Holy crap, Batman, am I glad I got these! What? The box set of mono mixes on vinyl of The Beatles oeuvre. Listening opens up that whole question—or, I guess, answers the constant question—why listen? Particularly, why listen to music you’ve heard many times before?
The answer, I’m learning, is that I haven’t quite heard it because I haven’t heard the music this way before. Granted, I did set myself up for this event by acquiring some new audio components, so that re-listening to everything I own (sooner or later) is pretty much in the cards. And that’s because listening is just something I do.
Well, sure, we all do it, right? All those people with earbuds everywhere you go, surpass even the numbers of people with music on in cars. There is music everywhere. Seems everyone’s a listener. But one of those pacts I made with myself in youth—it seems—was to listen as an adjunct to memory, and possibly as a means of escape. I’ve spoken of the “wayback machine” and there is that. But there’s an odd existential quality to listening—to no matter what—that grounds one in the instant of listening. Hence my search for new listening experiences of things I’ve heard many times, in many settings. I don’t count myself among “audiophiles” but I get where they’re coming from. I always think of audiophiles as those who have attained Nirvana. The rest of us—bodhisattvas as we may be—remain in the flawed world, seeking out glimpses of the heights that can be attained.
All of which is a way of saying that my choice of song for today had to be a Beatles song because just now they are dominating my listening even more than they did when I got the CD remasters in 2009. Not so long ago, and yet, long enough. Of course, I’m well aware that these things are targeted to aging Baby Boomers—and those of us on the tail-end of that cohort—because we want that past we all shared to matter, still. And when you listen to these LPs there’s some undeniable charge that comes leaping out, never mind that two of the guys playing on there are gone.
The choice of song was a problem. I have to say that the album that’s winning me over as it never quite did before is Rubber Soul (1965). I was also quite happy to have the three disk Masters album, comprised of all the songs released only as 45s or EPs in the UK, and including the four tracks on Yellow Submarine that are new Beatles songs. It might be fitting to select George Harrison’s “Only a Northern Song,” but I felt the choice should light upon Paul—since I’ve not yet posted about a Beatles song that’s mostly McC’s.
“Penny Lane” might be the obvious choice, if only because I posted about its partner “Strawberry Fields,” and because “Penny Lane” is one of my favorite McCartney tunes, lyrics, and vocals. But it’s a very complex song and I’m feeling lazy. What’s more, today I played the copy of A Hard Day’s Night in the box for the first time and it was clear to me, if it wasn’t before, that today’s song is really the only song that matters on Side Two of that album. Side One is truly great. Side Two, not so much. But this song, which I heard in the film way back when I first saw it around 1967 and not often after, I find rather haunting. And that’s largely because of McC’s vocal which I would describe as “brooding.”
McC’s famous song “Yesterday,” from Help!, is also rather brooding and the two songs seem related through the concept of time, which seems to inspire Paul. Whether thinking back to a time before when “troubles seemed so far away” or thinking about “someday when we’re dreaming / Deep in love, not a lot to say / Then we will remember / Things we said today.” It's looking ahead to imagine looking back. That’s the kind of thing that always catches my imagination.
And what are the “things we said today”? It seems to be things like her saying she’ll be thinking of him while he’s gone and “somehow [he] will know,” and that “you say you’ll be mine, girl, / Till the end of time.” The way that phrase gets sung—its melody—is part of what haunts in the song. The bridge announces that “love is luck” and that “we go on and on”—adding to that feel that this is love and so should be eternal. No end in sight.
The two seem to be at that phase of cementing the bond, sharing the kinds of things that make them certain their love will endure. But I’ve always thought there was a balefulness to that looking back, and that’s only because of that melody. It feels pensive, to me. So I’ve always interpreted the feeling as looking ahead to when the love is over and realizing how it will hurt, looking back, to remember the foolish things they said to each other. But of course that’s not what the lyrics are saying. Paul, more positive, is saying that later—when they’re still “deep in love, not a lot to say” (taking it all for granted)—they’ll think back to the things they told each other, the stuff that sealed the deal.
These days such a kind girl seems so hard to find.