And I Love Her

Posted in A Hard Day's Night, Easy with tags , , , , , , , on June 7, 2010 by David Messmer

“And I Love Her” is a simple song on Hard Day’s Night and, like so many songs from that era, is short and to the point.  Never a band to sit on their haunches, though, even in such a simple song the Beatles tossed in a few little things that make the song interesting and give me something new to work on – in this case, arpeggios.

The song also offered me a nice chance to keep working on my two new musical interests: recording and the bass guitar.  Unlike “All You Need Is Love,” this song only utilizes as many instruments as The Beatles’ foursome could play at once, so other than the drums I was able to record every part – although it wasn’t completely authentic since I don’t have a gut-string guitar on hand.  It was also good practice on the bass, as the part was challenging but not impossible.

The arpeggios on the guitar, though, took some practice.  It’s not that they are particularly difficult as arpeggios go, but playing high up on the neck while playing (is arpeggiating a word?) the top three strings took a little getting used to.  In particular, the chord changes were tough because I just have a hard time getting all of my fingers to move around in the constricted space higher on the neck.  I got it down with some practice, but when I listen to my recording the arpeggios remain the part that have a lot of buzzes and missing notes.  Thanks to Paul (who wrote the song), though, I did practice and get better at it, which is the point of this whole exercise, after all.

The song also contained one other bit of musical trickery – a totally unnecessary key change.  The song is in E Major, and sounds great.  Then, just before the solo, it simply changes to F.  I’m not sure why.  There’s no real musical reason to do so, and it’s not like the tone of the lyrics makes a similar shift.  I could understand feeling the need to mix things up if the song were longer, but it’s only two minutes.

Anyway, it’s easy enough to shift everything up a couple of frets, but it was annoying to have to do so, especially since those frets are even closer together than the ones I was already struggling with on the arpeggios.  Oh well, maybe Paul did it all in anticipation of fledgling guitarists who need to practice these things.

Other than the arpeggios, the lead guitar doesn’t have to do anything terribly difficult.  There are a few bar-chords, but I’m past the point of complaining about them anymore.  There’s also a short solo that is basically just a slightly stylized repetition of the vocal melody.  It was easy to learn and fun to play, for what it is.

The rhythm guitar is also pretty straight forward.  The rhythm doesn’t change for the entire song, and the chords aren’t anything all that unusual, except for the very first E chord (the second chord in the song).  It’s just a standard E except for a C# on the 2nd string (making it a Emajor7, I guess).  That one chord actually took as much practice as anything else in the song, but once I got past it the rhythm is really pretty easy.

The bass was a different story.  There was nothing horrendously difficult, but there is just a lot of different stuff going on (as I’m learning was often the case with Paul’s parts).  The biggest problem is that I’m learning all of the songs from a book with tiny print that still manages to take up several pages per song.  So, sight reading is pretty much out of the question.

Memorizing all of the different things that Paul does, even in just a two minute song, takes a while – especially when, right in the middle, all of the parts shift up two frets!  I was able to get my fingers used to playing the different bass sections quickly, but getting my brain to remember which section went where, then recall all of it on the fly took some doing.

All in all, this isn’t all that remarkable of a song from a technical standpoint, which is appropriate since it’s also not all that remarkable of a song lyrically, either.  I don’t mean this as a critique, by any means – the song is meant to be a fairly straightforward expression of love, and it accomplishes its goal.  It eschews worn-out cliches for simple expressions of the narrator’s feelings, such as “I give her all my love
That’s all I do,” and also shows that the feelings are mutual with lines like “She gives me everything/And tenderly.”  Rather than hyperbole, the song gets its message across with a beautiful melody and gentle, harmonious music.

There is, however, one troubling part in the bridge – the lyrics, that otherwise are always addressed to someone other than his lover, suddenly address the object of his affection directly.  He switches from talking about “her” to speaking directly to “you” – although the “you” is “her.”  Maybe this explains the key change that happens right after this little mix-up – the awkward musical shift is a result of the awkward lyrical shift.

Whatever the reason, it all adds up to a solid, but not spectacular Beatles song.  That’s fine with me, since the spectacular songs tend to be really tough on a novice like me.  Case in point – my next song “And Your Bird Can Sing.”

