Sunday, January 24, 2010

The difference

Conservatives judge you wrongly before getting to know you.

Liberals get to know you first, and then they judge you wrongly.

This is from personal experience.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Questionable Advertising: Imitation love

I wish I could find a copy of the commercial for "Pet Sitter Dora". It's probably the most disgusting thing I've ever seen on television. It just about sums up everything I hate about pet-replacement toys. I mean, geez louise, isn't a cat doll or something like that enough?

"Hey kids! Do you want the love and affection of a living, breathing creature but without the mess and responsibility? Then why not buy a creepy robot that really 'loves' you? Those real puppies and kittens will be put to sleep soon anyway! New from Uncanny Valley Toys Inc.!"

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My parents are weird

My dad is the only person I know who didn't watch The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan show. He was too into classical at the time, and only became a fan until after they broke up.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


True love is when you can hug and f*** at the same time.

At least that's what I think it ought to be.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Beatles and musical history: "You'll Be Mine"

"You'll Be Mine", released on Anthology 1, is clearly not a song that's not meant to be taken seriously. John and Paul sing in ridiculous operatic, falsetto, and faux-bass voices, and the songs ends in a burst of laughter.

Nevertheless, it does suggest some of what The Beatles were listening to- namely, doo-wop. Doo-wop is probably the oldest genre to survive through the '50s, having beginnings in the early '40s- in fact, the group that could be considered the fathers of the genre, the Ink Spots, are who "You'll Be Mine" is often compared to.
Doo-wop is a somewhat loose term, having not been coined until the early '60s when it had already been around for a while and making lots of hit records. Stereotypically, doo-wop groups are African-American vocal harmony groups whose consist of a lead tenor being backed by a baritone, countertenor, and of course, a bass vocalist, making frequent use of meaningless hum-like syllables like "shooby-doo-wah" and "ba-dum" and "wah-ooh". It has roots in gospel and blues with pop thrown in for good measure, probably having its genesis in four or five guys singing at a street corner, to romanticize the genre's image a bit. Of course, doo-wop does not necessarily have to have a twelve-bar form or consist of I-vi-IV-V chords, because doo-wop is a surprisingly flexible genre from what I've observed, having lots of moods, tempos, and chord structures available.
Of course, I don't really know how easily The Beatles could've heard the Ink Spots' records, since they didn't really exist by the late '50s, but I guess anything's possible. Nevertheless, its a common facet of doo-wop music to have a middle where the bass singer speaks a monologue, which is what I'm guessing to be John sends up when speaking of his love's "National Health eyeball". I don't see who else it could be, with such a nonsensical phrase.

So there you go- The Beatles were flavored with a sprinkling of doo-wop! Why else would they use "shooby-doo-wop" on "Revolution 1"?

By the way, since there isn't really any other place to mention it, there's an incomplete fragment of an unknown song from the 1960 home recordings. It's a curious, somewhat jazz-ish number from what can be heard, with an unusual ascending chord structure utilizing diminished chords that makes me doubt that it's one of their compositions, with a "ba ba ba" vocal by Paul. Then again, I did read an interview once where one of them said that they would learn a new chord and write a song around it, so who knows? It's just that I don't believe I've heard them use diminished chords any anywhere else, besides "Because" and "Old Brown Shoe". Anybody got some examples?

UPDATE: I now recall that "Like Dreamers Do" utilizes a diminished chord, so I guess it's not such a stretch after all.

The Beatles and musical history: "Movin' and Groovin'" and "Ramrod"

As far as I know, these two are the only instrumental covers the Beatles performed besides "Raunchy". All others from their early days I'm aware of were original compositions- "Cry For a Shadow", "Catswalk", "Hot As Sun", "Winston's Walk", and "Looking Glass" are the ones I can name off the top of my head. But still, it just goes to show that instrumentals were a sizable part of their repertoire before they became famous.

Duane Eddy, as I mentioned before, is one of the biggest names in early instrumental rock. Because of his frequent use of low notes on his guitar, tremolo effects, and later baritone guitar, I think of him as the father of the spaghetti western theme. You know, that low twangy sort of sound you might associate with high noon duels and ghost trains? Duane Eddy released "Movin' and Groovin'" and "Ramrod" on two separate singles in 1958.
The Beatles did their versions of these two songs in 1960. They seem to be played right after the other, which is why I'm putting them in the same article. Unfortunately, I can't find any videos of their versions, so anyone who's interested will have to search for a download of a bootleg. Try Demonoid, and look for Purple Chick's Strong Before Our Birth.

