Thursday, December 06, 2012

More derivative, unnecessary guff

Ob La Di Ob La Da

Paul's approximation of Blue Beat, Ob La Di Ob La Da was one of the first things to sour the White Album sessions. With Brian Epstein dead and George Martin withdrawing from his former role Paul stepped up as an all-purpose leader. The band were moving apart in terms of taste, lifestyle and personal priorities (and just plain growing up). Paul  was not the authority figure who could dragoon through the usual routine, he was just too close to the rest of the Beatles. No wonder the sessions rambled over seven months.

It's also an example of Paul's very different sexism to John. Of course to criticise The Beatles for being sexist is to criticise society for being sexist. Nonetheless John's muse was a woman and his attitude toward women was conflicted and often nasty, which made his art frequently compelling if sometimes queasy. When Paul wrote about women in general1 he was positively foursquare. This is the original song that says "if you like it then you should put a ring on it".

This of course changed with time.The Beatles went through the sixties and encountered the women's liberation movement. A shift perhaps in Paul's writing, Lady Madonna, a song that celebrates, perhaps even sentimentalises, but nonetheless acknowledges the relentless drudgery of working class motherhood, the genius of the mother who somehow makes ends meet.

Penny Lane

What would The Beatles projected album about Liverpool have sounded like or said? It's a fascinating prospect. Penny Lane is of course obliquely about James Penny, slave trader, anti-abolitionist and city father who had an area of the city named after him. Would a Beatles album about Liverpool touched on the source of the city's wealth?

But instead we have a prime piece of psychedelia. Penny Lane is every bit as far out as it's companion Strawberry Fields. As Revolution in the Head so clearly points out, in the lyric it's simultaneously summer and winter, rainy and shiny. The music is built on massed crotchet pianos, whose tone shifts relentlessly: listen next time.

1. His songs about Jane Asher were quite different and quite Lennonish, We Can Work It Out being a prime example.

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