Writing about the Beatles is kind of like posting a photo of a sandwich on Facebook. We’ve all had sandwiches, and we all know what it’s like to listen to the Beatles. But if you’re writing about pop music, you’re going to come around to the Beatles sooner or later, and here we are at my hundredth post (!), so why not? And let’s be honest: the Beatles are a very, very good sandwich.
For most of my childhood, I underestimated the Beatles in the same way that old people did in the early sixties: they were just those guys who sang “yeah yeah yeah” and flopped around a lot. Then my sister borrowed Sgt. Pepper from a friend, and I was confused. Wait, these are the same guys? They sound so … crazy! That was when I was about 12 years old. For the last 21 years, I’ve been obsessed with them.
I was a George fan early on, because he always seemed like the quiet underdog lingering in the shadows, honing his craft while Paul and John stood in the spotlight. It’s his songs that I come back to most often; even early ones like “I Need You” and “If I Needed Someone” showed that Harrison had the songwriting skills, if not yet the confidence, to match up with Lennon and McCartney. (And he was the funniest guy in A Hard Day’s Night, which is no mean feat.)
And if there’s one thing that “Here Comes the Sun” has, it’s confidence. It sounds strange to think of this gentle little song that way, but it takes a pretty sure-footed writer to put “doo doo doo doo” in a song. And Harrison must have been confident in his song to make the lyrics so simple. Elsewhere on Abbey Road, there’s a little boy killing people with a hammer, a friendly octopus, and a creepy old man who sleeps in the park, but in “Here Comes the Sun,” there’s one idea: things are getting better.
This might be an assumption based on what I already know about George Harrison’s interests and beliefs, but there’s something spiritual about the simplicity of this song. Every song’s refrain is a kind of mantra, but “here comes the sun” is a phrase that particularly lends itself to self-encouragement. The hard times are done, the good times are coming; just hold on. Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun.
As I’ve gotten older and things have gotten inevitably (and wonderfully) more complicated, songs like these become more important to me. Not only is the message encouraging because it stresses warmth and positivity, it also stresses simplicity. Things may be complicated, but they’re actually pretty simple: outside your addled state of mind, the sun is coming out.
Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun.
Why do such simple statements sound so profound when coming from George Harrison? There’s something in his delivery that’s so trustworthy, a kind of grizzled wisdom that the other Beatles could never muster (nor, I guess, did they want to). Harrison always seemed like the most centered of the group; Paul is so goofy, John was distractingly self-conscious, and Ringo, though he definitely seems comfortable with his place in the Beatle pecking order, is still Ringo.
I can’t think of many other musicians and songwriters who can pull off something like “All Things Must Pass” without coming across as cloying. This isn’t self-help nonsense, this is meant to comfort by telling you some facts: everything ends, good and bad. Like my favorite Beatles song, “Here Comes The Sun,” this song is almost spiritual in its simplicity. Things happen. You’re not special, but you’re part of something big, and that makes you valuable.
Some have interpreted the album cover as depicting Harrison’s newfound independence from the Beatles. His former bandmates had rejected “All Things Must Pass,” which now seems like a ridiculous notion (they wanted “Back In The U.S.S.R” but not this song?!), and Harrison must have been thrilled to be out on his own. It sure paid off.
I had a dream the other night about Fiona Apple singing “Let Me Roll It” by Paul McCartney. I can’t give myself many points for creativity—she actually sang the song on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon a while back—but I should get credit for keeping things fresh. My dreams tend to feature:
A) something I hadn’t prepared for, such as a play for which I hadn’t memorized lines (curtain in 10 minutes!);
B) a faulty alarm clock (followed by waking up in a panic five hours before my alarm goes off);
C) terrorists, guns, hostages and/or apocalypse; or
D) all of the above (oversleeping, perhaps, for the end times, an event for which I had not done any homework whatsoever).
In other words, I welcome the randomness of this dream with open arms. I don’t remember much about the dream’s “plot” (New Year’s resolution: finally start that Fiona Apple dream journal), but I do remember that Apple shaved her head and was worried about performing the song. I reassured her, then she went on stage and killed it.
Why did I dream about this song six months after seeing Apple sing it on TV? No idea. But it’s amazing how a cover can bring out a song’s strengths; in this case, it’s that weirdly fierce guitar line in the verse, followed by the release of the simple, pretty chorus (set into motion by the only-Paul-McCartney-can-get-away-with-it “My heart is like a wheel”) sung with an otherworldly reverb effect. Apple, of course, gives it her all, making the title more of a desperate plea than McCartney’s gentle offer. Her performance is amazing and cathartic, and the fact that the Roots know exactly what to do is unsurprising but heartening.
I guess I know why I dreamed about this after all.