"Happiness Is a Warm Gun" and more
9. Happiness Is a Warm Gun
Leave it to John Lennon to construct a tune that could so easily enrage his already ruthless critics, while being complicated enough to require no less than 70 rhythm track recordings. But neither time signature changes nor bans on both sides of the Atlantic could eventually sabotage “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, Lennon’s captivating “White Album” patchwork. What started as three unrelated and unfinished parts may very well have pulled themselves together—even the earliest recordings feature the song in its completed form—but it’s the performances on this musical behemoth that make it stand out among two albums’ worth of material.
Each section transitions seamlessly into the next, with alternating guitar parts distinguishing the separation: first, it weaves a languid web over a slow, primal beat, dangerous but seductive with a sensual, sinister vocal to match; without warning, George Harrison’s fuzzed-out lead bursts to the forefront, a gyrating force over Lennon’s bellowing demands: “I need a fix, ‘cause I’m going down…” The imposing melody jumps suddenly into a frantic chant of “Mother Superior jumped the gun”, a chaotic maelstrom with a multi-octave overdub and startling tambourine.
Just when it reaches a near-fever pitch, the madness breaks down into classic soul, a climactic release narrated in effeminate Little Richard howl with a doo-wop backing vocal to match (“bang bang, shoot shoot”). The deceptive bass line, just as easily passing for cellos or deep brass, hulks menacingly below, signaling the impending disaster that inevitably follows the momentary bliss of the shot, whatever it may be. Regardless of the tune’s origins or hidden implications, its sonic acrobatics have made it arguably the album’s most fascinating track. Carole Ann Wright
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Beatles at their most sarcastic. Everyone hates paying taxes. Yet, as the old saying goes, there is only one way to escape paying them. That is why this song, while not recognized as one of the Beatles biggest hits, will enjoy immortality unlike any other. Written by George Harrison in response to the United Kingdom’s oppressive tax system—especially for nouveau riches like himself—the song has become an anthem for all of us who dread the yearly tax filing deadline and giving our hard earned money to a government without any real say in how it’s used. Since the only thing that will bring an end to taxes is death, this song should enjoy a long life. And if only for that fact alone it deserves a spot on the list of the Beatles greatest songs. Plus, there’s that unstoppable bass line. William Gatevackes
11. Tell Me Why
It’s easy for a minor classic to get lost amid the vastness of the Beatles’ catalogue. Even at the album level, there’s still plenty of scope for low-profile jewels to secrete themselves. A Hard Day’s Night—a pivotal record, the first (and, in fact, only) Beatles album to consist solely of Lennon-McCartney compositions, widely considered the best of their early output—is a prime example.
“Tell Me Why”, a joyous wash of vivacious doo-wop, shot through with a raw, syllable-stretching Lennon vocal, is a true hidden gem. Listened to in isolation, it seems incredible that something this exciting could be overlooked; there’s an almost Spectoresque wall of sound quality on this track, heavily redolent of the Girl Groups the Beatles so admired in their early days of playing together. It’s a classic demonstration of the Beatles’ phenomenal facility for transforming words which, on a lyric sheet, seem almost banal in their simplicity, into something of enormous emotional power. This was always a key aim for them: how a record sounded overall was everything, to the extent that the words really didn’t matter.
Both the lyrics, and the performance, linger just on the verge of parody: the ostensible tone, of wounded love, is in diametric opposition to the mood generated by the music, the pitch of the singing rising to falsetto in tandem with the increasingly desperate pleas of the singer. The penultimate song on side one of the album, tucked away just before the monumentally brilliant “Can’t Buy Me Love”, this track has a strong claim for the title of ‘most neglected Beatles song’. John Carvill
12. I’m So Tired
“I’m So Tired” perfectly captures what it feels like to be an exhausted heap. The “White Album” John Lennon composition showcases the Beatle languidly whining about how lazy and distressed he is in a song that’s the aural equivalent of hazily shuffling around the room in search of a bed. The song drags in such a lumbering manner it’s easy to overlook how complex the chord progression is. And how many other rockers throw around harmony fills and allusions to Sir Walter Raleigh while battling insomnia?
Lennon makes the song seem effortless, implying that he could write great tunes whilst a bleary-eyed mess. What makes “I’m So Tired” a song worthy of attention is the underlying tension caused by Lennon’s threats to break out of his lethargy and indecisiveness. Occasionally his voice rises and tenses (particularly in the choruses), ultimately peaking with desperate unanswered exclamations of “I’m going insane!” and “You know I’d give you everything I’ve got / For a little piece of mind”, only to fall back into sluggishness. “I’m So Tired” is desire without resolution, and that’s what makes this sloth-like deep album cut unexpectedly compelling. AJ Ramirez
// Notes from the Road
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