Song of the Week – Blackbird, Piggies, Rocky Raccoon, The Beatles

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

As I write this I’m aware the 50 years ago today, the Beatles were in Abbey Road Studios recording The Beatles, better known as the White Album.  Recording of The Beatles would eventually be completed on October 14th and it would be released on November 22, 1968, just in time to be placed under the Christmas tree for millions of adoring fans.

I love the White Album and will probably post about it again before the end of the year.  But I’ll start with today’s observation that it is the Beatles’ animals album.  Well what the hell does that mean?

There are four songs on the album that specifically mention an animal in the title:

Blackbird

Piggies

Rocky Raccoon

Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey

Martha My Dear was written about Paul’s sheep dog, but does not explicitly mention it in the lyrics.  However, there are several other songs that do mention animals in the lyrics.  “He went out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun…”  “She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand like a lizard on a window pane…”  And several more.  Go find them.

Today’s SotW are the three that were presented all in a row on Side 2.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Magical Misery Tour, National Lampoon; Ouch!, The Rutles

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

This has been a very Beatle-y year. We marked the 50th anniversary of Revolver and their last full concert at Candlestick Park. Then there was the release of the new Ron Howard film Eight Days a Week that celebrated the touring years. The Beatles has such a significant impact on popular culture that we can expect the next few years to be Beatle-y as well. 50th anniversary celebrations of events from ’67-70 will be commonplace. Expect a media onslaught when we reach the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper next June.

Still, this year’s focus on Beatle history has allowed me to indulge in a few esoteric aspects of Beatle fandom. For instance, I’ve been building a playlist of Beatles covers. I don’t expect this project to have an end but it currently has over 700 songs.

Another has been to listen to Beatle parodies. The first SotW is the National Lampoon’s John Lennon parody, “Magical Misery Tour” aka “Genius is Pain.”

rutles

This song is a riot but if you’re offended by the “f” word, skip it! It was written by Tony Hendra (lyrics) and Chris Cerf (music). Hendra had the clever idea to take actual quotes from the famous Lennon Rolling Stone interview with Jann Wenner and set them to music. Brilliant!!! And that’s Melissa Manchester playing the role of Yoko at the end.

The greatest Beatles parody of all was the movie/soundtrack called All You Need is Cash by the Rutles. The 14 Beatle parody songs contained within were written by Neil Innes, formerly of Monty Python and The Bonzo Dog Band. You should check them all out but today I’ll treat you to the take-off on “Help” – the Rutles song “Ouch!.”

Of course there are other Beatles parodies worth checking out. In fact the Prince of Parody, “Weird Al” Yankovic, has done three himself – Generic Blues (Yer Blues), Pac-man (Taxman) and Gee I’m a Nerd (Free as a Bird).

Part of the charm that fueled Beatlemania was the Fab Four’s good natured irreverence. It’s only fair then that they take a little bit of their own medicine.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out, The Beatles

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

beatles

Today’s SotW is about the most popular songs I’ve ever posted about. The occasion is the 50th anniversary of one of my favorite singles releases evah! On December 8, 1965, The Beatles released the double A-sided single “Day Tripper”/”We Can Work It Out.”

The songs were recorded during the Rubber Soul sessions.

“Day Tripper” was written specifically to be released as a single. Recording for it occurred on October 16th and was completed that day. They rehearsed in the afternoon and then they recorded the rhythm track in three takes. Vocals were overdubbed in the evening.

The opening riff is a variation on Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step” (which was also the inspiration for “I Feel Fine”). The energy builds quickly as bass, a rhythm guitar and tambourine enter, capped off by a drum roll and cymbal crash. (The tambourine was used extensively on the Rubber Soul sessions.)

“We Can Work It Out” was recorded four days later on October 20th and nearly completed save for some final vocal overdubs recorded on October 29th. It is special in that it is one of a very few true Lennon/McCartney collaborations written after their very early days together.

Who wrote what is easy to discern as it plays right into the boy’s reputations – Paul’s positive, upbeat verse/chorus set against John’s cynical middle eight.

One of the things that we Beatlemaniacs love about their music is that almost every song is like a box of Cracker Jacks – it has a “surprise” inside. On “We Can Work It Out” it is the shift to waltz time in the section that bridges back to the verse. That was George’s contribution.

When the sessions began it was assumed “Day Tripper” would be the A-side. But everyone was so pleased with the way “We Can Work It Out” sounded that they changed their minds… except John. He wanted to lead with “Day Tripper” and lobbied hard for it. The compromise was to release the double A-side. Genius!!!

You’ve got to admit, they just don’t make them like this anymore.

Enjoy… until next week.

Cilla Black R.I.P.

Cilla Black died today. She was a British singer managed by Brian Epstein, so she had a vague association with The Beatles. She recorded a Lennon/McCartney composition that they never attempted themselves — “It’s For You.”

The song was later covered by Three Dog Night on their first album.

Song of the Week – Strawberry Fields Forever, The Beatles

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

This weekend marks two very important anniversaries for me. It is the 50th anniversary of the Beatles arrival in the US and their “where were you when…” performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. It is also the 6th anniversary of the SotW – originally inspired by the Beatles anniversary. (The very first SotW was the Ed Sullivan recording of “All My Loving.”)

In honor of my affection for all things Beatles, I’ve decided to celebrate these anniversaries by tackling a project that has been on my “to do” list for quite some time. I’m going to lay out the famous story of the recording of “Strawberry Fields Forever” complete with audio. So buckle up!

