Thursday, October 28, 2010

She's A F*ck-Up

Yesterday, I ended up writing about what I called the "charming fuck-ups" in certain Beatles songs1. As is the case with most of my posts, that is not exactly what I intended to discuss when I first sat down to type. I had intended to talk about "She's a Woman" — specifically about how it's a great song despite its truly embarrassingly bad lyrics. So it's a charming fuck-up of a song, but I somehow ended up not even including it in yesterday's litany of charming Beatles fuck-ups.

Maybe that's because the lyrics, technically speaking, aren't a fuck-up (at least, not in the "mistake" sense of "fuck-up"), but they are fucked up. I remember years ago, Teh 'Bro's saying to me, "I was listening to an early Beatles album this morning and there was this song that came on — a really great one — and it just hit me for the first time how truly awful the lyrics were. But now I can't remember what song it was."

"'She a Woman'?" I ventured.

"That's the one!" he said.

Just as we all should be glad that John prevailed upon Paul to keep that "the movement you need is on your shoulder" lyric for "Hey Jude" (see FN1, below), I think it is also reasonable for us to lament the fact that he (or someone) didn't prevail upon Paul to change the opening lines of "She's a Woman", which are:

My love don't give me presents
I know that she's no peasant

It's difficult to overstate just how risibly awful these lyrics are.

"Here ya go, $ir Paul, I bought you this here present!"

"What are you? Some kind of fucking peasant?!1?!1! You should insist I reimburse you!1! Away with you!1!"

What's worse, this "peasant" verse is repeated no less than three times during the course of the song. Massive. Lyric. FAIL.

Fellas, I cannot stress this too much: When you're trying to seduce yer sweetie, I advise you not to whisper "O, baby, I know that you're no peasant!" in her ear2.

To do Paul justice, however, this song was in large part written in the recording studio on the day it was recorded. The Beatles' touring schedule in the early daze was just insane but they were still expected to release two full albums per year and original singles every few months; by mid-1964, they were mostly recording material they had written themselves, and so when they came into the studio in October of 1964 to record their latest single, John already had "I Feel Fine" (which became the A-side of the single) written and ready to record, but Paul had only a partially-finished "She's a Woman" for the B-side. And in tapes of the "I Feel Fine" session, you can even hear George, in between takes, trying to perfect the lead solo he plays on "SaW". (An excellent solo, by the way.)

Considering the circumstances under which "She's a Woman" was written and recorded, the amazing thing is not that it contains these stupid lyrics, but rather that it somehow manages to be such a great song despite them and despite the time constraints surrounding its genesis.

There is certainly little original to the song's underpinnings: It's a basic A7-D7-E7 chord progression, with the chorus adding a C#m and F#7, but the chorus's chords are the only variation from the basic Chuck-Berry/Little Richard structure.

John's syncopated rhythm guitar is the driving force of this song, and it's in his playing that the actual fuck-up can be found; because at the 1:24 mark, just after the first chorus, John, for some reason, misses a strum and there's like this dead air feel for like a half a second, but John never loses the beat; he just picks it right up on the next strum; and Paul remains unfazed by the mistake and sings the next line of the song right on cue ... which line just happens to be ... "I know that she's no peasant".

We — I — talk about John songs and Paul songs and George songs3, but I think the tapes of this recording session really reveal how deceptive those supposed distinctions are; because George came up with the lead and John plays the distinctive riff, and it's Ringo's beat that drives each note, so the collaboration of the four is what truly makes the song what it is. It's mostly Paul, but not just, and it's a mistake to think otherwise.

Later on, Paul would become much more insistent that the others do things exactly as he wanted them to on his songs. In the film Let It Be, you can see Paul lecturing George on how to play a certain lead guitar part, and George exasperatedly say, "I'll play it however you want. Or I won't play at all, if you don't want me to. Whatever pleases you, Paul." Paul could play guitar, bass, piano, drums and a number of other instruments, and was quite accomplished on each, and so he knew how he wanted each to sound. A lot of people don't realize that the first Beatle to quit the group was not John or Paul, but Ringo, during the 1968 White Album sessions; and he quit, in part, over Paul's relentless criticism of his drum-playing. (He returned two weeks later to find his drum kit smothered in flowers — Paul's way of apologizing.)

Incidentally, the Beatles didn't stop recording during Ringo's two-week absence: That's Paul you hear playing drums on "Back in the U.S.S.R."

But you won't hear any fuck-ups in his playing.

