Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Legacy of Sgt. Pepper (fourteenth and final in a series)

 Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Concept Album that Never Was -- or Was It?

The fourteenth and final in a seies by John Atwood, a thinker and guitarist who was inspired as an 11 year-old to learn the instrument after seeing the Beatles perform in 1964 on the Ed Sullivan Show and who followed their career assiduously through his high school years when he formed a garage band just so he could play their songs within a group. He's had a few decades to ponder the import of the Fab Four's music.
It is tempting to jump right into the question of whether or not Sgt. Pepper did the world any good, but there is something that must be addressed first.  Has this series of articles really proven that there is a unifying theme to the album?  The reader will have to judge that.  Anyone who has read the whole series may at times have thought, “this guy is really off the deep end with all this!”, and who knows, maybe they are correct.  But the goal here was to establish that a unifying theme could be argued, and that I think I have done.

And I still assert what I said at the beginning, that the theme was unconscious, on the periphery, not meant as a didactic exercise.  The whole album—the theme, the values, the characters—seems to have pretty much fallen together as a happy accident.  And it was probably more a reflection of what was going on at the time than it was the call to arms that set ideas in motion. 

To a great extent, though, I think it works better being an unconscious accident.  It would take quite a clever set of writers to come up with a work of this magnitude all formed of hyperbole, irony, veiled anti-assertions and even embarrassing personal revelations.  Not that it couldn’t be done, but even the best writers would have a hard time ‘staying in character’—keeping things from seeming contrived.  And while I consider the Beatles to have been extremely talented, I think such an idea would have been way beyond their capacity. 

But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the album in the light of such a concept.  Since getting this idea, I have listened to the album with a sense of awe.  Without getting too carried away, I would say it is one of the most significant artistic works ever done.  It looks at the theme from so many angles and in so many ways: it is a treasure trove of cultural observation.  It is both beautiful and frightening at the same time, and on a grand scale.  I would love to see someone try to make a stage play or film out of this idea. 

Is frightening a problem?  No, not really.  Sometimes it can be very helpful.  We are prone to forget that the original versions of many children’s stories did not have tidy, happy endings.  Take for instance, “The Little Mermaid”.  The Hans Christian Andersen version ends quite a bit differently than does the Disney cartoon.  But that was for a reason, so that the reader would come away from the story with a resolve to learn the lesson and not make the same mistakes.

But how about us?  Did any of us come away from it with any resolve as to how we would live?  I stated above that I think I did on a couple of points, though at the time I would have scoffed at any suggestion that I was a disciple of some teaching.   And I sense that many of the values we have seen here have been and continue to be ratified in our culture.  The concern that modern life can kill our humanity has been ably and repeatedly expressed by various movies and TV programs over the past decades.  And our culture has gone out of its way to warn parents—especially Dads—to give children the time they need.  Parents today are surrounded by voices, examples and resources to help them take on the task with grace and some degree of intelligence.  And, of course, everyone knows that a career, not to mention a mad drive to “make the grade” can swallow you whole, and deprive you of meaningful relationships and experiences. 

Did all of this come from Sgt Pepper?  Of course not.  Did Sgt. Pepper contribute in anything significant?  Well, No, but then again, maybe a little.  Since it wasn’t really making a conscious point, I think it is fair to assume that it probably didn’t make a conscious impression.  But, based on my own experience and recollection, I have to say it probably did influence people’s thinking to some degree.

What it probably had going for it as an influencer was 1) the colorful characters that were created for the album who serve as unforgettable object lessons and 2) the excellent music that not only conveyed the information, but insinuated it into the core of our consciousness, and kept it in our hearts all these years.  

There is no question that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band awakened a generation and time to the notion that Rock music could handle more complex ideas than “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.  But it seems to me it also suggests that Music provides a better vehicle for addressing ideas with multiple facets, hues of color, shades of nuance, etc., and that it does so in a way that more powerfully conveys the import, worth, tragedy, exhalation or perplexity of all that than any mere essay, poem or novel can ever hope to achieve.  If nothing else, consider the fact that advertising loves to use jingles, not persuasive essays.

