Music

The White Album: Side Two

It's the Beatles 'unplugged' -- from stardom, from pressures, from the friendship that held them together -- while simultaneously reaching inward and outward.

9. Martha My Dear

Primary Songwriter: McCartney

Recorded: October 4-5, 1968 at Trident Studios

A friend of mine once fell for a girl because when faced with an incomplete yet impressive catalog of Beatles songs in a pub jukebox, she chose this song. He needed no further convincing, beyond her beauty and charm, that she was the one for him: her choice of a deep cut rather than an overplayed hit proved she was unpredictable; her endorsement of something so explicitly Paul spoke to a sweetness typically absent from the alcohol-dictated arc of a barroom playlist; and her weakness for melodic jaunts into falsetto was not a weakness at all, actually, but a badge of honor to wear, proudly, while bounding back to the table in sync with the song's spritely rhythm.

It's those sudden falsetto lift-offs that really make "Martha My Dear" so irresistible: "Look what you've done!" and "...with each other, silly girl!" That, and McCartney's blossom-within-a-blossom-within-a-blossom melody, which moves through three distinct sections, each more rhythmically aggressive and infectious than the last. (And we should take a moment to remind everyone that yes, the song's subject shares a name with McCartney's Old English sheepdog; since the singer addresses her as "you silly girl", we can assume the song is an ode to a family pet, because why would a grown man speak that way to a woman? OK? Kinda like how "Got to Get You Into My Life" is about pot.) The first section ("Martha, my dear...") sounds like a combination of a barrelhouse piano vamp and British music hall; the second section ("Hold your head up, you silly girl...") brings in the pumping brass, which attempts to ground McCartney's increasingly lightheaded melody; and the third section ("Take a good look around you..."), a rock-band arrangement tackles an unexpectedly minor-key twist.

"Martha My Dear" was recorded soon after the band finished "Happiness Is a Warm Gun", and as Ian MacDonald suggested in his book Revolution in the Head, "it's possible that McCartney, his musical funnybone tickled by his partner's eccentricities, here set out to create something equally tricky for his own amusement". It's not as serpentine a song as "Happiness", but it does sound blessed with the same kind of budding creativity, as if the songwriter were discovering music for the very first time while in the midst of writing the song. It's one of the handful of songs on The Beatles that McCartney knocked out on his own: he laid down the instruments and vocals in two days at Trident Studios, even having extra time to work a little on "Honey Pie" while he was at it. It's pure McCartney all the way, this pretty little autonomous nugget that, like so many of his contributions to The Beatles, served as a prelude to imminent solo albums like McCartney and Ram.

I love the image of McCartney walking into the studio late one afternoon and hammering out this tune, as if it were an afterthought -- an aside, a thing of lesser consequence. Of course, "Martha My Dear" is none of these things; it's yet another precious metal hidden in The Beatles' rough. And if someone puts this on the jukebox at your neighborhood bar, then proceed directly to his or her heart.

-- Zeth Lundy

 

10. I'm So Tired

Primary Songwriter: Lennon

Recorded: October 8, 1968 at Abbey Road

The best thing about "I'm So Tired" is that it's a perfect example of Lennon just being Lennon. The song was written in Rishikesh, and expresses Lennon's growing ambivalence about the Maharishi and the experience in general. Apparently, all the meditation was, of all things, causing Lennon insomnia. A couple years after the trip, he said, "the funny thing about the camp was although it was very beautiful and I was meditating about eight hours a day, I was writing the most miserable songs on earth". Part of Lennon's grumpiness here is due to his missing a couple of his usual vices. As a listener, you become privy to the push-pull going on in Lennon's head. "I wonder, should I get up and fix myself a drink?" he asks, before answering his own question with a harried, "No, no, no!" Later, he admits, "Although I'm so tired, I'll have another cigarette." But instead of getting down on himself for giving into the vice, he goes after the man who helped popularize tobacco in the first place: "...and curse Sir Walter Raleigh, he was such a stupid git". Even in such a befuddled, lethargic state, the acerbic wit is sharp as ever. "I'm So Tired" is often compared to "I'm Only Sleeping" from Revolver. Some of the general sentiment may be the same, but there's something far more complex, even sinister, going on here.

Lennon thought his material for The Beatles was some of his best. The authenticity in Lennon's vocal definitely backs up that claim. By the time he sings, exasperated, "I'd give you everything I've got for a little peace of mind", you believe that at that moment, he would, custom-painted Rolls and all. How like Lennon to become so tortured on a soul-searching, meditative retreat. It's not his fault that in expressing his feelings he may have inspired a hundred latter-day rock stars to bitch about their rock 'n' roll lives.

Musically, "I'm So Tired" is fairly straightforward. Though parts of the original demo, including an extra verse, were trimmed, the track was recorded in a day's work. Lennon's shifty state of mind transfers perfectly to the music. To whatever extent they were "working solo" at this point, the Beatles remained peerless interpreters of each others' songs. The soulful, laconic feel of the verse shifts to the dirty, bluesy chorus like a rollercoaster cresting the first big hill. Starr's drumming lends to the illusion of a tempo change before, as musicologist Alan W. Pollack notes, McCartney's nonchalant little bass riff ushers the solipsism back in. And catch the agitation behind the bass/organ squawk at 1:54...one in an endless list of the Beatles' "little touches". At the time, Lennon's muttering at the end of the track was factored into the whole "Paul Is Dead" conspiracy. What he's saying, perhaps, is "Monsieur, monsieur, how about another one?" All this happens in about two minutes. Part of why "I'm So Tired" remains a favorite "White Album" track, and was one of Lennon's, is those two minutes are wonderfully, quintessentially him.

-- John Bergstrom

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