How The Beach Boys inspired The Beatles to hide swear words in their song
Paul McCartney once revealed that his favourite song of all time wasn’t by The Beatles but another 1960s stalwart, The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson’s genius composition ‘God Only Knows’. It would appear that the Californian band were a huge influence on the lads from Liverpool.
That fact certainly shone through when the group were recording a song in 1965 for their Rubber Soul whereby, taking inspiration from their West Coast counterparts, McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison hid some sneaky swear words in their song ‘Girl’.
The song is one of John Lennon’s favourite Beatles tracks, which is no mean feat. The singer, after all, had a changeable attitude to the band’s back catalogue. But ‘Girl’, he liked: “This was about a dream girl,” he once commented. “When Paul and I wrote lyrics in the old days we used to laugh about it like the Tin Pan Alley people would. And it was only later on that we tried to match the lyrics to the tune. I like this one. It was one of my best.”
The track is also notable for McCartney’s use of a “Zorba-like thing” at the end of the track which hinted at the Greek holiday McCartney was on when he was composing the music for the track. Lyrically, the song was about the iconic figure of a femme fatale, as Lennon is noted as saying in Anthology, “‘Girl’ is real. There is no such thing as the girl; she was a dream, but the words are all right,” he added. “It wasn’t just a song, and it was about that girl – that turned out to be Yoko, in the end – the one that a lot of us were looking for.”
‘Girl’ was the final song recorded for Rubber Soul and perhaps that had something to do with the unusual choices for the recording. The use of a sharp intake of breath was a suggestion of salacious heavy-breathing, “My main memory is that John wanted to hear the breathing, wanted it to be very intimate, so George Martin put a special compressor on the voice, then John dubbed it,” McCartney recalled in Many Years From Now.
The Beatles have always had a cheeky side and they let that show when the group worked together to sneak the word “tit” into the song. “It was always amusing to see if we could get a naughty word on the record: ‘fish and finger pie’, ‘prick teaser’, ‘tit tit tit tit’. The Beach Boys had a song out where they’d done ‘la la la la’ and we loved the innocence of that and wanted to copy it, but not use the same phrase,” recalled Macca.
However, the band weren’t keen on playing it safe: “So we were looking around for another phrase, so it was ‘dit dit dit dit’, which we decided to change in our waggishness to ‘tit tit tit tit’, which is virtually indistinguishable from ‘dit dit dit dit’. And it gave us a laugh.”
The song was a moment of humour between four friends as they continued on one of the most historic career paths in music. “It was to get some light relief in the middle of this real big career that we were forging. If we could put in something that was a little bit subversive then we would. George Martin might say, ‘Was that “dit dit” or “tit tit” you were singing?’ ‘Oh, “dit dit”, George, but it does sound a bit like that, doesn’t it?’ Then we’d get in the car and break down laughing.”
After the band had parted ways, Lennon revealed that the song was also inspired by his feelings towards Christianity, “I was just talking about Christianity in that – a thing like you have to be tortured to attain heaven. I’m only saying that I was talking about ‘pain will lead to pleasure’ in ‘Girl’ and that was sort of the Catholic Christian concept – be tortured and then it’ll be all right, which seems to be a bit true but not in their concept of it. But I didn’t believe in that, that you have to be tortured to attain anything, it just so happens that you were.”
So whether the song is a deep allegoric assassination of the Church or a song in which four lad from Liverpool swear like naughty schoolboys, the fact that the song could hold both ideas is proof of The Beatles genius.