My Dad was born exactly one hundred years ago today. December 28th 1920. (He died on February 26th 2000). My sister and I have had a long conversation this afternoon reminiscing about our childhood and it was fascinating. There are lots of things I don’t remember. He served in the Fleet Air Arm in the war and was a navigator on Swordfish planes. He didn’t speak much about his war experiences but he did talk occasionally about a couple of incidents where planes went missing or were shot down and he lost some close friends. I don’t really need to do much to remember him – all I actually have to do is look in a mirror and I sometimes wonder if the reason I have a beard is to avoid the shock of seeing him stare back at me every morning. He supported Arsenal but I forgave him that. He took me to Test matches and we went to Kent matches together for over 30 years. The wonderful thing about a day at the cricket with someone else is that there’s plenty of time for conversation but it doesn’t matter if the conversation runs dry for half an hour. We spent hundreds of hours together watching Asif Iqbal, Alan Ealham, Mike Denness, Bob Woolmer, Carl Hooper, Mark Ealham and lots of other great cricketers. He was always well behaved at a match except when some Flash Harry like Matthew Fleming took a wild swing at a good ball and saw his off stump cartwheeling back thirty yards, accompanied by my Dad’s cry of “Tool”. My Dad liked a drink, sometimes too many and I don’t think his war experiences left him unscarred – talking about his feelings wasn’t anything that he ever considered. His politics were pretty sound – he voted Labour all his life and the “discussions” with my Mum who always voted Conservative were “stimulating”. There was one interminable discussion at Christmas when one of his sisters pontificated at length about black athletes and suggested that they shouldn’t take part in “our” Olympics but should compete in their own, if they really wanted one. My Dad’s cry of “Jesus Christ” brought the conversation to an embarrassed halt. His relationship with my Mum was complex but they stuck it out together and for the last twenty years of their lives, they were very happy together. He once tried to teach my Mum how to drive but when she turned left and ended up with all four wheels of the car on the pavement on the right hand side of the road, he gave up. However, that was not the only time that she drove his car.
My Dad and I had a sophisticated set of rules for our game of indoor cricket which we played in the garage in our house in Tunbridge Wells. As an “adult” I subsequently played a lot of indoor cricket and Tye Green were the West Essex Indoor champions for about twenty consecutive years, once going unbeaten in all local matches for about ten years. I put it all down to the expertise I developed bowling underarm at my Dad in my teenage years. In the school holidays, when my Dad was at work, I like to practice indoors. This involved me throwing a tennis ball with my right hand against the garage door and hitting it on the rebound. I think that the natural action of doing this meant that my left leg turned away from the line of the ball, encouraging me to hit the ball to leg. This became my only shot outdoors for my entire “career”. One day, probably in 1968, waking up in the Summer Holidays with nothing much to do, I decided to have an hour’s practice in the garage only to find that the car was in there, my Dad having walked to work. Normally, the car was on the drive but this time it was in the garage. The drive sloped down from the garage so I suggested to my Mum that if she got into the car, I could push it out and all she would have to do was put her foot on the brake when the car rolled onto the drive. She agreed to do this, despite her previous proven inability to operate any part of a car properly. I opened the garage doors, my Mum got into the drivers seat and I slowly pushed the car onto the drive. “Remember to brake” I exhorted her. She nodded confidently. I pushed and once the back wheels got onto the gentle slope, the Hillman Minx slowly picked up speed. “Remember to brake”. I didn’t need to push as the car was moving of it’s own accord. Newton wasn’t lying. “Remember to brake”. Panic took over inside the car. “Aaaaah!” “Brake!” “Aaaaahh!!” “Brake!!” The car rolled gently down the slope, across the pavement, into the road and slowed down on the other side of the road coming to rest against a small seat at the edge of the opposite pavement. “Why didn’t you brake?” “I panicked”. “Yes, I could see that”. The car was now stuck on the pavement and sticking out at right angles to the road. My Mum phoned my Dad who worked ten minutes walk away. I can only use the word thundered for the next bit. He thundered home, furious at both of us, asking us what would have happened if someone had been walking on the pavement or if a car had been coming down the road. He instructed my Mum that she should never again “drive my car”.
