SHE'S GOING HOME
SHE'S GOING HOME
“Well, what you got on the dots?”
A man on the other end of her line with a Liverpudlian accent needed a harp player for a song he had written. Although he was a major success as a musician, Paul McCartney couldn’t read music. Producer George Martin would normally interpret what Paul wanted, but he was out of pocket, so the Beatle turned to noted harpist Sheila Bromberg for her input and talent.
The gig was at Abbey Road studio from 9 to midnight. The song, “She’s Leaving Home,” tells the tale of a young girl frustrated by her dull life and decides to sod off and keep her appointment with “a man from the motor trade.”
After three hours of takes, McCartney decided to stick with her first take, becoming the first woman to play on a Beatles album. Bromberg was a bit put off that she had become famous for four bars of music, never mind her other accomplishments, but eventually made peace with her fleeting fame with the Fab Four: “Thinking about it now, I really feel very proud to have been part of it.”
After 92 years on this earth, she’s going home.
BEING FOR THE BENEFIT OF BETTER LISTENING
Once upon a time, before Sirius radio, before Apple Tunes, before CDs, even before, so help me, eight-track tape, there was cassette tape. Cassette tapes had the benefit of compact discs, being smaller than eight-track tapes, but with all the headache of eight-track tapes because, you know, tape.
Over time, they stretched and lost their tone. Eventually, the tape player would get hungry and eat them. If you were patient, you could gently pull out the tape and rewind it back into the cassette using the cap-end of a pen. But the crinkled part which inevitably occurred during Clapton’s guitar solo for Cream, Derek and the Dominos, Blind Faith, etc., would sound like the portion of the evidence that would have put Hillary Clinton in prison once and for all.
During this era between new inventions to make long-distance driving less onerous, I also owned a machine that let me convert vinyl and other tapes into tape. Naturally, the Beatles accompanied me wherever I went. My three children were weaned on the Fab Four. They mostly sang along, but I invariably had to fast-forward through the one song I loved the most - "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite."
In my estimation, this song from Sgt. Pepper is one of the very greatest. Lennon got the inspiration from a circus poster he found in a curio shop. Like all great writers, he used – okay, plagiarized – the words on the poster in the lyrics. Word for word, in fact. The music sets the stage for the words. One of my children wouldn’t listen to it when I played it in the car because it's "scary."
He was right, of course. Isn't that a feature of circuses and midways? Even the horses on a merry-go-round have creepy features. Remember the Zoltar fortune-teller machine in the movie Big? It exuded creepy. Circuses and midways are all about the thrill.
And this song does it all! It evokes the magic and other-worldly atmosphere. I especially like how the jumbled-up tapes near the end inadvertently provide a snippet of a counter-melody (listen at 2:16). Lennon's vocals have an eerie echo, like a circus barker announcing the acts through a microphone to the audience. Heck, even Ringo comes through with a pair of drum rolls which he famously sucked at. – August 2, 2021
Rating best/worst songs is always a fool’s errand. One man’s cup of tea is another man’s poison. Humorist Dave Barry created a runaway seller with Book of Bad Songs in which he skewered songs that we can all agree are bad. Or can we? For every person who loathes, say, Gary Puckett, there are ten others who grew up spinning his records at home. Over and over and over.
The task is exponentially difficult rating the Beatles oeuvre. Let’s start with something simple. Who doesn’t love “Hey, Jude”? “Eh, it runs too long,” someone says. See? We can’t even agree on the songs we like! Imagine, then, turning this job over to someone with a smarmy attitude and, worse, employed as a rock music critic. The results are pretty much what you would expect, judging from the hundreds of outraged reactions. The column - All 213 Beatles Songs, Ranked from Worst to Best/We had to count them all – was put out by New York Magazine’s aptly named culture section, Vulture.
I quit reading when I reached #185 - "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite." In my estimation, this song from Sgt. Pepper is one of the very greatest. Lennon got the inspiration from a circus poster he found in a curio shop. Like all great writers, he used – okay, plagiarized – the words on the poster in the lyrics. Word for word, in fact. The music sets the stage for the words. One of my children wouldn’t listen to it when I played it in the car because it's "scary." He's right, of course. Isn't that a feature of circuses and midways? Even the horses on a merry-go-round have vicious features. Remember the Zoltar fortune-teller machine in the movie Big? It exuded creepy. Circuses and midways are all about the thrill.
And this song does it all! It evokes the magic and other-worldly atmosphere. I especially like how the jumbled-up tapes near the end inadvertently provide a snippet of a counter-melody (listen at 2:16). Lennon's vocals have an eerie echo, like a circus barker announcing the acts through a microphone to the audience. Heck, even Ringo comes through with a pair of drum rolls which he famously sucked at.
This guy is just full of beans. Exhibit A: "Good Day Sunshine' starts off the list dead last. The song is a pleasant little ditty after the fashion of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Daydream." Ahead of that is "Dig It." Are you kidding? It's not even a whole song! And "Wild Honey Pie" is ahead of "I'll Get You" (one of my top faves) and "I'm Happy Just to Dance with You"? The last straw for credibility is putting "Revolution 9" anywhere on this list. And yet here's this pastiche of noise, ahead of "I've Just Seen a Face," "I'll Follow the Sun," "Don't Bother Me" and "Words of Love." Putting "9" in this list at #114 is just criminal.
