapture the original momentum.  John later complained that his message was lost because they had to speed up the song for the purposes of the film, but the tempo actually drives home the sense of being caught up in forces beyond one's control - a true feeling of helplessness.

Despite the fact that it was late in the process, Lester actually shot a black and white sequence of the Beatles performing the song in a stage setting.  When we first see it, we do not realize that the film is being projected in the temple of Kaili until brightly-colored darts begin hitting the screen and the high priest, played by the wonderful Leo McKern, exclaims, "Shocking!"

The American single version is a case of one mix being unlike all others.  It seems to be a completely different lead vocal by John, with examples being "And now these days are gone..." instead of "But now these days are gone..." and different phrasing of the final line of the first verse.  This version later appeared on the American LP Rarities in 1980.

I'm Down, the B-side of the single, is a screaming rocker by McCartney.  It was recorded during sessions for the non-soundtrack songs for the album in mid-June of 1965.  Paul was clearly attempting to write a song in the same vein as the Little Richard numbers he had been performing for years, and he succeeded in a big way.  The band tears into this song as if it were an old, familiar part of their repertoire.  Paul's raucous lead vocal is supported by certifiably goofy backup vocals by John and George.  And the instrumental breaks by George on guitar and John on Hammond organ are equally wacky.

The Beatles added both of these songs to their live set.  In fact, the first live performance of Help! is on Anthology 2 from Blackpool Night Out, featuring John stumbling on the lyrics.  For a real treat, go to YouTube and find the performance of I'm Down from the Shea Stadium concert.  The boys are having themselves an absolute blast, with John playing the organ with his elbows at one point.

Naturally, the song Help! appeared as both a single and the lead track of the differing soundtrack albums in both the UK and the US.  I'm Down was a true rarity in both countries, appearing only as this B-side during the group's career.  It did not surface again until the compilation album Rock and Roll Music in 1976.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ticket to Ride b/w Yes It Is

Another year, another movie, another batch of soundtrack songs to be recorded.  The first, on February 15th, 1965 was Ticket to Ride.

Lennon wrote this finely-crafted pop number, which features a few distinctive touches as recorded by the Beatles.  The first is the towering guitar riff, kicking off yet another single with an ear-catching hook.  The second is the lopsided drum pattern played by Ringo, but suggested by Paul.  It is not until the first bridge that the drums shift into standard 4/4 time.  Yet another novelty is that Paul plays lead guitar in addition to bass and, of course, adds his usual superb high harmonies to John's lead vocal.

In one of his final interviews for Playboy in 1980, Lennon called Ticket to Ride "one of the earliest heavy metal records made."  I would call that quite a stretch, but it is interesting to note that the verses are only one chord almost all the way through, creating something of a droning effect - and this slightly in advance of their awareness of, and influence by, Indian music. 

Director Richard Lester used this song for the most memorable musical sequence in the film, even better than the Can't Buy Me Love sequence in A Hard Days' Night.  And yet, today, it would be unthinkable to take the biggest act in the world (which the Beatles unquestionably were at the time), bring them to the Austrian Alps and put them on a ski slope (only Ringo had ever even been on skis before) and have them cavort in front of the cameras, risking life and limb.  

Although Lennon wrote Yes It Is for consideration for the soundtrack, it was quickly relegated to the B-side of this single.  That is not to say that it is in any way a lesser song, as we have already looked at several high-quality B-sides.  It simply did not fit the mood of any of the scenes as conceived by Lester.

Yes It Is is a composition in the same vein as This Boy.  John, Paul and George sing the verses in three-part harmony, then a double-tracked John sings the soaring bridge.  This lovely piece is enhanced by a new toy that George Harrison began using in the studio at this session.  Known at the time as a tone pedal, the device soon became known to all guitarists as the wah-wah pedal.  But while most guitarists would use the wah-wah in a spectacular fashion, George wisely elected to use it in a restrained and subtle way on this delicate track.  Not knowing exactly how the sound was being produced at the time, I came to believe that he was drawing a bow across his guitar's strings, and I still think that is a fairly accurate description of how it sounds.

The single was released in April of 1965, well in advance of the movie.  The song Ticket to Ride also appeared on the differing versions of the Help! LP in both the UK and the US.  Yes It Is was only released as a B-side in the UK, but in the US it also appeared on the compilation album Beatles VI.

