Monday, August 10, 2009

You Really Got a Hold on Me

Today I'm listening to the Beatles way up in the air, in a flight from San Francisco to Seattle, which is kind of neat. And when I'm kind of sleepy and on a flight with nothing but work on the brain, I really like to listen to Beatles songs like today's. "You Really Got a Hold on Me" is a cover of an excellent Miracles song, and it has a lovely groovy feel that just makes me happy.

All the Beatles were big Smokey Robinson fans, but John most of all, so much so that several of the songs he wrote were attempts to emulate that sound. And no wonder, right? Smokey Robinson rules. "You Really Got a Hold on Me" is one that I remember specifically was not a hit, and possibly not even released, in Britain at all when the Beatles acquired it on an import disc and added it to their repertoire, sometime early in 1963. (It had been quite successful in the States, though-- it was the Miracles' second hit single for Motown.) So that means that when the Beatles played this song in live gigs, and when they played it several times for BBC Radio shows in the summer of 1963, a lot of the kids who were listening had most likely never heard it before. A lot has been made about the competitive element of the Liverpool pop scene and the race to find the newest, weirdest, coolest records to learn to play, and "You Really Got a Hold on Me" has to qualify as a great find. Live at the BBC features a version of this song introduced by John reading a fan letter out loud requesting it, and it's no wonder why, considering the song's awesomeness and the fact that the Beatles play it so damned well. It's also for both those reasons, I assume, that they went ahead and recorded it for their second album, With the Beatles.

And what a killer recording it was! Though the thing was rushed, as was typical on the early albums, it ended up being so great that it might be one of my favorite tracks on this album. They brought in producer George Martin to play a piano part, which to me makes the sound hew closer to the original version, though the Beatles thicken their sound up a bit. Most noticeably, Paul is playing a crazy cool bass part. Listen to the original version below and you'll hear that the bass is pretty simple-- effective, but simple.

Paul riffs on that basic line in the original and comes up with this amazing line that in some places sounds almost like a countermelody, and also works to beef up the rhythm and make this version sound a little bit more like a real rock song. Seriously, you gotta listen to it. Fantastic. Actually, the other thing that makes it sound a little more rock and a little less R&B is that the piano part, with the incessant triplets, is undermixed a whole lot more in the Beatles' version. In the Miracles', it's almost all I can hear, whereas in the Beatles' there's more of a suggestion of triplets.

But for all their changes, George's guitar alongside Martin's clanging piano on that opening riff sounds like as much of an homage to the original song as there can be. And John certainly sings as though he's trying to do a Smokey Robinson impression. (He did indeed look to Robinson as an inspiration not just for songwriting, but for singing too.) Listen to how soulful John gets on the "you really got a hold on me" lines in the chorus, or the fluid sound he gets on all his falsetto stuff. The "I want to leave you" verse also seems to me to hit a new level of intensity in this voice, don't you think? Gees, do John's vocals on songs like this ever make me melt. Not that George and Paul are slouches. George is singing the lower harmony line on the verses, with Paul jumping in for the choruses-- but they're all singing like they love love love this song. Not that they didn't always perform that way, but I really do hear something particularly beautiful in "You Really Got a Hold on Me." I guess I don't know how to put it beyond that. Everything is clicking here, and it's one of the more genuinely passionate covers they did, I'd say. (File it alongside "Anna.") I so love it.

Crap, they're making me put the computer away. I just want to leave you with this one video of the Miracles performing this live, because it's awesome, but I have no time for commentary. Later!

"You Really Got a Hold on Me," released in the U.K. side B track 3 of With the Beatles, November 22, 1963; in the U.S. side A track 3 of The Beatles' Second Album, April 10, 1964.


  1. It's just a great song and a terrific interpretation by the Beatles. All that you mention is dead on. i can only add that Ringo's drum fills are great. I think the thing that always sets a Beatles cover apart from the original and any other band's cover of the same song, is their approach to harmony. It is never the obvious choice on how to handle the lines. I'm not on an airplane so I'm going to keep my computer on and listen to this song another, oh ... four or five more times. Happy flying, Meg.

  2. Damn. (Fans self.) John sounds really good there. And you're right about the bass line. Got to listen to this again.