Friday, February 17, 2006

Two Of Us

The Beatles (1970)

Aimee Mann & Michael Penn (2001)

I know I’m flirting with dangerously high levels of un-hipness by posting the Beatles. (They will always be hip; it’s only declaring our love for them that risks squareness.) My excuse is that it’s happy-sappy Valentine’s week, and today’s pairing seems apropos.

“Two Of Us” is the first song on the last record released by the Beatles, Let It Be. It was written by Paul for Linda, but is performed as a sort of love duet between Paul and John. They sing it together—there’s no clear delineation between lead vocal line and harmony vocal line. The recording is like a comfortable pair of baggy pants, frayed and loose, and begins with a goofy spoken-word announcement by John. And I like the bare-bones arrangement, which favors toasty acoustic guitars. There’s not even a sign of a bass in it; George simply plays a few low notes on the electric.

Aimee Mann and Michael Penn, wife and husband, hew close to the original. (It's on the I Am Sam soundtrack.) Their recording is cleaner, every hair in place, and thus perhaps a tad less spontaneous. But they blend their voices together in the same manner, each vocal line trying to hide self-effacingly behind the other. The arrangement gives the illusion of being identical to the original, but isn’t; it’s quietly expansive. (And what is that sustained accordion-y tone? It adds a nice touch.)

The best part, and the reason I’m writing this post, is the bridge. Aimee sings it solo (just as Paul does), and her voice is like a clear and calm laser-light. It's the high point of the tune, and it's over too soon. ("You and I have memories/Longer than the road/That stretches out ahead"; she sings it twice, at 1:20 and 2:05.) In December, Ben recommended an iTunes-only Christmas EP that she made. I didn’t get around to downloading it until well after the holidays, and then drove my friends crazy by playing it non-stop in late January. Her ascetic take on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is the best version I’ve heard of that song. My own dream-project wish is an Aimee revisionist jazz standards record with Magnolia-style Jon Brion arrangements.


Blogger girish said...

Whoa--Loaded post by Tuwa.
First, a DJ Shadow remix I don't have (thanks!).
And a movie write-up too.

February 17, 2006 9:36 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Thanks for writing about this Beatles song, an integral part of the "Let It Be" sessions. It would be nice to see that film on DVD. I vividly recall the moment when Paul is describing the movie project that they're being filmed for, and John -- knowing that they'd reached the end of the road -- sits patiently (lovingly?), letting him ramble on.

Unless I'm mistaken, "The Ballad of John & Yoko" is the only "true" Lennon & McCartney song, in that they play all the instruments without help from George and Ringo.

February 17, 2006 10:06 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Thanks, Girish.

Wonderful tracks here, both of them. What I've always loved about "Two of Us" is the spareness of the opening guitar line, but how it sets a mood anyway in just a few notes. There's a lovely sort of open/warm/friendly/melancholy sound to it.

February 17, 2006 11:49 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Glad you liked 'em, Tuwa.
And Flickhead, I've been awaiting Let It Be on DVD as well.
And I believe you're right about "Ballad". I once read somewhere that during one of the takes, John calls out, "Go a bit faster, Ringo!" and Paul yells back, "OK, George."

February 17, 2006 12:04 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

In part as a response to this year's pathetic Best Song nominees, I've been considering a rant about the fact that L & M never even rated nominations for any of their songs from A Hard Day's Night or Help!, songs which have remained more beloved than most of the winning songs from 1964 on.

February 17, 2006 12:57 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

It's a weird thing, musicblogging. For weeks I wanted to post The Clash and held back, then finally decided "what the hell. I love them. I'm posting them." Still, there was this needling voice at the back of my head ("The Clash? From London Calling, no less?" "Yes. Shut up.")

Said the Gramophone and Tofu Hut have both posted Beatles tracks too, so you're in good company.

February 17, 2006 2:52 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Yeah, Tuwa. I've noticed that about the musicbloggers too. There's an unwritten rule about posting familiar/well-loved music. Hard-to-find obscurities tend to carry greater value.
Often, I feel the opposite. It's more fun to try and find a slightly new and less familiar way into something well-known and familiar.

