Saturday, June 27, 2009

Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey

Today is my birthday. Yay for being 30! I feel like I've finally hit adulthood (except, well, I don't really feel that way at all). So anyway, I'm giving myself a gift in the form of a song that is, if I'm ever pressed to name one, probably my all-time favorite. I know, I know. It makes no sense. I can hear you wailing now: "Meg!" you say. "It's a White Album throwaway! What are you thinking?" But readers, no, because whenever I hear those opening percussive guitar sounds and all the crazy handclapping and cowbelling, I get totally sucked into this utter masterpiece of a song. Is "masterpiece" too strong a word, reader? IS it? REALLY? Perhaps you need to listen again.

I mean, I don't think there's a serious critic out there who actually believes this is one of the all-time great Beatles songs. But it just gets to me somehow. I hear John shrieking like that, and all the percussive chaos, it's as though my guts turn themselves inside out it's so damned good. When I say that "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" is maybe my favorite, I think I mostly mean that it ALWAYS has the same effect on me-- I drop what I'm doing, my eyes get hazy, and (if I'm really not watching myself) I start jumping around. It's like being high.

Which is notable, sort of, since this is a song that is widely believed to reference heroin (though John denied it). John and Yoko had recently begun using-- heroin was in vogue among the avant-garde art people whom Yoko introduced John to-- and there are some other heroin-induced moments on the White Album as well, e.g. "I'm So Tired" and "Happiness Is a Warm Gun". The reference to "my monkey" is ambiguous, but "monkey" is apparently a term for heroin that dates back to '40s jazz slang. (These are the things you learn if you read a lot of Beatles books, folks.) The other eyebrow-raising moment re: John's new drug of choice is the whole bit about "the deeper you go, the higher you fly." So, you know, take that as you will. It might be there in the words, but the song's off-the-hook rock doesn't sound like it's recalling anything resembling a heroin high as I have always understood that high to be.

When you're listening to the White Album, letting the dulcet tones of the preceding track, "Mother Nature's Son," lull you into sleepiness, the opening crackle of those guitar licks on "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" jolts you awake in the most awesome way possible. George is totally wailing there, but the simplicity of the three opening notes is only the beginning of what he does in this song-- he's completely off the hook on the guitar part underneath the vocals, just all over the place, working this great contrasting line against Paul's bass, which is also nuts. And of course someone is clanging that cowbell, which arguably makes the song. (The cowbell drops out for the second verse, and it's noticeably different for its being absent-- the verse feels cleaner somehow. Then it comes back in for the third verse to up the ante a bit.) This all contrasts nicely with the very tight, simple, snappy drumming that Ringo is doing-- he probably figures that someone around here has got to hold the madness together. But things get a little less mad and a lot more driven when John sings "take it easy" at the end of the verses, and the drumming gets faster and more regular, and Paul's bass falls into the repetitive eighth note figure, and it's up to that rhythm and John's high screaming vocal to push us to the euphoria of the end of the chorus, when George plays the guitar solo line. That guitar moment is probably the thing most approaching a true melody that ever happens in this song, and when it comes it feels AMAZING, like just the best release ever. Neat, right? Even Ringo cuts loose a little bit here, with some nice cymbal explosions.

And speaking of John's vocal, what a work of art it is, utterly one of his best ever. In a way, it gives us the first glimpse of the so-called "primal scream" style that would become central to the sound of Plastic Ono Band, his first solo effort. But whereas on that album the screams come from what is obviously a dark, dark, angst-filled place, the screams on "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" are a natural outgrowth of his previous rock vocals from "Twist and Shout" all the way to "Hey Bulldog." He's screaming because this music is so freaking awesome. You know? I mean, frankly, rock and roll this good can make you high on its own-- there's no need for heroin or anything else. Rock this good does something to your brain.

And that seems as good a way to sign off on this one as any. Please give this one a listen, though-- it's so freaking amazing. I am a total evangelist for this song.

"Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey," released in the U.K. side C track 4 of The Beatles a.k.a. the White Album, November 22, 1968; in the U.S. November 25, 1968.


  1. I've always liked this song, too. I've never broken it down like you did (Because I can't!) so all i can say is i like the balls-to-the-walls energy it exudes. Everything works together on this song to achieve a sort of roughness. It's sorta Helter Skelter like in its looseness, too. Feels like they're shooting from the hip instead of taking a clean aim, if that makes sense.

  2. Well, I guess I'm out of the serious-critics club, because this is in my top 20 too. It's funny; it kind of defies the normal description of what works in a song that makes it so great. I think what makes so great, other than all the moving parts, like the rhythm guitar tempo against the rest of the song, is its feel. It just comes together to make this incredible feel, and like everything else the Beatles ever did, tons of bands have tried to reproduce the feel of this song since, but how many have succeeded? I mean, even after the Beatles gave them the blueprint? There's an Australian band called Jet, and they're popularly called "the shitty Beatles," which is funny, because I don't hear too much Beatles in what they're trying to do (that honor, of course, goes to Oasis (who I actually have liked at times)), but this band Jet is clearly very derivative ... and yet you wouldn't listen to it more than a couple of times. Even Oasis, who I like OK, or a band like Cotton Mather ... they've made some entertaining music, but they've never lived up to those Rubber Soul-era haircuts. And as a failed musician myself, I can attest personally to how hard it is to make a listener feel like a song like this makes us feel. If that makes any sense.

  3. Makes sense to me, Troy. Well, said. There is an intangible about certain songs that goes beyond just the guitar or the harmony or the melody, something that all the elements create in a way that is in describable, but none the less is felt.