The Beatles added Ticket to Ride to their live set.  You can hear performances of it on The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl and on Anthology 2.  On Live at the BBC, they perform the song on The Beatles Invite You to Take a Ticket to Ride, which turned out to be their final appearance on a BBC radio program. 

If you have an early pressing of the original single, you have a real collector's item in your possession.  The caption on the A-side indicated that Ticket to Ride was "From the United Artists screenplay Eight Arms to Hold You."

Monday, November 14, 2011

BEATLES FOR SALE - side two

Eight Days a Week - The first time they flipped over the album, many British fans may have thought there was something wrong with the volume control on their record player.  Adding yet another innovation to their already-impressive list, the Beatles' guitars actually fade in to this delightful pop song.  But, as you can hear on Anthology 1, they attempted numerous vocal intros to the song before coming up with this idea.  They also altered the way they sang the word "week," opting to go down a few notes at the end of the line rather than up.  Composed by McCartney, this is the first of four Lennon-McCartney duets on side two.  And though the song is Paul's, it is John's voice that is dominant in the mix.  Like No Reply and I'm a Loser, this song was under consideration to be a single until John came up with I Feel Fine.

And, in fact, Capitol Records in the US held this recording back for a few months and did release it as a single in February of 1965.  It became the first single created by the American company to go to number one.

Words of Love - The earliest existing recording of the group dates from 1958, when they were still known as the Quarrymen.  John, Paul, George, John Lowe on piano and Colin Hanton on drums pooled their money and went to a local house in Liverpool where you could record two songs and walk out with a 78rpm disc.  The song they chose for the A-side was That'll Be the Day by Buddy Holly, with John singing lead and Paul harmonizing.  Six years later, they made their one and only official recording of a Buddy Holly tune.  John and Paul sing this as a duet, John singing about as low as he possibly can in his vocal register.  This is pure rockabilly and features George playing an incredibly twangy guitar part.  According to the liner notes, instead of the drums, Ringo plays a packing case!

Honey Don't - For the second time in a row, Ringo sings a Carl Perkins tune for his vocal spotlight.  George turns in another fine rockabilly guitar performance, with Ringo urging him on before each break - "Aw, rock on, George, for Ringo one time."  This material suits Ringo so well that it seems hard to imagine that John used to sing this number in their live set, but you can actually hear him do it on Live at the BBC.  And, as blasphemous as it may seem, I have to admit that I prefer Ringo's version over John's.

Every Little Thing - The third Lennon/McCartney duet on side two is this lesser known but wonderful little pop number which has a bit of mystery about it.  Whenever John or Paul sat down over the years to talk with interviewers about who wrote what, neither one of them laid a real claim to this song.  And when I listen to it, I lean first one way, then the other, because it contains elements of each songwriter.  Ultimately, I give up and simply enjoy it for what it is.  Paul adds a bit of piano to the track, but the biggest delight is Ringo on timpani.

I Don't Want to Spoil the Party - The final duet is a composition by Lennon with a strong country flavor to it.  George's guitar sounds as twangy as it did on Words of Love earlier on this side.  John and Paul alternate high and low harmonies between the verses and the bridge, creating a nice variety to their vocal blend.  And George even joins Paul for brief backing vocals as John sings one solo line near the end of each verse.

Capitol Records chose this song to be the B-side of Eight Days a Week in the US.

What You're Doing - Another lesser known gem is this number by McCartney.  For starters, it opens with a true rarity - four bars of just Ringo setting the beat.  Then the band enters with George playing a repeating riff that is simpler but equally as catchy as the one in I Feel Fine.  The bridge features Paul seizing the opportunity to absolutely soar vocally - a beautiful moment.  George turns in a fine guitar break, but underneath his line George Martin adds an oddly out-of-place piano part which Tim Riley terms "razzmatazz."  At the end of the song, Ringo goes solo again for a few bars before Paul adds a brief bass solo and the band reenters for the fade out.

Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby - Martin closes out the side with this rousing Carl Perkins number, which also happens to be George Harrison's one and only lead vocal on the album.  This is another one-take performance by the band, since the song had been a staple of their live act for years.  For some reason, there is a huge amount of echo put on George's vocal, but it doesn't much matter because the real focus here is on his rockabilly guitar chops.  He has been putting them on display for most of the album, and this song gives him one last stab at paying his respects to one of his idols.

