The Fab Four were and are my favorite non-classical artists from my adolescence on, 8-bar none (Cut me some slack; I was an orch dork). I’ll admit I was somewhat obsessive at times; I’d take my father’s CDs (and records, too, once I learned how to operate the turntable), fire up my sandalwood incense, and listen for hours and hours, pausing and repeating my favorite songs, trying to suspend myself within the music like an insect in amber. I never tired of them as a whole, despite going through cycles of loving, hating, and falling in love again with songs, albums and eras of theirs.
[For anyone who’s curious, I’m currently on an Early Era kick (’62-’64), my current favorite album is Beatles For Sale, and my current favorite song has been oscillating between Lovely Rita and Lady Madonna for a few months now.]
Suffice it to say that I consider their music to be nigh inextricable in the fabric of my life, and for that reason I could never disown them. But, like any fan living in the the PoMo post-Death of the Author world, I have encountered several crises stemming from revelations about the actions of the men who were the Beatles, especially over John, my favorite. >.< Nevertheless, I was able to acknowledge the shitty things he/they did and transcend them so I could still enjoy their body of work, even if I did have to turn my feminist brain off to enjoy parts of it.
But sometimes, you just can’t ignore things anymore! Here, in a semi-tongue-in-cheek list, are the songs that made me cringe the most.
(Author’s Note: due to copyright BS, it is fucking impossible to find Youtube/more easily accessible links for some of these songs. In lieu of this, I’ve linked to their Spotify iterations. So if you don’t have Spotify, my b.)
1. I’ll Get You (B-side to She Loves You, 1963, Lennon-McCartney): Stalking
The title is enough to alert most people that something’s up. The song starts sweet and earnest:
Imagine I’m in love with you
It’s easy ‘cause I know
I’ve imagined I’m in love with you
Many, many, many times before
Awwwww! Doesn’t that sound like adorable puppy love shit? Just wait; they start digging the hole in the next verse, when the speaker (meaning the narrative voice of the song, not the singer) says he thinks about the girl “night and day“. Not convinced yet? Listen to the bridge:
Well, there’s gonna be a time
when I’m going to change your mind*
so you might as well resign yourself to me…
You can’t help but feel that that time the speaker wants to change the girl’s mind might involve a rag and some chloroform. But I’ll admit that this isn’t even one of the bad ones. Just wait ’til the next song!
[*In the final recording, John and Paul sing over each other: Paul says the correct lyric, “change your mind” while John says, “make you mine.” Both variations are equally shitty.]
2. No Reply (Beatles for Sale, 1964, Lennon-McCartney): Stalking
Rather than being a charming ballad of the Post Office or some shit, No Reply is a catchy yet creepy song about a guy stalking a woman who is deliberately avoiding him. I’ll admit that I still listen to this song when it comes up on Spotify, even if the lyric do make me squirm.
The squirmiest part? Definitely the bridge (what is it with these guys and creepy bridges?):
If I were you, I’d realize that I
Love you more than any other guy
And I’ll forgive the lie that I
Heard before when you gave me no reply.
Oh, you’ll forgive me, Mister Man?! Thank goodness; when I moved on with my life and started seeing other people, my greatest worry was whether or not my creepy ex would take me back.
As I mentioned before, I still enjoy the musicality of this song, especially the harmony in the creepy verse. However, when it comes to the line, “I tried to telephone/they said you were not home/that’s a lie,” Lennon’s inflection on that’s a lie almost makes me shudder. I’ve dealt with men who feel that they are entitled to your time and attention solely due to their desire for you, and you start to feel the walls closing in on you when you realize that they think ‘no’ stands for ‘let’s negotiate,’ and the fact that they managed to distill that feeling into a song is uncomfortable to think about.
3. You Can’t Do That (A Hard Day’s Night, 1964, Lennon-McCartney): blatant misogyny
Despite my love for Beatles music, there made three songs that I refuse to listen to. This is the first one, and due to its blatant misogyny, I straight-up delete it from my various MP3 devices. This is like Under My Thumb-levels of misogyny, without the enjoyable musical groove that Under My Thumb has, because this song sounds like shit. And that’s not just bias because the lyrics are shitty; I do not like how this song sounds. Not the keyboard intro, not the whining vocals on the chorus or the middle-8. Fuck this song.
