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

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

#121: With A Little Help From My Friends

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Released: June 1, 1967
Appears on: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Lead vocal: Ringo

"With A Little Help From My Friends" has become Ringo's signature song - the one he has to perform at every show. (I've seen him do it twice and it's always fun.) The song was born as "Bad Finger Boogie" and probably the easiest track to record on the album. The only strange instrument on the track is John's cowbell (which is the only instrument he plays on the track). George Martin adds a Hammond organ part and Paul puts in a piano part. George is on lead guitar and Ringo, of course, plays drums and tambourine. 
Paul wrote the tune and Ringo always loves to tell the story about What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and throw tomatoes at me? Ringo himself felt it necessary to change it  to stand up and walk out on me (although, I think the fact that tomatoes was just one too many syllables didn't help the line). 
The back-up harmonies are also great. It turns the song into a hilarious 'call-and-response' spoof. The lyrics just add to the hilarity. There is nothing - absolutely nothing - funnier than What do you see when you turn out the light? I can't tell you, but I know it's mine.
In Paul's Sgt. Pepper dream world, Ringo plays "Billy Shears", singing this happy-go-lucky song. It's funny that the previous song seems to frame the role as the lead singer of this imaginary band, but he's played by a guy who was lucky to be able to get one song on an album. That's just another one of those Beatle in-jokes, I think. 
Since its first appearance on Sgt. Pepper's, the track has always appeared attached to the title track. Nowhere else in the Beatles catalog have two songs been so connected. There has never been an officially released fade-in mix, although making one yourself is pretty easy these days. So, the release history is the same as the title track and you can check the post on that song. 
Even on the radio, you'll never hear the two separated. It's much like radio's insistence on never separating Queen's "We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions".
In 1968, the song got some big attention as Joe Cocker's first hit on his first album. It's radically different and actually pretty good, but I'll always appreciate Ringo's sweet, innocent original more.        

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

#120: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Released: June 1, 1967
Appears on: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Lead vocal: Paul

"It was twenty years ago today, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play. They've been going in and out of style, but they're guaranteed to raise a smile. So let me introduce to you, the act you've known for all these years! SERGEANT PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND!!!!!!!"

After you drop the needle on side one, the first thing you hear is crowd noise before Paul's lead guitar comes screaming onto the stereo. Then, Paul's screaming vocal comes on, inviting all the listeners to relax, sit down and listen to some fantastic music. 
The title track for the album that ended up defining a decade is easily the simplest song on the record. There is no technical wizardry beyond George Martin's use of the crowd noise. Paul plays bass and lead guitar. John's on rhythm and George adds a third guitar part. Ringo plays drums. So, beyond the standard, there is a group of session musicians adding French horns. 
"Sgt. Pepper's..." does exactly what it sets out to do, acting as an introduction to the world's most famous fake band. I've always loved Paul's idea to 'tour the album' rather than the band, making the album as a show within itself. However, the idea that this is a 'concept album' is wrong. There is no overall concept within the songs. Rather, the concept is that we are listening to a show, so the album is sequenced as if it was one. Most of the songs don't end in a fade and those that do are followed by less than half-a-second of silence before the next song starts.
If it is possible to call a song on one of the best selling albums in the world underrated, the fact is that this song is. Everyone knows how great a pop record Sgt. Pepper's is, but songs like the title tack prove that the Beatles never forgot what they really were: a great rock band. 
Strangely enough, "Sgt. Pepper's..." has made appearances outside of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band...always attached to the next song, of course. The two appeared on 1967-1970, then remixed on the Yellow Submarine Songtrack. In 1978, EMI issued a "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band/With A Little Help From My Friends" b/w "A Day In The Life" to cash-in on Robert Stigwood's Sgt. Pepper's film. The 45 hit #63 in the UK and #71 in the US.

Monday, June 28, 2010

#119: Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Released: February 17, 1967
Appears on: Magical Mystery Tour
Lead vocal: John

