Welcome to "Every Little Thing", a blog discussing all 214 songs released by the Beatles from 1962 to 1970....by Daniel Seth Levine.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

#104: Eleanor Rigby

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Released: August 5, 1966
Appears on: Revolver
Lead vocal: Paul

"Eleanor Rigby" is...something else. If there ever was a time when you wanted Eric Idle to walk in and say "And now for something completely different" between two Beatles songs, it is right here - right during that second of silence between "Taxman" and "Eleanor Rigby". 
I can't possibly remember the first time I heard "Eleanor Rigby", but even today, after giving Revolver more spins than any other record, it still feels jarring, even more so than "Yesterday" being sandwiched between a folk song and a show-stopping cover. 
The song details the life of a lonely woman who, as seen in the first verse, looks for love despite never being an outgoing person. She waits at the window, wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door, but no one is going to come. The second verse uses a rather ingenious film technique. It throws us into the situation of another, entirely different character...or so we believe. In reality, Father McKenzie (Paul apparently did want to say McCartney, but cooler heads prevailed, thankfully) is just like Eleanor - another lonely person, who writes a sermon no one will hear and fixes (that's what darning is) his socks in the night when there's nobody there. For the final verse, the two characters come together, like in so many films where two characters are introduced separately (Pulp Fiction being an obvious example). Eleanor has died and was buried along with her name. Nobody came. McKenzie finishes burying Eleanor, seemingly with his own hands (wiping the dirt from his hands). No one was saved, meaning that McKenzie has failed, as a priest, to do his job. Paul's chorus is equally as bizarre as his verses. All the lonely people, where do they all belong? You mean to tell me that there are more people who have lives as dreary as Eleanor and McKenzie? It certainly puts it into perspective. Paul means to tell us that these two are just caricatures - there are lonely people who live and die everyday and these are just two. We cannot know who they all are and most of the time they die and go on with their lives without notice. 
George Martin wrote the orchestral backing for an octet that backs up Paul (and John & George's harmonies), providing the song with an air of classicism - almost as if the song could have been recorded at any point from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. None of the Beatles play any instruments on the song. This just proves that the Beatles continued expanding out of the box. "Yesterday" included just a string quartet, but now Paul was open to doubling that and "Eleanor Rigby" was a perfect fit for that.        
"Eleanor Rigby" was chosen as the single for Revolver, sharing the double-A sided distinction with another song that seemed completely against the Beatles' image as rock stars. The single reached #1 on both sides of the Atlantic and in the UK, it was released on the same day as Revolver. Since then, it has appeared on practically every compilation (save for Rock 'n' Roll Music and Reel Music obviously). 
Like "Yesterday", this is a brilliant song - one that you can get stuck in your head forever - but, to me, it doesn't represent the best of the Beatles. There are many more brilliant songs on Revolver that more properly do so.    

Friday, March 26, 2010

#103: Taxman

Written by: George Harrison
Released: August 5, 1966
Appears on: Revolver
Lead vocal: George

"One, two, three...four...one...two..."

When I first started this blog, I must admit, I could not wait to get to, what I believe to be, the greatest album ever made. And so here we are finally...at the start of Revolver
"Taxman" is the first and only time that a George Harrison song was selected to open a Beatles LP and while it is distinctly George (only George could write lines like Now my advice to those who die/declare the pennies on your eyes), Paul totally dominates the song. Not only does it immediately introduce his pulsing, boosted bass, but it features probably the greatest lead guitar work he ever recorded. I honestly think you could make a case for it to be one of the best recorded by anyone.  
The story of how Paul got to play the solo is detailed in Geoff Emerick's book, Here, There And Everywhere: My Life Recording The Music Of The Beatles. Emerick writes that George had difficulty playing the solo and that Paul, who apparently was the better guitar player, was the only one who could figure out how to play it well. (Throughout the book, he gives more digs to George's guitar playing...um, didn't you record "Something"? Still, anyone interested in the technical aspect of the Beatles' music, the book is an absolute necessity.)
Nevertheless, the song is perfect and a great way to open the record. It defines how the rest of the album sounds, saying that the Beatles are not only going to break walls - but obliterate them. In fact, the phrase on the back of Let It Be would be more appropriate here - This is a new phase Beatles album

"Taxman" was on Rock 'n' Roll Music, but that's really it. 

