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The Beatles song that brought in the "middle classes" as an audience


The Beatles were working-class boys. Cut from the same cloth as millions of England’s citizens brought up at the end of World War II, the Liverpool lads weren’t posh or pretentious. Their upbringings were modest, and their initial desires were to simply pocket a bit of cash before it inevitably fell apart, as all bands in those days did.

But as they experienced meteoric success unlike any act before them, The Beatles began adjusting their focus. John Lennon, in particular, was keen on promoting themselves as intellectuals, rather than witless pop stars. Both Lennon and Paul McCartney were proud of their voracious reading habits, and wanted to show off a bit on their songs to show that they were more than just ruffians.

According to McCartney, the first opportunity came on the band’s single ‘Please Please Me’. “I was doing literature at school, so I was interested in plays on words and onomatopoeia,” McCartney is quoted as saying in Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now. “John didn’t do literature but he was quite well read, so he was interested in that kind of thing. Like the double meaning of ‘please’ in a line like ‘Please, lend a little ear to my pleas’ that we used in ‘Please Please Me’. We’d spot the double meaning.”

McCartney added that the band continued to focus on wordplay on their next album, 1963’s With the Beatles. “I think everyone did, by the way, it was not just the genius of us! In ‘It won’t be long till I belong to you’ it was that same trip. We both liked to try and get a bit of double meaning in, so that was the high spot of writing that particular song. John mainly sang it so I expect that it was his original idea but we both sat down and wrote it together.”

‘It Won’t Be Long’ is still right within the band’s basic pop-rock wheelhouse, but it’s those literal lyrical flourishes that elevated them beyond the mindless schlock of the day. As their literary influences were poking through, the band also began to evolve into more musically complex territory as well. ‘It Won’t Be Long’ was noted for its complicated harmonic structure, and, according to Lennon, this helped endear the band to a whole new audience.

“The Beatles were more intellectual, so they appealed on that level, too,” Lennon says in David Sheff’s All We Are Saying. “But the basic appeal of The Beatles was not their intelligence. It was their music. It was only after some guy in the London Times said there were aeolian cadences in ‘It Won’t Be Long’ that the middle classes started listening to it – because somebody put a tag on it. To this day, I have no idea what ‘Aeolian cadences’ are. They sound like exotic birds.”

The critic, William Mann, had actually written that statement about the song ‘Not a Second Time’, but it hardly matters since Lennon’s point remains the same. The band were evolving and putting out material that, while they might not have known about the specific theory, was nevertheless reflective of their skill and knowledge. It just took somebody else saying so for a certain demographic to actually start paying attention.