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The Beatles' Sense of Humor -- a Unique Quality
26 May 2013
1.10am
Funny Paper
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This may not deserve a Topic of its own, but what they hey.  (And I refuse to spell humor "humour"blue-meanie).

Anyway, it just occurred to me the other day, after decades of appreciating the Beatles, that one quality that set them apart -- in addition to many others that have been cited over the years -- is that they, unlike really any other pop or rock band, had a sense of humor. This was reflected not only in their cheeky comments and shenanigans during interviews, and not only in their movies, but also most importantly in much of their music.  Sure, they could do serious music much of the time, but they also sprinkled their albums (particularly the later ones) with lots of humor.

Indeed, not merely did they have a sense of humor, it was rich and varied, with many shades and hues and styles of humor: 

1) zany offbeat humor

2) dry wit

3) cheeky satire

4) subtle intellectual humor (my regular quote at the bottom of all my posts is one example, from "Sun King").

Then also, there were the various flavors of humor apportioned out among the Beatles -- Paul's wit was more silly, cheeky, good-natured; John's drier, more biting, sarcastic, intellectual; Ringo's more childlike.  (Did George have a sense of humor?  Less so -- but "Savoy Truffle" is a good example of his brand of humor.)

No doubt there are other styles of humor they expressed, but I can't think of them right now.

I can't think of any other pop/rock musician, or any other band that delved into humor so much.  One minor exception (only minor because he hasn't done it that much) is James Taylor, whose songs --

Gorilla,

Traffic Jam,

Is That The Way You Look?,

and

Hangnail

-- are cleverly silly songs.

Loudon Wainwright has also written quite a few humorously zesty songs.

And sure, Frank Zappa is another example; but he sort of doesn't count, because he was offbeat from the get-go.

But when we think of bands per se, all the others seem dead serious about their cocky "I'm a badass rock-&-roll dude, dude" attitude (Stones, Who, Led Zeppelin, etc.).

Mundo paparazzi mi amore cicce verdi parasol.
26 May 2013
4.33am
Von Bontee
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Well, the Stones (occasionally), Zeppelin (very rarely) and especially The Who all had moments of humour in their music, but I know what you mean. It certainly wasn't part of their image. Comedy in Beatles music would appear to be a no-brainer since they had such a cheeky image and irreverent attitude (not to mention huge Goon Show fandom), so it's really too bad that we get only subtle glimpses of it in their music, and hardly any of that before the heavy drug days.

Who else did comedy music? Well, of the Beatles' contemporaries you had The Fugs, and there were the Beatles' pals The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (of Magical Mystery Tour fame), of course. And The Scaffold, led by Paul McCartney's brother, but I really know nothing about them at all. And there's all kinds of awful "wacky" rock bands around now like the Barenaked Ladies and Moxy Fruvous, but we won't talk about them.

One day, a tape-op got a tape on backwards, he went to play it, and it was all "Neeeradno-undowarrroom" and it was "Wow! Sounds Indian!" -- Paul McCartney
26 May 2013
10.15am
meanmistermustard
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Certainly in '62, 63 pop stars were meant to be grinning empty headed dolts who answered stupid or standard mundane questions with a smile and a thank you. The Beatles tore that up from the start by happily playing the fool, speaking nonsensical gibberish (influenced by the goons), giving stupid answer backs and not taking it all too seriously. All in a very light hearted manner so no-one got offended. But they were also honest and capable of being serious when the situation warrented it.

A great example of how their humour opened doors is their first US Press Conference. What should have been a nervous tight environment was blown apart, the US media didnt have a clue what hit them and loved it because at a time when everything was so serious after JFK's assassination here was a freshness and lightness that made a very hurt country laugh.

I think mainly they were themselves.

"Well, probably we'll sell less records, less people'll go to see the film, we'll write less songs, and we'll all die of failure" (John Lennon 8/64)
26 May 2013
10.30am
Funny Paper
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meanmistermustard said
Certainly in '62, 63 pop stars were meant to be grinning empty headed dolts who answered stupid or standard mundane questions with a smile and a thank you. The Beatles tore that up from the start by happily playing the fool, speaking nonsensical gibberish (influenced by the goons), giving stupid answer backs and not taking it all too seriously. All in a very light hearted manner so no-one got offended. But they were also honest and capable of being serious when the situation warrented it.

