My Beatles Favorites, Part II

July 13, 2009

Another 5 of my favorite Beatles songs… Don’t be phased by how much I revere them. Just read and try to accept my weird summer fandom.


“A Day In the Life”
Album: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Best Beatles song ever? “A Day In the Life” is probably the only song I’ve ever gotten goosebumps just thinking about, and for good reason. From John’s haunting opening lines of “I read the news today, oh boy” to Paul’s jaunty middle “woke up, got out of bed” section and back, with George Martin’s brilliant instrumentation piecing the two together, every second of this song seems without flaw.

John’s inspiration for the song came from two unrelated articles from a newspaper. One affected him particularly because it concerned the fatal car accident of an acquaintance of the Beatles, which for the song was altered, perhaps more poignantly, to be a suicide.

The second story was of much less consequence; the potholes in Blackburn, Lancashire had been counted up and there were precisely four thousand of them. Still, the incident stuck in John’s head, and his abstract phraseology of the occurrence within the context of the song gives it nearly the same intellectually provocative weight as the death.

Paul’s upbeat, “woke up” middle section was written separately. It was part of a song that was going nowhere, and quite luckily eventually found its true calling in “A Day In the Life.” Not only does the song’s lively melody compliment John’s slower, sadder verses, but its mundane description of getting ready in the morning thematically adds to a song that’s really just about a day in someone’s life.

George Martin’s strengths as a composer and producer really shine here, especially considering what The Beatles always expected from him and likely took for granted. John and Paul, rather casually, asked him to orchestrate a sound like the end of the world for this track, and he delivered. Each of John’s dreamy “I’d love to turn you on”s is followed by a gorgeously jarring climax of sound that really brings the song together and makes it so cohesive.

Ridiculously enough, “A Day In the Life” was banned from radio stations when it was released because of what was thought to be a blatant marijuana reference. Paul’s remarks that he “had a smoke” and then “went into a dream” were enough to prevent the song from getting airtime, while the repeated “I’d love to turn you on,” was overlooked completely.

To precisely what John would like to turn you on isn’t explicit either, and all for the better. The ambiguity and duality of the lyrics are a big part of what make the song the masterpiece that it is.

“Day Tripper”
Album: Double A-side with “We Can Work It Out”

“Day Tripper” features one of the catchiest and most easily recognizable guitar riffs of the Beatles catalog (a riff which also serves the distinction of being the first piece of Beatles music I ever learned to play on guitar).

The real genius of the song, however, lies in the classic Beatles wordplay. I’m under the impression that, in 1965 when the song was released as a single, the title was innocuous enough that people didn’t think about it twice. Had the radio stations interpreted the title as anything more than the qualification of a girl who goes on day trips, it probably would have been banned like numerous other Beatles songs. Funny how, by the time I heard the song sometime in the 90’s, the more innocent meaning never crossed my mind and even as a little kid I immediately assumed the song was about drugs.

And then there’s the fact that the “she’s a big teaser” line was originally “she’s a prick teaser.” So is the song about a girl who’s just a druggy on the weekends, or about sexual frustration? Knowing John Lennon’s sense of humor, it’s probably just about a day tripper.

“Dear Prudence”
Album: The Beatles

With the  relatively straightforward premise of asking a girl to come out of seclusion and enjoy the day, “Dear Prudence” is a song that I’ve always loved primarily because it’s pretty. The  twangy guitar melody that begins the song and continues throughout, combined with John’s gentle vocals, seem like just the thing to buoy the girl’s spirits, and it’s as if the bouncy bass riff that comes in toward the middle of the first verse is intended to finally get her to “come out and play.” The harmonizing in the “look around” bit carries the same heartening effect.

Lennon actually wrote the song while he and the rest of The Beatles were in India learning Transcendental Meditation. Among the others who were studying under the maharishi were Mia Farrow and her sister Prudence, who after learning meditation would lock herself in her room all day and do nothing but meditate.

And even though it’s not necessarily Beatles canon, I’m a big fan of the adaptation of “Dear Prudence” in the 2007 film Across the Universe. I like to think that it’s because it was done well, and not because the scene, in which they coax a girl who happens to be a lesbian out of a closet, was really funny.

“Dig a Pony”
Album: Let It Be

“Dig a Pony” features almost completely indecipherable lyrics, and being the type of person who tends to analyze songs until they can be analyzed no more, I’ve had some help reading way farther into it these lines than anyone really should. In fact, the only clear-cut message is in the chorus declaring “all I want is you,” in which the song acts as the simplest of love songs, most likely announcing John’s love for Yoko Ono. In terms of sound, the big, fuzzy bass sounds and the country-tinged guitar compliment the sentiment and the later confusion rather nicely.

Here’s where I’m stretching it. Toward the end of The Beatles, both John and Yoko were addicted to heroin. Another name for heroin? Horse. And what do you call a young horse? Hence the song title. And I always thought that the lyric was “I dig a pony,” but listening to it now I hear “High, high high, high high, dig a pony.” The double entendre is amazing, even if the more innocent meaning doesn’t really make any sense.

The song might also make references to groupies not being particular about where he stuck it, if you catch my drift, and to the Rolling Stones merely copying everyone around them to get to where as far as they did. Or it might not.

“Don’t Pass Me By”
Album: The Beatles

There’s something about this clunky Ringo tune that I find endearing, despite the almost awkwardly labored rhythm. It was the first of only two original Ringo compositions that he did for the Beatles (the other being the better known “Octopus’s Garden”), and reportedly was mentioned in interviews as early as 1964. With the White Album not being released until 1968, it seems as if he was working on it all that time.

Given those four years to write the song, it is perhaps overproduced. The piano and drum beat by themselves sound heavy even before the sleigh bells kick in. Not only do the bells produce a sound too reminiscent of Christmastime to belong in this type of song, but they seem to  come in a little off. Ringo’s country influence is apparent in the odd fiddle that shows up partway into the song. If not bringing cohesion, it at least makes it pretty interesting.

The song’s subject matter is relatively straightforward. Ringo’s lady keeps him waiting, but he learns that she’s been in a car crash and forgives her tardiness. I always thought that “and you lost your hair” was an odd addition to the lyrics, but Wikipedia insists that it’s an old English turn of phrase for getting upset.

So what is it about “Don’t Pass Me By” that I love? Besides Ringo’s counting to eight near the middle of the song, which makes me laugh every time I hear it, I don’t exactly know.

Also feel free to check out Part I and Part II


One comment

  1. […] Part 2 […]

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