There's something about "Strawberry Fields Forever" that is hard to pin down, even 43 years after its' release. The song is specifically about John's childhood, almost as if it is a more detailed version of "In My Life". I really believe that it's probably the best song he ever wrote in his life and easily a top-5 Beatles track. 
The lyrics touch on just how difficult it is to be a child in a confusing world and is filled with fantastic lines. That last verse probably sums up John's life, filled with hypocrisy and confusion, more than anything else he ever wrote:
Always know, sometimes think its me
But you know, I know when it's a dream
I think a 'no', I say 'yes,' 
But it's all wrong
That is, I think I disagree
Then there's the extreme psychedelic haze that these lyrics sit in. The track starts with Paul's mellotron notes, before John's subdued vocal comes in - Let me take you down, 'cause I'm goin' to...Strawberry Fields. John plays lead guitar, piano and maracas on the track while Paul adds bass to his mellotron parts. George plays a slide guitar and svarmandal, a unique Indian instrument that adds such a strange 'string' sound. Ringo's drumming reaches a high point, especially during the added coda section. It's a great little sequence, almost as if it was tacked on specifically to highlight Ringo. George Martin also arranged trumpet and cello sections, a pair of instruments that usually don't go together alone, adding another unique layer to the song. 
Probably the coolest part of the Anthology releases is the "Strawberry Fields Forever" sequence that opens up disc two of Anthology 2. It takes the song from demo stage to the first take and finally to the seventh take. For LOVE, George and Giles Martin created a unique mix by mixing all takes of the song into one, so by the time you get to the end, it is the fully realized master that we know and love. Here is the full wacky promo film
The song's only LP appearances include the US Magical Mystery Tour and as the opening track to 1967-1970
"Strawberry Fields Forever" is easily one of the most important and impacting Beatles songs. You will always hear it on the radio and it is very hard to hold back tears whenever I hear it. I listen to it often to remind myself to calm down whenever I'm stressed. It's a nice escape from reality, but I tend to take it as a reminder that Nothing is real...
Let me take you down, 
'cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields. 
Nothing is real,
and nothing to get hung about. 
Strawberry Fields forever. Strawberry Fields forever, 
Strawberry Fields forever, Strawberry Fields forever.

Next up: We start...the 'big' one. 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

#118: Penny Lane

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Released: February 17, 1967
Appears on: Magical Mystery Tour
Lead vocal: Paul

It had been two months since a new Beatles release and six months since the last 100% new album. Then, out of the blue, not only did a new, double A-Sided single appear on store shelves, but a new single in a full-color sleeve. 
That single was easily their greatest and probably the greatest ever released by any group. 
"Penny Lane" b/w "Strawberry Fields Forever" (or is it "Strawberry Fields Forever" b/w "Penny Lane"?) blew the top of the lid to the other side of the solar system. Paul's "Penny Lane", an ode to the days of old in Liverpool, is, admittedly, more commercial than John's, so it appeared as the A-Side in Billboard. It hit #1 in the US for just a week before The Turtles' "Happy Together" hit the scene. In the UK, remarkably, did not hit #1 and was stuck at #2 thanks to Engelburt Humperdink! 
The song itself is unbelievable. It kicks off without an intro...In Penny Lane, there is a barber sharing photographs...and goes on to describe real places along Penny Lane. You feel as if you could step into this romanticized world thanks to Paul's intensely detailed lyrics. 
Instrumentation features John on piano and congas, Paul on piano and bass, George on just handclaps and handbells and Ringo on drums and tambourine. There is no guitar part, yet it is one of the Beatles' most heavily orchestrated songs, including piccolos, flutes, flugelhorns, oboes, cor anglais and double-bass. 
This is just a preview of Paul's pop music that would appear on Sgt. Pepper's and considering that the song was once imagined to be on that album, it makes sense. George Martin gave EMI these two songs because they were the closest to being finished and then dropped them from the LP line-up. Thus, the song's first LP appearance was as the third track on the Capitol-manufactured side two of Magical Mystery Tour in November 1967. (This is a topic we'll get to much later when I get to the original songs on that LP.)  
It did not make an LP appearance in the UK until 1973's 1967-1970. It has also appeared on the US 20 Greatest Hits and 1. You can view the wonderful promo film here.    
While "Penny Lane" is a brilliant song, I think I would keep it just outside of my top-10 Beatles tracks. It is such a poppy pop song that includes no great George Harrison guitar solo and a rather basic drum pattern from Ringo. Again, I believe the Beatles were at their absolute best when they worked as a full unit, with all four making significant contribution to the song's sound. "Penny Lane" has Paul's name all over it, making it as much a Paul McCartney song as a Beatles song. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

#117: Bad Boy

Written by: Larry Williams
Released: December 10, 1966
Appears on: A Collection Of Beatles Oldies, But Goldies!, Beatles VI and Past Masters, Vol. 1
Lead vocal: John

