Saturday, August 7, 2021

Through the eye of a Beatle

I'm recently obsessed with "Fifteen Hundred Miles (Through the Eye of a Beatle)" by the Frost, a late-60s Detroit band I wrote a bit about here. Written and sung by bass player Don Hartman, the song appears on the band's third album, Through The Eyes of Love (1970); it had been recorded live at the legendary Grande Ballroom in Detroit the year before for the band's second album, Rock and Roll, but didn't make the cut. There's so much I dig about this of-the-era track, yet much of it's just beyond my grasp. It's a fantastic driving song—that is, it's a great song about driving that's great to drive to—and in its laudatory air, it's kind of a tribute song, and kind of a novelty song, yet it's greater than those two limiting tags might suggest. I emailed Hartman at his website for some insight, but I haven't heard back; perhaps one day he can enlighten me as to just what he was trying to get at with this song. 

What's it about? Let's examine: 
1) Take a ride
2) "Do you wanna go?"
3) "C'mon, c'mon"
4) A hundred miles high
5) You won't come down
Standard period stuff. A rockin' road trip. Or a drug trip. Both? Are we cruising through the desert at dawn or the verdant paradise of our minds? Then the kicker:
Fifteen hundred miles through the eye of a Beatle
Say what? What does this mean? (Check the back cover and label; it's not a typo, we're not driving around in a VW.) Have we somehow inhabited a Beatle and are seeing things through his eye? (Which Beatle?) Or have we mainlined enough of their songs that we're elevating now to cruising altitude, aiming for a horizon as endless as the last chord of "A Day in the Life"? A road trip soundtracked by the "White Album" and endless "Paul Is Dead!" debates? Is the Beatles music blasting in the car our delivery system, and are the drugs coursing through us allowing us some measure, some rarified glimpse, of a Beatle's Perspective? And what will we see through his eye? What's curious is that there are no explicit, or, for that matter, even implicit, references to the Beatles beyond the song title. No lyrics punning on famous Beatles songs, no passages echoing famous Beatles melodies. Few clues. Just a trip. Through the eye of a Beatle.

As you can see, all I really have are questions. But any way you read it, the song kicks ass: a driving (pun intended), fuzz-guitar, amped-up acid rock blast that could not have been written, or likely even conceived of, a few years earlier, not only because at the dawn of the Seventies the Frost were plugged into new radical sonic and cultural currents, but because the Beatles wouldn't have yet achieved the kind of God-like status that vouchsafed a fifteen-hundred mile trip through the winding roads, ebbs and flows, and major and minor notes of their consciousness (though they were getting awfully close). 

The version recorded at the Grande was eventually issued by Vanguard. It's a minute shorter, faster and rawer, uncluttered by the arrangement that the band wrote for Through the Eyes of Love, in a way more direct, yet lacking the kind of end-of-the-decade, Rock Music Will Save Us grandiosity that the song, and its ostensible subject, demands. I love both versions, and I hope I never get to the bottom of them.

Photo of the Frost via City Pulse.

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