Sunday, February 28, 2010

SONG #84: Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds


Will's final pick, and the song that pretty much puts him to sleep every night.

For the last two years or so, Will has fallen asleep to this Beatles album.  He has never once asked to alter his bedtime music.  He loves it, over and over and over again.  I'm not sure that he's ever even heard side two, because he's out like a light by "She's Leaving Home."

I wouldn't have guessed that the record would have such staying power (or that any record could).  I think it's partly about comfort (when we travel, I set up an ipod so he can fall asleep to it there as well) but it's also about loving the songs.  When he hears those songs out of context, he's always totally excited ("That's my record!", he usually exclaims) and he sings or drums along.  I actually think this record is perfect kids music.  Throw that Raffi record away, my fellow parents.  The Beatles are by themselves a truly universal language.

Will's pretty sure we all have the song title wrong.  "It's 'Lucy In The Sky With Ben,' Dad."  He's not sure who Ben is, but he likes being in the sky with Lucy.  It's apparently a happy song about two people on a fun trip.  Which is probably not too far off, really.

I loved this song when I was a kid as well-- The Beatles were the first band I flipped for, and I had a beat-to-hell copy of Sgt. Pepper I got for 25 cents.  It had a couple of cracks and pops that my needle couldn't handle, but I probably played it every other day in 7th grade.  "Lucy" has always been my favorite track, somehow-- it's not really my favorite song or performance on the record, but I think it's the most mysterious-sounding one, and the song when I was a kid that made me feel like I was listening to something special.  The imagery was completely mind-blowing for a southern suburban kid, and I love all the little musical touches throughout.  For me, it's the song that lets you know that each new track on the record could bring anything, and frequently did.  Check out Paul's bass line in the verses, for example-- it's ingeniously simple and counter-melodic at the same time.  And Ringo's drum hits that announce the chorus are a great example of his musicality-- as simple and as appropriate as possible.

I actually don't think Pepper is the best Beatles album.  By my count, there are six others that make for a better listen.  I totally understand why it comes in first all the time in polls, though-- imagine what it must have been like to buy Pepper in the summer of 1967.  No band had really put out a unifying concept record yet.  There had been weird records released, no question-- Zappa's Freak Out, for example-- and bands had started to experiment with the studio as an instrument and make things that sounded deliberately wrong or expanded (Pet Sounds), but for the most part, rock was still singles and AM radio and music for kids.  And then Pepper-- here's an album by the most famous musicians in the world on which they pretend to be other people, start stringing songs together musically and thematically, play rockers and ballads and dance-hall tunes and sitars and creepy circus music and sound collages, and all in 35 minutes.  Some of it has aged badly, but it opened up the possibility for a rock album to be... anything.  After Pepper, you could do anything you want, and while I think a lot of bands surpassed Pepper in terms of achievement, they never could have gotten there so quickly and with international buy-in without this record.  It's important that The Beatles made this record-- they took experimentation and some avant-garde understandings about art and identity and made them immediately mainstream.  It would have taken a decade for that to happen without them.  The Beatles' growth from 1962-1970 is, I think, the most dramatic movement from point A to point Z by any modern artist.

LINK:  (Though if you don't know what "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" sounds like, you're probably not reading this sentence.)

Thanks for DJing, Will-- back to the shuffle for the next entry.


  1. Nice pick, Will! There are so many things I love about this record and, amazingly, continue to discover. Whenever I'm recording new music, I find myself listening to this record- how things are panned, how they wrote intros and outros, how they clap on the 2 in one verse and the 4 in another verse (Getting Better)...and, on this track...I love the sound of the guitar in that intro arpeggio and how it's panned all the way left, and the guitar line that comes in as a double to vocal, and how the chorus is two lines of doubling the melody before the harmony line comes on line three of the chorus, and the fact that John doubles his lead vocal on some lines but not others...

    So many great moments. Glad you agree, Will.

  2. I would love to write a heartfelt comment about how I used to not be crazy about the Beatles, but as I've grown older I've learned to love them, like a real music fan should. And the truth is that I do like the Beatles a lot better than I used to and I certainly get the ground breaking, song writing birth of serious and artistic rock n roll thing.

    That said the Beatles (and this song) suffer from two huge strikes in my book. First, I've just heard them too much for too long and I'm worn out on them, more so than any of their contemporaries. Second, as the Beastie Boys say "I like to keep it raw on the set," and there is insufficient musicianship and passion for me. I think the decision not to tour really made them into a studio band that lacked the raw aggression of their contemporaries. Also, they were not really very good at playing their instruments, which irks me.

    Anyhow, don't bother to try to dissuade me or taunt me for my opinion on this, I am already aware that I'm wrong, just speaking honestly.

  3. "I am already aware that I'm wrong." Classic. No argument that the band were not virtuoso players (except Paul. Paul is a brilliant player, no doubt. He plays bass as well as anyone ever has.) To quote Pete Townshend, "If you listen to the Beatles without the vocals, they're flippin' lousy." They were virtuoso collaborators, though. And I also think you're right that abandoning the live show was a big mistake for them.

  4. I don't know that one can argue for Pepper as the gateway between mainstream and avant-garde AND say it was a mistake to stop touring. Pepper wouldn't have happened if they'd kept touring. In fact, I think the fact they stopped and, in doing so, were able to make that record, you could argue they were able to change how mainstream acts played live.