Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Beatles Black Album Meme — Part 3: 1972, Sort Of

Previous posts: Part 1; Part 2.

1972 was not a good year for ex-Beatles. John and Yoko's double album, Some Time in New York City, was a commercial and critical disaster. Paul had bottomed out following the disappointment of late-1971's hastily written and recorded Wild Life LP. Ringo had a hit with a single recorded the previous year but was otherwise silent. And George didn't record anything at all.

Altogether, about ten solid minutes of music.

But instead of skipping the year altogether, I swept up all the uncollected singles, B-sides and songs leftover from other albums, and with a handful of songs that appeared in 1973 but were written earlier, cobbled together a sort of Odds and Sods/Anthology. I mean, you gotta put "Cold Turkey" somewhere.

The Beatles Solo: 1972, sort of
New York City – John (4:29) (From Some Time in New York City. The lyrics are lazy and the production values are sloppy, but otherwise this is a pretty good rocker. John and Yoko actually opened their double album with "Woman is the N***** of the World" — I can't bring myself to post its full name — which was something Yoko muttered to herself when first confronted with the misogyny of the London art world. I know Lennon thought he was making a point when he wrote a song around the sentiment and he doubled down by releasing it as a single, but it turns out it was the same point Ben Carson made when he compared the Affordable Care Act to slavery, i.e., that he's an idiot. I figure that by 1972 John was so accustomed to success that without someone of the stature of Paul, George or Ringo to say "no," he had grown to believe he could blow his nose and find 24-carat gold nuggets in the handkerchief. John was shattered when the critics and record-buying public apprised him otherwise. You know, there's nothing wrong with devoting yourself to a cause — thank God somebody does — John's problem was investing so much of his self-image in the assumption people would open their wallets and celebrate the effort because his name was "I Used To Be A Beatle.")

John Sinclair – John (3:29) (Upon arriving in New York, Lennon's new-found pals requested a song in support of a local poet jailed for possession of marijuana. John later dismissed this effort as uninspired craftsmanship, but it's actually the best thing on Some Time in New York City. You can put your politics in a song — you can put anything in a song — as long as it's a good song. See, e.g., "Revolution" "Imagine" "Working Class Hero." Hell, even "Come Together" started as a political song.)

C Moon – Paul (4:35) (The flip side of the single "Hi Hi Hi," released in time for Christmas 1972.)

Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll) – George (3:54) (From All Things Must Pass. For an explanation of why it's on this cd, see Part 1 of this series.)

Hi Hi Hi – Paul (3:09) (This McCartney single, like "Give Ireland Back to the Irish," was banned by the BBC, here because of overt drug and sexual references. In protest, he recorded and released "Mary Had a Little Lamb," which in retrospect was the most offensive of the three.)

Live and Let Die – Paul (3:13) (The theme song from the 1973 James Bond film, this was recorded in 1972. A #2 hit in the U.S., I can say from personal observation, it makes for a fantastic live performance.)

Gimme Some Truth – John (3:17) (A leftover from Imagine, it fits right in with the rest of the agitprop.)

Tomorrow – Paul (3:27) (In an overreaction to the critical beating the highly-polished Ram album took, McCartney taped Wild Life in one week, with five of the eight tracks recorded in a single take. John used to complain that Paul would work his songs to death in the studio trying to refine the sound he heard in his head, but while Lennon's songs often drifted farther and farther from his original vision with each take, McCartney's benefitted from the effort. Not everybody works the same way.)

Bring on the Lucie (Freda Peeple) – John (4:12) (This was recorded in 1973 and released that year on Mind Games. But Lennon first recorded a demo of this in 1971 and, again, it fits with the political nature of his other 1972 releases.)

Smile Away – Paul (3:53) (From Ram.)

Power to the People – John (3:19) (Recorded in October 1970, released as a single in March 1971, it hit #11 on the U.S. charts. I have to agree, though, with Hunter S. Thompson's savage assessment of the song which appears in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: "John Lennon's political song, ten years too late. 'That poor fool should have stayed where he was,' said my attorney. 'Punks like that just get in the way when they try to be serious.'" Of course, this was long before John's canonization as a secular saint. No doubt the good doctor's opinion mellowed over the years. You know, like the good doctor himself.)

Oo You – Paul (2:50) (From McCartney.)

