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*10.13-DEAR PRUDENCE (Beatles)

John Lennon
John Lennon

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[Intro]

Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day.
     The sun is up, the sky is blue
     It’s beautiful and so are you.
Dear Prudence, won’t you come out and play?

Dear Prudence, open up your eyes.
Dear Prudence, see the sunny skies.
     The wind is low, the birds will sing
     That you are part of everything.
Dear Prudence, won’t you open up your eyes?

     Look around round
     Look around round round
     Look around

Dear Prudence, let me see you smile.
Dear Prudence, like a little child.
     The clouds will be a daisy chain
     So let me see you smile again.
Dear Prudence, won’t you let me see you smile?

[Repeat 1st verse]


The Beatles album continued in the double disc tradition that Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde (May 1966) had started and which increased in popularity in late 1967 and through 1968. Double albums A Gift From a Flower to a Garden (Donovan in December 1967); Wow and Grape Jam (Moby Grape in April 1968); Wheels of Fire (Cream in July 1968); Electric Ladyland (Jimi Hendrix Experience in October 1968) and Big Huge & Wee Tam (Incredible String Band in November 1968) are included in this survey. But also of note from artists of the late 1960s and early 1970s are double albums Freak Out (The Mothers of Invention in June 1966); Tommy (The Who in May 1969) and Exile on Main Street (The Rolling Stones in May 1972).

The Beatles albumThe Beatles album was also influenced by another marketing approach introduced through Bob Dylan. In 1968, there circulated a poor quality bootleg in a plain white wrapper that included Dylan recordings done with The Band in 1967, recorded in the basement of the Big Pink house seven miles from Woodstock NY, as well as earlier material. Trumpeted by FM radio stations and available through black market sources for a few months, it was semi-officially released and available in record stores as The Great White Wonder by July 1969. The cover of the The Beatles album was meant to suggest the informality of a bootleg, which was a new phenomenon at the time. Though many of the songs on the album still had the technological wizardry audiences had come to expect of the Beatles, a good portion of the songs were stripped down and recorded in a more raw manner (which was becoming a fashion by 1968), and there were several cuts that had a tossed off quality.

The White Album is not properly a psychedelic album, though some of the songs (Dear Prudence among them) were composed in India at about the same time of Across the Universe and The Inner Light back at the beginning of 1968. Some of the psychedelic songs on the album are bad examples of the style (Cry Baby Cry) or performed with the quotation marks of parody (Glass Onion). Concurrent with the group’s disillusionment with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, upon returning home, the Beatles, particularly John Lennon, changed their style, embracing both the hard rock of Cream / Hendrix and the stripped down quality of the new works by Bob Dylan and The Band. But at the same time, the group kept an ironic distance from much of their work, aping the styles of other groups (such as the Beach Boys, and the Mothers of Invention). Though arguably preceded by The Mothers of Invention/ Velvet Underground / Beach Boys / Van Dyke Parks, the White Album was the first time I recall critics calling a pop album “postmodern”. At any rate, it was the first postmodern album by British pop musicians. In contradistinction to their exemplary work as psychedelic artists, The Beatles album exhibited at least these following qualities (set out by Jonathan Kramer in The Nature and Origins of Musical Postmodernism 2002) of postmodern pop music: it (1) does not respect boundaries between sonorities and procedures of the past and of the present; (2) shows disdain for the often unquestioned value of structural unity; (3) includes fragmentations and discontinuities; (4) presents multiple meanings and multiple temporalities; (5) considers music not as autonomous but as relevant to cultural, social, and political contexts. The album contained internal references to previous Beatles works (“The walrus was Paul” in Glass Onion; “We all know Ob-la-di-bla-da” in Savoy Truffle) that created a static and hermetic “in-group” feel quite different from the psychedelic reference to She Loves You in All You Need is Love, which had communicated a feeling of great progress.)

Much has been written about the conflict of egos in the group by 1968 which had not been apparent to the public before. I will not reiterate that story here. Suffice it to say that the visual presentation of the album, with its enclosed photographs, for the first time showed each member of the Beatles individually without wearing similar clothing. “The Beatles” was losing its identity as a group, and becoming four separate individuals leading different lives. The tensions between members of the group got so bad that their previous engineers, George Martin and Geoff Emerick abandoned the project. Of the 30 tracks on the album, only 16 have all the Beatles performing on them.

The White Album marks the point where the Beatles embraced 8-track recording, which had recently become available. When EMI, owners of Abbey Road studios refused to allow the group to use this new technology (claiming it needed to be tested first), the Beatles promptly left (for a time) to record at Trident Studios in London which had an 8 track available, and there recorded Hey Jude and Dear Prudence before Abbey Road relented. However, with the exception of a few songs, the tracks weren’t stacked as heavily as they had been through the majority of Sgt. Pepper using a four track machine. For several songs the capabilities of the eight track weren't explored at all.

It is commonly known that Dear Prudence was written while the Beatles were under the spiritual tutelage of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. John Lennon wrote the tune for Mia Farrow’s sister Prudence, who was at the ashram at the same time. Lennon felt she was taking Transcendental Meditation too seriously, and urged her to have some fun in life. It was one of the earliest songs recorded for the White Album, and exhibits a “clawhammer” finger picking style that Lennon learned at the ashram from Donovan. (McCartney used the same fingerpicking style for Blackbird. Donovan uses the style in such songs as Isle of Islay which is included on his For Little Ones album.) The song touches on simple childhood innocence, a theme of psychedelia that both the Beatles and Donovan had been championing at the time. Previously, both Lennon and McCartney had looked upon LSD as a method to achieve the freshness of childhood perceptions. Donovan, who had turned against the use of drugs for enlightenment, proposed that chemical means were no longer necessary to achieve this state if one used meditation instead.

Ringo Starr had left temporarily after an argument with the group in August 1968 at the time Dear Prudence was recorded, so Paul McCartney provided the drums. George Harrison played electric guitar to accompany Lennon’s acoustic finger picking. The descending melody of the song is a frequent psychedelic device, which found one of its best expressions in this recording by carrying the melody on the bass line while the acoustic guitar holds to a drone. Vocal accompaniment was layered in, especially in the B section, and towards the end McCartney added trilling piano accompaniment and drumrolls while Harrison contrasted the mild descending tone of the song with some sharp ascending electric guitar notes to bring the song to a crescendo by the last verse. Then Harrison stops playing to let the acoustic guitar softly carry the falling melody to the song’s conclusion.

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