Monday, January 24, 2022

This Is Apparently Where I'm Putting My Impressions of Beatles: Get Back


I have been a Beatles fan since I was a kid even though they broke up before I was really sentient. Certainly I know the officially-released music cold, and am more than conversant with the most commonly-bootlegged songs, most of which made their way onto various Anthology and/or Super Deluxe anniversary re-releases. Having said all that, there are dozens if not hundreds of people and blogs out there with more informed takes than what's seen below. Not that that is going to stop me. Note that I haven't actually read any of these takes other than one from They May By Parted, which agrees with one of the points I was already going to make. 

With all of that, I've definitely been influenced by They May Be Parted (written by my brother!) and more lately by the first few episodes of the Another Kind of Mind podcast, which has definitely led me to look at Paul in a different way than I had been.

OK, going point by point!

  1. The visuals change everything.
The bootlegs can be a massive, massive slog. The best ones (which have by and large been superseded by legitimate releases) would have a fun sped-up "Get Back" or George playing Bob Dylan songs while others talked over him, but it was hard (for me, anyhow) to get any sort of context. The most complete bootlegs are impossible (again, for me) to make heads or tails out of without more time and energy than I can commit, not just to piece together the story of what's going on but just to pick out any conversation from everything else. The Let It Be movie had visuals, of course, but I'll set that aside for the moment. 

The visuals (and to be fair, the overall narrative) in Get Back provided a tie to earlier footage of the Beatles that I hadn't expected. The version of the early Beatles I hold in my head is that (cliched?) lovable mop top version that was on display in not just A Hard Day's Night and Help! but the Ed Sullivan Show and the Royal Variety Show and the press conferences. In my mind the Blue Album version of the Beatles was more serious, with their behavioral whimsey channeled into some amount of musical whimsey instead. The videos for "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" weren't really the same vibe as earlier ones, Magical Mystery Tour always came over to me as...forced whimsey, perhaps? And however iconic the madcap tomfoolery of the "I Am The Walrus" video may be, it does not connect easily in my head to the madcap tomfoolery of the "Can't Buy Me Love" video.  

What Get Back was able to do for me was display the lads, particularly John and Paul, as the same people they were in 1964, making the same wordplay and goofing around the same way. Without visuals, it was easy for me to believe that they were all gritting their teeth the whole time, ignoring each other most of the time, and only getting it together for a half-hour stretch on the Apple Roof where they played "Get Back", "Don't Let Me Down", and some lesser songs, based on their own innate musical brilliance (and still needing an also-brilliant Billy Preston to even pull that off). Watching now, it's clear that they are mostly engaged with one another. The body language makes clear the difference between teasing and sniping. Some folks doodle to occupy their hands while thinking/conversing, some folks spin pens, Paul and John play music.

    2. The Loki-like Michael Lindsay-Hogg

Some people love the MCU Loki (I haven't watched the TV show yet), I never could do much other than cringe when he was on screen since I couldn't tell if he was about to save the day or about to ruin everything (maybe that's part of his appeal to folks). The metaphor can be taken way too far, but I felt the same about Michael Lindsay-Hogg in Get Back

In the first episode in particular, he comes over to me as a cigar-chomping, too-smooth villain. He has grandiose visions of how this can all play out, and puts relentless pressure on the boys to go along. He seems like he's constantly probing for weakness and some way to flip the more reluctant. After George leaves he seems to back off somewhat, and his general frustration is palpable as he realizes that he's not in the driver's seat but along for the ride to wherever (or nowhere). He's looking for the angle, looking for the story. In the beginning he's looking for the happy ending, the amazing show, the big payoff. Ringo tells him what he has ("The Autobiography of the Beatles") but that's not good enough. Somewhere along the way I think he realizes one possible angle, though presumably he hopes not to use it--if he can't capture a triumph, maybe he can capture the dissolution. So, he bugs the flowerpot in a private meeting between Paul and John. In the end, he's left with the footage. After the Beatles break up, he's got his story, though some of it was imposed on Let It Be afterward. But obviously, the narrative that lasted was set by the movie and thus, at least in part, by Lindsay-Hogg.  