February 17, 2006 3:44 PM  
Blogger girish said...

And Peter, that rant sounds most appropriate.

February 17, 2006 3:46 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I was at the coffee shop yesterday and wrote down starter ideas for half a dozen Beatles posts. Those guys are inexhaustible.
But don't worry, I won't beat you to death with 'em; I'll spread 'em out over a few months.

What I've been doing less of over the last several weeks is movie-watching, what with school, blogging, music, and other things. A regular diet of movies for me is like rice for a South Indian. You don't have it for a while--it unbalances you a little, gets in the way of everything else you're doing.
I've got the long weekend to catch up a bit, and begin getting back on track.

February 17, 2006 3:59 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

I have this odd relationship with Aimee's music. I love her albums, but every time a new one comes out it takes me a while to warm to it. It's the oddest thing; I put it on, think "Eh, I dunno about this one," and then a month or four later, like clockwork, I'll be compulsively listening to the album over and over and over again.

Example: I've played The Forgotten Arm's closing track, "Beautiful," fourteen times in the past week. I think I've isolated what keeps bringing me back: at the 0:46 mark (right after the line "And we drove to the fairground...") there's this electric guitar fill that is so spot-on perfect I can't get it out of my head. For the past week I find myself humming "And we drove to the fairground... wow-oo-wow-oo-wow" while stuck in traffic, standing at the fridge, filing shit at work.

Goddam Aimee Mann and her melodies.

February 17, 2006 5:52 PM  
Blogger girish said...

That's funny, Ben. I don't have The Forgotten Arm, but you know I'll be downloading "Beautiful" tonight. You've got me curious about that fill.

I was thinking today about what I like about Aimee's singing. I like how even and level her singing voice is: she is so sparing in her use of affectational touches, ornamentation, trills, vibrato, all the bullshit so many singers over-use. (Wonderful things that many singers turn into bullshit by draining them of power and meaning by over-use.)

My only criticism of Aimee is that sometimes, because her (1) singing, and (2) melodic sense are so strong, her lyric-writing occasionally appears a teeny bit less substantive in comparison, at least initially. Which is why it also takes me a while to warm to new music by her. Except Magnolia, which I put on constant rotation from the get-go.

February 17, 2006 7:34 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

The Beatles were my first musical obsession. Tracking down all their LPs, borrowing them from friends and family members, and recording them onto cassette tapes, was probably my first big music-lover project as a kid. Except that I never found someone to lend me Let it Be. And for some reason, when my interest started broadening to other musicians and I had the disposable cash to buy a few records and tapes and eventually CDs for myself, it had slipped off my "must-acquire" list, perhaps because I thought I proabably already had the best songs elsewhere.

Fast forward to college. Freshman year I fell in with folks with large collections of European industrial music. One of them lent me an album by the Slovenian band Laibach, called Let it Be, which was the entire Beatles album covered, minus the title track. So the first time I ever heard this song it was the Laibach version, which is in a minor key and features their typically overwrought, symphonic, warehouse-district club sound, and the lead singer's deep, almost operatic, bass voice. It's a very different animal from the Beatles version, (which I finally heard a few years later and was shocked by the sweetness). But it's the best song on the Laibach album.

February 17, 2006 8:37 PM  
Anonymous IA said...

The released version of "Two of Us" is quite lovely, but the early versions from the film Let It Be interest me even more, because the song is taken at a much faster tempo with a chugging, 'Mystery Train' -style momentum. The vocals are also livelier--there's a prize moment in the movie when John and Paul scat together near the end of one run-through. It's funny, but I found the films of Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be far more compelling than A Hard day's Night or Help!, yet the latter two films usually get dumped on: MMT for supposedly being a tedious mess, LIB for supposedly being really depressing (but it isn't!).

February 17, 2006 9:08 PM  
Blogger girish said...

