Saturday, May 10, 2008

Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey (Beatles Week)

One more, before I finish up Beatles Week.

The Beatles

The Beatles
"Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey"

A straight up rocker, with John screaming over I-IV changes. There's nothing better in life than that.

Also, check out this clip, which, after a straightforward presentation of the music and lyrics of the song, presents it backwards. I have to tell you, my eyes were opened. Yahoo's the bus ride you ride today!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Help! (Beatles Week)

The Beatles

This is what one of the Rolling Stone record review guides said:

Theirs is the final, great consensus in popular music—not liking them is as perverse as not liking the sun.
And every word of that is true. They belonged to everyone – hipsters could get off on their raw artistry, their ambition, their ravenous appetite for the exotic; teenyboppers could focus on the catchy melodies, the glorious love songs; longhairs could marvel at their sophistication, their disregard for conventional pop structures; best of all, everybody was on board with the message – as Ringo memorably put it, "It was for love and bloody peace." Values change and fashions come and go, but if your goal is to produce an artistic catalogue that maintains a continued relevance, love and bloody peace has a good chance of staying in style for a while.

The Beatles found different ways of saying the same thing over the years, but to me this track says it best. Over Ringo's double-time skifflish beat, John sings his song of friendship while Paul and George echo the words.
When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody's help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I'm not so self assured
Now I find I've changed my mind and opened up the doors.
That was the Beatles' gift to the world: the idea that these words were not just a hokey Hallmark sentiment, but a vital and challenging concept. This song is a lasting monument to the Beatles practising what they preached.

Leave My Kitten Alone (Beatles Week)

The Beatles
Anthology I
"Leave My Kitten Alone"

I am a Springsteen fan. Those who share my obsession know that his officially released albums are but a minor part of his creative output – Springsteen releases an album every few years, but spends so much time writing and in the studio that there are many albums-worth of material that never make it to official release, including some of his greatest songs.

When the Beatles Anthology series was released I was hoping that it would contain a bunch of unreleased winners. I hadn't considered that, unlike Springsteen, the Beatles released an album every six months, and were releasing singles at a near constant rate. Anything of any quality at all made it to an album or a B-side simply because there was so much demand on them for more songs. (It is a testament to their ability as songwriters and performers that they produced so little crap, considering the manic pace of their official releases.)

And so, when the Anthology series came out, I found it to be filled with outtakes and live tracks, interesting in an historical sense to anyone at all fascinated by the band's creative process, but containing no songs of such quality that they could have been included on an official release.

Except for "Leave My Kitten Alone". That weird little chromatic run in the intro signals that something special is about to happen, at the energy never flags – "Kitten" is a non-stop rave up from beginning to end, featuring some passionate Lennon vocals that make you forget all about Little Willie John's original. This is the type of stuff that belied their Brian Epstein-conceived image as nice young men who are polite to your parents – the people who made "Kitten" are the kind of guys you would not want to run into in a dark alley.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

And Your Bird Can Sing (Beatles Week)

The Beatles
"And Your Bird Can Sing"

One of my private treasures, a song I love that no one else seems to like much. It's those harmony lead guitars – why do they sound so cool here and so lame when Tom Scholz does it?

The song was recorded for Revolver, during the period when the band was heavily into the herbal jazz cigarettes, as Paul put it. That explains the giggling during this outtake:

Two of Us (Beatles Week)

The Beatles
Let It Be
"Two of Us"

Paul's great Every Brother's update. The eventual release played up the folk elements, but as can be seen from this rehearsal clip, the song started out more as a rocker:

There are some interesting things going on rhythm-wise, with odd bar lengths and whatnot. Also notable is the lack of bass – George filled in with some tasty country-flavoured low-string work on the Tele. But in the end, it's Paul and John, singing in harmony, the way they did for many years, and never did again after this album was released.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I Should Have Known Better (Beatles Week)

The Beatles
A Hard Day's Night
"I Should Have Known Better"

The clip above is edited from some A Hard Day's Night footage by a Youtube user, but it perfectly captures not just the exuberance of the song, but the entire film.

(By the way, if you have never seen the movie A Hard Day's Night, you probably should. It is excellent: great music, funny, kinetic performances, and arsty black and white – what more do you need? Here's a taste: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.)