Lyrics – “And I Love Her”

I give her all my love
That’s all I do
And if you saw my love
You’d love her too
I love her

She gives me everything
And tenderly
The kiss my lover brings
She brings to me
And I love her

A love like ours
Could never die
As long as I
Have you near me

Bright are the stars that shine
Dark is the sky
I know this love of mine
Will never die
And I love her

Bright are the stars that shine
Dark is the sky
I know this love of mine
Will never die
And I love her

All You Need Is Love

Posted in Easy, Magical Mystery Tour, Yellow Submarine with tags , , , , , , , on May 4, 2010 by David Messmer

After a bit of a hiatus, I’m back!  The hiatus was not without good reason, though.  First, I’ve still been working hard at learning new Beatles songs, so I actually have a few in the pipeline – I just have to write the blog entries.  Second, I’ve embarked on two new musical undertakings that will make this blog a bit more interesting: I’ve started playing the bass guitar, and I’ve started learning how to do some very basic recordings of my playing.

The bass is proving particularly fruitful because Paul’s playing was so important to the sound of the band.  By learning his parts, I feel like I’m getting more insight into how these songs work.  I’d like to say that I plan to learn all of the bass parts to every song, but it turns out that that Paul guy was a pretty good bassist – some of his stuff is just beyond what I’m capable of.  But we’ll see.

The recording is something I’m just doing for practice.  I’ll record the different parts and then I can turn one of them off and practice that part while the others are playing.  It’s really good practice for playing in time.  It’s also good for this project because I can play the different parts together.

Both of these new pursuits were particularly useful on the next song in my queue: All You Need Is Love.

Before a recent commercial forever ruined this song for me, it was actually a pretty beautiful and interesting entry in the Beatles canon.  It originally appeared on the soundtrack to Yellow Submarine, but became popular enough that the band (or the studios) wanted to include it on one of the proper Beatles albums, so it also ended up on The Magical Mystery Tour.

The lyrics seem rather simple, but there’s actually a few different ways to read them (which is, I think, the point).  On the one hand, lines like “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done” and “No one you can save that can’t be saved,” seem to suggest that nothing we do is important; that it’s impossible to stand out and be truly original since “There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known” and “Nothing you can see that isn’t shown.”

If that’s the case, then, we have to”learn how to play the game” and realize that even as our various goals and pursuits can’t really set us apart, what makes it all worth while is love.

This, then, leads to the other, more hopeful, way of interpreting the lyrics; an interpretation that appears most clearly in the line “Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.”  This line suggests that as long as we stay committed to love, every action that we take has value, regardless of its originality or importance.  A line like “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done” now comes to mean that by doing something we prove it’s possibility and that that, in and of itself, makes it worth while.

The question that remains is what does the song mean by the word “love”?  It’s fairly vague on this point, which I think is, again, the point.  The context of the lyrics suggest that romantic love isn’t really what the song is about.  Instead, the love seems to be both a love of the self and a general love of others.  That’s still pretty general, but, as my interpretation of the verses suggests, the openness of the meaning is key to what makes the song’s lyrics work.

What makes the music work is a really great interplay of a lot of different instruments.  In addition to the usual Beatles line-up there’s also a harpsichord, some brass, and possibly some other instruments lurking in the background somewhere.  In fact, the guitars don’t even start playing until the musical introduction is over and the lyrics begin – about 25 seconds into the song.  And throughout, it is the interplay of the instruments more than any single instrument that carries the song along.

This makes the guitar part pretty simple once I got used to a few unusual chords.  During the verses there’s a D/F# that’s certainly not standard fare.  Then in the chorus there’s a Em7/D and C major 7 played as an open chord, both of which I hadn’t encountered before.  None of these chords is hard to play (none of them are barre chords), but I still had to take a bit of time to commit them to muscle memory.

Once I did, though, playing the rhythm guitar on this song is really pretty easy.  The beat is pretty steady, consisting of only quarter notes with the occasional eighth note for good measure.  There are a few brief changes in time signature, although unlike “Across the Universe” these changes involved dropping a few beats rather than adding them.  Otherwise, this was a pretty easy song to play.

There is a very brief guitar solo following the first chorus, but this, too wasn’t terribly difficult.  It basically just adds a bit of ornamentation to the melody of the vocal line in the verse.  After a few minutes of practice I had it down pretty well.

