Sunday, July 5, 2009

Devil in Her Heart

I'll bet this one is the Beatles cover (or at least the commercially released one) with the most obscure pedigree ever. We would probably have never heard "Devil in Her Heart" if not for the Beatles' decision to include it on With the Beatles, their kickass second album. And wouldn't that have been a little sad?

This was originally released in 1962 as "Devil in His Heart" by a Detroit girl group called the Donays, and apparently went absolutely nowhere in the U.S. or in the U.K., where it was released simultaneously. Luckily, Brian Epstein made it a policy to stock his music store, NEMS, with at least one copy of pretty much every disc that was on the market at all. (This is why he'd been so flummoxed when a kid had asked for a copy of "My Bonnie," which was a new one on him-- and why he sought out the Beatles at the Cavern one lunchtime and went on to change the world.) So the Beatles, as well as all the other bands in Liverpool, could hang out in NEMS and listen to some fairly obscure discs, and this was one of them.

George takes the lead vocal on this, of course, and I've read suggestions that he was being groomed to be the doo-woppy perpetually-heartbroken teenybopper singer of the group, leaving Paul to pop standards and John to rock (this theory is also supported by George's lead vocal on "Chains" on the previous album). But I don't know if Epstein or George Martin or anyone else who would actually have made that kind of decision has ever owned up to it, perhaps because it seems so silly in hindsight to assign that kind of role to any of them-- though it would have made some kind of twisted sense in the pop scene of the time. I've commented before on the fact that George's voice does seem a bit more immature than Paul's and John's on the early work, but again, we know from experience that there was more to his voice than that. In fact, on the very same album as "Devil in Her Heart," they entrust George with "Roll Over Beethoven," which is a freaking rock and roll icon. So ultimately the whole theory doesn't entirely work for me. 

The thing is, the Beatles really liked girl group music. While "Devil in Her Heart" may not have the punch of the best work of, say, the Shirelles, it's a sweet little song, and obscurity would have only made it more interesting. Here's the original, by the way.

Much as I love the lugubrious sounds of girl group music, I prefer the Beatles' version here, largely because they're really rocking the vocals. It's a nice one from George, who's as earnest and clear-voiced as can be over the relentless, dare-I-say-sarcastic voices of Paul and John, who are just merciless in telling him how wrong he is. And I like George's jazzy little guitar solo line at the beginning and end too. Otherwise, it's not the best mix-- I've never heard this in mono (I know, I know-- BAD FAN), and it's probably better that way, but there's this whole messy wash of sound behind it that sounds like it could be cleaner. Then again, it could be because it sounds to my ear like Ringo is playing maracas pretty much the whole way through, which on its own would contribute to the messiness. Not the best musical decision they ever made. But still and all, I like to sing along to this one, and it's a fun weird little track on With the Beatles, ultimately. It's no doubt pretty dated-sounding, but I like this kind of thing too much to care.

"Devil in Her Heart," released in the U.K. side B track 5 of With the Beatles, November 22, 1963; in the U.S. side A track 4 of The Beatles' Second Album, April 10, 1964.

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