Paul McCartney Goes Too Far Part 1

In the light of experience gained from operating HMS Dreadnought the Navy has made a number of changes in the arrangement of Britain's first all-British nuclear submarine, the Valiant, now back at Barrow after three weeks' contractors' sea trials. (The Times, May 25th 1966) We all live in a Yellow Submarine, A Yellow Submarine, A Yellow Submarine (Paul McCartney, “Yellow Submarine”, (written May 31st 1966)

Paul McCartney spent his hiatus from the business ofbeing a Beatle absorbing mid-sixties London's vital cultural life. He came back to the table with a bag of new ideas, and the confidence to be “pretentious” - to make their next album something more than a pop album. He wanted it to be a work of Art: “I for one am sick of doing sounds that people can claim to have heard before”38, he said.

Since early in The Beatles career, McCartney had felt a slight irritation at being perceived as “the cute Beatle”, with the implication that Lennon was the brains behind the group. Even on Revolver, however, there are moments which remind us of how he developed that reputation. “Here, There and Everywhere” was a leftover from the Help! period39, and would have fit nicely on any of the preceding three Beatles albums. It is an excellent song in many ways but is also relentlessly sweet and calculatedly sentimental, after the manner of “Michelle” or “Yesterday”. Nonetheless, it is balanced by McCartney's other contributions to the record, which demonstrate a new-found adventurousness, and exhibit a range of styles not only unusual for McCartney, but at the cutting-edge of pop music.

The road away from cuddly balladeer to bold experimenter began at the end of 1964 when John Lennon ceased to conceal his marriage and children. He moved away from London to a prosperous but dull upper-middle-class enclave in Weybridge, Surrey, and tried (half-heartedly) to be a family man. In so doing, he all but abdicated leadership of the group, and if McCartney didn't take over, he did at least find room to stretch.

And he was well-placed to do so, both geographically and culturally. In November 1963, he too moved out of the shared bachelor flat and into a large middle class house. Unlike Lennon’s house – “Kenwood” – Jane Asher’s family home at 57 Wimpole Street provided plenty of stimulus: it was Bohemian, busy, and right in the centre of London's West End.

I lived a very urbane life in London... I had the metropolis at my fingertips with all this incredible stuff going on... and John used to come in from Weybridge... and I'd tell him what I'd been doing: “Last night I saw a Bertolucci film and I went down the Open Space, they're doing a new play there”... I do remember John coming in with his big chauffeur and Rolls-Royce, the big, lazy, almost decadent life out in Weybridge and saying “God man, I really envy you”. (McCartney, Sessions, p. 15)

Asher and her family were an extraordinary group of people. Jane herself had been acting since she was 5 years old, in both films and on stage. When McCartney met her, she was a strikingly beautiful 17 year old who was not yet a household name, but whose star was distinctly on the rise. Like all of her family, she was also interested in music, and played several instruments.

Her father Dr. Richard Asher was a renowned psychiatrist, most famous for his 1951 article in the Lancet, in which he identified and named Munchausen syndrome, a condition which leads people to fake illnesses in order to get attention from doctors and other medical professionals. He demonstrated a creative streak in naming the illness, borrowing it from a series of fictionalised accounts of the adventures of the real life Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Baron von M√ľnchhausen (1720 – 1797), rather than simply giving it his own name40, as was standard practice. He spent most of his spare time “playing an out of tune grand piano”, and he also enjoyed taking pin-hole photographs of the view from the window of his ground floor den. He was a lively, occasionally eccentric individual, who once advised McCartney on how to get the benzedrine out of a nasal inhaler, for recreational purposes41.

Her mother Margaret Asher was a music teacher, who had formerly played oboe with several orchestras, and then worked at the Guildhall School of Music. When McCartney lived at Wimpole Street, she was giving private lessons from a well-equipped but unglamorous music room in the basement of the house.

