“I’m really glad that most of our songs were about love, peace and understanding.”
Paul McCartney, 1995.
Credit where it’s due: when I think about nasty, finger pointing songs, The Beatles aren’t the first band that comes to mind. The earlier stuff was primarily ‘I love you, you love me’ stuff. It wasn’t really until Help! that they started writing songs about other things.
“You have to be a bastard to make it, and that’s a fact. And the Beatles are the biggest bastards on earth.”
John Lennon, 1969.
That’ll be the other side of the coin then.
Bearing in mind, of course, that John and Paul both had agendas that they stick – or stuck – to religiously: Macca’s always pushing the peace and love thing and John couldn’t help but tell the world how edgy they all were.
To be fair, and it’s not difficult to be fair to The Fabs – I don’t have a favourite really – Macca’s right about most of their songs being all about peace, love and understanding. As far as being bastards goes, I don’t know really. I mean, yeah, they could be a bit ruthless, yeah George Harrison’s first and last words were probably more like a sound, that sound being, ‘meh,’ but bastards? Maybe.
Bearing in mind that Macca said that most of their records were all about love (man), the implication is that there were exceptions. I make it – on my own terms – that there are (just) seventeen songs that potentially constitute finger pointers (well, you know what I mean).
After the breakup though…
Well, let’s say that Macca doesn’t make the same claim for his solo songs as he does for The Beatles’, shall we? I’ll get to that later.
To be honest, I’m pushing it a bit with some of those 17 records, and there are – naturally – a substantial number of George Harrison songs in that number (35.5%), but they’re mainly Lennon’s (47%). Macca’s contributions constitute the remaining 17.5%. As I’ve already said, Harrison’s songs were always a bit meh in theme.
There are a few variations on the theme in the oeuvre of The Fabs, so I’m going address The Beatles’ finger pointing songs thematically.
- Poor Little Beatles.
“I was not knocking it. I was not saying we’re better or greater, or comparing us with Jesus Christ… I just said what I said and it was wrong, or it was taken wrong, and now it’s all this…”
I’m A Loser
Remember to drink that milk, folks…
“Part of me suspects I’m a loser and part of me thinks I’m God Almighty. [Laughs]”
John Lennon, 1980.
So far, Dylan’s, The Kinks’ and The Rolling Stones’ finger pointing songs that I’ve looked at have either been plain nasty or sarcastic and always, always pointing the finger at some other bastard. Lennon, perhaps anticipating my tediously pointless series of posts about such things, subverts what’s been going on so far by pointing the finger not at some girl, not at social climbers and certainly not at everybody but himself – by writing The Beatles’ very first finger pointing song about John Lennon. Pointing the finger at himself.
And that’s The Beatles all over, isn’t it? Taking existing ideas and putting a bit of a twist on them. Not necessarily being the originator of these ideas, but having enough about you so that you can incorporate the core of them whilst also stamping a bit of your personality on them. Which really is what The Beatles were all about – personality. Character. And more than love, The Beatles were all about inclusivity. I saw some graffiti on a bridge in Amsterdam which read, There is no them, only us. And that made me think of The Beatles, because that was their message, if you ask me.
The Beatles discovered Bob Dylan in 1963, after The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was given to them in Paris. Lennon – as was his won’t, we shall see this happen again and again later – immediately bought into the new guru in terms of absolutely everything (clothes, views, music, you name it); a pattern that he followed throughout his life. For Lennon, people were either, i) on a pedestal or, ii) shit on his shoes. Usually the same person, in that order. There wasn’t much in the way of grey areas in Lennon’s thinking about human beings – as we’ll see later on.
I’m A Loser is one of Lennon’s first Dylan pastiches. Appearing as the second track on side 1, it gave the impression (along with the two songs on either side of it) that Beatles For Sale was going to be yet another outstanding Beatles album – which it isn’t because after No Reply, this and Baby’s In Black, the only other half decent song on it is Eight Days A Week. Beatles For Sale is definitely in the bottom three Beatles albums, in my opinion*
It’s not a total Dylan pastiche, even though the acoustic guitar and the non love theme undoubtedly originated with Bob, because it’s too Country & Western for Bob, who wouldn’t go down that road for another four years at least. The guitars twang brightly even though they sound a bit like shoulders shrugging would, if they were made of wood and tuned, taut guitar wire. Macca’s bass, as is usual for the time, isn’t anything remarkable and Ringo, always a Country & Western boy, plays sympathetically enough.
The lyrics are where the progression is most apparent though. It opens with the bald statement of the title followed by the admission that, deep down – unlike the legions of Beatlemaniacs who thought the opposite, Lennon thinks he’s a fraud.
At heart, the loser of the title is literally a loser because he’s lost the love of a great girl and he can’t even bring himself to show the world how upset he is at his own stupidity. We have to remember that this early effort in expanding the horizons of their lyrics and it’s still pretty gauche. We don’t get to find out what it is that Lennon did and it’s a bit cliche ridden: “…a girl in a million”, “…tears falling like rain”, “…pride comes before a fall”. Still, it’s early days yet and the important thing is, he’s having a go.
So, first up – lyrically, he’s no Bob Dylan (yet), musically, it’s played pretty straight and, though it pains me to write it, it’s a bit cheap.
Macca said that the early Beatles songs were contrived in order to make their listeners (primarily teenaged girls) feel like they were talking directly to them. Love Me Do, Please, Please Me, She Loves You, I Wanna Hold Your Hand. You might say that they were a bit cynical in their use of pronouns and I’m A Loser is no different. Well, actually, it is a bit because it’s even more cynical than their first load of singles: Lennon can’t show the world at large what a loser he is, but he can confide in the people who buy his records. To be fair, I think I’m being slightly nit-picky.
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.
More Dylan-isms, this time more or less a perfect pastiche, except by now, The Fabs are doing Dylan better than Dylan did himself – gasp!
Seriously though, it couldn’t be a Dylan song from any era because it’s much too musically sophisticated. I can’t imagine Dylan would have given his right arm to have written this, or at least I can’t imagine him admitting it. Whether he would or not.
This one, by its title alone, gives us the impression that it’s about someone else: you. But I don’t think there’s much evidence to support that. It’s a figure of speech.
