Monday 1 December 2008

News, Views and Music Issue 14 (Top Five): Still celebrating 40 Years of The Beatles' White Album

And now for this week’s top five. We were so overwhelmed with the success of last week’s column celebrating the White Album (** see note) that we’ve decided to put together another ‘top five’ list of neglected tracks from the Beatles album that turned 40 last week:

(** Note – That’s ‘success’ in its loosest possible terms, naturally. To be perfectly  honest, a grand total of one of you emailed in saying how much you enjoyed the opening paragraph of our White Album article while listening to a newly purchased copy of said album – only to be turfed off the computer by an irate parent and moaned at for playing ‘that rubbish at such a bleeding high volume’. Thanks for that extra information there Lizzie and hope you have better success reading part two).

5) Martha, My Dear: Anyone who owns more than, say, two books on the Beatles with pictures will already know the ‘real’ Martha intimately, though perhaps not by name. For Martha was Paul McCartney’s old English Sheepdog, bought during the early phase of the Beatles’ recording career and who stood at Paul’s side throughout the Beatles’ break up, Wings and a good portion of Macca’s solo career. You know the saying that all pets look like their owners after a time? Well, Paul only ever had hair as shaggy as his pet in the 1970 period, but to photographers Martha was every bit as photogenic as her master and seemed to appear in pretty much every ‘informal’ pic taken of the Beatle when he was off duty from recording or performing. This song is, however, the only time she seems to have inspired Paul to write about her in his work.  

The fact that this song was written for an English Sheepdog has rather undermined its value in the mind of scholarly Beatlenuts. But in truth it’s a fine song, full of dramatic twists and turns between chorus and verses that shouldn’t go together but somehow do (Macca manages to outdo even this example of the genre on his first solo single ‘Another Day’ by the way). Like many of Mccartney’s unheralded ‘story songs’, it’s a forgotten classic that tells us almost nothing about McCartney’s thought process a la most of Lennon’s late 60s songs and absolutely nothing about his beliefs and spiritual request a la Harrison. In the song Martha is not a sheepdog but the narrator’s ex and – unlike Lennon’s stinging attacks on supposed past girlfriends in song – he still feels warmly about her, worried not about his own feelings but the idea that Martha might forget him and all the good times they had together. Macca probably never meant this song to have any relevance to his own life – but dig deeper behind this song’s sweet little tune and you can see more than a touch of Paul’s relationship with actress Jane Asher here. The pair were in the process of splitting up during the White Album sessions despite announcing their engagement as late as Christmas 1967 – his new partner Linda Eastman was already part of his life, meeting the other Beatles for the first time at the recording session for ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’. Does this account for this song’s sweet but sad nostalgia and its bittersweet feeling of changes on the horizon, even though the narrator doesn’t sound overly sad at losing the first love of his life?  

4) Glass Onion: This track was born for analytical Beatle anoraks like me. In fact, this song is Lennon’s spoof of all monkeynuts collectors who tried to see things in the Beatles’ work that their four composers never intended to be there. After teasing us with oodles of rare references to past Beatle songs (Lucy in the sky, walruses played by Paul, Strawberry Fields – ‘the place where nothing is real’ etc) Lennon gives a musical giggle and tells us that all these ideas just peel away to nothing when you analyse them – that they are just a ‘glass onion’. In its original demo form (as heard on Anthology Three) this is a jokey song more in the style of Bungalow Bill than the Helter Skelter-ish recording we got on the White Album. So why the change? Was Lennon just in a particularly angry mood that day, did he think the recording would never work in its original acoustic-meets-sound effects demo form (though it sounds pretty fine to me) or is he fanning the flames, making us think there’s more to this song than there really is? Whatever the intention, ‘Glass Onion’ is a fascinating mystery, full of inside-jokes like ‘the cast iron shore’ (which is really a rather messy and shingle-filled beach on Merseyside) and ‘bent back tulips’ (a table decoration favoured by one of Lennon’s friends, who bent back the stems of tulips for table decorations) which Lennon had been trying to shoe-horn into a song for years. No other Lennon song is such a wonderful catch-all of gibberish (we’ve already covered the reasons why ‘I Am The Walrus’ isn’t gibberish several times on this website – see review no 99 for more and I could stake a claim to the same for ‘I Dig A Pony’ too) and yet so urgent is the music and so dynamic the performance, it still feels that there’s some hidden meaning to this song – even though Lennon categorically stated several times that the whole point of this song is that there isn’t a point to it at all.

