The song Paul McCartney said proved The Beatles were “hacks”

Despite their status as the most popular and famous band of all time, true acclaim for The Beatles was hard to come by during the early years of their career. Frequently dismissed as either a fad band or a teenage phenomenon, the Fab Four had massive success working against them when it came to being accepted by cultural critics and the intelligentsia of the time.

That doesn’t mean they didn’t have their defenders. Bob Dylan was a documented fan even before he first met the band in 1964. William Mann of The Times noted in a 1963 article that ‘Not a Second Time’ included an Aeolian cadence in John Lennon’s vocal line, with Lennon famously replying that he had “no idea what [Aeolian cadences] are. They sound like exotic birds”.

Even when The Beatles weren’t being given the proper respect, they were very rarely treated with contempt. However, they were prone to some stinging self-criticism. Lennon, in particular, was highly dismissive of many of his Beatles songs later in life, taking a critical view of songs like ‘Mean Mr. Mustard’ and ‘Good Morning, Good Morning’. Paul McCartney was comparatively less combative, but there were still songs that he didn’t view highly, like 1963’s ‘Misery’.

“It was our first stab at a ballad and had a little spoken preface,” McCartney remembered to Barry Miles in the book Many Years From Now. “It was co-written. I don’t think either of us dominated on that one; it was just a job, you could have called us hacks, hacking out a song for someone.”

Originally written for singer Helen Shapiro, The Beatles wound up recording the song during their marathon one-day session for Please Please Me. “We’ve called it ‘Misery’, but it isn’t as slow as it sounds,” McCartney said in 1963, later reprinted in Keith Badman’s The Beatles Off The Record. “It moves along at quite a pace, and we think Helen will make a pretty good job of it.”

Shapiro didn’t end up recording the song, so it went into The Beatles canon. Lennon wasn’t as dismissive of ‘Misery’ as he was of some of the band’s other tracks, but he did give primary responsibility to himself. “It was kind of a John song more than a Paul song, but it was written together,” Lennon recalled to David Sheff in 1980.

When Lennon and McCartney eventually finished ‘Misery’ and showed it to Shapiro’s manager, however, they were rebuffed. “She turned it down,” McCartney recalled. “It may not have been that successful for her because it’s a rather downbeat song. It was quite pessimistic.”

Before recording it for themselves, The Beatles decided to hand ‘Misery’ off to another artist who was touring with Shapiro at the time, Kenny Lynch. “He was another lad with an eye for an opportunity, and he had a minor hit with it,” McCartney claimed. “He used to do it on tour with us… not amazingly well.” Despite McCartney’s recollections, Lynch’s version of ‘Misery’ didn’t actually chart.

Check out ‘Misery’ down below.

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