The acoustic guitar isn’t Dylan-esque in the slightest, being strummed lazily and not picked. The chords are too sophisticated for him too. There’s a flute solo. The tambourine is surprisingly inert, being tapped far less often than you’d expect. It’s credit to Ringo that he managed to resist the temptation to waggle it around manically because that’s what I do if I ever get my hands on a tambourine. Doesn’t everyone?
Again, it’s the lyrics that are the big advancement. Lennon showed that he didn’t just think of other people as either being fantastic or shit by commenting that he liked the slightly odd, “…feeling two foot small” line and said to (childhood friend) Pete Shotton, “Let’s leave that in, actually, all those pseuds will really love it.” Lennon enjoyed playing with words, which is what they’re there for, isn’t it? Have fun with them. Still, that quotation does nothing more than shine a spotlight onto his own ambivalent feelings about himself. Again. Whatever, the lyrics show how much Lennon was prepared to work at them because these are excellent words that match the tune beautifully.
Is it about Brian Epstein being gay? I don’t know. It’d be nice if it was is my take on it but if it’s not, it’s alright too. Forbidden love was stereotypically that between homosexuals, so maybe. The Anthology certainly did plenty to imply that it was, even if there’s not really any especially compelling evidence for it beyond the circumstantial.
But is it a finger pointing song? I’ll admit, it’s a bit tenuous, isn’t it? It is a finger pointing song in as much as the pronoun ‘you’ is utilised, but that can’t be enough and it’s not. If it is a finger pointer, it’s because it’s about one person in particular – and I think it’s about Lennon again. How can it not be? It’s written in the first person, “Here I stand…” and the “Hey! You’ve got to hide…” is prefaced by the line, “…and I hear them say…”
What was it that Lennon said about Macca’s “…boring songs about boring people doing boring things… I’m not interested in writing third-party songs. I like to write about me, ’cause I know me,”
Lennon’s pointing the finger at himself, yet again. This time though, he’s slightly more sympathetic. Even self-pitying. Still, it works and it’s a lovely song.
Only A Northern Song
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
George, as a miserable and bitter young man, wrote more than his fair share of finger pointing songs. There is a case that all of his songs are finger pointing songs, even Something (“You’re asking me will my love grow? I don’t know, I don’t know,”, or, fuck off and leave me alone). He did take a different perspective to the other two writers though: he was pointing the finger at Macca and Lennon while he was still in The Beatles. Paul, as we’ll see in a minute, would point his finger a little bit, both usually temper it by pointing the finger right back at himself. George doesn’t tend to view George as much of an issue in the conflicts that happen to George during George’s life, to be mildly oblique about it.
Taken together, Only A Northern Song, from The Yellow Submarine soundtrack and While My Guitar Gently Weeps from The White Album demonstrate the extent of George’s personality all the way from ‘If you don’t give a fuck about me, why should I give a fuck about you?’ right the way to ‘Look what a fucking mess you cunts have made; you’ve made my guitar cry, you bastards. And it’s not even my guitar because I have to get Eric Clapton in to do that so you’ll behave yourselves.’
I think what George might be getting at is that he doesn’t want to be in The Beatles anymore, but he didn’t see how he could stop. And he wanted to blame someone else. And, in some ways, I think that might be forgivable – to an extent – in George’s case.
I called him bitter and, believe you me, I felt bad about it even though I slagged him off before but if you were George Harrison, I think you might be bitter too.
Diversion – Top Ten Justifications for George Harrison’s bitterness.
- He couldn’t compete with Lennon’s or McCartney’s songs.
- He couldn’t compete with Lennon’s or McCartney’s voices.
- He couldn’t compete with McCartney’s instrumental ability.+
- He was a minor partner in The Fabs’ publishing company, meaning he earned significantly less than Lennon & McCartney.
- Macca was always going on at him.++
- He told them not go into business, Apple and all that, so when it all went to shit, he said I told you so, but still lost millions.
- All anybody ever asked him about was John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
- His natural preferred state (of being alone, for example see any of his songs) was made impossible because he was George Harrison out of The Beatles.
- He invented World Music and all anybody ever goes on about is fucking Graceland (which is my least favourite album of all time. Don’t get me started on that, and I’ve only heard about four songs off it.)
- He invented being spiritual and going off to the mystic east to absorb cosmic cultures and being a Hari Krishna and nobody ever let him forget it.
+ Macca played an awful lot of the lead guitar parts from Help! onwards, which must have pissed Harrison off. He barely touches a guitar on Sgt Pepper.
++ About everything. ‘Play this like this. Not like that, like this. No, I want you to play something that can’t be played on a guitar, on a guitar. Why can’t you do it? Stop playing. Now I’m going to play a ludicrous bass solo all the way through Something, even though it’ll still be really good, which will piss you off more. ‘ And yet, and fucking yet, when The Beatles had split up, he didn’t write one single song slagging George off. A bit of bile aimed at Lennon now and then. But, for all the niggling, for all those years, none of them added up to one poxy song pointing the finger at him for trying to look a bit like a garden gnome in 1971. Fair’s fair, eh?
End of Diversion
I’m laying it on a bit thick for sincerity but I do feel for him a bit. It can’t have been easy sometimes.
Only A Northern Song in some ways represents The Beatles perfectly. It sounds like it just cannot be arsed. At all. Obviously, Macca chivvies everything along on his busy bass guitar and Ringo’s as weird as usual. Lennon’s all over the place on glockenspiel, piano and musique concrete noises, making this a precursor to Revolution No. 9 on The White Album. George plays the Hammond organ on it, but he’s no Al Kooper and anyway, it wouldn’t suit the song, which sounds exactly like it should. The orchestra, kept waiting while George finished it off, play erratically on purpose. Just in case you didn’t ge the message. “It really doesn’t matter what chords I play, what words I say or time of day it is, cause it’s only a Northern Song,” Point taken, George.
It was rejected for Sgt Pepper and no wonder, even though it’s better than Within You, Without You. With WTWY, people just skipped it because it sounded annoying so they didn’t get chance to realise how holier-than-thou the lyrics were.
The year is 1967 and George Harrison is pointing the finger at The Man, who also happens to be Paul McCartney. And John Lennon. What will he do next?
