music web

Design / The Beatles & collaboration

A lot of col­lab­o­ra­tive work goes on at Coop­er (where I work). Design­ers team up to under­stand a prob­lem, or to envi­sion a bet­ter way of solv­ing it. Some­times, we col­lab­o­rate with clients to fig­ure out what's pos­si­ble and where pos­si­bil­i­ty and desir­abil­i­ty meet. In any case, it's hard to trace back any par­tic­u­lar idea to a par­tic­u­lar per­son or moment; once an idea is out in the world, it gets pushed, pulled, dis­as­sem­bled, reassem­bled, and so on by every­one until it fits. My friends and I used to argue over which Bea­t­le wrote a par­tic­u­lar song — John? Paul? George? In most cas­es, it seems pret­ty clear cut. Cheesy lyrics and a boun­cy rhythm? Paul. More com­pli­cat­ed, lay­ered lyrics with more straight-ahead rock? John. A sitar in the back­ground? George. In some cas­es, how­ev­er, it's much less clear. "With A Lit­tle Help From My Friends," for instance; or, "Got To Get You Into My Life." Both have rec­og­niz­able ear­marks of John and Paul.Are these easy cat­e­go­riza­tions valid in any way? Is there any way of ulti­mate­ly know­ing who wrote what? I didn't think so. Until I Googled "bea­t­les song­writ­ing" and found The Bea­t­les Song­writ­ing and Record­ing Data­base, an obses­sive­ly cat­e­go­rized col­lec­tion quotes about who wrote what, pulled from var­i­ous inter­views con­duct­ed over the last 40 years.For example:

With A Lit­tle Help From My FriendsJOHN 1970: "Paul had the line about 'a lit­tle help from my friends.' He had some kind of struc­ture for it, and we wrote it pret­ty well fifty-fifty from his orig­i­nal idea."JOHN 1980: "That's Paul, with a lit­tle help from me. 'What do you see when you turn out the light/ I can't tell you but I know it's mine' is mine."PAUL cir­ca-1994: "This was writ­ten out at John's house in Wey­bridge for Ringo… I think that was prob­a­bly the best of our songs that we wrote for Ringo actu­al­ly. I remem­ber gig­gling with John as we wrote the lines, 'What do you see when you turn out the light/ I can't tell you but I know it's mine.' It could have been him play­ing with his willie under the cov­ers, or it could have been tak­en on a deep­er lev­el. This is what it meant but it was a nice way to say it– a very non-spe­cif­ic way to say it. I always liked that." 

Espe­cial­ly intrigu­ing: John wrote "And Your Bird Can Sing," which (to me) seems to be the most obvi­ous Paul song ever. Per­haps those ear­marks I dis­cussed ear­li­er are less applic­a­ble than one would expect.


Music / Sad anniverary for the quiet Beatle

Today is the fifth anniver­sary of George Harrison's death, as I found out when NPR ran a sweet trib­ute to him this evening. Back when such things mat­tered, George was my favorite Bea­t­le. Why do such things not mat­ter any­more? I mean, real­ly, is there any ques­tion that is more reveal­ing than "Who is your favorite Bea­t­le?" Sure, it's dat­ed, but any ratio­nal, music-aware per­son should have one, and if they don't, well, that says a lot right there. Here's a cheat sheet for what you can expect from the peo­ple you ask, based on very unsci­en­tif­ic "research" …

  • If they say "Paul," you can expect some (most­ly super­fi­cial) charm, and a lib­er­al help­ing of cheesi­ness. Peo­ple who like Paul tend to see Sgt. Pep­per as the height of Bea­t­le achieve­ment, and they prob­a­bly enjoy "Yel­low Sub­ma­rine" and "sto­ry songs" about Bea­t­les char­ac­ters like Eleanor Rig­by more than "While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps" or "Nor­we­gian Wood."
  • If they say "John," you can expect seri­ous­ness, out­ward lefty pol­i­tics, a love of "mean­ing­ful" songs, and per­haps a dis­dain for both cheesi­ness and Paul. Peo­ple who like John, I would guess, sim­ply didn't like Paul to begin with, or liked him until they heard "When I'm 64" one too many times, and then dug around to see who wrote the lyrics to "A Day in the Life."
  • No one ever says "Ringo" in this day and age, and that's too bad. He's charm­ing, a good sport, and (I think) not as bad a drum­mer as peo­ple seem to remem­ber. I chal­lenge you: Lis­ten to "Rain" and tell me that Ringo is an insuf­fer­ably bad drummer.
  • George, final­ly, will always be the favorite of peo­ple who you want to know. He rep­re­sents humil­i­ty, first of all. He's nev­er mug­ging in the movies, and most­ly he looks some­what like you or I would look if we were thrown into the Bea­t­les com­mer­cial jug­ger­naut in the ear­ly 60's. On the cre­ativ­i­ty side, he wasn't Lennon/McCartney, but his gui­tar sound was an inte­gral part of the Bea­t­les appeal. It's always taste­ful, and he nev­er tries to get all Eric Clap­ton on any song, which is why I — for one — can lis­ten to rough­ly 50 Bea­t­les songs for every Eric Clap­ton song. Final­ly, George's solo stuff was way bet­ter than either Paul's or John's, and his low pro­file is endear­ing in a world in which the faces of rock stars' are per­pet­u­al­ly up in your grill.

Beatles, Taxman — from Alternate Revolver

[audio:]Lately, I've been lis­ten­ing to Alter­nate Revolver, a boot­leg album of demoes from the Revolver ses­sions. George's first con­tri­bu­tion to the Bea­t­les' cat­a­logue — "Tax­man" — is on Revolver; it's not my favorite Bea­t­les song, but it's a lit­tle more straight­for­ward and rockin' than lat­er George songs. Is it con­tra­dic­to­ry to com­mem­o­rate an artist by lis­ten­ing to a pirat­ed ver­sion of his/her work? Hmm. I'll ven­ture a guess that George would appre­ci­ate it, so check out Alter­nate Revolver's mono mix of the song, and toast the qui­et Beatle.