Monday, August 6, 2012

And Your Bird Can Sing

It's insanity.

Dave Marsh once memorably wrote:
Cut at the same session as "Yesterday," sneaked out as the B side of "Help," not issued on an LP for many years, "I'm Down" is emblematic of the Beatles' full greatness. Because in the history of rock and roll, there was probably nobody else who could have come up with a with a letter-perfect update of Little Richard, right down to the gospel yowls, and there was certainly no one who could have then afforded to just throw it away. Other bands would have dredged a career out of that silly little electric organ alone.
I've always loved that. It cuts to the heart of just how great the Beatles were, or at least one reason—and that's the point. They were so great for so many reasons that you can pick out just one or two and, all by themselves, they'll be convincing arguments—or you can even throw away things like the fact that Paul McCartney is on the very shortest of short lists for Greatest Rock and Roll Bassists Ever, and that decent arguments can be made for either John Lennon or Paul McCartney as The Greatest Rock and Roll Singer Ever, and they were both in the same damn band. I mean, come on. But toss out those arguments, and you can still made a nearly watertight case for them being the best rock and roll band ever. It's just not fair, really.

Which brings us to "And Your Bird Can Sing." Pete Townshend may have coined the term "power pop," and some of the early Who and Kinks singles may perfectly embody the concept Townshend himself credited the Beach Boys for creating—so wonderfully carried on in the 70s and 80s by Big Star, the Raspberries, R.E.M. and the Replacements—but it's most closely associated with the Beatles, and with good reason.

Take, for example, oh, let's say, the aforementioned "And Your Bird Can Sing." Wonderful melody? Check. Amazing harmonies? Check. Kickass drums and spellbinding guitar riff? Check and check. Lyrics about boys and girls? Check. If someone wondered what power pop is, in less than two minutes you could illustrate it perfectly by playing them "And Your Bird Can Sing."

Now, how this relates to the almost insane greatness of the Beatles is this clip. It's an early version of the song, with the famous guitar parts slightly abridged and held until the solo section.

How on earth could someone listen to that absolutely perfect song, with its impeccable better-than-the-Byrds intro and think, "'s lacking." It's not! It's wonderful as is! But more unreal is the idea that someone listened to the (admittedly a bit sloppily played) guitar line in the solo and, rather than patting himself on the back for writing such an amazing part, thinking instead, "right...that can be improved upon"? It's not credible. How could someone then decide to scrap this entire recording and start all over from scratch a few days later? It's just unthinkable.

And yet that's what the Beatles did. They listened to the perfect intro and found it lacking. They listened to the guitar line and thought it could be better. And then John, Paul, George and Ringo went and improved something which was nigh upon perfection.

That's crazy. That's just not possible. That's just one more thing that's emblematic of the Beatles' full greatness.

1 comment:

  1. My favorite song by the Beatles.

    I love the story that Joe Walsh tells about this song - which is that he had no idea that two different guitars were playing the great riff that plays throughout this song - so he spent the better part of his teenage life trying to learn how to play it on one guitar! Only years later did he find out from Ringo that George and Paul played the parts on separate tracks. Hotel California certainly didn't suffer from his efforts.