Twelve underappreciated Beatles songs

Between 1963 and 1970 the Beatles recorded and released more than two hundred songs, most of which they also wrote. Songs were released as singles (A and B sides), extended play (EP) albums of four songs, and long play (LP) albums of ten to fourteen songs. Around twenty-seven songs reached the number one position in the official charts of the United Kingdom (UK) and/or the United States. (Variations on how rankings were determined make this number vague.) Fifty-four songs were re-released in 1973 on the Red and Blue albums. Yet the Beatles created much more high-quality music than either of these summaries would suggest. What follows is a list of twelve songs that—with one exception—never cracked the top forty hits and that—again, with one exception—are not represented on the Red and Blue albums. Yet these songs are every bit as good as those Beatle songs that claimed those distinctions.

“Do You Want to Know a Secret” was one of fourteen songs on Please Please Me, the Beatles’ first album in the UK. It was later included on the American album The Early Beatles. When the Beatles shot to success in the United States at the beginning of 1964, record companies scrambled to release as many Beatles songs as they could, and “Do You Want to Know a Secret” peaked at the number two spot in the United States in May of that year. Afterward, it faded into obscurity. Like most of their early songs, “Do You Want to Know a Secret” is a cheerful love song, every bit as good as their earliest hits, “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me.”

“If I Fell” was written by John Lennon for the movie A Hard Day’s Night to accompany Paul McCartney’s “And I Love Her.” Both songs are heard on the UK and American albums A Hard Day’s Night, as well as the American album Something New. When they were released together as a single, “And I Love Her” was designated the A-side and “If I Fell” the B-side. As a result, Paul’s song receives much more attention and was put on the Red Album. John’s song is as beautiful and as earnest as Paul’s, even though it qualifies the singer’s love with repeated “if”s. In the movie, John begins the song to raise Ringo out of a funk and succeeds.

“I’m a Loser” was one of John’s contributions to Beatles for Sale, a UK album whose songs were divided among several American albums—this song shows up on Beatles ’65, an album released for the Christmas market of 1964 in the United States. “I’m a Loser” laments a lost love, one that the singer confesses he should have worked to preserve. Like “If I Fell” and “Help,” “I’m a Loser” is personal and heartfelt, in contrast to many of Paul’s love ballads.

“I’ve Just Seen a Face” is an upbeat love song by Paul about love at first sight. Although it was not used in the movie Help!, it was released on the UK album of that name, later appearing on the American version of Rubber Soul. Paul thought enough of it to include it in his Wings over America tour of 1976 and in this live album made during that tour.

“What Goes On?” is credited to Lennon-McCartney-Starkey and thus is one of Ringo’s first compositions, even though he was helped by his bandmates. The song reflects the skiffle origins of the group (skiffle being a folk music style of the United Kingdom analogous to American country & western). In the UK it was released on Rubber Soul; in America, it was reserved for Yesterday… and Today.

“Here, There, and Everywhere” is one of Paul’s love ballads in the tradition of “Yesterday” and “Michelle.” It was released on both the UK and American versions of Revolver. With its soaring melodies, “Here, There and Everywhere” can stand with “Yesterday” and George Harrison’s “Something” as one of the Beatles’ most memorable songs.

“Good Day Sunshine” is also on both versions of Revolver. A cheerful love song, it is said to be inspired by American groups of the mid-1960s such as Lovin’ Spoonful. The Beatles were known for their experimentation with harmony, and “Good Day Sunshine” includes some interesting modulations that drive the energy of the song.

“Got to Get You into My Life” is possibly the best song on Revolver, high praise for a song that must compete not only with “Here, There, and Everywhere” and “Good Day Sunshine” but also with “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yellow Submarine.” A jazzy tune, it is accompanied by a brass section, a sound for which the later group Chicago would be known.

“I Will” continues Paul’s string of soulful love ballads. It is hidden on the White Album, filled with experimental songs written while the Beatles were in India. Oddly, Paul sings of his undying affection for a person he may never have met. Donavon is said to have contributed some of the lyrics to the song.

“Sexy Sadie” is also on the White Album. John began the song to express his disillusionment with the Maharishi, but the final version of the song sounds more like the agony of a relationship in which the boy is seeking the attention of the girl only to be snubbed.

“Across the Universe” has two versions. The version that is heard on Let It Be and on the Blue Album contains lush orchestrations created by Phil Spector, who produced the Let It Be album. The original version was chosen for the Past Masters compilation. The song features John’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics also featured in “Strawberry Fields,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and “I am the Walrus.” Sounds of birds and the backing vocals of two randomly-chosen Beatles fans make this rarer version of “Across the Universe” worth finding.

“Oh! Darling” is one of Paul’s contributions to Abbey Road. Paul strains his voice to its limits in this performance, capturing the tone of a live performer on a tavern stage (which is how the Beatles developed their act before achieving fame and fortune). Like “Yesterday” and “I’m a Loser,” “Oh! Darling” captures the sorrow of an ending relationship, perhaps reflecting the closing weeks of the Beatles’ partnership as they set out on their solo careers.

