Notes On The 'Long Tall Sally' EP (LTSEP)

  • Long Tall Sally
  • Slow Down
  • Matchbox

    GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST


    What Goes On ?

    - With the exception of the much later "Magical Mystery Tour", this was the only one of the British EPs to contain unique material, and what a strange lineup it is: three covers from the not-so-late 50s and one original from John's compositional infancy! And these songs are not just old per se, but they (the covers especially) are very different in words and tone from most of what the group had heretofore delivered.

    - The impact of this was blunted for us in the States by the way these four tracks were split up by Capitol between the "Second" and "Something New" LPs, and thrown in there alongside generally more current and/or original material. However, when you hear this lineup in the confines of the 7-inch/4-song mini-medium you can't help wonder what in blazes the group thought it was doing here.

    - If you want to be cynical about it you might say they were under pressure at the time for new product and simply couldn't do any better; that between the Conquering of America and A Hard Day's work on the film, which had not yet been released, they had momentarily shot their wad and it was surely tempting enough to move out old inventory on the assumption that, during this hottest peak of Beatlemania, no one would even notice. But not so fast, wise guy. There are at least two other interpretations that can be cast upon the matter; the one, at least benign, and the other even a tad sublime.


    Now That You Know Who You Are, What Do You Want to Be ?

    - If nothing else, I believe the song selection on this EP can be viewed as the result of the Beatles self-consciously exposing their roots, as if to say "this is what we used to be like before we made it big!" But something much more interesting than mere nostalgia is going on here as well.

    - They had been consistent from the start of the EMI relationship in carefully, incrementally building a consistent musical image; it was more substantive than, but bears some analogy to, the collarless suits and ankle boots. In this sense, covers were used in the early official releases to inobtrusively "round out" and solidify, rather than complicate and thereby run the risk of confusing, what was rapidly evolving as a uniquely indigenous and identifiable sound.

    - Yet, here in the middle of 1964, where this whole musical and marketing gambit had culminated to a height virtually unprecedented in all of Western cultural history (and I don't say this lightly!), it would seem with this EP that they were, with almost perverse delight, trying to push their image beyond the envelope they themselves had established for it by branching out into new sub-genres, and borrowing/affecting/impersonating musical roles outside of the ones which were recognizably part of their image and sound during the very first wave. It's as though, with the cover songs on this EP they were saying "Surprise! this is what we *could* be like if we want to be." The fact that they could achieve this by dipping backwards in their repertoire for material they had been playing since the dawn of the 60s only goes to make it the more ironic.

    - Granted, we saw a trend toward covering oldies back on "With The Beatles", but I'd argue that in terms of vocal rendition and lyrical content, the likes of "Till There Was You" (as a love song), and "Roll Over Beethoven" (with its trenchant wit) manage to fit in better amongst the L&M originals there than any of the three cover songs heard on this EP. I suppose that "Money" *does* come closer to stressing the mold, but in context of WTB, its impact is diluted by virtue of its being outnumbered. As mentioned above, the exclusive focus on oldies in this EP is intensified by the very compressed nature of the medium itself.

    - Cover songs would play a steadily diminishing role in their repertoire from this point onward, but this harnessing of covers for the purpose of extending (not just rounding out!) the stylistic range of the group would continue with the likes of "Mr. Moonlight" and "Act Naturally." Furthermore, this notion of forward development and diversification of the group's image via the initially impressionistic mimicry and eventually synthetic absorption of varied styles would come to its ultimate fruition in their original work of the Middle and Later periods. At first this would appear tentatively and sporadically in the likes of "Yesterday" or "Yellow Submarine." But in the long run it would be directly traceable to the chameleon-like shuffling of funny and diverse styles which so pervades the White Album and Abbey Road. IMHO, the best visual metaphor for this phenomenon is their appearance in costume on the cover of "Sgt. Pepper" standing right next to the waxworks of themselves from around the time of this EP.

    - In summary, the "Long Tall Sally" EP would seem to be a unique event in their recording history. Using the self-same material, they manage to make both the most unabashed tribute-like gesture to their past, while at the same time uncannily signalling what they later would do with material written entirely by themselves.


    Well You Can Imitate Everyone You Know

    - All three of the cover songs here are obviously in fairly straight 12-bar blues form, though it's noteworthy that they each project a very different emotive/sub-cultural style, and appropriately, the vocal solo of each was given to a different member of the group.

