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"Misery"

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Fictitious dressing-room dialogue, Helen Shapiro tour, Jan '63:

Paul: So what d'you think about this writing a song fer 'elen thing, then?

John: Why don't we try an' write summat a bit different? I know: 'ow 'bout a really, really miserable song? We ain't tried one o' them yet, y'know.

Paul: Yeah, alright. Cum'ead...

Shapiro never did record it (though tourmate Kenny Lynch took the honour of making it the world's first Beatles cover — and a resounding flop to boot.) The band's own version on the Please Please Me LP couldn't be truer to the imaginary — but not unimaginable — objective above. Round the time of that tour, after all, during which they scored their first national Number One, Lennon and McCartney were writing pretty much constantly 'into each other's noses', pushing themselves to try something new.

Lifting the word from the earlier-written — though later featured — "Ask Me Why", "Misery" is such a marvelous little piece of pathos parody that it makes being merely a "Teenager In Love" like Dion seem like a bowl of cherries. Even next tourmate Orbison's "Only The Lonely" sounds cheery compared to this. Proof absolute of the determination and diligence they always displayed: if yer gonna write a song called "Misery", then you have to do it properly, don't you?

From the moody opening strum-chord to those woefully wailing backing vox, it truly is a masterpiece of wallowing, self-pitying wound-licking. The world is treating me bad — what an opening line! The piled-on "drag" of the whinging whine in the lyric is so perfectly ever-so-slightly overplayed, and John and Paul's 'fine matching of two voices' (as pointed out in the sleeve notes) is so perfectly ever-so-slightly over earnest, that it would've made a perfect addition to the Heavy Concept Album by Neil, the Hippie from The Young Ones. I sometimes wonder if that silly falsetto "la-la-la" at the close wasn't actually intended to lampoon it just a little bit more.

George Martin's piano here was his first outing accompanying the band, and his jangly descending scales and intermittent plink-plonks help to carry the joke beautifully. Nice one, Number Five!

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