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Oct 09

The Most Important Game Ever Made #11: Think Right By Me, Bitch

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THE NEXT… THE NEXT SONG, THAT WE’D LIKE TO SING NOW… IS… YEAH, IS ONE… WHICH WAS… AH… ER, LAST BUT ONE RECORD, THE ONE BEFORE THIS… AND THE RECORD! (OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD I’M COMING UP ON THE LSD LOOK AT MY HAND)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egRaEoS3gP8

THIS IS CALLED… TICKET TO RIDE!

It’s worth going to YouTube for, honestly.

Welcome to Shea Stadium, 1965. We’ve moved on a year, past Help! and into a shaggier, more thoughtful Beatles, at least according to the pre-level collage that flashes around the screen. They look pretty similar to me, but the audience of robots they’re playing to is bigger still, and the confidence dial in their artificial heads has been turned up to maximum, all three of the guitarists now jockeying for the position of Most Suave. (Ringobot still looks vaguely addled, and his face has morphed to get even more misshapen. Or is that just me?)

Before we go any further, people in the comments section have pointed out that not everybody knows their way around Rock Band. Basically, as the notes come up on the screen, you press down the corresponding bar on the guitar neck and strum the strummer – like in Guitar Hero. For the drums, you hit the right drum pad at the right time, or pump the foot pedal for the orange bars, and vocals are dealt with in the same manner as Singstar – if the pitch of your voice matches the scrolling horizontal bar, you’re on the right note. You only need to be playing one instrument to get through a song – the guitar doubles as a bass guitar, so it’s two modes in one – and completing all the levels in a stage, for example the Ed Sullivan stage, will unlock the next one.

Another question – can you tell if Ringo was a good drummer from this? Well, one running joke has it that if you can play the drums on Expert, you’re better than Ringo, and it’s received wisdom that playing Expert drums on Rock Band is good preparation for being a real drummer. How true that is, I don’t know – I don’t think the vocal mode could make a singer out of you, it’s more holding your hand as your voice careens about searching for the right pitch.

Also, I’ve been asked to write more about music-as-gaming. I will, no doubt. But not with this song. Play on this one was semi-tricky, but not that inspiring or involving, so I’m just going to talk about the song itself, which is about the Beatles falling from grace.

Or rather, it’s the first song in the game that’s about losing rather than winning.

Everything before has been in the persona of someone who either wants and can get, or already has. Back on the Ed Sullivan show, we heard the stories of poor boys made good, people who’ve worked Hard Day’s Nights and realise that money Can’t Buy Them Love, sweet tales of decent young chaps. But now it’s a year later, the Beatlebots are playing to a crowd of thousands of simulated fans, they’re right on top of the world, they’ve grown up a bit, they’ve tasted the temptations of Mammon. The sound seems richer, fuller, more mature, heavier somehow. We’re getting nifty stylistic tricks like the ending suddenly erupting into double-time – there’s a sense of playing with the boundaries. The Beatles are now big enough to experiment – what’s a good experiment?

I know! Let’s write a song about a complete dick!

It’s masterful stuff. “I think I’m gonna be sad, I think it’s today…” Right away we’re in the voice of someone forcing himself into tragic mode, getting his full pout on – instead of the I-can’t-stop-crying or the I-can’t-let-you-see-me-crying voice of most songs in the got-dumped genre, this cat is making a conscious decision that today, he’s going to be sad. He’s going to mope around in a self-pitying sulk, and the rest of the song is that very sulk.

We’re given the reason for his self-enforced sadness: the girl that’s driving him mad – which could be ‘mad’ as in ‘crazy in love’ or ‘mad’ as in WHEN I COME HOME I WANT DINNER ON THE FUCKING TABLE YOU COW – is leaving, because apparently he’s a bring-down king and she could never be free while he’s around. But wait, maybe she’s just not getting him! Maybe she just doesn’t understand his vibe! That would make her the bad guy here, as in so many I’ve-been-dumped classics. We need to clear this up fast – and what better way than with a middle eight?

“I don’t know why she’s riding so high, she’s gotta think right, she’s gotta do right, by me…” The Beatles are the men of the house, and under this roof they are the LAW and they are the LASH! Now make them a sammich! No, I think this is going to be a short recess for the jury.

To round things off, the repeated “my baby don’t care” reminds me of nothing so much as Jilted John scowling “I’m so upset! I’m so upset!” over and over again. This is the story of a self-absorbed tool, struggling to understand why things aren’t going his way, and Johnbot sings it with a grin so assured that the whole thing could almost be sarcastic. Maybe it’s him who doesn’t care. Then again, I’ve seen that grin before, on a skinnier Johnbot – it’s what he’s programmed for, and I’m not really sure he’s got another expression. The real John handles it differently, wearing a slight look of baffled, self-important pain while he sings, at least at first – before McCartney, who is clearly completely fucked up on drugs, forces the sombre expression to crack into a smile.

(Legal Dept: McCartney was clearly not completely fucked up on drugs while playing Shea Stadium. That is nonsense. He’s merely acting a little bouncy in that clip, as we all would be in the circumstances, whether we had ingested our own weight in goofballs or not.)

(Filthy Mind Dept: Notice that it’s “she’s got a ticket to ride, BUT she don’t care”, which suggests that the ticket to ride is something she should want, but for some inexplicable reason she doesn’t. I can only assume – forgive me, dear reader – that this is a ticket to ride the narrator. “Th’ bitch gets a free ticket to this action an’ she don’t care! Urrrp!”)

(Although according to Wikipedia – DON’T JUDGE ME – Lennon claimed said tickets were cards of a clean bill of health carried by prostitutes in Hamburg. This whole saga gets more sordid by the minute. I weep for my country.)

NEXT: A slice of disdainful pop, coming Monday or Tuesday. This weekend is the POPTIMISM POPULAR SPECIAL, with everybody who’s anybody heading down to the Horse Bar for number-one flavoured thrills. Unfortunately, I’ve got to go to Birmingham instead, for networking and the smoothing of a ruffled feather or two. Oh well.

Speaking of Popular, here’s what Tom thought back in 2005.

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