To most Beatles fans, choosing between the songs of the Fab 4 is a bit like choosing between children. But, on the JamsBio exclusive, Playing The Beatles Backwards, one intrepid fan dares to rank the original songs of The Beatles and give his reasons why in a worst-to-first countdown. Prepare to hit the message boards to defend your favorites, and follow the countdown all the way to Number 1.
165. “You Like Me Too Much”
My, my, we think pretty highly ourselves, don’t we, George? Here we have a song in which Mr. Harrison practically taunts his girl to leave him, knowing full well that it would never happen. (He is a Beatle, for Pete’s sake.) He also exhibits some stalker tendencies when he admits that if she does indeed try to leave, he’d track her down. These are not the kind of warm-and-fuzzy sentiments that race up the pop charts.
The song is also a victim of a bit of fussiness as far as the arrangement is concerned. While making the Help! soundtrack album, The Beatles began to take their first tentative steps away from their usual guitar-bass-drums set-up and experiment with instrumental flourishes. Keyboards are featured prominently on this song, with John chipping in on electric and Paul and George Martin doing a kind of dueling piano thing throughout.
While this type of sound expansion would become de rigueur later on and become one of their hallmarks, on Help!, the results were hit and miss. I’m not sure that you can say here that the keyboards add very much to the finished product.
Harrison wouldn’t really hit his stride as a composer for about another year or so. In songs like this, he seems to be trying to match the Lennon-McCartney hitmaking style, but he always lacked the pair’s facility with killer hooks. It was just a matter of time before he carved out his own songwriting niche and churned out songs that would rival the others in terms of quality, if not quantity.
164. “Maggie Mae”
So we hit a bit of a gray area with this song. It technically was not written by The Beatles, as it is a traditional Liverpool folk ballad dating back to the 1800’s. Fitting right in with the anything-goes spirit of Let It Be, this tiny snippet of the song, played during their endless rehearsals, was pasted onto the finished album.
But, if you check the credits on the actual Let It Be record, you’ll see the songwriter listed as “Trad. Arr. Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-Starkey.” And the traditional folk ballad is “Maggie May,” spelled like the similarly titled but completely different Rod Stewart hit. By changing the final “y” in the name to “e,” The Beatles could get around come copyright issues.
It can also be debated how much “arranging” was actually done on the song, since the group had been playing it practically since they were formed and probably never put much thought into it on the day it was recorded, since it was just a way to warm up for more important matters. And McCartney mustn’t have thought much of it anyway, since he left it off of the Let It Be…Naked rerelease he spearheaded a few years back.
All of this hoo-hah for a song that’s barely 40 seconds long and features Lennon singing in a nearly indecipherable Liverpudlian brogue. It was just a lark, so we’ll leave it on the list and move on.
163. “Tell Me What You See”
This lightweight McCartney shuffle doesn’t exactly set the world on fire, but it does have its charms. Alas, the lyrics aren’t chief among them, as Paul stretches them to the breaking point in an attempt to fit the rhyme and meter. (The line “I’ll make bright your day” is a prime example; you can almost hear E.B. White in his grave pursing his lips in disapproval.)
What it does have going for it are inventive instrumental touches that give the song some life that it might not have had in a more basic style. Exotic percussion sneaks around at the edges to complement Ringo’s nifty little stop-and-start beat. And the piano parts are effective here as well. Throw in some nice harmonies adding some zip to a typically solid melody from Paul, and you have a decent little filler.
We mentioned two songs ago on the list about the haphazard results of The Beatles experimentation on Help!. The stuff that failed on “You Like Me Too Much,” which might be the catchier song of the two when stripped down, works well to lift “Tell Me What You See.” The band was still feeling this process out, but it would pay big dividends down the road.
So feel free to overlook the obviousness of the lyrics. (Who else is she going to see, Paul? You’re standing right in front of her.) Instead, bounce your head along to the catchy beat knowing that songs like this one played a small but instrumental role on the way to the masterpieces to come.
162. “Thank You Girl”
You can tell that this is one of the Beatles’ earliest numbers because of the presence of harmonica, which John Lennon apparently had welded to his lip at the end of 1962 and then surgically removed in 1964. It was an attempt at an early single but instead ended up as the B-side to “From Me To You.”
