Sunday, September 30, 2007

free as a bird

I’ve got the few demo versions of Free as a Bird –John playing an upright, recorded in the Dakota in 1977. It’s fun to listen to him knowing the tempo but not having written the words yet – so a few of the verses are interlaced with lines of “do-da-da-da-da. Da-da-da-da-de. Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da.”

Turns out, he never did get around to writing those lines. John had left one half-finished verse (used twice) behind: Whatever happened to / the life that we once knew?" Hari and Macca finished it off and took turns singing the first new verse: Can we really live without each other? / Where did we lose the touch? / It seemed to mean so much / It always made me feel so ... free … as a bird.

Another interesting bit, quoting Macca: “John hadn't filled in the middle eight section of the demo so we wrote a new section for that, which, in fact, was one of the reasons for choosing the song; it allowed us some input, he was obviously just blocking out lyrics that he didn't have yet. When he gets to the middle he goes, Whatever happened to / The life that we one knew / Woowah wunnnnn yeurrggh! and you can see that he's trying to push lyrics out but they're not coming. He keeps going as if to say ‘Well, I'll get to them later'. That was really like working on a record with John, as Lennon / McCartney / Harrison, because we all chipped in a bit on this one. George and I were vying for best lyric. That was more satisfying than just taking a John song, which was what we did for the second, Real Love. It worked out great but it wasn't as much fun.”

The finished version of the song was recorded in Sussex in February and March 1994. John's original mono cassette was expanded into analogue 48-track form. Ringo started the song off with two beats on snare. George broke in with a bluesy slide guitar riff and continued with a slide solo. The demo was further augmented with George's and Paul's acoustic guitars, Paul's bass guitar and piano (which doubles with John's original) and new vocals from George, Paul and Ringo.

The video is an ode to years past. Macca said, “This idea [was to] load lots of clues here and there, 'cause we used to do that in all the old records. it became a bit of a game in the old Beatles days to stick little clues in and he's used them in the video, so it's very clever. You've got a pretty nurse selling poppies from a tray and Maxwell's Silver Hammer shop. I think it's a nice background. It'll mean that people can watch it a few times and, you know, get into it.”

The video is immediately below, followed by the lyrics. After those things are two analyses of the video contents. The first is a tick-tock approach which is good but not as informative as the narrative one that follows.

One item that I think is cool is in the second analysis, but not the first. At 2:43 (or 1:53 left), immediately following the little kids with pig masks running towards the camera in the alley, the bird flies up to and then in a window to view the paperback writer. On the outside pane of that window, before entry, viewable for less than a second, it what appears to be a lizard on the window pane ("Happiness is a Warm Gun").

Free as a bird,
it's the next best thing to be.
Free as a bird.

Home, home and dry,
like a homing bird I'll fly
as a bird on wings.

Whatever happened to
the life that we once knew?
Can we really live without each other?

Where did we lose the touch
that seemed to mean so much?
It always made me feel so...

Free as a bird,
like the next best thing to be.
Free as a bird.

Home, home and dry,
like a homing bird I'll fly
as a bird on wings.

Whatever happened to
the life that we once knew?
Always made me feel so free.

Free as a bird.
It's the next best thing to be.
Free as a bird.
Free as a bird.
Free as a bird.

This guy, “nicklby,” has done an admirable job of putting together the video references. All of the references below are a cut-n-paste from his site.

***Obvious references***

0:07 - portraits of Beatles as children on mantle (from left to right, John, George, Paul. Ringo in front)

0:14 - more portraits (left to right, Paul, John, Ringo, George)
0:38 - Beatles walk through dock workers
0:48 - Cavern Club (club where Beatles played many shows before becoming famous)
0:52 - Beatles performing at Cavern Club
1:06 - Strawberry Field ("Strawberry Fields Forever")
1:18 - Eggman appears ("I Am the Walrus")
1:27 - Beatles begin to walk off curb behind eggman
1:33 - Pretty nurse selling poppies from tray ("Penny Lane")
1:42 - Barber shop, with pictures of every head he's had the pleasure to know, including the Fab Four ("Penny Lane")

1:47 - Sign on wall reads "Help" ("Help!")
1:49 - Boy holds up hand to whisper to girl ("Do You Want to Know a Secret?")
1:50 - Ringo jumps from doorway
1:54 - Beatles stand by car
1:56 - Window has Beatles montage. First third looks like Anthology 1 cover. Other panels may be covers of other two volumes. [They Are, ed.]

