Today work began on a new song, “Getting Better,” although by the time anything was actually committed to tape it was already tomorrow. In Mark Lewisohn’s The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, studio technician Malcolm Addey is quoted thusly:

The session was booked to begin at 7pm but there was barely a Beatle in sight before midnight, and we were sitting around waiting. They eventually straggled in one by one. Ringo came in about 11 and ordered fish and chips. The others arrived later, they all hung around and finally started work at about one in the morning. The ego trip of the big-time artists had started to set in.

This seems to indicate that John and George were present, but they did not contribute to the recording; parts laid down at this session were Paul’s rhythm guitar and guide vocal, Ringo’s drums, and George Martin manually striking the strings of a piano. These were all mixed down onto a single track to create room for more overdubs.

Though it was originated by Paul and he sings lead, “Getting Better” was — more than most latter-day Beatles songs  — close to being a true Lennon/McCartney collaboration. In his book Beatlesongs, where he assigns numerical credits for each song, William J. Dowlding gives 65% of “Getting Better” to Paul and 35% to John (the same, curiously, as “She’s Leaving Home”).

There’s a strange inner tension to this song; it keeps trying to be totally happy and upbeat á la “Good Day Sunshine,” but dark realities keep intruding. It’s probably oversimplifying to say that the happy parts were Paul’s and the dark parts were John’s, but maybe not by too much. Said Paul, “I was just sitting there doing ‘Getting better all the time’ and John just said in his laconic way, ‘It couldn’t get no worse.’” Years later, John commented,

All that “I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved” was me. I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically – any woman. I was a hitter. I couldn’t express myself and I hit. I fought men and I hit women. That is why I am always on about peace, you see. It is the most violent people who go for love and peace. Everything’s the opposite. But I sincerely believe in love and peace. I am a violent man who has learned not to be violent and regrets his violence.

“Getting Better” also draws on the same deep well of anger at the British education system that fuels Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” In fact, given the amount of sexual abuse that went on in British schools, could the lines “You’re holding me down/Filling me up with your rules” be hinting at something? I know, it’s a reach; but reaching is what we do here.

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