    3.  The Noisy Quiet One

Get Back clearly presents George as a central figure, perhaps the central figure of these sessions. George asserts himself in ways that we are led to believe he hasn't done before. He claimed early on that the White Album was the first one he really got involved in (which seems like a bit of a weird thing to say, but OK), and while there's evidence he had a bunch of non-Beatle things going on in his life to worry about, he was amazingly productive and fed up with his treatment. "I Want To Tell You" wasn't ever going to be a Beatle A-side, but "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" could have been. He had two of his absolute signature songs fully written ("All Things Must Pass") or well on the way ("Something"), and was cranking out bangers on the regular--this was George Harrison probably at the peak of his game.

One John/Paul interaction that JA noticed was when Paul was confronting John about not writing songs, the two of them were standing close to one another but each was looking up above the other's heads--clearly a mechanism they'd adopted for having difficult conversations, and one they'd presumably evolved to doing over years. There's no real evidence that they had any similar way of working things out with George, or even that George particularly cared prior to these sessions. Nevertheless, Paul and John do show self-awareness about the situation, including how they're treating George, and do seem to be treating him better and taking him more seriously once he's back.

And once George came back, he was all in. He suggested doing a solo album (and did, though I don't think anyone really thinks Electronic Sounds was what he had in mind?) but didn't look like he was holding back his best material for it ("Here Comes the Sun" was written after he expressed this desire, for instance). The narrative of a sulky George not wanting to play anything on the roof seemed belied by his body language and engagement. Plus, most astonishing of all to me when I realized it, he was the one who defied the cops--Mal turned off the amps, John seemed uncertain what to do, and George marched over and turned them back on. If he wanted to get out of there, it didn't show.

    4. The New Narrative

As noted, the narrative of the Beatles breakup was set by Let it Be, reinforcing/being reinforced by other stuff going on in the whirlwind of the times. If you're keeping up with but not obsessing over pop culture in 1970, you might not have an opinion that different from what the newspaper article was claiming in Get Back: in the previous couple of years John had had an affair with Yoko, and then married her after each divorced their spouses. There were arrests for drugs. Then the Beatles broke up, though not until they had a weird single called "The Ballad of John and Yoko". Whatever one thought of Yoko Ono, the idea that she played a role in the end of the Beatles was not outlandish. As many have noted, Get Back tackles this idea head on (to mix metaphors), with Paul shaking his head at the idea that people would think Yoko broke up the band and the Apple Scruffs being more or less unconcerned. Instead, she's posed as one of a few folks hanging out, perhaps more regularly than others, perhaps participating more often* than others, but it wasn't like they went from 4 people hermetically sealed in a recording studio to 5 people hermetically sealed in a recording studio.

But, you know, Peter Jackson, Ringo, Paul, Yoko, and Olivia/Dhani also have a narrative they want to tell. Of course, there's nothing wrong with narratives, practically every story has one, probably by definition actually.

A story of overwhelmed musical genius Paul forced to be an authority figure to keep the band together, while he and his musical genius best friend John are both finding the loves of their lives, just as George's own musical genius is flowering and he runs into speed bumps getting taken seriously...and everyone is supportive of John and Yoko and realizes how badly they treat George and acknowledges that Paul's got the best ideas and everyone loves Ringo and nobody's the bad guy except mayyyyyyybe the frustrated over-eager director on occasion (and some foreshadowing of Alan Klein for superfans)... Well, who dislikes that narrative?  All the better if it's true, even.

On the other hand, that seems to me to swing the pendulum a bit far in the other direction. Sitting in the trees of Get Back may obscure the forest that the hypothetical fan of 1970 was seeing.  Yoko's presence didn't break up the Beatles, but the emerging John and Yoko relationship was clearly a thing. Paul and Ringo discuss it in the opening minutes of Episode 2. And there's the sort-of contemporary evidence in Ringo's lyric "They screamed and they cried, now they're free" about John and Yoko, which is the closest he gets to blaming anyone for the breakup. 

So, you know, it might be that we need to wait for the 100th anniversary Deluxe Immersive VR Full Nagra Experience to get the whole objective story. 

