Beatles Night Should Separate Good from Great – Why Doesn’t It?

All I can say is — Lazaro Arbos must have a HUGE Hispanic fan base because he’s so darn Cuban, and also a fan base of little girl, teeny-boppers because he’s so darn cute. His singing isn’t what’s kept him in the competition. Not that he CAN’T sing. His nerves and confusion have muddied the waters for him as a viable contestant. And Ryan Seacrest needs to quit asking him questions that call for long-winded answers. It’s painful to watch the boy struggle so hard with his speech impediment. Though sometimes he seems to temporarily overcome it.

Paul Jolley was voted off, still convinced he had done nothing wrong. He felt he had done a commendable job on his Beatles song, “Eleanor Rigby”, and had always known how to connect with the songs. His mates in the bottom three were Devin Velez and Amber Holcomb. Amber absolutely did not belong there. But her Beatle’s song was not her best. So many of these contestants need to listen to themselves realistically. But I also agree with Jimmy Iovine. The judges have got to quit molly-coddling them. Simon Cowell often went too far with his harsh personal insults, but it was his opinion that counted with contestants and audiences alike. His every word could dash hopes or send them soaring. To those whose futures hung in the balance, his words of praise were like pearls, because, like the oyster, they were hard to pry out of his mouth. But the singers knew if they got them they were earned.

I feel the same with Jimmy Iovine. He seems to have insight that goes deeper than just being a good judge of a song or a singer. I think it’s a gift. I’m not saying he can’t be wrong, or that sometimes I don’t disagree with him. But on the whole, he’s very much worth listening to. He’s paid his dues in the music industry and then some.

I also agree with Jimmy’s comment about his disappointment with the contestants not being familiar with the Beatles. It was an echo of my own thoughts. I mean, here are kids who have competed sometimes two or three times for American Idol. And the rest of them essentially say they’ve dreamed of being on the show and have watched it since they were in the womb.

So I’m confused. I watch Idol every year as a mere viewer. I know that the Beatles have been a regular hurdle on the show for contestants, and nearly every year some of them do not know enough about the Beatles to determine whether they are a singing group or an Orkin problem. Jimmy was so right to say that singing is a business, and these contestants should treat it as such. They should know their business. And if, as they say, they have watched the show so avidly, how could they not be familiar with all they will be asked to do, and then prepare accordingly? I watch Idol because it’s fun and entertaining (usually). But for those who want a future in the music industry, they should be watching in deadly earnest. It may be a reality game show, but it’s not a starry-eyed game for those who take the stage.

Every year during the weeding-out process in Hollywood and on up to the top twenty, you see good singers crying and quitting. Didn’t know it would be so hard. If they’ve watched it for years with a view to becoming a contestant, how could they possibly not know? Some of them act as though they’ve never even heard of the group round, or pulling all-nighters. Do they watch with blinders on, or with their heads so far in the clouds of fame and fortune that they are as blind as poor little Amber Holcomb in the stage fog on the stairs?

And let’s get back to the problem of the Beatles. The contestants should have studied the Beatles and their music before they ever vied for a golden ticket. Getting to know them in a few days or a week won’t cut it. The Beatles may sound simple to just a drive-by listener, but they are far from that. Their good music is complex, and the words and emotions even more so. To get all that together for even an experienced popular singer would be an awesome undertaking. The producers of Idol do not use the Beatles as a threshing mill to separate the good from the great for nothing. They know what they’re doing.

Take the song Eleanor Rigby (sometimes called “All the Lonely People”) which Paul Jolley sang and thought he had done well with in spite of judges’ comments and being voted off. If a singer doesn’t reach down to the depths and pull out every lonely feeling he’s ever had, he isn’t going to get the song, or be able to reproduce it, or make it his own. Even a young, life-inexperienced singer can do this. Even children get lonely.