None of these songs receive much attention on oldies stations. Yet, before the popularity of downloaded music, this collection of twelve tunes could easily have been assembled, given a snappy title like “Beatles Secrets,” and sold profitably as yet another collection of Beatles songs. J.

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Beatles albums

Years after they disbanded, the Beatles remain the most successful rock group of all time. (I was going to attempt a joke about Stonehenge—which is seen in the Beatles’ movie Help!—but there was actually a band of that name in the 1970s.) People are still paying money to listen to the Beatles’ music, people are still writing books about the Beatles, and schoolchildren are still deciding which of the four is their favorite Beatle. The history of the recordings of Beatle music is more complicated than one might expect for such a popular group of musicians.

Early in 1963, the Beatles’ single “Please Please Me” reached the top of the music charts in the United Kingdom (UK). Their producer, George Martin, invited them into the Abbey Road studio to record an album which would also be called Please Please Me. In about twelve hours he recorded several takes of the songs that the Beatles were then performing in their live shows. The album shot to the top of the charts in the UK. Released in the United States as Introducing the Beatles, it did not initially fare well. After their successful concert tour (including two appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show) in February 1964, the album was periodically re-released under various titles. Its most successful American package was released in 1965 and was called The Early Beatles.

In spite of a heavy schedule of concert tours, the Beatles recorded six more albums before the middle of 1966. All of them reached number one on the UK charts: With the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles for Sale, Help!, Rubber Soul, and Revolver. From their first seven UK albums, the American market managed to squeeze eleven albums. They accomplished this three ways. First, the UK albums all had fourteen songs, but the American releases had only twelve songs—sometimes fewer. Second, the Beatles did not include their hit singles and B-sides on their UK albums, but these did appear on the American albums. Third, for the movie albums A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, the American versions used only songs that appeared in the movies and then filled the albums with instrumental tracks from the movies, while the UK versions included Beatle songs not used in the movies. Aside from those already mentioned, the other American albums as of 1966 were Meet the Beatles, The Beatles’ Second Album, Something New, Beatles ’64, Beatles VI, Rubber Soul, Yesterday… and Today, and Revolver.

Rubber Soul and Revolver showed increasing complexity and diversity in the Beatles’ music. When they stopped touring in 1966—their last scheduled live concert was August 29, 1966, in San Francisco—they were able to become a studio band, putting hours into creating each new song. Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was the first album to be released in the UK and the United States with identical songs. This was followed by Magical Mystery Tour which accompanied a made-for-TV movie of the same title, seen in the UK on December 26, 1967. The next year they released The Beatles, a two-disc album usually called “the White Album.” The last album they recorded was Abbey Road in 1969. In 1970, as the band was disintegrating, they finally released the songs they had recorded before Abbey Road as the album Let It Be, which accompanied a feature film of the same name. Meanwhile, the American industry managed to create two more albums, Yellow Submarine (which contains four new songs, two songs from previous albums, and an entire side of instrumental music from the cartoon movie of that name) and The Beatles Again—usually called “Hey Jude”—which consists of singles and B-sides that had been left off the albums.

The Beatles remained popular, so record companies continued to release new combinations of their music. In 1973 two releases, each consisting of two discs, appeared. Often called “the Red Album” and “the Blue Album,” these collections became the definitive catalog of Beatles music for the next generation of fans. Other collections were regularly released with various levels of success. When the Beatles music was remastered for CD release in the late 1980s, the UK albums were selected rather than the American albums. An additional two-disc release, Past Masters, contained the singles and B-sides which were not on the UK albums.

In 1995, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr cooperated in a massive undertaking called Beatles Anthology. The result was a television special (later released on VHS and DVD), a collection of studio outtakes and unreleased songs (released on cassette tapes and CDs), and a coffee-table book. John Lennon had been assassinated in December 1980, but his presence was very much felt in Anthology through previous interviews and other recordings. Two songs that he had recorded (not for release) were remastered with contributions from Paul, George, and Ringo, resulting in the first new Beatles music in several years.

All of this music remains available in a variety of formats. My next post will describe several songs by the Beatles which are, in my opinion, underappreciated. J.

Gentleness and respect

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (I Peter 3:15-16, NIV).

“If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15, NIV).

Since the founding of the Christian Church, each generation of believers has used available technology to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The writings of the apostles were copied and saved on scrolls, but before long they were collected in codex form. The printing press and less costly paper made written communication easier to distribute—the Bible itself, as well as books, sermons, tracts, and other explanations of the Bible’s message. Now the internet and social media have opened a new world of communication to the Church, making outreach, apologetics, and irenics easier than ever before. Printed material can be smuggled into a country that censures writing, but the internet sneaks across borders far more easily. Peter preached to thousands of people on Pentecost Day, but the potential audience for any internet posting can extend to many millions.

Those of us who belong to Jesus Christ have wonderful opportunities to share his promises with the world. I know that God blesses our efforts where and when he chooses. I know that all the saints on earth remain sinners, subject to the devil’s temptations to fumble our attempts to share the Gospel. My heart is broken, though, over the many samples I have seen of Christians tarnishing the name of Christ by failing to describe our hope with gentleness and respect. I am doubly heartbroken over the many times I have seen Christians debate one another online, not with mutual love and respect, but rather biting and devouring each other.