In early 1966, Peter and I sat in my house in North London and listened to “Rubber Soul”. We gave each track a score out of 10. A few days later, we repeated the exercise to see if our opinions of the album had changed. Now, 54 years later we have, again, scored the tracks on “Rubber Soul”. It has to be a score out of 10 because that’s how teachers marked our work. In fact, whenever possible in my forty years of teaching, I gave the pupils/students a score out of 10. The problem in this case is that these are tracks by The Beatles and so I refuse to give any track less than 6 out of 10. It’s quite tempting to give every track 10 out of 10 but I’m going to resist and be tough on myself. If I have to give a 6 out of 10, I will. I’ve asked Peter to give his current scores too. Sadly, the original scores have gone missing.
“Drive My Car”. The conceit of the album was originally to write a comedy album but this is as far as that idea got. There has been a suggestion that the lyrics refer to Bobby Willis, who was offered a recording contract by Brian Epstein but his girlfriend, Cilla Black objected, saying that he should remain as her road manager and “drive my car”. Paul McCartney told Barry Miles that “drive my car” was a euphemism for sex. The piano playing on this track is very unusual and is played by Paul McCartney. Also unusual is the high harmony vocal that Paul McCartney sings. It’s a very clever song but appeals more to the head than the heart Mick = 7/10. Peter = 7/10.
“Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”. Famous for being the first time a sitar had been played on a Beatles track, the sound encouraged Brian Jones to use the same instrument on “Paint It Black”. There have been arguments that this was not the first time a sitar had been used in any Western pop music but the drone sound on “See My Friend” by The Kinks was made by an electric guitar and the sitar that was originally used on “Heart Full Of Soul” by The Yardbirds was later omitted when the song was re recorded. The phrase “Norwegian Wood” is meant to refer to cheap pine wall panelling which was common in trendy London flats in the mid Sixties. John Lennon never revealed the identity of the girl in the song with whom he did or didn’t have an affair. The writer Philip Norman suggests it was either Maureen Cleave (who conducted the interview with John Lennon in early 1966 in which he claimed that The Beatles were more popular than Christ) or Sonny Freeman (who was a model and the wife of Robert Freeman who took many photographs of The Beatles including the iconic cover of “With The Beatles”). In the denouement of the song, the thwarted man burns down the flat. Paul McCartney said “In our world the guy had to have some sort of revenge. It could have meant I lit a fire to keep myself warm, and wasn’t the decor of her house wonderful? But it didn’t, it meant I burned the fucking place down as an act of revenge.” It’s a brilliant song. Mick = 10/10. Peter = 10/10.
“You Won’t See Me”. This Paul McCartney song fits alongside “I’m Looking Through You” and “We Can Work It Out” in describing his troubled relationship with Jane Asher. I don’t think Jane Asher felt that “the guy had to have some sort of revenge” and Paul McCartney’s insistence that she not work away from London while he was free to have flings with whoever he wanted was possibly at the source of the their eventual breakup. Jane Asher has never given an interview about her relationship with Paul McCartney which is, in equal parts, dignified and frustrating. This is a marvellous song with excellent harmonies, a good melody and great playing. However, it is not a great Beatles song and at 3:22 was the longest track they had recorded up to that point. I’m listening to it now on the original vinyl that I got for Christmas 1965 and, according to Wikipedia, the mono version that I am listening to is even longer. I always thought it went on too long. Mick = 6/10. Peter = 8/10.
“Nowhere Man”. What a fantastic intro. Three wonderful singers making gorgeous harmonies. There are live versions of this on YouTube which are nowhere near as good and illustrate why the recorded version is so incredible. They are making something quite complex seem so easy. Genius. The song reflects John Lennon’s state of mind at the time. In the same article mentioned previously, Maureen Cleave wrote “He can sleep almost indefinitely, is probably the laziest person in England. ‘Physically lazy,’ he said. ‘I don’t mind writing or reading or watching or speaking, but sex is the only physical thing I can be bothered with any more”. There’s a lovely guitar solo in this song and at the end of it, George Harrison plays a harmonic. When my Dad came home from the work on the day I first got the album, I made him watch me dance to the solo and as the harmonic struck, I tapped my head. I can still recall his look of delight at having such a clever son. I think it was delight, anyway. A perfect song. Mick = 10/10. Peter = 7/10.
“Think For Yourself”. Lyrically, this is a very sophisticated song. George Harrison advocates that his lover become more independent and he won’t be there to hold her hand. Alternatively, George Harrison later suggested that he may have been thinking about the British government. Musically, it’s a bit unpleasant with Paul McCartney’s fuzz bass acting as a lead guitar. George Harrison was capable of writing pretty tunes but this isn’t one of them. Mick = 6/10. Peter = 6/10.