"Bad Boy" is a relic. It was recorded back in May, 1965 during the HELP! sessions, nearly a year-and-a-half before its release in the UK. 
This Larry Williams cover (their third, after "Slow Down" and "Dizzy Miss Lizzie") first appeared in the US in June, 1965 on Beatles VI, which was made up as a stop-gap release before HELP!. The album was made up of Beatles For Sale left-overs, "Yes It Is", two originals recorded during the HELP! sessions ("Tell Me What You See" and "You Like Me Too Much") and two covers recorded specifically for the US market. "Dizzy Miss Lizzie" was released in the UK on HELP!, but "Bad Boy" was left to languish until Parlophone's own stop-gap release: A Collection Of Beatles Oldies, But Goldies! in December, 1966.  
...Oldies, But Goldies! was released because George Martin knew that they were not going to be able to finish even a single for Christmas 1966, so EMI put together a collection of singles that had never been on an LP before in the UK, two LP-exclusive favorites ("Yesterday" and "Michelle") and "Bad Boy" was thrown in to get those who already had everything to buy it. (Although, if I was around, that beautiful cover art probably would have been enough to get me.) 
As for the song itself, it's pretty routine when compared to other covers, particularly the other Larry Williams ones. It's a nice update of the original (which features horns and a backup singer going "He's a...BAD BOY!"...thankfully they got rid of that) and features the boys on their usual instruments.
Today, you can get the song on Past Masters as well as Beatles VI, which is included in the The Capitol Albums, Vol. 2 set. 

Next up, we get into the meat and potatoes of the Beatles' career, starting off with probably the most important single of all time.     

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

#116: Tomorrow Never Knows

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

Revolver comes to a close with John's "Tomorrow Never Knows", the first song recorded during the sessions, when it started out as "Mark I". It's easily one of the most complex songs by The Beatles up to this point and probably in their entire career. 
"Tomorrow Never Knows" is really just a trip through the stream of consciousness. (As a Disney fan, I can't help but be compelled to compare it to the "Toccata And Fugue In D Minor" sequence in Fantasia.) John said that it's from his "Tibetan Book Of The Dead period", which was influenced by his reading and understanding of Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner's book The Psychic Experience: A Manual Based On The Tibetan Book Of The Dead. However, this song isn't about what it's about; rather, it's about what's behind John's echo-drenched voice that sounds as much as an instrument as the actual instruments. Aside from their usual stable of instruments (save a rhythm guitar part), all four contributed to the insane, droning tape loops. Paul contributed the most because, contrary to what everyone is made to believe, he was actually the first Beatle to get interested in the avant-garde. George Martin added piano and also helped out with the loops. John added organ and tambourine parts and George added sitar. Keep an ear out for Ringo's stand-out drumming, which makes his amazing performance on "Rain" sound amateurish.   
An entry on "Tomorrow Never Knows" without a mention of rookie engineer Geoff Emmerick would be a mistake. He made an incredible contribution to the track, all outlined in great detail in his book, Here, There And Everywhere.        
"Tomorrow Never Knows" is such an innovative, out-of-this-world track that really blew everyone out of the water and still does, I think. As an ending it's perfect. Hearing it outside of its context (that is, as an ending) is wrong and thankfully, it has never appeared outside of Revolver (aside from its interesting use in LOVE). 
Ringo's contribution of the title is probably one of his biggest contributions to the Beatles because tomorrow truly never knows, especially when it came to the Beatles.    

Phew! That does it for Revolver! What's next? Before we get to the incredibly ground-breaking year of 1967, we have some house cleaning to do.  

Monday, June 21, 2010

#115: Got To Get You Into My Life

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

As we barrel through to the light at the end of the tunnel, the Beatles have a few more surprises for us. After the wild fade-out of "I Want To Tell You", horns and guitars come blazing on the stereo. I was alone, I took a ride, I didn't know what I would find THERE!!!!! 
"Got To Get You Into My Life" is one of my favorite Beatles songs and it is easily one of their most popular. When Capitol issued it on a single ten years after it was first released, it reached #7 on Billboard. That not only speaks for how popular the song is, but it was solid gold proof (literally; the RIAA certified it Gold) that the Beatles are timeless, even in the midst of changing musical tastes. 
The song itself is an ode to the great Motown records that the Beatles loved and even covered. Its built-in R&B style gave way to Earth, Wind & Fire covering the song, which became one of the most popular Beatles covers. Paul plays bass, John on rhythm and George on lead guitars with Ringo on drums. Then, George Martin is on organ, plus the horn section. Surprisingly, the horn players are not credited on the sleeve, despite Alan Civil's credit for "For No One" and Anil Bagwat for "Love You To". Anyway, here are the players: Eddie Thorton, Ian Hamer & Les Cordon on trumpet and Alan Brascombe & Peter Coe on tenor sax. (from Wikipedia, which copied it from Ian MacDonald)         
I don't know how often I've called the Beatles versatile on this blog, but "Got To Get You Into My Life" is definitely another piece of proof that confirms it. Just think of this: on just Side Two of Revolver, we've had a classical number ("For No One"), rock ("And Your Bird Can Sing"), pop ("Good Day Sunshine") and R&B ("Got To Get You Into My Life"). Plus, we still got one more to go. 
This song has appeared in only one other spot besides Revolver. In 1976, as previously noted, Capitol issued it as a single (backed with "Helter Skelter") to promote Rock 'N' Roll Music. Still, the song's popularity continues to this day, from its daily appearances on classic rock stations to Paul's repeated performances of the song.     