You Can’t Do That concerns an angry boyfriend scolding his girlfriend, telling her that if he catches her talking to another guy, he’ll “let her down and leave her flat,” as if she’s a hot air balloon.
The reason for his anger is that, if his friends see her talking to different penis-having peeps, they’ll “laugh in [his] face.” #MasculinitySoFragile.
Do I really need to elaborate further on why I hate this song? Don’t be telling girls who they can and can’t talk to! What if she wanted to know where the bathroom was? What if he was the cashier ringing up her groceries? This kind of possessive bullshit just gets me so angry that I cannot express it verbally.
4. Run For Your Life (Rubber Soul, 1965, Lennon-McCartney, primarily Lennon composition): More balls-to-walls misogyny and threatened violence
This is the second song I refuse to listen to, and I actually hate it more than You Can’t Do That, because Run For Your Life just takes it one step further. I’ll admit the tune is decent, but the lyrics are fucking atrocious. The speaker is another angry boyfriend, threatening that if he “catch[es] you with another man/that’s the end, little girl.” (Again with the monopoly on who she can and can’t talk to!) The first line starts out crazy:
Well, I’d rather see you dead, little girl,
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or you won’t know where I am
How does one unpack that sentence, exactly? Actual violence. Actual possessive, infantilizing bullshit. More implied stalking. I can’t make dick jokes about this, because this kind of attitude still exists out there!
This is an awful, awful song and I can’t imagine that it makes anyone’s Top 10 list.
5. Yes It Is (B-side to Ticket to Ride, 1965, Lennon-McCartney, primarily Lennon composition): Fuckboyism
Compared to You Can’t Do That and Run For Your Life, Yes It Is isn’t that problematic. Still, it made the list because the speaker is being a whiny (and vaguely controlling) dipshit, telling his date that if she wears red, she’ll remind him of his ex and then he won’t be able to get a boner or something:
I could be happy with you by my side,
If I could forget her
But it’s my pride, yes it is, yes it is,
Oh, yes it is, yeah
Whining aside, the reason I still enjoy this song, aside from the delicious three-part harmony in the verses, is John Lennon’s double-tracked wail on Yes it is, oh yes it iiiiiis. You can feel the speaker’s anguish in that cry, and that pain, of bittersweet reminders slapping you upside the head at the worst times, is universal. But John’s ability to effectively interject that emotionality is one of the many reasons why I enjoy his music and songwriting so much. But then again, I didn’t write whiny, misogynistic songs.
At any rate, the speaker has committed one of the cardinal sins of dating: whining to current date about your ex. This guy will be lucky to get a half-hearted handjob in the car after the dance. Maybe a boob-squeeze.
6. Another Girl (Help!, 1965, Lennon-McCartney): Proto-Pickup Artist shit
The shittiness of this song really took me by surprise, because this song is so upbeat and fun in tempo and melody. That angry boyfriend speaker is back, and this time, rather than doling out threats of violence to keep his girlfriend in line, he’s moved on to Mind Games (goddamn it, Lennon):
For I have got another girl, another girl
She’s sweeter than all the girls and I’ve met quite a few
Nobody in all the world can do what she can do
And so I’m telling you this time you better stop…
This tactic of manipulating your SO by making her think you’ll end the relationship and/or cheat on her is called dread game in the PUA community. Yep. The Beatles were pioneers in music, culture, and the dissemination of manbaby bullshit.
7. Tax Man (Revolver, 1966, Harrison): First World Problems
An obnoxious song composed by the Quiet Beatle himself? Yes– BUT! This is not problematic in the ways that the first six songs were. Quite honestly, I love this song’s off-the-cuff start, the semi-dissonant harmonies, and the fucking rad solo by McCartney at the end. Why have I included it, you may be wondering? Because they’re bitching about taxes.
Now, I’m not one of those people who hates overt political commentary in their pop culture or fandom. To the contrary, I enjoyed learning about the controversy over the United Kingdom’s tax system, and why the Beatles were criticizing it. Once I realized that their criticisms were basically rich people whining about having to pay their fair share, my eyes started rolling so hard that I was able to count the folds on my frontal lobe, starting with the first lines:
Let me tell you how it will be
There’s one for you, nineteen for me
‘Cause I’m the Tax Man
As I mentioned before, George Harrison, a man who died with over $300 million in the bank and a 29-acre estate and mansion with 120 rooms, is protesting the implementation of a progressive tax in the UK. This meant that the top percentage of their income was liable to be taxed at 95%, presumably to help subsidize that nice socialized medicine program they have over there, among other entitlements. This song is 2 minutes and 38 seconds of rich white men whining about rich white man issues: #FirstWorldProblems made music.