2:02 - Birthday cake ("Birthday")
2:02 - Cake has a 6 and a 4 on it ("When I'm Sixty-Four")
2:07 - George appears on street
2:13 - George walks into office (In reality, Apple headquarters) with sign that reads "Dr. Robert" ("Dr. Robert")

2:18 - Ringo runs by
2:22 - John in crowd scene at car wreck, craning neck while others turn away ("A Day in the Life")

2:26 - Car wreck ("A Day in the Life" definitely, "Don't Pass Me By" possibly)
2:27 - Fire engine ("Penny Lane")
2:29 - Policemen in a row ("I Am the Walrus")
2:32 - Fireman ("Penny Lane")
2:38 - Helter Skelter slide (It looks like a lighthouse, but you can see the slide circling the building. "Helter Skelter," of course.)

2:38 - Kite ("Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite")
2:42 - Children run by in pig masks ("Piggies")
2:43 - Someone enters house through window from ladder ("She Came in Through the Bathroom Window")

2:51 - Writer working at desk ("Paperback Writer")
2:54 - Beatles walk behind children in pig masks (It's small, but it's obvious it's them)

3:05 - Beatles on TV
3:06 - John sitting in chair
3:08 - Copy of Daily Mail on table ("Paperback Writer")
3:08 - Bowl of green apples (reference to Apple Corps, Ltd.)
3:08 - Box of Savoy Truffles sits on table (kind of hard to make out, but that's what it says: "Savoy Truffle")

3:10 - Picture of Chairman Mao in window ("Revolution")
3:13 - Workers repairing hole in roof ("Fixing a Hole")
3:13 - Blue Meanie pops his head through hole (the film "Yellow Submarine")
3:18 - Newspaper taxi appears ("Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds")
3:22 - Woman leaves home ("She's Leaving Home")
3:22 - Picture of Mao being carried across street ("Revolution" definitely, "Carry That Weight" possibly)

3:22 - John and Yoko waltz by (taken from film "Let It Be" and probably representing "The Ballad of John and Yoko.")

3:23 - Blue Meanie pops head up from out of sewer (the film "Yellow Submarine")
3:25 - Magical Mystery Tour bus passes in far background (Hard to see, but it's there)

3:31 - Big game hunter leads procession, including elderly lady and elephant, out of party ("The Continuing Adventures of Bungalow Bill," who always went hunting with his elephant and gun and always took his mum.)

3:33 - Ringo at table near door
3:45 - Brian Epstein begins to put on his scarf
3:47 - Head of Stu Sutcliffe on body of James Dean from "Sgt Pepper" cover
3:48 - Flowers, drum and tuba from "Sgt Pepper" cover
3:49 - H.G. Wells and Lawrence of Arabia from "Sgt Pepper" cover chat (I know other guests are supposed to be rest of people on the cover, but they aren't as clearly identifiable as these two)

3:58 - Eleanor Rigby headstone ("Eleanor Rigby")
4:00 - Priest walks from grave ("Eleanor Rigby")
4:01 - Sheepdog runs through cemetery ("Martha My Dear" definitely, "Hey Bulldog" possibly)

4:04 - Long and winding road in background ("The Long and Winding Road")
4:05 - Paul romps on hill ("The Fool on the Hill")
4:12 - Crosswalk from the cover of "Abbey Road"
4:14 - Meter maid with bag across her shoulder steps onto curb ("Lovely Rita." She's definitely wearing a uniform and carrying a little white book.)

4:30 - Beatles walk into theater (taken from "A Hard Days Night")

***References with more than one possible interpretation***

:01 - Bird flying. (Interpretations range from "Blackbird" to "And Your Bird Can Sing" to "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" to even "Blue Jay Way." The flapping of the wings, though, sounds like the intro to the original version of "Across the Universe" which I think it's meant to represent. The entire concept of flying in the whole video could be taken to represent "Flying.")

1:27 - Children run by holding hands ("Lady Madonna" is most likely, but "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" is another possibility.)

1:45 - Woman appears in plastic-appearing coat (Some say, and I agree, that she is "Polythene Pam," but others have suggested she is "Sexy Sadie," or that her companion in the white coat is "Sexy Sadie." Since I can't locate a "Sexy Sadie" anywhere else in the video, I'll play it safe and place it in this category.)

