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Friday, March 16, 2012

THE BEATLES - side four

Revolution 1 - This is the first instance of the Beatles releasing an alternate version of a song that was already available.  The B-side Revolution had been out for almost three months when the "White Album" came out and offered us this earlier take on Lennon's political stance.  Though the lead vocal is much more laid back than the single version, this track features more layers of sound, including backing vocals plus trumpets and trombones scored by producer George Martin.

Honey Pie - Though he was equally represented on sides one and three and dominated side two, this is McCartney's only credited composition on side four.  The song sounds like it could have come straight out of a 1930's Hollywood musical.  Paul helps to set up this illusion in the introduction by making the line "now she's hit the big time" sound as if it is playing on an old 78 rpm record.  All four Beatles play on the track, with George on bass and John adding some fine period guitar work.  And Martin writes a fabulous score for clarinets and saxophones.  The recording was not made until October, but on Anthology 3, you can hear Paul's demo from the Esher sessions way back in May.

Savoy Truffle - Harrison wrote this nice rocker about, of all things, Eric Clapton's chocolate addiction.  Once again, only George, Paul and Ringo play on the basic track, with John unfortunately getting into the habit of skipping out on George's sessions.  Chris Thomas was persuaded to write the score for saxophones by Martin, and it is a fine piece of work, featuring some great interplay between George's lead guitar and the saxes during the instrumental break.

Cry Baby Cry - A haunting number from Lennon.  Lyrically, it is the dark side of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.  Anthology 3 presents us with take one, demonstrating that all of the elements (minus overdubs, of course) were in place right from the start.  The track builds very slowly in intensity, something the group was always intuitively capable of.  At the end, the song comes to a full stop, but after a second's pause, we hear an uncredited song snippet from McCartney, which sounds as if it were written expressly to link up with John's song.  However, this "can you take me back" section is simply an ad lib from the I Will session.  It is an intriguing piece, and certainly not a throwaway on the order of Wild Honey Pie from side one.  

Revolution 9 - This sound collage from Lennon is the reason many people either did not listen to side four or simply picked up the needle after Cry Baby Cry, but it is a fascinating piece and definitely worth a listen.  The basic track running underneath is actually the last five minutes of Revolution 1, which became a chaotic jam by all four Beatles.  This track rarely bubbles to the surface, but John built everything else on top of this.  In addition to the dozens of sound effects and samples of music, John and George read a series of phrases that are heard from time to time.  Most famous of all is the anonymous voice intoning "number nine" on a tape loop.  With the influence and assistance of Yoko, John managed to weave an amazing tapestry of sound over eight plus minutes, which may seem random at the first listening, but, as Tim Riley says in Tell Me Why, "the track has its own inchoate logic."  Furthermore, "no musical novice would have arrived at just this set of combinations."  There is clearly someone with a musical sensibility at the helm.

It was not the first time that the Beatles had created such a work.  Back in January of 1967, during sessions for Sgt. Pepper, Paul had taken the lead in recording a piece called Carnival of Light for a London theatre.  And George had done a brief sound collage as part of the Wonderwall soundtrack.  But never before had they included such a piece on one of the group's albums.

Good Night - The album closes with a lullaby and another solo performance, this time by Ringo, but, as the selection on Anthology 3 illustrates, it was a group effort.  As poor Ringo is learning the song, all three of the other Beatles and George Martin are giving him instructions.  And, at that time, someone is accompanying him on piano.  Lennon wrote the song, and he ultimately asked Martin to write a score for orchestra and chorus.  In 1980, John told Playboy that the score was "possibly over lush," which is an understatement.  The song itself is simple and beautiful, written for John's son Julian, and Ringo is the perfect choice to sing it.  It provides the most unexpected ending to any Beatles album, especially on the heels of Revolution 9.  Yet, given the wild, eclectic nature of the entire album, it absolutely makes sense.

When the album was released in November of 1968, it had been almost a full year since Magical Mystery Tour, and fans everywhere gobbled it up.  Because of the stark white cover, conceived as the antithesis of the psychedelic collage on Sgt. Pepper, it was immediately nicknamed the "White Album."  It quickly became the best-selling double album in history, until it was eclipsed in 1977 by the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever.               

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