3) Yer Blues: Similarly, is this a genuine cry from the heart or a pastiche of all the American blues 78s that Lennon and McCartney used to collect in the 1950s? Almost a prototype for the ‘primal scream therapy’ songs that Lennon will follow in 1970, this is an early example of the Beatles returning to basics after their psychedelic sojourn, recorded by all four members playing in a broom cupboard. Although written at the Maharishi’s in India, with first wife Cynthia by his side, this song has Yoko Ono’s fingerprints all over it and is the other side of the coin to ‘Revolution Nine’s complexity. Yoko’s early work is all about simplicity, about stripping away an idea back to its core to extract the essence from it, and these ideas really began to strike a chord with the former rocker Lennon after he got to know the Japanese artist better. Stupidly transparent as it is, there is no substitute in the whole of the Beatles’ canon for the chill you get down your spine when Lennon yells into a deliberately broken-down, muffled microphone ‘Yes I’m lonely, wanna die’ (although the opening to the similarly Yoko-like ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ runs it close). Lennon’s later response to this song is also fascinating. When asked about individual Beatles songs, John was almost always 50: 50 split between declaring them works of genius and some of the worst hack songs ever produced in modern music. To the best of my knowledge he never ever staked a claim to ‘Yer Blues’ being great, which suggests he saw it as a throwaway – but the work chimes in well with lennon’s immediate post-Beatles work and it was one of his few Beatles compositions to be revived in concert (at the Rolling Stones Circus jamathon, with Mitch Mitchell on drums, Keith Richards on bass and Eric Clapton on guitar – if that line up’s just made your mouth water I strongly recommend you to look out for the DVD).   

2) Dear Prudence: Casual Beatles fans may be surprised to learn that Mia Farrow was part of the Beatles party staying at the Maharishi’s camp in India to learn about meditation. Many of them will also be stunned at the revelation that this song was written for Mia’s sister Prudence, another visitor to the camp who was rather deeper into her meditation than most of the followers there (most of whom seemed to treat the experience as akin to staying at boarding school, given the comments that have come out since). Prudence spent two whole days meditating in her tent while the Beatles were there, taking no meals and not even seeing her sister.

John Lennon, caught between his very genuine belief in the Maharishi and his naturally short attention span, was already in two minds about the whole experience by the time he came to write this song to coerce Prudence out of her tent to be with the others. In ‘Dear Prudence’ you can hear the Beatle wondering out loud whether having such a large devotion to any belief system is good for you – and yet all the things he uses to coerce Prudence out of her shell are natural and not manmade – ‘the sun is up, the sky is blue’. Along with almost everything else the Beatles learnt during their stay in India, folk singer and fellow Maharishi devotee Donovan thinks the fab four learnt everything they know from him (conveniently forgetting that he adopted a much more ‘Beatlesy’/ ‘White Album’ sound after their meeting, not before). But this track is perhaps the strongest candidate for having Donovan’s fingerprints all over it – it’s certainly not like Lennon’s usual work, which either celebrates life indirectly by using surreal imagery or grumpily dismisses it and everybody in it.

