The Beatles Sing “All I’ve Got To Do”

WiththebeatlescoverListen to this track by the four mop tops singing an early track from their second UK album With the Beatles.  I woke up with this song in my head for no apparent reason; it seems to have been the soundtrack for one of my dreams.  But, as it turns out, it’s a favourite of mine.

In the famous 1980 Playboy interview, John Lennon dismissed a good many of his early compositions, I suppose in the way that you do when you’ve become more seasoned and are asked to look back on a career you started when in your early twenties.  Yet, the fact is Lennon and McCartney, and later Harrison too, were extremely good at taking styles and making perfect pop concoctions that had their own marks on them.  This is certainly one of them, a song about how love can be so simple, with just a whisper, a call, a kiss.  It is teenage innocence inside of three-minutes of pop music.  The Beatles knew who their audience was, just as those who ran the Brill Building knew.

I think a lot has been written about the Beatles as innovators and how their approach revolutionized what rock music could be and even down to how it was made. Yet, it’s often lost that the Beatles did not arrive out of nowhere. They had their influences. And perhaps ironically, the very influences which fed this song, “All I’ve Got To Do”, were the very ones they put in danger as far as the industry goes.

This tune is clearly the Beatles’ take on the sort of Brill Building pop song being written by people like Carole King and Gerry Goffin, who wrote a number of hits the Beatles would cover.  After the Beatles, the need for professional songwriters working in cramped little rooms were not needed quite as much as they had been.  So, with their skills at being able to meet their influences where they were, they soon made those influences redundant entirely.  Well, perhaps that’s a bit strong.  The Beatles’ ability to write and play their own songs didn’t immediately put people out of work. But, it ended an era where the division of labour in making a hit record, with writers, musicians, and singers as completely different jobs, was just a given.

Of course, the professional songwriter would never really be assigned to the ranks of the buggy whip factories.  Pop stars today live and breathe on the compositions of professional songwriters, particularly as pop music needs to move units to a greater degree than anyone in the early 60s would have imagined.  Yet, what the Beatles were able to do showed other acts, and perhaps more importantly record label bosses, that a band that writes their own tunes is not one of which to be suspicious.  But, a band who could do that was one to seek out, emulate, and perhaps capitalize on.

Suddenly, there were options!


The Song In My Head Today: ‘Saint Simon’ by the Shins

The Shins Chutes Too NarrowHere’s a clip of the Shins performing their song “Saint Simon”, as taken from their celebrated 2003 Chutes Too Narrow album.

These guys gained some exposure from the film Garden State, which contained the line “the Shins will change your life”. And where they don’t necessarily create a revolutionary sound as that line might suggest, they certainly do what has been done before extremely well.

To my ears, they’re pulling from some of the touchstones of classic guitar pop as forged in the 60s – a bit of the Beatles, the Kinks, and the pre-Beggar’s Banquet Stones. Yet they’ve cast it in such a way that it doesn’t sound as if they’re trying to sound like anyone. This might have something to do with the fact that writer and vocalist James Mercer seems to work hardest in the area of lyrics, with words dodging and diving here and there between the lines of melody like Olympic figure skaters across freshly Zambonied ice. The touches of harmony and almost baroque textures on this song in particular made the album a big favourite with critics, and with fans like myself.


The Song In My Head Today: ‘Catch the Sun’ by Doves

Doves Lost SoulsIn 2000, I worried about the state of guitar music until I heard Doves’ “Catch the Sun” on the radio one morning that year. It was perhaps the last time for a while that I’d heard anything new on the radio that really made my ears perk up, and would pretty much stay that way until I heard Johnny Cash’s take on Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” a number of years later. But, that’s another story.

Doves is a trio from Manchester, a group which evolved out of another band Sub-Sub, a proponent of the dance scene in that city earlier in the decade. “Catch the Sun” appears on their debut album under the Doves name, Lost Souls, which is a highlight record of that year. The song is a soaring, celebratory guitar-bass-drums interplay, the anthemic quality of which perhaps belying the morose lyrical content; “Catch the sun/before it’s gone/Here it comes/Up in smoke and gone…”

The song, and the rest of the album, proved that mood and texture can be achieved using traditional rock instruments. The group would go on from here to create atmospheric sounds in follow-up releases like The Last Broadcast, and Some Cities. But for me this song, which was later covered by British pianist/singer Jamie Callum, is one of my favourite songs by anyone.

Take a listen to the track, and tell me what you think.

The Song in My Head Today: ‘Life’s What You Make It’ by Talk Talk

Talk Talk the Colour of SpringThe first time I heard Talk Talk’s “Life’s What You Make It”, taken from their 1986 album The Colour of Spring, I was in a hotel room in Perth, Ontario. I was going to attend a wedding nearby the next day, and I was watching the video. Before this, I knew of Talk Talk mostly through another video and song of theirs – “It’s My Life”. But, I was fascinated by this song and its accompanying video too. The song is built on a simple, central rhythm track as played on the piano, accompanied by a tenacious back beat. The heavy left-hand chords that are the engine of the song – plodding, yet also compelling – providing an unlikely hook. It’s like a song that is ready to start, to kick off into a torrent of rage, yet never does. The tension of that is extremely powerful. This was the direction that singer Mark Hollis and producer Tim Friese-Green were moving in at the time; creating music which incorporates a sense of space, moving away from the agendas of pop music. The two would go on to craft what is considered to be their masterpiece under the Talk Talk moniker, the 1988 album The Spirit of Eden, which was even more minimalist in approach.

