Ding Dong, Ding Dong

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"Ding Dong, Ding Dong"
US picture sleeve
Single by George Harrison
from the album Dark Horse
B-side "I Don't Care Anymore" (UK)
"Hari's on Tour (Express)" (US)
Released 6 December 1974 (UK)
23 December 1974 (US)
Format 7"
Genre Rock
Length 3:41
Label Apple
Writer(s) George Harrison
Producer(s) George Harrison
George Harrison singles chronology
"Dark Horse"
(1974)
"Ding Dong, Ding Dong"
(1974)
"You"
(1975)
Dark Horse track listing

"Ding Dong, Ding Dong" is a song by English musician George Harrison, written as a New Year's Eve singalong and released in December 1974 on his album Dark Horse. It was the album's lead single in Britain and some other European countries, and the second single (after "Dark Horse") in North America. The production incorporates aspects of Phil Spector's classic Wall of Sound Christmas recordings of 1963. In addition, some Harrison biographers view "Ding Dong" as an attempt by him to emulate the success of two glam rock anthems from the 1973–74 holiday season: "Merry Xmas Everybody" by Slade, and Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday". Harrison's song became only a minor hit in Britain and the United States, although it was a top-twenty hit elsewhere in the world.

Harrison took the lyrics to "Ding Dong" – most of which were reproduced on the single's picture sleeve – from inscriptions he found at his nineteenth-century home, Friar Park, in Oxfordshire. Some commentators interpret the "Ring out the old, ring in the new" refrain as Harrison farewelling his first marriage, to Pattie Boyd, and the song is also viewed as an example of the singer further distancing himself from his past as a member of the Beatles. As on much of the Dark Horse album, Harrison's vocals on the track were hampered by a worsening throat condition, due partly to his having overextended himself on business projects such as his recently launched record label, Dark Horse Records. Other musicians on the recording include Tom Scott, Ringo Starr, Alvin Lee, Ron Wood and Jim Keltner.

On release, the song met with an unfavourable response from many music critics, while other reviewers considered its musical and lyrical simplicity to be a positive factor for a contemporary pop hit. For the first time for one of his singles, Harrison made a promotional video for "Ding Dong", which features scenes of him miming to the song at Friar Park while dressed in a variety of Beatle-themed costumes. The song still receives occasional airplay over the holiday season. The video appears on the DVD in Harrison's eight-disc Apple Years 1968–75 box set, released in September 2014.

Background and composition[edit]

George Harrison purchased the 33-acre[1] estate of Friar Park, in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, in January 1970,[2] and he was soon moved to compose "Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)" as a tribute to the property's original owner,[3] an eccentric Victorian lawyer and horticulturalist named Frank Crisp.[4][5] Harrison included the song on his acclaimed 1970 triple album, All Things Must Pass,[6] by which time, according to author Joshua Greene, he had begun incorporating into his new compositions some of the homilies and aphorisms Crisp had inscribed around the property, 70 or more years before.[7] A four-line verse beginning "Scan not a friend with a microscopic glass" particularly resonated with Harrison,[8] but it would not find its way into a song of his until "The Answer's at the End" in 1975.[9] Similarly, it took Harrison years of staring at two inspirational lines of verse in the house's drawing room before he turned them into song lyrics.[10] The lines provided the only, repeated verse for "Ding Dong, Ding Dong": "Ring out the old, ring in the new" – from the carving to the left of the fireplace – and "Ring out the false, ring in the true" – from the one to the right.[11] In his 1980 autobiography, I, Me, Mine, Harrison credits English poet Lord Tennyson as the original source for these lines.[12]

I was just sitting by the fire, playing the guitar, and I looked up on the wall, and there it was, carved into the wall in oak ... I thought, "God, it took me [four] years of looking at that before I realised it was a song." A loony, who used to own [Friar Park], he built it, and it has got all these great things written all over the place.[11]