A remarkable performance of this number appears on Anthology 2 from the historic concert at Shea Stadium in 1965.  The guitar sound is much heavier due to the greater-than-normal amplification system which still managed to be ineffective in the face of 55,000 screaming fans who were drowning out the jets taking off and landing at nearby LaGuardia Airport.  Still, George and the rest of the Beatles somehow manage to deliver a decent rendition under such unprecedented conditions.

In the US, the two Carl Perkins cover versions appeared on the album Beatles '65.  The remaining songs were all featured on the compilation album Beatles VI released in June of 1965.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

BEATLES FOR SALE - side one

Most critics and fans regard this album as one of the low points in the career of the Beatles.  I respectfully disagree.  When you consider that almost every track here is represented thirty years later on Live at the BBC and/or the Anthology - projects on which Paul, George and Ringo were consulted - then you have to believe that the boys themselves thought highly of the material from this period.

It is true that Lennon and McCartney were not able to come up with an entire album's worth of new compositions, so they returned to the format of the first two albums - eight originals and six covers.  This time, the songs they choose to cover are mostly rockabilly numbers, and those choices influence the overall feel of the album.

The seven sessions for this album and the I Feel Fine/She's a Woman single took place between August 11th and October 26th, 1964.  They were sandwiched around a North American tour and their first tour of England in almost a year.

No Reply - Producer George Martin had already changed the way he normally ended an album by placing the moody I'll Be Back at the end of A Hard Day's Night.  Now, he opens a Beatles album for the one and only time with a stark, dramatic number.  Lennon said he had the great doo-wop song Silhouettes by the Rays in mind when he composed this song, but this is a darker treatment of the same subject.  His double-tracked voice kicks off the song filled with the pain of betrayal.  The guitars are acoustic and a piano played by Martin adds an extra punch as needed.  Paul also occasionally adds a bit of high vocal harmony.  It is remarkable that the tone is so dark once you listen to the two lighthearted takes that are available on Anthology 1 where they are still working out the shape of the song.  It was such a bold way to start the album that this song was actually under consideration for a single until John came up with I Feel Fine.

I'm a Loser - Most of the material that John Lennon wrote in his solo career was of a personal and revealing nature.  This was the first time as a member of the Beatles that he either consciously or subconsciously wrote in such a style.  He later said that he was already feeling trapped in his persona as one of the four lovable moptops, and this song is one of the first manifestations of that frustration.  But by virtue of his placing these lyrics in the framework of a bouncy rockabilly number, we missed the message at the time.  Several of the Beatles' usual adornments add to the light touch, including Paul's high harmonies and his wonderful walking bass line during the refrain, John's Dylanesque harmonica and George's countrified guitar work, played on his new Gretsch Tennessean.  This song was also considered as a possible single release.

Baby's in Black - This odd, country-flavored number is the first full Lennon-McCartney collaboration since I Want to Hold Your Hand.  It was the first to be recorded at these sessions and pretty much set the tone for the work in general.  According to Mark Lewisohn, George Harrison was bending the notes at the top of the song so much that Martin was inclined to ask, "You want the beginning like that, do you?"  Lennon was proud of the fact that the song was written in waltz time (he had even tried to record I'll Be Back in 3/4 time as you can hear on Anthology 1), probably believing that most other rock and roll groups would not even have attempted what he felt was such a sophisticated style.  Amazingly, they added this song to their live set.  On the Real Love EP, released after Anthology 2 in 1996, you can hear the group perform this number at the Hollywood Bowl in 1965, with John touting the fact that it is a waltz in his zany intro.

Rock and Roll Music - On Live at the BBC the Beatles tackle several Chuck Berry numbers.  They obviously had great respect for this rock and roll icon, yet they only recorded two of his songs officially.  George had done the honors on Roll Over Beethoven - now, it was John's turn.  But, although they threw themselves into this recording, it simply does not stand up as one of their greatest cover versions.  Perhaps the reason is that in most of their other covers, they managed to outdo the original, but it is awfully hard to outdo Chuck Berry.  And they only did one take of the number (although liner notes indicate that John, Paul and Martin all played the same piano, which would have been done as an overdub) as part of an extremely productive session on October 18th, during which they worked on eight different songs.  On Anthology 2, you can hear them do a ragged version of this number (even omitting one of the verses) in Japan in 1966.

I'll Follow the Sun - McCartney claimed that this was one of the first songs he ever composed, but he had not offered it to the Beatles before this because he thought it wasn't strong enough to merit recording.  This is a curious claim for such a fine ballad.  This time, John adds the harmonies and George plays a guitar solo which simply and beautifully mirrors the melody.  Liner notes credit Ringo with playing the bongos.

