Day 157: “Lovely Rita”

When was it recorded?   Feb. 23-24 and Mar. 7 & 21, 1967

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

Who wrote it?   McCartney

Have I heard this song before?   Yep

What my research dug up:

(I’ll have you know, it took a lot of self-restraint not to add “Meter Maid” to the title of this entry.)

According to the Beatles Bible, “Paul McCartney’s affectionate tale of a female traffic warden was originally written as an anti-authority satire. As McCartney later explained, ‘I was thinking it should be a hate song… but then I thought it would be better to love her.’” Charming. He wrote the tune at his father’s home in Liverpool and most of the song’s lyrics while walking around at his brother Michael’s house in Gayton.

About.com noted, “Although using females as parking attendants was already standard practice in the US, where they were somewhat pejoratively referred to as ‘meter maids,’ it was still something new to the UK, and Paul claims to have been inspired by an American newspaper article about one such “maid” named Rita.”

“There was a story in the paper about ‘Lovely Rita’, the meter maid. She’s just retired as a traffic warden. The phrase ‘meter maid’ was so American that it appealed, and to me a ‘maid’ was always a little sexy thing: ‘Meter maid. Hey, come and check my meter, baby.’” — Paul McCartney (Anthology)

However, a London parking attendant named Meta Davis (who ticketed Paul’s car outside Abbey Road studios earlier in 1967) believes she was the inspiration for the song.

“His car was parked on a meter where the time had expired. I had to make out a ticket which, at the time, carried a 10 shilling fine. I’d just put it on the windscreen when Paul came along and took it off. He looked at it and read my signature which was in full, because there was another M. Davies on the same unit. As he was walking away, he turned to me and said, ‘Oh, is your name really Meta?’ I told him that it was. We chatted for a few minutes and he said, ‘That would be a good name for a song. Would you mind if I use it?’ And that was that. Off he went.” — Meta Davies (Steve Turner, A Hard Day’s Write)

Paul doesn’t seem to remember this, so grain of salt and all that.

The Beatles began recording “Lovely Rita” Feb. 23, 1967. According to About.com, “’Lovely Rita’ was one of the simplest yet most entertaining recording experiences for ‘Sgt. Pepper,’ and somewhat unusual in that the band laid the basic track down all at the same time.” The Fab Four did eight takes of the rhythm track and decided to use the last take. Paul recorded vocals the next day, and then the song sat until March.

On Mar. 7, the Beatles added backing vocals and sundry strange sound effects. The most notable of these are the hummed-upon combs wrapped in tissue paper. Quoth the Beatles Bible, “The Beatles’ assistant Mal Evans was sent to collect paper from Abbey Road’s lavatory. Stamped with the words, ‘Property of EMI,’ the paper was threaded into hair combs and blown, giving a kazoo-like effect.” (I haven’t tried that trick since I was a kid, but I remember using waxed paper instead.)

Alan Pollack wrote in his Notes series, “I strongly suspect that [‘Lovely Rita’s’ piano] solo is not only played by George Martin but also recycles the ‘In My Life’ trick of recording it played an octave lower at half speed in order to sound in normal range but at close to humanly impossible speed on playback.” He was right on both counts. Per Geoff Emerick’s direction, Martin performed the solo on Mar. 21.

“I used to try out funny things in odd moments and I discovered that by putting sticky tape over the capstan of a tape machine you could wobble the tape on the echo machine, because we used to delay the feed into the echo chamber by tape. So I suggested we did this using a piano sound. The Beatles themselves couldn’t think what should go into the song’s middle eight and they didn’t really like my idea at first, but it turned out fine in the end because of the effect. It gave the piano a sort of honky-tonk feel. In fact, Paul asked me to play the solo when I made the suggestion but I was too embarrassed.” — Geoff Emerick (Mark Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions)

According to About.com, “The mono and stereo mixes are similar, yet the mono mix reveals John exclaiming ‘they’ll never believe it’ just before the final piano chord swoops in.” Let’s see if we can hear it.

(Is it messed up that I just asked you to see if you could hear something? I can’t think of a better turn of phrase right now – suggestions are welcome.)

Yeah, the mono version sounds way more dynamic to my ears, more alive.

Richie Unterberger gave “Lovely Rita” quite a lovely review, writing, “‘Lovely Rita’ was one of the more lighthearted songs on ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ and consequently one of the more critically overlooked. It was among the more tuneful tracks on the album, though, and while it wasn’t singles material or something destined to become a standard, it was a good example of principal composer Paul McCartney’s knack for ingratiating character sketches. (As one of the less exotic songs on the album, it also stood by itself, out of context from its surrounding compositions, more sturdily than some of the other selections did.)”

 

Sources

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

http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/lovely-rita/

http://www.allmusic.com/song/lovely-rita-mt0028722772

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

http://oldies.about.com/od/thebeatles/a/The-Beatles-Songs-Lovely-Rita.htm

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