My Beatles Favorites, Part IV

September 5, 2009

Yeah, I know. I’m slacking. Here’s another 5 Beatles songs that I love too much to ever really discuss reasonably, but insist on analyzing even though I have a lot of other stuff I should be doing. 20 down, 25 to go!


“Got to Get You Into My Life”

Album: Revolver

“Got to Get You Into My Life” is a boisterous track, featuring an atypically prominent horn section, remarkably little guitar, and an organ. The trumpets and saxophones are just a bit too energetic to be considered soul. Instead they allow the song to convey the same giddy sentiment as its lyrics.

On the surface, the song is about a guy who starts over and beings to look at his life in a different light by changing the way he lives. Along the way he falls in love at first sight. He decides immediately that the girl must be his.

His devotion is at once naïve and romantic. His declarations of “say we’ll be together everyday” and “you were meant to be near me” would be creepy but for the earnestness and simplicity with which they’re sung. As of yet, it appears that his love is unrequited, but there is no despair in the song. He’s purely hopeful that he’ll get her into his life.

More interesting are the lines “If I am true I’ll never leave and if I do I know they way there.” The conditions he proposes are quite contradictory. If he’s true he won’t ever leave her, but what if he isn’t? And even though he’ll never leave, if he does, he will come back. It seems he doesn’t understand his own feelings but is still desperate to act on them, and he sees himself potentially being unfaithful, but as someone who will always return in the end.

And then there’s the fact that I remember reading something about how this song was just about pot. I guess that works too.

“Happiness Is a Warm Gun”

Album: The Beatles

If there is one track that belongs on the masterfully disjointed White Album, it’s probably “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.” The song consists of five distinctly different pieces with their own musical and lyrical style, strung seamlessly together.

The first part is backed by a slow, calm guitar piece, played one climbing note at a time as Lennon mentions a girl. Almost immediately begin the sounds of short, stabbing guitar chords, followed by a series of powerfully evocative, yet confusing, unrhymed verse.

While lines such as the woman being “well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand” is almost overtly sexual, the rest of the lines perhaps need a bit more decoding.

From my understanding, the line about “the man in the crowd with the multi-colored mirrors on his hobnail boots” is a reference to an actual man who would wear mirrored boots to soccer games to look up women’s skirts, and the man “lying with his eyes while his hands are busy working overtime” refers to another who would put prosthetic hands on shop counters while he used his real ones to stuff things in his pockets and the shopkeepers wouldn’t notice. And the line about “donat[ing] to the national trust” is apparently about public defecation. In about eight lines of song, Lennon covers a number of taboo subjects completely unsuspected.

Next, a buzzing guitar foreshadows the lyrics “I need a fix ‘cause I’m going down.” There’s no masking this blatant drug reference, but almost before they can even sink in, the listener is bombarded with the cryptic repeated line “mother superior jumped the gun.” Not even my wacky conjecture gives any precise meaning to what this may mean. It’s back with even more distortion, and guitar notes that climb, and then descend, and then climb yet again.

The song ends with a distorted doo-wop call and answer. The title of the song comes from a magazine cover. It struck Lennon as bizarre because it basically meant that happiness meant shooting something. It’s especially eerie considering his murder.

Given that the rest of the song is all over the place, it’s not a stretch to say that the “bang bang, shoot shoot” is not just the sound of a gun, but also possibly a reference to shooting up heroin, or even a sexual one. Lennon’s raspy spoken shout of “when I feel my finger on your trigger, don’t you know nobody can do me no harm” supports the last.

But more important than understanding what the hell Lennon was talking about is just enjoying the song… but I guess if you read this than it’s too late for you now.

“Helter Skelter”

Album: The Beatles

“Helter Skelter” can best be described as a very successful attempt at giving some of the harder 60’s bands a run for their money. Here, Paul gives his most powerful vocal performance over loud, buzzy guitars, repeated bending guitar notes, and almost equestrian-sounding percussion.

Before I wrote this, I had no idea that a helter skelter is a British term for a slide at a fair. More commonly it summons the idea of chaos, which is represented well by the song’s general sound of crashing percussion, distinctive guitar sound, sound effects reminiscent of wild animals, and  John and George’s choiry backing vocals.

On different levels the song might be about a slide, or the fall of the Roman empire, or sex. It’s fraught with false ends, which just adds to the chaos of the song. Apparently the whole band got really keyed up during the recording of the song. George allegedly set an ashtray on fire and ran around holding it above his head. But it’s the sound of Ringo’s drumsticks hitting the ground and his exasperated “I got blisters on my fingers!” at the song’s end that are probably what got this track onto my list of favorites.

“Here Comes the Sun”

Album: Abbey Road

FINALLY I’m getting to the George songs on my list. Considering that he’s my favorite Beatle he’s been sadly underrepresented in my list so far. Rest assured that this is only because I feel that his best songs don’t come until later in the alphabet.

“Here Comes the Sun” was one of many songs that proved that George could write as well as John or Paul. I feel like the Lennon/McCartney repertoire was always bettered by the intense brotherhood and rivalry between John and Paul, who would always push each other to be better and always seek to one-up the other. George was always kind of on his own, but eventually his talents began to rival those of the group’s more celebrated writers.

The song goes straight into the chorus à la “She Loves You” and “Can’t Buy Me Love,” a Beatles technique that had all but been abandoned at this point. Immediately the pretty acoustic guitar riff, later accompanied with synthesizer, sets the straightforwardly cheery tone of the rest of the song, which is simply about realizing that things are changing for the better and embracing it.

And while George would never really infiltrate the Lennon/McCartney songwriting team, he did befriend and become very close to Eric Clapton. This is pertinent to this song in particular because George wrote it in Clapton’s garden on one of Clapton’s acoustic guitars.

“I Need You”

Album: Help!

After George’s first song to make the cut, “Don’t Bother Me,” it was quite a while before his next solo songwriting credit. During that hiatus he must have been doing something right, because his track on Help!, “I Need You,” shows a very apparent improvement, both lyrically and musically, that mirrors the changes that Paul and John were making on their songs.

In this song about unrequited love and wanting a loved one to return after a breakup, the lyrics are simple but relatable. In his desperation he views the situation as something that’s impossible to cope with unless he gets his girl back. In his lonely desperation he pleads with her, expecting her to accept his invitation back into his life.

In typical Beatles fashion, the music does a great job of playing precisely to the sentiment of the lyrics. The sharp pairs of guitar chords at the end of each line are almost discordant and nearly off-time, but not quite, so that they’re striking but not ugly. They seem almost the sonification of the singer’s desperation and heartache.

Oh, and the song has a cowbell. You can never go wrong with cowbell.


If you enjoyed this, please check out the previous entries…

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


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