    - Although I describe these specific cover songs as extending the sound and image of the group, it should be noted that all three of them formed a staple part of the Beatles stage repertoire not only during the salad days of the '59-'62 period, but well into the '63 season as well. I was astonished to discover that all three cover songs on this EP were performed at least once by the Beatles on the radio during 1963, and in essentially the same arrangements heard on this EP. However, I assume that the exclusion of these songs from official release until this relatively late date was not at all inadvertant.

    SONG-BY-SONG WALKTHROUGH


    Long Tall Sally

    KEY G Major

    METER 4/4

    FORM Verse ("Tell Aunt Mary") -> Verse ("Saw Uncle John") -> Break -> Verse ("Long Tall Sally") -> Break -> Verse ("Have some fun) -> Verse ("Have some fun) (w/complete ending)

    COMPOSERS Johnson/Penniman/Blackwell

    INFLUENTIAL VERSION Little Richard (1956)

    - This is a raving rock-n-roll blues number in the 4 + 8 model, where each 12-bar frame starts off with four measures of expository lyrics that is followed by an eight measure refrain like section; compare the structure of this one to "Money", for example. To the extent that songs in this style often base their refrain section on the title hook phrase (again, compare with "Money", ), you'd half expect the title of this one to be "have some fun tonight" :-).

    - There are other stylistic cliches here as well: the backing of the mini- verse-like opening four measures of each section with dramatic block chords that are widely separated by silence, the manner in which the lyrics of the final section degenerate into simple repetition of the hook phrase, and the fact that this repetitious section is repeated a second time. Especially dramatic is the shouted opening without intro or warning.

    - Paul's stylized imitation of Little Richard, the likes of which had not heretofore appeared on an official recording of the Beatles remains so astonishing by itself that one tends to overlook just how outrageous the *words* of this song are in context of the Beatles' act. Indeed, the strange tale told here about philandering Uncle John, his girlfriend Sally, and their near-miss attempts to keep their antics a secret from Aunt Mary are a far cry from the yearnings of teen love which were the virtually exclusive purview of the group's officially recorded output up until this point in time.

    - The Beatles add some trademark devices to their arrangement of this song; e.g. the prominence of the piano and lead guitar parts, the final ending on a dissonant I7/9 chord, and Paul's bassline which is predominantly walking throughout except for the final sections in which it changes the whole feel of the music simply by shifting to throbbingly repeated notes. All this notwithstanding, there are interesting differences between this and the original version.

    - Little Richard played it in the lower key of F Major, his backing group sounds much more spare, and quite frankly, his vocal performance is more raving-yet-controlled than it is screaming. Specifically, his high notes contain a higher ratio of falsetto to screach than do Paul's, and you can make out the words much more clearly.

    - The original also follows a very different ordering of verse and break sections as follows. Note how the Beatles bother to consolidate and re-order the sections so that the form more closely resembles the rest of their output:

    Verse ("Tell Aunt Mary") -> Verse ("Long Tall Sally") -> Verse ("Saw Uncle John") -> Break -> Break -> Verse ("Long Tall Sally") -> Verse ("Saw Uncle John") -> Verse ("Have some fun) (w/complete ending)

    - I'd heard both the original and the Beatles versions of this song countless times before, but not until I listened carefully for the purposes of doing this article did I notice the fact that in the official Beatles version Paul changes the line about "bald headed" Sally to read "long tall"; this, in spite of the fact that in all the live or broadcast Beatles performances of this that I checked (both those that precede or followed the official recording by as much as 6 or more months in either direction) feature the original wording restored! All I can figure here is that the reference to a bald headed woman (with or without wig hat) was thought to be just too raunchy or ethnic a reference for the typical middle-class and mainstream Beatles fan of 1964; or else perhaps Dick James would have been offended.

    - And one last honest open question: I'm interested in a straw poll of whether people understand the song to speak of only one or two different women named Sally; an honest, if stupid, question.


    Slow Down

    KEY C Major

    METER 4/4

    FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Break -> Verse (complete ending)

    COMPOSERS Williams

    INFLUENTIAL VERSION Larry Williams (1958)

    - The form of this song is based on an expanded variation of the classic blues in which every section is twenty-four, instead of twelve measures long. The infra-structure is identical to the 12-bar model, but it leisurely unfolds at half the speed, nicely urged along by a pentatonic boogie-like ostinato figure. As with "Long Tall Sally", the tune and lyrics divide the blues frame up into 4 + 8 (actually 8 + 16), with the title-hook refrain kicking in on the first change to the IV chord.