1968. Paris burns as students clash repeatedly with Police. London experiences slightly more rubbish on the streets than usual due to a student protest that leaves Mick Jagger shaken. Khrushchev starts looking like he might turn into Stalin, crushing the Prague butterfly on a wheel. Only Soul Brother Number One, James Brown prevents Boston from burning on the night of Dr Martin Luther King’s assassination. George Harrison’s bottom lip wobbles and he spits his dummy out because nobody understands how fucking cosmic he really is.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps is, apparently, a radio classic but I don’t know if I’ve ever heard it on the radio. I can’t be listening to the right things. Actually, I don’t listen to the radio at all, so it’s possibly not all that surprising. I’ve played in quite a lot of bands over the years and nobody’s ever said they really liked it, let alone suggested having a go at playing it. Maybe it’s like those bands that appear to be popular, but you never meet anybody who admits to owning any of their records.
It starts off a bit like Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, with that strident piano rat-a-tat-tatting and Eric’s in early on. George aims for regret vocally but lands closer to whining. Macca’s overdubbed bass is much more aggressive than his usual pretty-pretty, playful Tigger-esque style. As is usually the case, Macca’s fucking spot on, on the bass.
Eric emotes all over it like the thick, boring, hapless sucker he is. The guitar’s been faffed about with to make it sound more Beatley, according to Clapton. What the fuck did he think guitars on The Beatles’ records sounded like before he turned up? Spoons? Eric Clapton’s a moron.
The tune’s inspired by Donovan, it’s an A minor descending bassline thing, which The Scottish Woody Guthrie probably showed him, along with Lennon and Macca in Rishikesh, India when they were getting taken for a ride by the Maharishi; about which, more later.
Lyrically, Harrison is well up to his usual sweeping generalisations and finger pointing. Everything’s a load of shit and nobody thinks about how sad it all makes George Harrison because if only everybody else was as in fucking tune with the universe as he is, then maybe we would all be a bit less up fucking tight. You bastards.
You Never Give Me Your Money
Macca niggled Harrison, but never bothered slagging him off. Which – I’m completely guessing – pissed George off a bit. However, Macca, even while in The Beatles, had a slight pop at John.
The highpoint of the so-called Long Medley on side 2 of Abbey Road, You Never Give Me Your Money is slightly too full of regret to truly count as a Macca finger pointer. During Abbey Road, Macca was busy inventing MOR for the 1970s, the most clear example of which is Come & Get It, which Badfinger had the hit with. This starts with a plaintive piano playing something nostalgic sounding. Macca joins in with himself on bass as Macca starts posting his lyrical finger at Lennon but then immediately backs down by repeating the same verse, but this time replacing ‘you‘ with ‘I’ or ‘me‘. Then, he immediately regresses back to jaunty Macca and a bit of light reminiscence about the early days. Credit where it’s due, there’s a drop or two of melancholy in there, primarily in George’s descending guitar part.
And that’s Paul all over, isn’t it? He starts off relatively emphatically, despite the regretful hesitancy suggested by the piano, but can’t help himself but pull the punch to Lennon’s chops. Maybe it’s because he loved him, maybe it’s because he just couldn’t go through with the nastiness that he’d begun. A bit like his anonymous postcard he sent to the Lennons later, but we’ll get to that. Who knows? He’d certainly develop a bit more nerve later on…
Preempting McCartney’s fudging of the pointing finger by four years, we find John Lennon waking up in the middle of the night, finding Nowhere Man falling, fully formed from his fingers.
A slight updating of the folk rock sound they went for on Norwegian Wood, Nowhere Man finds The Fabs narrowly avoiding being The Byrds, which they’d collided with on If I Needed Someone. The guitars are what I’d describe as fruity. High and sweet. The Beatles’ often underrated harmonies flow and ebb like dolphins leaping next to an outbound ship, propelling and supporting the tune, which is, at heart melancholy. So no, not all that finger pointing, either, except it is. It’s another slight Beatles variation on the theme; a subtle idea, which is one of the many things that they were so very good at. The key line is, “…isn’t he a bit like me and you?”
So, yeah, poor little Beatle John, in his nowhere land, but as he’s busy tarring us with his brush, we shouldn’t feel too much sympathy for him. Unless he’s trying to empathise with us, in which case, maybe we should all be grateful or something. Who can tell? It’s a sad song, prettied up as far as it can go, which makes it a little bit sadder still; something Lennon was very good at. Some might call it manipulative.
2. Classic Finger Pointing – you, you bastard!
“It’s because of you, you playing that tambourine wrong. That’s the reason why my whole life’s a misery.”
The Beatles didn’t always point the finger at themselves and take it on the chin though. They had their fair share of classic finger pointers, although they did tend to be somewhat less sardonic than The Kinks, less vitriolic than Dylan and less plain nasty than The Stones. The Fabs, fab as they were, wrote some quite unpleasant songs, but their charm prevented them from aping any of the aforementioned bands’ takes on the finger pointing song. I’m going to address this lot sub-thematically, so, deep breath and fuck you, pal…
2i – “You and your Jap tart think you’re hot shit,”
Anonymous postcard sent to John Lennon & Yoko Ono. Macca later confessed to having written it “…for a lark,”
I’m Looking Through You
“As is one’s wont in relationships, you will from time to time argue or not see eye to eye on things, and a couple of the songs around this period were that kind of thing… I don’t hold grudges so that gets rid of that little bit of emotional baggage. I remember specifically this one being about that, getting rid of some emotional baggage.”
In short, Macca dumps his emotional baggage in a song and moves on so he’s not affected by it in the longer term. That’s big of him, isn’t it? Lucky Jane.
Yet another of Macca’s Jane Asher songs relating to his unhappiness that she didn’t appear to fancy staying at home, doing the hoovering and occupying the traditional female role in the home. Macca points his finger at her when he sings, “You don’t look different but you have changed,”, which seems unfair as she was an actress when they met and she continued to be one. Macca’s real problem appears to be the opposite of what he claims because the reality was that Jane might not have looked all that different but she sure as hell hadn’t changed from the girl he met when The Fabs started getting big.
“Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight,” is sung over a swallowing, undulating and attractive melody. Jane, let’s not forget, dumped Macca live on TV in summer 1968 by claiming that he’d broken off their engagement. In a manner of speaking, he did exactly that, although he might not have realised that by having Francie Schwartz in bed with him when Jane came back to their house unexpectedly was what he was doing.
