Song of the Day: Travel in Music (Day Four). “Well It’s Alright, We’re Going to the End of the Line”.

The Traveling Wilburys were an English-American supergroup made up of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty.  The band recorded two albums, Traveling Wilburys (Vol. 1) (1988) and the mischievously and misleadingly titled Traveling Wilburys (Vol. 3) (1990).  Orbison died in December 1988, two months after the release of the first album.

Harrison had first mentioned the Traveling Wilburys during a radio interview with Bob Coburn on the Rockline Radio station in February 1988.  In answer to Coburn asking Harrison what he planned to do as a follow up to his 1987 album, Cloud Nine, Harrison replied:  “What I’d really like to do next is … to do an album with me and some of my mates ,,, a few tunes, you know.  Maybe The Traveling Wilburys … it’s this new group I got:  it’s called the Traveling Wilburys, I’d like to do an album with them and later we can do our own albums again”.

The band’s name derived from a slang term first used by Harrison during the recording of Cloud Nine with Lynne as producer.  ‘Wilbury’ referred to any small mistake in the performance, with Harrison saying to Lynne, “We’ll bury ‘em in the mix”.  Harrison originally suggested the name Trembling Wilburys for the band but Lynne suggested Traveling Wilburys, to which all members agreed.

The band name uses the American-English spelling, ‘Traveling’ in order to compliment the American / English membership of the band.  The ‘Wilbury’ joke was extended to the pseudonyms used by the band.  Taking on the guise of the Wilbury brothers, Harrison became Nelson Wilbury; Lynne became Otis Wilbury; Orbison became Lefty Wilbury and Petty became Charlie T. Jr. Wilbury.  Harrison had already used a number of pseudonyms in the past.  Take for example on The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).

Additionally, as a session musician, he had gone under names such as L’Angelo Misterioso, George O’Hara and Hari Georgeson.  The five men stated that they were half-brothers and sons of the fictional Charles Truscott Wilbury Sr.  The real names of the band members never appear anywhere on any Traveling Wilburys release.

The band began with a meal between Harrison, Lynne and Orbison.  Shortly afterwards, they convened at Dylan’s home in Malibu, California to record a B-side for Harrison’s single, This Is Love (Cloud Nine, 1987).  Petty’s involvement came by chance due to Harrison leaving his guitar at Petty’s house.  When Harrison went to collect it, he took Petty back with him.  The resulting song was Handle with Care.  Those involved in the recording and Harrison’s record label felt that the song was too good to be thrown away on a single flipside and the five friends set out to record an entire album.  Recording took place in the home and garden of Eurythmics member, Dave Stewart.  Handle with Care is the opening cut on the resulting album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1.

The theme of travelling in the music of the Traveling Wilburys is most prevalent on the band’s second single and closing track of Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, End of the Line.  The single was released in January 1989.  The riding-on-the-rails rhythm of the song compliments the travel by train themed lyrics and the on-the-move nature of the band.  The whole band take on main vocal duties on the song, with the exception of Dylan.  Harrison, Lynne and Orbison take turns in singing the chorus whilst Petty sings the verses.  By the end of the song, the riding-on-the-rails rhythm has expanded into a freight train style rhythm.  Due to the video for the single being shot after the death of Orbison, the band opted to pay tribute to him with a single shot of a guitar sitting in a rocking chair next to a photo of their late friend.  The video shows the band members in a carriage of a steam train playing the song.

The song’s title refers to the train’s last stop whilst the lyrics contain the folk style wisdom derived from the band members’ past experiences.  As the song starts, Harrison takes the lead vocal with backing vocals from the other Wilburys.  The opening chorus sets the scene for the song, portraying the band members as free spirits:  “Well it’s all right, riding around in the breeze, Well it’s all right, if you live the life you please, Well it’s all right, doing the best you can, Well it’s all right, as long as you lend a hand”.

In the first verse, with lead vocals by Petty, the band tell of how they are unconstrained by every day things:  “You can sit around and wait for the phone to ring, Waiting for someone to tell you everything, Sit around and wonder what tomorrow will bring, Maybe a diamond ring”.

Following this, the second chorus, with lead vocals by Lynne finds the band telling the listener not to take any notice of what anybody else says:  “Well it’s all right, even if they say you’re wrong, Well it’s all right, as long as you got somewhere to lay, Well it’s all right, everyday is Judgement Day”.

Verse two, with lead vocals from Petty, finds the narrator thinking of somebody he has left behind:  “Maybe somewhere down the road aways, You’ll think of me, wonder where I am these days, Maybe somewhere down the road where somebody plays, Purple Haze”.  “Purple Haze” refers to the Jimi Hendrix song, Purple Haze.  Purple Haze was released as the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s second single in 1967 and was the opening song on the North American edition of his debut album, Are You Experienced?, also released in 1967.  Here, Petty is expecting his muse to associate the song with him whilst she is thinking of him.

The third chorus, with lead vocals by Orbison, continues the joyous celebration of being unfettered by worrying about the troubles of life:  “Well it’s all right, even when push comes to shove, Well it’s all right, if you got someone to love, Well it’s all right, everything’ll work out fine, Well it’s all right, everything’ll work out fine, Well it’s all right, we’re going to the end of the line”.  This verse is poignant due to “the end of the line” being an analogy for death as well as the end of the railway line.

The third verse, with lead vocals by Petty, tells of how the narrator cares little about material possessions and states that he doesn’t even mind if anybody is “by his side”, perhaps meaning a loved one or those who criticise him in general:  “Don’t have to be ashamed of the car I drive, I’m glad to be here, happy to be alive, It don’t matter if you’re by my side, I’m satisfied”.

The fourth chorus, sung by Harrison, begins with the lines, “Well it’s all right, even if you’re old and grey, Well it’s all right, you still got something to say”.  When the band formed, Harrison was 45 years old Dylan and Orbison were even older.  Whilst traditional societies have often emphasised the wisdom of older people, modern rock music usually considers even the relative middle age of 45 as being too old to be relevant.  This verse is notable for being adapted as the theme tune for the BBC series New Tricks (2003 – present) and sung by cast member Dennis Waterman.