Written communication has pitfalls, and those pitfalls only increase on the internet. Much of our personal communication is helped with facial expressions, body language, and variations in tone of voice that do not appear in writing. (Emoticons help a little, but only a little.) Close friends sometimes develop a banter that, to strangers, sounds hurtful and even abusive. Language that amuses some people repels others. As Christians post and as we comment on other posts, I believe we need to keep certain ideas in mind so our words bring glory to Christ and his Church rather than embarrassment and shame.

First, I do not think rhetoric and logic alone can change the heart of an unbeliever. Only the Holy Spirit can bring a person to faith. The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God—the writings of the prophets and apostles through whom he spoke. They can be quoted directly, or they can be summarized, paraphrased, and explained. In any case, our best weapon against the devil and the sinful world is God’s Word. Our best way to lead other people to Jesus is to use the very words that changed our hearts and made us believers.

Atheists and agnostics who have already encountered God’s Word and have rejected it are unlikely mission opportunities, although God is capable of working miracles even in hardened hearts. If rhetoric and logic are not enough to change their hearts, surely ridicule and demeaning language will not accomplish that goal. Even when they choose to communicate using ridicule and demeaning language, I do not think that we bring glory to God and do his work by reducing our language to their level rather than writing with gentleness and respect.

Gentleness and respect are not only for unbelievers. When communicating with fellow believers, gentleness and respect are even more required. The Church on earth has been divided into many sects and factions, contrary to the will of Christ and of his apostles. True Christian unity cannot be accomplished by compromise, watering down the truth to a pulp that all will accept. Rather, each of us is called to defend the truth, but to do so gently, respectfully, and drawing on the power of God’s Word rather than relying on our own reason and understanding.

When you disagree with another Christian, consider the level of your disagreement. Are you correcting heresy? By all means, counter dangerous lies with the truth, but do so with gentleness and respect. Are you responding to heterodoxy? By all means, communicate with fellow believers about our differences, hoping to work toward greater unity within the Body of Christ—but do so with gentleness and respect. Are you differing over a case of Christian freedom? Perhaps—for the glory of God and for the strengthening of your faith—you are refraining from something not forbidden by Scripture. (This could be eating meat sold in the marketplace, dancing, playing cards, drinking moderately, or any other practice that Christians are free to do and free not to do.) By all means, share the benefits you have seen in your fasting, but do not criticize those who choose not to fast in your way. And, if you choose not to fast in a way that benefits a fellow believer, refrain from judging or criticizing your brother or sister in the Lord.

When two Christians are disagreeing over the meaning of a passage of Scripture, stop and consider the hermeneutical principles each is using. Is one reading the Bible evangelically while the other is reading legalistically? Is one seeking prophecies of future events while the other considers all prophecies already fulfilled in Christ? We read the Bible and discover differing messages—possibly one of us is guilty of replacing exegesis with eisegesis, but the root of the difference is probably in hermeneutics.

Those of us who are one in Christ will remain diverse, not only in language and culture, age and gender, wealth and social status, but in political opinions, artistic preferences, and the like. We can and should discuss these differences, but always with gentleness and respect. In the United States last November, some sincere Christians voted for Trump, others voted for Clinton, and still others voted for third party candidates. Even if you question the judgment of other people’s votes, their political convictions do not make them heretics.

In my case, I consider liturgical and traditional worship more reverent and more meaningful than contemporary worship. I have learned, though, that other Christians are blessed through contemporary worship. Their way of worshiping does not make them heretics, or even heterodox. I am more concerned about teachings in liberal Christianity. Some of those teachings are truly heretical, and they need to be opposed with the truth of the Bible—but always with gentleness and respect.

Finally, the devil and the sinful world delight in hiding Christ’s Gospel under distractions and diversions. Proper places and times can be found for discussing science and religion, archaeology and the Bible, abortion, patriotism, men and women and how they relate to each other, and many other topics. Often these topics are a barrier to the Gospel—a barrier to proclaiming Christ and Him crucified. No one has been changed from a nonbeliever into a Christian by being proved wrong about some peripheral topic. The Gospel itself is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).

Pardon my rant. I’ll try to be better now. J.

Misunderstanding the Rhythm of the Rain

I can’t believe that I’ve been misunderstanding that song all these years!

In 1963, the aptly-named Cascades released their only hit single, “Rhythm of the Rain.” It rose to number three on the Billboard charts and has been a staple of Sixties stations and compilation recordings ever since. As a writer, I respect copyright laws, so I will not quote extensively from the song.

The premise, though, is that a man is mourning the loss of a friend. The rain is both expressing and interrupting his grief. He calls himself a fool, which—until today—led me to believe that he had caused the end of a relationship. I thought that he blamed himself for her departure.

Over the past weekend and during the middle of this week, that song has been running through my head. After multiple repetitions in my mind, the song’s true message suddenly burst upon me. I googled the lyrics to make sure that I was right, and I am indeed right.

“The only girl I care about has gone away, looking for a brand new start.” It’s happened to me; it happens to a lot of people. But nowhere in the song does he claim that she left because of something he said or did. She just left. Now he’s sad. He misses her badly. He wishes that she would return.

