Top Twelve Noises in Beatles Songs
I usually don’t like it too much when non-musical stuff intrudes into a song. I want everything to be an instrument or someone singing, basically. The Beatles, though, can do no wrong. Here are my top twelve favorite noises in their songs, ranked from least awesome to most awesome.
12. Revolution 9 (the whole song)
I don’t like this song, but it’s important for The Beatles to have one song that’s not good, because the rest of the songs are good. So I like this song because I don’t like it. It’s like how you have to have one child you don’t like so that you can like the rest of your children. Because this whole song is just a bunch of noises, it gets a place on the list. Because I don’t like it, it gets the bottom place.
11. The panting noise in “A Day in the Life”
This one’s pretty on the nose. Dude’s late for the bus, had to run, so he’s panting. This sounds like a dog panting, though, so that’s a mark in its favor. I also like it because musically it’s a pause in the song, just like one would take a pause to pant while out of breath.
10. That dude in “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)”
This reminds me of the adults talking in the Peanuts cartoon. There’s a lot of character in this dude’s mumblings, which is great, but then you get some minus points for the fact that the character is not a very appealing one. I don’t like this man. He strikes me as indecisive but dictatorial. That’s an unforgivable combination. The worst bosses are the ones that are indecisive and dictatorial. They don’t know what they want you to do, but they know for sure that they want you to do it, right now, the way they want it done. Then when you do it, inevitably you did it wrong, because they didn’t know what they wanted in the first place. This guy’s like that. What a jerk.
9. Ringo yelling “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!” in “Helter Skelter”
The story is that Ringo yelled this spontaneously, which I find amazing, because the cadence here strikes me as something that seems obviously tuned to a performance rather than someone just talking. Perhaps he was so caught up in the atmosphere that even his frustration came out musically. In any case, Ringo is the best Beatle, and you can’t help but fall in love with this little bubble of frustration-tinged levity after a pretty heavy track, all things told. Why Ringo didn’t have calluses by this point is a mystery. His hands must be naturally smooth as a baby’s bottom.
8. Everybody going “beep beep beep beep” in “Drive My Car”
I like this noise because picturing them all going “beep beep beep beep” makes me laugh. Technically this is a lyric they’re singing, but the lyric is a noise, so I think it counts. I like to listen to music in my car, and song sounds like sirens and car horns piss me off because they make me think something’s going on on the road, but any song by The Beatles is one that I’ve basically memorized, so even my subconscious won’t get triggered by a car beep in one of their songs. More appositely, it’s just a bunch of dudes saying “beep beep beep beep,” not an actual car horn, so there’s even less of a chance of confusion. Car horns don’t even beep, really. They go “MWAAARH.”
7. Someone saying “serviceable villain” in “I Am the Walrus”
I don’t know why this reminds me of the cult classic 1960s TV series “The Prisoner,” but it does. I’ve watched five of the seventeen episodes of “The Prisoner,” and having done so, I’ve reached an impasse. Patrick McGoohan, the star and brainchild behind the show and also the dude named “McGoohan,” which itself is an achievement, originally wanted just six episodes, but the studio wanted him to make more, so to some extent the other eleven episodes are filler, I’ve heard. I’ve watched five of the six he had in mind as the key episodes, and the last one to watch is the last episode of the series. This means I can either watch the other eleven, or skip them and watch the last, or watch the last and then the other eleven. None of those options strikes me as acceptable. Watching the other eleven will take forever. Skipping them means I’ll miss out on some episodes of one of the few TV shows I like. Watching something out of order is like nails on a chalkboard for the part of my brain that pays attention to narratives. This means I’ve chosen the worst possible solution, which is to sit here not watching any of them. That is the kind of person that I am.
6. Ringo whispering “good night everybody” in “Good Night”
Ringo again! And as if that weren’t enough, it’s a very sweet sentiment. He’s gently telling everyone to go to sleep. That’s really comforting. Sometimes I think I should listen to this each night before I go to bed, but then I decide it’s better to just imagine that Ringo’s inside me, as he’s inside all of us, without having to explicitly play the audio, you know? I also don’t want to train myself to fall asleep when Ringo is talking, because then if I ever meet Ringo I might nod off, and that would be rude.
5. “I dig a pygmy by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf Aids – Phase one: in which Doris gets her oats” in “Two of Us”
Some people have voices that let them say basically anything and it’s compelling just in virtue of having been said in that voice. This is a perfect example. The sound quality is also a little bad, something that I idiosyncratically enjoy, tolerate, or dislike: when The Beatles do it I don’t mind (I think it makes the voice sound even more interesting here); when The Strokes or Car Seat Headrest do it, I put up with it but would love to see it gone; and when Leon Bridges (accidentally?) does it, it annoys me. I think I like it better as an affectation than as a mistake, but on the other hand I’m not sure Leon Bridges does it accidentally, and finding out it’s on purpose wouldn’t make me any happier with it. The lesson here is that I hope Leon Bridges’s next album sounds like it wasn’t recorded in a bathroom stall on a Speak & Spell. If, like me, you typically tolerate rather than enjoy the lo-fi aesthetic, and if you also like Car Seat Headrest (he’s so hot right now), I suggest checking out his performances Live on KEXP, which is all the good stuff in his songs without the lo-fi.
4. The end of “A Day in the Life”
My favorite radio station is the aforementioned KEXP, a Seattle radio station that also streams online, which is great because I don’t live in Seattle. We’d be here all day if I listed what I like about KEXP, but the relevant thing here is that one time when they played this song, the DJ didn’t cut it off before the ending. He started talking a bit during the silence, but then stopped talking just at the right time for the end of the song to play. I found that impressive. I like this sound because it’s terrifying.
3. Someone saying “strawberry fieeeeeeeeeelds” in “Strawberry Fields Forever”
This one turns out to be very tough to hear, which is odd, because as I was compiling this list it stood out in my mind as one of the top sounds to list. When I went to capture the audio I realized this is super quiet and maybe I’m one of very few who are deeply affected by someone saying “strawberry fieeeeeeeeeelds” in this song. Strawberries, especially in a field, strike me as the sort of fruit that really benefits from repetition. You can’t have too many strawberries. An overabundance of strawberries never reaches a situation that would be in any sense deplorable. This song is a pretty repetitive one and the repetition works great, which, when you add that to the infinite multiplicability of the strawberries themselves which is suggested by the idea of strawberry fields going on forever, gives you a nice result. The cherry on top is someone saying “strawberry fieeeeeeeeeelds.”1
2. That weird “ship doop doodle doo woo” thing in “Come Together”
This probably technically counts as part of the music but honestly what the hell is it? Right? If I ever get married, this clip, on repeat, is what I want played when I walk down the aisle, and then subsequently for the rest of my life, or my spouse’s life, whichever is longer. In fact I’m not sure why I need to get married first. I should just pipe this out via boom box everywhere I go, like a really white version of Radio Raheem from Do the Right Thing. I could at least make it my ringtone.
1. The sound made by The Beatles sucking air over their teeth in “Girl”
I love this one the most because you know exactly the sort of sentiment they’re communicating when they make this noise, but there’s so much to that sentiment that there’s no way to encapsulate it in a paragraph, let alone a word. It’s the sort of thing that cries out for a word in German that sums up the feeling perfectly. The closest you can get is just describing other sorts of actions that communicate something like the sentiment, like someone saying “oh hell no.”
- If you read that sentence and thought that instead of saying “cherry on top” I should have said “strawberry on top,” then we are kindred spirits. [↑]