Unlike virtually every other guitar player in the sixties, George Harrison eschewed improvisation, and his recorded output features, almost exclusively, composed guitar solos. On "I Should Have Known Better", he mostly duplicates the main melody:

But fuck me if that doesn't sound great. I think this may have been George's first recording with a Rickenbacker twelve-string, and it went on to virtually define the sound of the album (it's featured in the solos of 5 of the 13 songs).

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Money (That's What I Want) (Beatles Week)

The Beatles
With the Beatles
"Money (That's What I Want)"

In which John Lennon makes his case for the title of the greatest rock and roll singer on the planet.

Larry Williams triple play (Beatles Week)

The Beatles

Long Tall Sally EP
"Slow Down"

Beatles VI
"Bad Boy"

"Dizzy Miss Lizzy"

Rock and roll records were rare in Liverpool in the late 50s, and virtually nonexistent on the radio. Fans had to take whatever records they could get, and they would wear these records out. It appears that at some point John Lennon got a hold of a Larry Williams record, and went on to wear it out.

By the time the Beatles got back from Hamburg, they had probably performed every rock and roll song they had ever heard, including the three Larry Williams numbers in this post.

On the evidence of these performances, there was indeed nobody that could touch them, in Britain or elsewhere.

Larry Williams is today regarded as something of an early rock and roll pioneer, but I wonder how much of that has to do with these Beatles performances, which eclipse Williams' originals – in quality, in energy – by a wide mark.

Williams himself had an interesting life. He was a wild, self-destructive man who met a violent death under questionable circumstances (see his wikipedia entry for more details). Today, his greatest contributions to the world seems to be giving John Lennon an excuse to scream rock and rock songs over a hard driving beat. That'll do.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Anna (Go to Him) (Beatles Week)

The Beatles
Please Please Me
"Anna (Go to Him)"

In addition to being formidable composers, the Beatles were among the best interpreters of the era – they certainly had more skill covering soul ballads than the Stones, whose attempts were timid and uncertain. Here John Lennon has a go at Arthur Alexander's great "Anna (Go to Him)", which features a neat stop-and-start drum pattern and an infectious rhythm piano part (played by George Harrison on guitar for the Beatles version).

Here is Arthur Alexander's original:

As you can hear, the Beatles didn't really change anything about the arrangement. In an earlier blog entry I called their cover a charming homage, but now I think I was selling them short – Lennon is really working hard, and seems to have ambitions beyond just paying tribute to a favoured influence. He isn't trying to cop Alexander's phrasing or anything – it almost seems like Lennon is, in his own way, trying to beat Alexander at his own game. This is far more than the Stones ever attempted, at least at this stage in their careers, and if the Beatles didn't quite match the original's quality, they got close.

Things We Said Today (Beatles Week)

The Beatles
A Hard Day's Night
"Things We Said Today" – 2:40

Every once in a while I'll hear a song that makes me think "God, I wish I wrote that!" – not necessarily the greatest songs in the world, just songs that display a kind of proud craftsmanship. This song is the first I remember thinking that about.

Long time associate and friend of the blog Ron Littlejohn turned me on to the mysteries of "Things We Said Today" way back in high school – coming from a family of Beatles fans, it was a song I'd heard my whole life, but never grokked the sophistication of the composition until Ron pointed it out. The looping six note melody over the i-v pattern in the verse resolves so perfectly, the change from minor to major for the bridge, that little Bb passing chord[*] to get back into the verse – even if you don't know what those words meant, anyone can hear how well the song perfectly resolves itself, how it ties off musical loose ends. Just a gorgeous piece of songwriting by Paul.

[* passing chord doesn't really describe its function, which is essentially the same as the V7 in the final bar of a blues – that is, a turnaround chord, signaling the return to the beginning. Alan W. Pollack has much more on this weird bII chord, along with a wealth of notes on the details of this, and many other, Beatles songs.]

Update 12:52 PM: Check out this clip of London Jazz covering the song, which sounds like it should be playing in the background of one of those Matt Helm movies:

Thanks to Planet Mondo for the clip!

Introducing Beatles Week!

Introducing Beatles Week!

The last Stones album I blogged drained me of any good will I had towards the Rolling Stones. I could not, in good conscience, continue blogging their music while having a huge ball of hatred[*] sitting in the pit of my belly. Also, I looked ahead at their next album and realised that I just don't have the strength right now for this much shit – I need to take a break, recharge my batteries, and get back some objectivity before I revisit the Stones.

