Monday, February 15, 2010

Thoughts on "I Want to Hold Your Hand"

I struggle with "I Want to Hold Your Hand." I struggle with it because a song so revered and historic seems deserving of much more than the heavily qualified appreciation that I give it. Having, in 1964, launched the British Invasion of America, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" obviously occupies an important place in both the Beatles' catalogue and pop music's entire body of songs. It solidified the Beatles as a world phenomenon, and not by accident. From the iconic opening riffs and irresistible handclaps to the punchy cries of "I can't hide" and overall warmth, it's a preposterously effective pop song. I certainly couldn't argue, in good faith, that it's unqualified for its status as a classic. All of this is true, and yet, when I listen to the song, I am largely unmoved by it. I dare say I find it a bit boring. I don't feel the Beatles' conviction in it like I do in some of their other early-period classics (i.e., "Please Please Me," "Twist and Shout," "From Me to You," "She Loves You," etc.). I don't believe them as much. Maybe this is partially a function of the innocuous nature of the chorus: expressing one's desire to hold another person's hand clearly lacks sexual bite and doesn't make for much narrative excitement (to my modern ears, anyway). It gives the impression that the Beatles are holding back, and not in a compelling fashion. That's my most substantive complaint, anyway. The others strike tamer blows: I don't care for sections of the harmony, I wish that the pace of the song was somewhat quicker, and lastly, how are John and Paul not singing, "I get high," on the part when they're allegedly wailing, "I can't hide?" The latter shouldn't frustrate me, but it does. So it goes with "I Want to Hold Your Hand," a classic that leaves me bewildered and uncertain more than it does satisfied.

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