Lennon sounds genuinely happy in this recording, even though it was recorded at the worst of times – not least because the Beatles had fallen out with the Maharishi after some unproved and probably false allegations of misconduct, causing Lennon to write one of his most scathing songs, ‘Sexy Sadie’, especially for his former ‘guru’. All the other songs Lennon wrote in India, however pretty they sounded as demos, had also turned into biting snarling rockers by the time they ended up on record (‘I’m So Tired’, ‘Yer Blues’, ‘…Me And My Monkey’) or ended up sounding dead depressed (all the above plus ‘Julia’). Yet intriguingly Lennon never changed a note of this song despite his bad experiences. Another reason for sounding unhappy was the fact that only three Beatles appear on this track – along with ‘Back In The USSR’ it was recorded when a depressed Ringo had walked out on his band, unsure of his future with three bitching colleagues who no longer felt like a ‘team’. When the band recorded ‘Dear Prudence’ (with Paul doing most of the drumming), they weren’t to know that Ringo would change his mind and rejoin them after just a week – at the time of this song, they very genuinely thought they’d have to break the news to the world that at least one member of the most famous band on the planet was about to leave. How ironic that the band chose to record this lovely song in Ringo’s absence- the epitome of the optimism, companionship and sheer magic that the drummer felt had gone out of the Beatles forever at that point.    

1) Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey: Nobody ever mentions this Lennon rocker, not because they think it’s particularly bad but simply because they don’t understand it. Surely the creator of ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘A Day In The Life’ couldn’t write a song with a chorus as banal as ‘the higher you fly the deeper you go, so come on’? Well, ‘Monkey’ is exactly the sort of song you can take as lightly or as deeply as you want. Like many a sloganeering solo Lennon track (‘Power To The People’ is the best fit, though ‘Give Peace A Chance’ fits too), this song has a chorus made as simple as possible for people to follow, but some of the other lyrics are pretty complex both to sing and to understand, as Lennon tries to solve the complex problems of a complex world by getting us all to sing along with a catchy, memorable chorus line. Let’s take a look at that title for a start – it has no lyrical relevance to the rest of the song and its very noticeable paranoia seems at odds with the happy-go-lucky recording of the song. But could it be that Lennon is talking to us here about that very difficult bridge he felt between his simple work and his complex work? Everybody else has something to hide, says Lennon, but ‘me and my monkey’ – we are ‘free’, are not afraid of hiding our true selves or copying our former styles like so many of our compatriots and – despite a number of in-jokes and made-up-on-the-spot-ditties – the White Album is as ‘honest’ and revealing an album as the Beatles ever made. Nasty reviewers who should know better sometimes say that lennon is laughing at his muse Yoko here, likening her to a performing monkey, but I think this song is actually a sly dig at Lennon’s band and how, when they appear in the public eye, they could be labelled ‘performing monkeys’. This is the big brave sarcastic new look 1968 John Lennon recovering the wit he’d buried under three years of heavy drug taking, ready to leave his wife for Yoko, record experimental albums with himself naked on the front cover and become a general pain in the neck for all authority figures he came up against, just as he had been back in the very early Beatle days. He may not have come up with many lyrics to go with his message, but for Lennon this is announcement to the world that he will no longer play ball with anyone anymore and the note-perfect Beatles backing track – with all four members playing in the same room for once on this album – is marvellously urgent, with Paul’s rattled cow bell perfectly setting the tone.

Well, that’s it for another week. More news, views, reviews, muses, recluses, apple juices and quite possibly mooses in next week’s newsletter. Thanks for reading!    

A NOW COMPLETE List Of Top Five/Top Ten/TOP TWENTY  Entries 2008-2019
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2) Songs For The Face Of Bo

3) Credit Crunch Songs

4) Songs For The Autumn

5) National Wombat Week

6) AAA Box Sets

7) Virus Songs

8) Worst AAA-Related DVDs

9) Self-Punctuating Superstar Classics

10) Ways To Know You Have Turned Into A Collector

11) Political Songs

12) Totally Bonkers Concept Albums

13) Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

14) Still Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

15) AAA Existential Questions

16) Releases Of The Year 2008

17) Top AAA Xmas Songs

18) Notable AAA Gigs

19) All things '20' related for our 20th issue

20) Romantic odes for Valentine's Day

21) Hollies B sides

22) 'Other' BBC Session Albums

23) Beach Boys Rarities Still Not Available On CD

24) Songs John, Paul and George wrote for Ringo's solo albums

25) 5 of the Best Rock 'n' Roll Tracks From The Pre-Beatles Era

26) AAA Autobiographies

27) Rolling Stones B-sides

28) Beatles B-Sides

29) The lllloooonnngggeesssttt AAA songs of all time

30) Kinks B-Sides

31) Abandoned CSNY projects 'wasted on the way'