– George Harrison, on the inspiration behind "Ding Dong, Ding Dong", 1974

The words for the song's middle eight – "Yesterday, today was tomorrow / And tomorrow, today will be yesterday" – came from another pair of inscriptions from Crisp's time at Friar Park.[11] Harrison found these lines in what he called "the garden building",[12] carved in stone around two matching windows.[11] The only other lyrics in "Ding Dong" are the song title, repeated four times to serve as its chorus.[13][14] Sung in imitation of a clock chiming,[15][16] these chorus lyrics and those of the verse lend the composition an obvious New Year's theme.[13]

Authors Chip Madinger and Mark Easter describe "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" as the "quickest song" that Harrison ever wrote, the previous "record holder" being "My Sweet Lord".[10] Harrison's other singles of the early 1970s – "What Is Life", "Bangla Desh" and "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" – were all likewise written very quickly.[17][18][19] In the case of "Ding Dong", however, his musical biographer, Simon Leng, recognises this haste as an example of the singer "completely ditch[ing] his meticulous approach" to his own music over the 1973–74 period, while remaining a "painstaking craftsman" on concurrent projects for Ravi Shankar and the vocal duo Splinter.[20] Preceding this change in Harrison's working practice, elements of the British media had reacted with ridicule towards his continued association with the Hare Krishna movement,[21] and some music critics had similarly objected to the spiritual content of his 1973 album Living in the Material World.[22][23] With his marriage to Pattie Boyd all but over by the summer of 1973,[24] Harrison now wanted to be "one of the boys, not a spotlight-grabbing philosopher", Leng suggests.[25]

Harrison described "Ding Dong" as "very optimistic", and suggested: "Instead of getting stuck in a rut, everybody should try ringing out the old and ringing in the new ..."[11] He saw in the 1973–74 New Year with a grand party at Ringo Starr's Tittenhurst Park mansion – an "absolute dud" of a night, though, according to their friend Chris O'Dell, thanks to Harrison having openly declared his love for Starr's wife a few days before.[26] At the party, Boyd recalls in her 2007 memoir, Wonderful Today: The Autobiography, Harrison made it clear how he wished to ring out the old by telling her: "Let's have a divorce this year."[27][28][nb 1]

Production[edit]

Initial recording[edit]

Harrison recorded the backing track for "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" at his home studio, FPSHOT, in late November 1973, during the first sessions for his album Dark Horse.[33] Aside from himself, on acoustic guitar, the other musicians on the recording had all appeared on Living in the Material World earlier in the year:[34] Gary Wright (piano), Klaus Voormann (bass), Starr and Jim Keltner (both on drums).[35] A rough mix of the song was included on a tape he sent to Asylum Records boss David Geffen in January 1974,[10] shortly before Harrison went to India to visit Ravi Shankar.[36] The purpose of the tape was to try to find a distributor for albums by Harrison's future Dark Horse Records acts – Shankar's Shankar Family & Friends and Splinter's The Place I Love.[37][38][nb 2] He added two tracks of his own, with a comment to Geffen regarding "Ding Dong": "It's one of them repetitious numbers which is gonna have 20 million people, with the Phil Spector nymphomaniacs, all doing backing vocals by the end of the day, and it's gonna be wonderful."[38][42]

Slade, promoting "Merry Xmas Everybody" on Britain's Top of the Pops in November 1973

Harrison was referring to producer Phil Spector's trademark Wall of Sound, particularly on the 1963 album A Christmas Gift for You, which featured the Ronettes, the Crystals and Darlene Love,[43] and more recently on his production of the "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" single by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.[15] Some authors claim that with "Ding Dong", Harrison set out to create a seasonal "classic",[13] in an attempt to match the British chart success of "Happy Xmas", Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody" and Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday".[35][44] The latter two glam rock singles were giant hits in the UK over the winter of 1973–74,[44] and Simon Leng notes the inclusion on the finished version of "Ding Dong" of harmonium and distorted lead guitars, similar to the Slade hit, and baritone saxophones, twin drummers and "grandiose tubular bells",[42] all of which were prominent features on the Spector-influenced "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday".[15] Having worked extensively with the American producer during 1970–71, Harrison had already adopted aspects of Spector's technique on the self-produced Material World;[45][46][47] his aim with "Ding Dong, Ding Dong", according to Leng, was an update of the Spector Wall of Sound that reflected "the glam rock mood of the day".[35] Harrison asked Geffen not to play the song to anyone else "'cause I want the hit myself".[38][42]