Friday, March 19, 2010

#102: Rain

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Released: June 10, 1966
Appears on: Past Masters, Vol. 2
Lead vocal: John

"Rain" is such a special song because it really is the start of the Beatles as technical innovators. The song is just brilliant with its bizarre chorus and backwards vocals that hint towards the most intricate numbers on the next LP.
Ringo has always called "Rain" his best drumming with the Beatles and it's very hard to argue with this. Take away John's brilliant vocal, Paul thumping, in-your-face bass and George's amazing guitar and you're left with easily one of the best drumming in rock history. 
The song's lyric is probably the first time John wrote a song where he seems to make himself an other-worldly being that knows how everybody does everything. When the sun shines, they slip into the shade...This is a guy who knows a lot more than we do. However, John has to get his opinion in: Rain, I don't mind...Shine, the weather's fine! 
The song, which was an obvious B-Side, never appeared on an LP on either side of the Atlantic until  1970's US LP Hey Jude. Then, it failed to make another appearance until another non-LP collection of tracks, 1978's Rarities. Now, it is on the currently available set, Past Masters
Like "Paperback Writer", promo films were made with Lindsay-Hogg directing. You can also see it at the official Beatles site and in the Anthology.   
This song is definitely underrated. No matter how many times Ringo talks about it, though, he can't save it from this fate. "Rain" is much more an avant-garde track than anything The Beatles had done up to this point, so it was only ever going to be a B-Side. "Paperback Writer" was definitely the more commercial of the two tracks and is a terrific song, but "Rain" will always be in my top-10 list of favorite Beatles songs. It just shows how far ahead the Beatles were in comparison to the colleges. Can you imagine groups like The Hollies, The Rolling Stones, The Byrds, The Beach Boys or whoever else using backwards vocals? I think not.    

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

#101: Paperback Writer

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Released: June 10, 1966
Appears on: Past Masters, Vol. 2
Lead vocal: Paul 

"Paaapaaah Back Writerrrr....writer...writer"

When I said in the last entry that, from now on, the world would never be the same, this is not an over-exaggeration. "Paperback Writer" b/w "Rain" was the first 45 issued in the UK by the Beatles that was not a love song. Still, the British public seemed to like it, as did Americans. 
The song's subject is about as far from what one would expect a rock song to be about. It's basically a pitch for a writer's paperback book. Of course, the singer realized right away that he wasn't going to get a hardcover deal, especially when we're talking about a dirty story of a dirty man, who's clinging wife doesn't understand
Technically, this song is amazing. The main highlight, of course, is Paul's bass playing. Anytime you want to prove how incredible he is at the instrument, just play them "Paperback Writer" at the loudest possible setting on your player. No need to put the bass boost up, because Geoff Emmerick already did that for you in 1966. 
When you talk about the song's vocals, I don't really think Paul does any better than he normally does, but the backing vocals are definitely worthy of note. Especially the "Frere Jacques" joke, which is brilliant. 
The track made its first LP appearance later that year on A Collection of Beatles Oldies in the UK, but didn't appear on a US LP until 1970's Hey Jude. Since then, it has appeared on 1962-1966, 20 Greatest Hits and 1. Despite being one of their heaviest songs, Capitol glossed over it on Rock 'N' Roll Music.
The Beatles also made the very first promo films for this 45. The studio performances that were distributed to TV for songs like "We Can Work It Out" and "Ticket To Ride" were just that - mimed performances. However, Michael Lindsay-Hogg's brilliant videos for the two songs hardly ever show The Beatles miming the song. They are both in the Anthology
I really think this was a brilliant single release. Neither side of the 45 could possibly fit on their next album...but at the same time, it was definitely a preview. Also, had the 45 not had the misfortune of being released the same year as "Good Vibrations", this would have to have been the single of 1966 (and remember how many other great 45s came out that year!).       

Sunday, March 7, 2010

#100: Run For Your Life

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Released: December 3, 1965
Appears on: Rubber Soul
Lead vocal: John

At one point of his life, John was a very violent man. Throughout the first half of the Beatles' career, this is most obvious, with songs like "You Can't Do That" and "Run For Your Life", the closing song on Rubber Soul
John admitted that he stole the song's striking opening line, "I'd rather see you dead little girl than to see you with another man", from an Elvis Presley song called "Baby Let's Play House", written by Arthur Gunter. However, the rest of the song bares no resemblance to Elvis's. It's filled with terrible admissions made by the singer - "Well, you know that I'm a wicked guy and I was born with a jealous mind". What makes this all worse is that he demeans the girl by referring to her as "little girl" during the entire song. Listen to the way John says that - you can feel the venom just flowing from his mouth. Other than its disturbing subject, the song does little to stand out from the pack of 1965 Beatles songs. 
Of course, later John probably regretted ever writing the song especially during his protesting phase. Here is a song that virtually contradicts everything we think John stands for, from violence to the oppression of women. It makes me think that when he wrote "Jealous Guy" he might have been thinking of this song and wanted to correct his wrongs.  
The song does provide Rubber Soul with a bizarre ending, though. It's the first time since A Hard Day's Night that an album ends with a Lennon/McCartney original. The song doesn't have that rousing, partying feeling that "Twist And Shout" or "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby" has, but it is much more of a rock number than any of the other preceding songs. "Run For Your Life", which has never appeared anywhere else, also has a fade-out, which none of the closing covers have. 

After Rubber Soul, the Beatles began slowing down, taking much longer to produce their music. In Britain, aside from two EPs (The Beatles' Million Sellers and Nowhere Man), Rubber Soul was the last new product until June. A brilliant new 45, which signaled how the Beatles' next full LP would sound, is next...and from then on, the world would never be the same. 