In the meantime, here's the original version:

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Beatles and musical history: "One After 909"

This is the Beatles song that took the longest to surface on an official recording (unless you count "I Lost My Little Girl"). "One After 909", as we can see, dates back to at least 1960, and wouldn't be properly recorded and released until a full decade later.

I've read that "One After 909" was John and Paul's attempt at a "train song". Trains are a popular subject in American music, and can be found in all sorts of early genres, including but not limited to folk, country, bluegrass, blues, rhythm 'n' blues, and rock 'n' roll. While I certainly haven't heard any songs about trains quite like "One After 909", I can't help but admit that it feels like a train song. Go figure.
According to one book I have, A Hard Day's Write, it was inspired by skiffle train songs, like Lonnie Donegan's version of "Rock Island Line". "Rock Island Line" is of course a HUGE folk song, first recorded by Lead Belly- a man who can be considered to be one of the roots of just about everything. Of course, "One After 909"- even in this early version- certainly became something more than skiffle.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Beatles and musical history: "Hallelujah, I Love Her So" (plus "Well, Darling")

The reason I include two songs in this entry is because there isn't much to say about "Well, Darling". It's another twelve-bar blues, but the only thing that indicates that it's anything more than another improvisation with vocals is the harmonized chorus consisting of the words "well, darling". Otherwise, all approximately five minutes of it sound made up. My guess is that it was the germ of a song that was never finished, and they were attempting to make something of it while the tape was going.

"Hallelujah, I Love Her So", on the other hand, is a cover of a popular song that The Beatles couldn't hope to match with the songwriting skills they had at the time. One version of theirs is included on Anthology 1. "Hallelujah" was written by Ray Charles, and released in 1956. Ray Charles is one of the most important figures in rhythm 'n' blues, inspiring a great many rockers.
Now, this is just my personal opinion, but one thing I've always found odd about Ray Charles is that I keep hearing him described as "rock 'n' roll" when not one song of his I've heard could truly be described as such (except perhaps "What'd I Say"). There's plenty of blues in his music, but his biggest hits sound very much to me like swing music, making me think that he has more to do with Fats Waller than Blind Lemon Jefferson. Heck, some of them sound very sweet and almost... middle-of-the-road. I dunno if it's because I'm unfamiliar with his lesser known and/or earlier recordings, but I do admit that he has plenty of soul (dig that swingin' sound!), and certainly more so than Dr. John.

EDIT: Having watched a documentary about Ray Charles, I take it all back. He had more soul and groove in his hair follicles than most people have in their whole bodies.

Artifacts of our Childhood: Toasted baloney sammiches

I'm not sure how much of an impact the Rugrats franchise had on me personally, but I was crazy about it for a while. My favorite parts were always the fantasy sequences, when the characters would use their imaginations and go on trippy adventures.

But the biggest impact it had on my life came from this single moment in The Rugrats Movie.

While the babies are wandering around lost in the forest, Chuckie mentions some of the things that he misses from his home- including something his dad made for him: Toasted baloney "sammiches".
The way he described it made it sound absolutely delicious- "Mmmm, and they're so crunchy..." he says, to which Tommy responds, "Stop it, Chuckie! You're makin' me hungry!"

Ever since then, we both have been toasting our bread when we make sandwiches. Of course, it was only baloney and mayonnaise on white bread at first, but I'm telling you: we have toasted EVERY SINGLE SANDWICH we have ever eaten since then. I've only had it untoasted once or twice, and for reasons I can't quite recall- I think it was because I didn't have a choice. Of course, I'm not including sandwiches we've ordered at restaurants- I'm only referring to sandwiches we've made at home.
Thing is is that we've come to prefer it crunchy, as opposed to chewy when the bread is in an unaltered state. I dunno, it seems to be more "bread-like" when its toasted- it's like the slight charring brings out its flavor. Of course, we've gone beyond white bread (although it's still one of our favorites), and now we use buttermilk bread, potato bread, and sourdough, and we use so many different condiments, spreads, cheeses, deli meats and whatnot that I don't really have a favorite kind.
In recent years I've taken a liking to sweet and savory combinations, so mixing jellies and jams with meat has become something we enjoy. It seems to open a whole new world of options, having little hindrances of what we put on a sandwich anymore.