Mr. Moonlight - This is easily one of the most hated songs in the entire Beatles catalog by fans and critics alike, but it highlights the group's broad musical knowledge.  This was an obscure B-side by an even more obscure group known as Dr. Feelgood and the Interns.  Yet Lennon sings it as if it were the greatest song ever written.  An early take on Anthology 1 features a wacky guitar solo by George, but when they remade it months later, Paul plays an even wackier solo on Hammond organ, giving the song a real lounge lizard feel to it.  Ringo definitely plays bongos on this number and George adds a different-sounding thump on an African drum.

The above six songs appeared in the exact same order as side one of the American album Beatles '65, making it the most faithful-to-the-original album side released by Capitol in the first half of the Beatles' career.

Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey - George Martin continues his strategy of closing side one with a rousing number by choosing this medley by Little Richard.  The first half was composed by the Brill Building team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, the second half by Little Richard himself.  While Paul does a pleasant enough job on the first half, it isn't until after George's guitar solo that the song really takes off.  Challenged by John and George's wild backing vocals, Paul delivers a feverish performance.  With Martin on piano, this was yet another one-take recording by the group, although Anthology 2 offers a not-quite-as-good second take.

In the US, this number opens the compilation album Beatles VI.  Little Richard was upset at the time because the label listed the song as Kansas City and only credited Lieber and Stoller, so he took legal action.  This greatly amused Lieber and Stoller since Little Richard had altered their song without their permission when he created the medley, yet they had never taken any action against him.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

I Feel Fine b/w She's a Woman


On November 27th (the 23rd here in the US), a strange sound emitted from our radios.  A single bass note hangs in the air for a moment before an answering electronic wail which is followed in turn by an amazing guitar riff.  The Beatles repeat an aural trick that film director Richard Lester had demanded of them at the top of A Hard Day's Night - something striking that commands the listeners' attention.  John Lennon was especially proud of the feedback on I Feel Fine, claiming that this was the first deliberate instance of it on any pop record.  "Before Hendrix, before the Who, before anybody," as he told Playboy in one of his last interviews.

I Feel Fine is a great pop song not because of the almost-dismissible lyric, but once again, because of the musical ingenuity which surrounds it.  Once George gets that riff going (and it carries through pretty much the entire song), Ringo enters playing a surprising Latin beat.  John's double-tracked lead vocal is backed up beautifully by Paul and George.  These are the type of harmonies that will come to be known as "Beatlesque."  George's guitar solo has a slightly country flavor to it, which is to be expected considering the work they were currently doing on their upcoming album.  

This song is immediately added to their live set, although getting that feedback for the intro was sometimes difficult to accomplish.  You can hear them attempt it on both Live at the BBC and on Anthology 2 from an appearance on Blackpool Night Out.

For the B-side, McCartney writes and sings a rhythm and blues number called She's a Woman.  It starts out with sharp, clipped chords on John's rhythm guitar, and it is not until the rest of the band enters that we realize he has been playing on the upbeat.  There is a lot of space in this sound with only bass, rhythm guitar, drums and Ringo on chocalho.  Paul sings so high in his register that I did not even recognize this as being the Beatles when I first heard it on the radio - I thought for sure that it was a female voice.  For the second verse, Paul adds a simple piano line to echo his melody, and his voice is double-tracked only for the very brief bridge.  George's guitar solo on this number has even more of a country feel to it than the one he played on the A-side.

The sound was so spare that Capitol Records in America altered it, adding a considerable amount of echo to John's guitar in particular.  This is the type of thing they would do numerous times early in the group's career and not even bother to hide the fact, printing a credit on album covers which read, "Produced in England by George Martin and in the USA with the assistance of Dave Dexter, Jr."

This number was also added to the band's live set.  You can find versions of it on The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, Live at the BBC and on Anthology 2 from a 1966 concert in Japan.

I also have in my possession a bootleg which was sent to me from the original session of She's a Woman.  Bootlegs from the first half of the group's career are relatively rare, and this one is a real find.  The master was take six, but they did attempt one more take.  Only the basic instruments are heard - John on rhythm guitar, Paul on bass and vocal and Ringo on drums.  All other sounds would have been overdubbed onto take six.  Take seven is clearly not as good, but the fun starts where the fadeout would be.  The Beatles were not known as a band that would typically jam, but here, John, Paul and Ringo go wild for another three minutes, bending notes, screeching and uncharacteristically going off the rails until it all falls apart, at which point Ringo says, "Got a song and an instrumental there."