Just playing the guitar parts, though, felt pretty unsatisfying.  As I’ve already said, it is the interplay of the instruments that makes this song go.  So, I decided to put my rudimentary bass skills and my even more rudimentary recording skills to work.

I ended up recording four parts for the song.  First, I played the bass track.  Then, I added the acoustic guitar, followed by the brief solo.  Then, it occurred to me that I’m probably better on the piano than any of my other instruments, so, while a piano doesn’t sound exactly like a harpsichord, it’s close enough for my purposes (especially when all of the sound is going through a set of microphones from Rock Band).  So I ended by adding a piano part, which really helped to flesh things out.

The bass line immediately adds to the song.  During the brief musical interlude that connects the verses to the chorus, the guitar just chugs away on a D chord.  It’s the bass that actually contributes the melody that builds to the chorus, so adding that part made the whole thing seem a lot more complete.  The harpsichord doubles this melody line, so the piano helped round things out a bit as well.

The resulting recording wasn’t anything anyone would ever want to listen to, but it did demonstrate how important each instrument was to the overall effect of the song.  It makes sense that a song about love would involve this kind of interplay, and learning how to produce that interplay, even on a very minor scale (I of course, didn’t even attempt to produce the brass section), was a rewarding experience.

The next, hopefully rewarding, experience is “And I Love Her.”

Lyrics – “All You Need Is Love”

Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It’s easy.
There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made.
No one you can save that can’t be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you
in time – It’s easy.

All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.
All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known.
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown.
Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.
It’s easy.
All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
All you need is love (all together now)
All you need is love (everybody)
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.

All Together Now

Posted in Easy, Yellow Submarine with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2010 by David Messmer

As I said in my first post, not every Beatles song I learn will be a masterpiece.  “All Together Now” is proof of that. It’s not that it’s an actively bad song, but there’s not that much to it and it ends up being pretty silly.

Silliness, though, is kind of the point.  “All Together Now” is from the Yellow Submarine soundtrack and Paul apparently wrote it to match the tone of the “Yellow Submarine” song and thus it has a kind of childlike feel to it.  It appears during an animated segment of the film (see clip above) and then again at the very end after the live action Beatles wrap things up with some silliness of their own.  I could describe it, but it’d be easier to just watch it:

Other than these brief appearances, “All Together Now” seems a song destined to remain in the more obscure reaches of the Beatles canon.  It’s short and the lyrics appear to be somewhat random – they involve counting, the alphabet, and lists of colors, thus reinforcing the childish quality of the song.

But, here at Learning The Beatles from A-Z, I’m learning them all, no matter how inconsequential they may be.  And, in the end, it was worth it.

As I said in my last post, it seems that every Beatles song I learn forces me to learn some new skill, and “All Together Now” was no exception.  Overall, it was pretty easy – it only contains three chords (G, D7, and C) and has no fills or solos.  What it does have is a weird rhythm that took a little (though only a little) bit of time to get a feel for.  It’s a mix of quarter and eight notes with an occasional eighth note rest.  The result is a kind of shuffly sounding beat.  Once again, barre-chords, though my nemesis, proved their value, as it was very easy to insert the rests just by lifting the fingers of my left hand a bit to mute the strings.

This song was also the first to make use of a capo (well, the first in this blog, not the first song ever to use one).  The primary guitar that you can hear on the recording doesn’t use one, but the second guitarist capos the fifth fret.  As long as I’m playing by myself I’ll usually just play the part that doesn’t use the capo since it’s more distinctive, but, for completion’s sake, I did take that second guitar part for a spin or two.

This second guitar plays the open D, A, and G chords, which, due to the capo, turn into higher pitched versions of the G, D, and C chords that the other guitar is playing.   Since these chords are open, they were easier to finger, but it was a little harder to get the rhythm since I couldn’t just mute them by lifting the fingers of my left hand.  So, I got a little practice at muting strings with the palm of my right hand while actually wishing I was just using barre-chords!

Other than that, there isn’t that much to learn.  The song does use a D7 chord, which I knew how to play since I’ve also been learning jazz guitar, but this is the first time I’ve encountered it outside of that context.  Otherwise, this was by far the easiest song I’ve learned up to this point, which is good because there are some really difficult ones coming down the line soon.

