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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

THE BEATLES - side two

From the photo shoot known as Mad Day Out with Don McCullin
When John, Paul and producer George Martin laid out the four sides of the album on October 16th and 17th, 1968, they set themselves a few guidelines, according to Mark Lewisohn in The Beatles: Recording Sessions.  Though none of the songs were related in any way, they decided to eliminate the gaps between tracks, as they had done on Sgt. Pepper.  Furthermore, no composer would have more than two tracks in succession.  In most cases, strong contrasts from one song to the next were emphasized; in only a few others, similar tracks were paired.  And on this side, which is predominantly acoustic, all of the animal titles were grouped together.

Martha My Dear - An unexpectedly elegant piano solo opens side two, setting up this delightful McCartney number.  Lewisohn, who has listened to every tape from every known session, believes that Paul is the only Beatle playing on this track.  Paul and Martin had obviously conferred in advance, because strings and brass scored by the producer were recorded on the same day that Paul laid down the basic track of piano and drums at Trident Studios.  Overdubs of guitar and bass at the same venue completed the song the following day.  A descending bass line at the end is used to create a clever segue into the next track.

I'm So Tired - A similar bass line climbs up to begin this Lennon composition written in India.  All four members of the group play on what Lewisohn accurately termed a "lethargic rocker."  The sense of sleeplessness is palpable in the sound they create in the verses, punctuated by the frustration in the bridge.  This short, simple recording only required a few overdubs before moving onto, and completing, Bungalow Bill in the same session.

Blackbird - There is no question that this is a solo performance by McCartney.  Engineer Geoff Emerick used three microphones - one for the vocal, one for acoustic guitar and one for Paul's tapping foot.  After thirty-two takes, the recording was completed with a vocal overdub and the sound effect of a blackbird.  This absolutely gorgeous piece has proven to be a fan favorite over the years.   

Piggies - This is another social satire number from Harrison, in the same vein as Taxman.  Though George Martin scored strings for the track, the master was produced days earlier by Chris Thomas, who also plays the all-important harpsichord part.  John does not play on the track, but he did put together the sound effect tape loop of pigs.

Rocky Raccoon - This country and western tune is a performance by the whole group, the only such instance on a McCartney song on this side.  John pulls out his harmonica for the final time with the Beatles, and Martin plays his signature honky-tonk piano.  As you can hear on an earlier take on Anthology 3, Paul was pretty much making up the lyrics as he went along.

Don't Pass Me By - The first solo composition credited to Richard Starkey.  Ringo returns to the country and western style that had suited him so well earlier in the group's career.  Sadly, only Paul joins him from the group to play bass and organ (although most sources say this is a piano!) on the track.  A fiddler named Jack Fallon adds the distinctive country touch.  The mono version of this track has a vari-speed lead vocal that is higher in pitch, and a different fiddle part during the fadeout.  It was made available on the US version of Rarities in 1980, since the double album had never been released in mono in America. 

Why Don't We Do It in the Road? - An outrageous little ditty by McCartney.  Ringo plays drums; Paul does everything else.  Originally, he sang one verse sweetly and gently, switched to his raucous voice for the next, and then alternated back and forth.  Even take four on Anthology 3 is done this way, but for take five, the master, he just let it rip throughout.  In an interview for Hit Parader magazine in 1972, John said that this was one of Paul's best songs, which sounds like a back-handed compliment, but I believe he truly appreciated the boldness and simplicity of this number.

I Will - McCartney goes from the ridiculous to the sublime with this beautiful ballad (I always thought the layout of these two songs was a deliberate joke).  The basic track has Paul on acoustic guitar, with John tapping wood on metal and Ringo supplying various other bits of percussion.  It took sixty-seven takes to get it right (a number I mistakenly attributed to Happiness is a Warm Gun in my previous blog - that track required seventy takes).  It was a fun session, featuring Paul slipping into a version of Step Inside Love, a song he wrote for Cilla Black, immediately followed by an ad lib piece called Los Paranoias, prompted by a comment from John.  This sequence is presented on Anthology 3.  Another ad libbed piece found its way onto side four of the album.  Paul later overdubbed all other instruments and, for some reason, decided to sing the bass line.  Listen closely - that is not a bass guitar.

Julia - Side two closes with this poignant, heartfelt song by Lennon about his mother and his new love, Yoko, the "ocean child."  This is a major composition for him, moving directly into the personal style of writing that he had been drifting towards ever so slowly for years.  It is also the only solo recording he ever makes for release by the Beatles.  He once again plays guitar using Donovan's fingerpicking technique and double tracks his vocal, overlapping it in places as he did years earlier on Any Time at All.

Anthology 3 reveals that, though it is a solo recording, Paul was in the control booth for take two, which breaks down.  John then nailed it on take three, but before he did, he and Paul have a little discussion about the song.  Amazingly, John sounds sheepish, almost embarrassed, as Paul encourages him.  This is reminiscent of an exchange on Anthology 2 where a take of Being for the Benefit of Mister Kite breaks down and Paul offers John some advice on how to sing the song, even demonstrating how he would phrase it.  While it is impossible to know exactly how John felt about this, the fact is that he takes the advice and sings in that manner on the released version.  I find these little snippets fascinating; they speak volumes about the relationship between the partners.                

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