“But little does she know that when she went away, along with her she took my heart.” If she doesn’t know how he feels about her, they must not have had much of a relationship. Perhaps he was too shy to try to get closer to her. Perhaps other circumstances kept them from being boyfriend and girlfriend. For whatever reason, she left for her new start—maybe a new job, maybe life in a new city. Possibly she got married. Now he sits alone and mourns her departure, wishes she was back, and knows that he cannot build a relationship with someone else because he’s still stuck on her.

This is why he calls himself a fool: not because he caused a relationship to end, but because he’s heartbroken over someone he never dated, someone who doesn’t even know how much he cares about her. He calls himself a fool because he allowed his heart to stay with this woman who has left. The rain is not going to tell her how he feels, no matter how he pleads with it. If he never had the nerve to say how much he cared, it’s too late to say it now. And he is miserable without her, even though he was never really with her.

“Oh, listen to the falling rain—pitter-patter, pitter-patter.” One hopes that he soon gets out from under this cloud and learns that life goes on. It would be sad if he spent years missing the one who got away when they were never even together. J.

More than ten performances, and none of them a lie

I am not going to lie to you—particularly not about concerts I have attended and enjoyed.

If you spend any time on Facebook, you have probably seen those lists, “Ten concerts I attended (one of them is a lie.)” I don’t visit Facebook often—I got an account largely to keep track of my children’s lives, but it has helped me to reconnect with friends from high school and college. Seeing some of my friends reminisce about concerts brings back memories for me. But I then discovered that to list nine concerts I have attended (plus the obligatory lie), I would have to include symphony orchestras and municipal bands.

Not that I’ve never enjoyed a rock concert. I’ve been to a handful over the years, and I’m not sorry to have gone. But I’ve also let a lot of opportunities escape without regret. When I was in college, I could have gone to a Barry Manilow concert. Some of my friends were singing in his local back-up choir. I decided that I would rather catch up on homework than spend an evening with Barry Manilow. More recently I could have gone to a Pat Benatar concert. I enjoy her music, but it was an outdoor concert with summer heat and humidity and mosquitoes. I figured I would be happier at home, where I could listen to studio-made recordings of Pat Benatar in air-conditioned comfort. I also could have gone to a Paul McCartney concert. I’m a big Beatles fan; I have seen and heard Ringo Starr in concert. But I decided that even Sir Paul was not worth spending more than a hundred dollars for one ticket; I have other bills to pay.

Now if the Facebook meme was about live performances, and not just popular singers, I could name a lot more than ten. I’ve been to an opera; I’ve been to the ballet several times; and I’ve seen lots of live plays, including musicals. When I was in high school, I was even involved in some live performances. My high school put on a musical every spring with considerable success. For two years I was in the pit orchestra, playing the trombone. The first of those was Music Man, in which just three of us trombonists had to represent seventy-six trombones. I had the all-important part of creating the tuba blats for the children’s band at the end of the show. As a senior, I finally tried out for a part on stage and got to portray Horace Vandergelder in the classic Hello, Dolly!

I could list a great many musicals I’ve seen performed live over the years, from high school and college productions to community theater to traveling professional shows. Some I saw during the height of their popularity: Annie, and Phantom of the Opera. Others I saw as revivals—I once saw an aging Yul Brenner perform in The King and I. I saw Donnie Osmond in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

I have thought about writing a post describing my favorite musicals, but when I started listing them I passed fifty and was still thinking of more. So, no, I am not going to lie to you about a performance I’ve attended. But I definitely prefer musical theater to the standard rock concert. J.

The final straw

A few years ago I found a radio station I truly enjoyed. It played music from fifties hits to contemporary hits—you could hear Elvis and Taylor Swift and the Beatles and the Police in the same fifteen-minute set. It played the longer version of songs. It never played the same song twice on the same day, and it mixed up its songs enough that you were not likely to hear the same song more than once a week. It boasted that it did not broadcast a lot of “DJ chatter.” OK, it boasted of that a bit too often, but that’s a minor complaint about a station I genuinely loved.

On November 1, 2015, it started playing nothing but Christmas music. Not even carols—just songs like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” As soon as I realized what it was doing—about the third song in—I switched to a classical music station, and my car radio stayed on that station until spring.

I should point out that I listen to the radio only in my car. At home if I want to hear music I choose a CD. Even my morning wake-up alarm is music off a CD. But my car does not have a working CD player. (OK, it does not have a broken CD player either. It has a broken cassette tape deck.) I avoid talk radio. I avoid country music. I avoid current top forty hits, or whatever they call that kind of music now. That leaves me with Oldies and Classic Rock; but I really enjoyed the eclectic mix of that one radio station I had found.

When I returned to that station in the spring of 2016, they had diminished their library to seventies and eighties hits. They played the shorter version of songs. (Think of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” with a truncated monologue at the beginning and the final instrumental riff removed.) Even with those annoyances, I was willing to listen. I like a lot of songs from the early to mid eighties, as well as some songs from the seventies. Listening was not as satisfying as it had been, but it filled the time driving to work and back, driving to school and back, driving to church and back.

