HELP! (1965) – Mid-level Beatles

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Help! – Released Aug. 6, 1965

Another movie, another soundtrack album. In retrospect, it’s easy to see why The Beatles felt they had hit a rut at this point. A certain type of song was expected of them, and they delivered (and delivered well), but it was indeed a formula — no surprises, for them or for the listener. However, as escapist fare to accompany an escapist movie, the songs work well enough. Happily, the Fabs were not to stay in this familiar mode much longer.

Help!: Hardly anyone — John Lennon included — has ever noticed that he wrote one of his most emotional, heartfelt songs for one of his most frivolous movies. At the time, it was just more Beatle fodder (it even became filler for their Hollywood Bowl song selection), but it shows a songwriter growing beyond simple rhymes and romances. A nice harbinger of future treasures.

The Night Before: More filler for the movie’s soundtrack. A gorgeous melody is wasted on trite how-could-you-string-me-along lyrics. It’s typical of the crossroads at which The Beatles found themselves at this point — the conflict between extending themselves musically and the constant demand to feed the Beatle machine.

You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away: At this point in Beatlemania, love probably wasn’t the only thing they wanted to hide away. Nevertheless, John Lennon’s homage to Bob Dylan pays off musically, meshing with his own rapidly developing sense of xenophobia. The Anthology 2 version isn’t hugely different from the final product, though the final flute really seals the deal.

I Need You: Another overlooked George Harrison number, nicely understated and with an early use of the slide guitar that was to become a Harrison favorite.

Another Girl: Another example of an early-Beatles device wearing thin. The junior-high smugness of having another girl on line is parodied in the film in which it’s performed, wherein Paul “strums” a svelte blonde in place of his bass guitar.

You’re Going to Lose That Girl: John explores the same junior-high-romance cliches that Paul did on the previous number. But this one at least has more meat musically, goosed along by John’s vocals (and dig that crazy bongo!).

Ticket to Ride: It’s a minor point, but still, funny how nobody ever noticed this song’s subtle reference to cohabitation. It might be the most daring thing on the entire soundtrack. Otherwise, it’s another middle-period song with more bite melodically than lyrically.

Act Naturally: Definitely the only time that The Beatles’ and Buck Owens’ galaxies crossed paths. Still, with Ringo winning unexpected acclaim for his acting in A Hard Day’s Night, this country tune is only a perfect fit for him. Not-bad guitar-twanging, either.

It’s Only Love: In typical botched fashion, this was released on the Help! album in Britain but held aside by Capitol Records for the American version of Rubber Soul. Yet musically, it sounds more like a Rubber Soul outtake than does any of the other middle-of-the-road stuff from Help!. Here we finally get a taste of John Lennon, the ever-flowering songwriter who can no longer sit still for moon/June lyricism. The twangy background guitar is far removed from any musical esoterica on Help!, too.

You Like Me Too Much: One of George’s early efforts, this one starts out in a Lennon pseudo-posturing mode but has him caving in to humanism at the end. Worth listening to just for the nifty beginning, middle, and end piano riffs.

Tell Me What You See: I see a Beatles for Sale holdover, full of forced cheerfulness. The musical background is far too good for these I-yam-what-I-yam lyrics.

I’ve Just Seen a Face: Like John’s It’s Only Love, this Paul number was recorded for the British version of Help! but held back by those stingy Capitol Records execs for the American version of Rubber Soul. And again, it fits, as these two are two sides of the same coin and are both the musical stand-outs from the middle period. Paul’s jaunty vocals and guitar-playing suggest new musical ground, soon to be beautifully developed.

Yesterday: “For Paul McCartney of Liverpool, England, opportunity knocks!” jeers George mockingly in the Anthology 2 intro to a live version of this song. It’s been noted that this is the first Beatles recording to use strings and to not use the other Beatles in performance, as though that’s a virtue. As with most of Paul’s bathos, it’s unassuming when served in small doses, but strange that the man who complained about strings gone haywire on the final version of The Long and Winding Road was so string-quartet-happy here. Of course, to millions of orgiastic females and a few old-time singers who finally “got” The Beatles, all of this mattered little.