    5.  A few What-Ifs

I was struck by the India home videos. As has been pointed out several times on They May Be Parted, they were in the studio something like 6 weeks after the White Album was released--I was imagining how if this was happening with a present-day album cycle, the India videos would be part of some Netflix special called "Rishikesh to Escher to your Turntable: The Story of the White Album" that they'd be preparing for an early spring release. I was also struck by the offhand comment late in Episode 3 that they started out thinking they'd do a performance of White Album songs, but decided to record new ones instead. So, what if they'd taken that path?

The Rolling Stones were releasing albums once a year or so--Beggars Banquet came out a couple of weeks after the White Album, and their next real album, Let it Bleed, came out in December 1969. Of course, the Stones were touring in-between. Are the Beatles better off as a group if they perform 11 White Album songs, "Hey Jude", "Revolution", "Lady Madonna", and "Twist and Shout" to a studio audience**, and then mostly stay out of each other's way for a few months until they start on their next album? 

I'm not convinced. 

The Fabs look very tired to me. Maybe some of it was deflation after George left, but they seem to me like the pace of the last several years is catching up. Giving up on touring apparently didn't actually buy them any time to relax, and they've poured the extra time into going into the studio or doing side projects. Let's say they do stop--would they be able to start again? Would they even want to? After 3 months of hanging out with Linda/Yoko/Dylan(/Peter Sellers?), we can hope that they'd return recharged and dying to play music with their best friends again, but it seems just as likely that it's contractual obligations that drive them back to the studio, and the non-John Beatles still aren't going to want to release "Cold Turkey" as a single. Maybe Paul invites them to Scotland and they do a Beatles version of McCartney? Without the experience the Beatles in our timeline had, maybe the idea of a low-fi, underproduced album would have some appeal?  In any case, it strikes me that maybe the Beatles know that the only way they'll keep going is if they keep going (to coin a Ringo-esque phrase).

The version of Abbey Road we got also looks like more of a miracle to me. So many core songs could have ended up in the Get Back/Let It Be project--"I Want You (She's So Heavy)", and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", and "She Came in Through The Bathroom Window" could easily have been spoken for. Several others were half-formed but could have been taken to the finish line. Maybe "Old Brown Shoe" takes the place of "Something" or some half-formed versions of "Gimme Some Truth" and "Back Seat of My Car" get shoehorned together where Bathroom Window and "Mean Mr. Mustard" are? I don't think that's a better album, but what the hell do I know? 

    6. Suzy Parker WTF

OK, last point. I've always, always loved "Suzy Parker" (aka "Suzy's Parlor") but it puzzles me more and more the more I think about it. I know I go on and on about it on Twitter. In Let It Be it shows up as a random song, they play it, they're done.  No problem. But the more documentation that shows up about the sessions, the more indirect evidence there is that this is weird. John breaks into it, and before he starts the second line George has jumped in with well-formed backing vocals that Paul joins with a line or two later. During the bridge (or whatever you'd call it), John and Paul bust into a triplet pattern simultaneously. They clearly know the song well. But as I understand it this is the only time the Beatles are ever known to have played Suzy Parker.  I used to wonder if it was a cover of some random obscure oldie, but they seem to have been very comprehensive in identifying even snippets of songs in Get Back, and they call it a Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starr song in the credits, which is the songwriting order they seem to use for jams. But it's obviously not a jam. Is it some "One After 909"-era Beatle original that they similarly resuscitated for consideration and then opted not to play again? What the hell is going on with this song?   I have similar questions about "Watching Rainbows" but I feel like that song got dismembered and its parts got repurposed, and it's got much more of a jam feeling so I'm less confused about it.

OK, this has gone on long enough.  For the three of you who might read this, thank you for your indulgence. :) 

*Heather doing an imitation/homage to Yoko was literally the most jaw-dropping thing I saw in the entire documentary. There are so, so many things to be said about that moment, fanfic stories to be written. Amazing in ways I'm not even sure I can describe after 35+ years of being a Beatle fan.

**You didn't ask for a set list, but:  Revolution/Back in the USSR/Yer Blues/While My Guitar Gently Weeps/Julia/Blackbird/I'm So Tired/Rocky Raccoon/Don't Pass Me By/Savoy Truffle/Lady Madonna/Glass Onion/Helter Skelter/Hey Jude/Twist and Shout

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Soundcloud Site, and What I've Been Putting There

I have given in to the inevitable, and established a Soundcloud site for the music I've been putting here. I don't anticipate it will lead to any change in posting frequency (or infrequency) here--I had originally hosted the files themselves at MIT, then on a Google Drive site, now they'll be on Soundcloud (or at least the new ones will).