My wife renamed this blog “The Song’s the Thing” for a good reason.  When Hamlet found himself trapped in a situation of uncertainty and inaction, he realized he could get to the bottom of his suspicions about his stepfather using a play.  “The play’s the thing by which I’ll catch the conscience of the King.”  But if you want to understand a culture, a time period, a movement, it is fair to say that “The Song’s the Thing.”  Look at the music that’s came out of the era in question or that influenced the era, and you will understand them far better.  And if you want to get an idea across in a way that wins people over and gets people motivated, Americans have shown since the Revolution and before that “The Song’s the Thing.” 

Allow one final parting comment.  Throughout my writing of this, a notion kept nagging at me that there might be some similarity between Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and “The Waste Land” by T.S. Elliot.  I kept chasing the notion away from my head like a pesky fly in warm weather—no way I wanted to go down that road.  But I do find it a humorous curiosity that where Elliot (aided, one imagines by Ezra Pound), stuffed his poem with all kinds of quotes by the literati of Western Civilization, even in their original Greek, Latin, Italian, German or French, that the Beatles packed their album cover with photos of pop culture icons.  The parallel seemed too curious to not at least point out. 

Oops, one other final thing.  I have not addressed the “never could be any other way” business at the very end of the album.  That is because it wasn’t on the original American issue.  This is, after all, a blog about the relationship of popular music with American History.  Most of us in the U.S. didn’t even know that track existed until the “Paul is dead” business in the Fall of 1969, when some radio stations were playing it off imported copies of the British LP, along with things like “Revolution 9” backwards, to look for clues.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"The Astaires" by Kathleen Riley

Review by Kathryn Atwood

Fred Astaire is permanently recorded in our collective consciousness only because his electrifying dance routines were cinematically preserved. Delving just a little below that celluloid image immediately reveals a biographical surprise: before Astaire and Rogers there was Astaire and Astaire – Fred and his sister Adele -- a pair who rose together through the ranks of American vaudeville to become mega-stars on both sides of the Atlantic during the 1920’s and 1930’s.  The study of Fred and Adele Astaire is an important in the history of pop culture, not only because it helps us understand Fred, the film star, but also because the team of Astaire and Astaire was an absolute phenomenon in its day. 

Not one moment of their wildly successful partnership was preserved on film and here is the irony of Astaire and Astaire: a complete biography of Fred must include mention of Adele – generally considered to be the more naturally talented of the two siblings -- and yet when considering this duo, there is nothing visual for us to grasp hold of: all that remains of the partnership are a few publicity shots and what can be imagined from the written testimony of those who witnessed them in action.

Kathleen Riley has combined reams of this testimony (not to mention publicity stills) with all the biographical facts at her disposal to write the first – aside from one children’s book -- dual history of the siblings who were born Adele and Fred Austerlitz. Her narrative traces their Midwestern origins all the way to the end of their lives, painting a detailed picture of everything in between: their youthful days in vaudeville, their Broadway stardom, their conquest of London society, and their professional split, revealing how each sibling was affected by the other at every juncture (the inclusion of transcripted later interviews of both siblings is wonderfully illuminating on this score).

When Riley sticks to narration, the story of the Astaire siblings is told in a lovely, thorough, and relatively clear manner but when she steps forward and attempts to elucidate, she utilizes a puzzling style, quoting entire poems in a highly non-sequitur fashion and utilizes phrases such as:

n      “a complex ethos exposed with elegiac lyricism”
n      “the elegant apotheosis of Jewish cosmopolitanism”
n      “the ‘tinpantithesis’ of Aeolian Hall”
n      “the anarchic coexistence, in one, sweetly brazen figure, of a seeming mass of bewitching, opalescent contradictions”
n      “Terpsichorean”

Well, perhaps that last one can be forgiven since Fred speaks the word himself -- tongue in cheek, of course -- in the film "The Gay Divorcee" but The Astaires contains entire paragraphs -- nay, pages -- that could be easily excised without interrupting the biography's narrative flow, the only remotely negative result being that Riley would have lost an opportunity to exhibit her classical education (she refers to herself as a classics scholar in the book's introduction and on the back cover which apparently explains everything . . . and nothing). While the book was published by a university press, arguably giving Riley an automatic green light for her questionable style, a compelling argument for something a bit less elaborate for this particular subject is that Fred Astaire is universally loved, hence his biography belongs to the world, not only to those who believe poetry can be used to explain anything and who enjoy communicating with densely ornamental language.