Dizzy Miss Lizzie: The final “cover” version on The Beatles’ official recordings, and it certainly goes out with a bang. Forget the live versions; when John sings this on Help!, he really does seem to be in a fever.

(One final note: It’s well-known that Capitol Records milked their Beatles product for all it was worth, and their version of the Help! soundtrack is a perfect example. Capitol’s Help! used only the Beatles songs that actually appeared in the film, and then they filled up the rest of the record with instrumentals from the movie. But as cynical as that move appears at first glance, I actually like the non-Beatles compositions [by Ken Thorne]. Thorne does some sly variations on old Beatles tunes such as A Hard Day’s Night. The soundtrack also features generous use of the sitar, an instrument that was little-known or -used in pop music at that time and which certainly got George Harrison’s attention.)

What do you think of Help! or any of its individual songs (or the movie, for that matter)? Feel free to share your thoughts in the “Comments” section below. Next up: The turning-point album Rubber Soul.

BEATLES FOR SALE (1964) – A bargain at any price

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Beatles for Sale – Released Dec. 4, 1964

At the time of its release, this record was mostly regarded as simply another Beatles album to be bought (hence the cynical title). But its shift into downbeatness comes as a surprise after the endless optimism of A Hard Day’s Night. Even the album’s cover photos depict the young Fab Four as world-weary. Fame was beginning to wear on them, and the songs herein reflected that.

No Reply: Much of this album seems tinged with bitterness (as symbolized by the somber photo on the album’s cover), so it’s appropriate that the song begins the album. Most of The Beatles’ unrequited-love songs have the appropriate shade of heartache, but here, the singer sounds more like a candidate for a restraining order. Only the usual superb musicianship save the song from unflagging self-pity.

I’m a Loser: John Lennon in full Pagliacci mode. A nearly fatal dose of self-pity redeemed by some savage harmonica wails.

Baby’s in Black: Just reading the Beatles for Sale playlist is enough to make you listen to the album with a bottle of pills nearby. Color-as-unrequited-love-metaphor is done far more effectively in Yes It Is, especially where twangy guitar and harmony are concerned; here, you envision The Beatles playing being a steel fence in some seedy country bar a la The Blues Brothers.

Rock and Roll Music: Chuck Berry might disagree, but for me, The Beatles do the definitive version of this song. John sings his little States-influenced heart out, and that juke-joint piano in the background doesn’t hurt things a bit. An absolute knockout.

I’ll Follow the Sun: The Beatles soft-pedaled their wares so rarely at this point that nearly any of their wistful songs give pause to the average rocking-out listener. Nice John/Paul harmony carry the song’s vagabond theme nicely.

Mr. Moonlight: This hank-of-hair-and-piece-of-bone stuff is best left to Jimmie Rodgers, as evidenced by the cheesy organ line the Fabs tossed into this cover. John’s throat-threatening vocals offset the song’s corniness well enough, though.

Kansas City/Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!: Notorious among Beatles aficionados in that, for years, Capitol ignored the song’s medley and listed it simply as Kansas City. It does make one wonder what the song’s final half (a man soulfully questioning his lover’s bad attitude) has to do with going to Kansas City (is that where she got the bad mood?), but somehow Paul pulls it off.

Eight Days a Week: Should have been a cliche, but for once the cheeriness isn’t forced. Beginning with that engine-revving fade-in, John’s unusually sunny vocals and hand-clapping are worthy of a revival. Anthology 1‘s early version of the song substitute wistfulness for high spirits but is quite effective in its own way (How about John and Paul’s falsettos on the word “week”?).

