The Beatles song John Lennon wrote that “didn’t mean a damn thing”
Even the most ardent Beatles fan in the world will admit that some songs lacked a great sense of meaning, especially in the band’s early days. The Fab Four’s success mostly came from their collective ear for a delectable melody and beautiful harmony, all underpinned by searing pop sensibilities; lyrics were merely playing second fiddle at the beginning of their career.
There’s still nobody who quite nailed writing a love-song like Lennon-McCartney did, although, on occasion, formula came first. There wasn’t a great deal of inspiration or truth behind all of them, but they made for perfect music nonetheless.
One song, in particular, John Lennon was brazenly open about not having any meaning behind, was 1964’s, ‘I Should Have Known Better’. The song featured on the album A Hard Day’s Night. It was also the B-Side for ‘Hard Day’s Night’ the single, and the track is very much quintessential early Beatles before the influence of Bob Dylan led to them trying to add a more versatile range of emotions into their music.
When the film was released, Lennon was incessantly proud of the track and revealed it was one of his favourites on the soundtrack, noting when asked: “There are four I really go for: ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, ‘If I Fell’, ‘I Should Have Known Better’ – a song with harmonica we feature during the opening train sequence – and ‘Tell Me Why’.”
However, in 1980 when Playboy’s David Sheff carried out his iconic interview with the bespectacled Beatle, the need for promotion had drastically changed. As such, he had changed his tune and brutally commented: “Just a song; it doesn’t mean a damn thing.” This comment is an indictment of Lennon’s confidence in his ability waning as the years went on, songs he previously adored such as ‘I Should Have Known Better’, he had grown indifferent to and was, perhaps, unable to appreciate his greatness.
That interview saw Lennon slander other Beatles songs that he no longer felt anything towards such as 1963’s ‘I’ll Get You’, which he commented: “That was Paul and me trying to write a song… and it didn’t work out.”
Even the group’s most famous song, ‘Yesterday‘, wasn’t free from the wrath of Lennon with him slating the track’s lack of lyrical density: “The lyrics don’t resolve into any sense, they’re good lines. They certainly work, you know what I mean? They’re good— but if you read the whole song, it doesn’t say anything; you don’t know what happened. She left and he wishes it were yesterday, that much you get, but it doesn’t really resolve.
“So, mine didn’t used to either. I have had so much accolade for ‘Yesterday.’ That’s Paul’s song, and Paul’s baby. Well done. Beautiful— and I never wished I’d written it.”
Whilst Lennon was brutally scathing about these songs which mean so much to so many, the former Beatle had changed and didn’t recognise the person who wrote those songs all those years prior. By 1980, Lennon had completely detached himself away from The Beatles and, whilst he remained grateful for the journey that the band allowed him to ride; there was a sense of benevolence that had grown in him towards their achievements.