366 Songs 316: Real Love

“Real Love” has a strange history. It started as an unfinished demo by John Lennon from a musical he planned to write that he never finished, and in that form, it always reminds me of something from the Plastic Ono Band album (Specifically, “Isolation,” which he steals from – the “I don’t expect you to understand” at 1:38 in “Real Love” is a lift from 1:28 in “Isolation”); it has a pretty melody, but it’s clearly something that unfinished and while the Lennon demos have an intimate quality to them, they’re too slight to really feel anything for, to be honest.

From there, though, the demos ended up in the hands of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and producer Jeff Lynne as part of the reunion the band had to promote the Anthology project of albums and TV series; they were “completed” by the remaining band members to make a “new” Beatles song, and… Well, it just didn’t work, for many reasons.

Shall we count the ways? Yes, let’s; the way that Lennon’s voice sounds ridiculously digitized and feeble – apparently, due to the technology used to scrub away the existing instruments on the demos – for one, or the terrible effects applied to Harrison’s guitar that makes him sound more like a member of ELO than one of the greatest guitarists in pop music (That said, I still like the solo at 2:15). Or, hey! Ringo’s plodding drums! Ye Gods, Beatles. Way to flatten a promising start into two dimensions.

That would be the end of it; an oddity of one type translated into an oddity of another, and neither one really feeling complete in any substantial way. Except… Regina Spektor covered the song for a charity album a few years back, and her version is everything that I could ever want from this song – and something that actually reveals how beautiful a song this actually is, underneath everything else:

It’s got the intimacy of the original demos, with Regina and her piano, but the performance – the lower notes on the piano, especially, which add a wonderful bassline and depth to it, but also her wonderful, cautious voice (recalling Bjork at times, as she does) – lifts it up to new heights, and by the time the multi-tracked backing vocals come in, swooping like angels, it’s just drop-dead beautiful.

I first heard this version of the song by accident, in a store in Paris when Kate and I were on vacation and I was too embarrassed (and too unable to speak French) to ask the store assistant what she was listening to. What with the rest of the trip, I soon forgot about it and only rediscovered it months later, again by accident, and had that moment of “Oh! It’s that!” Spektor rescues this song, and turns it into something magical with seeming ease, and it’s hard not to imagine that Lennon would’ve thanked her for doing so, if he had the chance.

366 Songs 240: Gimme Some

First off, I apologize for the video. Scroll down and ignore its terrible flashing.

Secondly: Holy crap. This is Nina channeling Ray Charles, isn’t it? The call-and-response, the freak-out at 0:59, the arrangement that sees horns and electric guitars in the background, the vamping in the background at 1:51, the breathless vocal in general… It’s all weirdly Ray Charles-esque, whether intentional or not.

Not that that’s a bad thing, and yet… There’s something weirdly off about Simone doing this; she was enough of an individual that such imitation seems beneath her, somehow. It’s like when you hear her “Revolution” from 1969 and feeling as if it’s just ripping off the Beatles song of the same name the year before:

I feel like a bad pop fan, thinking such things. One of the things I genuinely love about pop music is that everyone steals, and then twists things and turns them into something else, and so seeing Nina obviously take on some influence or another should feel like something to approve of. Maybe my problem is that I can see the original all too clearly in each of these two cases…?

366 Songs 326: Sunflower

It’s unsubtle, unoriginal and overproduced, but I love Paul Weller’s “Sunflower.” Honestly, I’m not sure if I could really explain why, beyond the fact that I always find myself singing along to the chorus, and that I like the way it sounds – by which I mean, the actual sound of the instruments, the gruffness of the guitar at points, the thud of the drums in the chorus, the way the flute sounds and producer Brendan Lynch’s random beeps – but it’s a song that I always find creeping up on me when I hear it, overpowering my intent to sneer because it so blatantly rips off not just one, but two of Weller’s major influences during this period of his career. I mean, anyone with a passing similarity with the Beatles will think that “Dear Prudence” lives on in the draped guitar of this song –

– and, it does, I guess, but really, the guitar really comes from ELO’s “10538 Overture,” which took “Dear Prudence” and made it a little heavier. I mean, listen to that riff:

It’s a riff so nice that Weller used it again on his next album, even more shamelessly:

Suuuuuure you’re the changing man, Paul (I still love that video, though).

366 Songs 130: I’m Down

For years now, one of my favorite Beatles songs has been “I’m Down,” which was the b-side to “Help!” and, I thought, something that was just structured so unusually and so un-Beatley that I wondered where it came from.

And then, last night, I realized that it’s just a rip-off of (another of my favorite songs) Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say?”:

It’s all in the drumfills, really (No, seriously; somehow, the drums made the connection for me before I even got to the call-and-response-ish vocals or the electric piano similarities). I’ve always loved the Beatles’ shameless folding in of whatever they were into at any given moment, and I can’t work out if the connection between these two songs make me love “I’m Down” less, or even more…

366 Songs 064: Have You Heard The Word

Bizarre but true fact about “Have You Heard The Word” #1: That’s Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees singing, you know.

Bizarre but true fact about “Have You Heard The Word” #2: Yoko Ono once believed this song was a genuine John Lennon recording, and tried to copyright it as a result.

You can’t really blame her; sure, the vocal isn’t exactly 100% Lennon, but it’s pretty close, and between that and the song itself (with heavy, McCartney-esque bassline, and tempo change towards the end) really does sound convincingly like an unfinished sketch for a song from the latter days of the Beatles. Apparently, it’s actually the result of a drunken recording session by the Bee Gees’ Gibb and friends from 1969 that ended up being released without their permission a year later under the purposefully vague name “The Fut,” beginning the obsession of many a Beatle fan that it was, in fact, a leaked Beatles demo just as the band was splitting up.

I’ve never been the world’s biggest Bee Gees fan, but for this alone, Gibb will always be a-okay with me. I just wish that there had been a Fut album, way back when.