A great example of how their humour opened doors is their first US Press Conference. What should have been a nervous tight environment was blown apart, the US media didnt have a clue what hit them and loved it because at a time when everything was so serious after JFK's assassination here was a freshness and lightness that made a very hurt country laugh.

I think mainly they were themselves.

Like I said, though, I'm primarily thinking of the main expression of the musician -- his music; not his press conferences.

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26 May 2013
11.47am
fabfouremily
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I can't think of that many examples of their humour coming through in their music. The end of 'Hey Bulldog' makes me laugh, but I'm not sure if that's quite what you mean?

''We're just knocked out. We heard about the sell out. You gotta get an album out, you owe it to the people. We're so happy we can hardly count.''

26 May 2013
5.37pm
Egroeg Evoli
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First, I want to point out that George did have a sense of humor- a quite good one, at that. It might not have come through in his music as much as humor came through in the others' music, but that doesn't mean he didn't have one. We all know that George is the "quiet Beatle", and that could be why people don't notice his sense of humor, but he really did have one. He made jokes in interviews, and songs such as Savoy Truffle (like you said) sometimes show his humor, and I'm sure there are other examples that I can't think of at the moment. George had a good sense of humor. It's just not obvious.

Now, here are some examples of what I consider humor in The Beatles' songs:

I Am The Walrus- John's "zany offbeat humor", as Funny Paper put it.

All Together Now- it could be an example of Paul's silly, good-natured humor, I suppose…

Back In The USSR- I don't know, it just strikes me as humorous for some reason.

Drive My Car- the girl says that she wants to be a movie star, and whoever is telling the story can drive her car, but then she admits that she doesn't have one, but she's "found a driver, and that's a start."

Hey Bulldog- the whole song, I guess, especially the end, like Emily said.

Honey Pie- in a way, it could be humorous.

Wild Honey Pie- also humorous in a way.

Maxwell's Silver Hammer- humorous because it's so cheerful, yet it's the story of a murderer…

Piggies- somewhat humorous, yet making a statement in a way.

Taxman- same as Piggies.

The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill- humorous in a way.

Savoy Truffle- humorous because of the story behind it, plus the subject matter of the song.

There are probably more, but this is what I thought of.

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26 May 2013
6.26pm
Linde
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What about the end of Norwegian Wood? The ''so I lit a fire. Isn't it good, Norwegian Wood?'' bit?

26 May 2013
6.27pm
Egroeg Evoli
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Yes, that too. An example of John's drier sense of humor.

(I keep spelling humor "humour" even though I'm American. a-hard-days-night-ringo-7)

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26 May 2013
6.58pm
Ron Nasty
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The great and glorious Don't Pass Me By should never be forgotten, for one of the most awful/funniest couplets to ever grace a Beatles song:

          "I'm sorry that I doubted you
          I was so unfair
          You were in a car crash
          And you lost your hair"!

Only Ringo could get away that… though barely!

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26 May 2013
10.42pm
LongHairedLady
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Me and my husband were talking about this yesterday!  Their humour really made them what they were.  I love that they didn't take themselves too seriously.  It's also my favourite thing about another favourite of mine:  The Beastie Boys.  They are total goofs and I love it.  heart

"Please don't bring your banjo back, I know where it's been..  I wasn't hardly gone a day, when it became the scene..  Banjos!  Banjos!  All the time, I can't forget that tune..  and if I ever see another banjo, I'm going out and buy a big balloon!"

 

26 May 2013
10.46pm
LongHairedLady
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What about "You know my name, look up the number"? 

"Please don't bring your banjo back, I know where it's been..  I wasn't hardly gone a day, when it became the scene..  Banjos!  Banjos!  All the time, I can't forget that tune..  and if I ever see another banjo, I'm going out and buy a big balloon!"

 

27 May 2013
8.07am
Funny Paper
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Yes Egroeg, and mja, and LongHairedLady -- all good examples (especially "You Know My Name" -- good God! the Stones would never be capable of that!).

There are others --

Good Morning, Good Morning

Yellow Submarine (for Christ's sake!)

Mr. Kite (too tired to type out the full title) -- come on, can you imagine any other rock band writing that?

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band -- if you can't see the humor in that, you can't see a whole forest for the trees!

