But forget those other songs, because today is "Oh! Darling" day, and boy is it ever, man, let's just fucking LEAN into these end-of-March blues, let's hang our heads low before the rock god that is Paul McCartney and jam in whatever way we know how, because spring is coming but man oh man we still got these blues.
I am on the record as adoring Beatles songs that are as driven by the vocal as this one is, and Paul's gut-busting vocal on "Oh! Darling" has an excellent and very famous story. This, like most of Abbey Road, was recorded in the first half of 1969, so it had been four or five years since Paul had gone into full-on Little Richard mode and screamed the shit out of a song. In order to do this one justice, he practiced his scream a lot-- screaming in the bathtub at home, coming in early to Abbey Road Studios to warm up the scream, and Lord knows what else. And if one day's take didn't capture the vocal the way he wanted it, he wouldn't even bother with a second take-- he'd just wait for the next day to start fresh. It sounds like Paul "Maria Callas" McCartney was in total diva mode, which is something I deeply respect. (I love divas.) And with "Oh! Darling" available in an earlier version from the Get Back sessions on Anthology 3, you can tell the diva-attitude was warranted. On that version you can hear poor Paul trying his best, but in trying to sound like a rock star, he comes off more like a game show host. His tone is just so pure when it should be ragged. Luckily, in the final cut, the vocal is exactly as it should be. Paul nails the "tearing flesh" sound that he could be capable of at his rocking best, and all the echo effect just makes it sound that much more retro and funky. He might be singing that he'll never do me no harm, but I don't even believe him. I also don't care. He can harm me as much as he pleases. (In his final interview in 1980, John sneered that he could have sung this song much better. But you know what? John's a dick.)
In John's defense, though, he and George are rocking the doo-wop backing vocals. (There's more of John's vocal on that Anthology track too-- I actually kind of like it played up.) John is on the piano here as well, reiterating the doo-woppy feel with those simple percussive chords. When the middle eights come in, and Paul's vocal gets particularly raspy, George is right there on guitar driving the beat, and Ringo swaggers sexily through his drum line, inserting fills leading into the middle eights that are so hot they're practically snogging the bass.
And, well, it's the bass that shares star billing with the vocal here on "Oh! Darling." If this song sounds like it could have been a solo Paul McCartney song-- and I know that this has been remarked upon-- it's probably because that diva streak that I do kind of love has made Paul emphasize the vocals and bass above all other elements here. I mean, that's okay. He's a genius, and they were breaking up anyway, and the song sounds amazing, so who am I to say anything? Speaking of amazing, WHAT A BASS LINE. It's practically singing a counter-melody, it's got so much personality. We're all clear on Paul's awesomeness on the bass, right? In case you're not convinced, please go back and listen again to "Oh! Darling" so you can properly appreciate the awesomeness of the bass. The line is so interesting, yet sounds so inevitable in the context of the song, that it's totally the work of genius.
All in all, a huge bright spot on Abbey Road-- the Beatles work together (for a change) and come up with this total unique bluesy doo-wop melange with a McCartney vocal so raw it's practically bleeding. Even this late, they still freaking had it, kids. Just imagine what they could have accomplished together if they all hadn't been such divas.
"Oh! Darling," released in the U.K. side A track 4 of Abbey Road, September 26, 1969; in the U.S., October 1, 1969.