Words of Love: Nice Buddy Holly tribute, especially with John growling in best back-seat-of-the-car style. Only debit: All that damn hand-clapping.

Honey Don’t: This country-flavored rendition of Carl Perkins’ tune fits Ringo to a T, in this saga of a woman who (as John would later put it in Day Tripper) is just a big teaser. Ringo’s admonition to “Rock on, George” (who does just that) seem far more sincere than in If You’ve Got Trouble (from Anthology 2); at least there’s something to rock to here.

Every Little Thing: The title and its accompanying laundry list of how the singer’s woman pleases him sounds more like the singer is trying to convince himself (What’s with that sarcophagus-like piano pound in the refrain?). One feels that if the song’s own message of true love were more convincing, John wouldn’t have to utter the word “love” four times in a single verse.

I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party: Another glass of whine, please! John is so eager to advertise his supposed self-effacing modesty, one imagines the host continually edging him towards the doorway. The unrequited-love theme is served far more effectively elsewhere.

What You’re Doing: Once again, unrequited love sounds more like a stern lecture from a father whose daughter missed curfew. Ringo’s slamming drum rolls and a whiskyfied piano bridge save the day.

Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby: If you say so, George. Funny that George is the Carl Perkins idolator, and yet Ringo does a far more effective cover of Perkins’ Honey Don’t. Nice guitar work, but George’s vocals don’t suggest a rapscallion so much as a curmudgeon getting his morning nap interrupted.

What do you think of Beatles for Sale or any of its songs? Share your thoughts with us in the “Comments” section below. Up next: The soundtrack (songtrack?) to the movie Help!

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964) – The soundtrack of an era

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A Hard Day’s Night – Released July 10, 1964

Once again, The Beatles defy expectations and conquer another medium when A Hard Day’s Night — expected by critics to be another brainless jukebox musical — turns out to be one of the most charming movie comedies ever made, overflowing with great wit and memorable melodies. The soundtrack album (at least in Britain) featured the movie’s songs, followed by six more tunes of equally high quality.

A Hard Day’s Night: That opening guitar rush is irresistible. As in the glorious movie for which this served as theme song, it’s Beatlemania captured in a nutshell: frenzied, rapturous rock-‘n’-roll. Just try to ignore its sway.

I Should Have Known Better: Musically, it’s not much different from the movie theme song that inspired its existence. But then, it shares all of that movie’s and theme’s virtues as well.

(Two trivia notes: If you’re lucky enough to find the old Apple “hits” album Hey Jude [The Beatles Again], it has a version that is practically identical, save for a guitar fluff in the opening four bars. Nobody ever did explain where they got that take.)

(Also, the American version of the Help! movie soundtrack has a charming, sitar-flavored version of their previous movie theme; it’s titled Another Hard Day’s Night and is an Indian-sounding pastiche of both songs. If only The Inner Light was as tuneful.)

If I Fell: John and Paul go for the oldest trick in the book: Playing the naive, sensitive lover who needs for his new girlfriend to help him to understand what real love really is. Oh, well, it obviously worked, didn’t it?

I’m Happy Just to Dance with You: Another lead-vocal bone thrown to George by John and Paul. He does a nice job, but heck, on A Hard Day’s Night they could have given a vocal to George Martin and pulled it off. A great dance number, just the same.

And I Love Her: The boundless optimism of A Hard Day’s Night happily overshadows the fact that, save for the title song, every single song written for and used in the film contains the word “I” or “me” in its title. This love song is a prime example, extremely appealing musically but stopping just this side of a classic Freudian case of narcissism.

Tell Me Why: Surely one of the cheeriest love-gone-wrong songs ever recorded. As with most early-Beatles works, the superb musicianship and unflagging rhythm sweep along the unquestioning listener, but how is such a harrowing lyric carried off with such smiling faces in the movie, anyway?

