Friday, April 10, 2009

Yes It Is

I took the day off today to hang out with a couple out-of-town friends who are staying with us, and boy am I glad I did. It's a gorgeous day in Boston, far too gorgeous to be at work-- much nicer to be sitting in a sunny kitchen eating croissants with people you haven't seen in too long. Anyway, my friends have requested "Yes It Is" for today, which sounds good to me. I love this song-- I'm actually a little surprised I haven't gotten to it yet (then again, I seem to love ALL these songs, don't I?). And you know what else? Yesterday was the anniversary of this song's release of the "Ticket to Ride"/"Yes It Is" single, which neither me nor my friends even knew until just now. Clearly, this is kismet.

"Yes It Is" is frequently compared to "This Boy," another earlier song by John, due to both songs' thick three-part harmonies that tend to hover around doo-woppy sounding chords. Both songs are also in triple-time, which the Beatles didn't actually use very frequently. John later said that "This Boy" was an attempt to write a Smokey Robinson song, and that "Yes It Is" was a rewrite of "This Boy" that ended up a failure. But John is frequently the worst judge of his own work. In the same interview in which he disavows "Yes It Is," he also says that "Day Tripper" sucks and that "The Fool on the Hill" is one of Paul's best songs, so to say the very least, he can't be trusted.

In fact, I love "Yes It Is" probably even more than "This Boy," just because it's so much darker. The story in this song is utterly weird. What happened to this woman who wore red, anyway? She sounds like she might actually be dead, probably in the most melodramatic, Gothic way possible. (Ian MacDonald compares the lyrics to Poe.) But then, what is it that "everybody knows," and what does this have to do with John's pride? John seems to implicate himself here-- he might have actually killed her, which is kind of amazing and strange considering this is a pop song put out by circa-1965 Beatles.

The vocals only heighten the sense of darkness and drama. On the verses, John and Paul and George sing their intricate three-part harmonies in a plodding, dirge-like way, stretching out those duples on the lyrics "yes it is" over the triple beat in a way that pushes the drama just enough. And then John takes the solo on the bridge in one of his best vocals ever (okay, yeah, I say that a lot, but seriously)-- he sounds almost teary as he tries to reassure the poor girl he's with that he's really, really trying to be normal when he's out with her. The way his voice almost breaks as he climbs up to the top of his range as he sings "oh, yes it is" makes him sound much more aware of how damaged he is than in many of his other songs. Around the time of Help!, John wrote several songs that he later pointed to as being a little more personal than anyone, including himself, took them to be at the time-- he later called this his "fat Elvis" period, and remembers expressing his unhappiness in songs like "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and "Help!" And though "Yes It Is" is in the tradition of sad doo-wop songs by people such as, yes, Smokey Robinson, there's an edge of realism and deep bitterness to it that makes it one of the John's darkest songs ever, a song in which he seems to face his own demons and disappointments more clearly than in any that came before.

The "Ticket to Ride"/"Yes It Is" single is, to my mind, one of John's great achievements up to this point-- both songs boast a level of sophistication that just wasn't there before, and they're so different from each other that they mark John as one of the best songwriters working at that time, which, duh. "Yes It Is" is so dark, but also so utterly beautiful-- a slow-dance song for the ages. Enjoy your Good Friday with this very Good song, yes it is.

"Yes It Is," released in the U.K. as the B-side of "Ticket to Ride," April 9, 1965; in the U.S. April 19, 1965.


  1. Kind of--what, anachronistic? I can't think of the word--that Yes It Is backed Ticket to Ride. Ticket to Ride seems firmly entrenched in the 'middle period' to me, but Yes It Is seems of the early period.

    I hesitate to bring this up, because your interpretation is much more fun, and I wouldn't want to disabuse you of it. But I always just assumed that 'everbody knows' that the chick cheated on John. Scarlet were the clothes she wore, and the letter on her chest. That's what his pride won't let him forget in the bridge, and why he can't be happy with the new girl by his side, so if she's smart, she won't wear red, because THEN he might flip out and kill her. How many albums 'til Run for Your Life?

  2. I have a George parody, latest post, at my blog.

  3. I think your interpretation is probably actually more correct than mine, Troy-- it's more that, as you said, I just kind of like mine a little better, so I tend to stick with it. But either way, we have to guess-- the song raises all kinds of creepy questions. Interesting that you hear this as of the early period, but probably true-- although it sounds far more sophisticated to me than "This Boy" in a way I can't put my finger on. (And it's more than just the lyrics-- the "This Boy" lyrics are 100% adolescent.) "Ticket to Ride" is more forward-looking. And the darkness of "Yes It Is" makes me think of those earlier '60s pop songs that feature a lot of death and high melodrama, like "Leader of the Pack" and "Last Kiss."

    And the recording of "Run for Your Life" was only a few months away-- clearly we're in John's kill-your-girlfriend period. I wonder how Cynthia was sleeping at night in 1965.