Lennon and McCartney clearly had ulterior motives here, as they later admitted in interviews that the song was a shout-out to all their female fans. The boys knew that every single Beatle-loving female in England would hear the “Girl” in the title and think that their idols were singing directly to them. Commence swooning.
The harmonies on this song stand out. I like the way that John and Paul sing the same notes in the first line of each verse before Paul soars up above John in the second line. It’s a nifty little trick that highlights how well their two voices meshed, an underrated facet of the group.
This is also an example of the two songwriters working together to write a song, as they did often in those first years. I always have a soft spot for those collaborative efforts, because you can hear the camaraderie between the two. Just visualize John and Paul, the greatest rock and roll songwriting team ever, sitting in a room with their guitars, calling out lines to one another and toying with the melody. If you do, even a little trifle like “Thank You Girl” sounds extremely poignant.
161. “I’ll Cry Instead”
Many of the songs that were written for A Hard Day’s Night that didn’t make the final cut for the actual motion picture differed somewhat from the typical Lennon/McCartney fare of that period, whether in tone, sound or lyrical content. “I’ll Cry Instead” is one example.
At first listen it seems like a rushed country-style throwaway, over and done with in about 1:45 or so and forgotten just as quickly. Maybe Lennon wanted it that way, because the lyrics provided a glimpse into his mindset at the time that he seemed reluctant to provide.
After the first verse sets up the song as a run-of-the-mill brokenhearted lament, the second begins to shed some interesting light on the songwriter’s situation. “I got a chip on my shoulder that’s bigger than my feet/I can’t talk to people that I meet.” Suddenly this sounds less like the lament of a generic romantic wannabe and more like the very specific domain of one John Lennon, a rock star with the world at his feet yet unable to communicate his daily distress.
More of the same insecurity and anguish come through in the bridge: “I get shy when they start to stare/I’m gonna hide myself away.” Sadly, in the last verse he pulls back, relying on false bravado and shutting out any further speculation.
It’s too bad that Lennon wasn’t quite ready to expose himself in a more accessible fashion, choosing to mask these feelings in a song that would recede on the album behind smash hits like the title cut and “Can’t Buy Me Love.” “I’ll Cry Instead” represents a missed opportunity: a truly revealing self-portrait reduced to paint-by-numbers.
160. “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey”
We delve back into the wild and woolly White Album Disc 2 for this one, a raucous, firebell-laden raver courtesy of John Lennon. It seems like it’s more of an idea than a fully realized song, but Lennon gives it his all, scream-singing the lyrics with an abandon that feels positively cathartic.
It turns out the song may have indeed been a way for John to blow off some steam, as he later claimed that he was indeed referring to himself and Yoko and how the rest of the world had gone crazy around them, yet they remained blissfully oblivious. (And for the rest of the world, you can read that phrase as codename for a certain trio of bandmates whose names rhyme with Saul, Blorge, and Schmingo.)
I’m not quite buying Lennon’s claims of love-induced euphoria throughout these notoriously tense sessions. Maybe on the day he recorded the song he felt “such a joy,” but I get the feeling that he was as fidgety as everybody else during this time. Why else would he and Paul jokingly refer to the band around that time as “Los Paranoias”?
While many could read way into it and see “monkey” as a drug reference, I think John was innocent on that count. This song is too much of a throwaway to be sinister, so let’s take it at face value. It’s a shade more than two minutes worth of unhinged rock silliness, and it’s nice to hear The Beatles could have a little fun even in the darkest days.
159. “One After 909”
Delving back into their distant past, The Beatles unearthed, for Let It Be, one of the first songs that John Lennon ever wrote. They tried to record “One After 909” in an early 60’s sessions in an attempt to turn it into a possible single, but it never came together. You can hear these futile tries on Anthology 1, and you can understand why the song was shelved.
On Let It Be, with little to lose at that point, the group ripped into it and turned out a much better version than they ever could have in the early days. Those initial stabs at the song depict four youngsters trying awful hard to get everything just so, and that effort snuffs all the life out of it. But, by 1969, they were working with the confidence that seven straight years of unprecedented success had bred. They get inside the song and inhabit it, pulling it here and there instrumentally while Lennon and McCartney barrel through the harmonies.
