Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Missing Liner Notes: Beatles For Sale (Part One)

By the middle of 1964, The Beatles had pretty much taken over most of the world, and large portions of Mars. Having demonstrated their complete mastery, not only in the area of music, but also in print media (John Lennon's In His Own Write) and cinema (A Hard Day's Night, and the little-publicized documentary, Ringo Does Dallas), The Beatles decided to return once again to the studio. It had only been one month since the release of their last album (A Hard Day's Night II: The Night Gets Even Harder), but The Beatles were operating on the solid philosophical principle that recording music was their first love, their strongest suit, their very raison d'etre (literally, "very old raisins"); they were also operating on the philosophical principle that they were under a legal contract to do another record, and the lads saw the wisdom in not getting their four fabulous tucheses sued.

Fortunately, the unstoppable song-writing team of Lennon and McCartney was, thanks to a recent life-changing meeting with the actual Bob Dylan, stoned to the point of immobility and loss of basic motor skills. This became the inspiration for the new album's first track, "No Reply".

The self-denigrating second track, "I'm a Loser", was John's first overt attempt at writing a less formulaic pop-song, and dabbling instead in the art of writing "confessional" lyrics. In this particular case, he was writing about the experience of personally losing a record-setting 28 games of Parcheesi the previous weekend, but the lyrics are obviously artistic enough to be adaptable to almost any situation (for example, losing a record 28 games of Yahtzee).

John and Paul team up, lyrically, vocally, and possibly sexually for the third track, "Baby's in Black", which wins the prize for Worst Lyrical Cop-out on the album: "I think of her, but she thinks only of him, and though it's only a whim, she thinks of him." The eminent music critic Leonard Bernstein famously summarized the fundamental flaw in this lyrical construct when he said, "Who the hell are John Lennon and Paul McCartney?"

For the album's fourth track, The Beatles, having run out of creative juice and needing something to fill the space, turned to an old stand-by from their Hamburg days: Wagner's Die Walküre. Time limitations, however, forced them to abandon the idea in the middle of the third act, and so they recorded Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music" instead. This was a much better choice; Berry's immaculately-crafted lyrical homage to the Rock-n-Roll genre is infused with new life on Lennon's half-snarling lips, as he confidently belts out such emotionally stirring lines as, "Way down south they had a jubilee, and [something] [something] [something] jamboree; [something] [something] [something] [something] cup; the [something] [something] [something] all shook up!" Even now, decades later, it is hard to disagree with him.

The fifth track, McCartney's kitschy little passive-aggressive crooner, "I'll Follow the Sun", is a classic example of the legendary Lennon/McCartney dichotomy. Both artists contributed a "love lost" song to the album, but where Lennon's "I'm a Loser" wallows in self-deprecation and points the finger only at himself when looking for someone to blame, McCartney's "I'll Follow the Sun" points the finger everywhere but himself. He blames his erstwhile lover for being apathetic, he blames her for being short-sighted, he blames her for not realizing how good she had it with him, and then, in classical male fashion, he blames the weather. However, he does it with an unforgettable melodic hook, and a charming smile that can actually be heard in the vocal, so the reaction of the female listening audience remains the same as it is with every other effin' McCartney tune: they want to jump his bones. Seriously, Macca could write a song called "I Am the Ultimate Misogynist and I Think All Women Are Subhuman Objects to be Used for Sexual Gratification and then Thrown Away", and women would still be lining up across several city blocks to have Paul write the words of this song across their fleshy bosoms with a Sharpie.

At this point in the album, most listeners experience the universal and timeless feeling of needing to, as Abraham Lincoln once put it, "drain the lizard," and as a result, many people who have heard this album dozens of times are completely unaware that "Mr. Moonlight" is even a part of The Beatles' catalog. Those people are so very, very fortunate. This little sonic turd was, at one time, a recurring part of the Fab Four's live set list, it is true; but that was in Hamburg, when they were playing to an audience full of horny German males who were, to put it politely, exceedingly shit-faced. And even though Paul does his best to salvage the song by sincerely hammering away at the three-note Hammond organ solo with all his might, the song still conjures up the musical "picture" of someone sincerely hammering away at a three-note Hammond organ solo with all his might.

Needing an incredibly loud distraction to wipe clean any memory of the auditory grotesqueries just inflicted on their audience, The Beatles charge right into their seventh track, a cover of "Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey" - the latter of which addresses an emotionally distant lover, in the hopes of rekindling her fading affections with the words, "hey now, baby!", "woooo, now girl!", and "what's been wrong with you?!" Typically, these sorts of sentiments would result in the girl returning to her suitor's arms just long enough to deliver a heart-felt knee to his groinal area before stalking away; but, since it's McCartney singing it, the girl will instantly feel like doing some furious face-sucking (with Macca, you idiot, not with you).


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