Try Some, Buy Some
|"Try Some, Buy Some"|
|Single by Ronnie Spector|
|Released||16 April 1971|
February–March 1971 |
Abbey Road Studios, London
|Producer(s)||Phil Spector, George Harrison|
"Try Some, Buy Some" is a song written by English musician George Harrison, first released in 1971 as a single by former Ronettes lead singer Ronnie Spector. The latter recorded this and other Harrison compositions, such as "You" and "When Every Song Is Sung", in London for a planned comeback album on the Beatles' Apple Records. The project was co-produced by her husband at the time, Phil Spector, whose temporary withdrawal from music-making in 1966 had forced Ronnie to reluctantly abandon her own career. After the single became only a minor hit, and following recording sessions that had been hampered by the producer's erratic behaviour, the proposed album was cancelled. In 1973, Harrison added his own vocal onto a new mix of the instrumental track and included the result on his album Living in the Material World.
Harrison wrote "Try Some, Buy Some" during sessions for All Things Must Pass, his successful 1970 triple album, also co-produced by Spector. The song's austere melody was influenced by Harrison composing on a keyboard instrument rather than guitar. The lyrics reflect his perception of God amid temptations associated with the material world and take the form of a recollection of his first spiritual awakening. Ronnie Spector later admitted to being unable to understand the concept and disliking the song, and commentators have duly noted its unsuitability as a vehicle for her comeback. "Try Some, Buy Some" is notable for the extent to which Phil Spector employed his Wall of Sound production, as well as for being a significant commercial failure for Spector, in the manner of his ambitious 1966 production "River Deep – Mountain High", by Ike & Tina Turner. The recording features a choir and long, lavishly orchestrated instrumental passages, the musical arrangement for which was supplied by John Barham. Besides Harrison, the backing musicians include Leon Russell, Pete Ham, Klaus Voormann and Jim Gordon. The single's B-side was "Tandoori Chicken", an upbeat song in the rockabilly style.
Some commentators question the inclusion of Harrison's reading of "Try Some, Buy Some" on Living in the Material World and view it in an unfavourable light, citing his struggle to sing in a key suited to the former Ronette. Having long been unavailable following its 1971 release – during which time she divorced Spector and attempted to relaunch her career without him – Ronnie Spector's version was reissued in 2010 on the compilation Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records. A longtime admirer of the song, David Bowie covered "Try Some, Buy Some" on his 2003 album Reality and performed it on his tours in support of the album.
Background and composition
George Harrison's song "Try Some, Buy Some" dates back to the recording sessions for his 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass, and was one of a number of tracks left over from that project. In his autobiography, I, Me, Mine (1980), Harrison recalls writing the tune on an organ and, not being an accomplished keyboard player, having difficulties doing the correct fingering in both hands. It was only when his friend Klaus Voormann took over the left-hand part, to play the bass line, that he was able to hear the piece as he had imagined it.
Harrison musical biographer Simon Leng describes the tune as "the most extreme example" of its composer's "circular melodic" style, "seeming to snake through an unending series of harmonic steps". As reproduced in I, Me, Mine, Harrison's handwritten lyrics show the opening chord as E minor and the bass line descending through every semitone from E down to B, followed by a change to a B7 chord; the second part of the verse, beginning on an A minor chord, then follows a descending sequence that he writes as "A – A♭ – G – F♯ – E – A", before arriving at D major. Harrison acknowledges in his autobiography that the melody and "weird chords" came about through experimentation on a keyboard instrument, which allowed him more harmonic possibilities than are available on a guitar. The song's time signature is a waltz-like 3
4, similar to the verses of his composition "I Me Mine", the last track recorded by the Beatles, in January 1970.
Lyrically, former Melody Maker editor Richard Williams describes "Try Some, Buy Some" as "a typically Harrisonian hymn to his Lord", in keeping with the religiosity of All Things Must Pass tracks such as "My Sweet Lord", "Awaiting on You All" and "Hear Me Lord". Harrison biographer Elliot Huntley writes of "Try Some, Buy Some" delivering Harrison's Hindu-aligned devotional message "in television evangelist terms".
– George Harrison, commenting on the lyrics to "Try Some, Buy Some" in 1979
The song begins with the lines "Way back in time / Someone said try some, I tried some / Now buy some, I bought some ..." before Harrison states that he opened his eyes "and I saw you". According to Christian theologian Dale Allison, the lyrics are a "reflection on some sort of conversion experience", in which Harrison provides "before and after" comparisons. Before his spiritual awakening, Harrison sings of variously possessing, seeing, feeling and knowing "[n]ot a thing" until, Allison writes, "he called upon God's love, which then came into him."
