I borrowed The Breeders’ Pod album on vinyl from the library as a teenager. That’s not a typo or a euphemism, our local library had a record department and you could borrow albums from it for 50p 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. Happiness Is A Warm Gun is one of the highlights – an oddly structured little tune with surreal lyrics, which peaks quickly and winds down slowly. The peculiar three-part structure of the song sounds dark, threatening and mysterious. I hadn’t heard The White Album at this point and had no idea it 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 really immersed myself). You may think that these two volumes aren’t the best way into The Beatles, but I was stunned by Back In The USSR, I Saw Her Standing There, Helter Skelter and Revolution and became a fan immediately.
Incidentally, you may be getting the impression 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.
So, when I finally got my hands on The White Album, I was excited to hear the original version of Happiness Is A Warm Gun. And it’s fine; it’s pretty good, but it’s not great. It starts off brooding and interesting and the startling imagery (“Like a lizard on a window pane”) sounds nearly as good sung by Paul McCartney as it does by Kim Deal.
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 and the doo-wop climax undermines the overall dark power of the track.
The Breeders’ version of Happiness Is A Warm Gun is the definitive one for me. Maybe because their version is less stylistically ambitious than the original so sounds more coherent. Maybe because singing about guns sounds more plausible in an American accent (singing about The National Trust, less so). Maybe because I heard this version first. Or maybe because I’ve never had to listen to The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill in order to get to it.