As the fourth chorus continues, we find the line “Well it’s all right, remember to live and let live”.  “Live and let live” was the name given to the strategy used by soldiers of both sides in World War One to avoid killing each other if it could be helped, often via the negotiation of truces between low-ranking soldiers.  The war was essentially a pointless one, with the common man not having much to gain or a cause to fight for.  As a result, these truces were quite common.  The most famous truce occurred on Christmas Day, 1914 when the opposing sides took part in a football match.  Unfortunately, such truces were easily broken with high ranking officers organising raids to encourage the violence to start again or disciplining soldiers for cowardice if they objected to killing.  The punishment for cowardice was death.  In the context of this song, however, “live and let live” means something akin to “let sleeping dogs lie”; i.e. live your life without harming others if necessary.  The final line of the fourth chorus, “Well it’s all right, the best you can do is forgive” suggests that we should forgive those who have wronged you in order to be free of bitterness and therefore, happy.

The song comes full circle with the final chorus, with lead vocals by Harrison, which starts with the same two lines found in the first chorus.  The verse continues with the line, “Well it’s all right, even if the sun don’t shine”.  The sun and clouds were reoccurring metaphors in Harrison’s songs, representing peacefulness and clarity.  For the best examples of this, see All Things Must Pass (All Things Must Pass, 1970); …

… Blow Away (George Harrison, 1979) …

… and Here Comes the Sun (The Beatles, 1968).

The song and the journey are neatly brought to a close with the line, “Well it’s all right, we’re going to the end of the line”.

In 2000, End of the Line was used at the close of the last episode of BBC television comedy One Foot in the Grave, Things Aren’t That Simple Anymore.  The song was played over a montage of clips from the lifetime of the show, following the death of its main character, Victor Meldrew.  Interestingly, Eric Idle, who provided provided the liner notes for Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 under the pseudonym Prof. Tiny’ Hampton, wrote and sang the theme tune for One Foot in the Grave.

The Long and Winding Road and Nine Other Songs About Roads. The Long and Winding Road Becomes The Beatles’ Last US Number One Single. This Day in History, 13/06/1970.

1.  Bruce Springsteen ‘Thunder Road’

(from the album Born to Run, 1975).

2.  The Wedding Present ‘Interstate 5’

(from the album Take Fountain, 2004).

3.  The Go-Betweens ‘The Wrong Road’

(from the album Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express, 1986).

4.  Elton John ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’

(from the album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, 1973).

5.  Bob Dylan ‘Highway 61 Revisited’

(from the album Highway 61 Revisited, 1965).

6.  Chris Rea ‘The Road to Hell (Parts 1 & 2)’

(from the album The Road to Hell, 1989).

7.  Tom Robinson Band ‘2, 4, 6, 8 Motorway’

(single A-side, 1977).

8.  A-Ha ‘Stay On These Roads’

(from the album Stay On These Roads, 1988).

9.  Talking Heads ‘Road to Nowhere’

(from the album Little Creatures, 1985).

10. The Beatles ‘The Long and Winding Road’

(from the album Let It Be, 1970).

Song of the Day: Music Inspired by Television Shows (Day Seven). “‘Cause I’m the Taxman, Yeah, I’m the Taxman”.

Taxman by The Beatles, from their 1966 album Revolver, is undeniably one of the greatest album openers in music history.  A quick, sharp song informed by a pounding bassline which has inspired generations of future musicians, a unique and beautifully executed lead guitar line and topical lyrics which slated Harold Wilson’s government and in particular, their taxation policies, have made Taxman one of The Beatles’ many finest moments.

Written by George Harrison, and becoming one of his best known works for The Beatles, it is the only Harrison-penned track to take premier position on a Beatles album, testament to how strong the main songwriters, John Lennon and Paul McCartney knew it was.  In fact, this was a time when Harrison’s song writing for the band was at its zenith, acknowledged by three of his songs, the most on any Beatles album apart from The Beatles (1968), being featured on Revolver:  Taxman, the Indian-tinged Love You To and the beautiful I Want to Tell You.  Taxman was actually one of the first songs that Harrison had written but became the sixth song to be featured on a Beatles record.

Musically, Taxman was inspired by the theme tune to the 1960’s TV series Batman (1966 – 1968), of which Harrison was a big fan.  Take for instance, the way in which the word “Taxman” is sung in a similar manner to “Batman” in the TV theme.

The Batman theme was originally written by conductor and trumpeter Neal Hefti and covered by surf rock group The Marketts, who released the song as a single in January 1966, reaching number 17 in the US singles chart.  It could be said that Harrison humorously draws comparisons between the ‘civil servant superhero’ in the song and Batman himself.

Over the years, there has been some confusion as to which of The Beatles’ played the lead guitar part on the song.  According to various interviews, McCartney played the distinctive lead guitar part.  In addition McCartney also played the song’s much imitated bassline, which itself is said to imitate the work of bassist James Jamerson, famous for his work on many 1960s soul records, including Wilson Pickett’s In the Midnight Hour (from the album In the Midnight Hour, 1965).

In a 1984 interview with Playboy, McCartney stated, “George wrote that and I played guitar on it”.  In a 1977 interview with Crawdaddy, Harrison said:  “I helped out such a lot in all the arrangements.  There were a lot of tracks though where I played bass.  Paul played lead guitar on Taxman and he played guitar – a good part – on Drive My Car [Rubber Soul, 1965]”.

Seth Swirsky, who worked as a staff songwriter before producing the Beatles documentary, Beatles Stories, said in a 2010 interview with Songfacts:  “I think Paul McCartney was one of the greatest guitar players of the ‘60s.  Nobody really recognised him as an electric guitar player, or an acoustic guitar player, but his leads on Taxman and on different songs that you think George played, they ripped.  I think George is great, but when Paul played lead on some songs, they tore.  They were just very unique.  There’s no one like Paul McCartney in the history of the world”.

