Monday, April 26, 2010

Thoughts on "Don't Bother Me"

Though he was "the quiet Beatle" and later the "spiritual" member of the Fab Four, George wrote some of the most salty, ill-tempered, and accusatory songs in The Beatles' celebrated catalogue. There are plenty of examples: the cynical "Think for Yourself," the anti-tax screed "Taxman," "Piggies," which was a rebuke of upper-class greed and indifference, "Only a Northern Song," George's "personal denunciation of the Beatles' music publishing business," and "I Me Mine" (and there are likely more). If George had an ax to grind, he didn't shy away from venting; if he was pissed off, he didn't let his status as "the quiet Beatle" muzzle him.

Perhaps it's appropriate then that the first song George wrote for a Beatles album finds him in a bitter mood. "Don't Bother Me," which George composed while sick and on-tour in the summer of 1963, is an expression of loss and sharp frustration. He's smarting over a recent breakup - she was the "only girl" for him - and he can't be bothered to talk about it with anyone: "Don't come around/Leave me alone/Don't bother me." Basically, George just wants to brood in private. How very Lennon-esque (indeed, these are jaded sentiments that John would've likely spouted following a breakup). In any event, George is more than convincing. His voice, with its subtle, dark-eyed edge, works well with the mood of the lyric. I especially like how he sings the chorus in such understated fashion, which gives his hot emotions a sense of control and purpose. At the very least, George comes off more engaged on "Don't Bother Me" than he did on his two previous lead-vocal outings - "Chains" and "Do You Want to Know a Secret."

All told, "Don't Bother Me" is a solid track (this despite George's characterization of it as a "fairly crappy" and perfunctory attempt to just write something). Noteworthy details: its misleadingly chipper intro, Ringo's busy drumming, which is part of an almost Latin rhythm, and (once again) the song's overall angry mood, which puts it at odds with the rest of The Beatles' music through that point in time. By this I mean, on their previous songs, the Fabs had tackled a variety of moods and emotions: lovelorn, contented, ecstatic, yearning, and even horny. But not angry. Thus, "Don't Bother Me," like "There's a Place" for its introspection, represents an outlier in The Beatles' early oeuvre. As later songs would show, George was the right catalyst for this deviation.

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