The first is McCartney’s ‘Martha My Dear’. Most commentators dismiss this as a typical piece of McCartney whimsy but I like it. It just drips with melodic invention where the same idea is barely used twice. The main theme is curiously phrased across bars so that it has a slightly wonky rhythm which extends and then contracts like an elastic band. Love the jaunty piano and orchestral flourishes as well.
The second is John’s ‘Sexy Sadie’, his scathing sideswipe at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Who’d have thought that Lennon, an instinctive writer rather than a grafter, could come up with such a McCartney-esque melody? It too has a slightly strange melodic progression which tends to be linear rather than cyclical. In this respect it is a natural bedfellow for ‘Martha My Dear’ but where MMD is jaunty, SS has a classic Ringo backbeat that just nails it to the floor making it tougher and more Lennon-like.
But I’ve saved the best till last. The third is probably my favourite song from the whole album and it is George’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. This is where
comes of age, baring his soul in the most emotional way and underpinned by the
uncredited Eric Clapton’s mesmerising guitar.
Up to that point The Beatles didn’t entertain guests on their albums but
the addition of El Clappo adds a new dimension to their sound. George noted later that when Eric arrived to
do his stuff the whole band upped its game.
That’s peer pressure for you.
Interestingly, Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre tells a similar story
about the recording of ‘Aqualung’ when Jimmy Page paid a visit to their
studio. Martin’s solo on that track is
probably his finest ever!
Hundreds of years before, the likes of Bach and Mozart knew all about the power of a descending harmonic progression and George hammers this home in a stately yet frankly over-the-top way during the verse and then glides weightlessly over the chorus cum middle section. It is a powerful combination which lends itself to a massive guitar solo. It is the kind of trick that Pink Floyd used frequently some years later but here Eric Clapton shows remarkable restraint and taste. Perhaps he was frightened of showing up the most famous band on the planet? Either way, it works beautifully.
There are several versions on YouTube but this is one of my favourites from the Concert For George in 2002. Eric gets to sing as well as play and he is backed by a bewildering array of drummers, guitarists and keyboardists – including Ringo and Paul and Dahni Harrison who looks so like his Dad, it makes your heart bleed.