However, when Riley lets the facts -- especially contemporary testimony -- speak without interruption, one can almost catch a glimpse of the magic that was once this pair of brilliantly talented siblings and for that reason, The Astaires is an important addition to the canon of pop culture history.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"A Day in the Life" (Thirteenth in a Series)

Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Concept Album that Never Was -- or Was It?

The  thirteenth in a seies by John Atwood, a thinker and guitarist who was inspired as an 11 year-old to learn the instrument after seeing the Beatles perform in 1964 on the Ed Sullivan Show and who followed their career assiduously through his high school years when he formed a garage band just so he could play their songs within a group. He's had a few decades to ponder the import of the Fab Four's music.

With the end of the Reprise and the beginning of this last cut, the Sgt. Pepper band clears the stage and a lone performer remains, strumming a guitar.  This is John Lennon, without his Day-Glo costume, without all the contrivances that made up his prior songs.  He has broken through the 4th wall, so to speak, and now is singing from his heart, with a voice that, in George Martin’s terms, sends a chill down your spine.  Paul adds some class to the affair with nice piano chords and bass accents added later, and Ringo punctuates it all with interesting drum fills.  (George played maracas, we are told.)

Much has been written about “A Day in the Life”, covering how the orchestral parts were done and explaining the people to whom the 3 different vignettes refer.  I won’t repeat that material here.  I only point out that—including the speaker in the ‘middle eight’ (Paul’s part)—we are again presented with people who seem disconnected, or perhaps more specifically situations of futility and meaninglessness.  It is interesting to note his inclusion of himself in the second one, “I saw a film today, oh boy.”  He is referring to his part in Richard Lester’s How I Won the War, which was not released until after Sgt Pepper.  Did he anticipate people would “turn away”, as they in fact did, it seems.  (Has anyone actually ever seen this movie?) 

Whereas in all the prior character sketches the social disconnection seems unperceived by the singer, in this one John is seeing, and in a sense, bemoaning it.  I’ve always thought that “I’d love to turn you on” meant more about understanding life than it did about getting high.  (Although at the time there was a serious belief in some circles—now discredited—that the two things were connected.)  Yet the singer also seems detached, his voice dreamy and out of reach due to the echo effect applied to it.  In other words, he sees it, but realizes that he too is a victim of it.  This makes his inclusion of his own disconnect issue so fitting. 

But it doesn’t seem to me that the words and stories are as important in this song as the music which encases it.  With the dual incidences of the mighty orchestra crescendo, and the multi-piano final E Chord, there is a kind of apocalyptic sense to the song.  As the last phrase of the Wikipedia article on this song says, the final chord creates “a feeling of tragic inevitability”.  And this is, I think, what has always made “A Day in the Life” so fascinating.

The most emotive moment in the song to me actually has no words associated with it.  It is not the crescendo, or the final chord, but a mere Ahhhhh sung by John on the tail of Paul’s little ditty.  “Found my way upstairs and had a smoke, and somebody spoke and I went into a dream.  Ahhh-ah-ah-ahhhh” etc.  Even at the time I felt this grip my chest, as if something profound had just been realized.  I could almost feel a tear forming in my eye, and a deep sense of regret.  At the time I could never quite articulate why I felt that way, but it always seemed important.  It would connect in my mind to the image of Charleton Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes pounding his fist into the sand of what turned out to be the Atlantic Coast and groaning, “You maniacs, you blew it up!”  I still feel that when I get to this point in the song.

What this whole album has been about has been the risk we face in our world of losing ourselves and our humanity in the culture we create.  We are either compressed under the weight of the all of its pressures, or we lose our moorings and go into a meaningless drift on top all of the ebb and flow of it all.  It is kind of a poetic statement of the theme of the book Culture Against Man by Jules Henry.  And the album seems to be suggesting that this breakdown shows up in our relationships most of all, as we become isolated, alienated and in a way deadened. 

This was not an original notion on the Beatles part, nor even unique to them.  It was a special concern of people in the Sixties, and next to Civil Rights, was the most significant tenant of the counter culture, more important than the oft-caricatured free love and drugs of the time.  Other examples of it were the “Don’t Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate” motto (a phrase that was imprinted on IBM punchcards) that came out of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement or the Malvina Reynolds/Pete Seeger song “Little Boxes”.  Although the danger of this concern no doubt still exist, I don’t know if people today realize how bad all this was circa 1960 - 1965.  It is almost as if people were trying to literally have 2.3 kids, because that is what the reports said a normal family had.  People like to talk about the good old days, and while I remember many good things from those years, that incredible pressure to conform is not something I am in hurry to return to.

