Day 82: “Happiness is a Warm Gun”

When was it recorded?   Sept. 23-26, 1968

When was it first released, and on which album?   Nov. 22, 1968 on “The Beatles”

Who wrote it?   Lennon (with noteworthy contribution from Derek Taylor)

Have I heard this song before?   No

What my research dug up:

In the timeline of “Happiness Is…” sentiments, the phrase coiner was American cartoonist Charles Schultz’s comic strip, “Peanuts.” His “Happiness is a warm puppy” line inspired a number of imitators in the 1960s, including The American Rifleman magazine, which first boasted the headline, “Happiness is a warm gun.”

“George Martin showed me the cover of a magazine that said, ‘Happiness is a warm gun’. I thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say. A warm gun means you’ve just shot something.” — John Lennon (Anthology)

“Happiness” is admittedly three parts of three different Lennon songs combined. According to the Beatles Bible & Wikipedia, “The first section of the song was made up of phrases thought up by Lennon and Apple’s publicist Derek Taylor during an acid trip the pair experienced along with Neil Aspinall and Lennon’s childhood friend Pete Shotton.” Breaking this part down:

  1. “She’s not a girl who misses much” = an expression of approval in Liverpool (Beatles Bible)
  2. “She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand” = inspired by a glove fetishist Taylor met on the Isle of Man
  3. “Like a lizard on a window pane” = “a recollection from Taylor’s days living in Los Angeles” (BB) [Seriously, that’s all I get regarding that line? I figured there was more of a story behind it than that.]
  4. “The man in the crowd with the multicolored mirrors / on his hobnail boots” = inspired by “a Manchester City football fan who had been arrested after inserting mirrors into his footwear in order to see up the skirts of women during matches” (BB) [Keepin’ in classy, UK.]
  5. “Lying with his eyes while his hands are busy / working overtime” = inspired by a story Taylor heard “about a man who used false hands as an elaborate shoplifting technique” (BB)
  6. “A soap impression of his wife which he ate / and donated to the National Trust” = OK, no one’s sure where the soap impression wife came from (apart from the acid, I mean), but according to Taylor, “the eating of something and then donating it to the National Trust came from a conversation we’d had about the horrors of walking in public spaces on Merseyside, where you were always coming across the evidence of people having crapped behind bushes and in old air raid shelters. So to donate what you’ve eaten to the National Trust was what would now be known as ‘defecation on common land owned by the National Trust.’” (BB) [And I thought I was joking about keeping it classy above.]

The second part of the song about needing a fix would unarguably be a heroin reference if the person we were arguing the text with weren’t John himself. My sources don’t say he ever said these lines should be interpreted to mean something specific; he just denied they were about drugs.

According to the Beatles Bible, “The double-speed ‘Mother Superior jump the gun’ section, meanwhile, was inspired by his infatuation with Yoko Ono. Mother Superior was a name he used for her, and ‘jump the gun’ could be interpreted as a sexual metaphor.” I don’t know if I’m intrigued or horrified by this knowledge.

John recorded a demo of “Happiness” at George’s Esher home in May 1968. This version appeared on “Anthology 3.”

Under the working title “Happiness is a Warm Gun in Your Hand,” the Beatles recorded 45 takes on Sept. 23 and an additional 25 takes Sept. 24. Yowza. Wikipedia tells me the track was finished at 5:00 AM on Sept. 26.

Wikipedia also claims “Happiness” was “reportedly Paul McCartney’s and George Harrison’s favorite song on the White Album. Although tensions were high among the band during the album’s recording sessions, they reportedly collaborated as a close unit to work out the song’s challenging rhythmic and meter issues, and consequently considered it one of the few true ‘Beatles’ songs on the album.”

Unsurprisingly, given the subject matter, “Happiness” was banned by both US and UK radio stations.

“Happiness” is ultimately another Beatles song I find good but not a personal favorite.  I like the beginning and the “Mother Superior” breakdown, but the ending doesn’t do anything for me.  For it being three song ideas in one, I think John combined everything really well; the track is definitely cohesive.  Overall though, I just doesn’t trip my trigger.

