I don’t like The Beatles. I realize that is heresy to most music lovers – a bit like saying “I don’t like Citizen Kane” to a film buff, or “I don’t like Champagne” to just about anyone, but there it is.
I don’t like The Beatles very much.
By the time I started listening to music, The Beatles belonged to my Dad’s generation. I didn’t really understand why they were that different from The Monkees, and The Monkees had a cool TV show that we watched on Saturday mornings. They also had four boys, four matching haircuts and a specialty in harmony. What was the big deal? I knew all the words to Daydream Believer and that was good enough for me.
When I hit that strange period of band and music obsession known as Teenagehood, the UK was full of Duran Duran and The Beatles didn’t stand a chance. John Lennon had just been shot, and I knew from the reaction that this was probably a Very Bad Thing. Paul McCartney was married to that nice vegetarian lady who made sausages, George Harrison was in the Traveling Wilburys and Ringo, poor sad Ringo, was the alcoholic who voiced Thomas the Tank Engine for The BBC.
The Beatles were part of British History, something to be proud of, something we conquered America with, something people from other countries asked us about. But I never owned a Beatles album, and I never voluntarily listened to a Beatles record.
The Beatles did not change my life.
And there was one song, one particular Beatles track, which used to really irritate me. It was the epitome of the frothy, poppy, teenage girl hysteria, harmonizing Beatles sound – full of inane lyrics, the 60s at their most annoying. That song was “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Good God, even the title was trivial.
Dear Reader, in the light of the above, you can imagine how I felt in 2008 when my husband began work on The Beatles Complete on Ukulele. Suddenly, The Beatles were everywhere, ALL the time for the next four long years. I heard every single song played live in one marathon session of 13 hours. I got The Beatles from breakfast to late night drinks, and I had an epiphany.
The Beatles were really quite good.
What range. What depth. What humor. What darkness. What incredible musicianship. What an incredible story. What a body of work. I thank all the artists of The Beatles Complete On Ukulele for opening my ears and my mind.
However, there still remained one song that I could not bring myself to love. In fact, I couldn’t conquer the visceral annoyance the opening bars gave me. That song was “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” That chorus, the long and annoying ‘Haaaaaaaand’, repeated over and over. The rhymes are so perfect, the meter so exact, the music so punctuated, absolute bubble gum pop. The finely tuned machine of Lennon/McCartney banging out the perfect three minute pop songs, keeping the checks rolling, and the girls adoring and screaming. It was so crafted. It had no soul.
I take it all back. The stunning version presented to you today by the aching, soaring voice of Violet Ryder will make even the most hardened cynic reconsider. Violet holds your hand and leads you through a love story in six acts. Her vocals are punctuated by the ukulele, masterfully handled by Jack Hues, Mr Wang Chung himself. Jack was last seen on TBCOU in his re-imagining of ‘Rain’.
The ukulele is a separate narrative voice in this story, filling in the off-camera action. Lie back and let yourself be led.
Act One: 0:00 – 0:55
Our lady is more than a little sexy as she opens up the song. It’s a late night scene, as she starts to tell that cute stranger over the bar something she wants understood. She wants to hold his hand, and she is quite direct about it. Over a bluesy, sexy uke, her voice is full of promise. This is all about wanting, the word is deliberate.
Act Two: 0:55 – 1:20
Something shifts in the voice of the uke, it becomes slower and more lyrical. What has happened? As a sweeping cello joins the production, it becomes clear. She has fallen for her hero.
But she is not yet certain that he loves her back. Was it more than an encounter? Does it mean anything to him? She asks with a little break in her voice, “Please say to me you’ll let me hold your hand”. A second cello part enters confirming what she already knows. She has fallen in love.
Act Three: 1:20 – 1:33
This verse is joyous, miraculous, marveling. Our singer’s voice lifts and take us with her while the uke plays silver and fairy dust. The production brings out both the joy and the fragility of a love affair. One can’t help but be moved.
Act Four: 1:34 – 2:09
She has reached a higher plane. The production changes and the music pans from speaker to speaker leaving the listener dizzy. She is transformed and sees love in everything around her. She is not just in love with the boy, but with life itself.
“When I touch you I feel happy inside…”
“It’s such a feeling that my love, I can’t hide, I can’t hide, I can’t hide…’
But tragedy awaits her. She cannot separate the boy from transcendence. She thinks she needs him to get to it.
At 2:05 a dissonance breaks the spell. What did he mean by that casual remark?
Act Five: 2:10 – 2:54
Trouble fills the air. The beat gets much stronger and cellos raise the emotional tempo up and up, while the ukulele creates anticipation. Something bad has happened, or she believes that something bad has happened, and our heroine is now angry. Accusation, not love, is in the air. That bluesy, sexy beat is back but it is no longer light and playful.
“You have got that something, I think you’ll understand”.
That something now strikes her as dangerous. Who else noticed, and what did he do about it? She wants to hold his hand this time, there is no ‘please’, no ‘let me’, no request.
Act Six: 2:55 – 3:44
Discordance heralds the beginning of the end. Our singer wails that she wants to hold your hand, over and over again to increasingly frantic ukulele chords.
Calls are not answered. She still wants to hold his hand but he is leaving. Madness beckons.
The ukulele drifts towards the left speaker and she to the right, never to be close again. As her voice fades away, and the song finishes, we are left with a last, trailing note of the ukulele.
Thank you, John and Paul, Violet and Jack, for proving that the simplest of words and melodies can hold great emotional complexities.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Violet is both an actress and a singer. Her first contact with the ukulele was for the national tour of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter adapted for stage by Knee High Theatre. In the audition for the play Violet was asked what instruments she played. At this point she could only truthfully say piano but knowing that she had two months before the tour started, Violet added uke and recorder to her repertoire. Luckily it swayed them and Violet played the ukulele every night for the next six months in the show!
In the summer of last year Violet organized a charity gig raising funds for leukemia in which her father, Jack Hues, headlined with his 80’s pop band Wang Chung and Violet supported playing a number of her own compositions on both keyboard and uke.
Violet will be releasing her debut album later this year.