Can’t Buy Me Love: “I don’t care too much for money,” sings the man whose publishing royalties eventually made him one of the richest men on Earth. Still, as sops to love-stricken fans go, this is one of Paul’s jauntiest. The early version of the song, captured on Anthology 1, is even more fascinating, with Paul in even higher octaves than in the final version.

Any Time at All: Another joyous work. Some seemingly unintended elements — the skeletal piano work, Paul’s chiming in on the refrain — drive the song along nicely, too.

I’ll Cry Instead: The beginning of John Lennon’s more introspective lyrics, for anyone who cares to look. Behind the usual driving beat and bouncing guitar work hides the man with “a chip on my shoulder that’s bigger than my feet.” Happily(?), John didn’t remain in this submerge-the-sad-lyrics-in-happy-music phase forever.

Things We Said Today: One of Paul McCartney’s most nicely understated songs, about romantic memories recalled in less romantic times. Only the Hard Day’s Night version carries the full beauty of this song; the two “live” versions (on The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl and Live at the BBC) cut the song short and derive it of its haunting power.

When I Get Home: Judging from the orgiastic vocal delivery on the refrain, this will not be a typical “How was your day, dear?”-type conversation.

You Can’t Do That: Far more unfortunate than the Beatles songs laced with drug references and incomprehensible lyrics are the tunes that are mainlined with early Lennon misogyny, of which this song is a prime example. The lyrics indicate that the singer’s girl is to talk to no other male except him–perhaps not the most enlightened message to be sending to your screaming female fans. Stranger still is the way these lyrics are delivered with a cheery, smiling face (as seen in the Hard Day’s Night outtake shown in the “making of” documentary of this movie), as though nothing untoward was being sung. It’s a chilling precursor to The Police’s Every Breath You Take two decades later.

I’ll Be Back: The Anthology 1 early takes on this song showed that the jauntiness of the Hard Day’s Night soundtrack just wouldn’t cut it for a more thoughtful approach. The final version nailed it beautifully.

What do you think of A Hard Day’s Night and/or any of its songs (or the movie, for that matter)? Let us know in the “Comments” section below. Coming tomorrow: Beatles for Sale.

WITH THE BEATLES (1963) – Quality time well spent with The Fab Four

What’s with all the Beatles album reviews? Click on the above image to find out about our ongoing tribute to The Fab Four’s first TV appearance in America!

With the Beatles – Released Nov. 22, 1963

On the same date that a tragedy was occurring in America, musical joy was being spread across Britain. The Beatles’ first album weighed heavily towards cover versions of hit songs, but this record showed them in all of their songwriting and performing glory. Happily, the musical ecstasy of which Britain was currently partaking would soon spread across the pond to ease the national wounds of JFK’s assassination.

It Won’t Be Long: In sentiment at least, it’s practically a sequel to All My Loving (which paradoxically comes two songs later), and it’s just as infectious. You’d have to be a total ogre not to savor the driving beat and down-to-earth optimism of this joyous song. Ends with the kind of “oooooo” wail that drove millions of girl fans straight into puberty.

All I’ve Got to Do: Another of those whisper-sweet-nothings-in-your-ear songs, and quite effective at that. As these kinds of narratives go, there’s a lot more give-and-take between the singer and his listener-lover, far more gratifying than the standard aren’t-I-a-great-guy lyrics. Perfect make-out music.

All My Loving: This is a quintessential early-Beatles song that you’d have to beat to death to make unlikable. Some of The Beatles’ early songs sound weaker when they’re done live, but this one’s infectious melody and quietly touching lyrics — a perfect sentiment for loved ones far away — never fail to deliver, no matter what version. A real rouser.

Don’t Bother Me: George Harrison’s first composition to make it to a record, and he’s done far worse. It’s obviously an aping of the Lennon/McCartney unrequited-love style, but it’s a damn fine imitation, helped in no small way by George’s own guitar licks. A welcome promise of good things to come.