Jane's brother Peter had also acted as a child but, like many young men, was captivated by pop music and had formed a band with his friend Gordon Waller. He and McCartney got on well, despite the difference in their upbringings, and he was later to work for the Beatles' Apple Corporation, and from there to go on to a career as a high-profile record producer in Los Angeles. Jane's youngest sibling, her sister Claire, was also a child actress.

The house itself, as well as being conveniently placed for the cultural life of London, and in a tranquil, airy street, might also have been designed for the education of a curious young man. There were several pianos, stacks of classical music LPs, and the aforementioned music room, which became something of a base for Lennon and McCartney when working on increasingly rare joint compositions.

The Ashers... were very perceptive people, highly intelligent and very musical. Although no one could ever say they had any taste for the avant-garde, they encouraged Paul in his musical self-education to experiment and to be free, musically, if he felt like it. (George Martin, Summer of Love, p.80)

Exposure to classical music in this environment opened McCartney's mind to the use of orchestral instruments on his songs, and the unequivocal success of “Yesterday” only encouraged him further. That song featured a tastefully arranged string quartet in the place of the other Beatles - there were no drums, bass or electric guitar. Brian Epstein and George Martin seriously discussed releasing the song as a McCartney solo single. It was not only a commercial success – though not released as a single, it has been covered more than 2500 times - but also impressed critics.

By the time the band came to record Revolver, McCartney seemed to find it hard to write an unadorned pop song, without either a French horn ("For No One"), brass band ("Yellow Submarine") or string octet ("Eleanor Rigby"). Compare these to Lennon's contributions to Revolver, which are lyrically and structurally adventurous, but built around drums, bass and guitars, without session musicians playing classical instruments, or even jazz musicians playing horns. The only adornments are electronic and even those, as we will see, are largely the work of McCartney.

McCartney had, like Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, always been happy experimenting with a range of instruments - he played guitar, bass guitar, drums and piano, and Margaret Asher also taught him to play the recorder 43 during 1965. Lennon, by contrast, played guitar, but not especially well, and was uncomfortable, at best, behind a keyboard.

McCartney was not, however, musically trained – his learning had all been informal, with tunes picked up by ear. He still cannot read music, but in 1965 briefly flirted with remedying the situation, by having a few lessons in music theory with a “proper bloke at the Guildhall School of Music": I went off him when I showed him “Eleanor Rigby” because I thought he'd be interested, and he wasn't. I thought he'd be intrigued by the little time jumps. (McCartney, Anthology, p.209)

That quotation is telling. It demonstrates a desire to not only mix with, but also to impress and be approved of by, the artistic establishment. Evidently the teacher in question was not terribly supportive, but then it is surely somewhat egotistical to expect someone with a training in classical music to be especially impressed by a minimalistic and rhythmically uniform composition like "Eleanor Rigby", as a piece of classical music.

“Eleanor Rigby” was not only written almost solely by McCartney, but is also performed with only a small amount of help from his band mates. It represents a perfect synthesis of new influences, being not only musically adventurous (in pop terms, at least) but also lyrically advanced. It draws its themes and dramatic mode from social realist theatre and film, rather than from personal experience, or other pop songs. It marks the stretching of McCartney's imagination, with deftly sketched characters and narrative suggesting a gritty black-and-white “Wednesday Play”44 concertinaed into 3 minutes.

In 1966, Jane Asher was acting in a version of John Dighton's farce The Happiest Days of Your Life at the Theatre Royal, Bristol. It was whilst visiting her there that McCartney claims to have come across the inspiration for the name “Eleanor Rigby”.

I saw Rigby on a shop in Bristol when I was walking round the city one evening. I thought, 'Oh, great name, Rigby.' It's real, and yet a little bit exotic. (Anthology, p.208)

There was, in 1965, a firm called Rigby & Evans, with a premises across the road from the Theatre Royal, on King Street. It is likely that, as he rolled the words around in his mind, Rigby & Evans became “Evans & Rigby", and that the sound of this spoken aloud triggered a memory of the gravestone in Liverpool which is commonly supposed to have inspired the song.

