The Beatles and the Dark Side of the Road

by Kenneth Francis (May 2019)

View of Ajaccio (with the Beatles), Léon-Charles Canniccioni



In the first verse of his poem, Annus Mirabilis, Philip Larkin writes: Sexual intercourse began/In nineteen sixty-three (which was rather late for me)—Between the end of the Chatterley ban/And the Beatles’ first LP.’


It was always assumed The Beatles were the “good guys”, while The Rolling Stones were the “bad guys”, the latter being the type of rocker-rogues that parents wouldn’t want their daughter dating. Unlike the Stones, the loveable, boyish Beatles seemed to have started out wholesome but they gradually began to write vulgar, bleak songs without many fans noticing it.


Read more in New English Review:
Dysfunction Junction
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But when John, Paul, George and Ringo started to become popular worldwide in the early Sixties, they certainly didn’t come across as bastards. And their songs were all about ‘clean’ courtship between men and women. Songs like ‘She Loves You’, ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ and ‘Love Me Do’, paid homage to romantic innocence in the relatively simple lives of teenagers and young adults in love. But the lyrics and mood in their music changed incrementally from album to album. Paradoxically, this moral decline in the lyrics of some of their songs resulted in, for many, better and more creative music.


As mentioned above, their first few albums were all about love and happiness. However, their 1965 albums Help and Rubber Soul, were a turning point for the band in terms of lyrics. The new wave of songs by the Fab Four alluded to existential confusion and troubled relationships, and contained cynically pessimistic lyrics not heard of in their earlier stuff. Songs like ‘Help!’, ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’, and ‘I’m Looking Through You’ were nothing like the starry-eyed, optimistic ditties of earlier years.


It’s also interesting to note that 1965 was a year that saw a major societal shift in the West that led to the Sexual Revolution. Despite this socially negative cultural upheaval, the top 100 hits of ’65 were arguably the greatest songs ever written and composed in pop history.




The lyrics in the albums that followed Rubber Soul continued the journey into the dark side, combined with morally good lyrics to keep their image ‘clean’. The Godless Eleanor Rigby’s lyrics say, “no one can save, all the lonely people” Really? Not even Christ?


However, by 1968 on The Beatles ‘white’ album, McCartney’s lyrics moved to the darkest side of the road. The song?: ‘Why don’t we do it in the road’. Think about this for a moment: Within five years, The Beatles went from ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, to ‘Why Don’t We F**k On Some Roadway’, as “nobody will be watching us”. Even the philosopher Jean Rousseau would wince in his grave on hearing the situation ethic of such noble savage sentiments.



Another twisted song on The Beatles’ last album, Abbey Road, was ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’. This catchy tune was about a serial killer who hits his victims over the head with a hammer. Once again: from being held lovingly by the hand and ‘she loves you’ (yea, yea, yea!) to having your brains bashed out with a silver hammer, The Beatles came a long way from the innocent bubble-gum hits of the early days. There are many more songs with questionable meaning in the lyrics, but I’ve just mentioned a selected few.


However, love them or hate them, from the bright side of their music to the dark side, there will never be a group quite like the Fab Four. Testament to this is what I regard as the greatest song of all time, ‘A Day in the Life’. The song comes from the 1967 album, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and was banned by the then-BBC because of the ‘obscene’ lyrics, ‘I’d love to turn you on’ or drug-dreaming reference, ‘had a smoke (cannabis?), and somebody spoke and I went into a dream’. However, the virtuosity of the melody, and intermittent, tremendous build-up of the 41-piece orchestra into chaos, culminating in the most dramatic crescendo in popular music history, is astonishing. There is no song equal or better than ‘A Day in the Life’.



Read more in New English Review:
Houellebecq and the Popularity of the Crisis of Meaning
Disbelief About Belief: Secular Academics and Religious Fundamentalists

When the then lead singer of The Byrds, David Crosby, attended the recording of ‘Day in the Life’, he recalled his reaction to hearing the completed song: “Man, I was a dish-rag. I was floored. It took me several minutes to be able to talk after that.”


From hearing it myself on the wireless for the first time in the late 1960s to today, I still simply think, ‘Wow!’ as the goose bumps rise on my skin.



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