In fact, they added one feature I enjoy: on Sunday mornings they rebroadcast a Casey Kasem Top Forty countdown from the eighties. I hear the lower part of the countdown on the way to church and get to enjoy the bigger hits on the way home.

But they went to a Christmas-heavy format again last November, sending me once more to the classical music station. When I returned in January, I found that they had hired a morning DJ who chatters. He has listeners call in (or text or Facebook-message) to converse with him about oddities he has discovered while surfing the internet. Even worse, he talks over the instrumental introductions to songs.

Today he broke the final straw. He talked over the entire instrumental introduction to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” and then he also cut off the ending of the song. The instrumental part of “Eye of the Tiger” makes the song—without that part of the music, it’s actually a pretty lame song.

I have switched back to the classical station. And I probably will never return. J.

 

The Versatile Blogger Award

Last month depressionistheenemy was very kind to nominate me for the Versatile Blogger award. I am grateful for this nomination, and I thank him for it. That is one of the four rules for accepting this blog, but my thanks are sincere. The other rules require that I share the award on my blog, share seven random facts about myself, and tag ten bloggers with fewer than 1000 followers and let them know they have been nominated.

Seven random facts about myself:

  1. I consider myself a “cat person” and share my house with pet cats. However, I also get along with most of the dogs I know. When I was growing up, my family always had one cat and one dog as pets.
  2. In my opinion, chocolate is an essential nutrient and should be consumed daily. After all, chocolate rests at the top of the food pyramid, and we always put the most important things on top, don’t we?
  3. I was recently interviewed as part of a project for National History Day. Two junior high students are learning about Saladin, and part of the History Day requirements is that they interview an expert about their topic. They chose me because one of them has an older sister who has taken history classes from me in college. It’s flattering to be considered an expert, and it’s great that I had a few days to read up on Saladin before the interview.
  4. I am right-handed, but I do certain tasks with my left hand, such as operate the mouse on my computer. I do this because of a pinched nerve on the right side of my neck that causes occasional pain along my right arm. I have had physical therapy for this condition, and still need to practice stretching exercises to reduce the pain (although some days I forget to stretch).
  5. I think of politics as a spectator sport, although three years ago I was considering a campaign for the United States House of Representatives. Among the politicians I have met and shared conversations are my current United States Senator, my former United States Senator while he was still in office, my current United States Representative, my former United States Representative while he was still in office, a former Governor of my state while he was still in office, my current state Senator, my current state Representative, and the mayor of the largest city in my state. I also have spoken with a former President of the United States (and there is a photograph of our conversation.)
  6. I have a strong behavioral addiction to Sudoku and play it online, sometimes several times in a day.
  7. As a child, I took piano lessons and can still play the piano. In junior high and high school I played trombone in the school band and orchestra. Also in high school, I taught myself to play the guitar—acoustic guitar, rhythm (strumming the chords). I have written a few songs over the years.

Ten blogs that I want to nominate for this award:

This was hard for me to decide, but I am leaving off those blogs whose authors do not accept such awards, such as Wally Fry, dawnlizjones, and insanitybytes.

With that in mind, I nominate:

  1. “What Katie did next” at https://katiereablog.wordpress.com/
  2. “Maria, a gentle Iconoclast” at https://pilgrimsprogressrevisted.wordpress.com/
  3. “Messages from the Mythical” at https://madelynlang469.com/
  4. “The Dictionary Dutch Girl” at https://dictionarydutch.wordpress.com/
  5. Elihu” at https://elihuscorner.com/
  6. “pearlgirl” at https://infjramblings.wordpress.com/
  7. “Ally” at https://mylittlepieceofquiet.wordpress.com/
  8. “Authentically Aurora” at https://authenticallyaurora.wordpress.com/
  9. “kaleidoscope49” at https://kaleidoscope49.wordpress.com/
  10. “Clara’s Coffee Break” at https://clarascoffeebreak.wordpress.com/

I admire all of you for your writing ability and for your perspectives on life. I wanted to say a few things about each of your blogs, but this post was getting too long already. J.

 

oct3

Three (or four) conversations

I suppose I could delay this post until the first Friday of November, but it seems fitting to continue last Friday’s untitled selection.

Esther May was seated at her desk when Carl arrived at work one Saturday morning. Carl didn’t usually work on Saturdays, but he had taken some time off in the middle of the week to see the doctor and to have the oil changed in his car. He was fortunate to have a flexible schedule in his job so he did not have to waste vacation time for mundane chores.

Esther was counting the weeks until her seventieth birthday, when she planned to retire. The number had recently dropped below one hundred. She also used her flexible schedule to come to work late on days when she started slowly and then catch up her hours on Saturdays.

Carl got himself a cup of coffee and settled into his work station. He was still reading emails from overnight when he heard Esther’s footsteps approaching. “Hi, Esther,” he said cheerfully.

“Hey, Carl,” she returned, smiling. She pulled a chair from a neighboring desk and settled heavily into it. “Could I talk privately with you for a few minutes this morning?”