Overdubbing[edit]

In what Leng describes as "a revived 'Awaiting on You All' guitar orchestra", Harrison overdubbed call-and-response guitar riffs by Alvin Lee and Ron Wood onto "Ding Dong"'s basic track,[42] as well as his own signature slide guitars.[34] Further overdubs included baritone and tenor sax parts by Tom Scott, who stayed at Friar Park following Harrison's one-off session with the L.A. Express in April 1974,[48] and a second acoustic guitar, played by Mick Jones.[49] Harrison himself added organ, clavinet (over the song's middle-eight) and percussion,[49] including chimes, sleigh bells and zither.[42]

Although he had begun recording Dark Horse in late 1973, Harrison's workload over the following year ensured that he was rushing to complete the album in October 1974 before beginning a North American tour with Shankar on 2 November.[50][51] In addition to setting up the new record label and finishing the Splinter and Shankar albums, Harrison was trying to find a distributor for Apple Films' Little Malcolm (1974) and overseeing a new project, Ravi Shankar's Music Festival from India.[52] Harrison had told Geffen that his guide vocal on the tape would most likely be re-recorded,[38] but he was unable to improve on the part due to his having contracted laryngitis through overexertion.[34][53] While preferable to the hoarse rasp he was left with at the start of his tour,[48] Harrison's "growled" delivery – recorded during a period when, according to Boyd and to Harrison's later admission, his overindulgence with brandy and cocaine was common[28][54] – ended up serving as the lead vocal for his Christmas single.[55] The female backing singers on the recording remain uncredited.[13][56]

Release[edit]

US trade ad, January 1975

In the United Kingdom, "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" was released as the lead single from Dark Horse on 6 December 1974 (as Apple R 6002),[57] with the non-album "I Don't Care Anymore" on the B-side.[58] Apple issued the single in a picture sleeve consisting of the song lyrics printed on an off-white background, with stamped Om symbols and the FPSHOT logo.[59] A range of alternative sleeves were available in some European countries.[60] The Italian and Spanish sleeves used a black-and-white photo of Harrison,[61][62] taken by fashion photographer Clive Arrowsmith at Friar Park during the recording of the Music Festival from India album.[63] A similar Arrowsmith picture appeared on the front cover of I Me Mine in its first mass-market edition, in 1982.[64][nb 3]

The Italian picture sleeve, incorporating a Clive Arrowsmith photo of Harrison taken at Friar Park

In the United States, where "Dark Horse" had already been issued in advance of the album, "Ding Dong" was coupled with the instrumental "Hari's on Tour (Express)" and released two days before Christmas (as Apple 1879).[58][66] Apple issued white label promotional discs to US radio stations, containing a 3:12 edit of the song.[10][57] The picture sleeve there was the same as in Britain, but the record's A-side face label featured a photo of Harrison's new girlfriend, Olivia Arias, above the song information, whereas the UK single had Harrison's face on both sides.[67] These photos were taken by Harrison's tour photographer, Henry Grossman.[68][69] The two face labels on the Dark Horse LP record similarly alternated between a picture of Harrison and one of Arias,[69] a detail that, combined with the positioning of "Ding Dong" as the opening track on side two, gave the impression that the song represented Harrison's ushering-in of his future wife and a farewell to Boyd.[70] In the album's inner-sleeve musician credits, Harrison listed one of the guitarists on the track as "Ron Would if you let him", a reference to Wood's brief affair with Boyd before she took up with Eric Clapton;[24] he also acknowledged Frank Crisp for having provided "spirit" on the recording.[71] In another farewell to the past, Harrison signed the so-called "Beatles Agreement" papers in New York on 19 December, further severing the four former bandmates from the group's legal identity.[72][73]

