Thursday, December 17, 2015

Past Masters Volume One vs. Singles Going Steady


Boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets boy meets boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets girl meets boy meets girl Boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets boy meets boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets girl meets boy meets girl Boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets boy meets boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets girl meets boy meets girl Boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets boy meets boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets girl meets boy meets girl Boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets boy meets boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets girl meets boy meets girl Boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets boy meets boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets girl meets boy meets girl Boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets boy meets boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets girl meets boy meets girl Boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets boy meets boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets girl meets boy meets girl, with the early Beatles concerning themselves with the sweet, swoony heterosexual side of the early '60s malt shop and the Buzzcocks with the sweet, wounded, vulnerable homosexual corner of the punk basement. These collections of early Beatles and Buzzcocks singles were recorded a decade apart and a few counties in geographical distance, but in spirit are hand-holding sweethearts.  Teenage love can hurt, early adult love can hurt, and no, it doesn't get better even as you approach middle age, and I bet it still hurts for swinging seniors carrying on clandestine romances in nursing homes.  And it soars the spirit to joyous heights as well, and every other emotion in between - as it should all go without saying.

For this matchup, I've had to do a minor bit of tweaking in order for the tracks to match up.  No worries - all I have done is eliminate the unnecessary "Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand" and "Sie Liebt Dich", the German versions of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You" respectively.  No tears for novelty records aimed at the Hamburg market.  I also originally considered rearranging the track order so that each Buzzcocks A-side would be pitted against a Beatles A-side, and likewise for the B-sides, because Side One of Singles Going Steady consists entirely of A-sides and Side Two entirely of B-sides.  So I figured the match would be unfairly lopsided.  However, I noticed that there are actually only five Beatles A-sides, with another four tracks consisting of the entirety of the Long Tall Sally EP, and the rest all B-sides.  So I'm keeping both in the original track order, minus the German-language versions.  In addition, I'm using the original 1979 edition of the Buzzcocks' collection, ignoring the later reissues that tack on several later-era singles as bonus tracks.

1. "She Loves You" vs. "Orgasm Addict" - OK, so the Buzzcocks' debut single may be bit of a crude novelty joke, but it's a fabulous and hysterically funny joke, and as they say, 90% of us do it, and the other 10% are liars.  The Beatles' debut single, on the other hand, has almost nothing to recommend it.  Eh, maybe the harmonica solo is decent.  But when the best part about a song is a harmonica solo, well....  Pretty easy call here.  Punks 1, Moptops zed.

2. "From Me To You" vs. "What Do I Get?" - Hey, the Beatles have drastically improved!  The harmonies on the "I've got arms that long to hold you..." chorus are particularly tasty.  And it gave them their first taste of American success, albeit via a Del Shannon cover.  It's sweet, it's nice, it's tuneful.  However, Pete Shelly at his best has a way of digging into your soul - haven't most people felt this way from time to time?  OK, maybe not everybody, but sometimes you don't have a best friend or lover and the sleepless nights of loneliness get to you.  Also, it was used in a cat food commercial.  Another easy sweep for the Buzzcocks, who now lead by 2 points.

3. "Thank You Girl" vs. "I Don't Mind" - Usually I have every song the Beatles ever released firmly committed to memory, but I had to look this one up to remember how it goes, which doesn't speak well.  It's OK but nothing beyond lightweight teenage pop.  Nice patented Lennon aluminum vocal on the straining chorus.  Did I mention that the first side of Singles Going Steady is almost a concept album?  Boy starts out discovering his blossoming sexuality via masturbation, then starts to pine for a girl, then gets a girl, then starts having problems with her, then breaks up, but it's OK because in the final track, "Harmony In My Head", he's found solace in music.  (And yeah, I know Shelley was into boys, not girls.  I just used that gender language because I'm a heteronormative conformist.)  At this point in the relationship he's becoming irritated with her, and sometimes even feels that he'd been better off staying at home when they go out.  Does not bode well for the future of this relationship.  It's a hyperkinetic, breathless rush of frustration that doesn't give you a chance to catch your bearings between verses to choruses, and was the first Buzzcocks song I truly developed a schoolboy crush on.  This does not bode well for the Beatles' future in this contest.  3-0