Eleanor Rigby isn’t just a song. It can stand its own as poetry. And good poetry is complicated because it plays the emotions with a feathery touch that goes beyond mere words to a language of the spirit. A language that sings. And you can’t learn that language by repetition or conjugation or a tourist book. And beyond the language of poetry, when coupled with actual music, it becomes an unforgettable romance that stands the test of time. It may even be tragic like Romeo and Juliette, and often is. The music complements and dips down and down and down till it sinks into the words and draws emotions to the top like a bucket draws water from a well.

If a contestant is preparing to sing Eleanor Rigby, what does he do with words like:

Eleanor Rigby
Picks up the rice at a church
where a wedding has been.

What do they mean? Sounds simple. But in context you understand that Eleanor stands apart. She’s not a member of the wedding party. She picks up the dregs. That’s her life. She’s always on the outside looking in.

And what about:

Eleanor Rigby
Waits at the window wearing the face
that she keeps in a jar by the door.
Who is it for?

It’s her public face, not her private one.

And what does Father McKensie have to do with being lonely? Why is he writing the words to a sermon that no one will hear? Is he just thrown in for good measure? Of course not. Father McKensie is a good man. But his sermon either falls on deaf ears (no one listening), or people don’t show up at all.  His life goes on. He does ordinary things. In the night, alone, he darns his socks. What does he care? He’s done his bit to help people. But in the end, he can’t live their lives for them. And everyone has moments of loneliness. It’s an ingrained part of the human condition.

And what does it mean at the end when Eleanor dies and is “buried along with her name”? That’s a strange line. But it says that, though her name may be above ground on a headstone, that doesn’t mean her name, or her life, will be remembered.

Now for the music. How does it pull the words up so you may taste what they mean? The music starts out rather upbeat (though with the warning that the clock of life is already ticking). Could it be the sound of our youth with our future wide before us? Anything is possible and youth is immortal. But the notes of the music get increasingly somber. That wide open corridor of possibility narrows substantially as time goes on. And time is measured by the relentless chopping of the strings. Never slowing. Never waiting till you can get it together.

Paul Jolley has a good voice that could be trained and he could do well if he makes good choices with where he needs to go with it. But if he had studied this song when being a contestant was just a distant future dream, the outcome might have turned out much different. He could have dipped into that well of possibilities and drawn up his own version. But without knowing the extent of what the song says and what it is meant to convey, that’s not possible. Even one wrong note can change the entire character and feeling of a song. Whether he goes high or low, upbeat or minor key, a singer has to know why he does it, and how it will affect the entire complexion of the piece.

Is that a big job for young people? It certainly is. But it separates the good from the great. I’ve heard Idol contestants who have done songs better than the original because they made me feel them down to my toenails, brought me to tears, and to my feet. The greatest one was Adam Lambert and the other was Chris Daughtry with Johnny Cash’s, “I Walk the Line”. He sang it so different, but the heart was the same.

Yes. It can be done by those who want their singing to mean something beyond the vocals. The Beatles segment should be their time to show what they’ve really got. It’s a time for greatness if it’s there.

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5 thoughts on “Beatles Night Should Separate Good from Great – Why Doesn’t It?

  1. Hmm….I think you’re out to make a Beatles fan of me. Thanks for the videos. I don’t think I ever really paid attention to the lyrics before and the melodies in both songs are really beautiful. They were an extraordinarily talented group, there’s no denying that.

    I like what you said about making a song your own. That’s really where the talent lies. You can be a good singer and make good song choices, BUT you have to bring something different to it. It has to be unique to you. I don’t think ANYONE was as good at that as Adam….no American Idol contestant or anyone else in the industry.

    Adam KILLED it with Donna Summers’ traditionally disco “If I Can’t Have You.” It brought me to tears when he sang HIS version of the song and he put Paula Abdul in a trance. Kara Dioguardi said he ripped out his heart and left it on the stage. He ripped out my heart, too.

    Another weeper for me was Adam’s “The Tracks of My Tears.” Even Smokey Robinson, who wrote the song, looked pleased and said he’d never heard the song sung Adama’s way.

