Monday, December 10, 2012

Let's start wrapping this shit up...

Sie Liebt Dich

Ooh, leftfield. While on tour in January 1964 The Beatles carried out the first of only two recording sessions abroad1. They recorded German language versions of I Want to Hold Your Hand and She Loves You, as well as the basic track for Can’t Buy Me Love. They were reluctant to do this, despite it being then music industry standard practice. There were no more lyric translations. In their own way The Beatles probably did as much to promote English around the world as Hollywood and the British empire.

Twist and Shout

This is another of The Beatles master-covers. The song was first made a hit by the Isley Brothers. On that occasion it was recorded with a loose, Latin swing. The Beatles transformed it into another hysterical blockbuster. They used it to close many shows. It was the last song recorded for the album Please, Please Me. John’s voice was on the point of giving out. The tension and energy is palpable throughout, and the sense of triumph at the end audible, Paul shouts “hey!”

USSR, Back in the

Could this have been Paul’s response to John’s Revolution? The John Birch Society thought so. It’s more generally considered to be a joke, albeit one at the expense of the Cold War itself3. Artists such as The Beach Boys and Chuck Berry lauded America, its localities, culture, traditions etc in song. Why wouldn’t a Soviet rock star do the same? Back in the USSR is an affectionate parody of California Girls. The point being a young man’s enthusiasms were the same either side of the Iron Curtain.

But there were no Soviet rock stars. The Beatles music was officially proscribed in Russia. But there was a thriving underground in Beatle (and other rock and roll) recordings, passed around on tape and, quite ingeniously, adapted x-ray plates.

Void, The AKA Tomorrow Never Knows2

The most spectacular piece of music they ever produced. The lead instrument on this occasion is the drums, lashing away over an insistent drone and lazy, lobbing melody. Nothing is spared in terms of aural trickery and for once the CGI serves to enhance the plot. The lyrics are an adaption of passages of Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert’s The Psychedelic Experience, a book intended as a socio-spiritual guide to LSD, which the authors saw as a modern sacrament and a mode of revolution.

The theory of psychedelic revolution is based upon Freudian theory of the personality. Put simply the basis of each personality is inner desire, the id, outward repression, the superego and the point where these meet, the ego or outward personality4. LSD dissolves the subject’s ego, their sense of self. By releasing the id and countering the superego, psychedelics affect an inner revolution of liberty against repression.

Even before dealing with the internal logic of an argument that treats liberated desire as unconditionally good, there are difficulties with such a model. Psychedelics demand time and energy, they are very difficult to absorb into everyday life. The demand to Turn On, Tune In and Drop Out is in the end elitist, those who drop out are those who can afford to. Revolutions do indeed change the way people perceive the world and themselves, but they do this because they change the way people relate to the world and each other. They overturn social relations, objective social relations.

  1. The second wasn’t quite a Beatles session. George Harrison recruited a group of Indian musicians to perform on his Wonderwall Music soundtrack. It was the first Beatles solo album. An off-cut instrumental became the basis of the song The Inner Light, the first George Harrison to make a single.
  2. We give the working title along with the published title in order to fill out the letter V.
  3. There is another story, relating to a whacky legend, that The Beatles played a secret gig (at some point, choose your own date) in Russia for the Nomenklatura and that the song is a reference to that occasion.
  4. Of course, censorship is internalised as self-censorship, personal ethics and so on, desire is often manufactured, people made to want things they would otherwise not desire.

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