Little Child: A perfect Beatles dance tune, though John’s condescending title reference to the girl in question is one step removed from the misogyny that would show its ugly light in later songs. But the rocking rhythm and harmonica blasts handily put aside such concerns, at least for the time being.

Till There Was You: Beatles covers were nothing new even on this album, but definitely none of the others were borrowed from a Broadway hit. Paul at his most romantic (love that flamenco guitar style!) grabs hold of a hit from Meredith Willson’s The Music Man and savors the flavor for all its worth. Even more delightful is the Anthology 1 version (performed at Britain’s Royal Command Performance), where Paul introduces the song as having been performed by “our favorite American group, Sophie Tucker.”

Please Mr. Postman: From this cover song to Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues (on Anthology 3, from the Let It Be sessions), postmen can’t catch a break on Beatles recordings. As with most of their early covers, the Fabs bring enough soulful fever to their version to make the original look like a pale skeleton.

Roll Over Beethoven: Just as Zeppo Marx occasionally got a nice solo number for indistinctly serving his fellow Marx Brothers for so long, so the Fabs threw this Chuck Berry bone to George since they gave him so little else to do in the early years. It’s not quite the “rocking little number” George would have you believe, but it would do until future Beatles producer Jeff Lynne did the ultimate version of the song for Electric Light Orchestra in 1973.

Hold Me Tight: Standard effective early-Beatles formula: Hypnotic backbeat, a few falsetto “you-oo-oo’s,” and Paul singing about “making love to only you,” and there goes another female!

You Really Got a Hold on Me: Another aces cover, this one of Beatles-acknowledged influence Smokey Robinson. This one more than adequately conveys the original’s sense of obsessive love, which John would later take to its ultimate end in I Want You (She’s So Heavy). Where did these white boys get such soul?

I Wanna Be Your Man: Whereas a potboiler like Hold Me Tight gets across all too well via Paul’s libidinous delivery, perhaps Ringo (the guy who sang about the virtues of Boys on The Beatles’ first album) wasn’t the best choice to deliver a rocker like I Wanna Be Your Man. Small wonder this one later went to The Rolling Stones to give it the requisite, er, power.

Devil in Her Heart: As Beatles cover versions go, adequate but nothing spectacular. The concept of George singing the lead while the other Fabs serve as a Greek chorus is nice, but it’s eventually ruined by George’s inadequate delivery (starting with the very first lyric, delivered unclearly). The BBC radio version, presented on the Baby It’s You taster CD for Live at the BBC, is even more woeful, with George completely screwing up the final refrain and practically throwing his arms up in resignation.

Not a Second Time: John had a bad lover, he blew her off, she’s back again, and by golly, he’s not going to take it anymore. Now that’s all settled.

Money (That’s What I Want): Compared to The Beatles’ sinister cover, the singer in the original version of this song was asking for a quarter for a cup of coffee. A most underrated Beatles cover that sounds downright possessed by the old maxim about love of money, root of all evil, and all that Bible-thumping stuff. An absolute stunner and a perfect closer to an amazing album.

What do you think of With the Beatles and/or particular songs from it? Let us know in the “Comments” section below. Tomorrow: A Hard Day’s Night.

PLEASE PLEASE ME (1963) – A fresh sound that rocked the world

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Please Please Me – Released on March 22, 1963

Producer George Martin said, “I asked them what they had which we could record quickly, and the answer was their stage act.” And so, in just short of 13 hours (a quick jaunt compared to their later use of studio time), a piece of rock music history was recorded.

I Saw Her Standing There: Paul McCartney’s opening count-off for this song — “One-two-three-faw!!” — is like the countdown to a new era of music. Despite the song’s opening innuendo (“She was just seventeen, and you know what I mean”), the song encapsulates the thrill of Beatlemania as thoroughly as does I Want to Hold Your Hand: raucousness for anyone looking for it, but relatively safe for generationally-threatened adults. And make no mistake: After all these years, the song still rocks. It’s hard to believe that it took some convincing of George Martin that Lennon and McCartney were real songwriters.

