Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The BEATLES (AKA The White Album)

For whatever reason, the ablum cover artwork that appears in the iTunes version of the song places the title (The BEATLES) slightly askew. It's sort of funny to compare the two. 

Back in the U.S.S.R. This is just blows me away! It all starts with the plane! Then Paul plays some of the most extraordinary Jerry Lee Lewis style rock'n roll piano. The guitars here have started to acquire some of that thicker, heavier crunch that comes from testing the limits of your amps and speakers. And the rhythm guitar bits are quite interesting. It absolutely rocks! The transition to the Beach Boys immitation -  "The Ukraine girls really knock me out. They leave the west behind." is just phenomenal and hilarious. The lead guitar sound - though still thinner than what will come later - wails. And as they repeat "back in the US, back in the US, back in the USSR," the underlying rhythm guitar riff is awesome. During the course of the song, the Beatles have managed to channel Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Beach Boys and Chuck Berry and still make it all fresh and original.

But it's the lyrics that really take center stage here. First there's the concept: Back in the USSR?  Who else would have started with such a notion and delivered on the promise with such irony, facility and wit? And how about these lyrics:

Oh, show me round your snow peaked Mountain way down south

Take me to your daddy's farm

Let me hear your balalaika's ringing out

Come and keep your comrade warm

I'm back in the USSR

Hey, you don't know how lucky you are, boy

And just as you're up and dancing around the room the last chords fades as the plane takes off and the strains of acoustic guitars introduce . . .

Dear Prudence. 

Dear Prudence, won't you come out to play.

Dear Prudence, it's a brand new day.

The sun is up. The sky is blue.

It's beautiful, and so are you. 

And it's the contrast between the finger picked guitar and the very deep bass that feel like something very different than anything you've heard before. John is said to have written this for Mia Farrow's sister, Prudence Farrow, who became so wrapped up in her meditation practice that she stopped nearly all social interaction. 

Glass Onion. Probably the Beatle's most self-referential tune. In the course of a single song, they recall bits of lyrics from Strawberry Fields, I Am the Walrus, Fool On the Hill, and Fixing a Hole. There's the reference to the whole "Paul is dead" hoopla: "Well here's another clue for you all. The Walrus was Paul." You can just imagine Lennon having a friggin' field day with this. The instrumentation and feel of this tune is pretty interesting. By now The Beatles, with George Martin's help, have become pretty facile with including fully integrated string sections. Even as the music begins to rock, the smooth strings come in and add a completely different dimension to the sound.  

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. Can there be any doubt that this is a Paul McCartney tune? There was a time when I couldn't tell the difference between Paul's and John's tunes or songwriting. Part of that is because they were often so powerfully complementary. But Paul is a melodist. And he can't resist those infectious melodies. Sometimes they're pretty sing-songy: Rocky Racoon, Maxwell's Silver Hammer, When I'm Sixty Four. Sometimes they're utter gems: Michelle. Later, post-Beatles, his melody/lyrics combinations often became cutesy: Uncle Albert. This is pretty cute. But it works. 

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