Friday, July 23, 2010

7/23/10 - Songs of the Summer, #29-30: "Mrs. Robinson" and "Get Back"

The Master List

Top Song of 1968: "Mrs. Robinson" by Simon and Garfunkel


How you feel about Art Garfunkel potentially goes a long way toward determining your status as an optimist or a pessimist. Really, it's the same issue presented by the case of Ringo Starr; how, as a person striving for success in a day and age where massive fame and money signifies both (whether rightly or wrongly), do you view someone that hit a cosmic jackpot out of proportion to his talents?

Because, talent-wise, there's no doubt that Art Garfunkel is a very good singer, but he's not bringing as much to the table as Paul Simon, not by a long shot. A good vocalist in his own right, Paul Simon is a fantastically talented songwriter, and Art Garfunkel is not. Which is fine. Talent is not distributed fairly in the world; a truth that most people come to grips with at some point in their lives. But how cruel for Art Garfunkel, who had to come to grips somehow with the fact that his childhood friend and longtime musical partner was just flat-out more talented than he was? And that despite being billed as Simon & Garfunkel, Art was in no way Simon's equal. A crucial ingredient to the folk-rock sound, and surely a strong voice in their collaborative partnership, but hardly a McCartney to Simon's Lennon (or vice versa).

So, what to make of Art Garfunkel, who has a phenomenally successful recording career mostly by dint of being friends with Paul Simon? Lucky break, karmic dues, or yet another sign of the universe's injustice? Ringo Starr was hardly the best drummer to come out of England in the '60s, but he fit the sound better than Pete Best, so he gets to be an icon. Such is the power of a well-written song, which can propel those attached to it like passengers of a rocket.

Mrs. Robinson is a lot funkier than it gets credit for, and I'm waiting for a rapper to snag the percussive opening acoustic passage along with the "doo doo doos". It's also got a pile driver of a chorus, and hits that peculiar Paul Simon sweet spot of being relatively inscrutable but seeming like it makes sense.

Top Song of 1969: "Get Back" by the Beatles


Speaking of Ringo Starr...here's the Beatles's only summertime #1, from the last days before they deconstructed the Voltron of rock and roll to transform back into four British individuals charting their own course in a popular culture that they themselves transformed.

The Beatles are very difficult to write about. As a rock and roll fan who came of musical listening age in the '80s/'90s, I was already subject to a thousand different variations and responses to the Beatles's core blueprint. Trying to get a bead on them is like being on the 50th floor of a skyscraper and getting a glimpse of the foundation.

Maybe my favorite recent piece on the Beatles is Chuck Klosterman's review of their re-released work; he takes the conceit of treating the Beatles as a "1960s band so obscure that their music is not even available on iTunes", and proceeds to review their collected works as though he'd never heard of them before.

Particularly apropos:

"It is not easy to categorize the Beatles’ music; more than any other group, their sound can be described as “Beatlesque.” It’s akin to a combination of Badfinger, Oasis, Corner Shop, and everyother rock band that’s ever existed. The clandestine power derived from the autonomy of the group’s composition—each Beatle has his own distinct persona, even though their given names are almost impossible to remember. There was John Lennon (the mean one), Paul McCartney (the hummus eater), George Harrison (the best dancer), and drummer Ringo Starr (The Cat). "

For another in-depth look at the Beatles free from the encrusted myths around the band, George Starostin, a linguistics graduate student with a side passion for '60s/'70s rock has an excellent write-up here. Fair warning: the page color will give you a headache, but the writing is sharp and insightful.

Most other writing about the Beatles holds them up as paragons of '60s youth culture, the apex of everything rock and roll, etc. Or else takes the tired contratian POV that the Beatles weren't that great. Which they were. They were that fucking great.

"Get Back" is extraordinarily catchy. The guitar hits at the end of each verse line and in the middle of the chorus perfectly end the melodic phrases of each. The refrain is simple but richly allusive ("Get back to where you once belonged" could be about the characters in the song, about the Beatles themselves, about '60s youth culture, or some combination of the three). Paul McCartney is a great singer. The rockabilly licks from George are perfectly complementary to the feel of the song. Ringo holds it down with his shuffle on the drums. It's the Beatles. They knew what they were doing at this point.

1 comment:

ariyele said...

hadn't ever thought about the connection with between ringo starr and art garfunkel. not had i thought about how garfunkel lacked talent. to me, the songs of simon and garfunkel come out as integrated wholes---i hadn't ever really stopped to consider the nature of the duo in them.