Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sonic Signatures: With the Beatles

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with the beatles signatures.mp3 (1715 KB)

And now, we'd like to carry on, in a sec, with the next songs ...

Continuing our little trip through the Best BeatleBits in each song, album by album, here are my favorite "signature" selections from With the Beatles (as before, I've provided a downloadable sound file so you can listen along with me - the link is at the top of this post).

It Won't Be Long - The call-and-response, tag-teamed "yeah, yeah, yeah" between John and Paul makes this song what it is, in my opinion. And the established pattern, melodically, is that Paul always screams his "yeah!" on the G# above John's note. On the final round of yeah's, however, Paul gets a bit excited and goes a few notes higher, to the B above his normal G#. It's just a bit more intense; just a bit more energetic; just a bit more Beatles.

All I've Got to Do - On John's last time through the chorus, he throws in a vocal flourish on the words "I'll be here," dragging out that "I'll" just a bit longer than usual. The result is that he is then forced to race through the next few syllables in order to catch up with the band again, so it comes out sounding like, "IIIII'll be here-yes-i-will, whenever you call." I love that little tongue-twisted scamper that gets him back in formation with the rest of the band.

All My Loving - One of the recording tricks that gives this song its very distinctive sound is that Paul's voice is double-tracked. He recorded himself singing along with himself, in other words, to give the vocal twice the fullness. The trouble with doing live double-tracking is that the second track has to match the first track perfectly; all the little vocal oddities, note flourishes, breaths, stops, everything has to line up, or else it becomes apparent to the listener that two vocal tracks are being used. On the second verse, Macca flubs it just a bit, with the line "I'll pretend that I'm kissing." When he sings "kissing", one of the vocal tracks get there just a hair before the other one, so it's a bit out of sync. It makes the song special.

Don't Bother Me - I just like the way George sings the word "me" in the line "don't bother me." It's a bit low in his register, and he fans out the vowel so that it sounds more like "meehhhh." He also adds just a wee bit of Presley-esque, shimmery vibrato, so it sounds like he might be shaking his head "no" while singing.

Little Child - I love the fade-out on the chorus, where John and Paul start ad-libbing the oh yeah's. The first one is sung by John, the second one belongs to Paul, and then they come together and harmonize on the third one. It's a bit of symmetry, a bit of magic between the Dynamic Duo, and listening to them spontaneously collaborate like this always makes me happy.

Till There Was You - Hands down, my favorite spot in the song is when Paul sings "I never saw them winging," and says "sawr" instead of "saw."

Please Mr. Postman - My favorite bit on this song is actually in the instrument track, during the intro. I only recently discovered this after listening to the 2009 re-mastered version of the album: after the first two bars of the drums-alone intro, a low bass note quietly sneaks up and pulses out a repeated F#. Listen closely, it's a bit buried in the mix.

Roll Over Beethoven - For this song, I like when the guitar riff in the intro starts descending from those chirpy high notes and suddenly shifts into gear, so to speak, and drops into the first full chord. It sounds like an engine being revved up to me.

Hold Me Tight - I like the way Paul comes out of the second bridge: "being here alone tonight with you - it feels so right!" He's just wailing away at those screamy high notes, in a way that he didn't on the first time through the bridge, and I think it really adds a layer of frenzied excitement and believability to the lyric. He's really serious about it feeling so right!

You've Really Got a Hold on Me - This was another easy pick for me. Between the repeated hold me's on the final chorus, John throws in a few super-soulful ad-libs: "please", "squeeze." He nails it, with the just the right amount of melodic flourish.

I Wanna Be Your Man - On the fade out, everyone is ad-libbing a little bit, and Ringo - God bless him - makes his contribution with a few upward-swooping whooaaa's. He sounds so earnest and sincere about it, but ... come on, it's Ringo. It's just fun.

Devil in Her Heart - The way the lads break up into three-part harmony on the words "she's an angel sent," and then suddenly collapse into three unison voices on the words "to me," gives me goosebumps. I think it's because they don't quite land in perfect unison on that last held note; it's just slightly dissonant, but without being unpleasant, so it sends off this sonic "friction" that makes my skin tingle. These three voices always sounded unusually good together in a vocal blend; I wish they had done more songs along the lines of "This Boy" and "Because" to highlight that fact.

Not a Second Time - I like the fade out. John goes ad-libbing the "no, no, no" part, but - much like with "All My Loving" - the double-tracking comes unraveled just a bit when he starts ad-libbing too much, revealing the fact that he's singing along with a recording of himself.

Money (That's What I Want) - There's a slight anomaly in the intro, when the guitar crashes into the mix to double the piano riff. It's just slightly late, but it catches up quickly enough that it's barely noticeable. Still, it's there, and it gives the song a bit of extra character.

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