Posts Tagged ‘Beatles’

Mechanical bliss

September 1, 2014

My pop music odyssey recently reached the mid-1970s and I have been listening to an assortment of things by Van Morrison; today I’d like to share a curiosity.

According to his official discography, Van Morrison recorded nothing between 1974’s Veedon Fleece and 1977’s A Period of Transition, but actually there was another record in there which, owing to contractual problems, was never released. It’s unofficial title is Mechanical Bliss. Some of the songs recorded for that album eventually made it onto Van Morrison’s back-catalogue showcase The Philosopher’s Stone in 1991, but one of the songs that didn’t make the cut was “Mechanical Bliss” itself. I’d never heard it until just these past few weeks.

It’s an interesting song that I’ve been having a lot of fun with. I’m convinced it is a parody of the Beatles in their late period, and a pretty good one too. I’ve never heard anything like this from Van Morrison before. Have a listen:

As I say, it’s a curiosity, but undoubtedly very curious indeed.

Warm below the storm

May 25, 2014

I haven’t said much, as yet, about the progress of my pop music odyssey, which is now in its third month. This week it brought me to 1969 and Abbey Road. I’m going to take a minority position and say that this song might well be my favourite by the Beatles:

Last piece of gum, Jamaican rum, etc.

March 22, 2014

The comment thread to a recent post brought to my attention Rolling Stone‘s list of greatest rock albums. In the Top 10 one finds both the Beatles’ Rubber Soul and (much the better of the two!) Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Reading through the blurbs about each album, I was surprised to learn that there is a connection between John Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood” and Dylan’s “Fourth Time Around” (which appear, respectively, on the two records in question). Since one of the aims of my pop music odyssey is to explore influences between the singers and songwriters I am following, this seems a good case study.

There are contradictory reports about the direction of influence. Some say that Dylan wrote “Fourth Time Around,” played it for the Beatles, and that Lennon subsequently wrote “Norwegian Wood” as a kind of homage, trying to incorporate aspects of Dylan’s songwriting style. Others say that Lennon wrote “Norwegian Wood” first and that Dylan, hearing it as attempt to ape his style — nobody denies that Lennon wrote it with Dylan very much in mind — wrote “Fourth Time Around” as a rejoinder and, possibly, as a rebuke. Lennon was allegedly left shaken by the final lines of the song (“I never asked for your crutch / Now don’t ask for mine”), which he took, rightly or wrongly, as directed at him.

Although I don’t know that I’ve had made the connection between these two songs without reading about the background, there are similarities. One of the striking things about “Norwegian Wood,” for instance, is that its meaning is unusually opaque — unusually for the Beatles, that is, who had made their fame on straightforward love songs. Dylan, on the other hand, was the master of opacity at this point in his career, and “Fourth Time Around” is a fine example of his craft. In both songs, despite the occluding surrealism and the missing details, I think we can descry a lovers’ quarrel — much milder in the case of “Norwegian Wood,” but still hinted at (“this bird has flown”). The melodies are even similar, each with a lilting motif that turns back on itself. Dylan’s melody actually seems to move in a circle, fittingly given the title of the song.

Anyway, let’s listen to both songs. Which do you prefer?


Dylan’s studio recordings are hard to find on YouTube; this version of “Fourth Time Around” is from a 1966 concert in London.