My first memories of listening to pop music was not actually the Beatles. It was the Beatles look-a-like band, The Dave Clark Five’s, “Bits and Pieces”. Age 5, I was staying with my parents at someone else’s house, which was a rare occurrence. I came down in the morning to the kitchen bleary-eyed and heard this loud rhythmic noise emanating from above the kitchen counter: “I’m pieces, bits and pieces.” The lyrics were as shattering as the sound: I was rooted to the spot, stunned. The Beatles followed on the Sunday radio show family favorites: “She Loves You”, All My Loving, and the intoxicating “Michelle” which magically wrapped love’s mysteries in the exotic allure of French. I awaited Sunday not for compulsory Sunday Service but for the Church of the Beatles.
It is hard to recapture what a shocking band The Beatles were, because they now, retrospectively, have assumed establishment proportions. The Stones, it is thought and said, were the rebels and they were certainly out there. But what was shocking to the establishment about The Beatles was the way in which they permeated every aspect of everyday life and the minds of the young: they were in the very air we breathed. And when John Lennon said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ or whatever exactly he said, I remember it made my father catatonic. In one stroke, it changed my perception of religion, as well as my relationship to him, when I replied to his outburst, not without a certain fear: “Well it’s actually true isn’t it if you consider the numbers!”
My third fateful encounter with the Beatles was in a class one day at school. Thinking back, I was in 4th and 5th grade in the heyday of the 60’s. One hot summer’s day, one of my teachers trundled in an old 33rpm record player and asked us to close our eyes and listen to some music. I can’t recall her ever doing this before, but perhaps she did. Anyway, I dutifully closed my eyes and out came the mesmeric sounds of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Having taken the extraordinary journey once, she asked us whether we would like to hear it again, so we listened again. It was certainly an experience equal in significance to “I’m Pieces Bits and Pieces” and the early Beatles.
Why I didn’t play Beatles music as a kid is a long story; suffice it to say that I am finally making up for it years later with this song: Tell Me What You See. This is taken from Help! at a moment when you are just beginning to hear greater complexity in the Beatles music.
This is a very simple song in the key of G. It contains only three chords and is rendered with the typical Lennon-McCartney harmonies that remind us that the Beatles were a vocal band. “Tell Me What You See” is not considered a major Beatles song.
Some complexity is added to the song by the unusual percussion instruments, the guiro, a tambourine, and a pair of claves, and through the prominent use of the electric piano, a Hohner Pianet, in the short bridge section.These textures give the song a Faux-Latin flavor.
We have gone for a darker edge than the original. The decorative Latin flavor is stripped away, along with the bridge. The tempo is slower and we have eliminated the wonderful yet, from the distance of age, all–too–sunny Beatles harmonization, in favor of a straight almost dead pan delivery. So a tune that was already simple has been simplified still more. At the same time we have added a fairly dense orchestration featuring David Barratt that adds a veneer of sophistication to the song.
This is no longer the song of an exuberant youth who never takes no far an answer and goes to some rhetorical lengths to achieve his goal: “we will never be apart if I am part of you.” With age, the singer has lost that invincibility. Now the fact that the singer repeatedly answers his own insistent demand “open up your eyes now, tell me what you see,” with “what you see is me,” is less a sign of confidence, than of a belief that perhaps the scales will not fall from her eyes, nor even perhaps should they. But still, he has not given up hope altogether.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
William Thuamatrope is the pseudonym of an aging NYU Professor who would have liked to have been a folk-rock star but can still indulge his passion for writing songs and performing them at williamthaumatrope.com
A Thaumatrope is a pre-cinematic device. A round disk is attached to a string with a picture on either side. Make the disk spin and the images are superimposed. It is a form of montage, a magic trick, an illusion.
You can hear Thaumatrope at