Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Tomorrow Never Knows" by the Beatles (1966)

You know, there are few things in this life less interesting than reading people prattle on about the Beatles. The tendency to present the Beatles as something special, unique, unprecedented and in all categories distinct as opposed to a very, very good band that made a lot of good music for a few years has, in my opinion, backfired. Your average punter feels he can’t appreciate the Beatles the same way he might appreciate, say, the Who. I mean, I half feel that I need to create a special ‘directory’ when uploading them onto my MP3 player, for Christ’s sake.

The thing is, though, bravado and marketing aside, the Beatles were pretty amazing. There are at least a dozen Beatles songs that deserve a rightful place here, and presumably we’ll get to them all sooner or later. This one, not a single or even a song you ever hear much on the radio, is the concluding track on “Revolver”, without a doubt their finest album. From start to finish, there’s a total of maybe two or three songs that merely good, not exemplary. No hyperbole.

This one… well, this is John Lennon tripping out on LSD and reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Forgetting Aldous Huxley rhetoric for a minute, it’s all very Buddhist – Lennon apparently even wanted chanting monks on the track. Strange, though, that this is the Beatles as Buddhists, because instead of being calm and meditative, it is an unholy din from start to finish.

I can’t imagine what EMI must have thought when they heard the cacophony of seagull squalls, backwards guitars, lumpen misshaped drums and (most brilliantly) a one-note bass line. How cool is that? On top of all of that is Lennon clearly not going gently into the good night, shrieking into a chasm of echo. This is good-trip as bad-trip, or someone who can’t see the difference between the two or doesn’t care.

Apparently the mess of sounds in this track came to be through tape loops brought in by each member (the seagulls apparently Paulie laughing) – so in a sense this is a democratic “Beatles composition”, but it’s impossible to imagine it coming from the mind of anyone but John Lennon. I dislike the notion that has become established ‘truth’ that Lennon had all the talent and McCartney had all the white teeth – Lennon made his fair share of crap and McCartney more than his share of genius. But it is a different type of genius, and I don’t think Paul ever could have found beauty in what is deliberately ugly quite to this extent – even if he was the first one making avant-garde musique concrete. They were just too different. What Paul made was also brilliant, but I don’t know whether it was ever quite as… for lack of a less-clichéd word, provocative.

Nor, mind you, were Oasis, a band that tried to get rich off of Lennon-deification to the point of actually covering this song, a band that wouldn’t recognise unbridled genius of this nature if it bit them on the ass…
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