    And nobody can deny that Adam’s rendition of the Johhny Cash classic, “Ring of Fire” had Adam’s indelible mark on it. It was controversial, but I LOVED it and it’s the favorite of many of my fellow Lambert fans. I liked Paula’s comparison to “Kashmir.” I thought the same and I’ve already said it’s my favorite song by Led Zeppilin.

    Now for the results show. I loved Jimmy Iovine’s critiques of the performances. He didn’t mince words. That’s what the judges need to do and so far, only Nicki comes close. I did disagree though with Jimmy’s comments about Angie. I think she’s very near perfection and doesn’t need to change a thing.

    I also loved the girls singing “Here, There and Everywhere.” It was a gorgeous arrangement and the harmonies and blend were perfection.

    I loved Jessica Sanchez last season, but didn’t care for the song she did last night with Ne-Yo.

    All you said about Lazaro is true. Plus I think he’s getting a big helping of sympathy votes because of his disability. I was absolutely appalled that he was safe and Amber ended up in the bottom three. Thank goodness it was Paul who went home, not her. And Paul’s sing-for-your-life song was horrible. REALLY horrible. It was out of his range, pitchy and he was screaming not singing. I doubt that the judges even had to confer before deciding not to save him.

    I’ve been discussing the show with several friends on Facebook and they think this is the worst season of Idol ever. I disagree. I think season nine, which had Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze, was the worst. But it’s hard to be objective when season nine followed the brilliant Adam Lambert on season eight.

    Next week they’ll be singing all Motwn songs. Yay! LOTS of great songs to choose from and one of my favorite genres.

    • After your comment, Mike and I had to revisit all these old “haunts”. My GOSH! Adam Lambert’s voice takes you to another sphere. Especially when he gets into the high, screaming (not screeching) ranges where he stays in perfect control. I had a fit of chills all over. There’s screaming, and then there’s screaming that puts a world of pain and untold emotion in it and still stay in the realm of music. MAN! What a singer!

      Glad you’re taking another look at the Beatles. Like I said, I didn’t come to appreciate them until I was older. And, too, their early songs were a bit juvenile, like “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. Did you know it was written by Paul McCartney, later credited to both Paul and John Lennon, so John must have had some input. But the primary writer was Paul. In “Come Together”, which Candice did so well, the original seemed to have several “measures” I guess you’d call them (I’m not up on musical technicalities and language you’ve probably noticed) weaving their way through that undeniable and moving beat. I mean moving in the sense you can’t NOT move when it’s playing. Mike liked Candice’s performance, but didn’t like the band. Too many instruments, he says. “Throwing a bunch of instruments at a song does not make it better.” He thinks they muddle an otherwise great song, and are a distraction. He doesn’t mean that for all songs, just some of them. He also thinks the sometimes awkward musical arrangements can throw off the singers. Someone needs to oversee the band better. Not that they aren’t good, but they can’t be good if the arrangement isn’t.

      I also agree wholeheartedly about the Lee DeWyze season. Mike and I looked up past Idol winners and runner-ups this morning to see what they had done. DeWyze doesn’t seem to have done much of anything. Bowersox did some in country (I think – we read about so many). Looking forward to “Motown”. I love Motown.

      And guess what? Mike and I saw “The Hobbit” last night. I’ve already made notes preparing for a review. But, pre-review, we loved it. I loved it even more than Mike and thought it ended in a perfect place for the step-up to the next one. Katie and Randy loved it, too. They didn’t know it was available for streaming yet. But what I regret is not seeing it at the movies. It got so many bad reviews with so many people saying it was “stretched out” “slow”. BOOOOO. Everything about it was great.

      Anyway, thanks for your input. I always enjoy it and learn something from it.

      • I thought you might be interested in this that I found on Wikipedia about the instrumentation for Eleanor Rigby. The whole article is an interesting read.