 

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happiness_Is_a_Warm_Gun

http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/happiness-is-a-warm-gun/

http://www.iamthebeatles.com/article1163.html

Day 81: “Hallelujah I Love Her So”

When was it recorded?   Early 1960

When was it first released, and on which album?   Nov. 20, 1995 on “Anthology 1”

Who wrote it?   Ray Charles

Have I heard this song before?  Just the original

What my research dug up:

“Hallelujah I Love Her So” was originally written, recorded, and released as a single by American soul musician Ray Charles. Charles was massively prolific, but in case you missed out, he pioneered the common style of the soul genre by combining R&B, jazz, gospel, and blues themes into his songs. According to Wikipedia, “He also helped racially integrate country and pop music during the 1960s with his crossover success on ABC Records” and was one of the first African American musicians allowed artistic control of his own material by his record company. Rolling Stone magazine ranked Charles #10 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time and #2 on their list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time (Wikipedia). [Aside: Reading that Charles died ten years ago made me feel old.]

Charles recorded and released “Hallelujah” sometime in 1956; it found its way onto his self-titled album the following year. I like this live version from 1963 a little bit better.

Charles’ version peaked at #5 on the US Billboard R&B chart. “Hallelujah” also gained Charles a lot of recognition from other artists. In Nov. 1959, American rockabilly artist Eddie Cochran recorded a cover of “Hallelujah.” His recording was a hit in the UK in Feb. 1960. According to the Beatles Bible, this is the version of the song a young Paul McCartney purchased and played for the rest of the group (then the Quarrymen).

(Quality photograph right there.)

With Paul, John, and George on guitars and Stu on bass, the Quarrymen recorded their version of “Hallelujah” at Paul’s home in 1960.

Now, original bootlegs of the Beatles’ “Hallelujah” lasted around two and a half minutes and were in the key of A. For some reason, the version that appeared on “Anthology 1” was sped up, lasting less than one minute and a half and in the key of B flat. This is the Anthology version.

Gotta love that early quality. Here’s a bootleg version – sound’s still crunchy, but it’s closer to the original speed and key, plus George gets a guitar solo in.

Like many of their early covers, the Quarrymen/Beatles continued playing “Hallelujah” in their live shows. This version was recorded at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany in 1962. Quoth Wikipedia, “They dropped it soon after, and it was never attempted in the studio.”

Maybe it’s not a fair comparison considering how polished the original is and how rough the Quarrymen’s version is, but I greatly prefer Ray Charles’ version of “Hallelujah” to any of the cover versions.  Sound quality aside, there’s something in his performance that makes me believe he really is enamoured with his song’s subject.  That early into their careers, the Beatle boys just weren’t mature enough to convince me.

 

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hallelujah,_I_Love_Her_So

http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/hallelujah-i-love-her-so/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Charles

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Cochran

Day 80: “Got to Get You into My Life”

When was it recorded?  Apr. 7-11, May 18, and Jun. 17, 1966

When was it first released, and on which album?   Aug. 5, 1966 on “Revolver”

Who wrote it?   McCartney

Have I heard this song before?   Yes

What my research dug up:

Analyses of “Got to Get You into My Life” have a definite benefit from hindsight. Growing up knowing the song is a wink-wink-nudge ode to marijuana, what else could I interpret it as now? Kudos to making “Got to Get You” sound like a love song, though.

“’Got To Get You Into My Life’ was one I wrote when I had first been introduced to pot. I’d been a rather straight working-class lad but when we started to get into pot it seemed to me to be quite uplifting… I didn’t have a hard time with it and to me it was mind-expanding, literally mind-expanding. So ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ is really a song about that, it’s not to a person, it’s actually about pot. It’s saying, ‘I’m going to do this. This is not a bad idea.’ So it’s actually an ode to pot, like someone else might write an ode to chocolate or a good claret.” — Paul McCartney (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)

“Got to Get You” began with a sound radically different from the finished soul jam. On the first day, it was recorded with a harmonium backing. This Apr. 7 demo appeared on “Anthology 2.”

The Beatles rearranged and re-recorded the rhythm track the following day, mucked around with the guitar part for a bit, then let it sit until May. That’s when the brass, woodwinds, tambourine and organ came out to play. Eddie Thornton and Peter Coe from the British jazz group The Blue Flames (they backed Georgie Fame, not Jimi Hendrix) “performed along with other freelance jazz musicians” (Wikipedia) on the final, Motown-flavored recording.