But before I get to those more challenging ones, I have a couple more easy ones in the queue.  Up next: “All You Need is Love.”

Lyrics – “All Together Now”

One, two, three, four
Can I have a little more?
five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten I love you.

A, B, C, D
Can I bring my friend to tea?
E, F, G, H, I, J, I love you.

Boom, bam, boom
Boom, bam, boom

Sail the ship,
Boom, bam, boom
Chop the tree
Boom, bam, boom
Skip the rope,
Boom, bam, boom
Look at me

All together now…. (x16)

Black, white, green, red
Can I take my friend to bed?
Pink, brown, yellow orange and blue I love you

All together now….(x16)

Sail the ship,
Boom, bam, boom
Chop the tree
Boom, bam, boom
Skip the rope,
Boom, bam, boom
Look at me

All together now….

All My Loving

Posted in Moderate, With the Beatles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2010 by David Messmer

Wow, this one has taken a while – and not due to laziness on my part.  Instead, it’s taken a lot of practice because the strumming during the verses is fast.

Actually, when all is said and done, it’s not that fast, but more on that in a minute.

Though it did take a while to learn, it was nevertheless worth it since this song was a return to more canonized Beatles fare.  While “Act Naturally” and “All I’ve Got to Do” have their merits, “All My Loving” is a song that most casual Beatles fans will recognize, which is good in a sense, but also means that they will know if I’m screwing it up.

And screwing it up is easy to do because, as I said before, it’s fast.  Throughout the verses the guitar part, though not playing any chords that are all that unusual (except for one tricky B-minor7), is strumming at a constant up-tempo pace that I’ve never tried to pull off before.  Upon my first few attempts at it I would just strum as fast as my arm would allow and do my best to change chords in time.  The results did not sound good.

So, as is so often the case with music, I found that the solution was to slow things down a bit and work up to the final goal rather than just blunder through.  Playing slower allowed me to quickly realize that something I was doing was a little off.  After revisiting the recording I realized two things: first, even The Beatles sometimes have a slight pause between a few of the bigger chord changes and, second, rather than just strumming up and down really fast, the strumming is actually in a very controlled triplet.

The first realization helped because it enabled me to relax about the chord changes a bit – if The Beatles hands are governed by the laws of physics then it’s okay that mine are, too – and, along with slowing down and lots of repetition, relaxing is often one of the keys to learning something new on an instrument.  The second realization helped both because it enabled me to actually control the tempo (I started counting a quick “1-2-3” rather than just flailing away in an up-down rhythm as fast as possible) and it helped me to realize that the strumming actually isn’t quite as fast as I thought – the triplet gives the song a momentum that sounds a lot faster than it actually is.

All of this being said, it’s still pretty darn fast, and that took some getting used to.  I’ve always found it easier to strum chords without a pick, so I started without one.  Then, when that felt comfortable, I started using a really flimsy plastic one.  Gradually, I worked my way up to stiffer and stiffer picks until, by the end, I was using my preferred wood and stone picks.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’ve mastered it – some days are definitely better than others – but it feels a lot more natural than it did when I started.

Which is good because the song poses another challenge as well: this is the first song with any significant solo to speak of.  It’s relatively short, though, so it was easy to memorize, which meant that I could just practice it over and over while watching TV.  Eventually, my hands go used to doing it and it sounds okay.  Like the fast strumming, some days are better than others.

I haven’t said much about the chorus or the lyrics – but this is largely because there just isn’t that much to say.  The chorus uses the same off-beat staccato that was so pervasive in “All I’ve Got to Do,” and the lyrics are pretty straight forward: the singer is promising his love that he’ll miss her and stay faithful to her while he’s away.  Oh, and he’ll write to her every day.  That’s about it.

And that’s about it for the song.  While it was definitely a challenge, it also reaffirmed one of the values of this whole process.  It seems that each song I’ve learned so far has forced me to practice at least one skill that will be important to being a competent guitar player.  From changing time-signatures to practicing fills to playing staccato to fast strumming, each song poses new (but, so far, surmountable) challenges.