That's a great story, Brian.
I've heard of Laibach but never heard their music.
Yes, Let It Be is a sweet record. I know there was much controversy about its Spectorization, but I kind of liked his flourishes and settings on it.
Brian, if you don't mind my asking--weren't you a music major? And what were/are your instrument(s)?

February 17, 2006 9:11 PM  
Blogger girish said...

You know, IA, I can't seem to remember the arrangement of the song from the film. It's been such a long while since I saw it last.

February 17, 2006 9:14 PM  
Blogger girish said...

For fellow music nerds: track-by-track comparisons of Spectored and de-Spectored versions of the Let It Be album.

February 17, 2006 9:20 PM  
Blogger girish said...

How apropos: Peter is outraged by Best Song nominees and the absence of the Beatles.

A tiny, insignificant difference of opinion, Peter. :-)
I'm a sucker for Johnny Mandel's "Shadow Of Your Smile". (And it's also now firmly in the jazz repertoire.) But then again, I've seen great songs come quivering to their knees, reduced to a vanilla puddle on the floor, when cocktail muzak enters the room.

February 17, 2006 9:31 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Brian, I know you've told me before that you play keyboards, but I can't remember if you said you were a composition major or performance...

February 17, 2006 9:40 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Okay. Enough of this Friday Night Internet Addiction crap.
Gonna go do something more exciting.
Like, um, watch a movie.
Revisit a favorite Ferrara, 'R Xmas.

February 17, 2006 9:48 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Neither; I was a Political Science major, and my college didn't have Composition or Performance majors. But I think I ended up with more Music credits than Poly Sci, and I was two music history courses shy of a double major in just plain Music. I now regret not having gone for it, but it was a small department and two of the three professors teaching music history were people I didn't want to take classes from.

Though I took a few music lessons for credit (a semester each of Saxophone, Piano and Voice) and was a member of a few ensembles, composition was where most of my effort was. Particularly electronic music, though I certainly haven't kept up with technology- I don't even know how to make an mp3 though I suppose I could learn pretty easily if I felt compelled to.

February 18, 2006 2:49 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

"Shadow of your Smile" has certainly outlived the film it came from.

February 18, 2006 9:14 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Brian, thanks for humoring my nosiness.
Peter, I redfacedly googled the song and discovered that it was from The Sandpiper, which I've never seen.

February 18, 2006 12:03 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Acquarello has just returned from New York and "Film Comment Selects" with a fistful of movie reviews.

February 18, 2006 12:05 PM  
Blogger girish said...

MZS on Jonathan Demme's new Neil Young documentary.

February 18, 2006 12:06 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I became a US citizen a few years ago. I had to take a citizenship exam/interview for it. My exam questions were not quite the same as they might be today, but not that different either.
(It was before 9/11.)

February 18, 2006 12:50 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Looker unmasks himself.

February 18, 2006 9:33 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

If blogathon suggestions are opened, I'd propose Battle in Heaven. Unless it would make Filmbrain's The Conversation.

February 18, 2006 11:08 PM  
Blogger David Lowery said...

I was just updating my own blog and the Beatles version of The Two Of Us shuffled through my iPod; it's coming to a close now, but I felt like I should just make mention of it here. For no real reason other than that I appreciate mild coincidences.

BTW, I've got a blogger ID now, hence the new name in these comments.

February 19, 2006 1:37 AM  
Blogger Matt Zoller Seitz said...

A pithy, insightful post on two smashing versions of a song that's always been one of my favorites.

The genius of "The Two of Us" is its innocence and imaginative versatility; it is specific in its sunny tone, but the cirumstances are whatever you wish, and that's why the song can be "the song" for almost any configuration of two people, from a romantic couple to a couple of friends to a parent and child.

I personally always associated it with my younger brother, Jeremy, who rampaged across Dallas with me during our adolescence in the 80s. My very, very, very, very favorite part is the whistling at the end. I almost picture a couple of R. Crumb cartoon characters ambling down a rubble-strewn urban street on huge feet shod with immense shoes, whistling up a storm.

February 19, 2006 2:59 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, guys.

