Monday, February 16, 2009

I Don't Want to Spoil the Party

Clearly I've been feeling a little bit country-fried lately, or at least ever since writing about "So How Come (No One Loves Me)" the other day. I've had that song jangling pleasantly in my head ever since, in a loop with "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party," one of the Beatles' most overtly country songs. This is one of those songs that I love more than, perhaps, one even should-- in many ways it's a slight entry on what's generally considered one of the weaker albums, Beatles for Sale. But somehow it's always kind of gotten me.

In fact, this is a moment in which my pro-John bias shines through. A Paul-ite probably thinks of a song like "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party" as a sort of self-indulgent album track that John wrote in 10 minutes. That's how I think of songs like "Mother Nature's Son" and "Hold Me Tight." It doesn't mean that I don't really like those songs-- I very much like those songs. I'd just prefer to listen to "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party" in most cases. See, I think your John/Paul preference has to do with which of the weaker tracks you're willing to put up with. We can all agree that "Hey Jude" and "I Am the Walrus" are awesome, but the amount of self-indulgence you're willing to put up with from John or Paul is probably what determines where your bias is. I freely admit to my own bias. I rail against songs like "The Fool On the Hill" and "Michelle," which are the only two Beatles songs that I sometimes actually skip over while listening to the albums they're on, as Paul at his most smarmy. Whereas many Paul-ites will rail similarly against the never-ending jam of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" as John at his most navel-gazing. That's a fair point, but one that I happen to vehemently disagree with. I just put up with John's quirks more so than I do Paul's, despite loving them both passionately.

Now that I've wasted all this time rambling, let's just get to the song already.

There's a very clear Everly Brothers influence here, which I support completely, although interestingly John is harmonizing with himself, his two vocal lines tracked together. Paul only comes in on the bridge, singing lustily near the top of his range. And George's guitar solo sounds very much in the vein of Carl Perkins, which is unsurprising considering both the style of this song and that George was Perkins' biggest fan.

Like several other songs on Beatles for Sale, this one is about a love gone horribly wrong. We get a sense in "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party" that there's been some kind of dramatic flare-up and a storming-out, and a poor drunk John has to deal with the embarrassing fallout. The words betray that self-loathing that John's songs from this period frequently give away-- you can see this song as a rung in the ladder of misery that took him from "I'll Cry Instead" to "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and beyond, eventually into primal scream therapy and the Plastic Ono Band album's catharsis. Of course at this point he was nowhere near there yet, hiding his numerous issues inside a charming little country song that we can all shuffle along on the dance floor too.

That said, I do quite like this song-- its sweet vocal harmonies in thirds, the building excitement that gets into the guitars and the vocals on the bridge, and the heartbroken country-ness of the whole thing. It makes me want to reach back in time and just give John a big hug.

"I Don't Want to Spoil the Party," released in the U.K. on Beatles for Sale, December 4, 1964; in the U.S. as B-side to "Eight Days a Week" single, February 15, 1965, and later on Beatles VI, June 14, 1965.
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1 comment:

  1. Are you sure John is harmonizing with himself on the main melody? I've always thought it was Paul singing the lower line. I've always imagined the two of them working on the song in some hotel room and one of them saying to the other, "Let's shake it up. For once, you [P] take the lower line and I'll take the upper!" --Paul Lewis