Thursday, September 25, 2008

In Which I Blaspheme Someone Who Is Reportedly Bigger Than Jesus
(and quote a swear word while I'm at it)

I am about to say something that is potentially more outrageous and offensive than anything I have ever said on this blog. Ready? Okay.

I think that some Beatles songs are done better by people other than the Beatles.

Yes, I recognize the absurdity of someone who hardly even knows what a chord is daring to criticize the greatest band in the history of humankind, but bear with me for a minute--assuming you haven't already left.

I actually feel this way about a few of their songs that have been covered by other artists, but the one I'm thinking of at the moment is their first single, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." In the YA novel Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, which I'm reading in preparation for the movie, one of the characters explains why this is such a great song (and uses a bit of profanity, which I preserve because you didn't really think that G rating would last long, did you?):

Perhaps the most fucking brilliant song ever written. Because they nailed it. That's what everyone wants. Not 24-7 hot wet sex. Not a marriage that lasts a hundred years. Not a Porsche or a blow job or a million-dollar crib. No. They wanna hold your hand. They have such a feeling that they can't hide. Every single successful love song of the past fifty years can be traced back to "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." And every single successful love story has those unbearable and unbearably exciting moments of hand-holding. Trust me. I've thought a lot about this.

He's right, it's brilliant, but the thing is, I don't think the song as the Beatles perform it conveys that message as powerfully as it could. It's a beautiful idea, this simple yearning for a simple touch, and it's all there in the lyrics and the melody, but then they've got all this other stuff going on--drums and harsh rock-n-roll guitar stuff--that makes it sound more like a party song. Granted, it worked for them, else we wouldn't even know who the Beatles are, but I don't think it serves the song itself as well as, for instance, T.V. Carpio's version from the movie Across the Universe.

In the film, Carpio is a teenaged girl watching her secret crush from a distance, dying to have that one touch, that magic that passes between two people when they hold hands. To emphasize her beautiful vocals, the instrumentation is limited to an acoustic guitar and, I believe (but may be revealing my music ignorance here), a subdued bassline. The bass strums out the beating of her heart as her voice trembles with raw desire. It makes me feel all tingly inside.

You don't have to take my blasphemous word for it, though. I've included both versions below so you can listen to them simultaneously and judge for yourself.


Mr. Fob said...

Or is that more than one guitar? At any rate, her voice is the focal point.

Scot said...

Of course I would be one to agree with your blasphemy.

Have you listened to the "I am Sam" soundtrack? I'm not much of a Beatles fan, but got it just to hear Nick Cave's version of "let it be" and Rufus Wainwright's version of "Across The Universe" (gay people are required to like Rufus Wainwright, you know).

Edgy said...

Amen. Then, I'm also one of those in love with the soundtrack to Across the Universe. Next on your list of Loving Beatles Covers should be "Let It Be" from the same soundtrack.

Desi said...

WOW...that is beautiful. You are so right, so much better than the original.

I've never seen Across The Universe and I've never heard that version before, but I may have to go out and rent it now.

Mr. said...


On the other hand, I have a cd of Beatles covers from Elton John to Salt'n'Peppa and each one bites rock bananas.

(I'll listen to the clips when I get home where they aren't blocked.)

Earth Sign Mama said...

Here's the thing about a really great song: many people can record it and it will still be a really great song. Lennon and McCartney were a genius-combo at writing really great songs! So, when a terrific singer performs one of them, it is a moving experience for the listener...especially if there is something personal to hang it to. That's why the original versions by (The Holy Ones)(ha ha)still are my favorites because I was at that tender point of my life where hand-holding WAS the ultimate. Sigh.

Mr. Fob said...

Scot--I like 30-second sample of Rufus's "Across the Universe." I do my best to fulfill my gay duty.

Edgy--I like a handful of songs off that soundtrack, but so far I've only downloaded two: "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "Let It Be." I don't put "Let It Be" in this category, though, because great as the remake is, I think the Beatles got it right with the original.

Desi--Thanks! Oh, you mean the song, not my post. Well, I'm glad you like it. :) The movie isn't as wonderful as, say, Moulin Rouge!, but I did enjoy it.

Mr.--I must hear this Salt-n-Pepa cover, even if it does bite rock bananas. (Ouch.)

ESM--No doubt a well-written song is easier to do a great remake of than a bad one, and like I said, all the potential for greatness in this song was already there in the original. I'll not blaspheme your Holy Ones again.

Rebecca said...

This version isn't really different from the original except that SHE. IS. AWESOME.

And a bonus (it cuts off, unfortunately - but it's great):

Mr. Fob said...

I like. I had no idea the Beatles even had a song about Halle Berry. :)

Edgy said...

And so you know, that is probably the best scene in the movie. (Dec and I just went on an afternoon date because I likely won't see him the rest of the week due to his schedule.)

Mr. Fob said...

Had you not seen it before?

Edgy said...

It just came out this weekend.

Mr. Fob said...

Wait, what movie are we talking about?

Edgy said...

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist. You know, the one that prompted this whole post in the first place.

Mr. Fob said...

Oh, right. I thought you meant Across the Universe.