Friday, April 22, 2016

135. “The man in the mack” } a ferryman.

Ringo boards the Magic Christian; George “on holiday.” John returns to London with “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” calls on Paul at Paul’s and the two work it out: “John was in an impatient mood,” said Paul, “I was happy to help.” At Abbey Road (studio three, 2pm – 11, April 14, 1969), John sings lead, Paul sings harmony; John’s guitars (lead and acoustic), Paul’s rhythm and piano; eleven takes—“Take ten was the ‘best’ basic track."

“John recorded these sorts of songs with his new group, the Plastic Ono Band,” wrote Mark Lewisohn in The Beatles Recording Sessions, “and had the band existed at this time “The Ballad of John and Yoko” would probably have been theirs.” Paul’s presence brightens John’s song, brings to it a depth that, musically, it lacked. John’s solo record, “New York City”—another account of John and Yoko’s doings—gives a sense of what “The Ballad of John and Yoko” might’ve sounded like if John hadn’t made it Beatles. John’s guitar and Stan Bronstein’s sax on “New York City” attempt to fill it up—it’s manic; “New York City” is aggressive, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” is sly. Paul’s bass, maracas, hand claps, fun! but, “Christ, you know it ain’t easy… the way things are going, they’re gonna crucify me”—isn’t it that sneaky desperation that so startles on Smiths records? “New York City’s” jabs—policemen who shove, “God’s a red herring in a drag”—are hidden in the mix.

Prince died yesterday. Yesterday, coincidentally, I stopped at Rhode Island Historical Cemetery no. 41—a plot surrounded by industrial debris—where’s buried Edwin L. Green, died April 21, 1946, alongside his wife, Marion, who died in 1911, and their unnamed, infant daughter (“our only child”). I like to think about John and Paul in the studio together, in the midst of no little legal acrimony, in the midst of John’s heroin use, days after John’s marriage to Yoko, a month after Paul’s to Linda, at work. At work and able to enjoy the pleasure they found in work and in working together.

Two days later George, Ringo, Paul, and John recorded Harrison’s “Old Brown Shoe.” Philip Norman wrote (John Lennon: The Life), “…an indifferent George Harrison song ‘Old Brown Shoe’.” Indifferent? Christ! What about that song is indifferent? Listen to the way George pronounces his lyric—the blunt “shoe,” the way his delivery pushes and pulls.

“The Ballad of John and Yoko” single, b-side “Old Brown Shoe,” a neat pivot into the Abbey Road sessions, begun that day with “Something.”


  1. can you elaborate on "...that sneaky desperation that so startles on Smiths records"?

    I like some of Yoko Ono's solo stuff. "Mrs Lennon" recently rediscovered on an old mixtape. ". . . half the world is always dying, you know . . ." Something like that . . .

    Matthew P/

  2. I bought Strangeways, Here We Come, because I'd heard The Smiths were depressing. I expected dirges. Instead--"Death of A Disco Dancer" aside--the music was... jaunty. Strip "Girlfriend In A Coma" or "Unhappy Birthday" of lyrics and you get a happy tune.

  3. I love "A Rush and a Push . . ." from that album.
    The first album is dirge-like, tho. So slow! But the lyrics often have hidden humour. Juxtaposition.

    Sorry to digress to The Smiths. But.

    Wonder what AG's favourite Smiths song is . . .? Think mine is "Still Ill" . . .

  4. I'm no great Smiths fan. Strangeways... is a perfect whole. I like tracks on Meat Is Murder. My favorite might be "Asleep," that beautiful b-side on Louder Than Bombs.

    As for Yoko... no amount of revisionism has convinced me that her albums are great albums. Some of her songs are good, but her performances rarely serve them. I think Kim Gordon should do a Yoko covers album. I do, however, like Two Virgins a lot, and I like the Wedding Album. I should probably pick up Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions. What Yoko do you like?

  5. Oh, "Asleep" is the last song on the same old mixtape I found that has Ono's "Mrs Lennon". They are both favourites, respectively.
    An ex liked Ono more. I just discovered "approximately infinite universe" on youtube.
    It's good, but I wish it sounded more like this: that's haino keiji covering some old 70s japanese pop song.
    -- funny, he basically covered Marilyn Monroe singing "happy birthday" to JFK a week ago during his annual self-birthday live.
    -- also I noticed the Kim Gordon autobio is already translated into Japanese. Didn't sonic youth once play with Ono and Sean Lennon in NYC central park?

    Hooray for old mixtapes and the correspondences found within!