I'm sure there are more…

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27 May 2013
8.46am
meanmistermustard
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You could look a little deeper into the overdubs and recording of tracks. Pauls trumpet playing in Only A Northern Song is hilarious and no way is it meant to be serious, the silly calls by John and possibly George in Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, the daft ending to Lovely Rita (there are tons of silly noises thru-out Pepper).

Someone mentioned All Together Now as a possibilty. Totally agree with that after hearing the isolated 5.1 mixes, all kinds of insanity is in the making of that track. And a shout-out to Octopus's Garden with the milk blowing and all.

There will be many many more

"Well, probably we'll sell less records, less people'll go to see the film, we'll write less songs, and we'll all die of failure" (John Lennon 8/64)
27 May 2013
8.51am
Gerell
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A,B,C,D,E,F GHIJ I love you

J as in John.

 

And "Oh! Johnny" in Oh! Darling

"And in the End the Love you take is equal to the Love you make"
"When I was a robber *Piano Chord* in Boston Place"
"Let's hope this turns out pretty darn good huh"
"Pete may be the best, but Ringo is the star"
Paul:"Don't be nervous John"
John:"I 'm not"
27 May 2013
11.43am
Ben Ramon
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I think it comes back to one of their most powerfully appealing assets: they didn't adhere to a prescribed vision of what pop stars should be. They were unafraid to be themselves, whether live, in the studio, or at interviews and press conferences; cheeky, fast-talking, often silly and surreal working-class lads. It was easy for people to admire and relate to such free-spirited and idiosyncratic characters.

Egroeg Evoli said

Back In The USSR- I don't know, it just strikes me as humorous for some reason.

 

Certainly! It takes the "USA is my sweet all-American home" vibe and flips it completely on its head, writing from the perspective of a Russian native who can't wait to get back to his own land – lines like "take me to your daddy's farm" and "come and keep your comrade warm" are some of Paul's most delightfully eye-winking and witty in my opinion.

And what about "and curse Sir Walter Raleigh, he was such a stupid GET" in I'm So Tired? Maybe the most concentrated moment of Lennon-brand humour in a Beatles song. Perhaps tied with the fabulously irreverent "can't get no worse!" to counter Paul's optimistic sentiments in Getting Better.

I'd say at least 50% of the Beatles' music is imbued with some kind of sense of humour.

 

 

SHUT UP - Paulie's talkin'
27 May 2013
1.43pm
Gerell
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The Back in the US part will get you, in your head you will think about USA but it's actually USSR.

Oh and there's that "dit" or "tit" part in Girl.

"And in the End the Love you take is equal to the Love you make"
"When I was a robber *Piano Chord* in Boston Place"
"Let's hope this turns out pretty darn good huh"
"Pete may be the best, but Ringo is the star"
Paul:"Don't be nervous John"
John:"I 'm not"
27 May 2013
5.55pm
Funny Paper
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Yes, all good observations by the last few posters (by everyone really).  This really fleshes out what I thought might have been a slightly flimsy premise into something quite major.

Question:  Does Paul really sing "Oh Johnny" once in "Oh Darling"…?

 

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28 May 2013
7.37am
Gerell
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Let the ears be the judge, there was a youtube comment post talking about that Oh! Johnny part, and ever since, I became conscious about that line, occasionally hearing it in the songs.

Btw if George wasn't determined, Sexy Sadie might as well be released as Maharishi.

"And in the End the Love you take is equal to the Love you make"
"When I was a robber *Piano Chord* in Boston Place"
"Let's hope this turns out pretty darn good huh"
"Pete may be the best, but Ringo is the star"
Paul:"Don't be nervous John"
John:"I 'm not"
28 May 2013
8.19am
LongHairedLady
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I'm listening to it right now.  If he's saying Johnny any of those times, then the J pronunciation is really messed up…  still sounds like Darling to me.

Edit:  Ok, maybe the one at 2:52 …  MAYBE.  ahdn_paul_02

"Please don't bring your banjo back, I know where it's been..  I wasn't hardly gone a day, when it became the scene..  Banjos!  Banjos!  All the time, I can't forget that tune..  and if I ever see another banjo, I'm going out and buy a big balloon!"

 

29 May 2013
12.09am
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Maybe he's singing "Oh Donny" -- to one of the Everly Brothers…

blue-meanie

 

 

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