Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Beatles - Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields Forever

(Parlophone, 1967)

Imagine my surprise when, tonight, the Mayor of the Internet showed up at my doorstep to present me with a CERTIFICATE OF ACHIEVEMENT for receiving 1,000 hits on this very site! Apparently, this is the first time in the history of “the web” that this previously unimaginable plateau has ever been reached! So, in light of this incredible honor, I’d like to take a moment to thank all of you for making this The Most Popular Site In The History Of The Internet; and I’d especially like to thank the mystery visitor from Cambridge, Massachusetts, who pushed me over the top at 11:53pm Eastern. You are the real hero here, nameless Comcast subscriber. And – let’s be honest – the real winner, too, because during your visit, like 999 others before, you got to read gut-twistingly insightful and incisive commentary by me, a thoughtful, chin-stroking, pretend-recognized 7” reviewer. I take my lofty perch very seriously, and I want to assure everyone that I’ll never let you down. I’ll review every 7” from A to Z, and then back again. But even that won’t be good enough. No, I’ll never rest until I’ve reviewed TEN MILLION 7”s! Just watch me! Only 9,999,947 left, but the slow and steady bird gets the worm, right? And so we move on…

…To this grrrrrrrrrr-reat single by the Beatles!! It’s the first of the famous “Moustache Trilogy” (copyright: me), which also includes “All You Need Is Love” and “Hello Goodbye.” But forget those other two for now, because “Penny Lane” / “Strawberry Fields Forever” stands as the biggest, boldest pole-vault upwards ’n’ onwards that I have ever heard single-to-single from any band. These songs aren’t semi-regressive or self-consciously whimsical like the “Eleanor Rigby” / “Yellow Submarine” pairing, these pre-Pepper shockers are a coupla cannonballs into absolute paisley newness. Paul’s “Penny Lane” certainly feels more mannered and stiff than the endlessly-fiddled-with bizarreness of “Strawberry Fields,” but it’s still impressive in its wide-eyed ability to lift its subjects’ mundanity into the realm of the acid-fucked sublime. And has there ever been another band that was able reach into its bag o’ tricky tricks to plunk more instruments front-n-center on a one-off basis than the Beatles? NO! This time it’s a goshdang TRUMPET stealing the show!!

On the other side, more mind-blow: “Strawberry Fields”?? Holy CROW! Never mind the sumptuous mellotron, backwards cymbals (always a fine touch; it’s what MADE Jimi Hendrix’s one good song) and crazy-flute/tom-heavy fake ending: the lyrics are what truly win the day here. “That is, you can’t, you know, tune in, but it’s all right… That is, I think it’s not too bad,” takes John’s raging insecurity into the LSD era, but he really tops himself with this one, which might be the best lyric in any major pop hit, ever: “I think… Er, no… I mean… Er, yes… But it’s all wrong. That is, I think I disagree.” KAPOW, yeah? One more big thumbs-up is owed to the “misunderstanding all you see” bit, which has pleasantly baffled me since kiddiehood. Does he mean that misunderstanding IS all you see? Or that you misunderstand all you see? Dunno! That’s why it’s a good line! A good line on a freakishly high-quality single! Honestly, I could punctuate ’til the end of the night when it comes to this one. IT IS THAT FINE.

Oh, here are some more caps: AND FOR CRIMINY’S SAKE, THANK GOODNESS THERE’S FINALLY A DIFFERENT GRAPHIC LAYOUT ON A BEATLES SLEEVE. (Psst, historical note: Parlophone in the UK reissued all of the band’s 45s in the early ’80s, and that’s the “Penny Lane” I happen to own. Head-scratchingly, those art-hating Brits saw to it that this and “Let It Be” were the only two singles to have been released with picture sleeves in England during the group’s lifetime; the reissues retain that artwork while the others all add newly-created sleeves.)

1 comment:

Donald Brown said...

Penny Lane is "stiff"? Compared to what? Jeeze, if I didn't know better (and I assume I do) I'd say you're bending over backwards or in some other contortionist direction to NOT give Mr. PM his due, just to quell those who can't get over the sheer number of McM discs you've acquired as others their baseball cards. I'd say the song is "jaunty" and with the "fish and finger pies," well the cute Beatle is certainly giving his admiring ladies a no-doubt cute wink. Then there's Johnono's "nothing to get hung about": well, I'll dispense with the notion that the phrase might pair -- in a genitalia-centric way -- with Paul's line, to simply note that once, in college, I wrote an exam essay that considered the implications of "hang" in "nothing to get hung about" and in "if we do not hang together we assuredly we will hang separately." Mind-blowing, for sure.

But the real suspense among your 1,000+ readers, no doubt, is what is Hendrix's ONE good song!!! No matter which one you pick, I'm gonna have to take you to task for that. That is I think I disagree.