“The Word”. How magical this song is. Eighteen months before “All You Need Is Love” and The Summer Of Love, here are the best band in the world advocating love. Musically, it’s excellent with George Harrison and Ringo Starr both playing beautifully. The last verse includes John Lennon singing falsetto to create an even more unusual harmony. It’s not especially complex and Paul McCartney said “John and I would like to do songs with just one note like ‘Long Tall Sally’. We get near it in ‘The Word‘” Mick = 8/10. Peter = 8/10.
“Michelle”. This was exotic when I first heard it. Using some French in a song was, for the Beatles, typically ground breaking. The melody is fantastic, the singing is excellent and the impact of slowing the last verse down is great. The Overlanders had a Number One hit with the song and criticised the original version because of the slight change of pace which they implied was a mistake. Pah! How ignorant. The song was created after Paul McCartney went to a pretentious party in Swinging London in which a student with a striped T-shirt and a goatee beard was singing a song in French. Paul McCartney decided to write his own piss take, involving “French sounding groaning” which remained a party piece for him until John Lennon encouraged him to work it up into a song. Ivan Vaughan was the mutual friend of John Lennon and Paul McCartney who was responsible for introducing them to each other and it was his wife, Jan, who came up with the name “Michelle” and the French lyric. Mick = 9/10. Peter = 7/10.
“What Goes On”. Most of this song was written by John Lennon when he was in The Quarrymen. I normally have a soft spot for Ringo Starr tracks – I love “Act Naturally” and even quite like “Honey Don’t”, but this is a bit dull. Mick = 6/10. Peter = 6/10.
“Girl”. Phenomenal. This has a very unusual feel to it and contains some amazing lyrics. “Was she told when she was young that pain would lead to pleasure, did she understand it when they said that a man must break his back to earn his day of leisure? Will she still believe it when he’s dead?” John Lennon claimed that “I was just talking about Christianity, – you have to be tortured to attain heaven.” The backing vocals of “tit tit tit tit” always bring a smile to my face. Astonishing. Mick = 10/10. Peter = 9/10
“I’m Looking Through You”. A remarkable Paul McCartney melody, some great guitar and really soulful singing. Ringo Starr plays organ on this track. It’s a pretty perfect pop song and any other band in the world would have released this as a single. Mick = 9/10. Peter = 8/10.
“In My Life”. This marks the start of John Lennon singing confessional songs, opening up about his life and expressing his feelings rather than keeping them buttoned up. His friend Pete Shotton claims that John Lennon is referring to Stuart Sutcliffe when he sings about some of his friends that are dead. The Beatles wanted an instrumental solo and when they left the studio for some lunch, George Martin recorded a piano solo at half speed which, when sped up, sounded like a harpsichord. In 2000, MOJO magazine named this as the best song of all time. I wouldn’t quite go that far but I’d still give it top marks. Mick = 10/10. Peter = 10/10.
“Wait” was originally recorded for the “Help!” album, earlier in 1965 but was rejected. Looking for the 14th song for “Rubber Soul” they re recorded it. It’s a Beatles song. It’s great. But not a great Beatles song. Mick = 7/10. Peter = 9/10.
“If I Needed Someone”. Here’s a pretty George Harrison song. The sound was inspired by their friendship with The Byrds. The Hollies recorded a version of the song which only got to Number 20. George Harrison was quoted in the NME as saying that The Hollies’ version was “rubbish – the way they do their records, they sound like session men who’ve just got together in a studio without ever seeing each other before. Technically good, yes. But that’s all.” John Lennon also disliked their version and incurred the wrath of Graham Nash who replied “I would back any of us boys against the Beatles musically any time”. Really? Mick = 8/10. Peter = 8/10.
“Run For Your Life” is often criticised because of the misogynistic opening line “I’d rather see you dead little girl than to be with another man”. An equally valid criticism would be one of plagiarism because this line is an exact copy from “Baby Let’s Play House” by Elvis Presley. Getting past the unpleasant nature of the words, John Lennon’s vocal performance is excellent. Mick = 7/10. Peter = 7/10.
The over all scores are Side One: Mick = 56/70 Peter = 53/70. Side Two: Mick = 57/70 Peter = 57/70. Total: Mick =113/140 Peter = 110/140
My Dad loved music. He was an expert on Beethoven and would listen to lots of different performances of his favourite works. Beethoven and The Beatles. Father and son. “Fidelio” and “Rubber Soul”.