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The Stories Behind Beatles Songs

by

Artwork: Shira Goren

  • Joined Mar 2021
  • Published Books 1
The Stories Behind Beatles Songs by Shira Goren - Illustrated by Shira Goren - Ourboox.com

How much emphasis do we put on lyrics of songs? And what do we really know about why certain songs were written, in what context, what led to their writing?

As this course is about popular music of the 60’s and the impact it had on world events, I decided to focus on the stories behind some of the songs written by The Beatles, one of the most if not the most influential artists of the 60’s.

Starting their musical career in their hometown Liverpool in England, no one could have imagined back then the star they are to become. The Beatles released 12 albums in eight years! Their songs were catchy and accepted by almost any ear. It is perhaps for that reason that the deep, sometimes suspicious, lyrics in their upbeat songs are often disregarded. I found some quirky, interesting, surprising and wonderful stories behind their famous songs.

 

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The song “Get Back” which was released in 1969 was initially written about Pakistani immigrants and was pointed towards them to get back to where they once belonged. Although hard to believe, as The Beatles became to represent a hippy band of peace and love, it could be suggested that their time in India, a year earlier (1968), had influenced their political beliefs. Additionally, it is also known today that the song was written at a time of trouble between the band members as they were thriving in their musical careers as a band and each of them was searching for some individualism.

The third verse of the song, written by Paul McCartney, which was later abandoned went like this:

 

Meanwhile back at home too many Pakistanis
Living in a council flat
Candidate Macmillan, tell me what your plan is
Won’t you tell me where it’s at

 

As we know now, the lyrics of the song were completely changed before it got released in April 1969 and sold 580,000 copies!

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Help!

I need somebody
(Help!) not just anybody
(Help!) you know I need someone
Help!

I never needed anybody’s help in any way
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured (but now these days are gone)
(And now I find) Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being ’round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me?

And now my life has changed in oh so many ways (and now my life has changed)
My independence seems to vanish in the haze
But every now and then I feel so insecure (I know that I)
I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being ’round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me

When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured (but now these days are gone)
(And now I find) now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being ’round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me, help me, help me, ooh

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The song Help! was written by John Lennon and was based on the literal meaning of the title of the song. Lennon was going through a rough time in his marriage and personal life, and basically yelled Help!, asking for rescuing from anyone who can.

It’s known today that many of the Beatles’ songs consist of hidden meanings of drug use within their lyrics and this song is thought to be one of them. Along with the fact that Lennon was abusing alcohol and drugs at the time, the words: “Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors”, took a perceptional meaning along with a psychological one. Opening up the doors could be opening up the doors to welcome assistance, opening up his heart. But it was also thought to be a phrase of drug use experiences where the mind is opening closed doors, an effect believed to happen when consuming hallucinogens.

This song is extremely direct and there are no hidden messages – Lennon is waving a flag, yelling that he is feeling down and crying out for help! Yet, it appears McCartney only realized his friend’s cry for help years later and how much this song reflected that.

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The Stories Behind Beatles Songs by Shira Goren - Illustrated by Shira Goren - Ourboox.com

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I Want To Hold Your Hand

This beautiful song was written before the Beatles were something big in the US. As Paul McCartney recalls, they didn’t want to release their songs in the US until they were sure that they had something good in their hands.

The Beatles were loved in the UK but even then the difference in the audience’s liking between the UK and the US was profound. There were several artists and bands that tried their way in the US after immensely succeeding in the UK but failed greatly, returning to their home country with shameful faces.

For that reason, The Beatles waited until they felt they had a good chance in succeeding in the US as well.

Following their appearance on Ed Sullivan’s CBS show, Capitol Records U.S. agreed to release “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in the states in 1963. The song then hit No. 1 in US charts and was the welcoming of The Beatles to their music career in the US.

 

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Probably the most interesting and intriguing song is ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’. This song tells a story of a young murderer in quite a theatrical manner. Though John and George did not like the song so much, it was released as part of the Abbey Road album in 1969.

“‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ was my analogy for when something goes wrong out of the blue, as it so often does, as I was beginning to find out at that time in my life,” Paul writes in his book “Many Years From Now,”. What does McCartney mean when he refers to when something goes wrong?

In search of the story behind this song, I found evidence that John himself explained to Tony King that ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ was the first song the Beatles had written about the theory of instant karma. In short, this theory is about having bad things happen to you when you do something bad. John truly believed in this theory and explained how the song tells a story in which people do something bad and unexpectedly have a hammer coming down to their head.

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The Stories Behind Beatles Songs by Shira Goren - Illustrated by Shira Goren - Ourboox.com
The Stories Behind Beatles Songs by Shira Goren - Illustrated by Shira Goren - Ourboox.com

Additionally, McCartney loved play writing and he was especially astounded by Alfred Jarry, the French pioneer of absurd theater. In the second line of the song McCartney uses the word ‘pataphysical’ which was invented by Alfred. McCartney would listen to his radio plays and it appears the use of that word reflects his inspirations of that time (1966). He also went to a play related to Alfred Jarry in which the lead actor cast was Max Wall, a veteran vaudevillian who Jane Asher, Paul’s girlfriend, particularly liked in this role.

Paul liked made up stories, songs that had characters he had never met and made up from scratch. His songs often had absurd plots within them and it is interesting to observe how he incorporated influences from plays he loved into this songs.

 

 

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The Stories Behind Beatles Songs by Shira Goren - Illustrated by Shira Goren - Ourboox.com

Their songs being so catchy, upbeat and so-called happy, it is often easy to miss the strange unexpected stories behind The Beatles’ songs. Though these are only some of the stories, I think they give a brief overview of the unseen part of song-writing, and how the instrumental beat behind a song doesn’t necessarily reflect the context of the lyrics. Hope you enjoyed and here’s Paul McCartney himself talking about the stories behind his writing of some of his most iconic songs!

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