Posted by: patenttranslator | December 8, 2017

I Love the Beatles, but This Version Is Terrible

“Amo a los Beatles pero esta version es terrible. Fuera de tono y fuera de ritmo, Es un insulto para nuestro idioma. (I love the Beatles but this version is terrible. Out of tune, and out of rhythm. It is an insult to our language).

From a recent comment on Youtube on Bésame mucho as sung by the Beatles.

In a legendary fiasco, the Beatles failed to impress the talent experts at Decca Studios on January 1, 1962 – in what is considered the biggest fiasco in pop music history, when the Decca label turned them down.

There were actually two major fiascos that occurred on that fateful day, the very first day of 1962:

One fiasco was a big but temporary setback for the Beatles. The other fiasco, when Decca failed to recognize the potential of the group, caused much more permanent damage to the label, which as a result lost an enormous amount of money over a period of many decades, and I believe it continues to lose this money to this day, when it turned down four young lads who in a few months would go on to become the most popular group in the history of rock-and-roll (after drummer Pete Best was replaced by Ringo Star).

Some of the songs that were recorded back then for the audition were available only as bootleg recordings until they were officially released on the Beatles rarities Anthology 1, a set of two CDs in 1995.

I remember buying that set of CDs in 1996 and how I tried to listen to the old songs on a flight from New York to Prague in 1996 over eight or nine hours, depending on the wind (shorter coming back to America). But despite my enthusiasm for hearing something by the Beatles that I had never heard before, I could stand listening to the Beatles Anthology CD for only about 20 minutes before I switched to a new Madonna CD called Something to Remember, which I also purchased when it was issued in 1995, back when people were still buying CDs.

I loved the Madonna CD instantly and played it twice, which helped me forget for about two hours how uncomfortable it is to be sitting in a plane seat during a long flight.

I now know that one of the songs that the Beatles unadvisedly chose for the audition was Bésame mucho, in English translation. You can listen to the song as it was sung originally by its author in Spanish at the beginning of my silly post today, and as it was sung by the Beatles at the end of my post, before the Beatles became a worldwide phenomenon.

It’s hard to believe that this beautifully melodic Mexican song, which was composed in the 1940s and which I heard for the first time around 1965, even is the same song as it is sung in the English version by the Beatles.

And yet, these are the same Beatles who wrote songs that are still instantly recognized by so many people on this planet as some of the most beautiful love songs in the history of popular music, songs like Yesterday, or Girl.

Bésame mucho may very well be one of the most beautiful love songs in the Spanish language. But in the version sung by the Beatles, the Mexican song really does sound terrible. When I hear their “chacha-boom” improvement on the original version of the song, it feels like somebody is hitting me over the head with a two-by-four (a piece of lumber, supposedly two inches by four inches, generally very hard).

A song like Girl, on the other hand, has an indescribable power to move me and probably at least another hundred million people every time we hear it, even though we may have heard it a hundred times. The voice harmonies are sublime, and the guitar accompaniment could not possibly be more perfect.

Although I still don’t understand what these lyrics actually mean:

“Was she told when she was young that pain would lead to pleasure?

Did she understand it when they said

That a man must break his back to earn his day of leisure?

Will she still believe it when he’s dead?”

Having had half a century to think about it, I have my theories about what they could mean.

This may very well be the best love song in the English language, just like Bésame mucho may very well be the best love song in the Spanish language.

Depending, of course, on who is singing these songs and how the singers go about it.

Malcolm Gladwell said in his book Outliers that nobody is born a genius. He actually uses the example of the Beatles to make his point by positing that the Beatles had to practice in daily eight-hour gigs for 10,000 hours in a club in Hamburg before they were ready to invade and conquer the world.

Though there may be exceptions to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, he himself said that most people misunderstand what he was trying to say.

Some people don’t need as many hours. A few centuries ago, Johann Sebastian Bach put it like this: “It’s easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.

Yeah, it’s easy when your are J.S. Bach. But even musical geniuses such as Bach or Mozart probably needed a few thousand hours before the instrument started playing itself. To say “the instrument will play itself” is just an exaggeration that Bach clearly used for dramatic effect.

Personally, I am very thankful that the Beatles did not become discouraged after the 1962 fiasco and eventually found their own style, without the “chacha-boom” part that clashed so horribly with the mood of the song.

I still remember when I heard them for the first time.

It was a sunny Saturday morning in 1963, and I was 11 years old, riding my bike in a park in Český Krumlov, a town where I lived and considered my hometown until I moved to Prague, which then became my second hometown, until I moved to San Francisco, which then became my third hometown … until I moved to the vast American suburbs that have no downtown, where love goes to die, as the saying goes.

Anyway, in 1963, I was riding my bike in a beautiful park rimmed by the River Vltava. There is a big, old hotel called Hotel Růže [Rose] on the other side of the river, which was originally a Jesuit seminary if I remember correctly, see the photo of  Hotel Růže below.

Hotel Ruze dnes

That hotel has a terrace high above the river, overlooking the park where I liked to ride my bike, and somebody put big speakers on top of a table on that terrace to play From Me To You, the first song by the Beatles that I heard and that made me wonder about who these people singing the song might be.

So soon after having failed a very important test, the four youngsters from Liverpool regrouped and found themselves in their own music and their own style, and by doing so changed pop music forever.

Let it be a lesson to us all!

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Responses

  1. Yes!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting post. I really love that Françoise Hardy clip, too. More, please. Good luck!

    Like

  3. Steve, as a lifelong Beatles fan, I was delighted read this post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good to hear from you again, Rob!

    It’s been a while.

    Like

    • I’m still lurking 😉

      Liked by 1 person


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