The writer's name is Bill Wyman. No, not that Bill Wyman. Surely, he would have known better than this. Frank Zappa had just this writer in mind when he defined rock journalism: “People who can't write, doing interviews with people who can't think, in order to prepare articles for people who can't read.” - May 27, 2020
Something to Think For Yourself
In Tell Me Why, Tim Riley exudes expertise in music theory as well as a talent for language as he explores every song recorded and released by the Beatles. One paragraph about George Harrison’s songwriting debut captures the essence of the writer’s facility for the subject:
“’Don’t Bother Me’ has a variety of texture; good use is made of the stop-time breaks before each verse; and there is a brooding, almost malevolent quality in the singing that suits the lyric (the modal harmonic design sets dorian verses off an aeolian bridge ).” Mind, this is a random pick of hundreds of other paragraphs with marvelous descriptions.
I don’t agree with all his assessments – he all but hates the Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine albums. He considers Sgt. Pepper a “flawed masterpiece,” yet spends page after page caressing bar after bar the songs.
I’d be willing to take this with a grain of salt, but he throws away his credibility as he peruses the post-Beatles catalogue. In Wedding Album by John Lennon and the missus, he writes that “Side one is another extended dialogue: John says ‘Yoko,’ Yoko answers, ‘John’ for over twenty-two minutes. But the range of emotion they evoke with these two words transcends the self-indulgent framework: when Yoko erupts in piercing screams near the end and John responds in kind, the moment is ripe with pain and desire; at another point, they become deeply erotic.”
“Ripe with pain” is an understatement. Pain is the most probable reaction to anything recorded with Yoko Oh-No’s shrieking voice. In a better world, or at least with a reviewer with better sense, this tripe would be laughed to scorn. I don’t blame her for breaking up the Beatles, but I do blame Lennon for letting her near a live microphone.
My advice to would-be readers is to stick with the group’s output, shrug at his criticisms of most of George Harrison’s work, and ignore the rest. - June 6, 2018
This Bird Has Flown Nowhere, Man
This Bird Has Flown: The Enduring Beauty of Rubber Soul – John Kruth
That said, this book does contain some background stories, but you have to wade through a lot of mud to find them. There are also some laughable parts. The writer NEVER could get the name of the Monkees right (Monkeys. Really? Monkeys?)
Skip this. If you really want some interesting and credible information, check out “Can’t Buy Me Love” by Jonathan Gould, “Many Years from Now” by Barry Miles, or “A Hard Day’s Write: The Stories Behind Every Song ” by Steve Turner. - June 21, 2017
RINGO: A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS– MICHAEL SETH STARR
Of the Four Lads, Ringo always seemed to take a drumming in recognition, so to speak. Critics gave him the short end of the drumstick. Sure, he was in the world’s greatest rock band, but how many books have been written about him? Well, at least now one. Ringo: A Little Help From my Friends by Michael Seth Starr is an unauthorized book by a writer with the most improbably coincidental surname.
Well, at least one book has. This unauthorized book by a writer with the most improbably coincidental surname does not reveal much new material. Indeed, I’m up to here with all the sordid details of the behind-the-scenes.
What I really wanted to learn is how Ringo came about his drumming style. What were his influences? Did he influence others? For the answer to those questions, you’d be better off turning to the back of the book for the views of four modern rock drummers. All pay homage to this musician that has lately taken an unfair, uh, drumming.
In the past, luminaries such as Buddy Rich paid little heed, when they paid any at all. Ringo was a second-rate drummer who couldn’t even do a “mom and pop” drum roll. As it turns out, he was a left-handed drummer playing on right-handed drum setup. Huh, what? How is that? Paul was left-handed, but he acquired a left-handed bass guitar. Can’t you move your drums around to suit your preference?However the drums were set up, Ringo developed a distinctive style. First and foremost, he kept the beat. You have one job as a drummer, and that’s to be the noisy timekeeper. Everything else is called “drum fills.” Ringo was first-rate in what counted the most, and filled the songs admirably as well, particularly in “Rain,” “I Feel Fine” and his signature “A Little Help from My Friends.”
The Beatles were more than the sum of their parts. Ringo was good enough to be sought after by groups all over England. He was more well-known that the Beatles were when he was invited to join them. Paul McCartney himself said that when Ringo sat in for the moody Pete Best, “That was the moment, that was the beginning, really, of the Beatles.”
In order to truly appreciate Ringo, watch the last ten minutes of “A Hard Day’s Night” as he enthusiastically thrashes the cymbals and bobs his head throughout the performance. I have never seen another performer having as much fun as Ringo on stage. - June 6, 2017
A Taste of Honey
Maximum Volume is really a book about George Martin, but you would be forgiven if you thought it was a book about the Beatles. George Martin, as any Beatles fan knows, produced all but one of the Beatles oeuvre.
The elements that brought the Beatles “to the toppermost of the poppermost,” as Lennon put it, are on display. Martin took in the Beatles, hoping to replicate the success other producers had with the “beat music” of Elvis and Cliff Richard.
Their music didn’t bowl him over during a begrudged audition. After the boys ran through their playlist, Martin proceeded to tell them everything he didn’t like in his posh London accent. He then invited them to tell him what THEY didn’t like. After a nervous pause, George Harrison finally chimed in, “Well, for one, I don’t like your tie.” The cheekiness broke the ice, and by the time the boys left Abbey Road, Martin set the wheels in motion to replace their sullen, incompetent drummer, and make the Beatles a household name. They returned with Ringo to record their first “long play,” itself a considerable investment. LP’s were customarily reserved for classical records. Martin gambled on their collective charisma and songwriting prowess.
Of course George Martin’s work with the Beatles dominates the book, but he had made his mark with other acts before and after. In fact, comedy records put him on the road to success and eventually in charge of Parlophone Records. Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein brought other acts to his attention, and the British Invasion ensued.
The book ends abruptly after Rubber Soul’s release. Stay tuned for the sequel. - December 12, 2017