Alan Pollack notes, “On very close listening… the finished recording seems surprisingly ‘dirty,’ with stray studio talk buried below the music near the beginning, and bleed-ins or some other kinds of ghostly remnants of earlier tracks not quite entirely mixed out of the official version. This is a reminder, on the one hand, of the rather primitive pre-digital techniques and equipment they had to deal with in the mid-sixties, but I’ll also stand by my earlier comment that this crufty audio quality is part of an intentional aesthetic here.” I could definitely pick out the studio chatter in the stereo version linked below.

According to Wikipedia, “The mono and stereo mixes of the recording feature different ad-libs in the fade-out — the presence of a second vocal track is also more subtle for most of the mono version. Backing vocals were recorded early but later eliminated.” Compare and contrast.

Stereo

Mono

Ten years after its recording/release, “Got to Get You” was released as a single on May 31, 1976, in the USA. Despite the band being broken up for six years, the single peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and was certified Gold.  Those wacky record distributors.

In my opinion, “Got to Get You” is one of Beatles songs that holds up best over time.  It doesn’t sound as dated as some of their earlier (Moptop) or later (Psychedelia) works.  Plus, it’s just a blast to listen to.

 

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Got_to_Get_You_into_My_Life

http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/got-to-get-you-into-my-life/

http://www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/DATABASES/AWP/gtgyiml.shtml

Day 79: “Good Night”

When was it recorded?  Jun. 28 and Jul. 2 & 22, 1968

When was it first released, and on which album?  Nov. 22, 1968 on “The Beatles”

Who wrote it?   Lennon

Have I heard this song before?  Yes(-ish)

What my research dug up:

Somewhat inverse of “Good Morning, Good Morning,” John wrote “Good Night” as a lullaby for his then-five-year-old son, Julian. Again, simple as that.

According to Wikipedia “George Martin’s arrangement is excessively lush, and intentionally so. Lennon is said to have wanted the song to sound ‘real cheesy,’ like a Gordon Jenkins-esque Old Hollywood production number.” I was thinking Bernard Herrmann again since we know Martin used him as a template before (Day 59: “Eleanor Rigby”), but Jenkins works, too. For reference, Jenkins was an American composer of the ‘40s and ‘50s known for working with Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Nat King Cole (and Johnny Cash, who doesn’t have anything close to the sound of the other three performers but whose music I adore, hence my mention).

Although penned by John, Ringo sings lead on “Good Night.” In fact, Ringo is the only Beatle to appear on this track, as studio musicians perform the backing arrangement and the Mike Sammes Singers perform the backing vocals.

“I think John felt it might not be good for his image for him to sing it, but it was fabulous to hear him do it, he sang it great. We heard him sing it in order to teach it to Ringo and he sang it very tenderly. John rarely showed his tender side, but my key memories of John are when he was tender, that’s what has remained with me: those moments where he showed himself to be a very generous, loving person. I always cite that song as an example of the John beneath the surface that we only saw occasionally…  I don’t think John’s version was ever recorded.” — Paul McCartney (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)

The first five takes of “Good Night” from Jun. 28 featured only Ringo singing and John on the guitar. A rehearsal of the song from the same date with Ringo singing and John on the piano did find its way onto “Anthology 3” (with part of the final orchestral score sneaking in at the end).

Ringo re-recorded vocals on Jul. 2 and backing vocals were added then. George Martin started working on his orchestral score on Jul. 2, too. However, some genius decided to discard everything and start all over on Jul. 22. (When I say “someone,” I’m not being vaguely sarcastic – I really couldn’t find who was responsible for that decision. Any clues, readers?)

I’m not sure how it happened, but I had previously heard only the instrumental version of this song (so everything minus Ringo + the Mike Sammes Singers).  (I was going to say “oddly enough,” and then I remembered far stranger things that have happened as a result of being in a concert band and realized it wasn’t that odd all-in-all.)

It’s a sweet song that hardly strikes me as something John Lennon of all people would have written.  A number of the reviews I read called the number “schmaltzy;” however, Alan Pollack argues “Good Night” is 100% necessary in the wake of “Revolution #9″ (which I have heard before).