Misery: As opposed to Anna (Go to Him), this is a good old-fashioned cry-in-your-beer song. This feeling is bolstered by the clinking piano and John Lennon’s often-slurred delivery, not to mention the occasional snotty lyric (“She’ll remember and she’ll miss her only one”). More in keeping with Lennon’s early chauvinistic oeuvre than the later heartfelt stuff.

Anna (Go to Him): One of The Beatles’ first recorded unrequited-love songs, and it still packs a punch. John Lennon’s straight-from-the-throat delivery (it probably didn’t hurt that he had a cold while recording this album, giving some nasality to his vocals), backed by the withering guitar line, gets the job done. Only one question: Why is the song subtitled “Go To Him,” yet John consistently sings “go with him”? Another of his subtle defiances, perhaps?

Chains: They might not the kind of chains you can see (as the song says), but there’s still a certain masochistic edge to this tune, at least as delivered by The Beatles. From the opening harmonica blast to the melancholy vocals, the Fabs definitely provide an appropriate sense of imprisonment, though the subtext nearly suggests that they’re enjoying it.

Boys: In his Playboy interview (published posthumously in 1981), John Lennon found fans’ concerns about his spending too much time with Yoko Ono ironic in light of the fact that he used to spend most of his time alone with three other guys. Even more ironic is the unexplored subtext of Ringo helpfully describing the male species as “a bundle of joy.” Why are The Beatles so insistent on “talking about boys” here, anyway?

Ask Me Why: A happy early love song, definitely flamenco-flavored with the jaunty guitars and the “ei-ei-ei’s” all over the place. Much Beatle-related swooning probably begin right here.

Please Please Me: Legend has it that immediately after recording this song, producer George Martin told The Beatles, “Gentlemen, you’ve just recorded your first number-one song.” Nearly forty years later, in one of the Fabs’ greatest oversights ever, they release a compilation of their chart-topping hits titled Beatles 1 but leave this highlight off the CD. This one has it all: goosing harmonica blasts, snaky Lennon innuendo (just what was he wanting that girl to do in order to please please him?), and glorious rocking delivery. An all-time great.

Love Me Do: As a single, this was The Beatles’ first stab at recording, and it obviously wasn’t taking any chances: Unadventurous lyrics (the word “love” shows up a few dozen times for lack of better synonyms), middle-of-the-road singing and playing, and a studio drummer in place of Ringo (at least in its initial release). A pleasant enough tune, but hardly indicative of the heights to be hit shortly afterwards.

P.S. I Love You: Paul McCartney was to indulge in far worse schmaltz than this early bit of thoughtful sentimentality, in the form of a letter to a faraway lover. Wouldn’t have been out of place 25 years earlier in a wartime movie (and that’s mostly a compliment).

Baby It’s You: With great back-up by the other Fabs (you have to love that “cheat, cheat” chanting), John Lennon clearly gets across the underlying message of this song: You’re a slut, but I gotta have ya. With a few “sha-la-la’s” thrown in to sooth the questioning minds of adults.

Do You Want to Know a Secret: A Lennon-McCartney version of a movie lothario whispering nothings into his sweetheart’s ear. In this case, the lothario is George (probably a sop thrown to him to make up for having no compositions on their debut album), but it probably still had the desired effect on female Beatlemaniacs.

A Taste of Honey: How to sell a Beatles cover version: Make sure it has plenty of poetic synonyms for a woman’s kiss, then get Paul to deliver it at his most soppy. Shameless, but it gets the job done.

There’s a Place: The melody delivers far better than the lyrics. An early Beatle attempt at introspection (implying that the singer’s mind is the one place untrampled by the world) of the kind done more successfully in The Beach Boys’ In My Room. The rocking delivery doesn’t exactly mesh with the thoughtfulness, but it’s a nice try.

