The Beatles – What You’re Doing

Here’s what Kurt Vonnegut said about The Beatles:
“I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, ‘The Beatles did’.

Here’s what Rolling Stone said about them:
“Not liking The Beatles is as perverse as not liking the sun.”

It’s ludicrous that I haven’t yet featured a Beatles track on here. Ludicrous because I love them with a passion that goes beyond all sense and decency. So much so that it’s almost pointless to attempt to explain it.

That said, their absence here is also understandable. I’ve been meaning to include them for ages but because I wanted to write something more substantial than the usual posts, I’ve been putting it off. (I usually write these things in the morning during the ten to twenty minutes I get when I dump Maggie in her chair in front of The Wiggles. The Beatles deserve much more than that. But as it’s unlikely I’ll ever get more time in the morning, this’ll have to do.)

Another reason I haven’t yet included them: On Danny Baker’s BBC4 programme about albums a few weeks ago David Hepworth chose A Hard Day’s Night as one of his selections. To which Baker grimaced a bit and muttered something about how he’d thought about banning The Beatles on account of the fact that they tower over everything. He meant it, of course, as a compliment.

Similarly, if I were being totally faithful to this blog’s “Songs I love” subtitle, I probably wouldn’t have yet included anyone else but The Beatles.

It occurred to me recently that for over forty years there’s probably not been a single day when I haven’t thought about, read about or listened to The Beatles. It used to embarrass me a bit, this love I have for them. When John was murdered I had to have two days off school because I was so upset. When I got back some of the kids guessed why I’d been off and decided to make me feel better by making ‘bang bang’ sounds and referring to John as Gladys. As in Gladys Dead – glad he’s dead. And because I was embarrassed about my grief (I’d just turned 13) I pretended to laugh along. The bastards.

The Beatles are the big, enduring love of my life. And it’s a love that’s grown deeper over the years. I only have to see pictures of them and I can feel myself welling up and…

What? At least I’m ridiculously obsessed about the very best. It could be worse – some people feel this way about all sorts of crap. Muse, for instance. Imagine that.

The trouble with me and The Beatles though is that it’s impossible to pick a single track to appear on this blog. I just can’t do it. So I’m going to have to feature a few. More than a few. (And I’ll probably do the same with The Fall.)

McCartney’s What You’re Doing is my favourite of the sophisticated, bohemian love songs he wrote for – and about – the sophisticated and bohemian Jane Asher. Beginning with Things We Said Today, these include I’m Looking Through You, We Can Work It Out and You Won’t See Me. (You’ll note that only the earliest song in that list isn’t about strife. They had quite a tempestuous relationship – mainly due to McCartney’s unreconstituted working-class bloke-ness and his ideas of how ‘birds’ should behave.)

Brilliantly sung, with a yearning that comes close to Lennon’s yearning (but not too close – nothing came close to Lennon’s yearning), What You’re Doing is the perfect accompaniment to Beatles For Sale’s wonderful, and weary, autumnal cover shot. Beginning with a pounding, Spector-ish drum it moves into ringing, almost country-ish, pop but with an added denseness, maturity and an underlying sense of gloom. It’s quite tricksy too, with some great shouted backing vocals that emphasise McCartney’s sincerity: “LOOK!” “I’M” “YOU’VE!” “AND!” “PLEASE!” etc., and McCartney’s phrasing: e.g. the extended “meeeee,eeee,eee,eee” and the way he cleverly rhymes “running” with “fun in it”. You know: the kind of little things they’d routinely throw in that were both unusual and yet totally natural sounding (demonstrating how far ahead they were of everyone else and how the earlier records were as packed with innovation (and oddness) as the more obviously experimental later stuff).

Best of all, What You’re Doing is a great example of what it was that made The Beatles so irresistible: even when they were writing about lost love and heartache and misery they managed to sound totally uplifting.

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About Paul Saxton

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One Response to The Beatles – What You’re Doing

  1. Pingback: The Beach Boys – You Still Believe In Me | SongLink

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