In his book, Here, There and Everywhere:  My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles (2006), Geoff Emerick said of the recording session for Taxman:  “There was a bit of tension on that session, though, because George had a great deal of trouble playing the solo – in fact, he couldn’t do a proper job of it when we slowed the tape down to half speed.  After a couple of hours of watching him struggle, both Paul and George Martin started becoming frustrated.  This was a Harrison song and therefore not something anyone was prepared to spend a whole lot of time on.  So George Martin went into the studio and, as diplomatically as possible, announced that he wanted Paul to have a go at the solo instead.  I could see from the look on Harrison’s face that he didn’t like the idea one bit, but he reluctantly agreed and then proceeded to disappear for a couple of hours.  He sometimes did that – had a bit of a sulk on his own, then eventually came back”.  Emerick then dubbed McCartney’s eventual guitar solo onto another piece of tape and cut it into the end of the song; therefore, the guitar solo in the middle of the song is exactly the same guitar solo which features in the song’s fade out.  In a 1987 interview with Guitar magazine, Harrison said, “I was pleased to have Paul play that bit on Taxman.  If you notice, he does a little Indian bit on it for me”.

Additionally, Lennon remembers Harrison asking for assistance in the song’s lyrics.  In a 1980 interview with Playboy, he said:  “I remember the day he [Harrison] called to ask for help on Taxman, one of his first songs.  I threw in a few one-liners to help the song along, because that’s what he asked for.  He came to me because Paul wouldn’t have helped him at that period.  I didn’t want to do it … I just sort of bit my tongue and said OK.  It had been John and Paul for so long, he’d been left out because he hadn’t been a songwriter up until then”.

Lyrically, Taxman attacks the high levels of progressive tax taken by the British Labour government of Harold Wilson.  Of the song’s lyrics, Harrison said, in his 1980 autobiography, I, Me, Mine:  “Taxman was when I first realised that even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes.  It was and still is topical”.  As their earnings placed then in the top tax bracket in the United Kingdom, the Beatles were liable to 95% supertax, something that had been introduced by Wilson’s labour government.  The 95% supertax is mentioned in the song’s lyrics, for example, “Let me tell you how it will be, There’s one for you, nineteen for me, ‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman”.  “One for you, nineteen for me” refers to the fact that for every twenty pounds the band and other ‘super-rich’ people earned, nineteen was taken by the taxman.  This high rate of taxation, which added a full 15% on top of the tax for less wealthy people, eventually led to The Beatles starting Apple Corp.  By channelling their income through Apple, they could pay the much lower rate of corporation tax.  The supertax was also the subject of The Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon, from the album Face to Face, released in the same year as Revolver.

The second verse continues the slating of the supertax and referring to the five per cent left over after the taxman had had his cut, “Should five per cent appear too small, Be thankful I don’t take it all, ‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah I’m the taxman”.  The line “Be thankful I don’t take it all” could be seen to echo the famous remark made by former Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, in 1957, that “most of our people have never had it so good”.  Whilst the British economy of the time was strong, many people had considered this statement to be dismissive and condescending.

The final two verses of the song move into the territory of exaggeration; such was Harrison’s frustration with the supertax.  Firstly, there is the verse, “If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street, If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat, If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat, If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet”.

Following this, the songwriter questions where the where the money the band paid was going, with the taxman feeling that he does not have to give an explanation:  “Don’t ask me what I want it for, If you don’t want to pay some more, ‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman”.

The lyrics in the final verse of the song, “Now my advice for those who die, Declare the pennies on your eyes …” refers to the way in which, in Greek history, pennies would be put over the eyes of a dead person as payment to the ferryman carrying the body to the underworld.  In this verse, Harrison is suggesting that the taxman is so ruthless that he would even go as far as taxing those pennies; which in effect, would cause your body to drift into some sort of purgatory.

The backing vocals in the fourth verse of Taxman, “Haha, Mr Wilson” and “Haha, Mr Heath” were suggested by Lennon upon Harrison asking him for help writing the song, with “Mr Wilson” referring to Harold Wilson, prime Minister and leader of the Labour party and “Mr Heath” referring to Edward Heath, the leader of the Conservative Party.  Wilson had nominated all four Beatles as Members of the Order of the British Empire a year before the release of Revolver.  As heard on Take 11 of Taxman, featured on Anthology 2, released in 1996, the spaces in the song which came to feature the chanted names were originally filled by the lyrics, “Anybody got a bit of money?”

As with a vast majority of Beatles songs, Taxman has had a lasting legacy on British music, with bands often just stealing parts of song’s innovative composition for their own.   For example, on their 1980 album, Sound Affects, The Jam included Start!, which pays homage to McCartney’s bassline and guitar part.  Start! reached number one in UK singles chart in August 1980.

The Jam also used the bassline from Taxman on their previous single, Dreams of Children, a double A-side with Going Underground (1980), which also reached number one in the UK singles chart.  This time, the bassline was played as the lead guitar riff.

Interestingly, the Batman theme which had partly inspired Taxman, was covered by The Jam on their debut album, In the City, in 1977.

Meanwhile, Harrison would later allude to Taxman on his 1988 single, When We Was Fab, from the album Cloud Nine (1987), in the line “Back when income tax was all we had”.

Song of the Day: Music About Other Artists (Day Three). Lennon vs. McCartney: “So Sgt. Pepper Took You By Surprise …”

The dissolution of The Beatles had been a turbulent affair for all involved.  Although Let It Be (1970) was the final Beatles album to be released, it had been largely recorded prior to Abbey Road (1969).  The idea for Let It Be, originally titled Get Back, had come from Paul McCartney, who made the suggestion of recording an album of new material, rehearsing it and performing it before a live audience on a one hour television special called Beatles at Work.  Producer George Martin has said that the project was “not at all a happy recording experience.  It was a time when relations between the Beatles were at their lowest ebb”.

