Misery - The Beatles

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"Misery" - The Beatles (1963)

“Misery” was originally written for Helen Shapiro, a 16 year old who toured with The Beatles that year. Her management rejected the song, so The Beatles recorded the track themselves when they needed material for the Please Please Me album.

Producer George Martin uses a technique he developed of recording a piano at half-speed by itself or in unison with a guitar track that had been recorded at an octave lower. Played back at regular speed, the piano introduction assumes a quasi-harpsichord or music box effect which Martin referred to as the “wound-up piano.”

Musicologist Alan Pollack wrote that the song's overall sound, characterized by a shuffling, "washboard" beat and spare, pseudo-acoustic instrumental texture, represents a genuine if somewhat under-appreciated facet of the group's early style.  

The melody of the track is in short phrases, punctuated by rhythm guitar and the rhetorical interjections of the song's title in the lyrics. It illustrates the simple and effective power of "the average Beatles pop hook" represented here by the inner rhyming in the verses ('I've lost her now for sure, I won't see her no more') and the way these verses, tragic and depressive by themselves, are transformed into almost a mockery of depression through John and Paul's double tracked chanting.

“Misery” is one of the rare, early Lennon and McCartney originals in which the girl is spoken of entirely in the third person. The track offers a splendid example of the ways in which youth’s unvarnished optimism proves impossible to quell and of adolescent self-pity.

The song contradicts its own title: it parodies the type of song it embodies.

Says Beatle author Tim Riley:

“John hardly sounds sad: and even when he does, in the middle eight bars, the descending piano that echo his melody are too saccharine to believe- they could be aural tears falling like rain. He makes his pitch for pity in the dramatic opening moments of the song as if on his knees to the audience, pleading-‘The world is treating me bad, misery.’”

The composition is ultimately about loss- experienced, however without a whiff of pain. 

Writes Beatle scholar Ken Womack:

“The speaker, suffering from the understandable woes of a failed romance, maligns his gloomy present in contrast with the ostensibly joyful times of a rapidly fading past: “I’ll remember all the little things we’ve done” he tells us, suggesting that his blissful memories of happier days might function as curatives for his broken heart. The song’s implicitly irony, of course, is that the speaker’s nostalgic longings for his beloved serve to establish a vicious circle of sorts in which his miserable state will continue to plague him indefinitely.”

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