Of course, this penchant for boxing people up in stultifying strictures was not just limited to that time period, nor merely to “the Establishment”: parents, businesses or to folks on the Right in general. As someone who was an undergrad at the University of Chicago between 1970 -1973, I saw that even on the left there is a kind of enforced conformity.  I grew up in the conservative west and experienced all that, as mentioned above, but the experience at U of C had a feeling about it that was for me incredibly captured by Pete Townsend’s line: “Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.”  And as my own children have grown I’ve watched how kids, teenagers, young adults, all like to do it to one another.  “Make up your own mind and do (or think) what you want” is one of the hardest things for a young person—or any of us—to do, it seems.

When John says, “I’d love to turn you on”, it is almost wistful, but when he cries out, it is as if we find there was a repressed passion being masked by the wavering voice.  The cry expresses beyond the capability of words the need for us all to try to learn these lessons and stop doing these things to each other before—well, before it is too late.  When you find your own life has been reduced to one or another version of:

            Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head…..
            Found my way upstairs and had a smoke and somebody spoke and I went into a dream

then it is time to scream “Ahhhhhhh”.  Do it long and hard until you wake up out of your stupor, before you ruin or alienate your kids, before you become insensitive to things that really matter, and before our culture becomes so toxic from the accumulation of wasted hours and lives that no one can survive in it anymore. 

That, at least, is my free-form, idiomatic translation of the phrase and of John’s cry.  But if you listen to how that progresses, the orchestral back up (the “tragic inevitability”) grows until it drowns out the cry.  It reminds me of the last movement of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony, where the Fate theme overtakes, overwhelms and finally beats the ‘optimism’ theme to a pulp.  Is this implying that, in the end, sending out warnings about the dangers will probably be futile?  “We can cry all we want, but in the end nothing will change.”  Or is it merely a further argument that if action is not taken, the tragic might ultimately prevail?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) -- Twelfth in a Series

Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Concept Album that Never Was -- or Was It?

The twelfth in a series by guest blogger John Atwood, a thinker and guitarist who was inspired as an 11 year-old to learn the instrument after seeing the Beatles perform in 1964 on the Ed Sullivan Show and who followed their career assiduously through his high school years when he formed a garage band just so he could play their songs within a group. He's had a few decades to ponder the import of the Fab Four's music.

So, at last we come to the song before the end, the song that famously closes the bookend on the  ‘concept’.  It is very short (just over a minute), consisting only of the chorus sections of the first version, but with different words, appropriate for an ending song.  Where Paul had played lead guitar on the first one, George played it here.  This version has the same—maybe a bit more—of the hard rock edginess that exists in the first version, but without all the inviting class and “all politeness” (as the British would say) of the middle sections.  This version simply takes care of the business of bringing the song cycle to its end.  The only notable item is that the original began in G, while this one begins in F then modulates to G, where it concludes. 

Just for good measure, it probably is valuable to note the chronology of when all the songs on this album—plus three important other songs—were recorded.  George Martin notes this period as “perhaps the most creative 129 days in the history of rock music.”      

Strawberry Fields Forever (begun November 24, 1966 then for five weeks)
When I’m 64 (December 6, 1966)
Penny Lane (December 29 -- January 7, 1967)
A Day in the Life (January 19 – February 10)
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (February 1)
Good Morning Good Morning (February 18)
Fixing a Hole (begun February 9, finished at February 21)
It’s Only a Northern Song (begun February 13th, used on Yellow Submarine)
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite (February 17 – March 31)
Lovely Rita (February 23)
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (March 1)
Getting Better (begun March 9, finished sometime later in March)
She’s Leaving Home (March 17)
Within You, Without You (March 15, with overdubs running to April 3)
With a Little Help from My Friends (March 29, until the wee hours of March 30)  
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) (April 1)

So, at least from the perspective of the recording studio, the Reprise was the last song begun, and except for some overdub work on “Within You Without You”, was the last song worked on.  We don’t really know when they began to rehearse the various songs.  It does seem though that they had intended to do a Reprise from the very beginning, or at least from mid to late January when Paul brought back the idea of Sgt. Pepper from a trip to California. 