I Feel Fine was a worldwide number one.  In the US, She's a Woman got just about the same amount of airplay and did extremely well, reaching as high as number four on the Billboard chart.  Capitol also put both of these songs on the album Beatles '65.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT - side two

After filming was completed, the Beatles took a brief holiday, then returned to Abbey Road studios on June 1st and 2nd, 1964 to record a new batch of songs which would fill out both the non-soundtrack side of the album and the Long Tall Sally EP.

Any Time at All - A sharp drum shot by Ringo is followed by John barking out the song title, the band's full entrance and a high echo of the title by Paul before John resolves the refrain.  The verses are John double-tracked.  In the middle of each verse one of his voices drops out and the second finishes the line as the first re-enters to begin an overlapping line, then is rejoined by the second.  It is a simple, but clever device, and it marks one of the first times that they will use a studio trick to accomplish something that they could not duplicate live.  For the instrumental break, George (on guitar) and Paul (on piano) play melodies which mirror each other and intersect in the middle.  All in all, a fine mid-tempo piece by Lennon with nice contributions from the whole band.

I'll Cry Instead - On the same day that they recorded the Carl Perkins number Matchbox, Lennon comes up with a rockabilly tune of his own.  George, already warmed up in the style earlier in the day, turns in some fine guitar work.  All sources indicate that John and Paul sing this as a duet, but it has always sounded to me like John's voice double-tracked.

In interviews over the years, Lennon always said that he wrote this song for the film, but director Richard Lester replaced it with Can't Buy Me Love.  However, if Mark Lewisohn's research is correct and the song was recorded on June 1st after filming was complete, then John's memory is faulty.  Then again, why would producer George Martin include this recording with the other soundtrack songs that he sent to both United Artists and Capitol Records on June 9th if he knew that it was not going to be used in the film?

There is also the matter of the song's length.  Not only were there usually different mixes for mono and stereo, but there were often different mixes for the US and the UK.  In this instance, the American version has a repeat of the first verse, making it twenty seconds longer than the British version.  And Lewisohn indicates that the song was recorded in two parts - Section A and Section B - which were later edited together but, for the life of me, I've never been able to hear where the edit is.  Quite a few mysteries for such a brisk, little number.

Capitol Records released I'll Cry Instead as a US single, mistakenly printing on the label that it was "From the United Artists picture A Hard Day's Night."  It peaked at number twenty-five.

At this point, the fine McCartney composition Things We Said Today breaks up what is otherwise an all-Lennon album side.  I have already covered this song as the B-side to A Hard Day's Night.

When I Get Home - The "Whoa oh oh I"s in the refrain of this number are not the prettiest harmonies that the Beatles ever sang, but the urgency in them is certainly apparent.  Lennon once again uses his rhythm guitar as well as his voice to drive a song along as if his life depended on it.  When he gets to the bridge, he has built up so much momentum that he can simply let the song bounce along for a bit before he attacks the next verse and literally takes it home.

The above four recordings only appeared in the US on the Capitol album Something New.

Next up is You Can't Do That, which I examined as the B-side to Can't Buy Me Love.

I'll Be Back - The album closes with this wonderfully moody piece - quite a contrast to the screaming cover versions that closed the first two albums.  John's double-tracked voice sings plaintively, sometimes with Paul, sometimes alone, about a shattered love affair.  Except for the bass, the guitars are acoustic, with George once again doing some lovely work.  In his book Tell Me Why, Tim Riley points out that as the song fades out, the key keeps changing from major to minor and back again.  Indeed, he writes extensively about how this is a motif for the entire album and how this is a great step forward in the maturity of both John and Paul's songwriting.

In the US, Capitol held this song back for months, finally releasing it on the album Beatles '65.

You may have noticed that there are only six instead of the usual seven songs on side two.  The group was to record one final song on June 3rd, but Ringo was taken ill with tonsillitis and pharyngitis that morning.  Instead of recording, John, Paul and George spent the afternoon rehearsing with session drummer Jimmy Nicol, who was called in to replace Ringo for the start of their imminent world tour.  That evening, the three Beatles did record a few demos of unfinished songs including John's No Reply, which would lead off the next album and George Harrison's second composition You Know What to Do, a pleasant effort which was promptly forgotten for thirty years until the tape was discovered during research for the Anthology.