John Lennon described the sessions as “hell … the most miserable on Earth” and George Harrison similarly stated that they were “the low of all-time”.  Harrison had been so irritated by fighting between Lennon and McCartney that he walked out for five days.  On his return to the fold, he threatened to leave the band unless they “abandon[ed] all talk of live performance” and instead focused on finishing a new album.  He also demanded that they cease work at Twickenham Studios and relocate to the newly finished Apple Studio.  His band mates agreed and the idea came about to salvage the material shot for the TV production for use in a feature film.

So advanced were the tensions within the band that Harrison invited American virtuoso keyboardist Billy Preston to participate in the final nine days of the recording sessions.  Preston received a label credit on the Get Back single, released on the 11th April 1969.  Other than Tony Sheridan in 1962, Preston was the only artist outside of the four Beatles to receive this honour.

Preston was known as a top session musician in the 1960’s, having already worked alongside Little Richard, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles.  He would go on to achieve fame as an artist in his own right, releasing the album That’s the Way God Planned It on The Beatles’ Apple Records in 1969 and scoring a UK number 11 hit with the title track of the album.

At the end of the rehearsal sessions, the band could not agree on a location to film a concert.  They rejected several ideas, including a boat at sea, a lunatic asylum, the Tunisian desert and the Colosseum before finally deciding on filming what would become their final live performance on the rooftop of the Apple Cops building at 3 Saville Row, London, on the 30th January 1969.

By the time it came to assembling an album, The Beatles were in such disarray that engineer Glyn Johns, whom has been described as the project’s uncredited producer, was given free rein as the band had virtually washed their hands of the entire project.

The band was put under further strain by the arrival of financial adviser, Allen Klein.  The need for a financial adviser had been evident since the death of original manager Brian Epstein on the 27th August 1967.  Klein had previously managed the Rolling Stones and Sam Cooke.  Arguments between the band members erupted once again due to McCartney wanting John Eastman, brother of Linda Eastman whom McCartney had married on the 12th March 1969, to manage the band.  In order to appease McCartney, both Klein and Eastman were appointed but further conflict ensued and financial opportunities were lost.  On the 8th May 1969, Klein was named sole manager of the band.

Following the miserable experience that was the Get Back sessions and such was the ill feeling in The Beatles camp, Martin was surprised when McCartney asked him to produce another album.  The recording sessions for what would become Abbey Road started on the 2nd July 1969 and were equally fraught.  Lennon rejected Martin’s proposed format of a “continuously moving piece of music”, instead wanting his and McCartney’s songs to occupy separate sides of the album.  The finished format of standard individually composed songs on the first side of the album and the second side largely consisting of a medley was McCartney’s suggested compromise.

On the 4th July 1969, Lennon became the first Beatle to release a solo single, Give Peace A Chance, credited to the Plastic Ono Band.

The completion and mixing of the Lennon penned song I Want You (She’s So Heavy) on the 20th August 1969 marked the last time that all four Beatles were together in the same studio.

Lennon announced his departure from The Beatles to the rest of the band on the 20th September 1969 but agreed not to make a public announcement in order to avoid denting the sales of the forthcoming Abbey Road album, due to be released six days later.  The album sold 4 million copies within three months and remained at the premier position in the UK charts for a total of seventeen weeks.  Harrison’s composition Something was released as a single, notable for being the only Harrison song to appear as a Beatles A-side.

Abbey Road was met with mixed reviews, although the medley was generally acclaimed.  Whilst Martin describes Abbey Road as his personal favourite Beatles album, Lennon felt it was competent but lacking life.

On the 3rd of January 1970, the final song, Harrison’s I Me Mine, was recorded for the Get Back album.  Lennon, who was in Denmark at the time, declined to participate.

Klein was unhappy with the work that Johns had done on the project, and following the change of the album’s name to Let It Be, the session tapes were given to Phil Spector, who had recently produced Lennon’s solo single Instant Karma!

On receiving the tapes, Spector edited, spliced and overdubbed several of the recordings which had been intended to have the ‘live’ sound.  McCartney was horrified with the results and particularly criticised the orchestration work carried out on The Long and Winding Road, which included a fourteen voice choir and a 36 piece instrumental ensemble.  When his demands that the alterations to the song be reverted were ignored, McCartney announced his departure from the band on the 10th April 1970, just a week before the release of his debut solo album, Paul McCartney.

The Let It Be album was released on the 8th May 1970 with the version of The Long and Winding Road which McCartney hated so much being released as the lead single in the United States, but not in Britain.  The Let It Be documentary film followed later that month and went on to win the 1970 Academy Award for Best Original Song Score.  Meanwhile, legal disputes between the Beatles continued long after the band’s break up and the dissolution was not made formal until the 29th December 1974.

As for the Let It Be album, Spector’s production work remained a bone of contention for McCartney for many years, until 2003 when he was the driving force behind Let It Be … Naked:  A presentation of the album in the form that he felt it should have been released in, complete with The Long and Winding Road without the production treatments which had finally forced him to quit the band.

Whilst the Beatles fought out their differences in the courts, McCartney and Lennon were also busy fighting each other on their subsequent solo releases.  On his second solo album, Ram (1971), McCartney and wife Linda made a barely concealed attack against Lennon on the opening track, Too Many People.  The song starts with the words “Piss off, cake”, a slur which McCartney would eventually admit was aimed at Lennon in an interview with Mojo Magazine in 2001:

“Piss off, cake.  Like, a piece of cake becomes piss of cake, and it’s nothing, it’s so harmless really, just little digs.  But the first line is about “too many people preaching practices”.  I felt John and Yoko were telling everyone what to do.  And I felt we didn’t need to be told what to do.  The whole tenor of the Beatles thing had been, like, each to his own.  Freedom.  Suddenly, it was “You should do this”.  It was just a bit the wagging finger, and I was pissed off with it.  So that one got to be a thing about them”.