That said, I’ve always been of the opinion that Billy Preston’s musical contributions were negligible at best. While it can’t be denied that his presence helped keep the band from engaging in steel-cage bitch sessions in the studio, his organ, to me, left a lot of the songs on which he played with a dated feel, and this song is an example. I actually think that in the haste to assemble Let It Be as all parties began to go their separate ways in 1970, Phil Spector and co. left many of Preston’s finer efforts on the cutting-room floor (like his soulful work on the unused version of “The Long And Winding Road.”)
As for “One After 90,” it certainly sounds like it was written by a 17-year-old. (I think the song may have been the main parodistic target of Spinal Tap’s “All The Way Home,” a train song that was the alleged first songwriting effort of the fictional band.) But it is powerful to hear The Beatles, on the verge of severing, revisiting a song they played when what they eventually accomplished was still nothing more than a dream. That’s why Let It Be, originally meant as a celebration of roots, instead unintentionally became a sad portrait of dissolution. There would be no getting back from this.
158. “I Want To Tell You”
Leave it to George Harrison to write a song about not having anything good to say. “I Want To Tell You”, found on Revolver, has George at a loss for words whenever he gets near the object of his affection. But this isn’t merely schoolboy shyness. You get the feeling here that what George has roiling inside of him is far too deep for anyone to convey.
That stuttering, indecisive approach to the lyrics would be mimicked by John Lennon a year later to much greater effect on “Strawberry Fields Forever.” There it mirrored Lennon’s feelings of disconnectedness with society at large; on “I Want To Tell You,” the effect is almost too overbearing for such relatively trivial subject matter.
The whole song has an unsteady vibe to it, which may be what the band intended. The dissonant piano chords produce a kind of hypnotic effect, but they don’t really gibe too well with the rest of what’s going on. And George’s vocal is a bit spacey, as if he couldn’t be bothered whether or not he ever accurately expresses his emotions.
But Harrison deserves credit for being at the forefront in the exploration of new territories that the band likely never would have otherwise encountered. If “I Want to Tell You” doesn’t quite gel, it’s unwieldiness still proves fascinating.
157. “Don’t Bother Me”
Let’s survey the titles of some of the songs written, recorded, and released by The Beatles in 1962 and 1963. “Love Me Do”: Oh, how sweet. “Thank You Girl”: Very polite. “She Loves You”: Well, thanks for letting me know, friend. “P.S. I Love You”: Right back at you, sugar dumpling.
“Don’t Bother Me”: Whaaaat?
George Harrison snarled his way through this number on the band’s second album, With The Beatles. It represented his first solo songwriting effort to make the cut, and suddenly there was a totally unique perspective in town. Amidst all the flowery sentiments and charming little ditties, George penned an ode to the desire for solitude.
Now, when you listen to the lyrics, the song does reveal itself to be a tad more straightforward in that the singer’s Garbo-esque request is spurred on by his true love being away from him. Still, from the downbeat melody in a minor key to a chorus that simmers with disgust rather than exploding with joy, this was a sharp left turn for the group, and George was at the tiller.
Though Harrison would later dismiss the song as a poor first try at songwriting, it holds up OK if you’re into a more bluesy approach. And who knows? Maybe that bit of surliness inspired Lennon and McCartney to break from their own happy-go-lovey rut and expand their songwriting horizons.
Whatever the case, “Don’t Bother Me” is essential as the first utterance from the quiet Beatle. Who knew, at the time, he would have so many revelatory things to say?
156. “Sun King”
Woe to the enterprising fool who tries to glean some meaning from the foreign languages spouted by The Beatles in the latter stages of “Sun King,” the opening part of the first medley on Abbey Road.
The band just smashed up random words from a variety of the Romance languages. All attempts at a coherent translation will prove futile.
Nor did John have the legendary King Louis XIV in mind when he wrote the song, even though the French regent also was known as the Sun King. It turns out Lennon was just strumming along here with no particular purpose other than maybe to induce a pleasant mood. All those warbly guitars and Ringo’s thumping bass drums provide a soporific effect that’s quickly shattered on the album by the opening bars of “Mean Mr. Mustard.”
The pretty harmonies, evident throughout Abbey Road, and those hilariously nonsensical foreign phrases are the best parts of this song, which otherwise drifts into the ether. George Harrison once said that the band was trying to create a vibe similar to what Fleetwood Mac was doing at the time. I’m not sure the Mac, hearing this aimless finished product, would have been flattered.
(3 - To be continued here)
Thanks to JamsBioMagazine