Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Songs #258, 259, and 260 - It's a Spectacular Triple-Play Wednesday!

Song #258 of 9999                      Song #259 of 9999                            Song #260 of 9999
Title: I Want to Hold Your Hand   Title: Tell Me                      Title: All Day and All of the Night
Artist: The Beatles                       Artist: The Rolling Stones                     Artist: The Kinks
Year: 1964                                   Year: 1964                                            Year: 1964 
Album: Meet the Beatles             Album: England's Newest Hit Makers   Album: N/A - single release

I took the day off yesterday from writing, missing a TWOsday, so I thought I'd come back with a Triple Threat Wednesday! It would be outrageous to look at 1964 and ignore the so-called British Invasion of the United States. I thought I'd look at three early singles from three giants of the phenomenon.

Comparing these three singles, I think the overall sense I get is that these were bands in drastically different stages of development. The Beatles were obviously very polished in almost every way, from their appearance to their performance to their production. Watching the video (of them lip-syncing, but still), there's an ease in their performance that comes with playing so many thousands of hours in the Hamburg clubs where they cut their teeth. They are clearly superb musicians even at this early stage of their career. 

But it's the songwriting that sets them apart. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" is Mozart-perfect. There's not a note out of place and there are things going on in the chord progression that none of the comparable acts of the time were doing. Here's an example: in the verse, we have the progression G-D-Em-Bm (I-V-vi-iii) with motion away from the tonic supporting the melody of the first line. The progression begins the same way in the second line (I-V-vi) but instead of proceeding to Bm, it switches to B Major (a III or actually a V/vi for über-theory geeks). This happens at precisely the time the lads leap by an octave in the vocal line. All this tension and excitement propels the song a 1/2-step higher to C and the refrain concludes with a strong IV-V-I cadence (C-D-G). It is an amazing moment in pop music history and it comes from really smart songwriting.

The Rolling Stones, by contrast, were just beginning to write their own songs. While they had hits in 1965 with Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" and the cover "Time is on Your Side," the only single release penned by Jagger/Richards was the ballad "Tell Me." It's not a bad song but it's pretty simple when compared to the Beatles' output. On the other hand, I think it's fair to say The Rolling Stones grew as songwriters and musicians faster than any other British Invasion band and they obviously blossomed into some of the most dynamic performers of our time. 

And there are The Kinks. To me, The Kinks are the most English of the British Invasion bands (with apologies to Herman's Hermits). The Stones were so into American Blues records and The Beatles were covering Motown artists, but The Kinks seemed to be mired in the Mersey Beat and never abandoned their English culture. With "All Day and All of the Night" (almost assuredly a variation on their previous hit "You Really Got Me"), The Kinks unveil an energy and irreverence that feels like a precursor to punk. Although The Kinks softened their approach by the mid-60s, perhaps that torch was carried on by The Who before eventually making its way to The Sex Pistols and The Clash.

No comments:

Post a Comment