4. "I'll Get You" vs. "Love You More" - Technically the Beatles tune is superior in terms of dynamics, melody, and inventive hooks, with the Buzzcocks single a relatively straightforward and musically basic number that's noticeably inferior to the previous three.  But when has technical superiority had anything to do with love?  You don't necessarily fall in love with the best-looking or most charming person in the room.  And besides, John is being way too cocky.  It's off-putting.  4-0

5. "She Loves You" vs. "Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)" - OK, maybe you do fall in love with the most beautiful woman in the room.  This is the first truly heartbreaking choice I've had to make in this contest.  Shelley's tortured lament of a gay man falling for a heterosexual friend is - beyond inarguably - the Buzzcocks' finest three minutes.  He's confused and in pain because he doesn't want to mess up their friendship by coming out with his true feelings and making an issue of it.  You don't have to be a gay person falling in love with a heterosexual friend to identify with the protagonist.  Haven't most of us been caught in the situation of falling for a wonderful friend who can't, for whatever reason, reciprocate the feelings?  Maybe she's dating your best friend, or is married, or a colleague that's off-limits, or lives several hundred miles away, or just plain doesn't have feelings for you that way - whatever the specifics, the vast majority of the human race have been there at some point (or will be).

On the other hand, "She Loves You" is, again inarguably, one of the finest stumbles of pure joyous rush in rock history, with a chorus that punches into the ears and guts, and the Fabs' first truly great lyric. Between the lines, John is telling his friend, "If you don't come to your senses and go for that girl, man, I will."  Sorry Shelley, but once again someone has to break your sweet, sensitive heart.  4-1

Oops.  I just looked it up and realized that I screwed up the track order - "She Loves You" is #4 and "I'll Get You" should be at #5.  So I should rewrite it all.  However, I like those little mini-essays I just wrote.  And besides, with "She Loves You" trouncing "Love You More" by a vast, vast margin, and "Ever Fallen In Love" likewise to "I'll Get You", the score remains the same.

6. "I Want To Hold Your Hand" vs. "Promises" -  A peerless Buzzcocks A-side as the singles roll on steadily.  At this point in the relationship, Shelley is feeling bitter and betrayed and has decided to break up with his partner.  Against almost any other band, this punchy steamroll would easily win.  Against the song that literally changed the face of modern pop music overnight,  And the switches between the chorus and the "and when I kiss you..." verses are simply magical.  And Bob Dylan misinterpreting "I can't hide!" as "I get high!" led him to turning the Beatles onto pot, which led to Rubber Soul.  4-2

7. "This Boy" vs. "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" - It's nice but it's never been one of my favorite Pete Shelley songs, and is clearly one of the weaker tunes on Singles despite the fine falsetto chorus and chiming little guitar hook on the verses.  I've always had a fondness for the Beatles tune, a melancholy '50s style ballad with a typically aching, soulful vocal from Lennon on the ascending chorus.  Pretty easy call all concerned.  4-3

Skipping right over the songs for the frauleins...

8. "Long Tall Sally" vs. "Harmony In My Head" - Look, I like Little Richard as much as anyone, and this is a good cover.  But it doesn't compete with the original.  The first Steve Diggle song to make its appearance is easily the peak achievement of Shelley's second-in-command.  It's another smitten love song, of course, but not directed at another person - it's one in a long line of great rock songs about rock'n'roll and how the power of music can save your life, and its title gave the Buzzcocks an anthem that sums up their aesthetic.  Musically, as well - the contrast between the raging punk guitars and shouted vocals in the verses with the wistful melody on the chorus exemplifies the term "power pop".  It's got punk power, but it's pure pop that you can hum along with.  5-3

9. "I Call Your Name" vs. "Whatever Happened To?" - And on Side 2, we delve into the Buzzcocks' trove of B-sides.  The flip of their debut single is a speedy toss-off litany of nostalgiac name-droppings, driven by a hooky bassline and Shelley's affectedly rushed vocals.  The Beatles number is likewise a bit of an overlooked obscurity, originally tossed as a bone to Billy Kramer & the Dakotas, where it languished as the B-side to a flop single.  So Lennon insisted on doing it justice and seeing the light of day by having the Beatles record their own version.  Never having heard the Dakotas version, I can say that the odd tempo shifts make it one of the Beatles' more distinctive early rockers.  It's got a weirdly black-leather jacket clad urgency that reminds you that these former Quarrymen started out playing gigs for drunken sailors and strippers in a Hamburg night club.  Plus - more cowbell!  5-4

