Monday, November 10, 2008

'66: Beatles, Petula, Monkees

The Beatles -- Paperback Writer

Prior to this hit, Paul McCartney's bass was hardly audible on most Beatles recordings, or certainly wasn't prominent. That all changed on "Paperback Writer," their second biggest hit in 1966 ("We Can Work It Out" was the biggest) and a return to #1 after "Nowhere Man" was a relative stiff, only hitting #3 Billboard. Paul usually used a Hofner but switched to a Rickenbacker for this session at Abbey Road Studios, and a loudspeaker was placed in front of the bass speaker. In that era, recording studios were loath to use a fat bass on waxings because needles often jumped when encountering it. EMI, the Beatles' British label, alleviated this with new technology called the ATOC -- Automatic Transient Overload Control. Paul's bass was almost played as a lead instrument on later Beatles recordings (re "Something").

McCartney's theme here is written in the form of a submission letter to a publishing house "Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?" It's possible he wrote it as a subtle jibe at John Lennon, who had already published two books of light humor (In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works. American fans, by the way, may have missed the pun in the latter title, a takeoff on the British spanner, meaning wrench). Paul has said, though, he was inspired by reading an article in the Daily Mail (the newspaper is mentioned in the song) about an aspiring author.

John and George sneak in the words "Frere Jacques" ("Brother John") in the backing vocal on the second verse, but notice they come in a little late the second time around.

In England, "Paperback Writer" b/w "Rain" was promoted in trade publications with their infamous "butcher photo" in which the smirking Fab Four posed with broken baby dolls and cuts of freshly butchered meat. The photo made its way onto the cover of the Capitol compilation LP, The Beatles -- Yesterday and Today but Capitol quickly realized what a mistake this would have been -- The Beatles still had pretty much a squeaky-clean image in 1966 and this wouldn't have been the way to broaden people's perceptions -- and recalled the album, replacing it with a more innocuous group picture.

Petula Clark -- My Love

The rollicking "My Love" is probably my favorite Petula Clark hit, but when her chief writer, her husband Tony Hatch, first presented it to her after writing it on a transatlantic flight over the North Pole from London to Los Angeles, Petula despised the song and, even after duly recording it in LA, begged Warner Brothers to not release it. The label's instincts were right and it became Clark's second USA #1, and in so doing she became the first British woman to enjoy two chart toppers in the USA.

The Monkees - Last Train to Clarksville

The "Pre-Fab Four" 's first single hit the #1 mark in November, 1966, composed by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who play guitar on the recording. In fact the only Monkee on the record was Mickey Dolenz; as a rule, the Monkees did not play a big role in the instrumentation on their early smashes. That wasn't an exception for mid-Sixties pop acts, however; the Beach Boys and even the Byrds often brought in studio professionals to augment their sound, and in many cases, even replace the band in the studio. After a time, though, the Monkees thought themselves proficient enough to play everything on their recordings and did so, to a great degree, on their Headquarters album in 1967. The distinctive opening lick is played by ace studio guitarist Louie Shelton.

There's a poignancy in the Boyce and Hart lyric that is often glossed over after you've heard it a hundred times: a man is in a railroad station going off to war, telephoning his girlfriend hoping for one last meeting; he says, "And I don't know if I'm ever coming home." This was in 1966, before the country had largely turned against the war in Vietnam. Boyce and Hart did not specifically mean Clarksville, TN, Clarksville, AZ, Clarksville, MO, or Clarksville, IA, Clarksville, IN, or any other Clarksville; they were being deliberately vague.


Joe Hedio said...

Petula Clark was a big star in France before she made it big here in the US. Here's a clip of her performing w/Francoise Hardy & Silvie Vartan:

Aren't you going to do "Leaning On The Lamppost" by Herman's Hermits?

Kevin Walsh said...

>>>Aren't you going to do "Leaning On The Lamppost" by Herman's Hermits?<<<

That was a #9 hit, I've gotta get thru all the #1s-#8's before that! I am doing them from the #1s through the #100s.

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George Cannon said...

It's interesting that you mention "Paperback Writer" and "Last Train to Clarksville" in the same post without referencing the fact that Boyce and Hart (one of them - I forget which one) heard "Paperback Writer" on the radio and basically ripped it off for "Last Train...". An interesting, often mentioned, and easily verifiable fact.

George Cannon said...

Also, this blog is great, Kevin and I'm a major fan of forgotten-NY too. I wanted to comment on your good observation that other well known bands such as The Beach Boys and The Byrds used studio musicians. I bring this up because these bands are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Pre-Fab Four (Monkees) are not - and should be. I don't think you can read a serious history of rock and roll and not read a reference to the Monkees. But, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is another issue for another day.