I've got five tracks posted right now, one of which has already appeared here as the Inevitable Found Wanting Support Live Set. The others currently posted as May takes over from April are:

Canon Romance: This one also sort-of appeared here, in solo acoustic form not long after it was written. Here it's been fleshed out with the rest of the Gedankenband, including a little intro. I was fighting a cold so it's somewhat more nasal than it might be, I'll certainly revisit the vocals before it gets an official release.

Let's Go Out (While We Stay In): I've moved my NaPoWriMo output to Twitter, but some of what I've written has ended up here, anyhow. I had a day when I set out to write song lyrics, and the relative novelty of the coronavirus response led me to write this relatively light-hearted song. I'm likely to pursue it for the next album, if I can get a Gedankenband arrangement that works.

Bought and Sold: Another NaPoWriMo product, though I'd written the first verse last summer. I'm pretty happy with this one, I don't tend to write a lot of lyrics like this, though I do write poetry like it a lot, I think...

Stormin' Gorman: I suppose it's fitting that so many of these have NaPoWriMo connections. This one started as a poem I wrote during my very first NaPoWriMo, when I was writing poems about baseball. I'm not sure why, but it was going through my head and struck me as something that could be set to music relatively easily (if not necessarily relatively well).  I don't know if this one has a future, but I could see it making it onto the next album (or the one after)...

Monday, March 16, 2020

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

New Release: Found Wanting EP

As previously promised, the newest release from the Gedankenband, the 5-song EP Found Wanting is now available for download at Bandcamp! (Click here:  The downloads are "name your own price", which includes a free download if you are so moved.  Thanks to Christine Rueter for the amazing cover art!

The EP should also be finding its way onto various streaming services (Spotify, YouTube, Tidal, etc.) over the next few days as well. We're also on track for a fall release of a full album, possibly to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the release of The Red Album... 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Upcoming EP: Found Wanting

Songs at the bottom!

I'm happy to announce that the Gedankenband have some music releases planned for 2020 after a quiet stretch that only saw the release of the 'Oumuamua/Surf Titan! single. While a full album (provisional title: The Hanging Spaghetto Problem) will likely be an ongoing work through the year with a goal of a fall/winter release, after considering another single release we realized there's enough material ready for a 4-song EP.  Or even a 5-song EP, but I'll probably keep it at 4.

We're shooting for a release of that EP (current title: Found Wanting) in roughly a month. The songs slated for inclusion (running order TBD) are:

  • All Yours
  • The DART Song
  • When We Look Back To Now
  • Lap of Luxury

While there are some older recordings that may find themselves on the album, all of the EP songs are newly recorded at The Pleasure Grounds over the past month or two, and "When We Look Back To Now" was only written shortly before it was recorded.

As a bit of an amuse bouche, I'll point to two songs. First is an early version of "All Yours", from an attempt at recording it for These are My Monkeys, This is My Circus. This version is kind of over-arranged, using various Garageband loops adapted for its use rather than the more guitar-driven version planned for Found Wanting.  I've been calling this the "Candelabra Version" as a nod to Liberace, who this version eventually reminded me of...   The second is an "acoustic draft" of The DART Song, upon which the final version is being built.

All Yours (Candelabra Version)
The DART Song (acoustic draft)

Saturday, December 28, 2019

As Happy As You Make Me: Pearl Anniversary

tl;dr: three links at the bottom to different versions of a song celebrating its 30th birthday.

One of the main things I've been doing in this blog, other than posting NaPoWriMo poems before I mostly took those to Twitter, is marking anniversaries of my songs that I particularly like and/or are particularly meaningful. For instance, I posted about the 20th anniversary of Wrong Place, Wrong Time, the 25th anniversaries of If I Can't Be and Down from the Skies, the 30th anniversary of Watching Rainbows, and not-round number anniversaries of other songs.

