BY ELIZABETH BARKER & LAURA JANE FAULDS
i. CRY BABY CRY (LJ)
Cry Baby Cry is a solid second-tier late Beatles song unfairly relegated to the third- or fourth-string due to, in my opinion, poor placement on the White Album tracklist. Cry Baby Cry feels weirdly far away from the group, tucked all the way into the second side of the second record, sandwiched between the convivial but irrelevant Savoy Truffle and the worst vibes Beatles song ever recorded to tape, Revolution 9. Cry Baby Cry and its palpable Side A energy should be up at front with its peers, White Album cool kids Glass Onion and Happiness Is A Warm Gun. It literally hates its life, eternally doomed to hang out with Paul’s most embarrassing wartime ditty and Ringo’s bad lullaby. It’s rare that I stick around long enough to make it to that hidden corner of the White Album, but when I do, stumbling upon Cry Baby Cry feels like finding an exquisite piece of jewelry hidden behind stacks of moth-eaten hand towels in an elderly relative’s hall closet.Cry Baby Cry is charismatic but calm, not too happy/not too sad, slightly creepy, slightly pretty, and distinctly warm. It gives off a low light, like standing in a dark room lit only by the outline of a closed doorframe, which leads to a connected room, in which the lights are on. The lyrics are druggy, but they aren’t psychedelic, although they are surreal. They’re mostly about kings and queens and duchesses doing whatever the fuck thing popped into John Lennon’s mind while he was writing them; I don’t think he really poured his heart and soul into this one, which works. I’d never really noticed or considered the lyric At twelve o’clock a meeting ‘round the table/ For a séance in the dark/ With voices out of nowhere/ Put on specially by the children for a lark until about three minutes before I started writing the preceding paragraph. I was lying on a marshmallowey queen-sized bed in a one-room cabin in the woods, listening to Cry Baby Cry while reading along to the lyrics on Spotify, holding my phone in that embarrassing position where it’s hovering over your face and if you drop it you may legitimately give yourself a black eye.
It's very beautiful that no matter how deeply I believe I’ve rinsed every drop of the Beatles out of the Beatles, I am still able to be stunned by their genius. With voices out of nowhere is the most poetic elegant thing and John Lennon just scrawled it down like it was nothing. I might name a novel after it one day.
A lot of people have way too much money and it grosses me out. I suppose on some level it would be good to transcend complaining about people with too much money ruining the world with their ugly anxieties and bland sensibilities, but I don’t want to transcend it. I hope I hate it more and more. There are moments when I wish I could be soulful about it like George singing “I Me Mine,” but in this situation I’m mostly okay with being a graceless brat.
Once upon a time when I was making an amount of money that possibly qualified me as too poor to afford beauty, I invented this thing where I’d drive three hours up the coast to a hot springs resort where you could rent a hot springs tub for ten bucks an hour. The tubs are in these little wooden huts on a big hill by the ocean; the water is high in sulfur and helps you breathe better and turns your skin all clear and luminous. Post-tub I’d drive to a lost-in-time beach town a few miles away and walk around by the beach and all the groovy beach houses, and sometimes eat an elaborate muffin in a beachside cafe. Then I’d drive the three hours back home, feeling self-contained but in a way that was very lucid and expansive. I first started doing my hot springs trips around the same time Laura and I started writing our Beatles book, so for most of those six hours in the car I’d listen to the Beatles and write Beatles-book stories in my head. It was the era when my LiveJournal was the first result when you googled Starbucks polar bear cookies, which feels poetically correct — my life had the mood of deep secrets colliding with being effusive about something as pointless as a bear-shaped sugar cookie, and the mood sustained for a long time.
iii. REAL LOVE (LJ)
Instead I put on Real Love, which was also once a “new” Beatles song, released alongside Free as a Bird in 1995 to promote The Beatles Anthology. However, there are a few major differences between Real Love and Now & Then:
1) George Harrison was alive during Real Love era and therefore plays on it,
2) Real Love slaps, and
3) Real Love counts as an actual Beatles song.
By the time the Beatles got to White Album era everyone was busy and feuding and growing apart and there are a bunch of songs that all the different combinations of Beatles do and don’t play on, but at that time the Beatles were all alive and active as Beatles. If all the Beatles are alive, a song with only two out of four Beatles playing on it still counts as a Beatles song, but if at least one Beatle is dead, you need three live Beatles to play on the dead Beatle’s abandoned deep cut for it to count as a real Beatles song. If two Beatles are dead, there are no more Beatles songs. QED.