Now on to “All Together Now”…

Lyrics – “All My Loving”

Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you
Tomorrow I’ll miss you
Remember I’ll always be true

And then while I’m away
I’ll write home every day
And I’ll send all my loving to you

I’ll pretend that I’m kissing
The lips I am missing
And hope that my dreams will come true

And then while I’m away
I’ll write home every day
And I’ll send all my loving to you

All my loving, I will send to you
All my loving, darling I’ll be true

Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you
Tomorrow I’ll miss you
Remember I’ll always be true

And then while I’m away
I’ll write home every day
And I’ll send all my loving to you

All my loving, I will send to you
All my loving, darling I’ll be true
All my loving, all my loving
Ooh, all my loving, I will send to you

All I’ve Got to Do

Posted in Easy, With the Beatles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2009 by David Messmer

Due to all of the wonderful and innovative contributions that The Beatles made to music and popular culture, history often seems to forget that perhaps the very first musical/cultural phenomenon that they engendered was one that we could probably have done without: the boy band.  After all, when The Beatles first came onto the scene they were as well known for causing teen-age girls in the audience to swoon as they were for producing cutting edge, paradigm shifting music.

A description of The Beatles in their early years would also also fits the profile of bands like The New Kids on the Block, The Backstreet Boys, and N’Sync.  Good looking guys with distinct personalities?  Check.  Lots of vocal harmonies?  Check.  Catchy singles driving the sales of otherwise forgettable albums?  Check (for now, more on this in a minute).  Even the notion of referring to each of the band members by their first names seems to have originated with The Beatles.  Other than adding the token “bad boy” and swapping out dancing for actually playing musical instruments, modern-day boy bands still follow the The Beatles’ blueprint.

Of course, the reason we don’t tend to think of The Beatles in that way is that they went on to be so much more than a boy band.  And it’s not that Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road made us forget about With the Beatles – it’s that they’ve given us reason to revisit the early recordings with a sharper ear.  It turns out that the early Beatles music stands up to careful scrutiny far better than any parent in the 1960s probably could have imagined.

Which brings me to “All I’ve Got to Do” from With the Beatles (or Meet the Beatles! on this side of the Atlantic).  At a glance, this seems like one of the aforementioned throw away tracks on an album designed to showcase “All My Loving” and “Roll Over Beethoven.”  But closer examination reveals that there’s a deeper level of complexity than we might at first expect from boy band filler.

The subject of the song, for instance, seems to be pretty simple love song fare.  A closer look, though, shows that rather than being a love song, the song is actually pretty creepy.  Everything starts with a single strum of an E-aug-add9-add11 chord.  Yeah, one of those.  It’s not all that difficult to play (thankfully), but it’s an unusual chord full of tension and weirdness, which is fitting considering what is to follow.

As the first verse begins, the music is slow and sweet, seemingly a typical ballad.  The lyrics, though, reveal a man who is basically telling his woman that she’s at his beck and call, that “Whenever I want you around, yeah,/All I gotta to do/Is call you on the phone and you’ll come running home.”  His next comment that “All I gotta do/Is whisper in your ear the words you want to hear and I’ll be kissing you” seems to suggest that he’s not terribly sincere in his love for her, but that he knows how to manipulate her into giving him what he wants.

At this point both the music and the lyrics take a sudden turn.  Perhaps realizing that he’s said a bit too much, he quickly adds that he’s also at her beck and call: “And the same goes for me, whenever you want me at all I’ll be here.”  The music, too, picks up, suggesting that rather than expressing sincere love and devotion to her he’s rushing to cover up what he’s just said (he has, after all, just told us that he’s good at telling her what she wants to hear).

Following this bit of damage control, we get a repetition of the creepy first verse and subsequent fast-talking chorus (he might be a good sweet talker, but apparently he’s not too bright).  Then the song ends with a return to the chords of the first verse and a gentle humming that, to my ears, just sounds a bit smug – as if he’s just cleverly whispered what she wanted to hear and is now extremely pleased with himself and his ability to manipulate her.

It’s entirely possible that I’m just reading a bit too much into the song, but learning to play it has only made me more confident in my reading.  First, the song is in C# minor – a somewhat unusual key for a love song.  In fact, the chord progression as a whole feels a little odd.  The verses remain firmly rooted in a minor key and, during the second repetition of the song’s title eschews the expected V chord (G#) for A-minor.  All of this seems to add a level of tension that only the chorus, which modulates to a major key (A), can diffuse – just as the narrator’s fast talking diffuses the tense situation that his earlier comments have created.