As in his later compositions "Simply Shady" and "Tired of Midnight Blue", Harrison refers to the drug culture prevalent in the music industry, in the verse-two lines "I've seen grey sky, met big fry / Seen them die to get high ..." Author Joshua Greene writes of Harrison's concern during the 1970s for friends who "wasted their time chasing sex and drugs and money", while Allison suggests John Lennon and Eric Clapton as being among the people on whom Harrison "personally witnessed the toll [that] drugs and drink took".
In addition to the song echoing the "lost and then found" message of many Christian conversions, Allison writes that "Try Some, Buy Some" demonstrates Harrison's incarnation among the "twice-born" in Bhagavad Gita terminology. The same theme of salvation through reconciliation with his deity is present in Harrison's 1968 song "Long, Long, Long" and would continue to feature throughout his solo career, in compositions such as "That Which I Have Lost" and "Heading for the Light".
Planned Ronnie Spector solo album
Following their successful partnership on All Things Must Pass in 1970, Harrison and co-producer Phil Spector turned their attention to resurrecting the career of Spector's wife Ronnie, formerly lead singer of the Ronettes. Since the break-up of the Ronettes in 1967, Ronnie Spector's only musical release had been "You Came, You Saw, You Conquered", a 1969 single on A&M Records. Her signing to the Beatles' Apple record label was a condition of Phil Spector's deal with the company, one that Harrison and Lennon, as avowed fans of the Ronettes, were happy to honour. The plan was to produce a comeback album, with Harrison providing many of the songs, and issue it on Apple Records. In his book Phil Spector: Out of His Head, Williams quotes music publisher Paul Case as having said during this period: "Phil wants a hit record with Ronnie again more than anything in the world. I think he'd give up all his worldly possessions for that."
Speaking to Phil Symes of Disc and Music Echo in May 1971, Ronnie Spector admitted that she had hated being away from the music industry. The situation had been forced on her by her husband's semi-retirement in 1966, following the failure in America of Ike & Tina Turner's single "River Deep – Mountain High", a production that Phil Spector had considered his masterpiece. Ronnie Spector told Symes: "For four years Phil and I completely detached ourselves from everyone in the business and settled down in California. I was so bored and missed the stage so much I nearly had a nervous breakdown. If I hadn't had a kid I don't know what I would have done."
Sessions for the proposed album took place at London's Abbey Road Studios, beginning on 2 February 1971. In addition to his own contribution as guitarist, Harrison enlisted some of the musicians with whom he had recorded All Things Must Pass: Gary Wright, on keyboards; Derek and the Dominos drummer Jim Gordon; Voormann and Carl Radle (the latter another member of the Dominos), alternating on bass; and Badfinger's Pete Ham on second guitar and percussion. Another participant was Leon Russell, familiar to Phil Spector as a regular member of the Wrecking Crew during the mid 1960s. Recording continued at Abbey Road on 3 February, during which Lennon joined the proceedings, allegedly on piano.
Aside from "Try Some, Buy Some", the first songs selected were ones that Harrison had routined for All Things Must Pass but not used: "You" and "When Every Song Is Sung". The latter was originally titled "Whenever" and was intended for Shirley Bassey, and Harrison had written "You" as what he called "a Ronettes sort of song". The other tracks recorded were "Loverly Laddy Day"; a Harrison–Spector collaboration titled "Tandoori Chicken"; and, according to authors Chip Madinger and Mark Easter, "I Love Him Like I Love My Very Life", which they suggest was another Harrison composition. In a 1987 interview with Musician magazine, Harrison spoke of Spector having written some songs for the project, one of which was "very good, in his pop vein".
– Author Richard Williams's description of Spector's production on "Try Some, Buy Some"
The planned comeback album ended there, due to the same erratic behaviour from Spector – or "health issues", as Madinger and Easter have described it – that had hindered work on All Things Must Pass. According to Harrison's recollection in I, Me, Mine: "we only did four or five tracks before Phil fell over ..." Of those songs, rather than the more obviously commercial "You", Spector chose "Try Some, Buy Some" to complete for release as a single by his wife. Williams highlights Spector's role in taking "a pleasant but essentially ordinary tune" and turning it into a "wholly magnificent" example of his Wall of Sound production style, on which "the essence is in the sound of the voice against the orchestra". The heavy orchestration – including string, brass and woodwind sections, mandolins and cymbals – together with the choral parts, were arranged by John Barham, Harrison's regular musical arranger during this period.
