- By Doug Bradley
“We love you Beatles, oh yes we do,” was the boomer mantra in the 1960s. Among other things, the four lads from Liverpool dispensed a lot of advice in their songs over the years — from assuring us we’d get by “with a little help from (our) friends” and “we can work it out,” to urging us to “follow the sun” and “come together.”
And a whole lot more.
But recently, a couple of my Next Avenue colleagues asked me if I wanted to become a real nowhere man by finding the answer to their question: “Did The Beatles ever lie to us?”
Lyrically, I mean. Is love really all you need, and doesn’t money sometimes attract it, if not outright buy it?
Oh, I can hear the backlash already: How dare you ask such questions?!
But as you’re preparing to throw us under the bus, or a yellow submarine, take a moment to reflect on the words of the lads themselves as we ferret out the Fab Four’s fibs in five of their songs.
1. Do You Want to Know a Secret?
Pretty straightforward song, no? Guy’s in love with a girl, pretends it’s a secret so he can surprise her; has her come closer as he whispers in her ear, “I’m in love with you!”
Not so fast.
Turns out there were plenty of “secrets” afoot around the time John Lennon wrote this song. For one, he and Cynthia Powell (Lennon) had been secretly married, prompted in no small part by her pregnancy, not the kind of thing The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein would want bandied about in the press.
For another, while writing the song, Lennon realized he was actually in love with Cynthia. Needless to say, that didn’t last. Did he tell her that secret, too?
Fib No. 3: Lennon was secretly copying lines from a scene in Walt Disney’s 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs where Snow White, standing by a castle well, sings to the doves: “Wanna know a secret?/Promise Not to Tell?/We are standing by a wishing well.”
And fourth, Lennon offered the song to George Harrison without saying, as he later admitted, “I thought it would be a good vehicle for him because it only had three notes and he wasn’t the best singer in the world.” (Maybe that falls in the category of a lie of omission that’s actually kind.)
(MORE: Why We Still Mourn John Lennon)
Let’s promise not to tell…
2. She Loves You
In many ways, this is the quintessential Beatles pop song of their early years, distinguished by the “yeah, yeah, yeah” coda. But unlike their other early hit records, She Loves You changed the point of view by making the singer of the song the observer of another couple’s relationship and has him address the “other man.”
Therein lies the rub. At first blush, we think the song is about reconciliation — the singer is offering to fix a broken relationship by being the intermediary (“she told me what to say”) and offering advice to him (“apologize to her”).
But my good friend, the insightful rock critic Dave Marsh, found what he calls “darker nuances” in the text. Maybe lies even? Marsh claims that, in effect, the singer is not really advising his friend, rather he’s warning him that if he doesn’t appreciate this woman, then he (the singer) will.
So, rather than the two being friends, they’re, in effect, rivals.
Yeah, yeah, yeah!
3. Ticket to Ride
As part of the soundtrack to Help!, the Beatles’ second feature film, this bouncy song is ostensibly about a girl dumping her boyfriend, the song’s narrator. “The girl that’s driving me mad/is going away/she’s got a ticket to ride/but she don’t care.”
Here we go again.
By the time the film was released, Paul McCartney had told his biographer that indeed, as some Beatles fans had claimed, the song was referencing a British Railways ticket purchased by John and him to visit his cousin Betty Robbins who lived in the town of Ryde. Thus, McCartney and Lennon were quite aware of the double meaning when they wrote the song.
But wait there’s more — Lennon later informed a friend of yet another meaning. Alluding to the years the Beatles had spent performing in Hamburg, Germany, Lennon admitted that the young ladies (prostitutes) who worked the streets of Hamburg had to have a “clean bill of health” so the local authorities would give them a card saying they were “clean.” Seems that Lennon had coined the phrase “ticket to ride” to describe these cards.
But she don’t care.
4. Think for Yourself
Finally, a Beatles song that’s actually about lies and lying. Written by George Harrison, Think for Yourself is a direct admonition against lying — “You’re telling all those lies/about the good things we can have/if we close our eyes.”
Given Harrison’s topsy-turvy relationship with his wife Patti Boyd (she left him and married his best friend, Eric Clapton), you might think the song was a warning to her. Perhaps. But lines like, “The future still looks good/and you’ve got time to rectify/all the things that you should” lend some credence to Harrison’s later admission in his book I Me Mine that the song was inspired “probably by the government.”
As Mark Twain would say “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
5. All You Need Is Love
Ah yes, the anthem that perfectly summed up the aspirations of the international youth movement in the summer of 1967. With the Vietnam War at its peak and peaceful protests being staged worldwide, All You Need Is Love was “an inspired song that they (Beatles) really wanted to give to the world as a message,” said their manager Brian Epstein. “The nice thing about it,” Epstein added, “is that it cannot be misinterpreted. It is a clear message saying that love is everything.”
The song premiered during a BBC program called Our World on June 25, 1967. The show represented the first live global television link broadcast to 26 countries in Europe, Scandinavia, North America, Central America, Japan and Australia. “We had been told that we’d be seen recording it by the whole world at the same time,” said McCartney, “so we had one message for the world — love. We need more love in the world.”
And that’s not really a lie the Beatles told us. The fact that this is not the case is on us. Maybe love was all we ever needed.