Friday, August 12, 2011

The 5 Most Creepy Moments in Beatles History

I really like The Beatles. Don’t get me wrong—I find their music to be innovative and enjoyable, even in their sickeningly sweet sugar pop roots. They really pushed the bar and set the standards for what a band could produce, both in songwriting ability and studio recordings.

However, the meanings of words and phrases can shift over the years. The Beatles’ discography happens to be quite extensive, and they weren’t afraid to say things that could be considered controversial at the time, so their records are a goldmine of semi-questionable language that has shifted over the years. When you factor in that 75% or more of their music is romance-oriented, this makes for quite the collection of romantic euphemisms.

Without insulting these four fantastic songwriters too much, I present to you The 5 Most Creepy Moments in Beatles History.

  1. I Saw Her Standing There
Going all the way back to the beginning of The Beatles’ professional recording career, we find this classic song at the very beginning of their very first LP. And we don’t need to go further than the very first line to get the fifth creepiest moment in the Beatles discography.

As the song kicks into its immediate rock n’ roll groove, Paul McCartney croons this line:

“Well she was just seventeen, you know what I mean?”

No, Paul, what exactly do you mean? This could just be an innocent rhyme intended to kick off a song about a pretty girl, and Paul was only twenty years old at the time he wrote this anyway, so it’s doubtful that he’d be tried for statutory rape and forced to register as a sex offender for life according to today’s standards. However, the vague “you know what I mean?” leaves one’s mind searching for exactly what he’s implying. It's like he's elbowing you while pointing at a girl who's way too young to be looking at that way and acting like it's completely appropriate when it's clearly not.

Actually, it was not Paul, but in fact John Lennon who devised this line, saving the song from one of the most hideous opening lines for a debut album of all time. According to Paul:

I had "She was just seventeen," and then "Beauty queen". When I showed it to John, he screamed with laughter, and said "You're joking about that line, aren't you?"

The two agreed to replace the ill-conceived rhyme with the line in question, and history was made. Creepy history.

  1. Getting Better
If the vagueness of “I Saw Her Standing There” was what made that song so disturbing, it’s the matter-of-fact tale of anger management issues related by Paul McCartney in “Getting Better” that makes it just a tad bit creepier. It comes close to the end of the immaculate and legendary Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, quite a bit further along The Beatles’ lifespan. McCartney introduces his history of anger within seconds of the song’s start:

“I used to get mad at my school,” he sings. What exactly is it, Paul, that made you so angry?

“Teachers that taught me weren’t cool,” he continues. Well, that’s reasonable. You’re not cool, so I’m angry! But at least he admits that it’s getting better all the time, right? Not quite. By the second verse, he still hasn’t learned his lesson.

“Me used to be angry young man,” he says, clearly suffering from the inability to properly form a sentence due to ignoring his uncool teachers. Again, though, he promises that his uncontrollable rage is getting better all the time—until the third verse comes, after he’s blissfully wed.

“I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved,” he matter-of-factly states. However, he reminds everyone that he’s really just misunderstood and that he promises not to do it again.

“Man, I was mean, but I’m changing my scene, and I’m doing the best that I can,” he swears, and then reminds us for the rest of the song that it's indeed getting better all the time. Sounds like the hollow promises of a serial domestic abuser to me.

  1. Dig a Pony
By the time the Beatles had decided to “Get Back” to their roots and play some good ol’ fashioned rock music, John Lennon had done every drug in the book and fried his brain not entirely unlike the eggs in those old anti-drug PSAs. In this song from the group’s last official LP, he discreetly reveals his passion for farm animals.

“I-I-I-I-I dig a pony,” he croons, “Well, you can celebrate anything you want.” That’s good to know, John. I guess ponies are the kind of thing you might have at a birthday party, so that kind of makes sense.

“I-I-I-I-I do a road hog,” he continues, “Well, you can penetrate any place you go.” What? Umm... did you... what? Are you saying that... never mind. I don’t even want to know.

“Yes, you can penetrate any place you go! I told you so!” he shouts, as my skin begins to crawl. This song has most definitely taken a turn for the worse, and we’re only 45 seconds in.

“I-I-I-I-I pick a moon dog,” he begins, as I shut off the song.

