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Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold 19


Hello everybody, and welcome back to yet another edition of Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold! Thanks for waiting patiently an extra day, although after today’s choice, who knows? Maybe you’ll wish I had skipped the week altogether! Brace yourself, my wimpy friends.

John Lennon – Woman (download)

Did it suddenly get cold in here?

I know what you’re thinking: Could it be? Could a Beatle really be capable of Mellow Gold? More specifically, could John Lennon – the man responsible for gut-wrenching songs like “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” “Instant Karma!” and “Cold Turkey” and write something so smooth, so sensitive, so wimpy?

You bet your Mellow-lovin’ ass he could.

John Lennon was originally a member of a band called The Beatles, and…just kidding. I don’t need to waste any space here giving you a biography on John Lennon. You’re probably familiar with some of the details relevant to “Woman,” but just in case, here’s what you need to know: while on vacation in Bermuda, Lennon had an epiphany that led to his opening statement: women are “the other half of the sky.” In an interview with Rolling Stone just three days before his death, Lennon claimed the song was reminiscent of the Beatles track “Girl,” but “a grown-up version.”

“Woman” was included on the Lennon/Yoko Ono album Double Fantasy, Lennon’s first album since 1975’s Rock and Roll. The album was the work of a man content with his life, his family, and his love – apparent in songs like “(Just Like) Starting Over,” “Watching The Wheels,” “Beautiful Boy,” and, of course, the song currently under discussion.

Before we go on to discuss “Woman,” I’m going to ask you to do something for me: I want you to try and be objective about this song. Even my last paragraph most likely brings up memories of where you were when you heard Lennon was shot. (For my part, I believe I was still in diapers…and I was 12 at the time! Thank you! Don’t forget to tip your waitress!) I know it’s hard to hear this song – and perhaps anything off of Double Fantasy – and not think about what could have been if he hadn’t been taken away from us. I think about this all the time. But let’s focus, people. We’re here to talk about The Mellow.

Now, we’ve never defined actual criteria for Mellow Gold, although it’s been discussed in the comments. I think it’s better that we leave it vague, don’t you? Because we know Mellow Gold when we hear it, somehow, even if a song doesn’t necessarily fit any pre-established criteria, and I think that counts for something.

That being said, uh…John Lennon’s “Woman” does seem to meet some of the criteria we’ve used on occasion to figure out if a song fits into Mellow Gold. Let’s look:

Completely effusive lyrics fawning over female………..check
Lots of “oooohs” or other nonsense words to illustrate said lyrics
Self-effacing in presence of female
Calling female by a name like “lady” or “woman”
Gentle female backing vocals
Key change

Who’s writing silly love songs now?

Lyrically, there’s no denying the wuss factor. The whole song is literally one long, overdramatic worshipfest at the knees of his beloved. I know it’s hard to imagine, but what if this was Paul Davis, or Dan Hill? We know the woman wouldn’t have stuck around. (Hard to think the same when it’s John and Yoko, right? I know objectivity is hard. Stay with me.) I mean, it’s hard to take some of these lines seriously when you’re just reading them:

Woman I know you understand
The little child inside of the man
Please remember my life is in your hands

Now that’s some Mellow, heavy-handed, overdramatic stuff right there.

Actually, there’s one great Lennon line in here. It’s the opening line: “Woman, I can hardly express my mixed emotions at my thoughtlessness.” “Mixed emotions?” Like what? Like, “ehh, yeah, I was thoughtless when I yelled at her, but in all fairness, she was being a complete bitch that day she didn’t tell me Ringo called asking for money…”

How about the chorus? The “doo doo doo, etc” refrain has been used in many Mellow Gold tunes (“Thunder Island,” anybody?), but I’m not sure if it’s been used to such an extent that it winds up defining most of the choruses. I thought the chorus was supposed to drive the point of the verses home to the listener. “Ooooooh, well well, doo doo doo doo doo” isn’t really making me think, “wow, he’s serious about this shit!”

Musically, as I said before, it’s hard to believe that this Lennon is the same Lennon who screamed through the end of “Cold Turkey.” But it’s true. This song couldn’t get any gentler. It’s damn near ethereal at points. It treads so lightly that I’m actually surprised the song works up the guts to change keys.

Now, I understand that it probably seems like I’m really picking on “Woman.” Well, kind of. But the truth is that I love “Woman,” despite it almost being ruined for me a few years ago (more on that in a minute). I can’t say that I’m completely unbiased by John, Yoko, the comeback and the romantic fairy tale cut short, etc, but being that I heard it when I was young – long before I knew anything about John Lennon – I know that I love it despite all these things. And it’s really all about the chorus for me: the multiple Lennons, combined with the backing vocals – even if he’s just singing stupid words, it works – and becomes even more poignant with the last chorus, when he finds the words to say what he’s been feeling.

