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We’ve discussed the notion of a “Beatles in the Seventies” album many times before on the site — here, here, and so forth — but I stumbled across another person’s worthy effort this morning and thought I’d share it.
I’ve been slowly reading and enjoying Trav S.D.’s fascinating and florid history of vaudeville, No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous and so I wasn’t entirely surprised that his picks for a lost Beatles album were somewhat idiosyncratic. To my great pleasure, Trav has identified McCartney’s “Suicide” as the seed of something great that should’ve been given the full Beatles treatment. But to my vivid consternation, he also puts the aimless noodling of “What’s The New Mary Jane?” in the same league as “I Am the Walrus” and “It’s All Too Much” — instead of what it truly was, the first signs of Lennon’s melodic well running dry. (For the next four years, a lot of Lennon’s work seems like someone’s charging him by the note. “But I’ll let you quote Chuck Berry for free.”)
Trav’s a fellow fan of the 1968 “Not Guilty” (for which I have stated my love many times); but then goes off the rails with the incredibly dreadful “Circles” — why not “Nowhere to Go” or another unreleased worthy from Beware of ABKCO? In other words, how dare Trav not be just like me?
Those are my yelps of praise and pain, put your own in the comments. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable post, and Trav S.D. is clearly a fellow traveler when it comes to the Beatles. We welcome him to the burgeoning Dullblogverse.
“What’s The New Mary Jane” always gives me heartburn, from the first time I heard it on an extremely poor sound quality bootleg (way back in 1970) all the way up to polished digital current day. I suspect this is the same reason I can’t tolerate “Let It Be” bonus tracks for more than a few songs… because of all those shitty-sounding bootlegs. I’ve been poisoned!
Chuck Berry was a well of pure water that Lennon drank from again and again. In later interviews he was refreshingly honest about his magpie ways.
I would expect any fan of vaudeville to pick some weird Beatle songs for a “best of” list, and Trav has not disappointed.
Agree, @Sam. Those dreadful bootlegs ruined that whole period of Beatlemusic for me, too. Which means you might temper what I’m about to type.
To me, “Mary Jane” has always sounded like it was done in somewhat bad faith. There’s an element of sabotage to it, in direct proportion to Lennon’s increasing unwillingness (or inability) to edit himself. As a Plastic Ono Band single, fine; but it’s simply not up to the rest of the Beatles’ catalog. The Beatles could be loose and silly and experimental and hectic, and we hear a perfectly fine result in “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number).” But “Mary Jane” doesn’t sound like a Beatles track; it sounds like what it is, a song half-written by Magic Alex, played on by two of ’em.
To my ear it has nothing to do with The Beatles, and augurs everything that would go wrong with the solo years. It’s one of the first real cracks in the Beatles’ hitherto bulletproof creative process. And the drop-off happened very quickly: Compare how a throwaway little phrase John noodles with in his home studio becomes “Hey Bulldog.” In February ’68, they could spin gold out of straw; six months later, either through boredom, heroin, fatigue or spite, Lennon’s brilliant taste is leaving him. He’s beginning not to be able to tell the difference between a good idea and a whim, and that will dog him for the rest of his days.
To me, “Mary Jane” has always sounded like it was done in somewhat bad faith. There’s an element of sabotage to it…
That’s always been my impression as well. I love knock-off stuff like “Xmas Time Is Here Again” but there’s something purposefully annoying about “Mary Jane” and I always suspected it was deliberate. There’s an element of “Oh, you like the Beatles? How do you like this?”
I forgot that “magic” Alex was involved with it.
Poor-sounding 1970s bootlegs give me hives. They ruined a bunch of early tracks for me (like “Shout!”) and all of the Let It Be sessions. I thought “Let It Be Naked” would provide an antidote, but I got itchy listening to it anyway.
@Sam, it’s like you’re posting from inside my own brain. “How do you like this?” — Lennon isn’t sincerely exploring his own creative boundaries, as much as he’s trying to create music he thinks Beatles fans will hate, so they will finally hate him as much as he hates himself. Maybe? Shit, I don’t know. I don’t think he knew. But I think he was smart enough to realize that they’d all been doing tape-collages for years — just not releasing them — and that stuff like “Mary Jane” wasn’t new, wasn’t Beatle music, and would look like shit next to the truly amazing stuff that people like the Stones and Hendrix were doing. So why? Why did he want to humiliate the idea of The Beatles?
it’s why I can never quite understand Beatle fans who I respect immensely unabashedly enjoying the music he made during this period. Can they not sense how much Lennon suddenly hates the very idea of the band? The utter scorn Lennon he has for his listeners? His sense of entitlement, and his feeling that “they” are the reason his life is so hard? Don’t get me wrong, the fans could be no picnic, but… There’s a lot of complicated stuff going on with Lennon from 1968 on, and it’s a testament to his genius that he was able to create as much lasting work as he did during this time. But underneath it all there’s a sudden, very boring, endless immaturity that I’ve simply never been able to understand, and more than a bit of the abuser in how he treated the fans. Fuck that, man — especially when you have McCartney busting his hump, having an artistic vision and going for it; and Harrison actually expanding himself musically by engaging with peers like Dylan, Clapton, etc. Lennon retreated and got bitter, and why I haven’t a clue. But Beatles history needs to come up with a reason for this at some point, because it’s the driver for the last two years of the group’s existence, and probably everything until 1973, when he suddenly seems to “wake up” again.
I always find these imaginary compilations interesting. Here are my reactions:
NAY to “Mary Jane” in any incarnation. I don’t care how much you clean up the production and sound quality, it’s a dreadful song. I’ve always said I could happily listen to Lennon sing a bus schedule, I love his voice so much, but this track proves me wrong. Empty, repetitive, mean — a real downer that deserves to be buried.
WHUT? to Trav S.D.’s statement that “The Back Seat of My Car” is “better than any of the songs that made it on to “Let It Be.” (I assume he means McCartney-authored songs?) You’d have to travel a long way to find a bigger fan of “Ram” than me, but I think “Let It Be” is a great song, and so is “Two Of Us.” Oh, and “I’ve Got A Feeling.” I have plenty of love for “Back Seat,” but can’t agree that it’s “better” than these three songs.
I also disagree that “Another Day” has lackluster production. Still a criminally underrated song both as to music and lyrics, IMO. Conversely, I feel no love for “Suicide” and think Sinatra was smart to turn it down.
I wish “Not Guilty” had been on “Let It Be.”
Edited to add: At a Reckless Records store here in Chicago a couple of years ago I saw a 13-record (!) set of the “Get Back” sessions. The thought of listening to them all boggled my mind . . . .
I have it on good authority, @Nancy, that those 13 records are used in North Korean prisons.
Hey thanks for the plug! and your blog is GREAT! I can see I’m to do a lot of joyful swimming through this Sea of Holes. Sorry I didnt see this until now. Nice to meet a fellow fanatic who likes to take a little too far…
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