Monday, April 6, 2009


I firmly believe in the power of a Beatles song a day to stave off illness, make you happier, empower you to change your life, and so on and so forth, like a self-help book but way, way more rocking. "Misery" provides us with an excellent example of why this might be so. If you're sad, you can listen to the Beatles mock you about it until you feel better.

Seriously, doesn't this song sound like a parody of crybaby teenybopper songs popular in the '50s? Even that title, "Misery," is so heavy-handed that it's a little ridiculous, especially when the song starts and John and Paul sing that whiny unison line with the juvenile lyric, "The world is treating me bad." They actually repeat it later, and then rhyme it with "it's gonna be a drag," which is awesomely sarcastic. Mostly, though, the lyrics play it straight, but John and Paul, singing in unison, sound the entire song as though they're on the verge of cracking up. It's kickass. I can't hear it and not smile.

The unison singing on this is kind of neat, as it's not something they did that often. John and Paul share not just the vocal but also the writing-- it's a true McCartney-Lennon song (on Please Please Me all the songs were credited McCartney-Lennon for some reason, though from their next album onwards it was always Lennon-McCartney), in that they seem to have actually written it together. Meanwhile, the beat is sort of infectious and sort of mellow-- you could dance to this, but you could also kind of slouch around to it. That's producer George Martin doing the little fills on the piano, while George Harrison plays a just-there-enough guitar line and Ringo just kind of goes. Everyone is playing well, but no one seems to be bothering too much about it either, which is fine for a cute little album track like this, I think.

"Misery" is a song that sounds like it should be sad but isn't at all. The lyrics play it straight, but the music can't take anything seriously, least of all anyone's pain and suffering. And if it feels like a bit of a one-off, it probably was-- "Misery" was written to be performed by British superstar Helen Shapiro, whom the Beatles opened for on one of their early tours. She, or more likely her people, turned the song down, and I can't help but wonder if it's because they felt like John and Paul were making fun of her. Helen Shapiro was (perhaps still is?) the youngest charting pop star ever in the U.K., and by the age of 16 had become famous for songs like "Cry My Heart Out," "You Don't Know," and "A Teenager Sings the Blues." What else do you write for a singer like this but a song called "Misery"? And if she turns it down, why not sing it yourselves on your own far superior album and blow her some raspberries while you're at it? Eh, just speculation.

"Misery," released in the U.K. side A track 2 of Please Please Me, March 22, 1963; released in the U.S. side A track 2 of Vee Jay's Introducing the Beatles, January 10, 1964.

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