Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.
Following up on my post about the 33 1/3 book series, I forgot to mention a discovery I made recently. Using Wikipedia, you can have a sort of low-rent, roll-your-own 33 1/3 experience, at least with a lot of popular recordings. For many albums on Wikipedia, there's not only an entry for the album itself, but one for each (or many) of the tracks on the album. As an experiment, I chose "The Beatles" (aka "The White Album") and Brian Eno's "Before and After Science." There's a lengthy entry on The White Album, along with a fairly detailed entry for each track. For "Before and After Science," there's only a single, brief entry. So, at least for The White Album, I was able to use my method of listening to each track, reading the Wikipedia entry, then listening to the track again. Of course, with Wikipedia, it's hit and miss on the quality and accuracy of the entries, and a lot of the track entries don't delve very deeply into the details of the compositions themselves; they're more anecdotal.
On The White Album test, I did discover some interesting stuff, including:
Arguably one of the worst Beatles songs, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da was Paul's idea of a reggae tune. John Lennon hated the song, calling it "Paul's granny shit." He left the studio as they struggled with different tempos and styles (not in the Wikipedia entry, but is the rumor that it was Ringo who couldn't understand nor establish a decent reggae beat) only to return a few hours later declaring that he was good and truly fucked up, sitting down at the piano, and banging out the piano intro you hear on the record.
"Helter Skelter " was written after McCartney read an article in Guitar Player magazine where Pete Townsend said "I Can See for Miles," was the "loudest, rawest, dirtiest" song The Who had ever recorded. "Helter Skelter" was The Beatles' attempt at the same.
The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
"This song mocks the actions of a young American named Richard A. Cooke III, known as Rik who was visiting his mother, Nancy Cooke de Herrera, at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh at the same time that the Beatles were staying with the Maharishi. According to his mother, both she and her son maintained friendly relations with all of the Beatles except for Lennon, who by Cooke de Herrera's account was "a genius" but distant and contemptuous of the wealthy American Cooke de Herrera and her clean-cut, college-attending son. According to Nancy's life account, Beyond Gurus, the genesis of the song occurred when she, Rik, and several others, including native guides, set out upon elephants to hunt for a tiger (allegedly presented by their Indian guide as a traditional act). The pack of elephants was attacked by a tiger, which was shot by Rik. Rik was initially proud of his quick reaction and posed for a photograph with his prize. However, Rik's reaction to the slaying was mixed, as he has not hunted since. Nancy claims that all present recognized the necessity of Rik's action, but that John Lennon's reaction was scornful and sarcastic, asking Rik: "But wouldn't you call that slightly life-destructive?" The song was written by Lennon as mocking what he saw as Rik's bravado and unenlightened attitude.
"Lennon later told his version of the story in a Playboy interview, stating that: "[Bungalow Bill] was written about a guy in Maharishi's meditation camp who took a short break to go shoot a few poor tigers, and then came back to commune with God. There used to be a character called Jungle Jim, and I combined him with Buffalo Bill. It's sort of a teenage social-comment song and a bit of a joke." Mia Farrow, who was also at the ashram during the period supports Lennon's story in her autobiography; she writes, "Then a self-important, middle-aged American woman arrived, moving a mountain of luggage into the brand-new private bungalow next to Maharishi's along with her son, a bland young man named Bill. People fled this newcomer, and no one was sorry when she left the ashram after a short time to go tiger hunting, unaware that their presence had inspired a new Beatles' song – 'Bungalow Bill.'"
"The song is about actress Mia Farrow's sister, Prudence, who was present when the Beatles visited Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. Prudence, focused on meditation, stayed in her room for the majority of their stay. Lennon, who was worried that she was depressed, wrote this song for her, inviting her to "come out to play". While the Beatles left the course, Prudence, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, and others, stayed and became Transcendental Meditation (or TM) teachers. Prudence now teaches elementary school along with her husband, and they both still practice TM and advanced versions of it."