All Beatles math aside— Real Love is a sick John deep cut to begin with, only improved by the addition of Paul, George and Ringo. Lyrically the song kicks off with the incredible All my little plans and schemes/Lost like some forgotten dreams, a couplet I relate to so deeply that it is almost physically painful for me. I spent the first thirty years of my life obsessively relating to John, my problematic fav John; I can rarely access those intense feelings of reverence and connection, I really have evolved into more of a George guy. But All my little plans and schemes brings my John complex rushing back: George might have a plan, but George would never have a scheme. I, like John, am a born schemer.
The lyric then turns into a more classically annoying solo John vibe. Solo John songs are either about John being a fucked up guy or John being co-dependently in love with Yoko Ono. This is a co-dependently in love with Yoko one. The lovely-dovey lyrics start out early-Beatles bland— Thought I’d been in love before/ But in my heart, I wanted more— before evolving into the slightly more compelling Seems like all I really was doing/Was waiting for you, which I like because it sounds like a George Harrison lyric that you think is about a girl but is actually about God.
Paul jacks up the melody to a thousand and George slays on guitar while Ringo toddlerishly bangs away. “Feel old yet?” memes are gauche but it’s weird to think that Real Love was as far away from the real Beatles as it is from today.
There was a thing going around earlier this year where someone wrote the prompt: “Make a 20-track comp of your all-time fav tracks, each artist can only feature once. Not the ‘best’ songs, the ones that bring instant joy the second you hear the first note, the ones that give other people the best insight into what stirs your soul.” Which is a sweet idea but doesn’t really work for me, mostly because my favorite songs don’t necessarily give me instant joy: sometimes what I most treasure in a song is its ability to turn me into a weepy little baby even when I’ve already cried all over it a thousand times before. And sometimes the most joy-giving songs aren’t overtly joyful, like how “Atlantis” by Donovan feels super-tragic but always thrills me cuz of Goodfellas, which to me is the vibrational equivalent of Christmas and Fourth of July fireworks happening at the same time — candy-like and explosive and way too much, but it keeps your soul intact on some kind of fundamental level.
I never answered the prompt but I did make a list of 20 instant-joy songs, compiled here. It has the Crusaders and the Cars and Bauhaus and but no “Hey Bulldog,” which is one of the most joyful songs I’ve ever known. The deal is that you have to be delicate with “Hey Bulldog,” you can’t just go playing it anytime you need a little pick-me-up. I don’t ever want to get used to John Lennon barking like a dog and Paul cutely encouraging him, or the big riffy piano, or the cracked-open feeling of totally relating on “If you’re lonely you can talk to me.” I’d rather let it be a seasonal treat, like apple-cider donuts or Swiss Miss hot chocolate or a chocolate-covered marshmallow in the shape of a bunny. It's not about deprivation or self-denial; it's about making "Hey Bulldog" into its own little holiday, a holiday about dogs and pianos and whatever a wigwam is.
At some point in the last year “Sun King” slid into the top five of my all-time fave Beatles songs, which I never saw coming. It has to do with perfume and summertime and the twelve-story staircase built into the hillside two blocks down from my apartment — last summer I kept doing this thing where first thing in the morning I’d put on a grassy perfume like A Boundless and Radiant Aura by Universal Flowering or Petrichor by Marissa Zappas, then go for a nice punishing walk up the big staircase in the terrible August heat. And then I’d walk back down the hill, on a sleepy little side street where you can see all the way to Beverly Hills and one time a woman asked me to walk alongside her and her two tiny dogs so we could form a little pack against the coyote eyeing us all from the other side of the road. After the stairs the walk is easy but the sun and heat would put me in a cool daze magnified by the melting-together of perfume and sweat, and then I’d take 500 pictures of baby peaches on a peach tree and listen to songs like “Sun King,” and zone out on the Beatles singing in Spanish and Italian and the languid guitars that make me want to make metaphors about warm liquid gold, if that’s even a thing. All of that simulates the sensation of lying in a meadow under a cerulean sky, on a magnificently hot but mostly unhumid summer day. I’m pretty sure I've never lain in a meadow in my life, but it feels really right to me to start the day from a place of laze.vi. IN SPITE OF ALL THE DANGER (LJ)
In Spite Of All The Danger is the first Beatles song. They recorded it in a booth in a store in 1958. Ringo wasn’t there yet; in his place were two randoms named John Lowe and Colin Hanton. In 1958 the Beatles weren’t called the Beatles yet (they were called “the Quarrymen,” a band name so bland I’m genuinely shocked John Lennon could sink so low), but using the same logic as applied above, it still counts as a Beatles song, since ¾ Beatles were present.
