Thursday, 23 June 2011

12:37 Old Brown Shoe

I SAID SHOE!...oh, never mind...

I'm going to deviate from my normal M.O. and post on a couple of songs at the same time. I'll continue with Something soon but let's pause to examine George Harrison's curious footwear.

It's interesting that Old Brown Shoe was recorded directly before Something as they're kind of peas in a pod. Both songs break all kinds of rules but one pulls it off in breathtaking fashion. And the other one is Old Brown Shoe.

It's too much of a good thing. There are numerous tickets to write on display here but they combine to make a really bad song. All the right ingredients but instead of a cake you get an inedible frisbee of death.

It's not difficult to say why this song is so bad. It's just difficult to say why Harrison does a lot of the same things wrong in Something and gets away with it.

But here's a couple of examples.

Putting a foot wrong

Staying off the root (Ticket 6) is a great way to increase some freshness and movement into tired chord progressions. But here we only get the root chord (C) for the first 4 bars of a 16 bar verse. We end on the Am (The Aeolian cadence - Ticket 10). The chord he uses as a root is itself an unsettled 7th chord. The root doesn't appear at all in the bridge (the only other section of the song). We also (as always) have multiple out of key chords (Ticket 28) but hanging on them for several bars at a time increases the tonal uncertainty. The melody makes things even worse by being based largely on the minor pentatonic instead of following the chords (Ticket 22).

So instead of starting somewhere unfamiliar and then heading for home She Loves You (intro) or heading out the front door then taking a quick detour Here Comes The Sun (bridge) we just wander around lost with a sharp stone in our old brown shoe for the full 3 minutes.

The most glaring weirdness in this song is the loping off beat drum part. Ringo was a genius (yes I did call Ringo a genius – deal with it) at coming up with fresh and inventive parts (even without McCartney's help). But messing with the beat means not only have we lost the root, we've lost the 'one' too (no pun intended).

Contrast this track with weird metre/syncopated songs by Led Zeppelin. The weirder the riff, the more likely you are to find John Bonham playing a solid AC/DC approved 4 to the bar (The Ocean, Kashmir, Black Dog). I don't blame Ringo though. No drum beat could have saved this song.

Lastly the lyrics are really poor. Harrison sometimes displayed a really cynical shoddiness when it came to lyrics and that's what we have here.

There are some interesting lines - right is only half of what's wrong, but I'm stepping out this old brown shoe? What does that mean? 'Out OF'? Has he moved in with the old woman who lived in a shoe? Or 'out IN'? What happened to his other shoe? And don't get me started on being in the queue for her sweet top lip. What's wrong with her bottom lip? Does she even have one?

The song is crammed full of lines that are not only vague, stupid or nonsensical but also really clunky and awkward sounding. The former is a minor infraction in pop music. The latter is unforgivable.

won't be the same now, when I'm with you
Not worry what they or you say
pick me up from where some try to drag me down
To miss that love is something I'd hate

This song hurts my feet.

The guitar solo is brilliant though...


  1. Haha, I always thought this was one of the clunkiest, worst Beatles songs. Now I feel affirmed. Did you already do Revolution 9 as well? That one had some weird experimentation, like with chords played over other chords, which would be interesting from a theory perspective.

  2. Wow. Harsh.

    I agree, the lyrics leave something to be desired, but I love Ringo's drumming (yes, he is a genius) and the wonky beat. From a songwriting perspective, the song sucks. From an emotional listening perspective, it's one of my favourite Beatles tunes.

    And BTW it's "Geordie", not "Georgie".

  3. FZG - I Haven't done Rev 9 yet. I started chronolgical and did Please Please Me and With The Beatles before switching to 'reverse chronlogical' and hitting Abbey Road. Can't wait to get to the White Album, but Let It Be stands in my way like a swamp of dysfunctional dysfunctionalness.

    Geordie - thanks for the gracious comment. I'm aware that every song is someone's fave. Please let me know what you like about this tune, I'm genuinely interested - especially if it's something that I've missed.

    And sorry about the name change. That was a genuine 'typing in a hurry mistake' rather than getting your name wrong.

  4. Sorry it's taken me a while to get back to you (will you even see this? Do you get notifications for comments on old posts?)
    First of all, I'll say it again; I like Ringo's off-kilter drumming. I feel it moves the song forward at a nice lope, if you know what I mean. It's more interesting than straight 4/4 banging.
    Paul's bass during the "When I grow up I'll be a singer..." bit (about 1:10 or so) grabs my attention.
    I think the background vocals really add to the tune, especially the "Doo-ah, doo-ah-do" bit at the end that echoes the guitar bits between the lyrics.

    Mostly, though, it sounds as if they're having fun, something that is missing from a lot of later Beatles songs.

  5. @Geordie - good to hear from you again. To answer your question as soon anyone leaves a comment anywhere, alarms and flashing lights erupt all through the hallowed halls of the Academy.

    OK google sends me an email.

    Thanks for taking the time to respond with examples. Yes it does sound like an oasis of fun in a desert of misery. Speaking of which, I'm nearly onto Let It Be!!!!