Friday, June 5, 2009

This Boy

Oh, let's have a little Friday morning weeper to bring us into the last work day this week, yes? A little sad sad song about some boy. "This Boy," I guess. Oh, how I love the Beatles singing this song.

There's something that irks me about this song, and it's that Paul has tried to take credit for co-authorship. I've spoken before about my suspicion that a faulty memory, a belief in his own awesomeness, and an instinct to protect his legacy from those who would crown John Lennon King of the Beatles have all led Paul to revise history somewhat and occasionally take credit for songs that weren't his. And "This Boy" is a prime example of this. According to John, this song was his, and that's been the generally accepted feeling for a while. Until recently-- I think I first heard of Paul trying to say he co-wrote "This Boy" in Many Years from Now by Barry Miles, a very good book that relies almost entirely on Paul's reminiscences. But the books I've read that were published before that one (and I haven't read every single one, of course, but I have read several) put this song in John's corner unambiguously, which leads me to believe Paul didn't try to put in a claim for "This Boy" until the Miles book, which pubbed in 1998. If I'm wrong about this, do please correct me, but this is what I remember.

But even if I am wrong about the pub dates and stuff, I don't NEED the books to back it up, because if you know anything about the way John and Paul wrote, it's totally a John song. Sure, I mean, this is an early song, when the band collaborated on stuff a lot, and I'm not saying Paul didn't contribute a few lyrics or something. But there's no way this is another "She Loves You"-- this was not written in equal partnership. I just don't hear that. "This Boy" was written as a tribute to Smokey Robinson, whom John worshipped and tried to emulate all the time (other moments in which John tries to do Smokey Robinson: "Yes It Is," "Not a Second Time," "All I've Got to Do," probably others; whereas I'm not sure Paul ever did so consciously). And its dense three-part harmonies are a total John-ism, not to mention its lyric all about jealousy and insecurity. So Paul, I'm sorry, but I just don't buy your argument here. I'm giving this one to John.

Now that I've settled that one to my satisfaction (though again, feel free to quibble) I can write about how much I love "This Boy." I am a sucker for some tight vocal harmonies and some good singing, and "This Boy" has heaps of both. It also features a lazily groovy bass line from Paul and some nice jangly guitar work from George, which keep the song tight and well-structured and stuff, but are still just bonuses to me in the midst of all the beeyooteeful singing. So about the singing: John is taking the bottom part of the three-part harmonies here, with George in the middle and Paul on top. And John's vocal line, just the tiniest bit breathy and at the low end of his range, has this sweet seductive quality that grounds the earnestness of the other two, don't you think? And the fact that he's been singing so low just makes it crazy crazy ecstatic when he goes high and pleading and screamy and weepy in the bridge. Totally one of John's best vocal moments. Yow.

"This Boy" was a fun one to do live, but the close harmonies required actually being able to hear each other over the screaming of the fangirls, which led to situations like this one from their first American show at the Washington Coliseum. It was a weird show anyway-- the boxing-style arena forced the band to rearrange themselves between songs to face a different portion of the crowd-- but the sight of John, Paul, and George all crammed around one mic for "This Boy" is pretty funny.

Of course, they had to do the same thing on their second Ed Sullivan appearance. (This version has more prominent drumming, which I actually kind of like. Also, dig how the girls lose their minds when John comes out of the bridge.)

That sweet 12/8 time has me swaying in my desk chair and sighing girlishly to myself. Oh, "This Boy," how I love you.

"This Boy," released in the U.K. as a B-side to "I Want to Hold Your Hand," November 29, 1963; in the U.S. side A track 3 of Meet the Beatles, January 20, 1964.

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