32) Best AAA Rarities and Outtakes Sets

33) News We've Missed While We've Been Away

34) Birthday Songs for our 1st Anniversary

35) Brightest Album Covers

36) Biggest Recorded Arguments

37) Songs About Superheroes

38) AAA TV Networks That Should Exist

39) AAA Woodtsock Moments

40) Top Moments Of The Past Year As Voted For By Readers

41) Music Segues

42) AAA Foreign Language Songs

43) 'Other' Groups In Need Of Re-Mastering

44) The Kinks Preservation Rock Opera - Was It Really About The Forthcoming UK General Election?

45) Mono and Stereo Mixes - Biggest Differences

46) Weirdest Things To Do When A Band Member Leaves

47) Video Clips Exclusive To Youtube (#1)

48) Top AAA Releases Of 2009

49) Songs About Trains

50) Songs about Winter

51) Songs about astrology plus horoscopes for selected AAA members

52) The Worst Five Groups Ever!

53) The Most Over-Rated AAA Albums

54) Top AAA Rarities Exclusive To EPs

55) Random Recent Purchases (#1)

56) AAA Party Political Slogans

57) Songs To Celebrate 'Rock Sunday'

58) Strange But True (?) AAA Ghost Stories

59) AAA Artists In Song

60) Songs About Dogs

61) Sunshiney Songs

62) The AAA Staff Play Their Own Version Of Monoploy/Mornington Crescent!

63) What 'Other' British Invasion DVDs We'd Like To See

64) What We Want To Place In Our AAA Time Capsule

65) AAA Conspiracy Theroies

66) Weirdest Things To Do Before - And After - Becoming A Star

67) Songs To Tweet To

68) Greatest Ever AAA Solos

69) John Lennon Musical Tributes

70) Songs For Halloween

71) Earliest Examples Of Psychedelia

72) Purely Instrumental Albums

73) AAA Utopias

74) AAA Imaginary Bands

75) Unexpected AAA Cover Versions

76) Top Releases of 2010

77) Songs About Snow

78) Predictions For 2011

79) AAA Fugitives

80) AAA Home Towns

81) The Biggest Non-Musical Influences On The 1960s

82) AAA Groups Covering Other AAA Groups

83) Strange Censorship Decisions

84) AAA Albums Still Unreleased on CD

85) Random Recent Purchases (#2)

86) Top AAA Music Videos

87) 30 Day Facebook Music Challenge

88) AAA Documentaries

89) Unfinished and 'Lost' AAA Albums

90) Strangest AAA Album Covers

91) AAA Performers Live From Mars (!)

92) Songs Including The Number '100' for our 100th Issue

93) Most Songs Recorded In A Single Day

94) Most Revealing AAA Interviews

95) Top 10 Pre-Fame Recordings

96) The Shortest And Longest AAA Albums

97) The AAA Allstars Ultimate Band Line-Up

98) Top Songs About Sports

99) AAA Conversations With God

100) AAA Managers: The Good, The Bad and the Financially Ugly

101) Unexpected AAA Cameos

102) AAA Words You can Type Into A Caluclator

103) AAA Court Cases

104) Postmodern Songs About Songwriting

105) Biggest Stylistic Leaps Between Albums

106) 20 Reasons Why Cameron Should Go!