“Where else could you put “Revolution #9?” Too early in the running order would make the rest of the album seem a bit anti-climactic at best. At worst, you could lose your audience well before you’ve trotted out your rest of your best stuff. Putting it at the very end lends it too much emphasis. Maybe put it on the end of one of the other sides, but maybe no one will be sufficiently motivated to turn the record over. Next to last fells just right. Now then, what kind of act… could possibly follow “Revolution #9?” You clearly need a sharp contrast, but exactly what kind? Virtually any other song from the album would sound a combination of anticlimactic, stylistically repetitive, underwhelming, or too weird. “Good Night” has the simultaneous virtues of providing musically archconservative ballast, a change of style as refreshingly surprising as anything else on the album, and a clever, self-referential way of telling you the music’s over.” — Alan Pollack, Notes on “Good Night”

 

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Night_%28song%29

http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/good-night/

http://www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/DATABASES/AWP/gn.shtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Jenkins

Day 78: “Good Morning, Good Morning”

When was it recorded?   Feb. 8 & 16 and Mar. 13, 28-29, 1967

When was it first released, and on which album?   Jun. 1, 1967 on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

Who wrote it?   Lennon

Have I heard this song before?   Yes

What my research dug up:

(I already have “Good Morning!” from “Singin’ in the Rain” stuck in my head, so this should be interesting.)

John was inspired to write “Good Morning, Good Morning” by a cereal commercial. Simple as that. Specifically, it was a commercial for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. According to him, “I always had the TV on very low in the background when I was writing and it came over and then I wrote the song” (David Sheff, All We Are Saying). I couldn’t find the exact commercial, but here’s Kellogg’s jingle from 1959, which opens with the same “good morning, good morning” lyrics.

According to Paul, “John was feeling trapped in suburbia and was going through some problems with Cynthia. It was about his boring life at the time – there’s a reference in the lyrics to ‘nothing to do’ and ‘meet the wife’; there was an afternoon TV soap called ‘Meet The Wife’ that John watched, he was that bored, but I think he was also starting to get alarm bells” (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)

Quoth Wikipedia, “The song has an unusual rhythmical feel and does not use the same time signature throughout. …The song has been transcribed as a mixture of 4/4, 3/4 and 5/4. Most of the song uses simple time, where the beats are divided into two, but the middle eight sections use compound time, where the beats are divided into triplets.” This happens because John wrote the lyrics first then concocted a melody to fit them. I admit, I admire that kind of ingenuity (as long as I’m not the one trying to transcribe the sheet music for it).

**Edit 4/13/14:  While looking for recordings of “Good Night,” I found this demo version of John performing “Good Morning, Good Morning.”  There’s no dating or other background information on the video, so take it with a grain of salt.  I thought it sounded legit though, so I’m adding it to the post.

Recording “Good Morning” breaks down as such:

  • Feb. 8 = 8 takes of rhythm track (the last was deemed the best)
  • Feb. 16 = Bass and vocal overdubs

The track as it sounded at this point in production appears on “Anthology 2.”

Hello, bass line! “Good Morning” then sat on the shelf for about a month before John asked George Martin to bring in British band Sounds Incorporated for additional backing.

Sounds Incorporated formed in 1961 and, quoth Wikipedia, “gained a local reputation in nearby South London for the fullness of their saxophone-led instrumental sound.” (I guess if that’s what you’re into…) The group backed a number of American artists visiting the UK, such as Little Richard and Jerry lee Lewis. Their singles and albums weren’t massively successful, but while touring in Hamburg and performing at the Star Club, Sounds Incorporated met the Beatles and a beautiful friendship began. Sounds Incorporated even opened for the Beatles on their 1964 world tour.

Back to “Good Morning” – on Mar. 28, more vocals and a guitar solo performed by Paul were added. Then John decided what this number really needed was animal sound effects.

“John said to me during one of the breaks that he wanted to have the sound of animals escaping and that each successive animal should be capable of frightening or devouring its predecessor! So those are not just random effects, there was actually a lot of thought put into all that.” — Geoff Emerick (chief sound engineer)

The last animal heard is a chicken, whose clucking “was so placed that it transforms into the guitar on the following track, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)’” (Wikipedia).  Huh.

Wikipedia also tells me the mono and stereo versions of “Good Morning” vary “due to a lengthier fadeout of animal noise.” There’s not a huge difference, but I’m posting both versions because of how different the mono and stereo panning strikes me on this track. I don’t usually find it that prominent but this was like a slap in the face.

Mono

Stereo

 

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Morning,_Good_Morning

http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/good-morning-good-morning/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sounds_Incorporated