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The Beatles song which saw John Lennon critique Christianity

The Beatles were well known for taking inspiration from any source that caught their eye. The songwriting partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney cherrypicked from across the spectrum of subjects and imbued their songs with an actual density that superseded the work of the majority of their contemporaries. One song that was inspired by a mesh of influences was the heady folk-rock classic ‘Girl’ from the 1965 album Rubber Soul

Mostly written by frontman John Lennon, the song explored the notion of finding the ideal woman, and also managed to mix in Lennon’s thoughts on Christianity. Of the titular girl, Lennon said: “This was about a dream girl. 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.”

Ostensibly, Rubber Soul is The Beatles’ weed album, and duly, the record is coloured with languid, slightly dream-like instrumentation that fitted with the band’s newfound love for the green leaf. Added to this, a portion of ‘Girl’ was written by McCartney whilst he holidayed in Greece in September 1963, which accounts for the plinky, bouzouki-like guitars that underpin the summery daze of the track. 

Lyrically though, Lennon discusses something of a femme fatale figure, “the kind of girl you want so much it makes you sorry”. Quoted in 2000’s Anthology, Lennon explained the provenance of this enchanting woman: “‘Girl’ is real. There is no such thing as the girl; she was a dream, but the words are all right. 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.”

The song also features one of the best examples of the innuendos that the band loved to hide in their songs. During the backing vocals of the middle section, Lennon and McCartney inserted some adolescent humour and repeatedly sang “tit”, evoking the cheeky image of the ‘Fab Four’ that we all know so well. 

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In Barry Miles’ 1997 Beatles biography Many Years From Now, McCartney recalled how the band managed to insert the impish sexual reference. He revealed: “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. 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'”.

McCartney continued: “And it gave us a laugh. 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.”

The density of the track doesn’t end there, though. As a testament to the songwriting talent of Lennon and McCartney, they managed to counter their immature references to breasts with a bit of religious criticism.  

Famously, in March 1966, Lennon caused a frenzy when he was interviewed by Maureen Cleeve and claimed that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”, which not only jeopardised their careers but their personal safety too. However, fans of the band were not shocked, as Lennon had made his thoughts on Christianity clear when Rubber Soul was released three months earlier in December 1965.

The lyrics of the final verse take are a critique of one of the critical teachings of Christianity: “Was she told when she was young / That pain would lead to pleasure? / Did she understand it when they said / That a man must break his back / To earn his day of leisure? / Will she still believe it when he’s dead?”.

In a Rolling Stone interview in 1970, Lennon explained what his analysis of Christianity was all about and where it originated: “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.”

An incredibly complex song that goes far beyond the light, marijuana-drenched music, ‘Girl’ is just one of many examples of just how pioneering and genius the Lennon and McCartney songwriting partnership was. To fit all of that into two-and-a-half minutes is remarkable. 

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