Damon is a musician. His favorite hobby of obsessively analyzing music can sometimes result in strange revelations about his favorite songs.
"Something" by The Beatles
The Beatles were master craftsmen when it came to writing love songs. From “Yesterday” to “And I Love Her” to “The Long and Winding Road,” it’s hard to think of a band that created more poignant romantic ballads. And in this most celebrated catalog of modern music, George Harrison’s “Something” is objectively one of the Beatles’ most acclaimed songs.
Everybody loves “Something.” Consider the evidence, starting with his own Beatles bandmates: Paul McCartney said “Something” was Harrison’s “greatest track.” Ringo Starr said it was “one of the finest love songs ever written.” John Lennon loved George’s song so much that he convinced the band to release it as Harrison’s first A-side single, where it went to #1 on charts worldwide.
The Beatles’ contemporaries were just as reverential. Paul Simon described “Something” as a “masterpiece.” Elton John said it’s “probably one of the best love songs ever, ever, ever written” and “the song I’ve been chasing for the last 35 years.”
Even Frank Sinatra called it “one of the best love songs of the last 50 years,” and Frank’s cover version was just one of the hundreds that resulted in “Something” becoming the second most performed Beatles song of all time.
Here’s a very short list of other musical luminaries who did their own versions of this beautiful ballad:
- Elvis Presley
- Ray Charles
- Smokey Robinson
- Tony Bennett
- Tina Turner
- Joe Cocker
- James Brown
- Shirley Bassey
With all the acclaim and sales and awards and “best of” lists and cover versions, “Something” is a bona fide classic. It is inarguably a beloved ballad to generations of music fans and – most certainly - a transcendent love song.
But is it?
Because it’s not a love song; it’s not even a finished song. It’s a breathtaking melody with soaring production, crafted arrangement, and impeccable performance, but with the laziest placeholder lyrics ever clumsily dumped onto a page and given the misguided designation of “love song.”
I’m not saying “Something” is a bad song. I’m just saying there’s something wrong with “Something.”
"Something" Lyrical Analysis
Let’s look at some of these “romantic” lyrics and see if we can figure out what George was thinking.
Lyrics: "Something in the way she moves"
The lyrics of “Something” actually began life as a placeholder. When George started writing “Something” in 1968, it’s well documented where the first line came from - George had been listening to a recently signed artist to the roster of the Beatles’ Apple Records - none other than acclaimed singer-songwriter James Taylor, whose song “Something In The Way She Moves” is on his first Apple Records album.
By all accounts, it’s clear that George used James Taylor’s line as a placeholder...and then he just never bothered to change it! Now the point here isn’t that Harrison is a thief or a copyright lawsuit should have happened - indeed, James Taylor has stated that he’s flattered having his lyrics in a famous Beatles song - but let’s stop identifying “Something” as a passionate ode to George’s wife when the line that informs the rest of the song’s lazy lyrics was a placeholder belonging to someone else!
Think about it: what if, instead of the James Taylor song, George had used the lyrics of the children’s song “Old MacDonald” as placeholder lyrics? Would “Something” now be considered a heartfelt paean to livestock?
Lyrics: "Attracts me like no other lover"
So wait, is it my imagination, or is George admitting he has other lovers? And the lover he’s singing to - his beloved wife and the supposed subject of the song – attracts him slightly more than the rest of his groupie concubine! What a lucky girl!
But let’s dig a little deeper into this “attracts me like no other lover” line. The following quotes are from an unguarded conversation between the Beatles during a recording session – you may have even heard these audio clips in the recently released Beatles documentary “Get Back.” In this segment, George is presenting the unfinished “Something” to his bandmates.
George Harrison: “What could it be, Paul? ‘Something in the way she moves, attracts me like...’ I couldn’t think of what attracted me at all!”
John Lennon: “Just say whatever comes into your head each time -- ‘attracts me like a cauliflower’ -- until you get the word.”
