The Breeders’ Happiness Is A Warm Gun is a downbeat, oddly structured little tune that peaks quickly and winds down slowly. Its surreal lyrics and peculiar three-part structure conspire to make it sound dark, threatening and mysterious. It’s one of the highlights on The Breeders’ excellent debut album, Pod.
I borrowed Pod on vinyl from the library as a teenager. That’s not a typo or a euphemism, our local library had a record department that you could borrow albums from for 50p a week or something. Maybe you still can; I haven’t been to the library for a while.
I taped it, of course. It’s a fantastic album, full of sparse, brooding melodies, smoky vocals and Kim Deal’s distinctive basslines. Having never heard The White Album at this point I had no idea that Happiness Is A Warm Gun was a Beatles track.
Around the same time I was pirating music with the assistance of my local library, I picked up The Beatles’ Rock & Roll Music Volumes 1 and 2 from a second-hand shop. This was my first real introduction to their music (obviously I’d heard them plenty, but I’d never owned any of their albums). You may think that these two volumes aren’t the best way into The Beatles, but I was hearing tracks like Back In The USSR, I Saw Her Standing There, Helter Skelter and Revolution for the first time. Now I could see what the fuss was all about. I became a fan immediately.
So, when I finally got my hands on The White Album some time later, I was excited to hear the original version of Happiness Is A Warm Gun. John Lennon was struck by the title phrase when he spotted it in an American magazine and he and Paul McCartney attempted to turn it into a song which reflected its oxymoronic cheerful lethality, perhaps explaining its oddly jarring structure.
And it’s fine; it’s pretty good, but it’s not one of their greatest. It starts off brooding and interesting. The startling imagery (“Like a lizard on a window pane”) sounds nearly as good voiced by Paul as it does by Kim, but the middle section (“I need a fix”/”Mother Superior”) comes in a little too swiftly and without the noisy chaos of The Breeders’ version. Worse still, the doo-wop climax undermines the overall dark power of the track.
If you were going to trim The White Album down from a double to a single album – like lots of people say The Beatles should have done – there’s no guarantee that this would have made the cut.
The Breeders’ version of Happiness Is A Warm Gun is the definitive one for me. Maybe it’s because their version is less stylistically ambitious than the original so sounds more coherent. Maybe it’s because singing about guns sounds more plausible in an American accent (singing about The National Trust, less so). Maybe it’s because I heard this version first. Or maybe it’s because with The Breeders’ version, unlike with the version on The White Album, I’ve never had to listen to The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill in order to get to it.
Incidentally, you may have got the impression that from the above that this teenager, trawling around second-hand shops and hanging out at the library, was something of a nerd. Let me assure you that this was not the case. I was a musician, an aesthete, an athlete and very much a ladies’ man. I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.