My dark reading of the song, though, might just be the result of my being in a dark place as I learned the song because it is comprised almost entirely of my nemesis: barre-chords. These weren’t too bad, though, because the song uses so damned many of them – keeping my index finger in the barre position and then moving the other fingers to make the different shapes took some practice, but it’s not nearly as hard as switching between barred and open chords during a song.  In the end, I was able to get to the chords and still stay in time.  There’s quite a bit of buzzing, but that’ll go away with practice (I hope).

The song also has two guitar parts.  They both just play the same chord progression, although they don’t always use the same voicings of the chords.  The bigger difference between them is the rhythm – one provides the sharp staccato that appears throughout the song, while the other has a more standard rhythmic feel to it.  The staccato took a little while to get down because, at first, I was trying to strum then quickly use my palm to mute the strings.  Then I realized that, since I was barring all of the strings anyway, I could just let up on my left hand a bit and get the same muting effect with little effort (damned barre chords – as much as I hate them they just keep proving how useful they are).

In keeping with the spirit of my pursuit, I learned both parts but usually do the staccato part during the verses then switch to the more rhythmic strumming during the chorus as this seems to convey the shift in momentum between that is crucial to the song.  Other than my continuing battle with barre-chords this wasn’t too hard of a song to learn and getting to know such a seemingly simple song pretty intimately was a worth while experience.

Ironically, the next song on With the Beatles is “All My Loving” and it’s also the next song alphabetically, so that is what I’ll start learning next…

Lyrics – All I’ve Got to Do

Whenever I want you around, yeah.
All I gotta do,
Is call you on the phone,
And you’ll come running home,
Yeah, that’s all I gotta do.

And when I, I want to kiss you, yeah.
All I gotta do,
Is whisper in your ear
The words you long to hear,
And I’ll be kissin’ you.

And the same goes for me,
Whenever you want me at all.
I’ll be here, yes I will, whenever you call.
You just gotta call on me, yeah,
You just gotta call on me.

And when I, I want to kiss you, yeah.
All I gotta do,
Is call you on the phone,
And you’ll go come running home,
Yeah, that’s all I gotta do.

And the same goes for me,
Whenever you want me at all.
I’ll be here, yes I will, whenever you call.
You just gotta call on me, yeah,
You just gotta call on me.

Act Naturally

Posted in Easy-Moderate, Help! with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2009 by David Messmer

One question that this blog raises is what, exactly, do I mean by “every Beatles song”?  Turns out I can’t put that question off since, in only my second post, I have to make a decision: do I include cover songs and learn “Act Naturally,” or do I just go with original Beatles compositions and learn “All I’ve Got to Do”?  If I do decide to learn “Act Naturally,” do I then have to learn every obscure cover song that the Beatles ever performed (or that, at the very least, we have record of)?

So my solution is this – I will learn any covers that The Beatles did on their studio releases.  So, since “Act Naturally” appears on Help!, Iwent ahead and learned it.

And, I must say, I’m happy I did.  It’s certainly not the most profound song I’ve ever heard, but it’s fun and gave me a good chance to practice playing fills rather than just sticking to chords.  Plus, it’s one of the rare songs featuring Ringo as the lead singer, and what could be better than that?

Johnny Russell and Voni Morisson wrote the song in the early sixties, and Buck Owens and the Buckaroos turned it into a #1 hit on the Country charts in 1963.  Buck Owens would continue to perform it throughout his career, including his years as the co-host of Hee-Haw.  The Beatles covered it on their 1965 album, Help!, and it appeared as the B-side of “Yesterday.”  Alas, they never appeared on Hee-Haw.

The lyrics are a little silly.  A person (presumably male) has been dumped by his significant other and he figures the resulting depression will launch his movie career since he can deliver perfect performances of depressed characters just by, well, acting naturally.  It’s not exactly poetry, but it’s entertaining enough in its way.  What makes the song work is that despite the absurdity of its premise it remains earnest and never tries to be tongue-in-cheek, which, in turn, makes it delightfully tongue-in-cheek.

Musically, things are pretty fun, too.  The rhythm is uncomplicated, and the fills have a lighthearted, even slightly silly feel to them that creates a good call-and-response with the silly and playful lyrics.

