Song of the Week: It Won’t Be Long, The Beatles

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Click Here to Listen to “It Won’t Be Long,” by the Beatles

 

It’s been a while since a song has moved me to spontaneous blogging, but I’ve listened to “It Won’t Be Long” like eight times today and enough is enough.

I think the modern listener tends to forget how scandalous the Beatles were, especially early in their career. Of course, this had a lot to do with the way they looked, but it’s undeniable that many thought the music just a little too raunchy for polite listening. And with a song like “It Won’t Be Long,” you can’t blame them. Hormones explode off this track. It’s jumpy and insistent, with those “yeahs” driving the tension higher and higher. Even the tempo is a bit unseemly—so fast!

Even now, the track crackles with energy. The more I listened to it today, and I mean this in all sincerity, the more I imagined the Sex Pistols covering it. The lyrics are simple and repetitive, and it’s rhythmically insistent. Although the Beatles will always run circles around Johnny Rotten and co. for sheer musicianship, there’s a certain brash, borderline annoying quality to this song that’s very punk.

Yet as simple as it is, the key to the song nevertheless reveals that the Beatles showed a shrewd understanding of songcraft from the beginning. The song owes most of its endorphin rush to the repeated shift between the calmer verses and the raved-up chorus, which gives the listener a chance to catch their breath while providing enough interest to hold attention, even if the song is barely a hair longer than two minutes. Compare it with something like the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” which gets a little boring after the initial two-chord excitement.

This particular track was apparently mostly a John Lennon composition, even though it was credited Lennon/McCartney. When I learned this (scant minutes ago!), it didn’t shock me. It seems to me that early on Lennon drove most of the band’s harder, faster numbers. His early vocals far outstrip McCartney’s for sheer grit, and he absolutely howls through this one, with the double tracking making it particularly effective. The entire band responds to this, but Ringo does particularly well at managing the shift in energy between the verses and the chorus—listen to those fills!

Song of the Week: Act Naturally, The Beatles

 Click here to listen to “Act Naturally,” by the Beatles

I thought it was only fitting to spotlight a Beatles song today, fifty years after the band first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and changed the course of pop music. But since I’m also feeling slightly contrarian, I’m going to spotlight a Ringo song. And why not? I kind of look forward to the one song that Ringo sings on every Beatles album, and “Act Naturally” is one of my favorites.

“Act Naturally” isn’t even a Lennon/McCartney tune. It was originally made famous by country singer Buck Owens, so this version is technically a cover. But the thing about the Beatles doing covers is that they reveal a side of the band that you don’t typically hear. The Beatles cut their teeth playing covers of American rock & roll songs in Germany, so they were interpreting other people’s material long before they began writing their own. As a result, they’re wonderful mockingbirds—able to replicate someone else’s songs, but delivered with their own stamp.

The song’s country roots give George Harrison, hands down the band’s best guitarist, a chance to really show off the country licks he copped growing up listening to Chet Atkins and Scotty Moore. It’s a double-tracked recording, which helps give it the guitar that big, fat tone. He manages to create a part that sounds really haphazard and almost sloppy, but harmonically it’s just right, and the spaces between the notes say just as much as the notes themselves.

I also really love the vocal blend between Paul’s harmony vocal and Ringo’s lead—their voices work very well together, and the deviation from the typical John and Paul duets makes the mix sounds fresh. Ringo carries the emotion of the song simply and directly with his delivery, which is just about the best that any singer can do.