AlphaBeaticles: Revisiting every Beatles song ever released. Part 1: 12 Bar Original
Updated: May 13, 2021
The world should have grown up and gotten over the Beatles by now. After all, the socio-political forces that contrived to make the Beatles phenomenon possible in the first place have all but disappeared. So why are we here?
Before writing another word, I had to ask myself a question: does the world need yet another asinine, alphabetical re-evaluation of the most loved, written about and discussed catalogue of music known to the modern world? You bet.
We all live in the post-Beatles world. The one they helped shape and build, only to tear it all down and start again. They’re simultaneously here and just far enough over the horizon to take a more dispassionate look at what on earth happened in the sixth decade of the last century.
We’re about to explore, through a 21st century, post #MeToo, post-millennial gaze, the work of these four singularly odd men; and why we should still care about it. Or, if we should.
So, where better to start a peep into every Beatles song ever released than with their only numerically titled number? Absolutely nowhere, man. An alphabeaticle reassessment of this catalogue will throw up many quirks and foibles and 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 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. Also, for the first time, white radio - instantly reviving their careers and giving them a bigger audience than their first wave of success ever did.
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 for 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 their most slickly produced collection until Abbey Road, 4 years later), the boys were getting bored...and anxious.
As had been, and would prove to be, 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. 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, often to great effect - blind soul angel Ray Charles's What'd I Say being the best known example; sometimes stretching out for 10-20 minutes a-time, 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. This goes on 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 their 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 12 Bar Original '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 four months earlier. Without it, and likely glazed in cannabis, 12 Bar Original sounds uninspired and as such, festered correctly in the vaults until some of the barrel needed scraping three decades 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 suitably named L.A. Jam from 1974, A Toot & A Snore in '74.