        “Eleanor Rigby” does not have a standard pop backing; none of the Beatles played instruments on it, though John Lennon and George Harrison did contribute harmony vocals.[27] Like the earlier song “Yesterday”, “Eleanor Rigby” employs a classical string ensemble – in this case an octet of studio musicians, comprising four violins, two cellos, and two violas, all performing a score composed by producer George Martin.[27]. Where “Yesterday” is played legato, “Eleanor Rigby” is played mainly in staccato chords with melodic embellishments. For the most part, the instruments “double up”—that is, they serve as two string quartets with two instruments playing each part in the quartet. Microphones were placed close to the instruments to produce a more vivid and raw sound; George Martin recorded two versions, one with and one without vibrato, the latter of which was used. McCartney’s choice of a string backing may have been influenced by his interest in the composer Antonio Vivaldi, who wrote extensively for string instruments (notably “the Four Seasons”). Lennon recalled in 1980 that “Eleanor Rigby” was “Paul’s baby, and I helped with the education of the child … The violin backing was Paul’s idea. Jane Asher had turned him on to Vivaldi, and it was very good.”[28] The octet was recorded on 28 April 1966, in Studio 2 at Abbey Road Studios and completed in Studio 3 on 29 April and on 6 June. Take 15 was selected as the master.[29]

      • Glad you enjoyed the trip I gave your down memory lane. I’ve watched Idol since the first season and I’ve NEVER liked anyone more than Adam. His incredible range is crazy, his control is unmatched, he has the most beautiful vibrato I’ve ever heard, his mid and low ranges are both awesome…no low notes ever disappear. They’re always there and perfectly on pitch. His performances are always so heartfelt that I can scarcely believe he’s real. I wish he would have released an album strictly of his Idol performances. I like them better than much of what he’s done since. OK, I think you get the picture: I’m a fan.

        I wonder if Michael Orland is still on board and doing any of the arrangements. I haven’t seen him this season, but his arrangements were always spot on. He said once in an article I read on line that Adam was the best musician he’d ever worked with on Idol.

        I think perhaps one reason I was never crazy about The Beatles was because of silly songs like “Yellow Submarine” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Mike’s comment about “too many instruments” in “Come Together” made me think of a quote attributed to one of Mozart’s patrons. The first time he heard a piece he had commissioned from Mozart, which was loaded with runs and trills, he complained that the piece had “too many notes.” Mozart replied, “No, it has exactly as many as it needs.” LOL I didn’t especially notice the arrangement for “Come Together,” but Mike may be absolutely right. The band (and backup singers) should never overpower the soloist. I’ll give it another listen.

        No, I don’t think Lee DeWyze has done much since Idol except get married. And Crystal, thankfully, fixed her teeth, which were VERY bad.

        I saw “The Hobbi”t in the theater and thought it dragged interminably. The chase and fight scenes lasted much too long. It was is if Peter Jackson couldn’t bear to cut anything he’d filmed no matter how extraneous. HOWEVER, having said that, I got the Blu-ray three days ago, watched it on my big monitor and liked it MUCH better. I still think the chases and fights go on for too long, but it wasn’t as annoying (to me anyway) as it had been at the first viewing. And there’s three hours of absolutely fascinating stuff on the special features disc. Did you see that, too?

        I LOVED the eagles coming to rescue the dwarves and Gandalf. It reminded me of how much I loved them in “Return of the King.”

  2. Once again, there’s no Reply button at the bottom of your comment about “Eleanor Rigby” so I’ll reply as a new comment.

    That was an interesting bit from Wikipedia. On quite a few of their songs I’ve noticed a full string sound so I knew it wasn’t just The Beatles playing. Interesting about the “double” string quartets. That’s easy enough to do…they just record them on separate tracks then mix them together. The first extensive use of multi-tracking was on Les Paul and Mary Ford recordings. She sang and recorded the melody then recorded multiple harmony tracks while listening through headphones to the melody track.

    Vivaldi’s string music is gorgeous. I can see why Paul liked it. I don’t know if you’re a Coldplay fan, but I love them. On their album “Viva la Vida,” for the first time they recorded an entire album with full orchestra backing instead of their five-piece rock band. It’s gorgeous. I have the CD and put the entire CD on my iPod and have listened to it more times than I can count. It’s their best-selling album to date, and ALL their albums have gone platinum many times over.

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