Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Please Please Me"

My Beatles criticism project continued:

With guitar and drum announcing "da-DUM" we are thrown straight into a quick intro with a prominent theme played on harmonica twice. The first verse enters with John providing the lead vocals and Paul offering harmony vocals in a higher register.

The lyric beings with "Last night I said these words to my girl,' which immediately puts us into a specific frame of reference. Presumably we are to think that the protagonist is telling his buddies about his experiences of the night before. Also one might suppose that he would be telling his buddies not to just inform them of the complaints he had to make ("I know you never even try, girl") but to let them know of his ultimate success. There is no doubt that the singer is a braggart and engaging in some male "locker room" talk.

A lovely guitar riff introduces the chorus, which follows quickly after the short two line verses, with four sets of call and answer "Come On"s. As each call "Come On" is sung the answer rises in pitch and the tension increases. The resulting "Please please me oh yeah like I please you" acts as something of a release.

Throughout the verses and choruses Paul's bass thumps along merrily, Ringo's drums offer killer fills (particularly leading into the bridge) and the guitars offer what I can only call chunky chords...there seems to be a real weight behind them.

After the second verse and chorus, the bridge follows. In it our protagonist offers more of an explanation ("I dont mean to sound complaining...") for his bitching. The man gives and gives (or so he says) and he get's nothing but grief ("Oh yeah, why do you make me blue?") in return. When the song careens back into the verse/chorus structure you are left in little doubt that his little scene will produce the desired results.

Taken as a whole "Please Please Me" is something of a little miracle. The sheer energy and pure joy of it all is undeniable. Even 40+ years later it sounds like the start of something new. Each of the elements, from instrumentation and vocal arrangement, to the memorable melody line and harmonies, work perfectly. Just like the guy's complaining.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Review: Scott Gagner - Rhapsody In Blonde

We all require different things from our music from time to time. Sometimes we need it raw and ready, other times we need it soft and comfortable... hmm... sort of sounds like like something else we all need from time to time.... but I digress.

There are times my ears ache for something highly polished and downright slick. Scott Gagner's "Rhapsody In Blonde" is about as slick as it gets. This is achieved not only through the full round sound - though the production values are top notch here - but also through Gagner's songwriting which comes across as effortless and silky smooth.

"I Hate To Say" begins things with a Lenny Kravitz vibe placed atop a lyric filled with slightly twisted maxims and cliches. The juxtaposition is a clever one and just ironic enough to not become too jokey. "Laura No. 1" is a joyous pop tune with echoes of Kristian Hoffman's best work. "Houdini" is a pretty song with a deep sonic texture reminiscent of the softer side of Jason Falkner.

Kravitz... Hoffman... Falkner... those names should give you some idea of the terrain being covered here, though Gagner definitely has his own voice even on his cover of the GnR classic "Sweet Child o' Mine," which actually comes across as sticky sweet... in a good way.

I must say, however, I'm not sold on the sequencing of the disc. The flow of the album is dominated by stretches of slower songs one after another, only really broken up in the second half of the album by the back-to-back up-tempo numbers "Take Two" and "Ride." The softer material can wash out a little as a result... though when there is a gem like "Houdini" in there it is worthwhile to pull them out of context so each can shine on its own.

Grade: A-

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Ask Me Why"

My Beatles criticism project continued:

Whatever can be said about this Lennon & McCartney tune, it's not rock and roll. From its light almost latinesque rhythms and percussion to the "woo woo woo woo"s of its vocals, "Ask Me Why" is the very essence of "pop" music.

The verses begin with the boys singing "I Love you - woo woo woo woo" followed by Lennon alone singing "Cause you tell me things I want to know." This trading of vocals back and forth is prevalent throughout. When an almost stuttering Lennon ends the fist (and third) verse with the words "I,I,I,I should never, never, never be blue!" you can be forgiven if you think it's not the most compelling lyrics you've ever heard.

An abbreviated bridge follows the second verse, and the latin feel of the song is reinforced. You almost want to add a "cha cha cha" to the line "I can't conceive of any more [cha cha cha] misery." Actually, that might have added a needed bit of spice. As it is the line falls flat.

The chorus, if such it can called, is nearly anti-climatic. "Ask me why, I'll tell you I love you, and I'm always thinking of you." Nice sentiments maybe, but in the context of this song they couldn't sound less convincing.

As a piece of pop music "Ask Me Why" is forgettable filler.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


My Beatles criticism project continued:

The rhythm section gets a workout in this Dixon/Farrell penned number. In terms of instrumentation it is Paul's bass and Ringo's drums that are most prominent. Ringo takes his turn at lead vocals, and Paul's voice is the most prominent among the backing vocals. George has a solo, but for the most part the guitarists are just along for the ride.

This fast rocker gets started with a quick "rat-tat-tat" from the drums. A thumping bass line and restrained commentary from lead guitar lead into the vocals. Ringo's vocal range is limited (to say the least) but "Boys" is well suited to it. Each line in the verse is punctuated not only by Paul's bass but by the backing vocals chiming in with welcome "bop-shoo-op"s in a classic rock'n'roll style.

The chorus has a call/answer feel as Ringo's "Well, I talk about boys" generates a backing vocal response of "Yeah Yeah Boys!" Throughout the song the backing vocals, with the help of an occasional shout or scream, add to the feel of a good time gone great.

George's solo is a neat little package, much akin to his solo on "I Saw Her Standing There" but with a greater blues feel. Or is that rockabilly? At the speed that "Boys" is played it all comes to one in the end.