“Sure, what’s up?” Carl swung his back to his computer and leaned back in his chair. One never knew what words were going to come out of Esther’s mouth. She was a wonderful storyteller with years of anecdotes to share. She was also remarkably perceptive about things that happened in the office. Their boss sometimes joked that Esther came with the building; she knew the details of the business in great detail, and her co-workers often consulted her for the benefit of her memory and her wisdom.

“This is about you and Number Seven,” Esther said. Of course she did not refer to their coworker as “Number Seven.” She used the young woman’s real name. Carl, however, preferred to think of her as “Number Seven.”

“What about us?” Carl asked casually, but he felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. He didn’t mind people talking about him, but he had no desire to make trouble for Number Seven.

“Oh, people are talking…” Esther’s voice trailed off.

Trying to be humorous, Carl leaned forward and whispered, “What are they saying?”

“They’re saying that you laugh just a little too loud; you stand just a little too close; you stare…”

Carl held up his hand. “You’d better stop right there,” he said. “You can only quote so many words from a song before you need to pay someone some money.”

“Even so, you get the idea. I remember how badly hurt you were when Rosa left. It took you ages to get over her.” Carl nodded. He had never mentioned anything at work about the counseling he had received or the medicines he was still taking. Yes, he had become overly fond of Rosa, and her departure had indeed been painful. Now, with Number Seven, he was starting to sense the same subtle and hidden euphoria that Rosa used to inspire. “Carl, I don’t want to see you hurt again.”

Nodding, Carl said, “Thank you for your concern. I don’t want to be hurt again.”

Esther patted his shoulder. “Well, just be careful then. You’re a big boy; you know how to take care of yourself.” Slowly she stood, returned the chair to its place, and started back toward her own desk.

Carl spent the rest of the weekend pondering what to say to Number Seven. Esther was right–he had been going out of his way to start conversations with her. He thrilled to hear her voice and to see her smile. More than that, she was knowledgeable and thoughtful about the same things that interested Carl. Even though she mentioned her husband, Ken, at least once a day, Carl did not sense that she was warning him to stay away from her. She never crossed the building to talk with him at his desk, but she also never seemed to mind when he stopped to share a few words with her. She didn’t avoid eye contact if he happened to look in her direction.

Carl wanted to ask her if he was making her uncomfortable. He wanted to ask if he was spending too much time with her. He wanted to ask her if she wanted him to change his habits. He could not think of any way of asking these questions that would not be awkward and possibly intimidating.

Number Seven spared him the trouble. When she arrived at work Monday morning, she walked straight to his desk and said, “Carl, we need to talk.”

“OK,” he responded.

“It’s kind of private,” she warned him.

“Let’s go for a walk, then,” he suggested. “As you know, there are no places to talk in this building where we won’t be overheard.”

Carl and Number Seven left the building, went around the corner, and strolled for about a block. Then, suddenly, Number Seven stopped, looked up at Carl, and said, “How did you get into my mind this weekend?”

Carl smiled. “Was I in your mind this weekend?”

“Most of it, yes. It started Saturday morning when I was driving to my parents’ house. Ken had to work all weekend, and I haven’t seen my folks since Mothers’ Day, so I thought I’d spend some time with them. All three hours of the trip, you were on my mind. It’s like you were there in the car with me.”

Still smiling, Carl joked, “Well, I’m sorry I ruined your weekend.”

“You didn’t ruin anything. In fact, I kind of enjoyed the company, not having to drive alone. But then Sunday morning in church I was thinking about you, and driving home Sunday night I was thinking about you.”

Carl gestured toward a bench. “Let’s sit,” he offered. When they were sitting, he asked, slowly and carefully, “Do you think I’ve spent too much time talking with you at work the last week or two?”

Number Seven shook her head. “No, I don’t. If anything, I wondered why you waited three years to start saying more than ‘hello’ to me. But I don’t think you’ve gone too far. Esther and Judy and Ruth all visit with me at least as much as you do. Judy and Ruth spend up to an hour talking to each other in the break room every morning, and Bob and Bob have long conversations that aren’t work related. So I don’t think we’re doing anything wrong.”

Carl swallowed. “But it bothers you that you were thinking about me over the weekend.”

“I didn’t say that it bothered me. It was kind of strange, but kind of sweet, in a way.”

“Look,” Carl exclaimed. “I want you to know this: I do not want to cause any problems in your marriage. I don’t want to come between Ken and you, and I don’t intend to wish him away. Even if you wanted me to, I wouldn’t start anything with you.”

Number Seven laughed. “Oh, Carl, you are no threat to my marriage. Ken and I are getting along great, and I’m not looking for any side adventures. Is that why you’re always so polite and proper and stiff? Are you afraid that I’d think you’re coming on to me?”

“I’m always careful,” Carl said, feeling a blush rise in his cheeks and ears. “I’ve got no social skills. I never know how I look or sound to other people. And I don’t want to make the wrong impression.”

“Carl, you can relax with me. I’m sorry—I wouldn’t have teased you just now about being on my mind this weekend if I thought you would take it like that.” She laid her hand on his arm. “If you say or do anything that’s inappropriate, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, you can stop being scared of me—and keep on dropping by to visit me. I like that.”

“Listen,” Carl added, “I want you to know this: I will never allow anyone to hurt you in any way—and that ‘anyone’ includes me.”