The song does, though, feature two guitar parts so I had to figure out how to negotiate that on a single guitar.  This was particularly difficult because the lead guitarist tunes the bottom “e” string down a full step, but the rhythm guitarist does not.  Fortunately, the rhythm guitarist really only has to play four chords (G, D7, C, and A7) and only one of those (G) uses the bottom “e” string.  So, if I just don’t play the root note on the G chords, I can still switch between the rhythm and lead parts without having to stop and re-tune my guitar mid song.  So that’s exactly what I did.

First I learned the rhythm and lead parts separately.  The rhythm part is extremely easy since, as I already mentioned, it consists of only four chords and all four of those chords are easy to play (no barre-chords this time!).

The lead took a bit longer.  Part of this was because I didn’t, at first, realize that George sometimes plays different riffs during repetitions of the verse and chorus sections of the song.  The sheet music that I’m using presented these riffs more or less on top of each other, rather than write out each repetition separately.  So, at first, I was trying to learn how to play two riffs at the same time – needless to say, this was impossibly difficult (literally, since, at one point, I was trying to play two notes on one string at the same time).  After a whole evening of frustration I re-listened to the recording of the song and realized what I was doing wrong.

From that point on it was just a matter of training my hands to move the way they needed to.  The short intro riff isn’t too hard except for a very fast hammer-on in the third measure.  The signature riff of the song (it appears for the first time at about 0:20 of the recording, then recurs throughout) is easy, although it does require hammering one string, so it was good practice in that regard.  The biggest problem for me is hammering a note while still playing in time – I tend to hammer too quickly then pause too long after, so I used this song (and my metronome) to really work on this.   The other riffs weren’t too difficult, I just took them one at a time and, with a little metronome and a lot of practice, eventually got them down.  Then, I practiced stringing them together as they appear in the song, which wasn’t too hard since there’s a two measure break between each riff during which I can get my fingers ready.

Then came the task of putting the rhythm and lead parts together.  The riffs are crucial to the song – without them the song is nothing more than strumming some standard chords.  So, I decided to play all of the riffs and just fill the spaces in-between with the rhythm.  This wasn’t that much harder than just playing the riffs alone, so it didn’t take too long, although most of the space in-between the riffs is just a “G” chord, so it does sound a bit “G” heavy.  Oh, well.  Maybe someday Paul and Ringo will want to play with me and we can do it right.  Until then, I’ll just have to make due with my one guitar.

All in all, I had a good time with this song, which is, in the end, what I think the song is really all about.  Amidst its silly gloom and doom lyrics is an up-beat tune that is somewhat charming in its cheesiness – just like Ringo himself.  Most importantly, the song worked as an intro to playing fills and using techniques like slides, hammer-ons, and pull-offs.

Two down – now on to “All I’ve Got to Do”…

Lyrics – Act Naturally

They’re gonna put me in the movies
They’re gonna make a big star out of me
We’ll make a film about a man that’s sad and lonely
And all I gotta do is act naturally

Well, I’ll bet you I’m gonna be a big star
Might win an Oscar you can never tell
The movies gonna make me a big star
‘Cause I can play the part so well

Well I hope you come and see me in the movies
Then I’ll know that you will plainly see
The biggest fool that ever hit the big time
And all I gotta do is act naturally

We’ll make the scene about a man that’s sad and lonely
And beggin down upon his bended knee
I’ll play the part but I won’t need rehearsin’
All I have to do is act naturally

Well, I’ll bet you I’m gonna be a big star
Might win an Oscar you can never tell
The movies gonna make me a big star
‘Cause I can play the part so well

Well I hope you come and see me in the movies
Then I’ll know that you will plainly see
The biggest fool that ever hit the big time
And all I gotta do is act naturally

Across the Universe

Posted in Easy, Let It Be with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2009 by David Messmer

At this early moment in my blog’s history I should probably go ahead and confess that I am actually almost as new a fan of the Beatles as I am a novice player of the guitar.  Of course, growing up in any English speaking culture means that it’s impossible not to be at least somewhat familiar with The Beatles, but I somehow avoided the “Beatles phase” that so many people seem to go through either in high school or college.

