Sunday, May 28, 2006

'Sixty-Four' was never meant to be more than silly song

As Beatles songs go, "When I'm Sixty-Four" is a goof and a trifle, intentionally so. At a time when the quartet was in peak form as studio experimenters and social commentators, the song appears as comic relief, an exhale in between plunges into the musical deep end of the late '60s. Unfortunately, the laughs fade long before the song does, all 2 minutes and 37 seconds of it.It was never meant to be taken seriously, even by its primary author, Paul McCartney. It was a deliberately anti-art statement that appeared on an album often cited as a touchstone of art-rock, the 1967 release "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."If "Pepper" is essentially a series of elaborate disguises and jokes, an opportunity for the Beatles to try on different clothes and be anybody but themselves, then "When I'm Sixty-Four" is the band playing at being their parents. McCartney slips into an English music-hall guise, the British equivalent of a vaudeville crooner specializing in rooty-tooty rhythms and catch-phrase lyrics. The song isn't so much propelled as cast adrift by a trio of snoozy clarinets and plodding bass. McCartney's vocal is jauntily tongue-in-cheek, both honoring and skewering lifelong monogamy ("Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I'm 64")Here was a blatantly nostalgic song from a band in the midst of paving rock's future. The kindest assessment is that "When I'm Sixty-Four" is actually a subversive commentary: the Beatles warning their peers that someday they, too, will be consumed not with changing the world, but only with who will bother to spoon them oatmeal when they are older and enfeebled.Now that's darkly funny, in a way that reflects the Beatles' love of the 1950s BBC comedy "The Goon Show," starring Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. But it's a joke worth hearing only once. With each subsequent listen, "When I'm Sixty-Four" becomes as stale as the era it parodies.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Online Degrees