Polythene Pam - The Beatles
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"Polythene Pam" - The Beatles (1969)
Lennon said “Polythene Pam” was about a little event with a woman with the poet Royston Ellis:
“I met him when we were on tour and he took me to back to his apartment, and I had a girl and he had one he wanted me to meet. He said she dressed up in polythene, which she did. She didn’t wear jackboots and kilts, I just sort of elaborated. Perverted sex in a polythene bag. Just looking for something to write about.”
Another version of the track’s origins was that is told the story of Pat Hodgetts who was a fan from the Cavern days. She was nicknamed Polythene Pat because she always ate from a plastic bag or actually ate polythene.
Musicologist Tim Riley asserts that “Polythene Pam” is a good example of understatement with regard to the Beatles’ approach to instrumentation, adding:
“Polyrhythmic structures abound, as guitars, bass and percussion actively comment on one another’s rugged performance style. Through it all, however, lead vocals and intricate counter-melodies keep the frivolity firmly in hand.”
Riley also pointed out how Lennon’s booming guitar has a vicious edge to it and to get this much sound from a nonelectric instruments, he thrashes at it. Ringo’s drumming stresses tom-toms, giving the whole texture “a compulsion that relies less on the electric guitar that answers every line than on the sheer energy of the propulsive rhythm itself.”
Beatle scholar Alan Pollack commented on how John and Paul seem to have a problem keeping their signals straight with respect to either words or chord changes. He also notes how the special lightness to the track is added by the appearance of acoustic guitar and even the smallest amount of silence surrounding some of the chords.
Riley describes Lennon’s delivery as “clipped” as he spits his words out quickly to fit them all in. The words- spoken in Lennon’s very thick, Liverpool-Scouse accent, is deliberately blurred. Riley believes the words are secondary to the groove that’s set in motion: “three chords and a burning band doused with flippantly clipped absurdity.”
Beatle author Ken Womack suggests that as a kind of anti-Eleanor Rigby, could “Polythene Pam” be a drag queen in the tradition of Sweet Loretta Martin of “Get Back” fame? He believes that as with the hard-headed characters as in “Lady Madonna,” “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” are byproducts of a bitter urban locale beset by the psychological effects of loneliness and despair.
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