"I'm a Loser" and more
13. I’m a Loser
Why isn’t this song better known? Mostly because it isn’t very good. The lyrics are—apart from the astonishing confession of the title—mostly trite and banal. (“My tears are falling like rain from the sky, Is it for her or myself that I cry?”) The melody is catchy, if a bit underbaked, and the performance is spare and unvarnished (as is the rest of the quickly-recorded Beatles for Sale record), leaving little to get too excited about. So, what’s this tune doing on a list of undervalued tracks? History.
First of all, this song was almost a single, which means it was almost a hit, which means it could have been huge, but then Lennon wrote the vastly superior “I Feel Fine” and it was used instead. So, that’s something. Second, weird as it is, this song would be alluded to in massive hits by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles not once but twice over the following two years—the lyric “Although I laugh and I act like a clown, Beneath this mask I am wearing a frown” provides the basic metaphor behind both “Tracks of my Tears” and “Tears of a Clown”. Third, as I have explored in another entry on the far more effective “Help!”, this song represents an early attempt by the Beatles to fuse dark confessionalism with jaunty melodies, a heretofore new and exciting direction for pop music.
But, most of all, fourth: that shambling harmonica solo, metaphors about masks and clowns, and a chorus that claims “I’m not what I appear to be”? Lennon has heard Dylan, folks. This is the real moment folk-rock was born. Stuart Henderson
14. Old Brown Shoe
Perhaps “Old Brown Shoe”, B-side to the button-pushing “Ballad of John and Yoko”, is so often overlooked because it seems more tailored to George Harrison’s subsequent solo sound than anything he’d produced with the Beatles thus far. He indeed recorded its early demos on his own, in the same birthday session in which “Something” and “All Things Must Pass” were first put to tape, but the three are far closer in quality than in structure.
Harrison’s take on “the duality of things” employs a jangling piano that, assisted by melodic guitars and tandem bass line, elaborates the raunchy nature of the piece. This in turn is offset by innocent lyrics that belie the lusty orchestration, sung as if by an ambivalent teenager—rejoicing in the verse (“won’t be the same now”), uneasy in the bridge (“I’m changing faster than the weather”) and back again to bring it home. Here, a Hammond organ overdub, replacing John Lennon’s original rhythm guitar, elevates Harrison’s pleas to exultation. As much gospel as love song, it follows a long tradition of solid, confident B-sides that unfortunately often get lost in the shuffle. Carole Ann Wright
15. And Your Bird Can Sing
You could probably choose any song from either Revolver or Rubber Soul as the one where the Beatles went from being bubblegum pop stars to “serious” musical artists. “And Your Bird Can Sing” could very well be the one that you would choose. The song acts as a bridge between the two eras of the Beatles’ career. It is unabashedly a bouncy pop song, with an up-tempo beat and tight vocal harmonies. But its adventurous, regal-sounding guitar riffs and esoteric lyrics set the stage for the experimental nature of future Beatles songs. In other words, the song is the best of both worlds. It is a grand song that should have been one of the Beatles greatest hits. As it is, it’s a hidden gem that shows exactly what type of band the Beatles were. William Gatevackes
16. I’m Only Sleeping
Who doesn’t love sleeping in? So great was John Lennon’s love for relaxation that Maureen Cleave once referred to him as “the laziest person in England”. This does seem to be the most obvious inspiration for “I’m Only Sleeping”, Revolver‘s ode to lethargy: the lyrics are evocative of such counter-culture sentiments as those seen in The Psychedelic Experience and could easily beg for more incendiary interpretations, but the music itself is far more telling.
Complicated, multi-layered orchestration provides the meat on the bones of Lennon’s simple melody, and a few clever production tricks bring it all together. Aside from various dreamy touches, the fluid bass and shimmering guitars draw you back to those moments just after waking when it still feels like a dream, or to the daydreams just before you drift off. The rhythm track, meticulously sewn together from a number of takes, provides a solid framework for George Harrison’s hypnotic guitar solo.
The sitar-like result, to be notably reused in Lennon’s equally mind-bending “Tomorrow Never Knows”, was achieved the hard way: by recording the part normally, then playing it backwards and writing out the notation, then recording the notation only to play it backwards one final time and creating a mystifyingly harmonious string of notes. The effect is surreal without being distracting, and proves a fantastic compliment to Lennon’s time-distorted vocals. Such forays into the realm of the psychotropic are rarely so innocently inviting. Carole Ann Wright
// Notes from the Road
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