Quick definition of pop song: any popular song from any era regardless of musical genre.
The criteria for getting to be Reid’s Pop Song of the Month is simple: I have to love the tune. It has to dye me, heal, console and inspire me, teach, enlarge and challenge me, contribute to my personal evolution, resonate through my lifetime and be a wonder-filled marriage of music and lyrics. Each tune has to have “seen me through” somehow. Not much to ask of a pop song, is it?
There are certainly elements of “trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll” when writing intimately about something utterly subjective like your favourite songs. With every song in this series, it might take a few listens to hear what I hear but if you never hear it, that’s fine too. Ear of the beholder. Besides, it’s only a pop song.
Lest we fall into a pop culture miasma of foolishness and desire and lose track of our balance, I suggest you click on the Culture is not your friend link on my blogroll and let Terence McKenna fill you in. He makes a very clear distinction between art and culture, a distinction that is mostly invisible today.
REID’S POP SONG OF THE MONTH IS
And Your Bird Can Sing
This time Reid’s Pop Song of the Month is my favourite all-time Beatles song, which comes from my all-time favourite Beatles album. Not one of their better-known tunes, And Your Bird Can Sing appeared on the 1966 album, Revolver, the UK edition. Click on the cover and give it a listen.
The Beatles and the development of most of their songs have been well-documented and fully-exploited, giving us audial delights and candid peeks into their creative process. And Your Bird Can Sing evolved noticeably from the rough idea Lennon brought to the studio. In this age of instant retrieval, I found two earlier versions of the song. Working backwards, the version before the final has a distinct Byrds feel to it, appropriate to the tune’s content. The chiming guitars and sweet harmonies suggest Lennon’s fascination with the Byrds and his wonderful ability to mimic other musicians. The second and third verses are switched for the album version. By the time the final version appears, it has evolved from being a song influenced by the Byrds to being very much a Beatles song. Hear the middle version by clicking on the Lennons.
Previous to that, we have an earlier, almost demo version very much at the kibitzing stage of development – stoned young Beatles having fun in the studio. Bass, tambourine, lyrics in progress, laughter and whistling at the end are all being developed but George’s guitar riff in the break and at the end is nearly complete. Later the riff becomes the solid fuming basis used throughout the final cut. Click on the Remco Beatles dolls to give this earliest version a listen.
What makes And Your Bird Can Sing sound so great to my ears?
Let’s start with its context. The British version of Revolver is as the Beatles planned it with three songs the North American version lacked, one of them And Your Bird Can Sing. In addition to being my fave Beatles album, Revolver is also my Number One favourite album of all-time. A pristine moment in pop history, something utterly ephemeral passed through these four men and the surrounding crew and environment resulting in this Divine creation. The distance in sophistication and creative ease between Revolver and Beatlemania, recorded just 30 months earlier, is a quantum leap. Tracing Revolver’s musical evolution: Ticket To Ride, Rubber Soul, We Can Work It Out, Nowhere Man, Paperback Writer, Rain.
This is how I interpret the whole album. After they get the taxes and death songs (Taxman and Eleanor Rigby) out of the way, the dream that is Revolver begins in earnest with I’m Only Sleeping. Every subsequent track takes us deeper and deeper that by track nine, And Your Bird Can Sing, we are lucid dreaming along with the lads. Here the dream takes flight.
A perfect Lennon tune, oblique, lively and cutting, everyone comes through here. The searing break from the earliest version becomes the foundation for the whole song. Raw, harsh and rousing, George’s riff sounds like it’s been playing for five minutes before the song starts, creating immediate tension. The urgency of the riff reinforces and maintains the tension and the vitriolic tone of Lennon’s lyrics, a putdown of a woman who owns everything except Lennon. In British slang, a bird meant a girl, putting another spin on the lyric.
McCartney comes through with yet another inventive bass line; his subdominant chord at the end releases the song’s tautness in a flutter. Muted (he sounds like he’s playing a cardboard box) but solid, Ringo’s masterful backbeat is complemented by his trippy high-hat work.
The four guitar waves and McCartney’s exuberant harmony that accompany the line “You tell me that you’ve heard every sound there is” at 1:20 in the final version represent, to these humble ears, the three most stunning, thrilling and expansive seconds of pop music ever created, a fleeting gem of magic in a strikingly unusual setting, an astonishing musical moment in a career loaded with astonishing moments. The guitars in those subtly diminishing waves quintessentially define for me Chuck Berry’s description of Johnny B. Goode, “He could play guitar just like ringing a bell.”
Though Rubber Soul has its moments, Revolver is the Beatles’ first cohesive challenge to fans, to other musicians, to the world. It directs us to look inside, to seek our true nature, to experiment with our consciousness, not in the blatant druggy Sgt Pepper fashion like a year later, but in a subtle, kind and innocent way that suggests creative play and a love for the world and all its problems. It made the world’s teenagers think about death and transcendence! For those reasons this music matured as I did, growing along with me, guiding me in some way, its message becoming clearer as I changed, yet changing with me. At the same time, Revolver has always been a comfortable reliable place to return to, to retreat from the world and dream along. I’m very grateful to have this album to accompany me through my life. It truly has dyed me. Thanks Fabs!
The Final Tally for And Your Bird Can Sing
On the ascending scale of sweetness according to The Beatles song Savoy Truffle:
Nice apple tart
Cool cherry cream
Ginger sling with a pineapple heart
Number of teeth you’ll need to pull (out of 32): 1
Compared to glucose/fructose, the likelihood of getting diabetes from listening to this tune repeatedly is: 2%