Macca paints himself as the wronged party here and, unlike in You Never Give Me Your Money, doesn’t bother to temper any of his accusatory finger pointing moves by considering his own part in the squabble. It’s mainly You – didn’t treat me right – You don’t make sense when you speak – You – used to be above me but now you’re not – You aren’t there anymore.
It’s not pleasant and, perhaps at odds with Macca’s carefully honed image of the perky everyman that he likes to put out there, it’s possibly the closest The Fabs ever got to putting down a girlfriend. Proto-Stones territory for Macca, perhaps somewhat surprisingly.
It’s also jaunty as hell. Much too perky. Trying a bit too hard to appear nonchalant about something that he clearly doesn’t feel in any way relaxed about.
And Your Bird Can Sing
A Lennon song that’s mainly known for its harmonised guitar riff that appears the start and at various points throughout the song. Other than that, the your of the title refers to Mick Jagger and his ‘bird’, who could sing, was Marianne Faithfull.
Like Macca pointing out how his bird wasn’t such hot shit in I’m Looking Through You, Lennon now tells Mick that he, too, fails to reach the dizzy heights of The Beatles. and going out with Marianne Faithfull wasn’t going to change that.
Lyrically, it’s rather more oblique and impressionistic than Macca’s, even though our Paul can’t but help himself from squeezing a little bit of impressionism in his take.
I love And Your Bird Can Sing. I really do. However, I’m not under the impression that it was a song that Lennon put an awful lot of work into. Not lyrically, anyway. It’s a toss off, but as it was The Fabs in 1966, even their toss offs wipe the floor with pretty much everybody else’s hard work. Musically, God yeah. It went through a couple of versions, one of which was a Byrds pastiche that worked reasonably well. The final version, featuring the harmonised guitars of George and (probably) Paul combining ebulliently and stratospherically must have taken a long time to work out and a similar period of time to record accurately onto tape.
While I was writing that, I realised that my brain instantly wanted to slag it off for not having had a lot of work put into it which relates to an idea I’ve already explored at length, if not especially incisively about whether it’s better to put a lot of work into something or if I’d rather something came naturally. I don’t have a definitive answer to that question yet. And probably never will.
2ii – “You either get tired of fighting for peace or you die,”
Run For Your Life
First things first, Run For Your Life is just flat bab.
In terms of my favourite three Beatles albums, in no particular order (because I can’t make my mind up about that either), I’ll go for: The White Album, Revolver and Rubber Soul. All of them are great, even if I don’t love any of them entirely all the way through. Rubber Soul is probably the least highly rated of those three which is a shame, because it’s probably more consistent than Revolver, which really does get the plaudits these days. Unless it’s tipped back to Sgt. Pepper’s again. I don’t know, I don’t really keep up.
Rubber Soul was, according to Macca, going to be an album of comedy songs. To be fair, a couple of them do have punchlines (Drive My Car and Norwegian Wood) and there are a couple of pastiche songs in Michelle (a bit Maurice Chevalier) and Girl (a touch of Zorba The Greek and also a bit of schoolboy sniggering as far as the backing vocals (tit-tit-tit) go).
Run For Your Life is not a funny song because it’s flat out nasty, a bit like The Stones’ take on the finger pointing songs of the era – 1965 again, you see.
The key line is the opening one which Lennon nicked from Elvis’ Baby, Let’s Play House: “Well, I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man,”
In the same way that born again Christians go on about their religion to excess as if to make up for their heathen years in the wilderness, Lennon’s later peacenik persona, that some (alright, just me then) found a little bit cloying, was probably a similar sort of reaction to his earlier, violent, aggressive and misogynistic personality exemplified nowhere better than in this record that just about limps alongside Rubber Soul and attaches itself onto the end of it like the remnant of a sticky turd hanging from a Cruft winner’s arse. Like Macca in I’m Looking Through You, Lennon protests too much and continued to do so for the rest of his life which, at this point, was to last only another fifteen years. Odd, isn’t it, to think that he’d be dead fifteen years after Rubber Soul? It seems a very long time before 1980, 1965.
Even on an album with Ringo’s What Goes On, on it, Run For Your Life is so mesmerisingly dreadful that I find myself just not bothering with it. It’s easier to lift the needle off the record before it even begins. And I do. Lester Bangs commented that his friends’ copies of White Light/White Heat by The Velvets always looked in pristine condition due to their never playing it, my copies of Rubber Soul are probably relatively hammered, except for the last track on side 2. Because it’s this. And it’s shite.
Yeah, it points the finger. But what has this ‘little girl’ actually done? Who knows? Lennon makes absolutely no reference to the girl, other than to threaten her. Other than that, he’s pointing the finger at himself: he’s a wicked guy and he’s got a jealous mind. Not that he admonishes himself about either of these things, preferring instead to complain about how he can’t spend his entire life making her toe the line. At least the lyrics get the correct form of toe, as opposed to the commonly incorrectly used ‘tow’. Poor John, eh? If only she’d do what he told her to do, he wouldn’t have to kill her. He sounds a bit like Vicky Waddingham, who told me, “If you didn’t keep saying such fucking stupid things, I wouldn’t have to keep beating the shit out of you, would I?”
Think For Yourself
The Beatles other noted peacenik was George Harrison, whose stab injuries at the hands of a mentally disturbed burglar were made worse as a result of him refusing to fight back and defend himself, instead preferring to chant Hari Krishna, Hari Krishna at him. Which, by all accounts, also exacerbated the situation due to his assailant’s mental issues. His wife, Olivia, had no compunction about braining the intruder with a table lamp, which probably saved his life. Fucking Om, eh? Pfff.
Prior to his spiritual conversion into the mystic East (as presciently parodied prior to the event in Help!) George wasn’t known as the most patient of the Fabs. His lyrics, more often than not, relate to what a pain in the arse somebody else is which makes him, in some ways, the finger pointers finger pointer.
As we’ve seen in Only A Northern Song and While My Guitar Gently Weeps, George was more than capable of descending into a mire of wallowing self-pity as well as being snarky. In Think for Yourself, he manages all three simultaneously which is some going.
