Updated: Oct 7, 2020
So begins yet another vanity project about the bloody Beatles. Christ. Not only that, another predictable A-Z, offering more yet more asinine alphabetical re-evaluations of the most loved, lauded, written about and discussed catalogue of recorded music known to the modern world. Joy.
Pass me the cliche bucket, staple my head in and throw me in the bin.
Not quite, at least I hope not. See, if you care to learn which variation of tambourine Ringo accidentally trod on during the recording of *insert song* (he did it a lot, the clutz), then look elsewhere, it’s all recorded in someone else’s anal tome of micro-detail. If, however, you wonder what the wider context the decade, work, of each song/writer/performer was, in what context was it conceived, what impact did it have, is it still an act of pernicious genius or even still considered remotely good, what did it give way to or take from, what world did it leave us, then I’d advise you read on, reader.
We’re about to explore, through a 21st century, post #MeToo, post-millennial gaze the work of these four singularly odd men from a Northwestern English derelict sea port from the midpoint of the 20th century.
We live in the post-Beatles world, one they helped shape, build and tear down and build again. They’re simultaneously here and just far enough over the horizon to take a more dispassionate take on what the hell happened in the sixth decade of the last century.
Modern Shakespeares or just another boy band with ridiculous noses? Let’s see…
And where best to start a sly-eyed peep into every Beatles song ever released than with their only numerically monikered number? Absolutely nowhere, man, that's where. An alphabeaticle reassessment of this catalogue will throw up many quirks and foibles, this is only A Beginning. Well, that’s the next song, but you get the gist.
If ever a Beatles song has been able to retain relative 'unknown' status amongst the masses, 1965's '12 Bar Original' just about manages it. And for good reason.
One of only two compositions credited to all four band members, and the only one officially released during the band's natural life, '12 Bar Original' is also unique for being a failed attempt at a fad-revival.
During the course of their recording career, the band could be credited with reviving many stylistic dead ends, occasionally to some acclaim and commercial success. American teenagers in their millions thought 'Roll Over Beethoven' & 'Long Tall Sally' to be Lennon & McCartney compositions, thus bringing American Rock & Roll and the incomparable Charles ‘Chuck’ Berry & Little Richard Wayne Penniman back to the people and for the first time, white radio - instantly reviving their careers and giving them a bigger audience than their first wave of success ever looked likely to.
Likewise, the '20's pastiche of 'Honey Pie' (the good one) and the Music Hall of 'When I'm 64' spurned many an imitator. How many staccato piano songs were released in the wake of 'Penny Lane'? Spoiler: too many.
The curio that is #12BO and its acid-knackered sister, 'Flying' (found on 1967's Magical Mystery Tour), had their genesis in the anti-Beatle muse of the Shadows and the still impossibly cool Booker T & the MG's 'Green Onions' from 1962. In fact, so similar is #12BO to 'Green Onions' that it could be considered a cover - and again, near unique to The Beatles, an inferior one.
Don't take my word for it, make your own mind up:
Recorded in November, 1965, The Beatles were scratching around for a new direction. Having long perfected hook-ridden guitar pop, and looking ever more frequently into their rear-view mirror at the approaching deeper-darker stylings of the Stones/Kinks/Who et al as they broke ground into Beatle fan territory, they needed to freshen things up. Even though it could be argued that their Help! album of mid-'65 was their pop pinnacle (it's arguably their most slickly produced until Abbey Road, 4 years later), the boys were getting bored...and anxious.
As had been, and would prove to be, successful many times during their recording career, they looked back over their shoulder into nostalgia to dig around and see if there were any forgotten nuggets of inspiration that could be dusted off and made new again. This came to full fruition during 1967's album releases - coinciding with heavy psychedelic drug use and a simultaneous dip in work rate and peak of creativity.
Some of their earliest set fillers (all the way back to pre-Hamburg Liverpool) had been instrumental numbers - these were again utilised during the throat ripping 8 hour scream-a-thon Hamburg sets to rest tired lungs. 'Cayenne' & 'Beatle-Bop/Cry For A Shadow', both originals, fall into this category and on occasion the 'Harry Lime Theme' would break out at the Cavern if the mic's failed, or one of the singers fancied a ciggie. They were popular with audiences, and gave an edge absent from the charting instrumentals of the time. They also liked to extend long instrumental jams into well known vocal numbers, and to great effect - blind soul angel Ray Charles's 'What'd I Say' being the best known example of this, sometimes stretching out for 10-20 minutes according to folklore.
So, they 'I'll Follow The Sun'd their instrumental chops and laid bare this laid back, Stratocaster* infused cheerful blues groove. Ringo beats out a swing-free 4/4 thud, Paul 'Pauls' his bass deftly all around him as John & George battle it out for the 'dullest guitar break ever' award as the three warbling Beatle's fein excitement with the odd faintly audible 'whoop'.
Part of the magic the two main songwriters possessed was the ability to take inspiration from a well known source, channeling it through the Liverpool filter and making something sparklingly original with little clue to the original derivation. Not this time, it came out as it was - a Booker T rip-off, and hence, it was left out of the canon until 1996's Anthology 2. Lennon himself, no friend to Beatle-mythology called #12BO "some lousy 12 bar" when asked if there was anything lurking in the vaults. His withering honesty justified here. The key ingredient to the everlasting freshness of The Beatles was their vocal ability and performance - on their own or in two, three or multi-tracked harmony put to tape so effectively with Help!, released 4 months earlier. Without it, and likely glazed in cannabis and more, this sounds uninspired and as such, festered correctly in the vaults until some of the barrel needed scraping 30 years later. To their everlasting credit however, the boys had taste and could edit themselves with clarity and objectivity. Even when caned off their tits.
What did you think about 12 Bar Original? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Thanks for reading, stay tuned for Part 2, where I'll be getting all alphabetical on The Beatles' asses.
See you in the comments!
* John & George both bought 1961 Sonic Blue Fender Telecasters in 1965 - best utilised on Nowhere Man, some of Sgt. Pepper and in John & Paul's last known performance, the L.A. Jam from 1974. (A Toot & A Snore in '74).