The insults directed at Lennon on Ram did not go unnoticed by McCartney’s former songwriting partner and his wife, Yoko Ono.  They, and the record buying public, also noted lines such as “You took your lucky break and broke it in two”.  In an interview with Playboy in 1980, Lennon said of the damning lyrical content of Ram:

“There were all the bits at the beginning of Ram like “Too many people going underground”.  Well that was us, Yoko Ono and me.  And “You took your lucky break”, that was considering we had a lucky break to be with him”.

Additionally, Ram also featured the equally bitter song 3 Legs, in which McCartney uses the idea of a dog with three legs (“My dog, he got three legs, But he can’t run”) as a metaphor for the other three members of The Beatles, suggesting that they would never amount to anything without him.  The song also contains lyrics such as “Well, when I thought, well, I thought, When I thought you was my friend … But you let me down, ho, Put my heart around the bend” and “My dog he got three legs, your dog he got none”.

Already angry at the attacks delivered towards him on Too Many People, 3 Legs only served to exacerbate Lennon’s rage.   Also, on viewing the artwork for the Ram album, he noted the significance of the picture of two stag beetles mounting each other.  It would seem that McCartney was throwing down the gauntlet and Lennon was all too pleased to oblige.

In a game of one-upmanship which had started with McCartney pipping him to the post by being the first Beatle to publicly quit the sinking ship, Lennon penned a retort to his former band mate.  The resulting song, How Do You Sleep? was featured on Lennon’s second solo album Imagine (1971).  Particularly citing the insults directed at him on Too Many People as ammunition, Lennon pulled no punches in his assassination of his former bandmate.

How Do You Sleep? starts with the sound of an orchestra warming up in reference to The Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and in particular its title track, the concept of which was introduced to the band by MacCartney.

Following this, we find the first incendiary lines, “So Sgt. Pepper took you by surprise, You better see right through that mother’s eyes”.  The use of the word “mother”, a shortened version of the swearword ‘motherfucker’ is a rather direct retort to the “Piss off, cake” utterance in McCartney’s Too Many people.  This opening is also a further attempt on Lennon’s part to disassociate himself from The Beatles in order for him to be seen as an individual and solo artist.  This idea of severing all ties with his Beatles past was first seen on his song God from previous album John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band (1970) …

… which featured lines such as “Don’t believe in Beatles , I just believe in me …” and “I once was the walrus [in reference to The Beatles’ I Am The Walrus (1967)], but now I’m John”.

Following this, the line “Those freaks was right when they said you was dead” refers to the Paul is dead hoax, a conspiracy started by American college students in 1969.  The conspiracy suggested that McCartney has died following a car crash in 1967 and had been replaced by a doppelganger.  The students published articles claiming that clues to McCartney’s death could be found amongst the lyrics and artwork of the Beatles’ recordings.  This clue-hunting proved infectious and within a few weeks it had become an international phenomenon.  Clues were said to include a message saying “Turn me on, dead man” when Revolution 9, from The Beatles (1968) is played backwards …

… and the utterance of “I buried Paul” at the end of Strawberry Fields forever (1967), words which Lennon stated were actually “Cranberry sauce”.

In addition to the hundreds upon hundreds of suggested allusions to McCartney’s death, the cover photo of the Abbey Road album was said to symbolise a funeral procession, with Lennon, dressed in white, symbolising a clergyman or heavenly figure; Ringo Starr, dressed in black, symbolising either an undertaker or mourner; George Harrison, dressed in denim jeans and shirt, symbolising the gravedigger and finally, McCartney, shoeless and out of step with the other Beatles, symbolising the corpse.  In November 1969, McCartney gave an interview with Life Magazine in order to dispel the rumours.  In this line, Lennon is saying that McCartney is dead to him.

Following this, the line “The one mistake you made was in your head” is a retort to McCartney’s lines in Too Many People, “That was your first mistake” and “That was your last mistake”.  Following this, we find the song’s title sung as the refrain.  “How do you sleep?” is sung a total of eight times throughout the song, just in case McCartney didn’t get the point the first time.

The line “You live with straights who tell you you was king” are a gilded attack on the egotism that McCartney had displayed on Too Many People and 3 Legs, suggesting that he associates himself with sycophants who feed his ego.  “Jump when your momma tell you anything” displays McCartney as a ‘Mummy’s boy’.  This line can be seen as slightly hypocritical on Lennon’s part as whilst McCartney also lost his mother at a young age, the loss of Lennon’s mother, Julia, in a traffic accident in 1958 when Lennon was 17, was a major source of insecurity and fed many of his lyrics.  Obvious examples include Julia (The Beatles, 1968) …

… and Mother (John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band, 1970).

This line is also a jab at McCartney’s title track of the Let It Be album which proved to be the band’s downfall, in which McCartney sings, “And in my hour of darkness, Mother Mary comes to me”.

Lennon further rubbishes McCartney’s back catalogue on the line “The only thing you done was yesterday, And since you’ve gone you’re just another day”.  The first song to be poked fun at in this double-pronged attack is Yesterday (Help!, 1965) …

… and the second is McCartney’s solo single, Another Day, released earlier in 1971.

The song’s outro begins with the lines, “A pretty face may last a year or two, But pretty soon they’ll see what you can do”.  This lyric refers to the way in which McCartney was often seen as the “pretty face” of The Beatles and suggests that McCartney is all front and no substance.  The following lines, “The sound you make is muzak to my ears, You must have learned something in all those years” are an equally debasing line which further states Lennon’s low opinion of McCartney’s increasingly sentimental songs, first expressed towards the end of The Beatles when he described McCartney’s lyrics as “granny music shit”.  The song that attracted such scorn from Lennon was Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (The Beatles, 1968).  The outro of How Do You Sleep? could be read as entirely referring to Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, with the words “A pretty face” also referring to a mistake that McCartney made whilst singing the song.  In the last verse, the line “Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face” was supposed to be “Molly stays at home and does her pretty face”.   Desmond.  Apparently, this mistake was kept in the song because the other Beatles, even Lennon, liked it.