If it’s possible for a melody to resemble a yawn, Think For Yourself has to be the number one candidate for that position. Its verses slides and rises like a Guantanamo Bay prisoner after a month of self-deprivation. By the time it gets to the chorus though, it’s transmogrified into the sound of a finger, not pointing, but wagging admonishingly in the face of whoever it is that George wishes would leave him alone. It’s all for their own good though, like any martyr will tell you, “Although your mind’s opaque/ Try thinking more if just for your own sake…” He also manages, somehow, to sing in the universally ignored tone of voice that some people appear to spend their entire lives perfecting with the line, “And you’ve got time to rectify all the things that you should…” It’s as if he’s managed to translate the teacher’s voice from the Peanuts cartoon into English which is impressive, if mystifying in terms of why anybody would want to do such a thing.
Fuck me, Think For Yourself is one boring song. Macca’s fuzzed up bass attempts without any success to liven up the deeply boring message that George has chosen to support with a deeply boring melody and deeply dull imagery.
Personally, I can’t imagine why all these people were bothering George all the time. What did they hope to get out of him? I don’t know. The best equivalent I can come up with is when I first meet someone new. I always give them a really limp handshake so that I don’t create a good first impression that I’m never going to live up to. In psychology, the idea is this: if we really like someone to start with, we often go off them a bit because who can live up to that? However, if at first we don’t like someone all that much, if you stick around enough for them to come round to you, they tend to like you more than they like the people whom they really liked when they first met them. Maybe that’s what George was getting at, although it doesn’t really sound like it. If he was, he certainly put a lot of spadework into telling everybody to bugger off and leave him alone.
2iii – “If we’d know we were going to be The Beatles, we’d have tried harder.”
Greedy bastards! I hate ’em, me.
Apropos of nothing in particular, first, let me just say how much I love that quote. George Harrison might have been a dour individual with plenty of reason to be, but he had his funny moments and that’s my favourite of his.
I just needed to say something nice about him. That’s what that was about. I do love him, even though he’s a curmudgeonly (dead) old twat.
The next three songs are all George Harrison’s. I’ve put this lot together because they have a common theme and that theme is greed and how George hates greedy people. Well, they are all about greed, but the last one? Well, I’ll get to that one.
I Me Mine, Piggies and Taxman.
I, Me, Mine is crap. Against some stiff opposition, not least from the rest of George’s songs. Recorded during the interminable Let It Be sessions, it shows George right at the end his tether. Everybody’s only interested in themselves and that makes George unhappy. The verses are in waltz time in A minor, which I don’t mind mainly because the chorus/bridge thing is just dribbling rock twaddle, in A major. A key change. Woo! Alright! Yeah, whatever George. All these people, only interested in themselves. Not like George then…
Piggies, on The White Album is a little bit better, but not by much. At least he sounds quite pleased about pointing the finger at greedy people, unlike I, Me, Mine, during which he sounds as miserable as sin about it. Piggies is full of imagery presumably inspired by the end scene of Animal Farm (The George Orwell novel, not The Kinks’ song on ...Are The Village Green Preservation Society) with these greedy pigs adopting the accoutrements of humankind, knives, forks, starched white shirts and – gasp – eating bacon. Cannibalism. Pigs are bad and they’re eating other pigs, which is also bad. It’s an allegory for man’s inhumanity to man isn’t it? All these greedy people, eh?
Which brings us neatly to Taxman, the opening song on Revolver. It’s a far better song than either of the other two in this little subsection and I attribute that to Lennon’s lyrical assistance and McCartney’s musical contributions, primarily the bass guitar and the guitar solo. The bassline has inspired, shall we say a number of other records (Start! by The Jam, New Pollution by Beck). The guitar solo was far beyond anything that Harrison was capable of producing – at that time, or any other, realistically. It’s a little bit Indian inspired and achieves so much more than “…chuck(ing) a bit of curry at it,” as a session sitar player I used to know used to say when called in to play his sitar on other bands’ – who didn’t really have any idea what they wanted him to do – recordings.
Lennon’s originality shines through on the lyrics, which are excellent.
At the time, they were paying in excess of 90% tax on their earnings and, when George found that out, began to write this song. I’m sure George would see the Taxman as being the greedy one, but that’s George all over. Living a life of luxury, playing the guitar for a living and getting everything he wanted (apart from leaving alone with his tax bills) – my little heart bleeds for him. Being in The Beatles was the best thing that ever happened to George and all he did was moan about it. He could have left, but lacked the wit.
2iv – “Maharishi, you fucking cunt…”
Sexy Sadie, original lyrics.
The Beatles, being ideas men – at least Lennon and McCartney were – generally chose to not conform to what anybody else was doing. They tended to put a slight twist on what other people were doing which is lovely, but sometimes, you just want the genuine article. Not from you, George, no.
Sexy Sadie was the first finger pointing song that came to my mind when I thought about writing a Beatles entry in this series – which I’m now sick of writing about.
Everybody who’s interested knows that this is about the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, with whom The Fabs went to India to get all cosmic. What happened was that Lennon, in particular – and as usual – didn’t really do half-measures. If he was into something, he was really into it. Then, later, he fucking hated them because they turned out to be fallible. You know, like people are.
Earlier versions reputedly (I’ve not heard them) show Lennon not bothering at all in terms of hiding the object of his loathing, allegedly shouting the quotation I put at the top of this entry.
As far as finger pointing songs go, this is the one. The piano that starts it off sounds like somebody who generally can’t be arsed with much getting up and inhaling so that they can have a go at whichever nobhead has pissed them off. The music’s great, the lyrics are great – it’s an unqualified success. Radiohead ripped it off for Karma Police, especially the I’m-fucking-knackered-but-I’ll-make-the-effort-seeing-as-you’re-a-cunt feel about it.
While George and Macca immersed themselves quite deeply into finger pointing songs by 1969, taking particular aim at The Beatles, Lennon didn’t. This is his last finger pointing song that he wrote whilst in The Beatles. After that, I think he just stopped giving a shit. A bit like if you hand your notice in at a job you don’t care for and you just doss around for your period of notice. As far as Lennon was concerned, he’d left The Beatles in mind if not in body. The lack of vitriol spewed at Macca in particular suggests to me that he didn’t give a fuck, really. Also, being on heroin tends to have that effect on its users. Bearing in mind that he and Yoko had become a 24/7 item by that point too, he was loved up and possibly not really in the mood to start sniping, especially seeing as she espoused peace and love, peace and love – at least ostensibly, even if it wasn’t something she really and truly believed in – and why would she? No bugger was being especially peace and lovey towards her then, and wouldn’t be for at least another forty or fifty years and even then, not really.
