Okay, I can feel myself sliding right into the marketing trap. The new
The opening of this song -- that doubled guitar riff, swirling down the scale and up again, a rare Paul-George guitar duo -- hits my ear like a long-lost friend. I remember this as the opening song on the Beatles cartoon show, a crassly commercial rip-off that was ten times better than it needed to be. (I can still hear the Ringo character's Scouse giggle -- "huh-huh-huh, yeah.") Although now it's a track on Revolver - the remastered albums all follow the UK track listings -- as a kid I had the US albums, so this song was on Yesterday . . . And Today; that's where my ears expect to find it, right at the beginning of side 2, before "If I Needed Someone."
This just feels like a John Lennon song to me -- that whiff of snide contempt (a la "Think For Yourself") as he describes the poseur he's singing to: "You tell me that you've got everything you want / And your bird can sing / But you don't get me, / You don't get me." (Love how he pauses on that last line, just before voices explode into harmony on "me".) There are lots of theories about what this song means, but I like to believe that it was written to Mick Jagger, whose girlfriend -- his "bird" -- Marianne Faithfull was also a singer. We were so used to the term "bird" meaning "girl," it took a few listens before we realized "and your bird can sing" played on the original meaning as well.
The verses all read like a coded conversation, flipping off the guy's egotistical boasts ("You say you've seen seven wonders," Tell me that you've heard every sound there is"), showing off his "green" bird who can "swing." (That verb "swing" distracts some listeners into thinking this is about Frank Sinatra, who famously expressed scorn for the Beatles.) Whoever he's singing to, John shrugs him off, sarcastically declaring, "you don't get me //You can't see me, // You can't hear me." Notice how each verse hews to its own line of imagery -- possession, sight, sound -- the sort of writerly discipline that always marked the Beatles as professional songsmiths.
He does offer a sort of olive branch in the bridges (unusually, the bridge is repeated twice, with different lyrics, bracketing a nifty guitar solo). If the guy runs into trouble -- "When your prized possessions start to weigh you down" or "When your bird is broken, will it bring you down" -- John offers, "I'll be round." That touch deftly rescues this song from mean-spiritedness.
Notice how, in the verse, whenever John "quotes" the other guy's words, the rhythms are straightforward quarter notes, clinging to a nice major chord, with falsetto back-up harmonies; but as soon as he speaks in his own voice, he sings solo, with slippery backbeat rhythms and minor chords. And in the bridge, as the emotions get more complicated, so do the rhythms and the chords (augmented, 7ths, and sharped keys), though the melody keeps anchored to a repeated B note. I've read that Lennon loved to throw exotic chords into a song, with classic wiseguy bravura. But instinctively -- he'd never studied music theory, couldn't even read music -- Lennon knew how to use such musical effects, not just to show off but to enhance a pop song's drama. That's genius shining through.
So bring on the wordlwide media hype; I'm ready for it. I figure, any excuse to hear Beatle music has to be good.