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Friday, Oct 10, 2008

“Ask Me Why” was one of four songs that the Beatles played at Abbey Road Studios during their first recording session on June 6, 1962. Afterward, George Martin judged that this abundantly tender song wasn’t best suited for the Beatles’ debut single. That distinction would fall on “Love Me Do”, which is more instantly appealing and pop-wise than “Ask Me Why”. Conversely, the latter is a contained and low-impact affair that draws strength from the intricacy of its vocal arrangements.


On first contact, “Ask Me Why” comes off as little more than an earnest and submissive proclamation of love. Backed by an unassuming interaction of light guitar jangles, ticking percussion, and a lead guitar part lifted from a Miracles song, John Lennon, on vocals, anxiously plays the fool for his dearest: “Now you’re mine / My happiness still makes me cry.” Why the tears, John? “It’s not because I’m sad / But you’re the only love that I’ve ever had.” Evidently, he’s fallen hard for this girl. The one line that doesn’t seem vividly in sync with the lyric’s feverish tone is the opener—“I love you / ‘Cause you tell me things I want to know”—which, far from being an indifferent sentiment, is just clumsily romantic. Otherwise, it’s all over-the-moon devotion. As if to reinforce the song’s intent, John and Paul even wrote its second half as a mere reprise of the first, only without one of the verses and plus an additional chorus.


What elevates the lyric above maudlin fluff is the vibrancy of its actual expression, mainly undertaken by John and Paul. Indeed, the technical prowess and invention of its vocal patterns, which also borrowed from the work of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, keep “Ask Me Why” crisp and pleasantly buoyant.


It breaks down this way: The opening verse begins (I believe) with John, Paul, and George all in unison: “I love youuuu.” I’m not sure who sings exactly what, but at the end of “you”, both a straight “uuuu” and a “wu-wu-wu” are held out concurrently. Then, after John performs the verse’s next line by himself and a similar unison part follows, he does a different and longer section (“That I-I-I-I…”), flanked by “oooos” from Paul and George. Within just that half-minute, the vocals have already nimbly shifted here and there. Next comes another verse, succeeded by an exquisitely subtle bridge. On the first line—“I can’t believe”—John’s part is either doubled or Paul sings unison and blends in seamlessly. From there to the end of the bridge, the pair fade in and out of harmony, with Paul performing a series of “spot” harmonies: first on “it’s happened to me”, then on “of anymore”, and finally on “misery” (the latter two are in succession but Paul seems to alter his vocal between them, which makes for distinct parts). As I learned from a very helpful comment on a previous post, the “spot” harmony was a significant innovation that the Beatles brought to pop music. Lastly, the chorus features a unison vocal on “Ask me why” and, again, a couple of lines from John paired with backup “oooos”.


Beyond the draw of its changing patterns, what’s so rewarding and almost endearing about the vocal proficiency of “Ask Me Why” is how it exists in such small moments. Looking at the bigger picture, isn’t it remarkable to consider that part of the Beatles’ historic stamp on the pop world could unveil itself in the singing of just one word, like “misery”?


Tagged as: the beatles
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Friday, Oct 10, 2008
The Chemical Brothers come back with their best music video and song in years ... so why is it hard to care?

It’s here! It’s finally here!


That’s right: it’s the first jaw-droppingly fantastic music video from the Chemical Brothers that we’ve seen in some time!


Forgive the exclamation marks, but there’s a reason for such enthusiasm.  You see, from very early on, the Chemical Brothers were a powerhouse, spearheading the Big Beat electronica movement in the late 90s that wound up being shared with the likes of Daft Punk and Fatboy Slim, eventually opening doors for even crazier acts like Basement Jaxx to walk through.  Well, part of the charm of the Chemical Brothers has always been their visual element, as this is a band that constantly and reliably delivers excellent, fantastically entertaining music videos through and through.  When Astralwerks released the duo’s “Singles” collection a few years back, the accompanying DVD provided highlight upon highlight, as some of the greatest auteurs to ever control the medium had all had their hand in at least one Chem Bros. clip: Spike Jonze (“Electrobank”), Michel Gondry (“Star Guitar” and the incredible “Let Forever Be”), Chris Milk (“The Golden Path”), and many more.


Yet the Brothers have lapsed as of late, as the videos and singles from album Push the Button failed to make much of an impact, which turned out to be doubly true for their last effort, We Are the Night, as both “Do It” and the regrettable “Salmon Dance” showed that the duo were slowly, painfully running out of steam. 