10. "Slow Down" vs. "Oh Shit!" - The Larry Williams cover is kind of perfunctory and the 'Cocks raveup doesn't get much beyond the obscene chorus and the guitar hook.  I'll take a generic punk raveup over generic rockabilly on this particular day.  Besides, the guitar hook is pretty fun.  Dum dum dum Dum dum da dum dum.  Dancing about architecture - I can't hum to you across the page.  6-4

11. "Matchbox" vs. "Autonomy" - Ringo's Carl Perkins cover is OK, but it's no "Honey Don't".  I have very little to say about it one way or the other.  Steve Diggle's first recorded Buzzcocks song is an excellent first effort, a bit weak on the verses but the chorus section, "I want you-oo / Autonomy" is extremely memorable.  The tension of wanting to get involved with someone but also needing your personal space, because inevitably as part of a couple you do tend to lose at least a bit of your individual identity.  7-4

12. "I Feel Fine" vs. "Noise Annoys" - One annoying thing about the Beatles is that sometimes their vaunted innovation can be so tepid.  The slight bit of feedback at the beginning has to be the weakest and mildest use of it by a major band in rock history, as if they were excessively afraid of offending radio programmers - it's nothing compared to the early Who's use of it, from whom they borrowed the idea.  Nevertheless, a fun, joyous, lightweight little ditty - as infectious as a bad case of puppy love.  Aww.  The Buzzcocks B-side is a decent novelty tune, but rather silly, isn't it?  The noise parts are better than the sing-songy "pretty girls, pretty boys" verse parts.  7-5  This race is getting tighter!

13. "She's a Woman" vs. "Just Lust" - I know that it's Paul's attempt penning a Little Richard number, but doesn't it come out as more Ray Charles, at least to my ears?  It's simple in style, with an unusually basic melody by McCartney-pop standards, and that's fine - she rolls, baby, she rolls.  Too many rock bands forget the roll.  The Shelley tune carries itself mostly on the strength of its bitter lyrical insightfulness - "There's love in your eyes but not a bit of trust / Just lust" - but musically doesn't offer a lot.  It's still a decent song, but this time, the Beatles do basic and simple better.  7-6

14. "Bad Boy" vs. "Lipstick" - Another Larry Williams cover, but I actually this one a lot better, mainly because the lyrics are actually kind of fun, and John puts some real energy into his vocal performance.  But it's still just a rockabilly novelty tune.  The Shelley/Devoto tune was amicably split between their two bands, with Magazine taking the riff for "Shot By Both Sides" and the Buzzcocks employing it here.  While I prefer the Magazine song somewhat, the Buzzcocks' song easily could've been an A-side.  "In your dreams does your lover have my face?" Good question.  8-6

15. "Yes It Is" vs. "Why Can't I Touch It?" - A very easy call.  John's achingly heartfelt vocal have long made it a sentimental favorite, and easily in my top 10 or 20 Beatles songs - which, of course, is saying a lot.  It's also one of the rare examples of the Beatles tackling slow, barbershop quartet '50s balladry, and the harmonies are peerless.  The Buzzcocks track - it's slow as well, and for these Mancunian speedsters, that's not a particularly good thing (at least in this case).  It's got a nice rhythmic bass hook, but really, this is by no means a contest.  8-7

16. "I'm Down" vs. "Something's Gone Wrong Again" - The McCartney track is allegedly a parody of Lennon's "Help!", and it's a frantic, raucous rocker, with Paul doing a mean Little Richard vocal, yelling at the top of his lungs while the band tries to keep up.  It's fun, but it's trying a bit too hard, you know?  Paul is trying to impress us with how hard he can rock out, and he comes across as slightly less than convincing.  Slightly, but that fraction matters.  The Shelley tune is a Ray Davies-esque critique of the frustrations of modern society, with a repetitive krautrock motorik beat urgency.  It's not A-side level Buzzcocks, just strong album track level Buzzcocks.  So it's got the slight edge and the final score tallies to 9 for Manchester, 7 for Liverpool.

That the Buzzcocks won should not be that much of an upset.  After all, these A/B-sides are Shelley & Diggle caught at their peak, and is unquestionably one of the greatest singles collections in rock history.  Past Masters sometimes catches the Beatles at their best - you know which 3 or 4 tracks I'm talking about - but a great deal of it is clearly B-level Fabs.  So in conclusion, you should shut off the computer, head down to the sock hop or all-ages punk show, and meet some girls.

No comments:

Post a Comment