To add further insult, Lennon even enlisted George Harrison to play slide guitar on the song and in the 1971 film Imagine, with Harrison playing alongside him, Lennon sings, “How do you sleep, ya cunt” before asking the engineer to stop recording.  Additionally, whilst Lennon is credited with writing the song alone, multiple reports suggest that Yoko Ono and Allen Klein, now Lennon’s manager, also contributed lyrics.  Ringo Starr visited the studio during the recording of the song and was reportedly upset enough to say, “That’s enough, John”.  However, for Lennon, this wasn’t enough.  Also note how the following song on Imagine is entitled How as if to emphasise the point of How Do You Sleep? still further.  And last but not least, the inside sleeve of the Imagine album features a picture of Lennon holding the ears of a pig, parodying the cover of McCartney’s Ram.

On the release of the Imagine album, Rolling Stone magazine described How Do You Sleep? as “horrifying and indefensible”.  In an attempt to defend himself, by the mid 1970’s, Lennon often said that he had in fact written the song about himself.  However, in his interview with Playboy in 1980, he said:

“I used my resentment against Paul … to create a song … not a terrible vicious horrible vendetta … I used my resentment and withdrawing from Paul and The Beatles, and the relationship with Paul, to write How Do You Sleep?  I don’t really go round with those thoughts in my head all the time”.

In his interview with Mojo Magazine in 2001, McCartney said of How Do You Sleep?:

“The answer to John was well – I was sleeping very well at the time.  Before John died, I got back a good relationship with him.  That was very special.  The arguments we had didn’t matter.  We were able to just take the piss about all those songs; they weren’t that harsh.  In fact, I have been thanked by Yoko and everyone else for saving the Beatles from Allen Klein.  Everything comes round in the end”.

Song of the Day: Music About Other Musicians (Day One). Pink Floyd on Syd Barrett, Part One: “The Lunatic is on the Grass …”

Roger Keith Barrett, better known as Syd Barrett, was an English musician, composer, singer, songwriter and painter most notable for being a founder member of the band Pink Floyd.  Barrett was Pink Floyd’s lead vocalist, guitarist and principle songwriter in the band’s early days before leaving the band in April 1968, due to his increasingly unpredictable behaviour.  Barrett was hospitalized briefly shortly afterwards amid speculation of mental illness exacerbated by heavy drug use.

Barrett was musically active for less than ten years.  With Pink Floyd, he recorded just four singles in 1967 (Arnold Layne; See Emily Play; Flaming; Apples and Oranges), their debut album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) and contributed one song, Jugband Blues, to their second album A Saucerful of Secrets (1968).

Barrett began his solo career in 1969 with the single Octopus, which was included on his debut solo album The Madcap Laughs (1970).  The album was recorded over the course of a year and included contributions from Pink Floyd members David Gilmour and Roger Waters.

Barrett began working on his second solo album, simply called Barrett (1970), two months after the release of his debut solo album.  This album also included contributions from David Gilmour and also featured Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright.  Following his second solo album, Barrett went into self-imposed seclusion until his death in 2006 from pancreatic cancer, aged 60.

Following Barrett’s departure from the group, Pink Floyd wrote a number of tributes to him, most notably Brain Damage from 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon album and Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Wish You Were Here from 1975’s Wish You Were Here.  The latter album is actually said to be a concept album with every song actually being about Barrett and his experiences with the music industry.

Brain Damage was brought to the band by Roger Waters along with other songs such as Money when the band reconvened following the American leg of their tour in support of their 1971 album, Meddle.  At this point in time, Brain Damage was titled The Dark Side of the Moon, a title which would later just be used for the song’s parent album.  The song was inspired by Barrett’s mental breakdown and was originally part of a suite of songs entitled A Piece for Assorted Lunatics.  Brain Damage was recorded alongside another track from The Dark Side of the Moon, Any Colour You Like.  David Gilmour encouraged Waters to sing the song on the album, whilst, following Waters’ departure from the band in 1985, Gilmour sung the song when Pink Floyd performed it in concert and Waters himself has performed it in his solo shows.

The famous opening verse of Brain Damage, “The lunatic is on the grass, The lunatic is on the grass, remembering daisy chains and games and laughs, Got to keep the loonies on the path” refers to areas of turf which display signs reading “Please keep off the grass” with the exaggerated implication that disobeying such signs may indicate insanity.  In the 2003 documentary Classic Albums:  Pink Floyd – The Making of The Dark Side of the Moon, Waters said that the particular patch of grass he had in mind when writing the song was to the rear of King’s College, Cambridge and that the real insanity was not letting people on such beautiful grass.  To add another meaning to the opening verse of Brain Damage, ‘grass’ is also a slang term for marijuana.  Therefore, these lines could perhaps be remembering the good times the band had smoking marijuana before Barrett’s drug habit escalated to using drugs such as LSD and caused him mental problems.  The line “Got to keep the loonies on the path” could be a reference to the way in which “lunatics” are given drugs to control them.

The second verse of Brain Damage, “The lunatic is in the hall, The lunatic is in my hall, The paper holds their faded faces to the floor, And every day, the paper boy brings more”, uses the idea of the hallway as a metaphor for Barrett’s mind.  The door which the paperboy, a metaphor for society, pushes information (the newspapers) through refers to the way in which the “lunatic” is locked inside his own mind.  Additionally, those featured in newspapers are often seen as “lunatics” of society.  “And every day, the paper boy brings more” is suggestive of overload with the mind of the “lunatic” not being able to take all the information thrown at him on board.  The fact that the pictures of the “lunatics” on the newspaper are face down is suggestive of them being locked up away from the view of society.   Additionally, the way in which their faces are “faded” is suggestive of the way in which the “lunatics” become just a faded memory when locked away.

The first chorus, “And if the dam breaks open many years too soon, and there’s no room upon the hill, And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon” refers to the way in which Waters felt a kinship with Barrett in terms of his mental idiosyncrasies.   The line “And if there is no room upon the hill” could be seen as a nod to The Beatles’ song The Fool on the Hill, from their 1967 album Magical Mystery Tour.  The fact that “there is no room on the hill” is suggestive that we all have lunatic elements within us.

