Sunday, April 1, 2012

Beatles -- "Have You Heard the Word?" (1969)

You obviously haven't heard 
The writing on the wall

The fifth chapter of the Book of Daniel tells the story of a big feast hosted by Belshazzar, the king of Babylon.  Belshazzar orders that wine be served in the gold and silver goblets that his father, King Nebuchadnezzar, looted from the Jewish temple built in Jerusalem by King Solomon (the "First Temple").

By using those drinking vessels to toast "the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone" that the Babylonians worship, he not only breaks the First and Second Commandments -- he does so in a blasphemous manner.

Moments later, a disembodied hand appears and writes these words on the wall of Belshazzar's palace: mene, mene, tekel, upsharin, which literally means "numbered, numbered, weighed, divided."  No one could figure out what the words meant so they call for Daniel, an Israelite who had spent most of his life as a captive of the Babylonians, and who had a reputation as somone who could interpret dreams.

Belshazzar sees the hand writing on the wall
Daniel sad that the words written on the wall meant that God had numbered the days of Belshazzar's kingdom, had weighed him on his divine scales and found him wanting, and that Belshazzar's kingdom would be divided and given to his enemies.  

Daniel had hit the nail on the head -- that very night, Belshazzar was slain.

"The writing on the wall" has entered everyday language.   When the writing is on the wall, it means that it's as plain as the nose on your face that something really bad is about to happen, and there ain't a thing you can do about it.

The idiom is often expressed as "the handwriting on the wall" -- or perhaps "the hand writing on the wall."  Seeing a supernatural hand writing on a wall should be enough to tip you off that the sh*t is about to hit the fan, but it's really the content of the writing -- the "handwriting" -- that is important in the story from the Book of Daniel, not the fact that there is a "hand writing."

Can You See The Handwriting On The Wall?

Let's go back to the lines from "Have You Heard the Word?" that are quoted above.  

At first, you may think those lines are a kind of joke: after all, you don't hear writing on the wall, you see writing on the wall.

But what's important is not whether your eyes see or your ears hear the words.  What's important is whether your brain gets the message that the writer or speaker is trying to communicate.  There's a big difference between seeing words and comprehending what they mean -- and there's a big difference between hearing what someone is saying and listening to what someone is saying.

You may wonder why the title of this song is unfamiliar to you.  This song was never officially released by the Beatles, and because none of the Beatles -- and none of the members of the Beatles' inner circle (like producer George Martin, whose word would be equally definitive) -- ever acknowledged "Have You Heard the Word?"  But if you listen to this song, it will be obvious to you that this is a Beatles record.  

Let's consider what the term "Beatles record" really means for a moment.  In its most literal sense, a Beatles record is one on which John, Paul, George, and Ringo play and/or sing.  

Of course, there are a lot of Beatles records that feature other musicians in addition to the four Beatles.  For example, Eric Clapton plays lead guitar on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," but we still consider it a Beatles record even though Eric Clapton isn't one of the Beatles.

There are lots of Beatles songs that don't feature all four Beatles.  In particular, a number of the tracks on the White Album left one or more Beatles out.  (For example, Ringo got sick of all the bickering during the recording of that album and quit the band, requiring Paul to play drums on "Dear Prudence" and "Back in the U.S.S.R.")

Barbara "Jeannie" Eden with Ringo Starr
Neither Paul, George, nor Ringo appear on the White Album song, "Julia" -- only John plays on that track.  So is "Julia" a Beatles song?

And neither John, George, nor Ringo plays or sings on "Yesterday" -- Paul is the only Beatle who appears on that track.  (He is accompanied by a string quartet.)  Is it accurate, therefore, to call "Yesterday" a Beatles song?

"Have You Heard the Word" may be the musical equivalent of an illegitimate child, but I think that DNA testing would confirm the Beatles' paternity.  There can be little doubt that John Lennon is the lead singer on the song -- and that's certainly Ringo Starr at the end of it.  Many people think Paul and George are on the track as well, although others disagree -- and I'm certainly not enough of a Beatles expert to offer an opinion.

If you sift through the forums of the various websites devoted to the Beatles, you find only a few mentions of "Have You Heard the Word?"

The Beatles (and Yoko) during
the 1969 Let It Be sessions 
It was likely recorded during the chaotic and acrimonious Let It Be sessions, which began on January 22, 1969, and wrapped up on January 31.  The band played hundreds of songs during those sessions, but relatively few were complete performances.  (A 1970 documentary film about the Let It Be sessions hasn't been available for years, although there are rumors it will be released on DVD in 2013.)   

A couple of commenters say that the song was never released because one or more of the Gibb brothers (of Bee Gees fame) are among the performers, which resulted in their record company having a hissy fit.  Another commenter thinks Yoko Ono was to blame.  

Here's the song -- the audio is not the greatest quality (perhaps because the track is essentially a bootleg that may have been dubbed several times using less-than-state-of-the-art equipment), but it's not that bad.  (As for what "The Fut" means, your guess is as good as mine.)

1 comment:

  1. The most featured outside musician on all Beatles records is George Martin. And also the first and most credited individual. So how do you classify his input, and also, did you miss even mentioning him?

    And as a comparison to "What's a Beatle song".
    John Fogerty virtually wrote all of Creedence's hits. So are his solo records Creedence albums?
    ;D It's all relative to the situation and the legal agreement.