107) The AAA Pun-Filled Cookbook

108) Classic Debut Releases

109) Five Uses Of Bird Sound Effects

110) AAA Classic Youtube Clips Part #1

111) Part #2

112) Part #3

113) AAA Facts You Might Not Know

114) The 20 Rarest AAA Records

115) AAA Instrumental Songs

116) Musical Tarot

117) Christmas Carols

118) Top AAA Releases Of 2011

119) AAA Bands In The Beano/The Dandy

120) Top 20 Guitarists #1

121) #2

122) 'Shorty' Nomination Award Questionairre

123) Top Best-Selling AAA Albums

124) AAA Songs Featuring Bagpipes

125) A (Hopefully) Complete List Of AAA Musicians On Twitter

126) Beatles Albums That Might Have Been 1970-74 and 1980

127) DVD/Computer Games We've Just Invented

128) The AAA Albums With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

129) The AAA Singles With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

130) Lyric Competition (Questions)

131) Top Crooning Classics

132) Funeral Songs

133) AAA Songs For When Your Phone Is On Hold

134) Random Recent Purchases (#3)

135) Lyric Competition (Answers)

136) Bee Gees Songs/AAA Goes Disco!

137) The Best AAA Sleevenotes (And Worst)

138) A Short Precise Of The Years 1962-70

139) More Wacky AAA-Related Films And Their Soundtracks

140) AAA Appearances On Desert Island Discs

141) Songs Exclusive To Live Albums

142) More AAA Songs About Armageddon

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160) The Greatest AAA Drum Solos (Or Near Solos!)

161) AAA Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame Acceptance Speeches

162) AAA Re-Recordings Of Past Songs

163) A Coalition Christmas (A Fairy Tale)

164) AAA Songs About Islands

165) The AAA Review Of The Year 2012

166) The Best AAA Concerts I Attended

167) Tributes To The 10 AAA Stars Who Died The Youngest

168) The First 10 AAA Songs Listed Alphabetically

171) The 10 Best Songs From The Psychedelia Box-Sets ‘Nuggets’ and ‘Nuggets Two’

172) The 20 Most Common Girl’s Names In AAA Song Titles (With Definitions) 

180) First Recordings By Future AAA Stars

185) A Tribute To Storm Thorgerson Via The Five AAA Bands He Worked With

188) Surprise! Celebrating 300 Album Reviews With The Biggest 'Surprises' Of The Past Five Years Of Alan's Album Archives!

190) Comparatively Obscure First Compositions By AAA Stars

193) Evolution Of A Band: Comparing First Lyric With Last Lyric:

200) The Monkees In Relation To Postmodernism (University Dissertation)

202) Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain': Was It About One Of The AAA Crew?

217) AAA 'Christmas Presents' we'd most like to have next year

221) Dr Who and the AAA (Five Musical Links)

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230) AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! The Best Ten AAA Screams

231) An AAA Pack Of Horses

232) AAA Granamas - Sorry, Anagrams!

233) AAA Surnames and Their Meanings

234) 20 Erroneous AAA Album Titles

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236) Top 30 Hilariously Misheard Album Titles/Lyrics

237) Ten controversial AAA sackings - and whether they were right

238) A Critique On Critiquing - In Response To Brian Wilson

239) The Ten MusicianS Who've Played On The Most AAA Albums

240) Thoughts on #CameronMustGo

241) Random Recent Purchases (Kinks/Grateful Dead/Nils Lofgren/Rolling Stones/Hollies) 

242) AAA Christmas Number Ones 

243) AAA Review Of The Year 2014 (Top Releases/Re-issues/Documentaries/DVDs/Books/Songs/ Articles  plus worst releases of the year)

244) Me/CFS Awareness Week 2015

245) Why The Tory 2015 Victory Seems A Little...Suspicious

246) A Plea For Peace and Tolerance After The Attacks on Paris - and Syria

247) AAA Review Of The Year 2015

248) The Fifty Most Read AAA Articles (as of December 31st 2015)

249) The Revised AAA Crossword!

251) Half-A-Dozen Berries Plus One (An AAA Tribute To Chuck Berry)

252) Guest Post: ‘The Skids – Joy’ (1981) by Kenny Brown

254) Guest Post: ‘Supertramp – Some Things Never Change’ by Kenny Brown

255) AAA Review Of The Year 2018

256) AAA Review Of The Year 2019 plus Review Of The Decade 2010-2019

257) Tiermaker

258) #Coronastock

259) #Coronadocstock

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