The lyrics of the song developed, as seems typical of McCartney, after the tune. McCartney himself cites an early improvised lyric in Anthology: “Dazzie-de-da-zu picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been...” (p208). Donovan Leitch, however, recalls hearing an early version of the song with quite different “nonsense” lyrics: “Ola Na Tungee/ Blowing his mind in the dark/ With a pipe full of clay45”. It's interesting that, if Leitch recalls these proto-lyrics correctly, McCartney had almost (perhaps subconsciously) settled on Eleanor as his character's first name.

The other song on Revolver with the clearest classical influence - “For No One” - is actually more influenced by Lennon's earlier Rubber Soul tune “In My Life”. In short, both are pop ballads with baroque instrumental solos grafted on. In both cases, too, a persuasive case can be made for crediting George Martin with both the idea and execution of both solos.

As well as a general encouragement and facilitation of his interest in the more conventional side of classical music, McCartney's relationship with the Ashers led him to become acquainted with the well educated “arty” crowd who were to become his most frequent social companions during the Revolver period. They were to take him beyond the formal “prettiness” of classical music, and into the realms of the often exciting, sometimes baffling, but rarely pretty, avant-garde.

I first met Paul in the summer of 1965... Together with John Dunbar and Peter Asher, I started Indica Book and Gallery in Mason's Yard and Paul was very involved in painting the walls and putting up shelves. Paul designed and had printed the wrapping paper for the bookshop and helped design advertising flyers. (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now, p.xiii)

Barry Miles studied at Cheltenham Art College, where he pursued an interest in painting and “quickly fell into what then passed as a bohemian existence, listening to jazz, smoking pot and marching with CND"46. He moved to London in 1963, where he found work managing a bookshop. He used this position as an opportunity to push the writing of his favourite American “beat” poets and writers to other like-minded young men.

He and McCartney became good friends quickly. Miles would play McCartney records at the Hanson Street flat where he lived with his wife. He accompanied McCartney to “happenings” - performances at which the audience were expected to participate fully, and at which the boundary between the audience and performers all but disintegrated47. One such event was hosted by the AMM musical collective, under the leadership of eccentric Marxist composer and essayist, Cornelius Cardew:

About 20 people sat around on the floor, facing AMM who were making noises on instruments ranging from tenor saxophone and violin to various percussion instruments and wind instruments. A number of transistor radios stood among the instruments but were only rarely turned on... channels of static or distorted music from far-away stations were preferred... The audience was encouraged to contribute: Paul ran a penny along the side of an old-fashioned steam radiator and, after the break, used his beer mug as an instrument to tap. (Barry Miles, “Going Underground", The Beatles: Ten Years That Shook the World, p 238)

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The Beatles Always Stay in Our Heart.

13 comment:

cahdjogja said...

yellow favorite song....nice2

musicfreak said...

good info.

gimsot said...

hmmm..i like this man, world quality band bassist :)

3ndur0 said...

i like it ---- thx U'r info

Anonymous said...

nice info,,

Rinto said...

yeah...he's a legend

KAJI said...

I don't have idea for comment about Paul McCartney because he is not my favorite man. sorry everybody..

kang tatang said...

hem...just listening to Beatles's song and get sleep...ZZzz..ZZzzzz..

It's been a hard days night... and I've been workin like a dog......

kang tatang

BlackBerry said...

I think Yellow Submarine is about a particular drug...I forget what, it has a shape like capsule, has a yellow color and that it has to be submerged in water first, i.e to dissolve it, to make it works (hence the term submarine.

cahdjogja said...

sob sekalian mp3

Apih Yayan said...

i like the beatles.. nice blog.. and succes...

genial said...

tiap manusia, siapapun itu punya bates nya masing2 :( adakalanya dia lupa, nanti juga kembali ke sediakala, bahkan nantinya lagi bisa lbh parah lagi :(

life of the beatles said...

Nice article - thanks for posting it

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