Here’s how much I enjoy this song: as you may know if you read his blog, Mike spends just about any warm evening playing to crowds in Washington Square Park. He’s invited me down many times, but I’m always reluctant; it just doesn’t feel like my scene for some reason. One summer evening, I decided to give it a try. Mike and I played by ourselves for a while, and then one of the known “leaders” of the park jams showed up to, well, lead. Except his version of “leading” was “I’ll choose the songs and sing them and try to get laid by looking and sounding really sensitive, despite the fact that I kind of sound like a weasel on helium. And when it’s not my turn to choose a song or sing one, I’ll sulk.”

Needless to say, I thought this guy was a complete, egomaniacal douchebag. (And I’ll also say that it is taking every ounce of my being not to link to his MySpace page right now.) And then – you guessed it – he sang whined “Woman.” And gave me dirty looks when I tried to sing backing vocals. (You should have seen his face when I sang lead on “Daniel.”) That’s right: I tried to sing backup for this tool singing “Woman” which, with his whine, sounded more like “Ramen.” At Mike’s behest, I recorded my impression of him singing the word. This is exactly what he sounded like. Seriously.


Ugh, I felt dirty. (Don’t you?) I left soon afterwards and was like, “fuck this guy, fuck ‘Woman,’ fuck John Lennon…” I didn’t listen to that song for about six months. But I did come back to it. And I never thought I’d be able to do it, but I was actually able to get his image out of my head when I listened to it, and remember what I loved about the song in the first place. Witness the power of “Woman.” (How much do I owe you guys for therapy?)

So John Lennon, you go with your Mellow self. And for the rest of you, hope you enjoyed (or at least will eventually forgive me for my blasphemy), and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold!

  • Velma

    Okay, I have to beg you to email me the name or the myspace link. I’ve been hanging out in Washington Square Park with the musicians on and off since 1980, and I can think of at least three candidates for Mister Weasel-on-Steroids.On the other hand, you didn’t get Mister I-Used-To-Have-Perfect-Pitch, so count your blessings.

  • Yeah, Lennon wrote a "silly love song".  But the lyrics are still above the nadir Paul plummeted to with "Someone’s knockin at the door, someone’s ringin the bell. Repeat ad nauseum, or until you need an insulin shock to counteract this sickly sweet treacle of a song…

  • JT

    EXCELLENT post, J! Wow. I listened to the weasel thing you included. Hilarious. Reminds me of the Budweiser ferret.

  • David

    Love this song. Of all I had to choose from, this was the first Lennon track I ripped to mp3. I played it the very next day in my office, where my best friend (huge Beatles fan) looked at me like I’d just blown my nose in his chest hair.

  • Velma, an e-mail is on its way.  When I was writing this, I was thinking, "I hope Velma knows this guy…"  Be sure to report back if you do actually know him!

  • Bruce K.

    It might have been a critic, but I think it also might have been McCartney himself who pointed out how Lennon who had once ripped McCartney for writing about wife, home, and happiness, was now in his comeback writing about the same stuff.
    And while one of your posters above cites the abysmal "Let Em In", remember that these knocks on McCartney were made with respect to the homely charming "McCartney" and the sensational "Ram".  I hope Paul did say it (or at least read it) and I hope he got a good chuckle at the irony.
    That "Ram" was slammed at the time shows how critics can get caught up in the images of music and musicians and so be blinded to the real value of what is there.  Ah, that’s a pretentious way of saying that "Ram" has great, great music — as close to a Beatles record as you get in any of the solo stuff (although All Things Must Pass is close).
    Bruce K.

  • Hard to be too snarky about this song, but I do take issue with "Woman" being "a grown-up version of ‘Girl’."  "Girl" was a fairly nasty, scathing putdown of a clinging, possessive romantic interest, no doubt inspired by Dylan’s similar putdowns of the time.  It’s a song written by a young man with a macho streak trying to understand why he lets his girlfriend manipulate him.  By album’s end, of course, he’s literally threatening to murder her in "Run For Your Life."  "Woman" strikes me as an apology from that same guy, who’s now 15 years older, not so young anymore, and with a family he loves.  (Let’s not forget that the real-life Lennon screwed this up the first time.)
    But removed from context?  If we pretend Dan Hill wrote it?  Yeah, mellow gold.

