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Monday, March 12, 2012

THE BEATLES - side three

Birthday - Some of the best ensemble playing is on side three, this song being a case in point.  McCartney had the riff in his head when he showed up at the studio, finished writing it, taught it to the band and they recorded it - all in one night.  Yet, as any band that tries to learn it soon discovers, it is a deceptively tricky little number.  Everyone gets in on the fun, with John singing the "Yes, we're going to a party" section, and Yoko Ono and Patti Harrison singing the high "birthday"s.  Paul is once again credited with playing piano, but it has to be an electric piano or an organ.

Yer Blues - It's an odd choice, I know, but this brutal number by Lennon has always been one of my favorite tracks.  All four Beatles rock hard and heavy, and John delivers a killer vocal.  After the final verse, the band switches into a swinging tempo for the instrumental break, with John playing a two-note solo that would make Neil Young proud, then George taking over with a stinging lead of his own.  An edit into another take is used for the fadeout, with John's guide vocal off-mike.

In December of '68, John played this number with a one-time group called the Dirty Mac on the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus television special.  This supergroup consisted of Lennon and Eric Clapton on guitar, Keith Richard on bass and Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience on drums.  A year later, he performed it in Toronto with the Plastic Ono Band, also featuring Clapton.

Mother Nature's Son - This beautiful McCartney composition was inspired by one of the Maharishi's lectures in India.  In the Playboy interview from 1980, John claims that the same lecture prompted him to write a song called Child of Nature, which later was given new lyrics and became Jealous Guy.  Producer George Martin writes a score for brass instruments for this number; otherwise, Paul once again plays everything else.

Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey - This is a little-known and underrated rocker by Lennon.  One can argue that the lyrics are trite, but so are the lyrics to Birthday, and this song rocks just as hard, if not harder.  Using vari-speed, half a minute was cut off of the rhythm track, which is why the band sounds so incredibly fast.  On an album full of outstanding bass lines, Paul's little solo run near the end of this track takes the prize in my estimation.  And, for much of the song, someone is going crazy on cowbell.  This number should have been included on the compilation Rock and Roll Music in 1976, which is heavily weighted toward the first half of their career. 

Sexy Sadie - A nasty song from Lennon directed at the Maharishi, who had the misfortune to be the latest in a line of father figures that John at first idolized, then scathingly rejected.  In The Beatles: Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn prints an original verse that John sings for Paul which is so vile that the Beatles could never have released it.  An early take of the number is presented on Anthology 3.  The tempo is a bit slower, but it is not radically different from the released version, yet the song was remade twice in sessions spread out over a few weeks.  Though the track has a heavy 1968 feel overall, John adds a throwback doo wop element to it, as he did with Happiness is a Warm Gun. 

Helter Skelter - In 1985, McCartney told Musician magazine that he read a quote from Pete Townsend saying that the Who had just recorded the loudest, most raucous rock and roll song ever.  Taking that statement as a personal challenge, Paul claimed that his composition was a deliberate attempt to top the Who.  Yet the first three takes, recorded in July, were slow and somewhat bluesy.  These takes were also remarkably long for the Beatles, each becoming an extended jam.  A section of take two is presented on Anthology 3, giving a taste of what would have been a very different release.  The group returned to the song in September and attacked it with a vengeance, resulting in the cacophonous version on the album.  Paul's vocal, Ringo's drumming, the dissonant guitars - everything is an assault.  John tackles the saxophone, and assistant Mal Evans the trumpet, but all they can get out of them are squeals and squeaks.  The mono version of the recording ends at the fadeout.  The stereo is a different mix and runs a minute longer, fading back in and then crashing to a halt, followed by Ringo's famous cry of, "I've got blisters on my fingers!"  The mono is available on the US Rarities LP from 1980.    

Long Long Long - At the end of the hardest rocking side of the album comes this quiet mood piece from Harrison.  George revealed in later years that what sounds like a straightforward love song is, in fact, the first of many devotional songs he would write in his career.  Only he, Paul and Ringo play on the track, which moves from hushed verses to a strident bridge and back again before a very strange ending.  When Paul hit a certain note on the organ, a bottle of Blue Nun wine on the speaker began rattling around.  A microphone was set up to capture this sound over which George moaned as he and Ringo added to the mix with guitar and drums before a final thud.                     

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