Tell Me Why - The Beatles

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"Tell Me Why" - The Beatles (1964)

Recorded in February 1964, Lennon said of "Tell Me Why":

"It was like a black, New York girl-group song…..They needed another upbeat song so I just knocked it off.|

The track gets by due to its insane tempo, a chorus that threatens to fall apart yet admirably holds on, and, of course, the classic idea of singing 'is there anything I can do-o-o?'

The song is a joyous wash of vivacious doo-wop, shot through with a raw, syllable-stretching Lennon vocal. It went down in Beatle history as being a true hidden gem.

Both the lyrics, and the performance, linger just on the verge of parody. The ostensible tone, of wounded love, is in diametric opposition to the mood generated by the music.The pitch of the singer rising to falsetto in tandem with the increasingly desperate pleas of the singer. The bass is so sophisticated for a pop tune so it sews the song together with a perfect seam. Ringo locks in so well and punctuates perfectly.

Completed in just eight takes, John and Paul sang lead vocals, but Lennon was double-tracked to create a 3 part harmony. The track is interesting for its walking bass and triplet swing, unusual for Lennon and proof of The Beatles matchless capacity for rhythmic variety.

At one point Lennon said it was about children whose parents split up. Tim Riley said of it: It’s another tortured Lennon tune, but this one doesn’t rock: it swings- the backbeat has a syncopated snazz that keeps it moving ever forward. Listen to the way the giddy leap to falsetto is written right into the end of the line “And why you lie______to _____” The joy in the singing is supplanted by the way Lennon twists up the melody, bending notes all over the place to juice the betrayal for all its worth.”

Adds Beatle author Jonathan Gould: 

"The song is a mock-lament that toys halfheartedly with a theme of betrayal before yielding to a definitive moment of Beatle self- parody in the bridge, where John, Paul and George answer the line “If you’ll only listen to my pleas” by launching into giggling, girlist falsettos, their voices orbiting unintelligibly, up to the range of their fans."


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