It's been a few years, but I'd like to mark a 30th anniversary of one of my personal favorites, As Happy As You Make Me, written 30 years ago today (according to my notes). I don't remember a whole lot about writing it--I wrote it while on a family vacation in the UK, about the on-again/off-again college girlfriend and original muse I've mentioned here a few times, just as we were ramping up to embark on our longest "on again" stretch (at least officially). This was easily the most challenging original for me to play on the guitar, which I still wasn't really any good at. But Original Muse was very encouraging, and we used to call it "The Spider Song" since my fingers moving around the frets reminded her of a spider walking. I thought I might have the band learn it, but it really wasn't right for them and then I wrote a more suitable song about Original Muse, and that was that. It was in my regular rotation when I'd sit outside my dorm room and play, but I never did the song with any of the bands I've been in, nor was it really an option for any of them. As a result, unlike Down from the Skies or Another Margarita or Solitaire, there aren't a string of recordings of it down through the years.

But as years passed, I've appreciated the song more. It waited until 2009's The Cheese Stands Alone for a Gedankenband version, and while recording it I realized it was a much better song than I remembered. When seriously reconnecting with Original Muse several years ago, The Spider Song was one of her first requests when we were hanging around with a guitar together.  It has worked its way into being something I consider one of my very favorite originals, and trying to be objective about it, likely one of my best. What that says about how my craftsmanship has or hasn't progressed in 30 years is a different topic.

So! 3 versions of "The Spider Song" for you:
As Happy As You Make Me (link to Bandcamp site for The Cheese Stands Alone version)
As Happy As You Make Me (30th anniversary rerecorded unplugged version)
As Happy As You Make Me (early stripped down demo/experimental version for The Cheese Stands Alone)

Thursday, December 12, 2019

My Decade in Songwriting

Well, it's a time for decadal retrospectives, and I'm no less vulnerable to those than anyone else.

If you're a regular reader of this blog* you probably know that I've been recording music for quite some time with various bands (both actual and virtual). My music with the Gedankenband can be found on Bandcamp and on Spotify.  I've/we've released an album and several EPs in the decade 2010-2019, and I've made a Spotify playlist with the Gedankenband songs that have gotten the most play** over the decade.  But here I wanted to focus on the songs I've written in the decade rather than those released, since a lot of what is on those releases was written in previous decades.

By my count I've got just shy of 50 songs that I wrote in full or in part during the decade. Not all of them are finished, whether they're lyrics but no music or a verse and a half but no chorus, but 47 are close enough to done that I have recorded a version if only for myself.  Of those, 21 have been recorded in a Gedankenband version, though only 12 can be found on Spotify. The others are mostly songs that have been recorded and are waiting for another album/EP release, though a few might not make it out for other reasons.

The remaining 25 are a mix of goofy experiments, songs recorded for friends, and songs that I recorded for myself. Some of them will no doubt make it onto the next album/EP. Some of them will never see the light of day (and that's OK). One of them was written for a terminally ill friend and shared with her before she passed away, I'm not sure what to do with that one.  However, many of them have already appeared on this very blog.

So, for the curious and as a companion to the Spotify list of Gedankenband recordings of 2010s songs, here's a list of the songs that have been released but aren't on Spotify and/or songs that are only found on this blog. I'll link to both the blog post about them (if there is one) and directly link to the file as well. Since some of the older links from the blog posts are broken, the best way to get to the songs themselves are probably the file links below...

As always, enjoy or don't enjoy, it's your call.

I Get The Grants (2011) (file)
Solitaire: New Deal (2011) (file)
Liara (2012) (Bandcamp site) [Gedankenband]
Marco Polo (2013) (Bandcamp site) [Gedankenband]
(I Couldn't) Keep Taylor Swift Happy (2013) (file)
I'll Never Be (2014) (file)
The MANTIS Song (2015) (file) [Gedankenband]
Song for Sandra, Sort of (2016) (file)
Test Me, Schaller (2016) (file)
Hashtag Leave Me Alone (2017) (file)
Pluto Protest Song (2018) (file)
Canon Romance (2019) (file)

While I'm at it, and repeating what's above:
Complementary Spotify playlist of the Gedankenband songs written in the 2010s
Complementary Spotify playlist of the most popular Gedankenband songs during the 2010s

*which I think accounts for...nobody?
**which isn't that much, really, but I am grateful for all my listeners. :)