“Alright already,” Number Seven laughed. “You have not hurt me in any way. Now just drop it and stop worrying, OK?”

Carl sighed and smiled. “OK” was all he could think of to say.

Number Seven stood and stretched out her hand to him. “Friends?” she asked.

“Friends,” he said, shaking her hand before standing to walk back to work with her.

Of course neither of these conversations actually happened, outside of Carl’s imagination. The following conversation, though, is very real, even though Carl did all of the actual talking.

“Holy God, your nature is love, and you created a beautiful world and filled it with people to bear your image, loving you and loving one another. But, like so many good things, love can become twisted and broken, which is why you gave us commandments such as ‘honor your father and mother,’ and ‘do not murder or commit adultery or steal,’ and ‘do not covet your neighbor’s wife.’

“The love I have for Number Seven feels like a beautiful thing, and it is making everything else in my life seem brighter and happier. Yet I dread the thought that I might already love her too much, or in the wrong way. I do not want to harm her marriage. I do not want to claim her for myself. I simply enjoy being with her, talking with her, hearing her voice, seeing her face, and learning more about her. And I enjoy her interest in me and the way she sets aside time to talk with me.

“Father, please guide me in this confusing situation. Help me to be a friend to Number Seven without coveting her or wanting her to myself. Steer me away from temptation and from unholy living. If it is your will, please let this friendship continue to grow, since it has already cleared away so much darkness and distress from my life.

“And, if I have done wrong, please forgive me for my sin. Thank you for the comfort of knowing that, if I have strayed from your path, your Son will pursue me and restore me to where I belong. I pray this in his name, the name of Jesus Christ my Savior. Amen.”

Carl listened for an answer. Whether or not he received it is hard to say. The next time he drove his car, the radio played three songs in a row. First it played Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Starting Something,” which seemed ironic in light of Carl’s prayer. Next came Queen’s “You’re my Best Friend,” which Carl had already heard once as a message that Number Seven wanted to be his friend, nothing more. The next song was Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right.” Carl thought, “Yes, I’m crazy in a lot of different ways. I wonder what the next song will be.” But he arrived home during a string of commercials and heard no answering song. J.

Untitled–first Friday fiction

Carl often thought of himself as the man in the Eagles’ song, driving down the road with seven women on his mind. When he heard that song, he often could identify seven women who all were in his thoughts, though he doubted that any of them wanted to own him or wanted to kill him.

There was the young woman at church, vulnerable and yet appealing. He prayed for her; he wished he could make some gesture toward her that would comfort her, but anything he did would probably frighten her instead.

Then there was a woman who lived a few blocks from Carl. Sometimes they passed each other in the mornings when they were both taking their walks. She had long, straight, black hair, deep brown eyes, and a shy smile. Carl had never spoken with her. By luck, not by effort, he had been able to identify her house. Carl knew that she had children; he did not know whether or not she had a husband.

There was also the Olympic athlete he had seen on TV. She was also a brunette, with sparkling brown eyes and a lovely smile. Of course she was in top physical condition. They would never meet, but Carl had downloaded pictures of her onto his work computer. When the screen-saver brought up his slideshow, he would pause in his work and wait for her to appear.

Speaking of work, there was the intern with the blonde hair and the bright blue eyes. She was polite and friendly, probably considering Carl neither an interest nor a threat because of the difference in their ages.

There was the supervisor of another department, efficient without being unfriendly, able to charm customers and coworkers with equally sincere interest in whatever they had to say. A few months ago, she had announced a name change. A little Internet research revealed that she was changing from her married name to her maiden name. Carl wondered if that signaled a divorce or merely a desire to use her family name professionally from now on. He didn’t see her often, but when their paths crossed he generally managed to exchange hellos with her.

Carl remembered the woman from his department who had left for a better job more than three years ago. Carl still missed her. Every day on the way to work he passed the building where her new office was located. He hadn’t seen her since the day she left, but he still marked the anniversary of that day with regret and gloom.

The seventh woman on Carl’s mind had, in a sense, replaced number six. Not that she had been hired to do the same job, or even that she had been hired shortly after number six left the business. Carl was starting to feel the same glow in her presence that he once had felt when he was near number six. Through Facebook, Carl had discovered her birthday. It happened to be the same day that he had been marking in memory of number six. If for no other reason, Carl found that coincidence a reason to consider number seven an appropriate replacement for number six in his mind.

Not that Carl would make an inappropriate advance toward any of these seven women. Carl liked to think of them. He liked to be with them. He didn’t want to marry any of them, and Carl would never want or attempt a one-night stand. Some men had crushes on singers like Taylor Swift or actresses like Amy Adams. Carl’s crushes were (with the exception of the Olympic athlete) on people a little closer to home, but he was no more intending to stalk or to try to seduce these women than the vast majority of fans who follow celebrities.

In his own mind, though, Carl could imagine a closer relationship with any of the seven women on his mind. As he headed to his car at the end of the day, number seven was most on his mind. Before he started the engine, Carl decided that the songs he heard on the way home that evening would represent a conversation between Carl and number seven.