A few years ago, I decided it was time to finally figure out what the big deal was about these mysterious Beatles I had heard so much about, so I started working my way through the catalog in somewhat chronological order.  The only problem was that when I hit Abbey Road I was so blown away that I kind of got stuck on it and never got to Let it Be.

And boy was I missing out. “Across the Universe” is a beautiful piece of music.  Lyrically, this might be one of the best songs The Beatles ever produced and a fine example of John Lennon at the peak of his powers.

The first verse establishes a contrast between the universal (“they slip away across the universe”) and the personal (“waves of joy are drifting through my open mind/ Possessing and caressing me”) that will remain a theme throughout the song.  It also uses beautiful water imagery to mirror the fluidity of Lennon’s thoughts (“Words are flowing out like endless rain”).

All of this leads to the chorus, which only consists of a simple Sanskrit phrase (“Jai Guru Deva, Om”) and a repetition of the line “Nothing’s gonna change my world”.  A quick survey of the interwebs taught me that the Sanskrit phrase loosely translates to “I give thanks to the heavenly teacher, om,” but the literal meaning seems secondary to the serenity that the phrase establishes – a serenity that makes the chorus’s second line seem like a statement of acceptance and tranquility rather than one of lament or defiance.

The second and third verses follow in this tranquil strain.  Like the first verse, they continue to explore the paradox of balancing the individual psyche and its thoughts that  “meander like a restless wind inside a letter box” with finding joy in a universal “undying love which shines around [him] like a/Million suns.”  These verses also establish an interesting paradox by expressing a kind of meta-physical one-ness with the universe through very sensual imagery: the second verse focuses on visual imagery (“Images of broken light”) while the third utilizes sound  (“Sounds of laughter shades of earth are ringing”).

Of course, for an English PhD. like myself, analyzing the lyrics was the easy part.  Learning the guitar part took a little more work.

Fortunately, it wasn’t too bad and actually ended up reaffirming the value of this process for my guitar playing.  One of the reasons that I’m doing this is to force myself to learn more difficult skills rather than just sticking to songs that I can play easily.  “Across the Universe” was just the kind of song that I would usually have avoided for the simple reason that it contains my nemesis: barre-chords.

The barre chords in “Across the Universe,” though, aren’t too bad.  There are only a few of them and they are usually based on the “Em” shape, which is probably the easiest one to learn.  So, I spent the last few days forcing my hands to do something that’s contrary to everything the human hand has evolved to do and, eventually, getting them to cooperate.  I still don’t hit those chords perfectly each and every time but I get to them often enough (and fast enough) now that I actually look forward to the challenge they present in the song rather than dreading the moment when the music would previously have come to a crashing halt.

Other than the barre-chords, though, this song is relatively simple – after a brief introduction (which to me sounds a lot like the beginning of “Nowhere Man”, and that wasn’t too hard to learn with the help of a metronome) the song is really just strumming chords.

Despite (or perhaps because of) this simplicity, though, the music works with the lyrics beautifully.  Most of the chord changes happen in the verses and, from time to time, these verses briefly change time signatures, which took some getting used to (try counting the beat when he sings the line “across the universe” the first time and you’ll hear what I’m talking about).  The many chords and changing time signatures combine to reflect the paradoxes that are so important to the verses’ lyrical themes since the resulting rhythm feels simultaneously steady and unsettled.  It also helps to establish a contrast with the chorus, which consists of a steady rhythm and only a couple of very basic chord changes – thus musically reflecting the simple tranquility of the chorus’s lyrics.

All in all, this is a beautiful song and one that I’m glad to have added to my repertoire.

Now, I’m off to start practicing “Act Naturally”…

Lyrics to “Across the Universe”

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,
They slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my open mind,
Possessing and caressing me.
Jai guru de va om
Nothing’s gonna change my world,
Nothing’s gonna change my world.

Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes,
That call me on and on across the universe,
Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box they
Tumble blindly as they make their way
Across the universe
Jai guru de va om
Nothing’s gonna change my world,
Nothing’s gonna change my world.

Sounds of laughter shades of earth are ringing
Through my open views inviting and inciting me
Limitless undying love which shines around me like a
Million suns, it calls me on and on
Across the universe
Jai guru de va om
Nothing’s gonna change my world,
Nothing’s gonna change my world.