The following verse, “The lunatic is in my head, The lunatic is in my head, You raise the blade, you make the change, You re-arrange me ‘til I’m sane, You lock the door and throw away the key, There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me” refers to the frontal lobotomy, a controversial surgical intervention used to treat psychosis, schizophrenia, paranoia or other severe conditions.  In particular, the line “You raise the blade, you make the change” refers to the actual act of making incisions in the patient’s head.  The final line of the verse, “There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me”, is suggestive of the disassociation felt by those suffering from mental illness between the true self and the self impacted by the condition; the self presented to the world outside of their head.

The second chorus, “And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear, You shout and no one seems to hear, And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon”, makes reference to Barrett’s behaviour towards the end of his time with the band.  Due to his mental health issues, he would spontaneously break into playing a different song to the rest of the band in the middle of a concert, hence the band “playing different tunes”.

Barrett’s final practice session with the band including the artist coming into the session saying he had a new song called Have You Got It Yet?  At first, the song was simple to learn, but quickly became impossible, with the rest of the band then realising that Barrett had been changing the arrangements whilst they were practicing it.  He would then play it again, with the changes he had made and sing “Have you got it yet?”  Eventually his bandmates realised that they were simply being subjected to Barrett’s idiosyncratic sense of humour.  In Toby Manning’s 2006 book The Rough Guide to Pink Floyd, Waters called the incident, “a real act of mad genius”.

With A Little Help From My Friends: Twenty Beatles Covers. The Beatles Sign Their First Recording Contract With EMI Parlophone. This Day in History, 09/05/1962.

1.  Joe Cocker ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’

(from the album With A Little Help From My Friends, 1969).

2.  Oasis ‘I Am The Walrus’

(from the album The Masterplan, 1998).

3.  U2 ‘Helter Skelter’

(from the album Rattle and Hum, 1988).

4. Smokin’ Mojo Filters ‘Come Together’

(from the album The Help Album, 1995).

5. Ocean Colour Scene ‘Day Tripper’

(from the album B-sides, Seasides and Freerides, 1996).

6.  Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel ‘Here Comes The Sun’

(from the album Love is a Prima Donna, 1976).

7.  Teenage Fanclub ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’

(single A-side, 1990).

8.  The Wedding Present ‘Getting Better’

(from the album George Best Plus, 1987).

9.  The Breeders ‘Happiness is A Warm Gun’

(from the album Pod, 1991).

10. Blondie ‘Please Please Me’

(from the album Panic of Girls (Japan Bonus Tracks), 2011).

11. Cornershop ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’

(from the album When I Was Born For The 7th Time, 1997).

12. Siouxsie and the Banshees ‘Dear Prudence’

(single A-side, 1983).

13. David Bowie ‘Across The Universe’

(from the album Young Americans, 1975).

14. Peter Gabriel ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’

(from the album All This and World War II, 1976).

15. Pixies ‘Wild Honey Pie’

(from the album Pixies at the BBC, 1998).

16. Nick Cave ‘Let It Be’

(from the album I Am Sam OST, 2002).

17. Billy Bragg ‘Revolution’

(from the Accident Waiting To Happen EP, 1992).

18. Sonic Youth ‘Within You Without You’

(from the album Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father, 1988).

19. Otis Redding ‘A Hard Day’s Night’

(from the album Good To Me:  Live at The Whisky A-Go-Go (1966), 1993).

20. Echo & The Bunnymen ‘All You Need is Love’

(from the TV show Play At Home, 1984).

Song of the Day: Movies in Music (Day Four). “And Here’s to You, Mrs Robinson …”

Mrs Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel, from the album Bookends (1968) is famous for its inclusion in the movie The Graduate (1967) and has become inseparable from the character in the film.  However, the roots of Mrs Robinson came from a song completely unrelated to the movie that Paul Simon had written called Mrs Roosevelt, about Eleanor Roosevelt.

In the years previous to The Graduate, Simon & Garfunkel had risen to national fame in the United States touring colleges and releasing a string of hit singles and albums.  At the same time, director Mike Nichols was in the early stages of making his movie, The Graduate.  Nichols had become an instant fan of the duo, listening to them constantly before and after filming.  So infatuated with the duo was Nichols that he met with Columbia Records chairman Clive Davis to ask permission to use their music in his new film.  Davis saw the idea as potentially lucrative and envisioned a best-selling soundtrack album.  Paul Simon, however, was dubious, considering movie soundtracks to be selling out.  After careful consideration and being impressed by Nichols’ wit and script, the songwriter agreed to write at least one or two songs for the film.

After a few weeks, Simon presented two new tracks, Punky’s Dilemma and Overs, neither of which particularly impressed Nichols.  Nichols asked the duo whether they had any more songs to offer, and after a break in the meeting, they returned with an early version of what would become Mrs Robinson, then still named Mrs Roosevelt.  Nichols was instantly ecstatic about the song and could envision its use in the film instantly.

Of the song’s content, the “dee de dee dee de dee dee dee” section of the introduction of the song occurred when Simon and Garfunkel presented the unfinished song to Nichols and didn’t have lyrics to sing over the music.  Nichols suggested that this should be part of the finished song and Simon used it in the introduction.  Similarly nonsensical is the inclusion of the “coo-coo-ca-choo” phrase in the chorus, which is Simon’s homage to The Beatles’ I Am the Walrus, which was also released in 1967.

Parts of the song are very much still in line with the original subject matter of the song, Eleanor Roosevelt. Wife to US President Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt survived an orphaned and loveless childhood, a faithless husband and domineering mother-in-law, emerging as an independent personality after her husband was paralysed from the waist down after contracting polio in 1921.  Due to her husband’s paralysis and the many bouts of ill health which he had suffered from birth, the First Lady was transformed from shy wife into an autonomous public leader due to having to serve as her disabled husband’s eyes and ears.  This triumph of what women were capable of in a time when women were expected to be subservient to men came into even fuller effect in 1945 after Franklin Roosevelt’s death and was sustained through worldwide acclaim until her death in 1962.