Saturday, March 6, 2010

#99: If I Needed Someone

Written by: George Harrison
Released: December 3, 1965
Appears on: Rubber Soul
Lead vocal: George Harrison

"If I Needed Someone" has some of the most interesting lyrics on Rubber Soul. George provides the album with another biting, nasty track. The lyrics are drenched with interesting imagery. "Carve your number on my wall and maybe you will get a call from me,If I needed someone..." I love that line because its so direct. The singer tells us that he doesn't particularly need anyone, but if that ever happens, leave your number because I might call you. He never tells the girl that she is number one on his list. During the fantastic middle-eight, the singer even reveals that she was late: "Had you come some other day, then it might not have been like this. Can't you see now, I'm too much in love?"
Musically, the song is structured similar to songs by The Byrds. The group's lead guitarist Roger McQuinn was first influenced by seeing George's 12-string Rickenbacker in A Hard Day's Night, which lead to most the the Byrds' songs having a distinct, jangly guitar sound. George was then, in-turn, influenced into using this effect as the main driving force of the guitar sound of a song. If you listen to the intro of "If I Needed Someone" and then listen to virtually any Byrds song, you'll hear the direct influence. 
"If I Needed Someone" is definitely a great George track that leads right into the last song on the record.
Ironically enough, despite being influenced by the inventors of the folk/rock sound, the track was cut from the American Rubber Soul and did not surface until Yesterday And Today. Other than that, the song has never appeared anywhere but Rubber Soul.     

Thursday, March 4, 2010

#98: Wait

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Released: December 3, 1965
Appears on: Rubber Soul
Lead vocal: John & Paul

"Wait" was included on Rubber Soul just because the original line-up was just 13 songs. While 13 songs was alright a year ago for A Hard Day's Night, it wasn't for Rubber Soul. It was recorded and completed during the HELP! sessions, but, as you can see, it didn't land on that album. Instead it was held back. When it was decided that the track would be on Rubber Soul, they overdubbed extra guitar and percussion to the recording to 'update' the song. This is another point that proves just how fast the Beatles were evolving. If a song recorded less than five months prior had to be updated, just how fast were the Beatles evolving?
The song, which features a paranoid singer who hopes that his love will wait for his return, is definitely a light-weight counterpoint to the last song, "In My Life". However, taken by itself, the song is hardly noteworthy beyond the really cool vocal arrangement and amazing percussion by Ringo. (Listen to it on headphones and you'll hear just how fast Ringo is playing that tambourine.)
"Wait" has never appeared anywhere else and was included on the American Rubber Soul. I would definitely say it's an underrated, fun little song sandwiched between two serious tracks.     

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

#97: In My Life

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Released: December 3, 1965
Appears on: Rubber Soul
Lead vocal: John

If there ever was a song that could bring someone to tears...
If there ever was a song so perfect...
If there ever was a song that transcends all time...
If there ever was a song that symbolized how good John Lennon and Paul McCartney were at writing songs...

"In My Life" is all of these things. Its perfection can never truly be understated and considering that it remains one of the most popular songs of all time, I think everyone agrees.    
The song grew out of a lengthy poem John had written about his childhood. John worked with Paul to help trim it down, stripping it of all references to exact locations. This first step already gave the song a universal feeling. The next step is to write the melody. While John admits that Paul helped out on that part, Paul claims to have actually written the majority of it. Next, during the recording, George Martin composed a short piano piece to be played by him during the break of the song after John suggested that he should make it Baroque-esque. Despite sounding like a harpsichord, it isn't. It actually is a standard piano, just recorded at a slower speed to fit the song. The rest of the song is filled with fantastic work by the group, all playing their traditional roles.        
It's truly amazing what the impact of the song has been, especially for a song that was never a single and only included on 1962-1966. "In My Life" has come to sum up the way we feel about the Beatles, despite the fact that it was far from John's original intention. I think he felt that the song was a personal piece of music, but by removing references of his personal childhood, he made the song something that everyone can relate to. Everyone has had friends and some are dead and some are living and pretty much everyone with a heart feels the same way. That the important parts of life is what you have now. This is another irony because the song always makes us think about the past, but I guess that the point is that that's OK as long as you pay attention to the road ahead. I also think that, at this point, being forty years removed from the last Beatles sessions, the song seems to be about the Beatles themselves. Every time we hear that line...some are dead and some are living...we think about John and George. All these places have their moments takes us to the wonderful memories we all have of the Beatles, whether they be of watching the Ed Sullivan Shows or the first time your parents played them for you. 
Then, there is that last verse, which I think there is no point to analyze it because everyone knows what it means. 
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them,
In my life, I love you more 
Then they come together for the last line - 
In my life....I love you more....
...And there's nothing else because there doesn't need to be anything else. It's just so damn perfect.