Saturday, June 3, 2017

Sgt. Pepper - Side Two

Digital issues and CDs de-emphasized the album "side," but in 1967, one indeed found it difficult to flip the record.

Side Two

"Within You, Without You"

If "A Day in the Life" is The Beatles' magnum opus, then "Within You, Without You" is George Harrison's 9th Symphony. The song that everyone skipped is as iconic as anything Harrison would create.

Whittling George's 30-minute composition down to seven was the easy part, while laying down the Indian inspired leads ranked somewhere in the middle, but one final recording session was needed to bring "Within You Without You" to completion. This extensive session began April 3, 1967 in EMI Studio One at 7 pm. Studio One was chosen because it was larger and more suitable for orchestral recordings, the major ingredient of the day. The session is noteworthy because, apart from the "Inner Groove" that was quickly recorded for the run-out of the British LP, this was the final recording session for the entire album. George Harrison may have been the only Beatle present on this day "with Paul somewhere over the Atlantic, winging his way to America," as Geoff Emerick put it. But it was a landmark day nonetheless, Emerick continued, "It was a marathon session, running until dawn the next day, but the results were nothing short of magical."

Magic aside, a modicum of prep work was needed from George Martin before the session even began.  "What was difficult," explained Martin, "was writing a score for the cellos and violins that the English players would be able to play like the Indians. The dilruba player, for example, was doing all kinds of swoops and so I actually had to score that for strings and instruct the players to follow.”  Concerning the "sliding techniques" of the previously recorded Indian instruments, Martin explains: "This meant that in scoring for that track I had to make the string players play very much like Indian musicians, bending the notes, and with slurs between one note and the next."  

"The problem was, Emerick explained, "that we were trying to create a blend of East meets West –  conventional orchestral instruments playing over non-conventional Indian instruments.  There were no real bar lines in the Eastern music, just a lot of sustained tones, most of which were playing in-between the twelve notes used in Western music. That was a really hard session for George Martin –  by the end of the night he was absolutely knackered.  Thankfully he had the help of George Harrison, who acted as a bridge between the Indian tonalities and rhythms, which he understood quite well, and the Western sensibilities of George Martin and the classical musicians. I was never more impressed with both Georges than I was on that very special, almost spiritual night.”

"When I'm 64"

Here was the track that appealed to your mother. Its vaudeville style was vintage McCartney, indeed, he'd been playing various versions of the tune since the Cavern Club. The song was initially intended as the B-side to "Strawberry Fields." How that would have changed the face of the LP, leaving “Penny Lane” available for inclusion on the LP (but where would it have fit? In place of "64"?). Probably the track on the album with the shortest legs; John called it "Paul’s granny shit," and yet, how beautifully he played guitar on this one. I can see the Lonely Hearts Club Band playing it at the town hall or on the commons; it's the most conceptual song on the LP, bar the title.

"Lovely Rita" and "Good Morning"

These two tracks are as British as they come (only "Penny Lane" exceeds them), the former in London or Manchester, the latter in any country hamlet. The piano solo, and its honky-tonk feel were pure Martin messing with a tape's capstan drive, creating wobble and flutter. 

The sessions took place simultaneously with the LSD story, and so how anything was accomplished is anyone’s guess. "Good Morning’s" use of gimmickry and Lennon's playful sarcasm make for the perfect lead into the title's reprise and the finale. The "good morning, good morning" itself was from Lennon's hearing a Kellogg's commercial. Lennon hated the tune, but that can't really sway one's thoughts. If one omitted all the Beatles' songs he didn't like, we wouldn't have half the catalog. Starting with a cock crowing, the track later features a cat, dogs barking, horses, sheep, lions, elephants, a fox being chased by dogs with hunters' horns being blown, then a cow and finally a hen. Aside from these special effects, the guitar kudos here go to Paul in some of his finest work (alongside "Taxman").

"A Day in the Life"

The harder-edged reprise leads into The Beatles' most important track. Lennon and McCartney both knew they wanted something extraordinary for the finale, so they enlisted a 40-piece orchestra to play the biggest crescendo in pop music history. In the vein of avant-garde composers Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage, the moment was left largely to chance. As George Martin remembers: "What I did there was to write, at the beginning of the twenty-four bars, the lowest possible note for each of the instruments in the orchestra. At the end of the twenty-four bars, I wrote the highest note each instrument could reach that was near a chord of E major. Then I put a squiggly line right through the twenty-four bars, with reference points to tell them roughly what note they should have reached during each bar... I marked the music 'pianissimo' at the beginning and 'fortissimo' at the end. Everyone was to start as quietly as possible, almost inaudibly, and end in a (metaphorically) lung-bursting tumult. And in addition to these extraordinary musical gymnastics, I told them that they were to disobey the most fundamental rule of the orchestra. They were not to listen to their neighbours. A well-schooled orchestra plays, ideally, like one man, following the leader. I emphasized that this was exactly what they must not do. Needless to say, they were amazed. They had certainly never been told that before."