Monday, May 29, 2006

Baby, It's You

Early in their career, the Beatles covered a number of songs originally recorded by women or "girl groups". According the my calculations, these are the six (with the original artists noted), that appeared on official EMI releases.

1. Chains -- The Cookies
2. Boys -- The Shirelles
3. Baby It's You -- The Shirelles
4. Till There Was You -- Peggy Lee
5. Please Mr. Postman -- The Marvelettes
6. Devil In His Heart -- The Donays

"Please Mr. Postman" is my favorite, with "Baby It's You" a close second. I also love "Devil in His (Her) Heart". These songs give me a sense of the Beatles' roots and tastes in music by other artists. "Boys" is perhaps the strangest of the bunch, since it's actually a song about boys! But I love how it rocks. Great bass work by Paul. "Chains" never did much for me, but I like George's vocal. "Till There Was You" was always a weak one. A glimpse into the sappy side of our Paul. But God bless him. Songs like this made our parents trust the Beatles and allow their albums in our homes.

I think the Beatles deserve a little credit for being willing to do "girl" songs in the first place. And not just one, but six that made it albums, not to mention a bunch of others they did live and on the BBC.
By doing "girl-group" songs, the Beatles were saying that these songs were just as good as any songs by men. They didn't capitalize on it, or brag about it. And from reading their thoughts in interviews, they didn't give it much thought at all. Paul later said that they didn't even think about the lyrics to "Boys" until later and realized that it was a bit odd to be singing a song about boys. But it didn't stop them from continuing to do it live. I think Ringo is still doing it in his All-Star shows.

The Beatles didn't make some great contribution to Women's Liberation by recording six songs originally done by women. But I think it made a tiny difference as a simple statement about the equality of men and women. That it was unintentional doesn't really matter. In fact, it shows that things like black/white, men/women didn't even enter their minds when it came to performing the songs they really dug. And it's also worth noting that all four Beatles took the lead vocal on at least one of the six girl-group songs they covered. It shows solidarity when it came to crossing the sex line.

You could say that they were "imagining" a world where that stuff didn't matter ten years before John wrote a song about it.


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