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The Beatles song that saw Paul McCartney call the band “hacks”

The Beatles were acutely aware of their limitations as songwriters. John Lennon, Paul McCartney and the rest of the band made this clear on many occasions when they provided unique insight into the inner workings of the world’s most vital outfit.

Throughout his career, Lennon delivered numerous scathing accounts about a range of songs by The Beatles and why he loathed them. These explanations range from ‘Twist and Shout’ being recorded when he was stricken with a cold to ‘It’s Only Love’, a song containing what he described as “abysmal” lyrics.

The guitarist was also unafraid to tear into songs when they weren’t his own creations, with his critique of Paul McCartney’s masterpiece ‘Yesterday’, as well as ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’, two of his most prominent negative charges. Yet, in true Lennon fashion, he would also save a great deal of the hostility for his material, some of which he penned alongside McCartney and others that he brought to life all on his own.

However, it wasn’t just Lennon who was highly self-critical. Paul McCartney, a man famed for his consistently affable nature, also backed up his musical partner on several occasions and took notable songs to task. One of the most famous is ‘Misery’, the second track on the band’s 1963 debut, Please Please Me.

Lennon and McCartney wrote the song during The Beatles’ tour with Helen Shapiro in late January 1963. Outlining how their partnership’s constant push and pull played out, Lennon is quoted saying in David Sheff’s All We Are Saying: “It was kind of a John song more than a Paul song, but it was written together.”

It is understood that Lennon and McCartney started writing ‘Misery’ when backstage at the King’s Hall in Stoke-on-Trent. It was then completed in a location closer to home that has been credited with fostering a significant portion of their magic: the McCartney family home at 20 Forthlin Road, Liverpool.

However, McCartney made it clear that he had such reservations about this early classic that he even called the band “hacks” for writing it. He recalls in Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now: “It was our first stab at a ballad and had a little spoken preface. It was co-written. I don’t think either of us dominated on that one, it was just a job, you could have called us hacks, hacking out a song for someone.”

Despite the inner-band hostility and being one of the lesser-known tracks in The Beatles’ expansive discography, ‘Misery’ remains a testament to their ability to craft emotionally resonant melodies that capture the essence of human emotion, even in the early stages of their career. Its enduring charm lies in its simplicity and honesty, echoing the relatable themes that continue to captivate audiences across generations.

Listen to ‘Misery’ below.

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