  1. Run For Your Life
Keeping with the themes of underage women and violent rage, this tune came at the end of the classic Rubber Soul album. John Lennon hadn’t quite lost his mind yet, but he nonetheless penned this tune of domestic abuse that not only reaches far beyond McCartney’s “Getting Better,” but is apparently written from the point of view of a delusional jealous pedophile. Eight seconds into the song, he wastes no time getting to the point.

“Well, I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man,” he admits. But that’s only the beginning. The catchy refrain says it all:

“You better run for your life if you can, little girl. Hide your head in the sand, little girl. Catch you with another man, that’s the end, little girl.”

Then George Harrison’s perky guitar jingles a few happy notes while we imagine a full-grown, hairy John Lennon running around a playground with a meat cleaver. But wait, maybe he was only kidding!

“Well, you know that I’m a wicked guy and I was born with a jealous mind,” he reminds us as he begins the second verse. Another refrain, another cooky guitar solo courtesy of Harrison while we envision screaming children scattering like pigeons from a deranged Lennon as he homes in on one small child.

“Baby, I’m determined, and I’d rather see you dead,” he viciously promises, and sings another refrain. “You better run for your life if you can, little girl.” If this doesn’t make you feel ill, you’re not interpreting it literally enough. (Lennon would later admit that this was the song he most regretted writing, taking a literal look at it himself.)

  1. Little Child
I don’t mean to pick on John Lennon. He just chose the most awful euphemisms while writing some of his music. Sure, it wasn’t unheard of for unlikely synonyms like “baby,” “little girl,” and “child” to make it into romantic tunes of the time. It was also common for Lennon to write lullabies and silly songs for children. Judging by the title of the song, you might expect this song to fit that theme.

On the A-side of the 1963 release With the Beatles, this song was pretty early in The Beatles’ career, and was an up-tempo dance tune. McCartney admitted that it was a “filler track,” and so very little attention was given to the content of the song. If only they had thought about it just a little harder.

As was common on Beatles albums, Ringo Starr often sang one of the songs. Lennon and McCartney wrote this for him to sing, but Starr backed off from the ill-conceived subject matter to sing the much more grown-up “I Wanna Be Your Man.” I can’t blame him.

The song begins with a strong rock n’ roll backbeat and the boys waste no time getting to the lyrics:

“Little child, little child,” they sing in a hypnotic manner, “little child, won’t you dance with me?” Lennon and McCartney could be having a bit of innocent fun at a family function, but then things get worse.

“I’m so sad and loooonely,” they harmonize in a highly disturbing manner. I think it’s this line, borrowed from the song “Whistle My Love” by Elton Hayes, that really sends shivers up my spine. But the worst is yet to come.

“If you want someone to make you feel so fine, then we’ll have some fun while you’re mine, all mine,” they sing. “So come on, come on, come on!”

At this point, I’d like to clarify that I’m well aware that they’re speaking to an anonymous of-age romantic partner, but the repeated use of “little child” is just completely unnecessary, and it sends the tone of this song off in the exact opposite direction of where it was supposed to go. Regardless, they feel the need to remind us that they intend to dance with a little child, then jump into this gem:

“When you’re by my side you’re the only one. Don’t you run and hide, just come on, come on!”

The real humor here, of course, is the upbeat tempo, party atmosphere, and generally having-fun feel of the song while they sing these horrifically creepy lyrics. Just imagine for a moment: A cheruby John Lennon and a fresh-faced Paul McCartney on opposite microphones, big grins on their faces, singing these highly inappropriate words to a room full of concertgoers who all become simultaneously disgusted and walk out. Hey, I’m not the only one who feels this way!

Well, we’re only talking about a handful of songs from The Beatles’ 300+ song catalog, so their batting average is actually pretty good. There’s bound to be one or two songs that slip by that really sound like the confessions of a child molester, right?

3 comments:

  1. Nice blog, I happened to notice the line in Getting Better about wife beating and so wanted to see if anyone else had picked up on that before...can't really think of a suitable explanation for that other than they were singing about someone else and were actually highlighting the issue of domestic abuse in their songs?

    As for the child references, I think perhaps it's more just a different time, language and it's appropriate use changes. And as for the lullaby type songs, perhaps that's because John was a father?

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  2. You're an idiot. Get a life, who has time for this nonsense? 17 wasn't that young to be dating someone that was only 21. You my friend, have too much time on your hands and not enough common sense to know, they sold records and made hits with the lyrics they chose.

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    Replies
    1. Sorry you didn't get the joke.

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