  • Velma knows the musician in question. I guarantee it. =)
    Is Jason’s version of the events of that fateful day in WSP accurate? Yes. (Though he neglected to mention the ponytailed hipster who tried to lead us all through an 11 minute version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah *shudder*). One of the reasons I adore WSP so much is that you really never know who will be out and whether it will be a good night or not. It’s a total crapshoot. It’s good for the soul.
    Thing is, neither ponytailed Cohen loving hipster or the Lennon-esque diva whom Jason so despises has ever been back to WSP after that summer and this was SEVERAL summers ago. Lennon-esque diva currently resides on the other side of the ocean (though rumors of his return do swirl about).
    Still, Jason has never come back to the park with me, and has told me numerous times that he never will, all because of this one bad experience. (What have we learned? Never attempt to upstage Jason.)
    So I put it to you jasonhare.com readers, make Jason come back to WSP with me. Cajole and wheedle. Prod and harangue. Make this happen.

  • I’ll come see you guys at the park if Jason plays “Goodbye Girl” (nudge, nudge)…

  • JT

    J, go to the park. Bring a harmonica. It’ll be a good time.

  • Daaaaamn, JT.  You just threw me under the bus.  Make you a deal: you come to visit, and we’ll go to the park together, how about that?

    It’s true that I haven’t been to the park since then.  My reason for not going in the first place was because, based on what Mike had told me, I feared that the experience would be led by people that really like hearing themselves – which is fine, as I’m a diva too – but also don’t like sharing the spotlight with anybody else.  Of course, that’s exactly what happened when I was there.  That’s the complete polar opposite of the way I approach things. I do like taking the lead, I like performing, but I am always more than happy to share or let somebody else take over.  I’m not interested in being someone’s complete musical slave in a situation that’s supposed to be about community.

    Some of the stories that Mike has told me since that fateful eve have seemed to confirm that this still happens.  But he is right, it’s not fair for me to base all of this on one bad experience, so I’ll go back to the park this summer.  I look forward to reporting back to you all about it.

    Now can we get back to discussing the wussiness of Lennon?

  • (wipes eyes) Ohmigod, you sound like the WB frog saying "Me me" or something. Priceless!

  • Before we get back to Lennon: Just gotta say, Jason, I sympathize and agree with you wholeheartedly on the musical slave issue – there are very few things in life that pisses me off more  than authoritarian musical diva dictators infatuated with their own voice and questionable talents, killing off any idea that’s not their own. And there’s always one of ’em, isn’t there? In every single band constellation I’ve ever been in, anyway.
    Thank God for multi-track audio sequencers and computers, I say… (not really, I’d rather play in a band after all – but it would have to be on MY TERMS) <- just kidding… but not entirely.

  • tres

    On the Lennon tip I say: Lennon AND the Beatles seem to me to have always walked that fine line on the verge of Mellow from time to time. After all they did have that brief Folk-influenced period with Rubber Soul…Folk being a progenitor to our friend Mr. Mellow.  And in the early years, the Beatles had that Bubble Gum (BG) thing down pat.
    I mention BG because Mellow and Bubble Gum are twins to that same ugly whore you can’t help but keep running back to. I think their paths converge at Keith’s "98.6". I’d love to know who you think the Godfather of Mellow and/or BG is…trace that sucker back… what is the Big Bang of Mellow to you?
    Anyhoo, did I start off talking about Lennon? Yeah, cool guy, him.

  • Oooh, the Godfather of Mellow…I’ve actually thought about this, but I don’t think I have a good answer yet.  I don’t think I’m the one to answer it, anyway; many of the songs on Mellow Gold were new to me until recommended by readers.  You guys are the ones who know the most about it.

  • JT

    Don’t know about anyone else, but when I think BG, I truly think BG – as in, the brothers Gibb. 
    J,  I didn’t mean to throw you under the bus. Far from it. I like your stories too much – if you go back to the park, you’ll no doubt have another to tell us. :-)
    Thank you for the NY invite. ;-) You and Jess are welcome any time in FFM. It is like 80 here today…(enticing!)

  • Jeremy

    absolute crap..this is not mellow gold.

  • If I ever have cause to get back to the city, this Jerseyite would let all y’alls get the spotlight, just so long as I get to rip "House Of The Rising Sun" once. I rawk it. But as for your interpretation of "Woman", Jason, why does that audio byte make me envision the Road Runner serenading Wile E. Coyote? (Listen to it again with this image in YOUR head!) DwD

  • Good call, DwD – that totally works!

    Jeremy…why isn’t it Mellow Gold?  I’m not arguing, but I figured since I gave all the reasons why I thought it was, I’d love to hear why it isn’t.

  • BD

    No way Dan Hill writes a song built on that beautiful hook in the chorus, built on a suspended chord. That what separates the Lennons of the world from the rest. The guy could express decades of yearning in three damn notes.

  • Well, I was referring more to the lyrics than the music.  You’re right about the music.

  • I’m guessing the hit single of McCartney’s that gets closest to Mellow Gold is 1978’s "With a Little Luck."  But he had several other songs that qualify as soft rock, like "Listen to What the Man Said."