Rather than the smash hit that Harrison had hoped for,[16][42] "Ding Dong" was only moderately successful, peaking at number 38 in Britain[74] and number 36 on America's Billboard Hot 100.[75][76] This US chart peak was in fact quite an achievement, Madinger and Easter write, given that the single was issued too late to take advantage of holiday-season programming.[10][nb 4] Harrison's single enjoyed more success internationally, climbing to number 10 in the Netherlands.[78]

Despite "Ding Dong" having had what author Bruce Spizer terms a "respectable" chart run in America,[57] Apple distributor Capitol Records omitted the song from its 1976 compilation The Best of George Harrison,[79] which the company issued after Harrison had moved on to Dark Horse Records.[80] Following Dark Horse '​s CD release in 1992,[81] the song was unavailable in newly remastered form until the Apple Years Harrison reissues, released in September 2014.[82]

Critical reception[edit]

Contemporary reviews[edit]

Some music critics were unimpressed with "Ding Dong, Ding Dong", and its release came in the wake of negative reviews for the North American tour.[60] True to the lyrics of "Ding Dong", Harrison refused to celebrate the past in his concerts or pander to the media's nostalgia for the Beatles,[83] and many in the mainstream music press criticised the poor state of his voice and his decision to feature Ravi Shankar so heavily in the program.[84][85] In the UK, BBC DJ John Peel called "Ding Dong" "repetitive and dull" and accused Harrison of complacency,[86] while Jim Miller of Rolling Stone dismissed it as a "raspy stab at 'Auld Lang Syne'".[87] Harrison's case was not helped by the presence of "I Don't Care Anymore" on the flip side, with its "throwaway" delivery and the literal message in the song title.[88][89] The NME '​s Bob Woffinden derided the Dark Horse album as "Just stuff and nonsense", adding: "You keep looking for saving graces, for words of enthusiasm to pass on – 'Ding Dong', you begin to think, for all its inane lyrics, has some spirit, but it really is very slight."[90] In a more favourable review, for Melody Maker, Chris Irwin wrote of the single: "We’ve come to expect something with more substance than this glorified nursery rhyme from one of the most important musicians of the decade. True, it’s catchy with a full chunky sound to bounce it along, but with an undeniable infectiousness of the sort normally associated with chicken pox or measles ... Curiously, records of such banality have a habit of selling in their zillions and this is bound to be a biggie. Hit."[91]

Amid the scathing critique he gave Harrison's tour and new album in December 1974, Jack Sheridan of Baltimore radio station WCAO used "Ding Dong" as an example of the ex-Beatle's music having altered "so radically".[92] Writing in Circus Raves magazine, Michael Gross defended the new musical direction, declaring that Dark Horse matched Harrison's acclaimed All Things Must Pass album, "surpassing it, at times, with its clarity of production and lovely songs", and praised "Ding Dong", the title track and the Harrison–Ron Wood collaboration "Far East Man" as "all, simply, good songs".[48] Billboard magazine's reviewer noted the single's late release but praised the recording, writing: "George has a genuine hit sound to offer here that's just right for those early January time-to-change resolutions. Catchy, heavily percussive production in Harrison's uptempo guru vein. Extremely listenable performance could win fast-spreading airplay. Get on it, jocks."[93]

In the 1978 edition of The Beatles: An Illustrated Record, Roy Carr and Tony Tyler dismissed the song as "meticulously-played emptiness, a charmless reworking of the traditional peal o' bells ... A pox on it."[94] Writing in his 1977 book The Beatles Forever, Nicholas Schaffner bemoaned how "the exquisite, painstaking arrangements" of Harrison's earlier albums were absent from Dark Horse, with "Ding Dong" "a string of greeting-card clichés with trite music to match".[60]

Retrospective assessment and legacy[edit]