Like John’s attitude towards Macca by the late 1960s, I suspect the general public just stopped caring so much. Yoko’s difficult to love, for all sorts of reasons (she seems quite entitled on videos with The Beatles, her ‘singing’ isn’t going to garner many fans of pop music, she’s quite abrasive and arrogant despite the reality that she’s primarily known as John Lennon’s wife. Yeah, yeah, she was in Fluxus, the avant-garde art thing, but it’s hardly Van Gogh and Paul Cezanne, is it? It’s a bunch of middle class hipsters doing their best to annoy people who aren’t middle class hipsters).
Diversion – Fluxus film night.
When I was in my relatively late twenties, I went to a night of Fluxus films at Hull Screen, which was the same place where I’d been taken to see Snoopy Come Home, my first film at the pictures.
It was going to be about a four hour thing, with all of these silent, black and white, extremely slow and boring films running one after the next. The films were all about twenty minutes long, I suppose even though it felt much longer.
What I learned was that, in situations like that – faced with a four hour marathon of short, silent films in which nothing at all ever happens, at all – people make their own entertainment and that was what I enjoyed most about the night.
At some point during about the third film – so a little bit less than an hour into it – someone in the audience – behind me – shouted out, “This is fucking shit,” which elicited a few titters.
A kid about four rows in front of me turned round and said in the most stereotypically middle class, southern student accent you can possibly imagine, “Hey, look man, if you don’t like it, why don’t you just fack off, yeah?”
As one, the audience all said, “Ooohhh!”, like an old woman holding her handbag, which I thought was terrific.
The middle class student turned round and said to the crowd, “Hey guys, I’m sorry, I was just getting into it, you know?”
That was the highlight, really. The only other remotely interesting thing that happened was after about two hours, at which point I decided I needed more drugs if I was going to tolerate this high faluting bollocks for much longer and headed towards the exit at the back of the cinema and what I found there has stuck with me since.
There were about fifteen people standing right at the back, one bloke with his hand on the door handle, having opened it about five millimetres, but looking over his shoulder at the screen, which was showing a close up of a woman’s eye and had been for the last fifteen minutes. Everyone else at the back was similarly facing the not-really-opened doors, but with their heads turned towards the screen and I realised what was happening.
I say I realised, maybe I didn’t, but I had an idea and it was this: people couldn’t believe that this was it. Nothing happening at all. I think they thought that, at some point, something was actually going to happen. Maybe they thought a plot would emerge, or possibly some recognisable character that they might identify with, or maybe just Yoko Ono’s face would appear and she’d say, “Ahhhh!” or something.
Naturally, nothing happened. Well, I say nothing happened, but I don’t know that because I walked past them and went to kill a few more brain cells before I could even bring myself to cope with any more of that shite.
But, as I say, it stuck with me, all those people who couldn’t stand watching these rubbishy films but who also couldn’t stand the idea that, the minute they walked out, they might miss something. I suppose somebody might explain something more complicated with something like that. You know, throwing good money after bad, people sticking in relationships that have pretty much carked it – things might improve.
Maybe Yoko’s films improved after I left, but I doubt it. It’s a chance I was prepared to take.
End of Diversion.
So yeah, Lennon certainly produced at least one proper finger pointing song that didn’t embellish someone else’s ideas for a change. Unlike Bob Dylan, who never really named the people his songs were about, Lennon couldn’t help himself. I doubt anybody in the world over the age of about twenty who’s into The White Album is unaware of the target of this record.
3. “There were all these other things to contend with, plus the screaming… I was holding on, thinking, no, no, no. You can’t just not do it, you know? You should just do it and work it all out.”
Paul McCartney (on not touring, but it could apply to quite a lot of Mactivities. Cheers.)
You’re a naughty little sausage, aren’t you? Go on, you little tyke!
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer did John’s head in.
“That’s Paul’s. I hate it. ‘Cuz all I remember is the track – he made us do it a hundred million times. He did everything to make it into a single and it never was and it never could’ve been…”
George was slightly less abrasive, but not by much…
“Sometimes Paul would make us do these really fruity songs. I mean, my God, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer was so fruity…”
Even Ringo weighs in on this fruity little song…
“The worst session ever was Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. It was the worst track we ever had to record. It went on for fucking weeks…”
Paul likes to justify it from time to time and he has no truck with the other three fabs’ moaning…
“They got annoyed because Maxwell’s Silver Hammer took three days to record. Big deal.”
I can see where all of them are coming from, although I’m mainly with John on this one – the time spent on Maxwell’s Silver Hammer was time spent polishing a turd. I do enjoy referring to things as ‘fruity’ though.
Macca, when he’s not being snarky about the others’ attitude towards it, has spent time explaining what it’s about…
“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer was my analogy for when something goes wrong out of the blue, as it so often does… We still use that expression even now when something unexpected happens.”
I bet the long winter nights just fly by on the Mull of Kintyre, don’t they?
Paul wasn’t much of a finger pointer at this point, not in terms of writing songs, anyway. He’d get better later on but while in The Beatles, not so much. In fact, this is more or less an anti-finger pointing song: rather than point the finger at another human being, he makes up a bogeyman to blame which is a bit of a cop out, isn’t it? Hence the naughty little sausage sub heading.
And it’s shit.
4. Postscript: Post Fab Whingeing.
“Her life is dedicated to putting me down. That’s what she seems to do all the time. Yoko is a law unto herself.”
Paul McCartney on Yoko Ono.
Lennon v Macca:
i) Too Many People – Macca.
Macca’s first real swipe at Lennon came on his second solo album, credited to Paul and Linda McCartney (in order to siphon some publishing money away from Allen Klein, who he’d ended up suing the other three about).
Following an inauspicious start at finger pointing with Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, which was a cop out anyway, he does the Macca thing of picking himself up, dusting himself down and having another pop. This time, the target is John Lennon. And Yoko Ono. Especially Yoko.
As we’ll see in a minute, Lennon heard this and knew exactly what the deal was. Macca tried to be a bit cute when he was asked about it.
“…you know, there were a few digs on his album before mine. He’s so obscure other people didn’t notice them, but I heard them…”
“I was looking at my second solo album, Ram, the other day and I remember there was one tiny little reference to John in the whole thing. He’d been doing a lot of preaching, and it got up my nose a little bit. In one song, I wrote, ‘Too many people preaching practices,’ I think is the line. I mean, that was a little dig at John and Yoko. There wasn’t anything else on it that was about them. Oh, there was ‘You took your lucky break and broke it in two…They thought the whole album was about them. And then they got very upset… That was the kind of thing that would happen. They’d take one small dig out of proportion and then come back at us in their next album.”