And so it's vacation time here at Blogging the Stones, and what better vacation spot than the Beatles catalogue? I'll be getting to some of my favourites, some hits and some relative obscurities, but all songs that have made life better in some small way for those who have heard them. And, most importantly, I'll be avoiding the shitty tunes – that is the "vacation" aspect of the Beatles week conceit.

So for the next week Blogging the Stones will be a Stones-free environment. Let's get the party started!

[* a huge ball of hatred: goddamn, Between the Buttons was a crappy album. I'm not sure how to stress this too much. It was the Amerigo Vespucci of sucking, finding new and undiscovered territories in the areas of shit, mapping the terrain so that others may follow.]

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Between the Buttons (USA version) Roundup

Between the Buttons (USA version) Roundup

Side 1
1. "Let's Spend the Night Together" – 3:36
2. "Yesterday's Papers" – 2:04
3. "Ruby Tuesday" – 3:17
4. "Connection" – 2:08
5. "She Smiled Sweetly" – 2:44
6. "Cool, Calm and Collected" – 4:17

Side 2
1. "All Sold Out" – 2:17
2. "My Obsession" – 3:17
3. "Who's Been Sleeping Here?" – 3:55
4. "Complicated" – 3:15
5. "Miss Amanda Jones" – 2:47
6. "Something Happened to Me Yesterday" – 4:55


Between the Buttons is the fifth UK and seventh US studio album by The Rolling Stones and was released in 1967 as the follow-up to the ambitious Aftermath.

Recorded in two spurts in Los Angeles in August 1966 and London that November, Between the Buttons caught The Rolling Stones at a period where they were moving more into arty territory and away from their R&B roots. With the release of The Beatles' Revolver, The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde during 1966, the parameters of rock music had been expanded considerably and The Rolling Stones - in particular Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, as the main songwriters - were forced to keep up. Conscious that they had to progress beyond Aftermath, the Stones follow-up - betraying influences drawn from British pop contemporaries like The Kinks - was Between the Buttons.

Much like Aftermath, Between the Buttons saw some differences in its UK and US versions. The UK edition (how producer Andrew Loog Oldham and The Rolling Stones intended it) was issued in January 1967 on Decca Records, concurrently with a separate single, "Let's Spend the Night Together" b/w "Ruby Tuesday". Because of common practice in the British record industry at the time, the single did not appear on the album. Generally well-received (although the critics took note of their influences), Between the Buttons reached #3 in the UK.

In the US, "Let's Spend the Night Together" and "Ruby Tuesday" were slotted onto the album, with "Back Street Girl" and "Please Go Home" getting the boot (these would be included on the following US release, Flowers). With "Ruby Tuesday" reaching #1, Between the Buttons shot to #2 in the US, going gold.

Additionally, Between the Buttons would prove to be the last album produced by Andrew Loog Oldham, with whom The Rolling Stones would have a creative falling-out in mid-1967. Indeed, Oldham's influence is more evident here than on earlier albums, as he employs Phil Spector-like layering on "Yesterday's Papers", "My Obsession", and "Complicated" and uncredited background vocalists (including, possibly, Graham Nash) throughout. Brian Jones continues his experiments in exotic instruments on this album, playing electric and acoustic guitars, harmonica, recorder, piano, trumpet, trombone, and banjo-ukulele. Keith Richards busies himself with distinctive guitar work on "My Obsession", "Connection", "All Sold Out", "Please Go Home" and "Miss Amanda Jones".

In the years following its release, Between the Buttons somehow became overlooked. Today, however, many critics and fans have come to appreciate the album's eclectic qualities and a wealth of obscure gems, making it a unique album in The Rolling Stones' released catalogue, one that more or less abandoned the Stones' blues based style and featured more consistent songwriting than their previous efforts.

In 2003, the album was ranked number 355 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

In August 2002 both editions of Between the Buttons were reissued in a new remastered CD and SACD digipak by ABKCO Records.

It appears that I am in the minority in finding this album a terrifying experience. I can live with that.

Something Happened to Me Yesterday

Between the Buttons (USA version)
Side 2, Track 5
"Something Happened to Me Yesterday" – 4:55


"Something Happened to Me Yesterday" is a closing track to English rock and roll band the Rolling Stones' 1967 album Between the Buttons.

Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, "Something Happened to Me Yesterday" is called by Matthew Greenwald in his review of the song "one [of] the most accurate songs about LSD."[1] Writing with a "combination of social commentary, personal insight, and a strong sense of comedy," the lyrics paint a hazy picture of an LSD trip from the perspective of the following day;

“ Someone says there's something more to pay, For sins that you committed yesterday. It's really rather drippy but something oh so trippy. Something happened to me yesterday ”

“ He don't know if it's right or wrong. Maybe he should tell someone. He's not sure just what it was, Or if it's against the law ”

On the song, Jagger said at the time of its release, "I leave it to the individual imagination as to what happened."[2] The most distinct portion of the song is the ending, where Jagger, using spoken word, gives this send off:

“ Well thank you very much and now I think it's time for us all to go. So from all of us to all of you, not forgetting the boys in the band and our producer Reg Thorpe, we'd like to say God bless. So if you're out tonight, don't forget, if you're on your bike, wear white. Evening all. ”

This "send off" prompted many in the newly emerging counter-culture music press to speculate about a possible breakup of The Stones. On the ending, Jagger said, "The ending is something I remember hearing on the BBC as the bombs dropped."[2]

Recorded in August and November of 1966, "Something Happened to Me Yesterday" is notable as it is the first song by the Rolling Stones to feature Richards on lead vocals, and one of the few to feature both Jagger and Richards sharing lead vocals together. With Charlie Watts on drums and Bill Wyman on bass, Richards also performs the song's electric and acoustic guitars. The song also displays Brian Jones' rich musical abilities, with the guitarist performing trombone, trumpet, violin, and various other brasses. Ian Stewart performs the songs' pianos.[2]

"Something Happened to Me Yesterday" has never been performed live.
There should be a law that says you're allowed to do any drugs you want as long as you never sing about them.

And thus we reach the end of this album, one of the most challenging experiences of my life – not on a high note, but on an ironic old-timey sing-along about LSD. That sums up the artistic pretensions of this album, along with its many, many failings.

Miss Amanda Jones

Between the Buttons (USA version)
Side 2, Track 5
"Miss Amanda Jones" – 2:47

What the hell? Who gave the green light to an actual rock and roll song on a Rolling Stones album? I hope that person lost his job.

"Miss Amanda Jones" is a throwback to earlier Stones albums – a straight-ahead Chuck Berry-style rocker, with some great rhythm work by Keith. But what the hell is going on in the mix? The vocals get really loud for the bridge (0:54).


Between the Buttons (USA version)
Side 2, Track 4
"Complicated" – 3:15

The return of the "Satisfaction" fuzz box.

There's a fine line between clever and stupid.

She knows just how to please her man.
Softer than a baby lamb.
But she's educated and doesn't give a damn.
She's very complicated.
I'm not sure where "Complicated" fits. Given this annoying melodic passage that repeats throughout the song, I'm going with stupid.

(Two more songs in this abomination of an album.)

Who's Been Sleeping Here?

Between the Buttons (USA version)
Side 2, Track 3
"Who's Been Sleeping Here?" – 3:55

A much better performance by Mick on this track. The track itself is a little strange – it sounds almost like one of Bob Dylan's early, tentative experiments with a full rock band, but without any of Dylan's lyrical facility:

What you say girl, who'd you see that night.
I was doing, doing something right.
The soldier, the sailor, then there's the three musketeers,
They'll now tell me now, who's been sleeping here.
Yeah, a fairy tale-themed rock song. Outside of Otis Redding, has anyone ever been able to pull this off without sounding idiotic?

(Three more songs left in this trying album. Let us pray I have the strength.)

My Obsession

Between the Buttons (USA version)
Side 2, Track 2
"My Obsession" – 3:17

Part of the problem with the Stones' ambitions for this album was that they were clearly not good enough singers to pull it off. Unlike the Beatles, who were very gifted in that department, the Stones could rely only on a lead singer who, while unique, was extremely limited in phrasing and range. You can kind of hear what Mick was going for in the verse, but you can also clearly hear him miss the mark rather wildly:

And unlike the Beatles, the Stones could not rely on sure-handed, steady background vocals to give the lead vocal an anchor. In "My Obsession", and most of the tracks of this era, Mick and Keith combine to produce some remarkably timid backing parts, of unsure phrasing and dubious pitch:

In time, the Stones would learn to work around these problems – or, more accurately, they learned to work with what they had, that their talents lay in sloppy rock and roll, not slightly arty projects like Between the Buttons, which not only went against their entire aesthetic that they'd developed until that point, but also against their talents.