In the first verse, lines such as “We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files, We’d like to learn to help you help yourself” could refer to Eleanor Roosevelt in conversation with her psychiatrist.  Eleanor Roosevelt suffered from depression throughout most of her life, mostly stemming from her tragic childhood.  Her mother had died from diphtheria when Eleanor was just 8 years old and her brother Elliott Jr died from the same disease just 5 months afterwards.  Her father was an alcoholic who was confined to a sanatorium and died just two years after Eleanor’s mother after he jumped out of a window during a fit of delirium tremens.  He survived the fall but died after suffering a seizure shortly afterwards.  Similarly, the lines “Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes, Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home” represent Eleanor Roosevelt being at a mental health facility with the workers and patients worrying for her.

The second verse, “Hide it in the hiding place where no one ever goes, Put it in your pantry where no one ever goes, Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes, It’s a little secret, just the Robinsons’ affair, Most of all you’ve got to hide it from the kids” are reference to Eleanor living in a time where strong women had to repress their feelings and emotions, hiding them away completely out of sight.  Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt had many marital problems, with Franklin having many affairs.  Women who he allegedly had affairs with include Princess Martha of Sweden, his secretary, Missy and Eleanor’s social secretary, Lucy Mercer.  These affairs would eventually lead to the couples’ separation and ended any intimacy in their relationship.  There are also rumours that Eleanor was a lesbian and had a relationship with Lorena Hickock.

In the third verse of the song, “Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon, Going to the candidates’ debate, Laugh about it, shout about it, When you’ve got to choose, Every way you look at it you lose”, Eleanor watches her husband’s debate in which he won he presidential election.  Due to her husband’s paralysis and ill health, Eleanor did most of the work.  Eleanor therefore would have been more than capable of running for the presidency herself but could not because she is a woman.

The song’s chorus could be read in many ways.  The references to “Jesus”, “Heaven” and “God” could be suggestive of mourners at Eleanor’s funeral or simply Eleanor being prayed for by those with the “sympathetic eyes” mentioned in the first verse of the song.  When used on the film’s soundtrack, the chorus takes on a new meaning, telling the listeners that Mrs Robinson should not cheat and sin on her daughter’s boyfriend and encouraging Mrs Robinson to become a holy and moral person.

The final verse of the song is perhaps the most talked about verse of the entire song.  The lyrics, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, What’s that you say Mrs Robinson, Jolting Joe has left and gone away”.  In the context of a song about Eleanor Roosevelt, lines about a New York Yankees Major League Baseball centre-fielder may appear to be slightly out of place when analysing the lyrics.  However, Joe DiMaggio is referenced in the song as he represented traditional American values with the lines being a tribute to his unpretentious heroic stature in America in a time when popular culture magnifies and distorts how we perceive our heroes.  It is widely known that Paul Simon was a huge fan of baseball player Mickey Mantle and when asked during an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show in 1970 why he chose to talk about Joe DiMaggio instead, Simon replied, “It’s about syllables, Dick.  It’s about how many beats there are”.  DiMaggio initially had reservations about his name being used in the song, wondering why Simon had written the line, “Joltin Joe has left and gone away” when he hadn’t gone anywhere.  DiMaggio soon dropped his complaint after Simon explained what the lines meant.  In a New York Times op-ed in March 1999, shortly after DiMaggio’s death, Simon said of the DiMaggio reference:  “In these days of Presidential transgressions and apologies and prime-time interviews about private sexual matters, we grieve for Joe DiMaggio and mourn the loss of his grace and dignity, his fierce sense of privacy, his fidelity to the memory of his wife and the power of his silence”.  Simon later performed Mrs Robinson at Yankee Stadium in honour of DiMaggio a month after his death.

After its inclusion in The Graduate, Mrs Robinson was awarded two Grammy Awards at the 11th Annual Grammy Awards in 1969.  It became the first rock song to win Record of the Year and was also awarded the Grammy for Best Contemporary-Pop Performance – Vocal Duo or Group.  The duo declined to perform the song at the ceremony, instead shooting a video which consisted of them at the Yankee Stadium in reference to the song’s final verse about Joe DiMaggio.  Mrs Robinson was ineligible for the Academy Award for Best Original Song because as a nominee, a song must have been written exclusively for the film in which it appeared.

The song has also seen the accolade of being covered several times, including by Frank Sinatra on his 1969 album My Way.  Sinatra’s version of My Way changes a number of lines, including replacing the word “Jesus” with “Jilly”, perhaps motivated by the refusal of some radio stations to play a song including the word “Jesus”.  Sinatra’s version also includes a new verse directly referring to The Graduate.  These changes make for a rather odd version of the song and is not one of Sinatra’s more successful covers.

More successful was The Lemonheads’ cover of Mrs Robinson, recorded to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the release of The Graduate in 1992 and featured on their 1992 album It’s A Shame About Ray.

Paperback Writer: Ten Beatles Songs Written By Paul McCartney. Paul McCartney Quits The Beatles, This Day in History, 10/04/1970.

1.  The Beatles ‘Back in the USSR’

(from the album The Beatles, 1968).

2.  The Beatles  ‘I Saw Her Standing There’

(from the album Please Please Me, 1963).

3.  The Beatles ‘Eleanor Rigby’

(from the album Revolver, 1965).

4.  The Beatles ‘Helter Skelter’

(from the album The Beatles, 1968).

5.  The Beatles ‘Let It Be’

(from the album Let It Be, 1970).

6.  The Beatles ‘Hey Jude’

(from the single Hey Jude / Revolution, 1968).

7.  The Beatles ‘Penny Lane’

(from the single Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields Forever, 1967).

8.  The Beatles ‘Paperback Writer’

(from the single Paperback Writer / Rain, 1966).

9.  The Beatles ‘We Can Work It Out’

(from the single We Can Work It Out, 1965).

10. The Beatles ‘Yesterday’

(from the album Help!, 1965).