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Episode 13 Tell Me What You See

July 16, 2011

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Words and Music–The Beatles
Produced by David Barratt at the Abattoir of Good Taste

Vocal and Guitar–William Thaumatrope
Ukulele and Everything Else–David Barratt

My first memories of listening to pop music was not actually the Beatles. It was the Beatles look-a-like band, The Dave Clark Five’s, Bits and Pieces. Age 5, I was staying with my parents at someone else’s house, which was a rare occurrence. I came down in the morning to the kitchen bleary-eyed and heard this loud rhythmic noise emanating from above the kitchen counter: “I’m pieces, bits and pieces.” The lyrics were as shattering as the sound: I was rooted to the spot, stunned. The Beatles followed on the Sunday radio show family favorites: She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, All my Loving, and the intoxicating Michelle which magically wrapped love’s mysteries in the exotic allure of French (as I have mentioned before). I awaited Sunday not for compulsory Sunday Service but for the Church of the Beatles.

It is hard to recapture what a shocking band The Beatles were, because they now, retrospectively, have assumed establishment proportions. The Stones, it is thought and said, were the rebels and they were certainly out there. But what was shocking to the establishment about The Beatles was the way in which they permeated every aspect of everyday life and the minds of the young: they were in the very air we breathed. And when John Lennon said that the Beatles had more followers than Jesus Christ or whatever exactly he said, I remember it made my father catatonic. In one stroke, it changed my perception of religion, as well as my relationship to him, when I replied to his outburst, not without a certain fear: well it’s actually true isn’t it if you consider the numbers!

My third fateful encounter with the Beatles was in a class one day at school. Thinking back, I was in 4th and 5th grade in the heyday of the 60’s. One hot summer’s day, one of my teachers trundled in an old 33rpm record player and asked us to close our eyes and listen to some music. I can’t recall her ever doing this before, but perhaps she did. Anyway, I dutifully closed my eyes and out came the mesmeric sounds of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Having taken the extraordinary journey once, she asked us whether we would like to hear it again, so we listened again. It was certainly an experience equal in significance to I’m Pieces Bits and Pieces and the early Beatles.

Why I didn’t play Beatles music as a kid is a long story; suffice it to say that I am finally making up for it years later with this song: Tell Me What You See. This is taken off the British album Help! at a moment when you are just beginning to hear greater complexity in the Beatles music. For example, this album also contained Lennon’s “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” But this song is a very simple song in the key of G. It contains only three chords and is rendered with the typical Lennon-McCartney harmonies that remind us that the Beatles were a vocal band. Tell Me What You See is not considered a major Beatles song: nice but not a blockbuster, is the verdict of Beatles expert Alan Pollack. Some complexity is added to the song by the unusual percussion instruments, the guiro, a tambourine, and a pair of claves, and through the prominent use of the electric piano, a Hohner Pianet, in the short bridge section, “Tell me what you see.” These textures give the song a Latin flavor.

We have gone for a darker edge than the original. The decorative Latin flavor is gone, along with the bridge. We have also slowed the song down and eliminated the wonderful yet, from the distance of age, all–too–sunny Beatles harmonization, in favor of a straight almost dead pan delivery. So a tune that was already simple has been simplified still more. At the same time we have added a fairly dense orchestration featuring David Barratt on the Ukulele, that adds a veneer of sophistication to the song. This is no longer the song of an exuberant youth who never takes no far an answer and goes to some rhetorical lengths to achieve his goal: “we will never be apart if I am part of you.” With age, the singer has lost that invincibility. Now the fact that the singer repeatedly answers his own insistent demand “open up your eyes now, tell me what you see,” with  “what you see is me,” is less a sign of confidence, than of a belief that perhaps the scales will not fall from her eyes, nor even perhaps should they. But still, he has not given up hope altogether.

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From → Thaumatropemusic

3 Comments
  1. William I really love this! Love the “paring down” to the simplicity of a fine melody, and also love the accompaniment and the production. And it REALLY suits your voice. Excellent stuff keep it up!!

  2. Priyanjali permalink

    loved this one!!

  3. Geoff permalink

    This is really very nicely done. it has a great simple melody to start with, of course, but slowing the song down is very successful. That reminds me of a short-lived group called the Beathovens, formed by some classmates of mine, who performed in the local village halls and possibly once in Boston (UK) at the big dancehall in 1962-64 (ish) – kenny Spencer on lead guitar, ‘Jabber’ Parr on base, and others, including Pete Barraclough, lead vocals. Pete will be known possibly to longtime watchers of Sky sports TV in UK , since he became a soccer commentator and then got into producing (I think), but is still heard sports reporting occasionally. I remember particularly Pete asking my opinion as to whether one particular song of the Beatles, which they had similarly slowed down in performance, sounded OK. Which to me it certainly did – in time I may remember which one it was – not ‘Tell Me What You See’, which is a new on on me, or at least one I have forgotten. There may be other Beatles songs that would benefit from a similar treatment – slowing down. not forgetting! I’ll report back if my memory is jogged.

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