See how he squirms, eh?
Listen carefully with the sound up at the very start and you’ll hear Macca utter “Piss off,” which he eventually admitted was directed at Lennon, but only after he’d tried to claim he was practising saying “Piece of cake.” for years. He’s also being somewhat disingenuous – or perhaps he regretted putting it out and was trying to limit any damage, but it was a waste of time because Lennon, if nothing else, was one of the world’s premier paranoid people at that time.
It’s bitchy. Spiteful. On the other hand, it’s not as if Macca was the only person in the world for whom the Lennon’s sanctimony was getting a bit rich. Yoko’s hard to warm to as Lennon’s Imagine film amply demonstrates: she’s an abrasive pain in the arse who evidently thinks that her input is desperately needed when, frankly, it wasn’t. Look at the facial expressions of the musicians around her as she goes from each one, telling them how to play their parts and they all nod, tight-lipped, occasionally glancing in Lennon’s direction, who’s always looking somewhere else at that point. Personally, I quite enjoy a bit of Yoko Ono – I’ve got her first two albums and, while they’re hardly worn down through overplaying, I do enjoy them from time to time.
It’s a step into uncharted waters for Macca though – pointing the finger at someone in particular without tarting it up too much like he did with his Jane Asher songs – and the fact that his finger is sort of pointing at John, it’s mainly pointing at Yoko. He’s playing to the crowd though, which seems a bit weak if, as I say, understandable.
He’d (briefly) get ever so slightly more direct (not that he ever admitted to it) before chickening out completely. But that’s still to come.
ii) Three Legs
Paul, as we’ve heard, claimed that the Lennons believed that Ram was entirely about them and uncomplimentary with it before he later admitted that, yeah, okay, Too Many People had a line about them in it, when in reality, it was all about the pair of them – or at least Yoko. Still, he’s the one pushing the “The Beatles were all about peace, love and understanding…” isn’t he?
Three Legs, the second song on Ram (after Too Many People) was also about Lennon. But again, not just Lennon, but this time it was about George and Ringo too. But mainly Lennon.
When I thought you was my friend/But you let me down/Put my heart around the bend, could be seen as being oblique. Indeed, taking a page out of Lennon’s book (he claimed Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds wasn’t a coded reference to LSD, but rather inspired by his little boy’s painting of a girl in his class that provided the song’s title – maybe he did but, let’s face it, it’s about LSD, isn’t it?) by claiming it was inspired by a drawing by Paul and Linda’s daughter Heather. Again, maybe it was, but actually it’s about how great it is to be free of the other three fabs.
Like A Rolling Stone, it ain’t. While Dylan used imagery (mystery tramp, etc) in order to be a bit oblique about his target, Paul’s imagery is pretty clunky. It’s got all the subtlety of a (silver) hammer to the face which makes it seem slightly worse.
When my daughter was at primary school, she told me a story about a couple of girls in her class. One of them was slagging the other off and the girl (who’s called Holly Hyde) overheard and challenged her about it. The girl doing the slagging off tried to backpedal and claimed she wasn’t talking about that Holly Hyde, she was talking about her Dutch cousin, Holly Heed. I know, right? Pull the other one. My favourite expression in response to people who do things like that is, “Don’t piss on my shoes and tell me it’s raining,” and I guess that’s what Lennon thought when Macca tried to make out it was about a drawing.
Still not too direct and the denial that followed it just made it seem even more pathetic. At least have the courage of your convictions, eh?
To be fairer to Macca, Lennon also thought Dear Boy – also on Ram – was another snide swipe at him, but actually, that one wasn’t. It was a variation on the finger pointing song though because, instead of being snide like Dylan, sardonic like The Kinks or plain nasty like The Rolling Stones, this one took the angle of the clever primary school teacher (or parent) who doesn’t shout angrily at their child, but instead tells them how disappointed they are in them. This one was about Linda’s first husband and the lyrics bear that thought out. The problem Macca had was that, having told so many lies about his finger pointing songs directed at the Lennons, nobody believed him when he was telling the truth. Macca cries wolf, I suppose.
iii) How Do You Sleep (You Cunt)?
In response to Macca’s finger pointing songs about him, real and imagined, Lennon did what Lennon always did, which was to up the ante as if to say, “You think you can be a cunt? You don’t know anything: this is how you act the cunt, mate.”
How Do You Sleep is probably the most obvious and famous Beatle finger pointing song and it hit Paul hard. Earlier versions of the lyrics had him calling Macca a “cunt.” Allen Klein suggested a change in the lyrics from “The only thing you done was Yesterday/You probably pinched that bitch anyway” which he felt might lead to a legal challenge that Lennon – and thus Klein – would lose. But it goes to show that what he released was -relatively – pleasant, at least in comparison to what Lennon originally had in mind.
And it’s still full of bile and vinegar. So much so that it lead to Macca deciding that he’d gotten himself involved in a fight that he wasn’t going to win, hence…
iv) Dear Friend.
“Dear Friend was written about John, yes. I don’t like grief and arguments, they always bug me. Life is too precious, although we often find ourselves guilty of doing it. So after John has slagged me off in public, I had to think of a response, and it was either to be [to] slag him off in public—some instinct stopped me, which I’m really glad about—or do something else. So I worked on my attitude and wrote Dear Friend, saying, in effect, let’s lay the guns down, let’s hang up our boxing gloves.”
Well, sort of… With a title like Dear Friend, it was always going to be difficult to interpret it as anything other than an olive branch although Macca can’t help himself but get the odd sly dig in here and there.
“…are you afraid or is it true?” and “…are you a fool or is it true?” Neither of which are especially friendly, shall we say?
Macca likes to paint himself as the reasonable everyman and, obviously, there’s no way that he is. I’ve said before, if you’d been Paul McCartney since you were 19 years old, you’d be a fruitcake too, so I don’t blame him. He could be a lot less normal than he is, but how is he supposed to know what “normal” is actually like? So yeah, he’s a touch disingenuous, but I can more or less forgive him that. Which is big of me, isn’t it?