For the single's B-side, the two producers chose "Tandoori Chicken", "a friendly impromptu rocker", Williams writes, which came about after Spector despatched Beatles aide Mal Evans to get food during the session. Just over two minutes in length, "Tandoori Chicken" is in the rockabilly style of Carl Perkins, with Spector playing blues piano and Harrison on overdubbed dobro. Harrison recalled that the performance was recorded in a single take, with "a lot of improvised scat singing in the middle".
Apple Records issued "Try Some, Buy Some" on 16 April 1971 in Britain (as Apple 33), and three days later in America (as Apple 1832). Apple's print advertisement for the release carried the simple tagline: "A New Single". Among the interviews she gave to the UK music press, Ronnie Spector admitted to Symes that it took a long time to learn the song "as it was hard for me to understand", but she added: "I love the record. It's completely different for me; it's more of a music thing than vocal." In America, Billboard magazine's reviewer described "Try Some, Buy Some" as a "powerful production ballad" that had "all the ingredients to break through big", while suggesting that Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton had contributed to the recording.
Despite Disc and Music Echo endorsing it as a "terrific first solo single", "Try Some, Buy Some" failed to place on the UK Top 50. The song debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 on 8 May and reached number 77, remaining on the chart for just four weeks. In Canada, it peaked at number 63 on the RPM Top 100. Williams writes of the reaction to "Try Some, Buy Some": "although people were awed by it, the radio would hardly touch it ..." In the UK, radio stations opted instead for "Tandoori Chicken", which author Bruce Spizer praises for its "infectious party-style" quality.
As with "River Deep – Mountain High", the single's lack of success was one of the "crushing disappointments" of Phil Spector's career, author Nicholas Schaffner wrote in 1977, the producer having "[outdone] himself to transform it into a masterpiece of his patented 'wall of sound' production". Spector had been sure that the song would become "a giant smash", according to Williams, who describes the outcome as a challenge to "Phil's eternal trust in his own judgment of excellence".
Spector biographer Mark Ribowsky comments on the single's commercial failure: "[The song] was completely wrong for her – another of George's mystic chants, it forced Ronnie to try to appeal to the spirit instead of the flesh ..." In his book Tearing Down the Wall of Sound, Mick Brown also notes the unsuitability of Harrison's "hymn about rejecting materialism and embracing Krishna" and describes the former Ronette's comeback as being "over before it had begun".
Ronnie Spector's "Try Some, Buy Some" remained out of print for almost 40 years, until its reissue on the 2010 Apple compilation Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records. In the ensuing years, she filed for divorce in 1973 and resumed her career that year by playing live dates with a new line-up of the Ronettes and recording for Buddah Records. In 1990, she wrote an autobiography, titled Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, in which she offers a damning verdict of her only Apple single. The song "stunk", she admits in the book, and its meaning was lost on her. "Religion? Drugs? Sex? I was mystified," Spector writes. "And the more George sang, the more mystified I got." In light of this statement, Dale Allison opines of her performance on the 1971 recording: "she didn't understand the song at all and sang it accordingly." Reviewing the Come and Get It compilation for BBC Music, Mike Diver commented on the overindulgence behind many of the Beatles' Apple projects but viewed Spector's "Try Some, Buy Some" as being "worthy of praise".
Of the other tracks recorded during the Abbey Road sessions, "Tandoori Chicken" remains a rarity, while Spector's versions of "When Every Song Is Sung" and "You" have never received a release. A bootleg compilation known as The Harri-Spector Show includes "Loverly Laddy Day", as well as two instrumental versions of "You". One of these recordings of "You" is the basic track that Harrison later used for his 1975 album Extra Texture, while the other is a slower, alternate take.
George Harrison's version
Following the abandoned Ronnie Spector sessions in 1971, Harrison's relief effort for the refugees of the Bangladesh Liberation War kept his musical activities to a minimum for over a year. After starting recording for his second post-Beatles solo album, Living in the Material World, in the autumn of 1972, he revisited "Try Some, Buy Some", replacing her vocal with his own, on top of the original instrumental track. He later admitted that the key was higher than he would have preferred, as with "You".
