Monday, November 5, 2007

The Frog Song

I'm a Beatles fan, and, more to the point, I'm a Paul McCartney fan. In fact, it's safe to say that I was very much a Beatles fan from my teens into my early twenties, but then I really came to be fascinated by Paul's solo work, and I may even prefer that to the Beatles. Note that I said "preferred," and not "think it's better," because, really, the Beatles work is so perfect from beginning to end that it's not even like the created it - it's more like it was always there, and they just kind of uncovered it.

But perfection can get kind of dull, you know?

Paul's solo work does not suffer under the strain of being perfect. Oh, it's fully flawed, wonderfully human stuff. And if the nearly 40 years since the implosion of the Fab Four, he's also produced quite a bit, being the only Beatle to have anything resembling a work ethic. He had to prove he could make a second run at the top ten after the Beatles, so he worked up a respectable catalogue of singles. But, this not being the Beatles anymore, and having full creative control, the tracks between the hits became stranger and stranger. Everyone knows the man is a huge pothead, and some of his ideas certianly seem like they were dreamt up in a cloud of blue smoke.

Case in point: many of you may know the album Ram. Most famous, perhaps, for the single Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, Ram was McCartney really getting back to work with a full studio production album since leaving the Beatles - so, something of a commercially calculated affair, but given that Paul's medium is, you know, popular music, it's really an artist returning to his home soil. But how many of you have heard of Thrillington? Shortly after Ram first appeared in stores, another LP followed, credited to one Percy "Thrills" Thrillington. The album was all of the tracks on Ram re-recorded as instrumental orchestral music.

See? Paul set it up for himself so that he could do high art, low art, popular work, deliberate kitsch and whatever else came into his mind. Basically, everything he's done since Let it Be has been Paul's retirement, and he apparently wanted to spend his retirement having fun.

One thing that's slightly irksome for an American Paul fan is that he's so prolific that he would sometimes record and release things just for the British market. Things that would be huge hits over there, but never a note heard over here. It's almost as though he had two parallel careers going, one in which he's known for Silly Love Songs and Jet, and another in which he's the man behind Give Ireland Back to the Irish and the above curio from the early 1980's, We All Stand Together.

I'd been reading references to "The Frog Chorus" for years in various biographies and interviews, but always made with the assumption that the reader knows what the hell a "Frog Chorus" is, and usually with the assumption that the reader shares the writer's dismissive attitude towards this song. It's not an exaggeration to say that I've read at least three full length Paul biographies, and several dozen other pieces here and there, and watched whatever interviews there are to see - at nearly fifty years in the spotlight, there's quite a bit! - but nowhere could I glean anything more than that Paul had bought the rights to old British children's book & character, stuffed bear Rupert, and that some kind of animated adaptation had resulted, and that Paul always seemed pretty defensive about it in interviews (which he always does when he feels he's out of critical fashion).

And I knew that everyone had really, really really thought this "Frog Chorus" was probably beneath McCartney, and most certainly beneath contempt. Beyond that? Nothing. And since I'd been reading these oblique and mocking references to "The Frog Chorus" since around when I first went to college, it's been nattering at the back of my brain for a long time.

Finally, thanks to the magic of the internet, I happened to be online when something reminded me of this mystery, and I realized I could do something about it. To the YouTube!

And let me just say: you hear that song once and it's stuck in your head for days, man.

So, am I crazy? Is this not just a totally charming thing? Turns out it was a stand-alone, and not part of a feature (although he did two more similar pieces to pair it with over the years). What's the fuss? Is a Beatle not allowed to do a nice piece of children's music and animation? Then what the hell was Yellow Submarine? And this Rupert thing is early enough so that it pre-dates the Disney resurgence fueled by the pop-lords of the UK, like Elton John, and Phil Collins, and even Sting, so maybe Paul was just getting harshed on because it wasn't cool to do a kid's song with fucking singing frogs in balloons and a teddy bear in it?

Maybe not. I mean, the attic from Paul's video is probably the same set as the one that Bowie reminisced in at the intro of The Snowman:

Anyhow, I think "The Frog Chorus" is just swell, and people are just grumpy.

I note that the single went to number three, so I doubt Paul is too broken up about the mockery. He can use the money he made off of it to buy an island that doesn't have any critics on it, after all.



Anonymous said...

Well you know how I feel about Paul and the Beatles and I loved it too. I don't care about cool. And I hate the new stupid Disney music from these UK greats anyway. It's dull and not meant for kids to enjoy. And yes I expect this to be stuck in my head all day. And that's ok.

Dave Kopperman said...

Supposedly, there's an entire film's worth of songs that Paul recorded in 1979 for a Rupert feature that was abandoned. That would have been a cool thing to have.

I wonder if Disney will ever get Paul to do the job. I doubt it, knowing the drafting and re-drafting of material that goes into the process.