So while George is formulating words to this supposedly timeless romantic love song to his wife, he flippantly jokes to the boys in the band that he can’t remember why he’s attracted to her! Was George really writing an homage to his muse, his partner, his best friend, or was he following John’s advice and just saying whatever came into his head, eventually settling on “no other lover” and not thinking through the deeper implications of that loaded lyric?
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Lyrics: "Something in the way she woos me"
“Woos me”? Seriously, that’s the actual lyric: “Woos me.” Exactly what musical era are you going for here, George - Tin Pan Alley? It’s one thing to borrow from James Taylor - but now he’s dipping into the creaky old Al Jolson catalog? Not only was the idea of “wooing” someone already corny in 1968, but let’s look at the definition of “woo”: “try to gain the love of...”
So in George’s lyric, she’s wooing him. It sounds like George is enjoying sitting back and making her do all the work of “wooing” him, the guy who’s been established as not really being all that interested in her in the first place. I don’t know, it sounds kind of passive-aggressive to me, George.
Lyrics: "I don’t want to leave her now"
Wait, let me get this straight: “leaving her” is a consideration? What are we talking about here? And “leaving” isn’t an option that he’s silently ruminating to himself. No, it’s voiced loud and clear in this supposed ballad of eternal love. And yet, the worst part of “don’t want to leave her now” is that it sets up the truly bizarre rhyme that follows.
Lyrics: "You know I believe and how"
I’m sorry, George, but “and how” isn’t a lyric! It’s a lazy phrase that conveniently rhymes with “now”! Not to mention we’ve once again reverted back to corny, old-timey lyrics from a bygone era: “and how” is just a quaint, outmoded saying that, as far as I can tell, was popularized by the Little Rascals kids saying it to each other as a lame punchline in those 1920s Our Gang short films.
Why is “and how” in a modern rock ballad? What is going on here?
Lyrics: "Somewhere in her smile she knows that I don’t need no other lover"
What’s with George constantly bringing up other lovers? It’s almost as if he’s saying: “Hey honey, you remember I’m a Beatle, right? Just a friendly reminder that there’s a bunch of groupies standing out on the sidewalk waiting for me right now.”
And so we enter into the bridge section of “Something,” an undeniably powerful moment in the song. The band plays and sings this musical passage with dynamics and passion. But while the music is heavenly, the lyrics are godawful.
Lyrics: "You’re asking me will my love grow, I don’t know, I don’t know"
His wife is posing a fair question, a sentiment that most people in love want to know: will this relationship continue to blossom, to get deeper, to grow? And what’s George’s profound assurance of his eternal commitment to the love of his life? “I don’t know.” He’s essentially offering her the equivalent of “Meh, maybe, maybe not.”
Lyrics: "You stick around and it may show"
George dangles the carrot! It’s almost as if he’s saying, “I’m kinda indifferent about whether you’re staying or going, but if you do hang out, I guess I’ll think about whether I should consider possibly letting you know if I’ve made up my mind about a decision to show you any potential feelings that may or may not exist.” Wow, it’s getting so romantic in here; George must be quoting directly from their wedding vows!
Lyrics: "I don’t know, I don’t know"
And George doubles down on his indifference. He. Still. Doesn’t. Know. I guess he thinks he’s scoring a few points for being honest…?
OK, maybe I’m out of line. Maybe you love “Something,” and you’re not buying into the notion that such a classic, beloved song is merely a collection of placeholder words.
A Work in Progress
There’s a word that songwriters use when they’re presenting a song, and they want you to know that it’s still a work in progress. They haven’t finished writing all the lyrics yet, so they use a temporary word. A throwaway word. A placeholder, if you will. The Beatles probably used this placeholder word countless times when they were in the process of crafting their unfinished songs.
And maybe their songwriting process sounded something like this:
- “We all live in a SOMETHING submarine...”
- “I am the eggman, they are the eggmen, I am the SOMETHING...”
- “The long and SOMETHING road…”
The ultimate placeholder word is also the ultimate placeholder song.