Friday, June 18, 2010

#114: I Want To Tell You

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

The Beatles really liked the fade-in and used it twice on Revolver: for the side-two opening "good Day Sunshine" and George's "I Want To Tell You". This song is also George's third - a record for him at the time. (In fact, the only time George has more than three is on The Beatles, a double album where he has two on each record.) 
The song features George on lead guitar, Paul on piano and bass (as well as adding some Indian style vocals at the fade-out), John on tambourine and Ringo on drums. 
Of his three songs, this is easily the slightest of them, only because it's just so normal. The lyrics aren't political like in "Taxman" nor are they philosophical like in "Love You To". George wrote only a small entry for "I Want To Tell You" in I, Me, Mine. Here it is:

I Want To Tell You is about the avalanche of thoughts that are so hard to write down or say or transmit. (As now in this book.)
If I were to re-write the bridge section now however I would have to say: 
Although I seem to act unkind
It isn't me - it is my mind -
That is confusing things 
The mind is the thing that hops about telling us to do this and to so that - when we need is to lose (forget) the mind. A passing though. 
"I Want To Tell You" was never issued anywhere else and was on the US Revolver
You know, quoting George's I, Me, Mine proves what an invaluable resource that book is. George was the only Beatle who wrote anything like it. Granted, his autobiography part (written with Derek
Taylor) is only 62 pages, but he wrote passages for every single song he wrote (save for the few he wanted to forget) up until 1979. Sometimes for George songs, I want to just quote the entire passage, but I have to maintain some sense of originality on this blog.

Also, this is being posted on Sir Paul McCartney's  68th birthday! So happy birthday Paul! 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

#113: Doctor Robert

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

Ring my friend, I said you call, Doctor Robert...

I really wish there was more to say about "Doctor Robert". It's such a funky tune but other than recounting the story that the song might be relating, the song is not written about all that often. (Just look at the wikipedia page...even the page for "Wild Honey Pie" is longer.) 
The story the song might be based on was retold by George in detail in the Anthology. John and George were visiting a dentist friend. When they were reacting rather strangely to the tea they were  drinking, they found out that the doctor had dropped LSD into their cups! The best part of the story is easily their reactions on an elevator, where suddenly they thought it was on fire! (Dig out your copies of the Anthology and watch it - it's really funny.)
Although, it might have nothing to do with that story. It might just be about how easy it was to get drugs in those days. If you knew the right people, you got the right stuff. Well, well, well, you're feeling fine. Well, well, well...he'll make you...Doctor Robert!!! 
The track features John's double-tracked vocal, rhythm guitar and harmonium. Paul plays bass and adds background vocals. George's lead guitar is double tracked (he's also playing maracas, apparently) and Ringo on drums. So, there's nothing out of the ordinary, at least when compared to most of the other songs on the album.
"Doctor Robert" has never appeared anywhere outside of Revolver, but it was the last of the three songs issued early in the States on Yesterday...And Today     

Sunday, June 13, 2010

#112: For No One

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

Despite being one of the quieter tracks on Revolver, "For No One" is one of the most unique sounding. It's a three-man job: Ringo on drums and tambourine, Paul on bass, piano and clavichord and Alan Civil on French Horn. As mentioned in the "Love You To" entry, Civil and Anhil Bagwat are the first outside musicians credited on a Beatles record. The French Horn, combined with the clavichord, make the song sound classical, which is obviously Paul's point. It adds an amount of affluent air to the song, almost as if the song itself is saying that it is better than the ones it is surrounded by...and the truth is that it practically is. 
"For No One" is devastating - the singer is talking to a boy who is breaking up with his girl. The boy is so in love with this girl that you don't believe her when she says her love is dead, you think she need you. The bridge is most hurtful: And in her eyes, you see nothing/No sign of love behind the tears, cried for no one. A love that should have lasted years. Paul is like a great film director, here, knowing exactly where to touch your emotions so you can feel for this boy. "For No One" is very hard to criticize because it's perfect and another reason why Revolver is my favorite album.
"For No One" has surprisingly made a few appearances outside of Revolver. For some reason, Capitol thought it was a love song, so they included it on Love Songs. Personally, I wouldn't call it a love song. Only one side of the relationship is in love - the other is on her way out. There is no real love in this situation, only sadness. It is a ballad, though, so its inclusion on The Beatles' Ballads is not without merit.      