1 For those of you who decided to play along yesterday, the "O, fucking hell!" in "Hey, Jude" can he heard at approximately the 2:56 mark, and was evidently uttered by either John or Paul when one of them hit the wrong chord; just before the "O, fucking hell!", someone sez: "Hit the wrong chord." I didn't mention the latter buried-in-the-mix chatter because you won't be able to hear that without headphones; whereas the "O!" in "O, fucking hell!" is hard to miss, because it's almost sung — "Ohhhhh!" — and could easily be mistaken for someone emoting to the song in the background, as the Beatles often did, throwing in moans and screams and Little Richard-esque "Wooooo!"s (Paul's specialty). But the "O!" is immediately followed by the "fucking hell!", which, though less distinct than the "O!", is easily discernible without the aid of headphones.

It was, legend has it, John who convinced Paul they should leave that in; it's the kind of random thing that John would want left in, just as he wanted that accidental snatch of dialogue1a from the BBC Radio performance of King Lear left in "I Am the Walrus".

"HJ" is almost exclusively a Paul song but John played a significant role in shaping it in small ways that mattered. The line "The movement you need is on your shoulder" was intended as a placeholder lyric; when Paul demoed the song for John and the others, he sang that line then immediately said, "Don't worry; I intend to fix that," to which John responded, "No you won't! It's the best line in the song!" Paul appreciated this vote of confidence and has always mentioned how grateful he was to John for this type of help because he has come to see that John was right about that lyric and it would have been a goner had John not spoken up and stayed the axe. (Paul tended to be a little lacking in confidence when it came to his lyric-composition.)

"HJ", incidentally, was originally called "Hey Jules" and was written with John Lennon's son Julian in mind. John had just abandoned Cynthia and Julian for Yoko at this point (mid-1968) and Paul was driving out to Cynthia's house to cheer them up and this song came to Paul on the drive out.

John, typically, thought it was about him:
He said it was written about Julian. He knew I was splitting with Cyn and leaving Julian then. He was driving to see Julian to say hello. He had been like an uncle. And he came up with 'Hey Jude.' But I always heard it as a song to me. Now I'm sounding like one of those fans reading things into it... Think about it: Yoko had just come into the picture. He is saying. 'Hey, Jude' — 'Hey, John.' Subconsciously, he was saying, 'Go ahead, leave me.' On a conscious level, he didn't want me to go ahead. The angel in him was saying, 'Bless you.' The devil in him didn't like it at all, because he didn't want to lose his partner.

Of course, it was also around this time that John — who liked him some "substances" — was informing his fellow Beatles that he thought he was Jesus Christ and that Apple Corp should do a Press Release announcing this (Derek Taylor, the Beatles' Public Relations guy, wisely ignored this instruction), so it makes sense he'd think everything was about him.

1a I have chosen this phrase carefully, because it actually was the dialogue's vagina.

Incidentally? King Lear shaves his dialogue to make himself look younger.


2 Also inadvisable: "I know that you're no whoo-wer." Which is only slightly better than: "I know that, deep down, you're a whoo-wer, so please please me, O yeah, like I please you, YOU WHOO-WER!1!"

3 Um, yeah, Ringo wrote a few, too, but nobody really talks about them.


  1. I saw the title and thought "He is so dead! So what if I called him the Crypt Keeper. Now he is calling me a 'Fuck up'? What a big baby!"

    ..but then I saw it was a Beatles post.


    I do have to say that I have been more interested in the Beatles since reading your blog than I ever have been, but my previous interest was almost imperceptible, so.... there's that.

    Trannies took it last night. (after trying valiantly to give it back in the 9th) I could care less, but it bugs you, so that is a win.


    RE FN2: You should retitle this "Dating advice from the Crypt" might get more readers.

    And you do not look a day over 150. *smooches*

    *sniff sniff* I DOES smell like bitchy girl in here. I will go crawl back to my red tent.

  2. Oh and FUCKIN' EH FIRST!!!

    That is how we say 'first' in Cali.

    As in actually first.

  3. Ok, credit where credit is due: FN 1a - Hilarious. Snorted a little coffee out on that one.

    Going now. I have a JOB you know! I just can't sit around here guffawing Sheesh.

  4. Sometimes lyrics are endearing because they're awful. There's some 60's song (you'll remember it before I do) where the guy sings, "I think you're swell, et cetera." What a sweet-talker!

    My friend Joe and I often break each other up quoting "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo" - "I can still recall the wheat fields of St. Paul." What was he smoking? St. Paul's urban and 500 miles from wheat (except for the Taystee bread headquarters).

    Robyn Hitchcock is one of my favorite songwriters, because sometimes he just throws something in to rhyme. In "Balloon Man," (either a kid's song or a song about heroin use or both), one line's "I guess his name was probably Bruce." Well, it rhymed with the previous line, anyway.

    Oh, right, you wrote about the Beatles... Nice job working King Lear into the post.