Of course he invited the lady to go first. Her opening song proved to be “You’re my Best Friend,” by Queen. Carl flattered himself that number seven might say some of those lyrics to him, or might be thinking that way about him. At the same time, Carl had a strong negative association to the word “friend.” “Let’s just be friends” was a kind way of saying, “I have no romantic interest in you.” Often, in Carl’s experience, the woman who said “Let’s just be friends” was the woman who would disappear from his life (if not from his mind) in a way that was distinctly unfriendly.

After a string of commercials, Carl’s reply came on the radio. The song was “Every Breath You Take” by the Police. This song was widely treated as a love song—it had even been sung at weddings—but it was a song about obsession and a claim to ownership, not about genuine love. Carl could imagine himself watching number seven as closely as the song described. He knew that a day or two of that behavior would be creepy to his coworker and might easily draw a reprimand from their boss.

Her next song was “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce. Carl did not have to stretch to fit this story-telling song into the conversation. It was an unsubtle warning about men who take an interest in women who have already found their life’s partner. The title character, accustomed to taking everything he liked, took an interest in a woman who “looked nice.” This interest led to a brawl with her husband, and by the end of the brawl, Mr. Brown was not in a very good condition.

The deejays chatted about traffic and weather and played a few more commercials before Carl had a chance to answer the warning that had been given. His answer turned out to be Survivor’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Any Longer.” The anthem was a love ballad so schmaltzy that even the writer and singer seemed embarrassed by it. (Carl remembered the group joking about the song at the beginning and ending of their music video.) Calling his beloved a candle in the window was barely passible; promising to land a boat and “throw away the oar” was definitely over the top. After the clear warning involved in the story of Mr. Brown, Carl knew that he would never dare such a bold confession of love.

Number seven’s answer, though, was as enigmatic as the previous four songs had been forthright. She replied with Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.” The song was still playing as Carl reached his home. He spent the rest of the evening trying to decide what the song meant. Was it an invitation to some sort of mutual involvement? Or was it a reminder that all Carl had to enjoy was fantasy and dreams? Carl knew that he would have to ponder those questions for a while before he would arrive at an answer. J.

 

Sing-a-long/A Long Long Night

I cannot stop myself. When certain songs are played on the radio while I am driving, I have to sing along. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen is one of those songs. “Renegade” by Styx is one of those songs. “American Pie” by Don McLean is one of those songs. “Hey Jude” by the Beatles is one of those songs. Even if the station cheats and shortens “Hey Jude,” I continue singing until I have completed all fifteen refrains.

It doesn’t matter where I am or where I am going. I have to sing those songs. This spring I was driving to deliver an hour-long lecture, but “American Pie” came on the radio, and I had to join Don McLean from the first line to the last chorus. Even if I have a job interview later in the day and want to make the best impression possible, I will sing along with “Renegade” or “Hey Jude” at the risk of ruining my voice for the rest of the day.

When I was in college, one of us in the dorm could put on the soundtrack to “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” and a group of us would gather, singing all the songs of all the singers. The opening complaint of Judas, the conversations involving Mary and Jesus and Judas, the entry into Jerusalem, the prayer in Gethsemane—we knew them all, every word, every note. I don’t know if that’s good or bad; I just know that we were that way back then.

I’m changing the subject here, but on the Fourth of July my daughter needed a ride to the airport. She needed to be there at four in the morning. I set my alarm to wake up at 3:15 and tried to go to bed at 10 p.m. I was restless and had trouble falling asleep, probably concerned that I would not hear the alarm and awaken in time. When I did fall asleep I had a string of odd and unpleasant dreams. I woke myself from one dream, shouting, “Who’s there? Who’s there?” I had been dreaming that my father and I were at his trailer, and we could see that someone had entered the trailer even though the door was locked. A clothespin on the door was some sort of clue. I managed to open the door and look into the living room which was empty. A large walk-in coat closet was to my right, and I thought the intruder was hiding there. That is why I shouted… and awoke. By the way, in real life my father does not live in a trailer.

Driving to the airport, then, was a mixture of fatigue and stress. The city streets look different at such a time than they look, not only during the daytime, but even at nine or ten at night. To make matters worse, we drove in and out of showers. The highway to the airport was not well lit, and the paint on the pavement was faded. Driving took much concentration, so I focused all my attention on what I was doing. I got her to the airport, she grabbed her stuff and entered the terminal, and on my way back to the highway, I turned on the radio.

After the last few seconds of a commercial, I heard a familiar voice sing familiar words. “A long, long time ago.” I was right there with him, “I can still remember how that music used to make me smile.” I did not sing loud and vigorously. I still needed to concentrate on driving, dark roads badly painted, water on the windshield and on the road, and other traffic (including a truck behind me with its bright lights shining off my mirrors). Besides, I did not want to call attention to myself on the highway at four in the morning of a national holiday—I didn’t feel like taking the time for a sobriety check. Softly, and with a skipped line here or there as I navigated a curse, I made my way back home.

Even as I type this now, the urge to continue singing “American Pie” is nearly irresistible. In fact, I know of only one way to break the pattern of “…and I knew if I had my chance, I could make those people dance….” My freedom comes from four simple words: “A three hour tour. A three hour tour.” J.