Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tell Me What You See

Don't knock the Beatles album filler, is what I say. "Tell Me What You See" is secretly a little bit awesome.

If you listen to songs like this enough-- if you frequently, say, make your way through the Help! B-side on your way to the "I've Just Seen a Face" payoff that awaits on the very next track-- then "Tell Me What You See" starts to grow on you, or at least on me. There's no question that it's filler. I believe it was initially pitched as a song for the Help! (the film) soundtrack, but rejected because it was weaker than everything else. That was probably the right move. It's still a nice little album cut, though.

Of course, whether you like "Tell Me What You See" might depend a lot on how you feel about electric piano. I mean, you might already be a little sick of electric piano after its prominence in the previous track, "You Like Me Too Much," and now right here on the next track we're treated to that little flourish after the choruses that probably counts as one of the more innovative musical moments on the track. Though there are some other interesting things going on. They're downplaying the drums here and doing a bit more with other percussion-- this track features claves, which you can totally hear click-clacking throughout the verses, as well as a guiro, which is that instrument with the ridges in it that you basically scratch a stick up and down-- you might remember it from elementary school music classes, which I'm pretty sure is the last time I played one myself. (And yes, I had to look up that word. I can't remember everything.) So they are trying new things, and combined with the strummed electric guitar sound, it gives the track a folksy feel that's in keeping with the circa-1965 Beatles sound.

And regarding the folksiness, I want to note something that I think few have noted about this song: I think "Tell Me What You See" stands as an example of the kind of maturing lyrics that first started becoming noticeable at least since Beatles for Sale, if not before. Sure, the "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away"s and the "I'm a Loser"s get all the credit in this vein. But "Tell Me What You See" is more than just a standard issue poppy declaration-of-love kind of song. The words hint at a backstory that's a little bit dark, probably marred by issues of distrust. "Big and black the clouds may be," the speaker acknowledges. And there's real frustration in the last verse: "Can't you try to see that I'm trying to get to you?" The chorus, Paul's plea to just look at him for God's sake and to tell him what we see, smacks of domestic melodrama-- and in fact all the lyrics suffer from a touch of awkwardness-- but you can hear Paul working his way toward a song about actual adult relationships and the conflicts therein, the kind of songs he contributed to Rubber Soul.

And yes, the song is Paul's-- or at least mostly his, as it seems that John might have contributed sizeable chunks. Here's a fun listening experiment: put on side B of Help!, and then listen to "Tell Me What You See," "I've Just Seen a Face," and "Yesterday," all in a row. It's like listening to Paul actually grow up in fast motion. Of course "Tell Me What You See" suffers by comparison to much of the rest of the album, but I find it strangely lovable nonetheless.

"Tell Me What You See," released in the U.K. side B track 4 of Help!, August 6, 1965; in the U.S. side B track 4 of Beatles VI, June 14, 1965.


  1. I agree that it does get lost in comparison to the stronger surrounding material. Still, it has melody that sticks with you, if you let it. I'm going to listen to it a couple more times and then see if i "hear it" in my head the rest of the evening!

  2. Oh, Frank-- you WILL! If you're anything like me, at least. I've had it in my head all night.

  3. Well I made the mistake of reading this late last night and now it's morning, and I still can get this song out of my head. So thanks for that! It's good, though. In the face of so many Beatles songs that we've heard millions of times, this is one of those forgotten ones so it feels fresh and new. Plus I love when John and Paul sing entire songs together.