Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Say The Words

Don't know if I can recommend The Beatles Lyrics by Hunter Davies.  It does have numerous reproductions of their original handwritten drafts--often including lines not used in the finished versions of the songs--and Davies, the group's first major biographer, does include behind-the-scenes stories of how they came up with the words.

But the writing is horrible.  Much of it is simply too idiosyncratic.  I don't expect formal rigor, but what can you do with this from his description of "Drive My Car":

I could remember the words--at least, I thought I did, but on listening again, I realized I'd got the story all wrong.  I'd thought the singer, Paul, was asking a girl to drive his car--a sexual euphemism perhaps.  In fact, it's the girl who's inviting the boy to be her chauffeur, and maybe then she will love him.

Yes, Hunter, that's what the song is about.  We don't care if you didn't remember at first.  Yet he constantly tells us such personal things, though they mean nothing to us.  And even when he attempts to be more straightforward, his analysis is rarely penetrating.  Sometimes it even misses the obvious.

For instance, looking at John's original manuscript for "If I Fell" we get:

He has marked the verses 1 and 2 and has written "Into" at the beginning, suggesting there would be no opening chords, just straight into it.

Perhaps.  Or perhaps, because it's a section at the beginning of the song that will not be repeated, John meant to write "Intro" and left out the "r."

Even worse is his discussion of the tunes.  Davies seems to be musically illiterate.  He'll often claim the singer's going high or low as if it's some sort of choice, not the tune as written. And then you realize when he uses these terms he's not necessarily discussing pitch, but rather whether the voices are thin or resonant. Either way, it leads to stuff like this description of "I'm A Loser":

[John's] singing is a bit strange, deliberately going low on the last word of each chorus, almost out of tune, sounding a bit embarrassed...

The low notes are a memorable part of the song, but this description is just weird.  I don't know if John's singing sounds strange, but describing him as "deliberately" going low makes no sense.  It wasn't a wilful act on his part--he wrote the song, he decided what the notes should be, and now he's singing them.  And calling it almost out of tune?  Either it's out of tune or it's not.  On top of which, he goes low on the last word of each couplet in the verses, not the chorus.

So if you're a Beatles completist, by all means, check it out.  But it's hardly the first book about them or their music you should buy.


Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I've been wanting to read a book focused on the Beatles songs (lyrics and music). What would you recommend?

Also, is there a good volume on the rise of pop music in the 50s/60s, looking at the interplay between the different bands. You get little pieces of this stuff in one-band biographies (the Beatles admired the Rolling Stones, for example), but I've been wanting to find an overview of the two decades.

8:51 AM, September 02, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think of most Beatles lyrics (well the pre-Walrus/White Album stuff at least ) as being more sound than narrative as are most pop songs I think. Nothing at all wrong with that but its more an aural than a textual discussion. (I'm probably not using the right words that the specialists like but so be it). I do remember an interview with Paul or John (or maybe one of the entourage) where I think they talked about "I Saw Her Standing There" and replacing the phrase after "She was just seventeen" from something like "a real beauty queen" with "you know what I mean" and how that made all the difference in the world. Its far more (if you know what I mean) but it just sounds much better (and frankly less hokey)

9:16 AM, September 02, 2015  
Blogger LAGuy said...

There is a small industry of books on the Beatles. I'd hardly know where to start.

All The Song: The Story Behind Every
Beatles Release and A Hard Day's Write: The Story Behind Every Beatles Song are both better than the Hunter Davies book, for example.

As for the story of the band itself, the most exhaustive and best looks to be the Mark Lewisohn trilogy Tune In, though only the first volume has been published. Another good book to look at their musical impact is Revolution In The Head. Jonathan Gould's Can't Buy Me Love isn't bad, either, concentrating on the music. The Bob Spitz books isn't bad, either, and certainly shorter than Lewisohn. It's hard to beat The Beatles Anthology (the book) as an authoritative history in their own voices.

Then there are various books about the individual members, and even people related to the band, and many books concentrating on photos, if that's what you want.

Then there's the internet. So much about each song is available on Wikipedia alone, and is fairly reliable.

There are even more books about rock in general. I'm not clear if you prefer the 50s or 60s, which are fairly different eras.

9:16 AM, September 02, 2015  
Blogger New England Guy said...

I don't know but I not always clear about who is driving the car either.

9:20 AM, September 02, 2015  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Early in their recording career the Beatles were listening closely to Bob Dylan and thinking maybe they can say something with their lyrics. (This is not always a good thing in rock music). By 1965 they're certainly trying to go beyond the basics, and you get stuff like "Norwegian Wood" or "Nowhere Man." So it didn't take long before their lyrics, as well as their music, expanded. Whether or not this is a good thing is an open question, but it was probably inevitable, given the times.

9:21 AM, September 02, 2015  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Drive My Car is pretty clear:

Asked a girl what she wanted to be
She said "baby can't you see
I wanna be famous, a star of the screen
But you can do something in between"

"Baby you can drive my car
Yes I'm gonna be a star
Baby you can drive my car
And maybe I'll love you"

It's a funny song because it's such an odd take on a love song. She wants him to drive her car, but not only is she not famous yet, she doesn't even have a car. (Some people see sexual imagery here, but I see no need to get sordid.)

9:27 AM, September 02, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No need to get sordid? Since when must there be a need? I presume you are among the 85 percent of people who lied in the poll reported, "15 percent of men would have sex with a robot."

SWMBCg, etc.

6:30 PM, September 02, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe in a yes means yes standard when it comes to robots.

8:16 PM, September 02, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

01 mean 01

9:25 PM, September 02, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't you just reprogram them later

7:40 AM, September 03, 2015  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

Thanks. I like books over wikipedia, so I'll check out the first two you mentioned and pick the one that is more comprehensible to a non-musician.

My favorite parts of the Spitz book on the Beatles is the history of how the band came together. Paul meeting John, deciding to snag Ringo from a fellow Liverpool beat band, etc. I know very little about how other bands (Stones, Who, etc.) came together, but I'm hoping to find a book that tells the story of all of them rather than having to read a book on each one.

8:13 AM, September 03, 2015  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

P.S. Seeing Joan Jett this weekend at the Denver end-of-summer festival. Blast from our past - wonder if she still goes all leather.

8:15 AM, September 03, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You mean you once knew? You are AlphaGuy.

And now that we're speaking of sordid again, I wonder if LAGuy sees any sexual imagery in "Thinkin' about your doorbell, when we gonna ring it, when we gonna ring it?"

1:46 PM, September 03, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgot my sig.

SWMBCg, etc.

1:47 PM, September 03, 2015  

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