Twist and Shout: The story goes that in recording this debut album, John Lennon had to save this number for last because he knew it would tear his throat up. One imagines him spending the following week in bed, recovering. A perfect little rocker that makes The Isley Brothers’ original version look like an insignificant footnote. (And we’ll forgive teen-comedy filmmaker John Hughes for hijacking the Beatles version two decades later for Matthew Broderick to lip-synch in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.) Anthology 1‘s version is equally nifty, taken as it is from The Beatles’ 1963 Royal Command Performance, where John closed the show with his immortal wisecrack about how the wealthier patrons should keep the beat of the song.

What do you think of Please Please Me or any of its songs? Share your opinion in the “Comments” section below. Tomorrow: With the Beatles.

Announcing our Beatles album review marathon!

If you have a Beatles aficionado in your life, you know that person uses any excuse to celebrate any anniversary in The Beatles’ career. In this case, I have decided to pay tribute to the 56th anniversary (Feb. 9, 1964) of The Beatles’ world-shaking debut appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Thanks to Capitol Records’ vigorous promotional campaign, America was already well aware of this British pop group and their energetic music. Their appearance on the Sullivan show ensured that The Beatles were here to stay.

To celebrate this momentous occasion, each day leading up to the anniversary, I will review an individual Beatles album, song by song. When I say “album,” I am sticking strictly to the 13 albums that The Beatles recorded in studio in Britain as a group from 1962 to 1970, along with the two-CD collection Past Masters, which represents their songs that were initially released only as singles. I will give a short summary or history of each album (Lord knows you can find them all well-documented elsewhere on the Internet), followed by reviews of each individual song on the album.

So follow along for the next two weeks and see if you agree with my opinions on The Fab Four’s music. And if you don’t, feel free to leave your two cents’ worth in the “Comments” section at the end of each blog entry. First up tomorrow: The Beatles’ debut album, Please Please Me.

R.I.P., Terry Jones

I was briefly in the hospital this week (nothing major), so I was unable to address this topic in a timely manner. But I’d like to add mine to the chorus of voices mourning the death at age 77 of Terry Jones, who was one-sixth of a comedy conglomerate known as Monty Python.

Jones was an Oxford alumnus and a well-respected medieval historian, though you’d never know it from the over-the-top work he did on behalf of Python (although it was Jones’ knowledge of medieval times that served as an impetus for Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Although he (like the other Pythons) played a variety of roles, Jones’ most memorable characterizations were mostly milquetoasts who were clueless about the situations they were dragged into — the straight man in the immortal “Nudge, nudge” sketch with Eric Idle, the beach visitor who keeps getting caught undressing and cheerily resigns himself to doing a stripping routine.

In addition to Python, Jones’ oeuvre includes a TV show (“Ripping Yarns” with long-time friend and fellow Python Michael Palin), countless books, plays, and screenplays, and several movie-directing turns. Sadly, the last years of Jones’ life were riddled with dementia that robbed him of his ability to think and communicate — a huge loss for any person, but doubly so for such a prolific scholar and creative being.

Thank you, Mr. Jones, for all the outrageous laughs. Here is probably his most memorable movie routine, from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.

Happy birthday, Oliver Hardy (1892-1957)

The following blog entry was previously posted one year ago today.
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Today is the 128th natal anniversary of Oliver Hardy. Only instead of us singing “Happy Birthday” to him, we’ll better honor this day by letting him sing to us! Here is a compilation of Hardy’s wonderful singing scenes from Laurel & Hardy movies.

From Brats.

From Pardon Us. (The singing is wonderful — the blackface, not so much.)

From Beau Hunks. (I couldn’t find the song by itself, so here’s the complete movie. Ollie’s singing begins at the 0:30 mark.)

From Way Out West.

From Swiss Miss.

From The Flying Deuces.

And last but not least, from Them Thar Hills.