Also, I am always struck by the guitar riff in this song, played by hotshot session guy David Rhodes, who among other items on his resume had built a pretty impressive track record while playing with another one of my heroes, Peter Gabriel. I can never decide on how to describe the riff; it’s both jagged and ferocious, as well as being kind of ethereal and echoey. I don’t know. Maybe that’s why it is so compelling – it’s both.

Check out this clip, and judge for yourself.

The lyrics, if taken literally, can be seen as a truncated motivational speech. Yet you get the impression that there are levels of irony at work here, perhaps down to Hollis’ mournful-yet-desperate delivery. There is darkness and pain to be mined here, below the surface of the key phrase which, in the end, is not really defined as being positive or negative. You get the impression that because of this, there is a certain emotional numbness at work here, that understanding that life’s what you make it, doesn’t necessarily mean that the energy is there to make it something good.

This remains to be one of my favourite songs by anyone, built as it is on some very basic fundamentals of the best in pop music – texture, distinctiveness, and with several levels of emotional connection emanating from some mysterious place which seem to be operating all at once.


The Song in My Head Today: ‘Not Dark Yet’ by Bob Dylan

Bob DylanJungian Radio (my inner playlist) has delivered another gem; ‘Not Dark Yet’, one of the jewels in the crown of Bob Dylan’s brilliant 1997 album Time Out of Mind.

I was thinking of including this one in an upcoming article called 10 Songs About Aging, but the song has been pretty insistent in my head today, so it gets its own article. I may write about it again anyway, given that it is one of my favourite songs by Bob Dylan.

This is a tune about finding oneself at the latter half of one’s life, expecting the wisdom which is meant to come with advancing years, and finding it absent. In the past, Dylan’s lyrics have often been a series of red herrings, pointing a listener in one direction, and then throwing in lines which make one doubt the veracity of an initial interpretation. But this song is pointed, acknowledging that time has passed with very little to show for it except for past hurts; scars that the sun didn’t heal. There is no hiding behind imagery here. This is confession from the basement, the voice at rock bottom.

In this song we see the portrait of the well-traveled man, weighted down by years rather than nurtured or informed by them. It is a snapshot of a person who has seen a lot, but gives no indication that there remains any insight to make his life better. The exact nature of this existential quandary is not specified, but it doesn’t seem to matter very much. This is a man who is trapped, perhaps by his own expectations.

I love this song, this beautifully sad treatise on what it feels like to age, and to be disappointed with how life has turned out when you expected so much more. Who knows whether or not Dylan is revealing himself in this song. This doesn’t matter either. The point is that there is a universal sentiment described here; the fear of age and the fear of death. This is not just about the worry that life will end, but it’s about the downward journey toward that end, and the fear that the search for beauty is also about the embrace of something which is ultimately about pain. This is a sobering set of thoughts, yet beautiful in their honesty.

Check out the clip to hear this superlative song by Bob Dylan, and tell me what you think.

The Song In My Head Today: ‘Time Passages’ by Al Stewart

Al Stewart Time PassagesListen to “Time Passages” by Al Stewart.

Taken from his 1978 album of the same name, Al Stewart’s ‘Time Passages’ is all about the power of memory, and the fact that memories sometimes appear out of nowhere and surprise you – either happily, or not.

Stewart started his career in the 60s, and built somewhat of a reputation for period pieces – neo-folk songs which were set during the course of historical events (‘Roads to Moscow’) or centred around figures in history (‘Nostradamus‘). But by the mid-70s, he began to get a lot of radio play around a slick soft rock approach, one of the biggest being the title track off of his 1976 LP Year of the Cat, which was a travelogue tale of romance.

But, ‘Time Passages’ for me has always been a favourite, because it ironically transports me back to my childhood, and the sounds of late 70s- early 80s radio. But another big reason is that the song resonates with me – that I believe that when memories of places and people in the past rise up in one’s mind, it can make time itself seem like an illusion. This isn’t an entirely new idea. The English Romantic poet William Wordsworth who wrote in the 1700-early 1800s thought it to be pretty compelling too.

There is something comforting in that idea, although I’m not sure what it might be. Maybe it’s the idea that the events in a life are connected to something greater, that they are as important as events to come because they help to define our points of view, our very personalities. Where it is not helpful to be stuck in the past, neither is it helpful to discard it. Our past is part of what makes us what we are, after all.


At this point in time, everyone must think that I’ve got my head stuck in the late 70s to mid-80s when it comes to this whole ‘songs in my head’ thing. What can I say; Jungian radio (AKA – the song that pops up in your head for no reason…) has a will of its own.

Fun fact: Al Stewart is credited for having been the first songwriter to drop the dreaded ‘F’ bomb in a pop song, although he himself doesn’t agree.