My Love – Paul (4:09) (After the critical failures of Ram and Wild Life, McCartney really had no idea what to do next. He spent most of 1972 recording what was going to be a double album called Red Rose Speedway, but in the end he cut it down to a single LP and even that only had two good songs on it, this and "Big Barn Bed." He released "My Love" as a single and it was a #1 hit in the U.S. It's polished enough to appear on Abbey Road while everything else on this c.d. sounds like it was recorded in my garage ...)

If Not For You – George (3:33) (... well, except for George's numbers. He definitely did not record this in anybody's garage.)

Isolation – John (2:53) (From Plastic Ono Band, this would have concluded "side one" of my 1970 collection if it had been a 90-minute cassette tape as originally envisioned.)

Big Barn Bed – Paul (3:50) (From Red Rose Speedway, "Big Barn Bed" is perhaps the most obscure of McCartney's classic songs.)

Give Peace a Chance – John (4:54) (A single recorded in 1969 during John and Yoko's Bed-In Peace protest, it hit #14 in America, #2 in Britain.)

Beware of Darkness – George (3:49) (The last of the songs I've raided from All Things Must Pass, fourteen in all. It's only now I realize that all fourteen are from disc one of the double cd, with none of disc two — four studio numbers and a live jam session — making the cut.)

Bip Bop/Hey Diddle – Paul (3:37) ("Bip Bop" was the sort-of highlight of Wild Life, with this very off-the-cuff rendition appearing on Wingspan.)

Early 1970 – Ringo (2:21) (The flip side of "It Don't Come Easy," Ringo made it clear with this open letter to his former band mates that he really, really, really wanted the Beatles to get back together.)

Cold Turkey – John (5:01) (Part of me would like to think Paul made a big mistake turning down John's suggestion in the Fall of 1969 that "Cold Turkey" be the next Beatles single. Lennon's response was to quit the band and put the song out under his own name. How might have things played out if McCartney had said yes? But the fact is, at least three of the Beatles had been chaffing under the band's yoke since even before India. Lennon had wanted to put out "Across the Universe" "Revolution No. 1" and "Cold Turkey" as singles, Paul wanted to start playing live again which was a non-starter for his bandmates, and George offered up about half of All Things Must Pass only to have all those songs thumbed down. The Beatles were the most inventive, creative band in music history but the moment they started saying, no, we can't do that, they were done, put a fork in it. And put a fork in it, they did. The rest, as they say, is non-Beatles history.)

Total running time: 77:57.

Eight by Lennon, nine by McCartney, three by Harrison and one by Starr. In total now, Paul finally catches John at 23, George has 14 and Ringo 3.

Next, Part 4: The Beatles Solo 1973


mister muleboy said...

The absence of The Luck of the Irish confounds me.

I know that Yoko's childish bridge is near-laughable, but I find this to be one of the five or six most "beautiful" songs Lennon ever released.

And though "raped by the British brigands. goddamn. goddamn." is certainly consistent with his agitprop

(why, exactly, did a Beatle feel SOOOOOOOO needy? Yoko -- love me [okay; I get that one]. But "Jerry Rubin -- love me. Abbie Hoffman -- love me? Getting dressed up in Epstein's suits must have fucked him up big time.
oh, yeah -- lysergic too. . . .) (but I digress. . .)

I think it transcends the agitprop to capture sixty years or more of railing at the English in Ireland.

Anyway, a lean year indeed. But worth it for me just for this one song.

By the way, the colour videos from the new "Beatles 1" Blu-Ray are pretty fucking SpeCtacuLar. The Shea footage is wildly vibrant. . . .

Happy solstice!

Mythical Monkey said...

"The Luck of the Irish" was on there for the first four drafts of this playlist, but dropped off with the fifth (eight in all).

The real problem is went I went from the cassettes (which are 46 minutes a side) to the cds (79:57). Over the course of five collections, that's 60 minutes 15 seconds worth of music. A lot of things went by the wayside. "The Luck of the Irish" was one of them.

I've always been more of a words guy than you, I think. The lyrics don't have to be brilliant but they can't actively get in the way. The tunes on Some Time in New York City are actually pretty solid, but the lyrics ... eh.

Maybe my sense of the Irish Troubles was informed by the Good Friday Agreement which was signed when I was living over there. Northern Ireland was never just Britain versus Ireland, it was more like eight or nine different factions in a bottle crawling all over each other, and not until all of them, Protestants, Catholics, Nationalists, Imperialists, Hard-Liners, Moderates, Anarchists, Psychopaths, Soccer Moms, American Fundraisers, and Dublin and London and whomever else was involved, were so exhausted with 30 years of war that they chose peace out of sheer desperation, did anything happen. And even then it took years to actually implement the agreement.