1:53 - Couple kissing in car (may be banker on corner with a motorcar from "Penny Lane" or amorous couple from "Drive My Car." Most likely, though, it's "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?")

2:45 - Sunflowers. (I lean toward saying they're "the flowers that grow so incredibly high" from "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." Other interpretations are "I'll Follow the Sun" (since that is what flowers do), "Sun King" and "Here Comes the Sun," hence its inclusion here.)

3:08 - Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II sits on floor ("Her Majesty" or portrait of the Queen from "Penny Lane," though it's hardly pocket-sized)

3:53 - Statue in cemetery turns head (Statue could be of the Madonna ("Lady Madonna") or could be Mother Mary ("Let It Be")

***Reference that may not actually *be* references***

1:18 - Marketplace (Could be reference to "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," but since I see no one with a barrow in the marketplace, I'm unconvinced.)

3:38 - Last boy in Bungalow Bill's entourage looks very much like Sean Lennon. Could be a cameo or just a coincidence.

3:50 - Sun through panes in roof (It's the only intentional shot of the sun in the whole video. It could be meant to represent "Here Comes the Sun," "Sun King," "Good Day Sunshine" or "I'll Follow the Sun.")

4:06 - Woman walks down road with suitcase (could be "She's Leaving Home," but since we already had that song done with the woman leaving home in the newspaper taxi at 3:22, would she need to appear again?)

4:06 - Car heads up long and winding road ("Drive My Car"? Not many other cars in video, and one of few that's moving)

***The Voice***

4:36 - Voice at end of song. It sounds like backward masking, and it is definitely John's voice. Interpretations I've seen include:

"Turned out well at the end"
"There's that noise again"
"Turned out nice again."

Strangely, though, the backward tape sounds like John saying "My name is John Lennon" to me. It's possible the Fab Three put the tape on the end not only because it's a throwback to their tape use in the '60s, but also because it SOUNDS like "My name is John Lennon" when it's played backward.

[End of first video analysis.]

Here’s a narrative version of the video sequence and here’s the source.

The Video. The promo video for the song begins inside a room with a mantelpiece showing childhood photos of the four Beatles. The sound of a bird in the room, perhaps echoing the line 'she showed me her room, isn't it good?' from 'Norwegian Wood', is heard, as we follow the invisible bird out into Liverpool, and the beginning of the journey. It might also be seen to represent the song 'Flying', on the Magical Mystery Tour album. The lyrics 'and when I awoke I was alone, this bird had flown', again from 'Norwegian Wood', not only symbolise the flying out of the room, but also the flying journey. The bird could also symbolise 'Blackbird' from The White Album, or 'And Your Bird Can Sing'. The room itself stands in for John and Stuart's Sutcliffe's flat at 3 Gambier Terrace, which was near Liverpool Art School, which John and Stuart both attended.

The trip to Liverpool brings to mind a number of songs as we are shown the Beatles' lives: echoes 'In My Life'; 'Across The Universe'; and 'A Day In The Life'. It could even represent Sentimental Journey, Ringo Starr's first solo album, which was released before Let It Be.

The Docks. We catch a glimpse of the Liver Building, the river Mersey and the boats on it, symbolising the line 'Picture yourself in a boat on a river' from 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds'.

We land in the docks, where it is raining. The Beatles are among the dock workers who 'when the rain comes they run and hide their heads' from 'Rain' and 'get your tan from standing in the English rain' from 'I Am The Walrus'. The dock workers could well be 'lonely people', as mentioned in 'Eleanor Rigby', or even represent John Lennon's father, Alfred, who worked as a steward on the transatlantic liners from Liverpool. The docks were a major part of Liverpool life, with most families having at least one member working there, and they were also the source of many of the imported records that shaped the Beatles' music.

The Cavern. From the docks we are taken to Mathew Street, where we are amongst the crowd of people trying to get into the Cavern. The Cavern is the club where the Beatles performed almost 300 times between 9 February, 1961, and 3 August, 1963.

Although the original Cavern was demolished in 1973 to make way for an extension to the Liverpool underground railway (which was never constructed), it was rebuilt on almost the same spot in 1984, using many of the same bricks and built to its original dimensions. However, as the original entrance no longer exists, the current club was passed over as a filming location in favour of the recreation in 'The Beatles Story' museum in the Albert Dock, with the outside scenes being filmed in Henry Street. Here, we see the Beatles performing in time to the music.