So it’s nothing but a joy to find the Dom & Nic-helmed clip for “Midnight Madness”, the single from the Chem’s latest compilation Brotherhood, to be exactly what we’ve been waiting for.  Riding one of the must fluid and lucid beats the guys have come up with in years, the video—one of the rare ones to not have an image of the Bros. anywhere in it—features a glitter-suited demon creature coming out at night in some alley, gleefully engaging in jaw-dropping breakdance moves in a frentic display of body kineticism.  The clip is a mixture of well-done computer graphics and live dancing that work quite well in tandem.  It really has to be seen to be believed.


Yeah, maybe the Brothers are finally back on track ...


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Thursday, Oct 9, 2008
Musical taste and gender

The abstract of a new study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology suggests that girls don’t get “heavy music”:


The present study extended previous findings of gender differences in young people’s musical taste by examining whether identification with gender-related expressive or instrumental traits contributes to these differences, and by examining the underlying structure of musical taste by gender. The results confirmed greater liking of heavier contemporary music among men and of chart pop music among women. Gender was a stronger predictor of taste for gender-stereotyped styles than identification with gender-related traits. The structure of style preferences in dimensions relating to mainstream styles varied by gender. Men and participants with higher scores on expressiveness gave higher ratings to more styles. The findings are discussed in relation to gender differences in the use of music and gender-role socialization.


 


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Thursday, Oct 2, 2008

Paul McCartney has fondly remarked on the innocence of the Beatles’ early years, a time when they could perform a song that seemed keen on members of the male sex and not, as a result, inspire widespread idle chatter. The song, “Boys”, was in fact a noted crowd-pleaser and, judging by the glow of joy that their recorded version emits, also a favorite of the Beatles themselves.


Written by Luther Dixon and Wes Farrell, “Boys” is a busy and rhythmically perky rock tune that features Ringo’s debut as a lead vocalist. Ringo isn’t a natural, polished singer but neither is he entirely dismissible. His technical limitations can serve the purposes of the right material, like on self-mocking songs such as “Act Naturally” and “With a Little Help from My Friends”. On “Boys”, his shouty vocal style brings a spark to the already jaunty song while the accompanying screams, “bop-shuops”, and “yeah yeah boys” from John, Paul, and George make for a boisterous back-up section. The call-and-response dynamic is infectiously spirited. Ringo even delivers a shout-out to a fellow Beatle – “Alright, George” – before the latter proceeds into a guitar solo (which, like his composition on “I Saw Her Standing There”, is strangely patchy and untuneful. I have negligible knowledge of the early history of pop guitar solos. I can’t comment with authority on why George’s guitar-work, circa 1962-1963, might be the way it is beyond the fact of his very unfinished maturation as a musician. Even so, I don’t feel I’m terribly amiss in regarding those two solos as mis-hits).


In adapting the lyric from a female group (the Shirelles, of whom John was a big fan), to four males, the Beatles changed the verses so that, when Ringo alludes to intimacy with his significant other, he sings of kissing “her lips”. Within those lines, a girl is clearly the object of his affection. But the chorus remains unaltered (based on what I’ve read. I couldn’t find the original lyrics), meaning that what follows the claim of a heterosexual relationship are apparent exclamations to the contrary – “Well I talk about boys/Don’t you know I mean boys…/What a bundle of joy”. The effect, from the perspective of a listener, is a confusion of orientations. First Ringo mentions his girl but later he’s convincingly enthusiastic about the subject of boys. Even the song’s opening line is curious in a way. Ringo sings, “I been told when a boy kiss a girl/Take a trip around the world”, almost suggesting that he himself didn’t have experience in kissing a woman. Perhaps he didn’t want any. Thus, someone else had to describe the experience to him.


It’s hard to resist this sort of line-by-line, excessively innuendo-seeking analysis even when it’s obviously overkill. According to their testimonies, the Beatles didn’t harbor any scandalous intentions with “Boys”. The gay connotations of their cover were just incidental to the song’s addictively exuberant quality that attracted them in the first place.


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Wednesday, Oct 1, 2008

Good to see that former antichrist John Lydon is appearing in an ad for Country Life butter. Where would we be if punk hadn’t upended the establishment and ushered in a whole new set of values based on integrity, authenticity, and a refusal to support the status quo?


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