Bloody Sunday was a disaster and artists like Lennon and McCartney reacted to it the only way they knew how, in song, but it took the passage of time for anybody to get any perspective on it and make a lasting artistic statement about it.

But that's just my opinion.

Mythical Monkey said...

I mean, my point is this: I don't give Lennon credit for at least trying to say something about the Troubles because I don't think he was trying at all. The events happened, falling like rain, and he got wet, but nothing penetrated. He shucked off the experience like you would a rain coat, hung it up on the rack to dry in the form of "The Luck of the Irish" and more or less forgot about it.

With songs like "Revolution" and "Imagine" and "Working Class Hero" and "Help" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" and countless others, the rain had soaked in, permeated the bedrock, created an underground reservoir of deep feeling that eventually worked its way back to the surface as a wellspring of creativity.

Okay, so not everything he ever wrote was drawn from the well of deep feeling. But "The Luck of the Irish," for me, anyway, is particularly lacking in thought on a sensitive subject. He's wearing his politics as fashion the way Elvis Costello might have worn a skinny tie.

But that's just me.

mister muleboy said...

We've heard the song in dramatically different ways -- not just coming to different conclusions, but having different impressions altogether.

For once, I've heard the lyrics. But I don't care deeply about their genesis: Bloody Sunday may have been in the news, as they say, but I hear a song about more than Bloody Sunday, or The Troubles, and always have. I always thought that it was more universal than "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" -- it was about the Revolution, the potato famine, bullet-pocked post offices, Bono.

I didn't hear it as a quick comment on the Troubles, but thought the Troubles were an excuse to write a song that meant something to him. Contemporary "agitprop" lines notwithstanding.

And the distinction being principally a lyrics guy/music guy -- have we ever noted that before? -- remains strong: I actually hear the lyrics here, but if the (1) sound, and (2) song are authentic, the lyrics themselves don't really end up mattering to me. The near-crack in Lennon's voice on his opening line -- the "Day In The Life" prettiness so absent from so much of his output-- is my starting point. (I'll be the first to admit that it may just be craft -- but *glorious* craft if it is) It's as authentic as anything I'll ever need. To me, it flows from that underground reservoir of deep feeling that you so beautifully identify. It's missing from the rest of SINYC, and is even missing from large chunks of Plastic Ono Band, believe it or not -- the raw pain there is powerful, but hot altogether "worked out" so that it's a deep part of him. Which I hear in "Luck of the Irish."

And when I'm focused on Elvis's skinny tie, it's focused on the sound. The production, for want of a better word. I measure whether the song was merely en vogue by how much Elephant's Memory is there, and how much junk is layered on. "Woman Is The Nigger of the World" is, to me, patently fashion, where "Luck of the Irish" isn't.

With that taken care of -- with our respective approaches to this so refreshingly consistent -- I can turn to the important stuff:

THIS is what you need; fuck the Beatles. . . .

mister muleboy said...

Well, I'm sure glad that I didn't hold out my views as "the objective, correct, undeniable" understanding of the song. I just listen to it again, and realize that I probably had "listened through" The IR a reference in the bastards in the bullshit about the genocide stuff.

I still hear the same song, but there is little bit more of that fashion shit laid on top than I heard The last 10 times I listened to the song

You know, I probably typed three times as many words about this goddamn song as I did about that goddamned dismissal of the goddamn case that I'm goddamn briefing goddamn army jeep

Mythical Monkey said...

For those of you following along at home, you can listen to the song in question here.

This reminds me of all those years ago when we'd sit in the White House Connection with two diet Cokes apiece, a couple of hamburgers -- your burned to a crisp, mine medium rare -- and we'd talk about the Beatles for an hour. Every day for, like, five years.

Good times. Today we're John and Paul playing "Be=-Bop-A-Lula" in the Dakota. And I say that if Saturday Night Live offers us $3000 to come on the show and write a brief, we should definitely take it.

More later -- I have to cook dinner. Chicken parmesan!

mister muleboy said...

Will Lorne Michaels ask if we want to split Bellotoot's share. . . ?

Mythical Monkey said...

Yeah, we can give him a little less if we want, it's up to you.

Me, I think bellotoot is the most underrated idiot in the history of rock n roll idiots ...