Penny Lane. We are then taken from the Cavern, via Strawberry Fields, to Penny Lane. This could well reflect the lyric from 'Glass Onion', 'I told you about Strawberry Fields, you know the place where nothing is real, well here's another place you can go where everything flows', a lyric which applies to the whole video.
Here in Penny Lane, children run hand in hand, reminding us not only of 'I Want To Hold Your Hand', and of the 'couple of kids running in the yard of Desmond and Molly Jones' from 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da' but also of the children from 'Lady Madonna' and 'Little Child'.

There is a covered barrow in the marketplace, reminding us of 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da' again, while a van belonging to 'Liverpool Egg Company' can be seen, obviously 'the eggman' from 'I Am The Walrus'. Two people who look similar to Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Leader of the Opposition Edward Heath walk by, both of whom appear in the song 'Taxman', just as we observe a laughing Ringo walking past.

Outside a greengrocer's, selling apples, we see the pretty nurse selling poppies from a tray mentioned in the song 'Penny Lane'. The nurse bears an uncanny resemblance to Paul's mother Mary, who worked as a district nurse and midwife. Also on Penny Lane is the barber with the photographs of 'every head he's had the pleasure to know'. Near his shop on the wall someone has written the word 'Help!', the title of the second Beatles film. Just then, two women come through a door into the road. One is dressed in black, perhaps to remind us of 'Baby's In Black', or the plastic raincoat from 'Polythene Pam'. Her companion could possibly be 'Another Girl', or Prudence from 'Dear Prudence', come out to play.

On the pavement, one boy whispers to a girl, reminding us of 'Do You Want To Know A Secret?' and 'All I gotta do is whisper in your ear' from 'All I've Gotta Do'. Next we see a couple acting quite passionately in a parked car, echoing 'Why Don't We Do it in the Road?', or, more probably, Paul McCartney's 'Back Seat Of My Car'. The Beatles watch, while outside we notice a large poster for the Anthology, reminding us that the Anthology too is part of the Beatles' canon. Also on Penny Lane is a bakery, which has a cake in the window that says 'Happy Birthday'. This reminds us of the song 'Birthday', with 6 and 4 in the corners of the cake recalling 'When I'm 64'. This also can symbolise Ringo Starr's father, who made cakes. We then see George Harrison walk into the Apple Building which in the video belongs to Doctor Robert from the song of the same name.

The Accident. Down the road we see the car accident from 'A Day In The Life'. We see the 'crowd of people [who] stood and stared', and a girl in a Lotus sportscar, from 'Drive My Car'; that she is also crying might remind us of 'Cry Baby Cry'. At the accident we see not only Penny Lane's 'Fireman [that] rushes in' with his 'clean machine', but also the 'pretty little policemen in a row' from 'I Am The Walrus'.

The camera then flies away, passing a 'Helter Skelter' and a kite ('Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite'), to an alley in Liverpool. A group of children runs down an alley wearing pig masks, a nod to 'Piggies' and the 'See how they smile like pigs in a sty' line from 'I Am The Walrus'. Behind them the Beatles appear, then cross the alley and walk through a wall on the other side, suggesting either a 'Wall of Illusion' from 'Within You, Without You', or George Harrison's soundtrack album, 'Wonderwall' (which was released when the Beatles were still together to accompany the 1968 film of the same name).

Also in the alley is a ladder propped up against one of the terraced houses, and we see a foot disappear from its top through a window, referring to 'She Came In Through The Bathroom Window'. In the garden are some tall sunflowers, presumably the 'flowers that grow so incredibly high' mentioned in 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds'.

Paperback Writer. The camera takes us into the upstairs room of a man hard at work on his typewriter. On his window, there is the lizard on the windowpane mentioned in 'Happiness Is A Warm Gun'. The man himself instantly reminds us of the 'Paperback Writer', although it is possible that he is Father McKenzie 'writing the words to a sermon that no-one will hear'. It is even possible that he is writing a letter, from 'PS I Love You', or 'while I'm away I'll write home everyday' from 'All My Loving'. Inside his room is a copy of the Daily Mail, again from 'Paperback Writer', with the headline '4000 Holes In Blackburn Lancashire' (from 'A Day In The Life'). Also inside the room is a clock, which states the time is 10:10, presumably the 'One After 909'. On the table lies a bowl of apples and a box of chocolates, which can only be 'Savoy Truffles'. John Lennon is resting in a chair, reminiscent of 'I'm So Tired' and 'I'm Only Sleeping', next to a television which is broadcasting the Beatles on their famous Ed Sullivan appearance. A picture of 'Her Majesty' the Queen is also in the room, with a picture of a soldier on the window, either in reference to John Lennon's involvement in the 1967 film How I Won The War, or the line in 'A Day In The Life' which states 'I saw a film today, oh boy. The English army had just won the war.'