8. Getting Better (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967, Lennon-McCartney): more violence against wimmins
As you may have noticed, this list is mostly populated by pre-1966/Help! songs, making these last two rare exceptions. It’s fair to point out that, although the Beatles didn’t completely leave the love song behind (Something, anyone?), it wasn’t the most common subject after Sgt. Pepper– they were too busy writing about magical mystery tours and crazy circus ads. Anyway, this song only offers a brief flourish of misogyny:
I used to be cruel to my woman
I beat her and kept her apart
from the things that she loves
I suppose I can’t get too terribly mad at this, given the next line:
Man I was mean but I’m changing my scene
And I’m doing the best that I can
Oh, man, dig this guy! He used to physically abuse his SO but now he tries really hard not to. Give him a cookie!
Getting Better, depressingly, is semi-autobiographical. In an interview published after his death, Lennon said, “I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically–any woman. I was a hitter. I couldn’t express myself and I hit.” So at least he knew it was wrong and felt shitty about it? Jesus.
9. Revolution (B-side to Hey Jude, 1968, Lennon-McCartney): Radical bait-and-switch
Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? What’s Revolution doing on this list? “Have you heard the song?” you might wonder. “The song is about changing the world, and it was written and performed by men who were heavily into activism! If anything, this song should be woke as fuck!”
Yeah, it should be. But it’s not.
Credit where credit is due: I love this song’s sound. The sick intro, the restive, fuzzy guitar that propels the song, and its bluesy, doo-wop roots all combine to make an intoxicating, bumpy mix. But the lyrics are hardly revolutionary and more ridiculing:
You say you’ll change the constitution
well, we all wanna change your head
you tell me it’s the institution,
you better free your mind instead
So, wait, does that mean that if I just free my mind, all the societal institutions and constructs that enshrine patriarchal white supremacy will just come crumbling down? And the oppression that I face as a woman of color will just vanish into thin air? Fuck, why didn’t I think of that?!
Earlier in the song, we encounter the lyric, “If you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out.” This sentiment, eschewing more extreme action in favor of moderation, was popular among the privileged then and now. Its modern philosophical descendants can be seen in white responses to Black Lives Matter movement, particularly to actions in Ferguson and Baltimore. You know the kind of opinions I’m talking about– they’re espoused by shitheads on your Facebook feed, the ones that are always whining about ‘black-on-black crime’ and misquoting MLK. Their basic sentiment is that you don’t really need to agitate for change because, like the Beatles sing, Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright?
Our culture has clung to this false narrative that society will naturally progress and improve for marginalized people. What should they riot for? the aforementioned shitheads might think, as if the oppressed would be better off sitting back and waiting for the empowered folks to give them their rights. But that’s not how it works. You have to push back against the status quo, because the people who have a vested interest in keeping things the same won’t give anything up without a fight.
Just so, the Beatles had every reason to advocate for moderation and, ultimately, inaction: under the status quo, they achieved obscene amounts of wealth and power beyond their wildest dreams. Why would they want to fuck it up for themselves and call for actual revolution? They wouldn’t. So what we have here, ladies, gents, and badasses, is a musical oxymoron.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: Get Back, for having racist anti-immigrant first-draft lyrics. While McCartney’s intention was slightly more nuanced than what it may seem, ‘Don’t dig no Pakistanis taking other people’s jobs’ sounds bad.
In conclusion, I want to say that I hope I haven’t managed to ruin the Beatles’ music for any readers I may have. They did write the shit that I just went over, but they also made such beautiful music that changed the industry, the way we relate to music, and on culture overall. I can only speak for myself, but I don’t let the shitty things take away from the good. And to me, there are a million things about their music that completely outshine these nine instances that I’ve managed to pick out here, and I am more than happy to point you in the direction of the good parts.
Thank you for reading, and good night, folks!
(Btw, in the time it took to write this article, Hey Bulldog has supplanted Lady Madonna as one of my favorites.)