Matt--I would never have thought of the R. Crumb analogy but it's a fantastic one. I can just picture it, big shoes and all.

February 19, 2006 7:03 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Oh, and Matt--I love the Charles Taylor interview you just put up on your site.

February 19, 2006 7:06 AM  
Blogger girish said...

New York magazine cover story on blogs.
To be honest: I get the (relieved) feeling that I don't even live in the same blogosphere as most of these blogs they're talking about...

February 19, 2006 11:22 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Same feeling here, Girish. I'm happy to be D-list. Something strikes me as glib or flighty about a lot of those A-listers.

February 19, 2006 12:13 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

If Tuwa is D List, does this make me F Troop? I do like that I've gotten free DVDs to review, plus the occassional citation from Green Cine Daily. The last time I checked, I made about 18 cents from that Google ad.

February 19, 2006 12:41 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Ah, 'twas a joke, Peter. I don't think whoever made those lists went through to Ds.

And for what it's worth, you've made more money off your blog than I have, and probably gotten more perks (I think I have so far gotten a grand total of two free CDs). So color me jealous. :-)

February 19, 2006 3:47 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

February 19, 2006 5:02 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Take 2, in which the author tries to make sense:

Sorry, Peter, I have this great knack for not being clear. Uh, I know the original rankings were done to measure popularity, offering some opportunity to comment, but I don't think there's much sense in "grading" blogs. There are too many problems with the "grading" metaphor implying value, which is dependent on matters of personal taste and subject to shifts in public opinion, and reappraisals of historical relevance, with arguably worthwhile things becoming ephemeral or getting ignored, etc. It's not unlike your point about the Oscars' snubbing of The Beatles. It's good for a temporary measure of public opinion, but it's little more than a one-off poll; I wonder what people would have to say about the blogs listed in, say, 50 or 100 years. There's a lot of great work being done in various places that isn't getting much attention.

Erm. And now I'm writing a bit too much in clarification of a weak joke. Right.

Off to bake brownies, do something useful--

P.S. I see you have a Death Walks writeup online, but I couldn't find any writeup of Peeping Tom. I'd love to hear your thoughts on that; I see you've written about Pressburger in a few places.

February 19, 2006 5:10 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Tuwa, since you run a cooking blog on the side, thought I'd ask.
Any tips for other good cooking blogs?
I've been eating out way more than I should.
Open to any and all cuisine.
And (spoken like the single man that I am) the faster the better.

February 19, 2006 5:38 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

Girish, the way our minds stumble, with a ridiculous synchronicity, from topic to topic to topic will never cease to amaze me. Not only have I been mulling over a Beatles post -- specifically, a post about how "In My Life" contains the single greatest chord change in the history of pop music -- but I've also been toying with the idea of making recipes a regular part of my site. Since remodeling our kitchen last spring, I've discovered that cooking has become one of my favorite "long pauses."

February 19, 2006 6:02 PM  
Blogger girish said...

That's pretty amazing, Darren.

February 19, 2006 6:05 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Wowza. And November is the last time I've posted to it. (?) ... I've made a vegan shepherd's pie twice since then, and for me that's a 2+ hr prep time.

Erm. I don't read cooking blogs as much as I should--definitely not as much as I read mp3blogs or blogs about film. I have four different cookbooks I pull from, and if I want something very quick I tend to make pasta. But recently I've bought this book that makes an effort to present recipes that are fairly quick. I don't yet know if I'd recommend it; so far I've cooked only three of the recipes (and I don't know what your dietary needs are--I know a lot of people who've "just got to" have some meat in their meals).

February 19, 2006 9:05 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Tuwa. I'll probably shoot you an email about this.

February 19, 2006 9:05 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Okay. We don't have to clutter your site with it. :-)

February 19, 2006 9:57 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Oh, nothing to do with clutter. I might have a lot of picky cooking-detail questions that might bore the pants off everyone else. :-)

February 19, 2006 10:00 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Sounds fine. I know you're much too considerate a host to make your guests go without pants.

February 19, 2006 11:03 PM  

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