    - Lyrics-wise, this is the most conventional of the three covers on this EP. Aside from the blackboard jungle undertone which seems to be sort of Larry Williams' trademark, the focus of the words themselves is on love-related angst, a topic quite in the mainstream of the Beatles own repertoire. Indeed, the hero of this song sound like the guy in YCDT except that this time he's running scared.

    - The Beatles arrangement is characterized by lots of piano and lead guitar. The ostinato is executed in painstakingly even eighth notes that make for a nicely humming backbeat. John's overdubbed vocal diverges pitch-wise from the initial track so that he sounds as though harmonizing with himself in places; it's hard to know if this was intentional or not.

    - Williams does it in a different key (D Major), he's got what sounds like close to a big band behind him, and his ostinato swings a bit more than it is even. His single tracked vocal is more melifluous and less shouted than John's, and this gives the whole song a slightly different feeling; evoking a hero that is more cooly calm and self-assured, rather than on-the-run and desparate.

    - Both versions follow the same ordering of the formal sections. Williams uses the identical 24-bar chord progression in every section whereas the Beatles use the original model only in the instrumental intro and break, and make a subtle but effective modification to the pattern in all the sung sections. The third eight-measure phrase in the original gives two measures each to the V and IV chords followed by four measures of the I chord. In the sung verses, the Beatles give only one measure each to the V and IV chords and six measures to the I; this creates the not unpleasant sensation of an accelerating intensification on the phrase "give me little lovin' etc." that is missing from the original.

    - At the level of details that almost go without saying, Williams features a saxaphone solo while the Beatles feature a guitar. And although John does shamelessly rip off Larry's tongue-tickling "BRRRRR!", he does it in the second verse whereas Larry does it right off in the first section.


    Matchbox

    KEY A Major

    METER 4/4

    FORM Intro -> Verse ("sitting here") -> Verse ("old poor boy") -> Verse ("don't want my peaches") -> Break -> Verse ("be your little dog") -> Verse ("sitting here") (w/complete ending)

    COMPOSER Perkins

    INFLUENTIAL VERSION Carl Perkins (1957)

    - Though formalistically speaking, in straight 12-bar blues form, the rock-a-billy arrangement and patter-song lyrics almost overshadow that fact. Unlike most of the other 12-bar covers we've looked at, this one employs its title/hook phrase only in the verse section which opens and closes the number. According to Lewisohn, this song went into the Beatles repertoire as early as '61 at which time the lead vocal was assigned to then-current drummer Pete Best.

    - Although the topic here would seem to be love-related, the specific perspective of the "man who's sad and lonely" which it represents is a novel departure from the typical Beatles love songs which had been officially recorded until this point. By the same token, this one also establishes the start of a long term type-casting in the sorts of songs assigned to Ringo. Note the common threads of both rock-a-billy style and forlorn lyrics that run through "Honey Don't" (also by Perkins), "Act Naturally", "What Goes On", and even Richie's own "Don't Pass Me By". In this light, the fact that the latter song had already been written by some point in '64 (as we learn from a chance remark made during one of the Beeb radio shows) seems like no small coincidence.

    - Ringo provides a double-tracked solo vocal, and just as we saw with the over songs above, the piano and lead guitar parts are featured prominently in the mix. Note the Beatles-like staggered entrance of the instruments during the intro.

    - The Beatles organize the ordering of the sections slightly differently from Perkin's original version, and even add a verse ("peaches") which he did not have. Ironically, the form of the original below, with its two breaks that are separated by one or more verses, is strongly reminiscent of the Boys' own restructuring of "Long Tall Sally":

    Intro -> Verse ("sitting here") -> Verse ("old poor boy") -> Break -> Verse ("be your little dog") -> Verse ("sitting here") -> Break -> Verse ("sitting here") (w/complete ending)

    - Class dismissed :-).

    
    Regards,
    Alan (awp@bitstream.com *OR* uunet!huxley!awp)
    
    
    ---
    "... but not our little Richard ... oh no!  When you're not thumping them
     pagan skins, you're tormenting your eyes wid that rubbish!"	020292#48
    ---
    
                    Copyright (c) 1992 by Alan W. Pollack
                              All Rights Reserved
    
           This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and
           otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains
           intact and in place.
    
    Click here to return.

    Click here to return to AWP's index.