    I fall on the McCartney side of the fence when it comes to his and Lennon’s solo careers.  Lennon had some great solo songs, and McCartney definitely produced some material that doesn’t hold up, but I’d rather listen to McCartney’s ’70s output any day.  And if Lennon had lived through the ’80s, I think he would’ve slid even further than McCartney in terms of song quality, even if he only produced albums every five years.  I’m not a Lennon hater by any means, but I am a McCartney defender, and I think whenever a musician as talented as Lennon dies before he’s an old man, fans tend to think "The best was yet to come!"  Think of it this way: Would you want to see where Andy Kaufman’s career would’ve gone if he hadn’t died of cancer in 1984?  Look at Chris Elliott’s career post-Get a Life.  Elliott deserves better, but what’s the right place for quirky comic talent like him and Kaufman?

    All that being said, I love "Woman."  I was five when Lennon was murdered, and I don’t remember hearing the news, but I do remember hearing "Starting Over," "Woman," and "Watching the Wheels" on the radio in 1981 and loving all three, and then loving George Harrison’s "All Those Years Ago" later in the year without knowing it was a tribute to Lennon.

    I’ve never been in a band (well, there were those three hours in the summer of 1990 when I was lead singer of a band that couldn’t get through one song), but I have been in sketch comedy groups and improv groups, and if it makes you musicians feel any better, the same kind of dynamics pop up in those settings.  If one person feels that his or her ideas aren’t being fully embraced, he or she tries to squash everyone else’s ideas.  In my experience, the group members who have the most trouble playing well with others are … well, see the title of this week’s Mellow Gold classic and change it to a plural.  I’m not saying you’re not funny, ladies, because you are.  Just stop whining so damn much!  There’s no crying in comedy!

    Finally, here’s a write-up of the band Midlake from the Chicago Reader, where I work.  The writer, J. Niimi, likes soft rock and Mellow Gold, so I thought I’d share it here.  (As for Midlake, I listened to their new album, but I didn’t get any kind of Mellow Gold high off of it.)

    MIDLAKE  I first heard these guys on a friend’s soft-rock podcast, between tunes by Firefall and Al Stewart, and my initial thought was, Oh man, what Chris de Burgh song is this, and how have I never heard it in 25 years of exposure to light-FM radio? Regardless of your feelings about Chris de Burgh, that ought to persuade you that Midlake’s take on "yacht rock" is as authentic as they come (nothing against Cheer-Accident or Bobby Conn, but their pop material is way too perverse to pass for the real thing). The song in question, "Head Home," is from their second album, The Trials of Van Occupanther (Bella Union, 2005), which, as an absolutely sincere fan of smooth music, I find irresistible. It always bugs me when people call stufflike this a "guilty pleasure." I mean, either you get off on easygoing, hermetically precise pop cheesecake or you don’t–who’s ever had an ironic orgasm? The members of Midlake are even bona fide musos: they formed the band while in the jazz program at the University of North Texas. I hope they get big enough to drag Supertramp back into the spotlight. St. Vincent opens. –> Wed 2/14, 7 PM (18+) and 10 PM (21+), Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, both shows sold out. –J. Niimi

  • Emily

    My dog just became very upset by your weasel-man impression and barked at the computer for about 5 minutes.  Weasel man even offends HER doggie ears!

  • Jesus, Em, how many times did you play it?

    (That’s hysterical, by the way!)

  • Emily

    I played it three times. I thought the first time was a glitch (because the clip is so short). The second time I realized, "Oh, it really is only 2 seconds long." and the third time, I listened.  Dannan started going nuts at play #2 and just wouldn’t stop.  What a good guard dog, protecting us all from the evil effects of weasel-man!

  • Stephen

    Wow…I’m sorry to say I’ve heard this song and I’m a huge Lennon fan, but for some reason I never knew Lennon sang this. What the hell is wrong with me? I probably shouldn’t be admitting that, but oh well.Midlake’s CD is one of my favorites of 2006. An interesting mixture of mellow gold music with a slight Radiohead (or at least Thom Yorke) influence. They get compared to Fleetwood Mac a lot, and I can see that in the production, but as a fellow music lover friend pointed out to me, some of the songs such as "It Covers the Hillside" are VERY similar to Stephen Stills’ band/album Manassas, a bonafide classic of the so-called "Canyon Rock" genre. Everyone from this site that hasn’t checked both of these albums out should immediately.

  • mike

    I am a Macca defender as well.  It’s true that he has written his share of songs that ended up on Mellow Gold playlists – Wings were definitely a cornerstone of any lite-FM playlist.  But so were Lennon and Harrison.  To their credit, none of them did very much groveling – Paul and John were mostly singing about their spouses, and George was singing about Krishna.  I guess if you’re a Beatle, you’re above inviting ex-girlfriends to sit at home and watch TV.

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