Tuesday, April 28, 2009

If You've Got Trouble

I love the Beatles as much as anyone, but after covering "Yesterday," um, yesterday, I'm in the mood to burst their bubble a little bit, get them off their high horse. So here's a song that got rejected from the same Help! album that "Yesterday" ended up on, though it was recorded a good five months earlier.

Ringo was given one song to sing on almost every Beatles album, and "If You've Got Trouble" was meant to be his vocal contribution to Help!, and was even at one point slated to be in the movie, I think. But it was scrapped in favor of the far superior "Act Naturally," and rightly so. I like the video below because it pairs this rare Beatles misstep with another crappy Beatles product (which in fairness had nothing to do with the actual Beatles), ABC's Beatles cartoon show, which ran in the States on Saturday mornings between 1965 and 1967 and seems to have made the world a more miserable place through its sheer existence. Huzzah!

"If You've Got Trouble," along with the very few other unreleased Beatles tracks, acquired mystical status far beyond its actual worth in the years before it was released legally on Anthology 2. (See, so if we ever do get to hear the 27-minute "Helter Skelter," it will probably be as disappointing as this, with our luck-- and yet I can't imagine that to actually be the case.) But the Beatles really did leave it off the album for a very clear reason-- it's less strong than the songs that are on Help! Much as people like me would love to hear everything they ever did, well, it's tracks like this that make the Anthologies (as well as all the illegal bootlegs I know of) more curiosities than anything else. While they're interesting historically, you'd just as soon listen to an actual album more times than not.

Ringo famously doesn't have a very wide vocal range, but in the best songs that John and Paul wrote for him, the smaller pitch range sounds completely organic and in keeping with the spirit of the song: think "With a Little Help from My Friends" or "Yellow Submarine" or even "I Wanna Be Your Man," which all work not in spite of, but because of, the limited pitch range in the melody. "If You've Got Trouble," though, sounds like John and Paul (who I'm pretty sure cranked this one out together) feel constrained as they write. The melody isn't just noticeably small, but also pretty awkward, which they must have known, and you can't help but wonder if they made the verses a little asymmetrical just to make it more interesting. And then there are the lyrics, which are dumb ("you think I'm soft in the head"??). Honestly, they just sound out of ideas. They sound tired.

And so does the band as they try to hack it. Had they released this song, they no doubt would have cleaned this up, but this is more like an unintentional racket than any other Beatles track I can immediately think of-- like they're still figuring out how to play it, so they're just trying out every idea they're having at once. George's guitar ostinato is fussy and lends the whole thing an unnecessary thickness, and he can't seem to think of much to do with his guitar solo either. (Though this was the third Help! track they were recording in one day, after finishing up "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and "Tell Me What You See," so after that long a day maybe any guitar solo would sound uninspired.) I also don't really love what John (I guess?) is doing with that treble drone thing on his guitar. And though I actually do enjoy the way that Ringo is throwing himself into the drumming in a valiant attempt to save the whole thing, I'm not sure his cymbal-heavy approach is doing them any favors.

Honestly, though, I didn't mean to be so negative. (Truth? I'd still rather listen to "If You've Got Trouble" than "The Fool on the Goddamned Hill.") As a Beatles song, it's fairly catchy and stuff. It just pales in comparison with the work they actually released. Still, sometimes it's nice to remind ourselves that even the Beatles had the occasional bad day. Now that you've listened to this, go back and listen to "Act Naturally" so Ringo and the band can acquit themselves-- everything about that track is more fun.

"If You've Got Trouble," released in the U.K. disc 1 track 5 of Anthology 2, March 18, 1996; in the U.S. March 19, 1996.


  1. I don't know, I kind of like the backing track for this. It's different, and full of energy. I
    m really a sucker for any pop-rock song where the drummer's keeping time on his crash cymbals like this.

    Never noticed until you wrote this how Ringo's songs are almost all in E (If You've Got Trouble, With a Little Help from my Friends, I Wanna Be Your Man, Boys, Honey Don't, What Goes On, and Octopus's Garden; that's like 70 percent of them.)

    Thought that struck me as I was looking up Ringo's Beatles discography: I never before thought about what it must have been like to be a girl fan at that time and have a clear favorite. Then you get your hands on the newest LP, A Hard Day's Night, and there's nothing from Ringo, because all the tracks are hogged up by that smug John I just can't STAND him!

  2. It's true about E, and it's partly because of Ringo's limited range, no doubt. But there are a TON of Beatles songs in E (and also e) all around. Isn't there some guitar-related reason why pop musicians like this key? Because guitarists tend to learn to play E and A and B7 as some of their first chords, or something? My guitar knowledge is pretty rudimentary, but I feel like I've read or heard that.

    Ringo's fans might have been sad that he didn't sing more songs, but I suspect very few of them would kick John out of bed. Besides, Ringo fans could comfort themselves with all the ancillary products, like shampoo, which they only made in Ringo and Paul varieties since they were the most popular. (Paul a distant second.)

  3. Conventional guitar (especially rock guitar) tuning is sort of in E; the first and last strings are tuned to E, and a third string is tuned to B, which I imagine you know is the fifth of E. You can do all kinds of neat things around the neck while utilizing those open E and B strings. (Think Hendrix, for one example, especially Hear My Train A-Comin' if you know it.) Because E is the fifth of A, you can also do some interesting things around the neck utilizing the high E (and sometimes the low E), and you've got the B to play with for some chords. I think a lot of blues songs took advantage of this. The riff that starts Helter Skelter, for another example, is a natural because the guitar has that E-friendly tuning; you could play it in any key, but not as easily, and of course, you'd be playing it elsewhere on the neck, so it would sound different. Nothing sounds like an open string.

    That said, I'm sure if Ringo sounded better in B, they'd have accommodated him. Yellow Submarine (in G) was of course a stretch for him.