St. Bride Street. We are then taken outside the house, where we see a hole in the neighbouring house's roof - reminding us of 'Fixing A Hole' - when unexpectedly a Blue Meanie from Yellow Submarine pops through it. Also on the roof you can just make out a monkey (because of course 'Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey'). Echoing the lyric from the same song, 'The higher we fly, the deeper we go, so come on', we are then taken from the roof down to street level. Here we see a man walking his bulldog down the road ('Hey Bulldog'), and the newspaper taxi mentioned in 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds'. Two men carry a large picture of Chairman Mao across the road, reminding us of the line ('But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow') from 'Revolution'. We see John and Yoko waltz down the road, either 'I'm Happy Just To Dance With You' or 'The Ballad Of John And Yoko'. A Blue Meanie then pops his head up out of a hole in the road, subtly reminding us that 'Mean Mr Mustard... sleeps in a hole in the road', or that the Meanie has just come from the Sea of Holes from the Yellow Submarine film. At the far end of the road, the Magical Mystery Tour bus drives by. This could be seen to also represent Harold 'Harry' Harrison, George Harrison's father, who worked as a bus driver after leaving the Merchant Navy, and indeed often drove his son George and Paul McCartney to school.

The Adelphi Hotel. We are then taken into a posh hotel, the Adelphi, glimpsing Napoleon, presumably to remind us that 'All You Need Is Love' begins with the Marseillaise, the French National Anthem which dates back to the Napoleonic era.

A hunter is seen leaving the hotel, with his porters, mother and elephant, reminding us of 'The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill', who 'went out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun, in case of accidents he always took his mum'. We also see the Maharishi Yogi, who the Beatles stayed with in India, and perhaps even the 'Sheikh of Araby', one of the very earliest Beatles recordings, as featured on the Anthology.

We then see a gathering of the people on the Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band cover chatting, listening to the Indian music of a sitar including a cut-out of Stuart Sutcliffe, the Beatles' bass player and close friend of John Lennon, who died of a brain haemorrhage in Hamburg on 10 April, 1962. We are then taken through a skylight, reflecting 'Here Comes The Sun' and 'Good Day Sunshine'.

The Graveyard. We are then taken to a cemetery. In it, a statue of Mary can be seen, her head turning to follow us, reminding us of 'Lady Madonna', and the line 'Mother Mary comes to me' from 'Let It Be'. We also see Eleanor Rigby's gravestone and Father 'McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave'. We then see a sheepdog running through the graveyard, probably a reference to Paul McCartney's sheepdog Martha (referred to in 'Martha, My Dear') or the line 'Sheepdog, standing in the rain' in 'Hey Bulldog'. Outside the graveyard we see a woman walking down a 'Long And Winding Road' carrying a suitcase, reminding us how 'She's Leaving Home', while Paul is seen jumping up and down in footage taken from 'The Fool On The Hill' sequence from the 'Magical Mystery Tour' film.

Abbey Road. We then move to London, and the world-famous zebra-crossing shown on the Abbey Road album cover. On the left side of the road a traffic warden, presumably 'Lovely Rita, Meter Maid' can be seen, presumably about to ticket the Volkswagen Beetle largely responsible for causing all the 'Paul McCartney Is Dead' hysteria that gripped America in late 1969.

The final sequence takes us to a theatre, possibly representing the Saville Theatre in London where the 'Hello, Goodbye' video was filmed. The Beatles are then seen rushing into the theatre, in a scene from the A Hard Days Night film, surrounded by clowns - perhaps echoing 'Gather round all you clowns' from 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away' - while on the stage a little man plays the ukulele. As the curtain lowers we hear a voice which appears to say 'My name's John Lennon', but is in fact 'Turned Out Nice Again' played backwards - a reference not only to the backwards track on 'Rain', but also to George Harrison's childhood hero ukulele player George Formby, who used it as a catchphrase.

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