More recently, Lindsay Planer of AllMusic has written of "Ding Dong, Ding Dong": "While arguably simplistic, both lyrics and tune boast Harrison's trademark optimism, especially during the affable and repeated chorus of 'Ring out the old/Ring in the new/Ring out the false/Ring in the true.'"[34] Harrison biographer Alan Clayson acknowledges the traditional pop merits of the song while explaining its underachievement: "With a chirpy-chirpy cheapness worthy of Red Rose Speedway, 'Ding Dong, Ding Dong' had all the credentials of a Yuletide smash but none that actually grabbed the public."[95] In his 2010 Harrison biography, Ian Inglis observes that the song had neither the "overt political message" of Lennon's Christmas single nor the "unashamed commercialism" of fellow ex-Beatle Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime", and writes that "Ding Dong"'s "somewhat halfhearted festive appeal" seems out of place on Dark Horse.[15] Simon Leng views the song as an "intermittently amusing rocker", but with Harrison's voice "on the road to oblivion" on the recording, "Ding Dong" would have benefited from "hibernating another winter".[42] Author Robert Rodriguez opines that whereas Harrison's "rough-hewn" vocals on "Dark Horse" had enhanced that song, his "Father Time impression" did nothing for "Ding Dong".[96]

Reviewing the 2014 Apple Years reissue of Dark Horse, Paste magazine's Robert Ham refers to the song as "a Christmas anthem … that is as infectious as McCartney's 'Wonderful Christmastime' and as globally minded as Lennon's 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)'".[97] By contrast, Paul Trynka of Classic Rock magazine singles out "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" as the one song that "embarrasses" on an album that is otherwise "packed with beautiful, small-scale moments". Trynka labels it "George's own Frog Chorus", with reference to McCartney's 1984 children's song, "We All Stand Together", and adds: "its clunking glam evokes those horrible 70s TV shows where DJs drool over dollybirds in hotpants."[98][99]

Japanese act Hi Limits & Kenichi Kurusawa covered the song on the Gentle Guitar Dreams Harrison tribute album, released in May 2002.[100] Harrison's original is still played occasionally at New Year's celebrations[42] and receives some airplay during the holiday season.[13] Unlike Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)", and to a lesser extent, McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" (which, like the Lennon single, missed the Billboard Hot 100 on release, in 1979),[15][101] "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" has never achieved the status of a perennial holiday classic.[13]

Promo clip[edit]

Harrison compiled a 16mm colour film for "Ding Dong, Ding Dong", the first time he made a promotional clip for one of his singles.[102] The film was little seen at the time of release,[10] but it became a popular inclusion on video sites in the 21st century.[73][103] The video was issued officially on disc eight of Harrison's Apple Years 1968–75 box set, released in September 2014.[104] Described as "a hoot" by Robert Rodriguez,[103] it demonstrates the eccentric humour that Harrison intended in the song,[105] while reflecting Leng's observation that: "As the audiences at the Dark Horse Tour concerts were about to discover, the only 'old' that he wanted to 'ring out' was the Beatles."[42]

Harrison appears in a range of Beatles-related costumes while miming to the track[42] – starting with the Hamburg-era black leathers, followed by 1963 mop-top wig and grey collarless suit, and soon changing to the iconic Sgt. Pepper uniform[10] – while playing a mix of guitars, including his famous Rickenbacker 12-string, as used in the movie A Hard Day's Night,[102] and the Gibson Les Paul (christened "Lucy")[106] that Clapton had given him following the recording of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" in September 1968.[73][107] Harrison also re-creates Lennon and Ono's Two Virgins album cover by appearing naked save for an acoustic guitar and a pair of furry boots; another change of costume and instrument, to denims and dobro, supports his stated rejection during the tour of early-'70s era, "Bangla Desh George".[102][108]

The clip also sees Harrison walking around the grounds of Friar Park,[102] dressed in scruffy, present-day attire, much like in the Terry Doran photograph used on the back cover of the Dark Horse album.[42] Leng describes Harrison's appearance in these outdoor scenes as resembling the character pictured on the front of Jethro Tull's Aqualung album, and notes that a visitor to Friar Park at this time had mistaken him for the gardener.[109] Harrison mimes the final choruses inside the house, filmed in close-up and surrounded by a cast of "dwarfs, gnomes and other Pythonesque characters".[42] At the end of the song, he is seen at the flagpole on the roof of the house, replacing a pirate standard with his yellow-and-red Om flag.[102][nb 5] The video was directed by Harrison and filmed by Nick Knowland.[113]

Personnel[edit]

Chart positions[edit]