But notwithstanding the notion that they started out with a concept and then abandoned it before they got too far into the project, it seems the Sgt. Pepper idea would have been very much on their minds at the end.  The day before, March 31, after an all-night session to finish “With a Little Help from My Friends”, they posed for the famous cover montage.  The next day they did the Reprise.  It was the last creative effort of over 4 months of work.  It is no wonder one of them lets out a whoop just as the song is ending. 

But the Reprise is just window dressing.  It purportedly had no real significance to the Beatles when they did it, other than to finish the album, and as far as the ‘concept’ goes, the same can be said.  That ended with “Good Morning”, so the all the Reprise does is ‘bring you back to the station’, so to speak.  The ride is over, the points have been presented and its time to get off and go home.  And the general disquieting noisiness that has been present since the ending of “Lovely Rita” finally ends, leaving us with a simple, plaintive guitar strum, that will take us into the parting shot, a compelling take-away statement for the project. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

"Good Morning, Good Morning" Eleventh in a Series

Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Concept Album that Never Was -- or Was It?

The eleventh in a series by John Atwood, a thinker and guitarist who was inspired as an 11 year-old to learn the instrument after seeing the Beatles perform in 1964 on the Ed Sullivan Show and who followed their career assiduously through his high school years when he formed a garage band just so he could play their songs within a group. He's had a few decades to ponder the import of the Fab Four's music.

The story on this song is that the basic phrase and the rooster crowing were taken from a Kellogs Corn Flake commercial. And while the actual commercial has a light touch and an inviting, welcoming tone to it, this song is edgy and even somewhat disturbing. I mean, how cheerio can a song be that begins with the line “Nothing to do to save his life, call his wife in”, followed by the rather desultory “Nothing to say but ‘what a day how’s your boy been?’”

The song goes on to describe the day of a person who seems either depressed or just generally aimless. He has no purpose, seems to have nothing important to do (he goes to work, but not with any relish, and nothing seems to happen), and afterward he seems to wander from thing to thing, distracted by whatever strikes his fancy. And his take on everything is “I’ve got nothing to say, but it’s OK.”

All of this is accompanied a musical package that borders on ugliness. I contend there is no such thing as a truly ugly Beatles song. Well, I might concede an argument for “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”. But even some rather intense numbers like “Helter Skelter” have a kind of beauty buried in all the noise. But this song, with its almost overbearing saxophone work, incessantly repeating chorus line (“Good morning, good morning, good”) and chalk on chalkboard guitar solos (by Paul, I gather) comes pretty close. The result seems like a cheery song on amphetamines, a true manic-depressive opus.

In fact, I think “Good Morning, Good Morning” was responsible for generating one notable negative review the album got at its release. Richard Goldstein of the New York Times called Sgt. Pepper “an over-attended child…It reeks of horns and harps, harmonica quartets, assorted animal noises, and a 41-piece orchestra”. But after being criticized for his review he said, "Other than one cut which I detest ("Good Morning, Good Morning"), I find the album better than 80 per cent of the music around today”. So it seems a safe bet that this song was at the heart of his dislike of the album.

But according to what I am purporting, his dislike missed the point. This song is the way it is by design, subconscious or otherwise. The evidence suggests John put a lot of thought into this song, from the choice of the horn section to the sequence of the animal noises at the end. The song wasn’t trying to be beautiful, because it is describing something completely the opposite.

The character sketches that have made up the album until now (except “Within You Without You”) have addressed various kinds of loneliness, human separation or social breakdown, but have been thought provoking, compassion-inspiring, even profound. And although there will be a couple more brief sketches in “A Day in the Life”, this is really the last of the bunch. But it has no appeal. Anyone who has ever found themselves in this mindset can testify to what a barren, God forsaken ‘space’ this person inhabits. Call it “the ugly side of loneliness”.