So when I eat a toasted sandwich, every now and then I think of how a single moment in a movie I haven't watched in years made a huge change in my taste for food. Normally these sort of things inspire me artistically or even spiritually, but in this case it's gastronomically.

UPDATE: So after a visit to my Grandma's house, and not wanting to use a toaster oven that was hard to reach, I've developed a taste for untoasted sandwiches with white bread. Go figure...

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Beatles and musical history: "Cayenne" and other instrumentals

It is often said that a rock band's live performance skills are measured by their ability to be spontaneous. This does not necessarily mean that they must know how to improvise, especially since so many great bands go without such things, but the ability to think on one's feet and cook up something great on the spot with no room for going back and fixing a mistake is, in my opinion, one of the truest tests of a musician's abilities. Even if you play a song straight, just that ounce of liveliness- as opposed to soullessly churning out a carbon copy of a previous performance- is what separates a good live band from a bad one.
Unlike other legendary bands from the '60s, such as Cream and Hendrix, The Beatles have never been known to be a jam band. This is mainly because once they became famous, they couldn't afford to play extended versions of their favorite rockers anymore, like they used to in their Hamburg days. Although unfortunately no recordings of hour-long renditions of "What'd I Say" are known to exist, a variety of unreleased recordings give us a taste of what we may be missing- although none seem to be quite as good as the stories say they were when they played live.

Of all the Beatles-penned instrumentals recorded in Paul's bathroom in the spring of 1960- which are of particular interest because they contain the only known recorded performances by Stuart Sutcliffe on bass- "Cayenne" is the only one to have a proper title. I honestly don't know where the name came from- my guess is that Paul listened to the tape during the making of Anthology and said "Oh yeah! That's 'Cayenne'." I suppose the only reason that it could be distinguished from the rest is because it's in a minor key.
It does stand out from the rest of the instrumentals for precisely that reason- while the rest are of a decidedly bluesy flavor, likely being centered around major chords and the minor pentatonic scale, "Cayenne" employs minor chords except for the V chord- making the chords i, iv, and V- while the lead guitar, curiously, uses mostly Dorian mode. It's highly unlikely that George knew this- all he knew, I'm sure, is that it sounded good. Occasionally, particularly for the V chord, he'll use a major seventh rather than a dominant seventh. At one point, he even strums a minor-major seventh-add 9 chord, which is famous for ending the James Bond theme- and Dr. No would not be released for another two years! Where he got the chord is a total mystery.
George later goes into some standard blues licks, and at one point he seems to run out of ideas and starts using the chromatic scale. It's doubtful that he knew the word "chromatic" at the time- he probably was thinking "this note is one fret away from the last".

The Beatles and musical history: "In Spite of All the Danger"

"In Spite of All the Danger" is the very first original composition that The Beatles recorded, although it certainly isn't the first song they ever wrote (that would be Paul's "I Lost My Little Girl"). Now that we've reached their original songs in this series, we'll be making comparisons to other songs that inspired them. We'll also find that it isn't always clear what inspired the song- often, its really only easy to determine that sort of thing when one of the Beatles actually describes the process.
Also, despite the amount of songs they wrote, performed, and admired from '58-'62, not all of them were recorded until much later. Despite this, I feel that it'd be less confusing and paint a much clearer picture of their early days to write about them early on, instead of writing about them after I've gone through a number of their solo albums.

For example: I plan to write about the cover songs and early compositions found on the Let It Be sessions, John Lennon's Rock 'n' Roll, Paul McCartney's Снова в СССР and Run Devil Run and other miscellaneous solo efforts after I write about The Beatles' 1960 home recordings and before moving on to the Tony Sheridan recordings- which is the approximate time period in which these songs entered The Beatles universe, so to speak.

"In Spite of All the Danger" is notable because it's the only song credited to McCartney/Harrison, although Paul himself has said that he wrote it himself and George just played the solo. I wouldn't be surprised if George came up with the song's particular fretwork, though. The song is sort your typical slow tempo doo-wop-ish, country-ish number that many a 1950s white singer within the rock/pop spectrum would sing- I've read once that it might be an attempt to emulate Elvis' "Trying to Get to You". Let's make a comparison, shall we?