I’ve never existed in a world where you can walk into a store and record a song in a booth for a quarter or whatever, but it sounds like a fun thing to do: a bunch of young lads crammed into a booth with their instruments, “mucking about.” “Having a laugh.” But In Spite Of All The Danger doesn’t sound like very much fun at all. It sounds eerie and sad, like they were singing it to the people who’d be listening to it after they were dead. It’s weird to think that I am those people.
A little while ago I heard Michelle Tea say this thing about how Capricorns get younger and looser and more free with age. I agree a million percent and would add that — as a Capricorn with her moon in Leo — aging also means becoming more and more deeply connected to Paul McCartney (a fellow Leo moon, just like Ringo, David Bowie, Lana Del Rey, Jane Fonda, Crispin Glover, Gandhi, and Chace Crawford). For me feeling closer to Paul means hitting a nice balance of competence and ease and infinite curiosity, living a cozy life in which you take a certain level of responsibility for cultivating that coziness. Like how when Paul moved onto his farm in Scotland in the '60s, he learned how to shear the sheep himself.
2023 was the year I got really into cooking. I made ma-po tofu, chicken piccata, shrimp scampi, a lot of pozole, lamb ragu, lasagna, chicken tikka masala, Katharine Hepburn's brownies, chile colorado, chile verde, caldo verde, shepherd's pie, tres leches, a chocolate cake from scratch for my boyfriend Scott's birthday, chocolate chip banana bread, scones, pineapple upside-down cake, Cantonese tomato egg, a meatloaf, rice pilaf, a bunch of other stuff I'm forgetting. Next I want to make highbrow green bean casserole and jeweled rice with dried cherries and chicken pot pie, and maybe a ginger poundcake. I included that Paul pic at the top because that's exactly what I look like when I'm cooking, that's the exact vibe I inhabit in the kitchen. I like cooking because it requires a level of attention that leaves little to no room for thinking about anything else; it stills me and makes the whole house smell extravagant and good. I also like that it's the opposite of spending all day typing in a Word document you could make disappear forever in under a half a second.
The Saturday before I flew home for Thanksgiving I drove over to the neighborhood where I lived when Laura and I started writing our Beatles book, then went for a big long all-Beatles walk. It was a gray day but everything had that nice Beatlesy glow that happens when you're feeling particularly Beatles-aligned. I took a lot of pictures of weird flowers and artichokes being way over the top, and wandered into some secret alleyways where you meet cool guys like this. After my walk I went to Baller Hardware to get a roll of Gorilla Tape and ended up impulse-buying a strand of classic multicolored Christmas lights and a Baller Hardware hooded sweatshirt, partly because it was starting to feel spiritually incorrect that Kim Gordon owned a Baller Hardware hoodie and I somehow didn't. I love my Baller Hardware hoodie so much; it smells like Baller Hardware and Holy Hell. And then I went to Daily Donuts and got a big iced coffee, mostly in tribute to the picture of Fiona Apple reading the newspaper outside Daily Donuts in 1999. On the ride home it started raining and the "Anthology 3 Version" of "Something" came up on shuffle and made the sunshower a hundred times more evocative, and then later on I decorated the Christmas tree and made spaghetti and meatballs for supper and chocolate chip cookies from scratch.
Until recently "Martha My Dear" didn't mean much to me beyond a cute Italian boy I had a crush on in tenth grade singing it to me one day in history class. I love it because it's a song about a dog but not about a dog — it's not about much at all, but it adds a nice little splash to everything if you're already feeling pretty good. It exists in the part of my heart that in some ways just wants my writing to get more and more trifling as I get older, both in the sense of the writing being frivolous/impractical and in that I hope it's something like a trifle: a treat made of cake and pudding and cream and extremely cheap things like smashed-up fun-size candy bars, whatever kind of candy bars you love best.