Friday, June 11, 2010

#111: And Your Bird Can Sing

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

"And Your Bird Can Sing" is one cool song. It's about a girl who prides herself on having so many things that the singer feels the need to make fun of her. Oh, you've seen and have all these great things, but you can't understand me, can you? This girl is so materialistic that she ignores everything around her, including the guy that's interested in her. I love that bridge, which has some of John's most poignant lyrics: When your prized possessions, start to wear you down...Look in my direction. I'll be 'round, I'll be 'round.  
The double lead guitar parts by George and Paul give the song one of the most unique guitar sounds on the album and a harder edge. While it might have been easier to have just double-tracked George's lead, it would have been far less interesting.  
While I don't think this is one of John's major songs with the Beatles, it's still a great one that I'd love to hear more people talk about. It's as obscure as a Beatles song can be, only appearing on Revolver. Although, it is one of the three John songs released early in the States. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

#110: Good Day Sunshine

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

The way the Beatles and George Martin sequenced albums even before Sgt. Pepper's was in such an ingenious way that it always keeps listeners on their toes. Of course, the reason why the Beatles cared so much about album sequencing was the fact that they were popular back in the days before you could skip a song so they worked their butts off to try to make every song as engaging as the next. Martin always tuck to the rule that both sides of an album should start and end with a strong song, which made each side to a Beatles record almost feel like mini-albums themselves. Revolver is certainly no exception. 
Like the fade-in intro to "Eight Days A Week", which served as the opener to side two of Beatles For Sale, "Good Day Sunshine"'s fade-in opens side two of Revolver, powered by Paul's blazing piano. The other instruments on the song include just Paul's bass, John's guitar and Ringo's drums. George and John contribute the backing vocals and handclaps. Martin also contributes a piano part.
"Good Day Sunshine" is just good, clean, pop fun from the master of that type of music. It encapsulates summer...those days when every morning you just want to scream "HELLO WORLD!" because that beautiful sunrise just woke you up. The lyrics are filled with great imagery, but the song's lightheartedness cannot be escaped when you consider the heavy material that John deals with in his songs that surround it. That doesn't dampen the song's strengths though. It's just a really, really happy song and the fact that it adds to the variety of Revolver only strengthens it and the album. 
The release history for "Good Day Sunshine" is surprisingly slim. Despite being one of the group's most popular songs (it's always on the radio), it was never issued as a single and never appeared on a compilation. (Paul did release a live recording as a single in 1990 to promote Tripping The Live Fantastic.)     

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

#109: She Said She Said

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

"She Said She Said" is definitely the first obvious drug song by The Beatles. Prior to this, they'd been able to hide it with incredible wordplay, but what else could this song have been influenced by? 
The lyrics tell the tale of a boy who is mystified by a girl who believes that "I know what it's like to feel dead, I know what it is to be sad." The trouble is that he doesn't understand her at all. Oh, he thinks he does (Even though you know what you know, I know that I'm ready to leave), but she can see that he doesn't. That's why he wants to leave. What he's hearing is insanity (Things that make me feel that I'm mad), but to her it makes sense. This relationship goes nowhere - she can't stop him and he can't understand her beliefs. 
What gets me about this song is Ringo's drumming. Probably at no other point of the Beatles' career had his drumming sounded this good. From his work on "Rain" to the insane, 'circular' motions on this track, 1966 was one hell of a year for the drummer. This is the only Beatles song with three Beatles on it and none of them being Paul. The goody-two-shoes Beatle sat the session out, with George taking his place. George plays bass and contributes heavily to the backing vocals (you can hear him mostly during the fade-out) with John playing all the guitars and organ. 
"She Said She Said", which closed out the first side of Revolver, was hardly a commercial track, despite the fact that it hardly lacks in the awesomeness department. Capitol left it on Revolver and the song has never appeared anywhere outside of the album.  
It is definitely a highlight of the album for me.