Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Anna (Go to Him)

Today's song is one of my sort-of secret favorite Beatles songs. Not that it's really a secret-- the song is awesome and I feel no shame in admitting this. But sometimes it seems like it's secret to me. I frequently forget about it a little. And then I play Please Please Me, and on comes "Anna (Go to Him)," and I just get all smiley and gushy all over. Or my poor husband gets subjected to me singing passionately along as we wash dishes or something. (Though he is very good-natured about it.)

But how can you not sing along? The vocal here just transfixes me. As with most of the Please Please Me album, "Anna (Go to Him)" was recorded on a day when John had a horrible cold, and you can hear it all over the album (see also "Twist and Shout"), but on this song the nasal raspiness of his voice seems to add an extra note of pathos. Check it out.

As has been recorded numerous times on this blog, I am completely infatuated with the way John Lennon sings. But here, I mean, gees. You can hear the pain just dripping off every note, especially on the bridge. Love it. I've read that this was one of John's favorite songs to perform, and I completely understand why-- he really gets inside this song somehow.

The song is so beautiful and soulful anyway that anyone could probably sing it and I'd love it. It was written and originally performed by Arthur Alexander, an R & B artist of the early '60s who never became as well known as he should have been, at least not according to Paul McCartney, who has said that the Beatles revered Alexander-- that he was always the artist they wanted to emulate (see the link on his name for the full quote). The Stones and the Who and Bob Dylan all covered Alexander's songs as well, so clearly he was a musician's musician. I don't know much about him, honestly, but I do know that his original version of "Anna (Go to Him)" is also lovely-- and he's not so bad a singer himself.

The piano line that tinkles sadly through Alexander's version becomes a wonderful little guitar motif for George on the Beatles' version. In most other respects it's a straight-on imitation, though Ringo's drumming is more present and really drives the mid-tempo shuffling beat of the thing. But what's most memorable is poor sniffly John wailing like his life depends on it. That's most of what gives the Beatles' version the rock and roll edge that Alexander's doesn't quite have. Where Alexander is despondent, John is just plain desperate, practically screaming. It's so amazing. If it isn't already, this should be your secret favorite song too. Listen again and tell me your gut doesn't squeeze up just a little bit.

"Anna (Go to Him)," released in the U.K. side A track 3 of Please Please Me, March 22, 1963; in the U.S. side A track 3 of Vee Jay's Introducing the Beatles, January 10, 1964.


  1. I have not heard this song in decades. What strikes me is how similar it is to their own song writing–––it sounds like a song they could have written–––and how time and time again the Beatles cover a song and make it their own. Signed. sealed, delivered.

  2. I'm with you, Megan. I'm pretty sure I would listen to John sing a speeding ticket as long as he was singing like this.