Harrison post beatles whinges:
George, like everybody else in The Beatles apart from Paul McCartney, walked out for a short while before deciding he’d better return to the fold. Actually, Macca did walk out, but only for an afternoon (during the recording of She Said, She Said, during the Revolver sessions – George recorded the bass part in his absence). George wrote this song after Paul had done his head in by bossing him around, telling him how to play the guitar during a rehearsal of I’ve Got A Feeling, as seen in the Let It Be film.
A wah-wah is a guitar pedal that makes a, well, wah-wah sound. It was supposed to sound like a muted trumpet but didn’t really. Most famously, I suppose, it’s what made the wacka-wacka sound on Isaac Hayes’ Theme From Shaft. George repurposed it by using it as a name for a headache. “You’re giving me a wah-wah...” he sang. Which was ironic because all the way through the Let It Be film, he’s playing through a wah-wah pedal on absolutely fucking everything. You won’t hear it on the album because, I suspect, somebody had a word with him about it.
The finger’s squarely pointed at McCartney, although he’s not mentioned by name. By the time of Let It Be, there were three fabs on one side and Macca on the other.
“Paul wanted nobody to play on his songs until he decided how it should go. For me it was like: ‘What am I doing here? This is painful!”
Still, let’s not pretend that Macca was the only one for whom Yoko Ono’s presence in the studio (in a bed, eating George’s digestive biscuits (the worst biscuits in the world)) was a step too far…
“Then superimposed on top of that was Yoko, and there were negative vibes at that time. John and Yoko were out on a limb. I don’t think he wanted much to be hanging out with us, and I think Yoko was pushing him out of the band, inasmuch as she didn’t want him hanging out with us.”
I think he was probably right, to be honest. Yoko Ono, whatever else she was, wasn’t a person whose brain often entertained the concept of “Maybe I should keep my mouth shut,” very often, if ever. And, yes, why should she? Because she wasn’t in The fucking Beatles, was she? That’s why.
Still, George was well practised in the art of writing “Fuck off and leave me alone” songs and this was just continuing that well trodden path that he’d walked for years. Had it not been Yoko, it’d have been someone else, let’s face it.
Sue Me, Sue You Blues.
George’s other primary trope in the songwriting stakes (apart from, ‘God, I’m so fucking cosmic, why must I tolerate all these fucking breadheads, man?) was the moaning-about-money songs (see also Taxman).
This song points the finger at Allen Klein, latterly the manager of The Fabs and the focal point of Macca suing the other three because they signed up with him instead of Linda McCartney’s father. Lennon was never going to sign to a manager who was in Paul’s family, I don’t know why Macca persisted. Still…
Eventually, the other three worked out that Klein was screwing them royally and George was the one who pointed his finger at him in song. You might expect acid tongued Lennon to have been the one who pointed his finger at him, what with him being so good at it and all, but he didn’t. I don’t know, but suspect, that Lennon had been so publicly vocal about how great Klein was that he felt he might face accusations of being flakey and inconsistent – not to mention the possibility of Macca getting to say, “I told you so,” in the papers, which he did anyway.
“Well, you serve me and I’ll serve you
Swing your partners, all get screwed
Bring your lawyer and I’ll bring mine
Get together, and we could have a bad time.”
Bad times, eh? Harrison’s singing about Klein, but it could really be about any lawyer who, traditionally, are seen as being somewhat parasitical.
Same old, same old blues from Harrison, whose lyrical topics were as limited as his singing range.
Ringo: Early 1970
And so, finally, to Ringo. Never known until recently as a curmudgeon, he doesn’t buck the stereotype here either. Perhaps it was out of practicality: not being much of a writer, his solo albums relied on the other three contributing a song or two each. George, in particular, helped him with his first single (It Don’t Come Easy) which I have a big soft spot for. Not least because George is playing his guitar through a Leslie speaker which gives a warbling, swirling sound – you can hear it most prominently on Something, but it’s great on It Don’t Come Easy too.
Early 1970 isn’t a finger pointing song at all. If anything, it’s an anti-finger pointing song because it’s about how much he loves the other three and how he wishes they could all be friends again and how, when he sees them, they all play with him – albeit separately.
There’s a verse for each of them, including Ringo. He’s not arch, or nasty because I don’t think he had it in him at that point. If anything, he tries to be funny (ha-ha, not peculiar) and he’s, as he used to be, self-deprecating.
And bless him, you know? The other three certainly fell out with each other, but less so with Ringo. The closest anyone came to being horrible to Ringo was when George and John sent him round to Macca’s house with a writ and Macca threw him out.
Lennon and George soon made friends – and I wonder how much of that was to piss Macca off. George had been Macca’s friend at school and Lennon never viewed him as remotely equal to him, not that Macca did either, but Harrison didn’t play on any of Macca’s albums. George is on How Do You Sleep… Mind you, nor did Ringo. Lennon appeared on precisely no Harrison solo records either…
So, a conclusion is probably in order. Lennon was a natural finger pointer, what with his defensive acid tongue; George’s experience in The Beatles – which can’t have been easy – might have turned him into a bit of a whiner; Macca had a go at it but, despite having a very snide side to him, tended to pull his punches as (perhaps) him pointing his finger would have been very much at odds with his public persona. Ringo, on the other hand, really didn’t have it in him – artistically or in terms of his demeanour.
The finger pointing songs that The Beatles recorded often had a bit of a twist to them, as did most of the things they did. Nobody’s ever going to mistake any of their finger pointing songs for Dylan’s, even if Lennon was certainly inspired by them. The Rolling Stones’ finger pointers were far too gauche to be mistaken for Fabs songs and Ray Davies’ finger pointing songs showed far too much in the way of a detached, sardonic eyebrow raise to have been remotely Beatlesy.
The Fabs’ finger pointing songs, like everything else they did, were unmistakably their own take and also like almost everything else they did, were full of ideas – which isn’t something you could really accuse The Rolling Stones of (apart from when Brian Jones was with them).
As he would have doubtless preferred, I’ll give the final word to Lennon.
“It’s not about Paul, it’s about me. I’m really attacking myself. But I regret the association, well, what’s to regret? He lived through it. The only thing that matters is how he and I feel about these things and not what the writer or commentator thinks about it. Him and me are okay.”
*The other two contenders? Let It Be and Help! (especially – no, only – side 2)