Friday, March 20, 2009

Good Day Sunshine

It's so easy to hate the gut-wrenching cheerfulness of today's song, it's true. Especially in the early mornings when just being awake seems to require an insurmountable level of self-will. When you discover that Paul was inspired to write "Good Day Sunshine" by the Lovin' Spoonfuls' "Daydream," it might just make you hate it that much more.

But "Good Day Sunshine" has more to it than meets the ear-- and I hope I don't even need to add that it's way better than "Daydream."

I want to throw this out there, because I've never been able to figure it out: When I was first getting into the Beatles, I bought all the albums on cassette, because I didn't have a record player or a CD player yet. Now, we all know about how the British (Parlophone) and American (Capitol) versions of the albums were released differently in the '60s. (Summed up very briefly here.) My cassettes were of the British versions of the albums, but weirdly, they ALL had a COMPLETELY WRONG SONG ORDER. In some cases it was mixed up beyond all hope of recognition, and in some cases, like on the White Album, it was mostly correct with just a few weird meaningless changes. I can't figure out WHY the song order would have been wrong. And when I got the albums on CD years later, they'd all been corrected. Did anyone else experience this? Anyway, that weirdness from my childhood continues to color my perception of the songs and the albums. On my cassette version of Revolver, "Good Day Sunshine" was the very first song. In reality, the album should have "Good Day Sunshine" as the first song on side B. The correct opening song of Revolver is "Taxman." Now, imagine how differently YOU would think about this album if you listened to all the songs out of order and "Good Day Sunshine" was the first, as opposed to "Taxman." It just sets an entirely different mood.

So anyway, I used to hate "Good Day Sunshine" largely because it just seemed way too upbeat to kick off an album that featured such dark masterpieces as "She Said She Said," "Taxman," "Eleanor Rigby," and so forth. I was so relieved when I learned it's not actually the opening song, I can't even tell you. And now I've come around on the song-- it makes me genuinely happy. That's why I'm listening to it at the beginning of a business trip-- I'm expecting it to work its usual magic.

I love this song partly for the way that it tricks you. The refrain ("Goooood day suuuuuunshine") sounds like it's in a different meter from the rest of the song, but in fact it's just really cleverly syncopated. The whole song is in a simple four-four beat, actually. Paul makes the rhythmic weirdness of the "Good day sunshine" line even weirder by singing it three times, which is more irregular and funky than if it had been sung twice or four times. And since the song opens with the refrain, it takes your ear that much longer to figure out where the beats actually are. It is all just hella neat.

When the verses pick up, the rhythm is much more straightforward, and most of the song's life is in the piano, which has the right air of percussive jubilance to go along with Paul's happy little lyrics. George Martin and Paul are both playing piano on this, with Martin doing the more soloistic bits, including the excellent piano break at the bridge, which somehow manages to sound like an old-timey ragtime piano without sounding at all corny. The lyrics themselves are, of course, super-duper happy and pleased with themselves, but to be honest I think their over-cheeriness is made more palatable by Paul's opening line, "I need to laugh." It's as if from the beginning he's warning us, "look, I'm just the kind of person who needs to be this happy from time to time, and tell you all about it in in song, OK?" And all he NEEDS in order to laugh is for the sun to be out. I mean, frankly, I kind of envy that, but I also appreciate that he's putting it out there for us off the bat. Besides, how could I not be won over by that piano?

You know what else wins me over? The way that the refrain repeats at the end of the song, and then suddenly does that little half-step-up key change at the last second. It's the kind of key change that's frequently used in pop songs, but the restraint here is so awesome-- the key changes ONLY at the last repeat of "good day sunshine," and then the effect of all the Beatles' voices spilling over as it fades out sounds totally magical-- or, really, it sounds like the musical equivalent of sunshine. So rock on, Paul. If you're going to write a song this upbeat, you may as well write it this WELL. Come on, listen to it one more time and tell me you're not smiling by the end.

"Good Day Sunshine," released in the U.K. side B track 1 of Revolver, August 5, 1966; in the U.S. August 8, 1966.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous


  1. Megan ... First off, I have to say it has been wonderful visiting your site daily. I must say, though, it's like that old potato chip add: "bet ya can't eat just one." When i listen to the song you post, and it ends, i immediately "hear" the beginning of what would come next on the album. I love that. But, it's hard to stop listening to Beatles music with just one song. Now, regarding today's post. I have always liked Good Day Sunshine. A lot. My moods are greatly affected by the weather. When it is dark and rainy and gloomy, my mood hits a valley; when the sun is out, i am on top of the world. So, i can relate to feeling like what Paul wrote and sang about in this song. Also, as you point out so well, it is a fine piece of music to go with these cheery lyrics. I love the opening pounding and building momentum, and then when the drums roll in, it's just the perfect launch. And the ringing of voices at the end - subtle and sublime. Today, the sun is shinning here in Atlanta and it's the first day of Spring. Think I'll go outside and laugh.

  2. Megan - you've probably long since figured out/discovered the reason for the cassette track reordering, but in case not...

    This was actually a very common practice in the era of cassettes, moreover, sometimes songs would be left off cassette editions -- or even the opposite, the cassette editions would get extra tracks. Why? Because of the length of a "side" of a cassette vs. the length of the side of a record. They were trying to use the space of a cassette side most efficiently while balancing the consideration of how much "blank" space there would be at the end of the other side (not really a concern with vinyl, and the issue was moot on CD). Thus track reordering, exclusion of entire songs, or even sometimes the inclusion of otherwise-would-be-B-side tracks.

    And that's one to grow on!