The story begins here in San Francisco, where on August 29, 1966 the Beatles played their last concert at Candlestick Park. Freed from touring, the band members had the time to pursue other (solo) projects. John went off to Spain to shoot the movie How I Won the War, with Richard Lester who also directed both A Hard Day’s Night and Help!. It was on location in Spain that John wrote and first demoed SFF under the working title “It’s Not Too Bad.”

On Thursday, November 24th, the band assembled at Abbey Road Studios to start their next recording session. In his fine memoir, Here, There and Everywhere, Beatles’/Abbey Road engineer Geoff Emerick describes how the session started.

Down in the studio, George Martin was perched, as usual, on his high stool, positioned in the midst of the four Beatles; he liked being looked up to, so he never sat in a normal chair during routining. John was standing directly in front of him, playing an acoustic guitar and singing softly. Because he wasn’t close to the microphones we had arranged around the room, I had to push the faders up quite high to hear him…

When he finished, there was a moment of stunned silence, broken by Paul, who in a quiet, respectful tone said simply, “That is absolutely brilliant.”

It must have sounded something like this.

This demo, released on The Beatles Anthology 2, was recorded at John’s home when he returned from Spain, sometime between November 7th and the November 24th recording session. Of note is that the demo version of the song is missing the famous intro and instead begins with the “no one I think is in my tree” verse (that will ultimately be the 2nd verse in the official release).

Immediately after hearing John’s demo, the boys got down to work. They spent the next several hours “routining” – figuring out who would play which instruments and which parts. They settled on John playing rhythm guitar, Paul played the band’s newest toy, the Mellotron, George was experimenting with slide guitar and Ringo manned the drums, but placed towels on the drum heads to give them the muffled sound he was after.

They laid down one take that night.

Take 1 is generally unremarkable – the Beatles were just trying to get the feel of the song on tape – but it did result in a couple of advancements. John had come up with the verse that would end up as the first verse – “living is easy with eyes closed” – and near the end, Paul came up with the Mellotron part that ultimately became the intro.

On the evening of Monday, November 28th, the boys were back at Abbey Road to continue working on SFF. Over a session that lasted about 7 hours, they laid down Takes 2-4.

2 and 4 were full rhythm tracks (3 was a false start with John scolding Paul for playing too loud) with more guitars, bass and maracas overdubbed onto the basic tracks. They deemed 4 as “best”, so John added a vocal track. By now, the song structure had evolved to include the intro followed by the chorus to start, but still had the first verse immediately followed by the second without another chorus in between.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, November 29th, work on SFF progressed further. Two more Takes, 5-6, were recorded.

Take 5 was a false start, but Take 6 was completed. Take 6 was then “reduced” to Take 7 with another Lennon vocal overdub.

This recording is the complete Take 7 with the drum edit piece from Take 26 tacked on. More on that later. Take 7 also added ADT (automatic double tracking) to John’s vocal. This mix was deemed the new “best” and sat idle until the band took up work on SFF again over a week later.

During this break John had been listening to the acetate of Take 7 and wasn’t fully satisfied with it. He told producer George Martin he wanted to take another run at it and suggested bringing in some outside musicians. Lennon and Martin worked together to create a score for trumpets and cellos. But before they could be overdubbed, the band would have to record new rhythm tracks.

On Thursday, December 8th the work began. Mark Lewisohn’s exhaustive book, The Beatles Recording Sessions, summarizes the session this way:

By the end of the session 15 more takes had been recorded, numbered nine to 24, all of them rhythm only (i.e., no vocals). But although nine of those 15 were complete (there was, for some reason, no take numbered 19, nor was there an 8), it was two of the incomplete versions – takes 15 and 24 – which were chosen to take the song into the next stage. Before the end of this long night George Martin and Geoff Emerick edited together the first three-quarters of take 15 with the last quarter of take 24. An attempt to mixdown the two four-track edits into take 25 was started but then aborted for the night, to be continued the next day.

The work was completed on Friday, December 9th.

On Thursday, December 15th four trumpets and three cellos were brought in to overdub the score onto the rhythm track – Take 26. Over this, John recorded a vocal that sounds manic compared to his original demo. This is where John utters the non sequitur “cranberry sauce” (twice) – not “I buried Paul” as the “Paul is dead” conspiracy theorists claimed.

Of interest is the much faster tempo (and different key), George’s addition of a swordmandel (an Indian instrument) part, and backward taped cymbals.

Finally, we come to the famous edits. On Thursday, December 22nd, Lennon told Martin that he liked both versions of SFF (Takes 7 and 26). He wanted to join the beginning of Take 7 to the ending of Take 26. When Martin explained that they were recorded in different keys and tempos, John said “Well, can you fix that?”

Again, from Lewisohn’s book:

George and Geoff carefully studied the two versions and realized that if they speeded up the remix of the first version (take seven) and then slowed down the remix of the second (take 26) they might match. They were originally a semitone different. “With the grace of God, and a bit of luck we did it,” says Martin. All that was left now was to edit the two pieces together and the song – almost a full month after it was started – was finally finished. “We gradually decreased the pitch of the first version at the join to make them weld together,” says Geoff Emerick.

The final, official release begins with the intro, chorus and first verse from Take 7. Then another chorus from Take 7 was edited in to bridge to verse 2 which is where Take 26 begins. This was necessary because on Take 7, verse 1 and 2 were consecutive, without a chorus in between. The next verse (2), chorus, verse (3), chorus, and coda are all from Take 26, making the final released version of the song a musical palindrome.

There was another “edit” during the coda at the end. Ringo was having trouble keeping up the intensity of his drumming during the coda. There was one short lapse, but the section after it was very good too. The solution? The false ending fade out, then fade back in.

Happy Beatles weekend!

Enjoy… until next week.