Whereas the mix on the 1971 single had favoured instrumentation such as the mandolins, which Williams views as "the record's trademark", Harrison's treated the balance of backing instruments differently; Madinger and Easter describe the original version as having a "clearer" sound. John Lennon later said that the descending melody played by the string section was an inspiration behind his 1974 song "#9 Dream". Before then, he based the musical backing of his 1971 single "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" (also co-produced by Spector) on that of "Try Some Buy Some", in particular, asking that his acoustic guitarists replicate the mandolin parts of the earlier song. Neither Russell nor Ham were listed in the musician credits for Harrison's version of "Try Some, Buy Some" – Badfinger having recently signed with Warner Bros. Records, which the band would join in September 1973 upon the expiry of their Apple contract.
Release and reception
Apple released Living in the Material World in May 1973, with "Try Some, Buy Some" sequenced on side two of the original LP format. Reflecting the album content, Tom Wilkes's design for the record's face labels contrasted a devout spiritual existence with life in the material world, by featuring a painting of Krishna and his warrior prince Arjuna on side one and a picture of a Mercedes stretch limousine on the reverse.
The inclusion of "Try Some, Buy Some" on Harrison's otherwise self-produced 1973 album has confused some critics and reviewers. Writing in 1981, NME critic Bob Woffinden noted: "This was considered an underhand trick in some quarters. However, since the single had clearly not received the attention it merited, it could be argued that George was simply husbanding his resources carefully." On release, in an otherwise highly favourable review for Material World, Stephen Holden of Rolling Stone called the song "an overblown attempt to restate the [album's] spiritual message in material terms: 'Won't you try some / Baby won't you buy some.'" In Melody Maker, Michael Watts wrote that the song fitted the album-wide description of Harrison's personal journey to "musical iconographer" status from his Beatle past. Watts considered the arrangement the "most imaginative" on Material World and described the recording as "a fairground sound, using harpsichord and couched in waltz-time".
Simon Leng dismisses the Ronnie Spector album project as "self-indulgence" on the part of the two producers and views the inclusion of "Try Some, Buy Some" on Material World as having "achieved nothing, except to prove that Spector's Wall of Sound was an anachronism" by 1973. Leng writes of Harrison's "straining" vocal on the track and "banks of trilling 'Long and Winding Road' mandolins" that are at odds with the more subtle mood found elsewhere on the album. Ian Inglis describes Harrison's singing as one of his "least impressive performances" and writes of the composition generally: "It may be a love song or a hymn of salvation but, unlike songs where this duality strengthens their impact (such as 'Isn't It a Pity'), here it sits uneasily between the two." With a different musical arrangement and the "melodramatic delivery" of a singer like Shirley Bassey, Inglis suggests, "Try Some, Buy Some" might have found some success.
In a 2006 review for Mojo magazine, Mat Snow described the track as "[a]n anti-heroin song so seductively melodic it might induce the opposite effect". Elliot Huntley praises Harrison's "yearning" vocal as "one of the many highlights" of Living in the Material World. Huntley considers the "hymn-like song cycle" represented by this "superb" track and the album's final two songs, "The Day the World Gets 'Round" and "That Is All", the equal of anything on All Things Must Pass. Beatles biographer Chris Ingham pairs "Try Some, Buy Some" with "Sue Me, Sue You Blues", as two "wry, reasonable digs at symptoms of what Harrison sees as symptoms of a diseased world". Reviewing the 2014 Apple Years Harrison reissues, for the Lexington Herald-Leader, Walter Tunis includes "Try Some, Buy Some" among the "stunners" on Material World and describes the song as an "achingly beautiful awakening anthem".
According to Huntley, "Try Some, Buy Some" was "an all-time favourite" of English singer David Bowie. The latter covered the song on his 2003 album Reality, co-produced by his longtime collaborator Tony Visconti. Bowie had originally intended to record it for a planned follow-up to Pin Ups, his 1973 collection of cover versions. Talking to Rolling Stone shortly before the release of Reality, he said of his recording: "We were pretty true to the original arrangement, but the overall atmosphere is somewhat different. It's a dense piece."
Bowie occasionally performed "Try Some, Buy Some" live on his 2003–04 Reality Tour. In a review for the limited-edition box set David Bowie Box (2007), critic Thom Jurek described Reality as a "schizophrenic recording", on which the covers of "Try Some, Buy Some" and the Modern Lovers song "Pablo Picasso" "[distinguish] this set more than anything else".