The Word - Lennon/McCartney

Reviewed by Ian MacDonald, in Revolution in the Head:

Taped at the end of the evening before going on to record the final version of I'M LOOKING THROUGH YOU (reviewed here) in the early hours, THE WORD was a late lucky strike in the Rubber Soul sessions. A D-blues [1] with a four-bar bridge, its rhythm shows the distant influence of contemporary soul singles like Wilson Pickett's 'In The Midnight Hour' and James Brown's 'Papa's Got A Brand New Bag', then prominent in the UK charts. (Though The Beatles' absorption of elements from black American music was so idiosyncratic as to be undetectable, they always assumed that these influences were blatantly obvious - hence the feeble pun of the album's title. [2] Courtesy of Capitol's resequencing policy, Rubber Soul was misleadingly marketed in America as 'folk-rock'.)

Described by McCartney as an attempt to write a song on one note, THE WORD was a collaboration by Lennon (verse/chorus, lyric) and McCartney (bridge?). In effect, it marks the climax of the group's marijuana period: a song predicting Love Militant as a social panacea and the accompanying rise of the 'counterculture'. In this, The Beatles were ahead of the game. In November 1965, the countercultural lifestyle was still the preserve of an LSD-using Úlite in California and London's Notting Hill. Even the word 'hippie' had yet to be coined, while the 'Summer of Love' was still eighteen months away.

McCartney's zany piano introduction forecasts the group's impending experimental period. Derived from the comic piano passages in The Goon Show - much loved by The Beatles and the model for YOU KNOW MY NAME (LOOK UP THE NUMBER) - the same sort of playing would soon appear at the end of their first 'psychedelic' record: TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS. Sharing the latter's incantatory monotony, THE WORD is a syncopated rocker which builds to a mini-revelation of falsetto harmonies against a halo of suspended chords on harmonium (see WE CAN WORK IT OUT). Starr provides a feast of eccentric 'backwards fills' [3], while McCartney, liberated by His high-register line in MICHELLE, delivers his most spontaneous bass-part to date, including a flourish (at 1:15) later developed at length on RAIN.


Notes:
[1] While the chords are major, the tune's clashing F natural (flat third) is minor, a melodic/harmonic ambiguity which carries on through the bridge.
[2] At the end of take 1 of I'M DOWN (Anthology 2), McCartney comments 'Plastic soul, man, plastic soul'. See also the Otis Redding connection in DRIVE MY CAR (reviewed here) and DAY TRIPPER, the alleged Miracles' influence on IN MY LIPE, the blues-tinged first version of I'M LOOKlNG THROUGH YOU (Anthology 2), the Booker T-style instrumental 12-BAR ORIGINAL (Anthology 2), and the part played by The Four Tops in YOU WON'T SEE ME.
[3] A left-hander playing a right-handed kit, Starr would, during fills, come off the snare onto the tom-toms with his left hand leading so that he could only progress 'backwards' from floor tom to small tom or from small tom to snare. His droll variations on this, including rolling off the hi-hat, delighted orthodox drummers and added to the newness of The Beatles' sound.

Gepost op: 23 jan 2008