We can tend to romanticize loneliness. In a similar sense, I have the impression that movies and TV in the Fifties and Sixties, tried to romanticize drunkenness. It was always given a charming, often comical, aspect. Every actor had their comic intoxicated routine, and Otis on the Andy Griffith Show was a lovable old coot. But later I found myself living in a cheap apartment building next door to a succession of people deep into alcohol problems, and I learned there was nothing charming about it at all. All the color and goodness of such people’s personality was gone. What was left was flat, lifeless, conniving and sometimes dangerous. Or hysterical. Or paranoid. At times, no matter how much you wanted to, it was hard to maintain any compassion for some of them.

That is what I see this song conveying. It is where a life ends up after whatever it is that is wrong with our culture is allowed to run its course. It robs a person of any essential goodness, of humanity, until, I suppose, we end up no better than animals. Maybe, then, it is not just a random notion that this last in a series of character sketches concludes with a series of barnyard animals, arranged according to the logic that each successive animal either devours or is a threat to the one before. It is a long, long way from getting by with a little help from one’s friends.

Next: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”

Sunday, January 1, 2012

"Lovely Rita" (tenth in a series)

Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Concept Album that Never Was -- or Was It?

The tenth in a series by John Atwood, a thinker and guitarist who was inspired as an 11 year-old to learn the instrument after seeing the Beatles perform in 1964 on the Ed Sullivan Show and who followed their career assiduously through his high school years when he formed a garage band just so he could play their songs within a group. He's had a few decades to ponder the import of the Fab Four's music.

When I first conceived of this article, I had doubted whether my theory would hold up for this song. “Lovely Rita” is but a nonsense song, after all, so I feared making too much out of it. It is a fun song, of course, full of delicious phrases and entrancing harmony parts. But it didn’t take long in reflecting on it to see that it not only fits the pattern, but it is perhaps the most artful in doing so.

Start with the opening line:

Lovely Rita Meter Maid, nothing can come between us
When it gets dark I tow your heart away!

When I thought about this line, I recalled a line from the “Love Affair/Affair to Remember” movies, humorously uttered by some stellar actresses in successive tellings of the story: “Have you been getting results with a line like that?” I will defer to any woman’s sentiment about this, but it seems like a patently silly come on. It might be a fine joke between an established couple, but they are hardly words to conquer the heart.

As the song progresses, the singer describes nothing about Rita’s character, nor why he finds her so enthralling. In fact, it is almost as if Rita has no face, nor any other feature to compel a lover’s admiration. Again, I will let the female reader judge, but take this phrase as an answer to the question “What do you see in me?”:

In a cap she looked much older, and the bag across her shoulder,
made her look a little like milit’ry man.

Ladies, can’t you just see that line calling to you from the cover of some beauty magazine while you stand in line at the grocery store: “This Spring you too can look a little like military man!”

And on her part, though she is willing to spend some time with him, she seems to hold him at bay. They go to dinner, but Rita pays. (Hmm.) After dinner, he takes her home and claims that “he nearly made it.” However, in my experience and of that of the guys I knew growing up, “sitting on the sofa with a sister or two” hardly counted as “nearly making it.” Even a girl who wouldn’t necessarily welcome a guy she really liked to her bed after a first date, might at least want to be alone with him and have some privacy.

Rather, her actions seem to me to indicate that, though he may have a certain charm, she is essentially weirded out by him. “Jane, Alice, I just went out with this guy and, well, he’s charming, but he seems kind of weird if you know what I mean. Please come out and sit on the sofa with me!”

But the singer of the song has no clue that she sees things this way. He is full of himself, full of his own self-confidence and convinced she is having as fantastic a time as he is. In today’s choice of words, he would go tell all his friends “I think we really had a connection”, while at the same time her sisters would be saying, “Where in the world did you find him?” Preening self-confidence, in the end, turns out to be but another version of self-imposed loneliness.

What adds to the disconnectedness of the situation is how the song concludes. It changes into a strange collection of noises and grunts assembled over a time of relatively pointless piano vamping, ending with John going “Baby” while a hand runs down the piano keys. It seems an insensitive way to end a romantic song, if that was what this really was intended to be.

It is difficult to see this as just a mental lapse on the Beatles part. After all, they were masters of sensitive romantic songs, before and after Sgt. Pepper, and had shown great taste in how they did everything on this album up until now. This seems intentional, a kind of ‘thoughtlessness by design’. But I think this is the beginning of the album’s “end game”, which will be explained in succeeding posts.

Next: “Good Morning, Good Morning”