It is rumoured that that this song started life as a poem that John wrote around the time of his mother’s death. I have no definitive proof that it is or is not true but I lean towards the idea that it is. There is something embarrassingly self pitying and yet tender about the lyric that only a 17 year old could write about mortality.
“I’m the kind of guy,
Who never used to cry,
The world is treatin’ me bad… Misery”
It’s all about John, as was just about every lyric he wrote. The next lyric is in historical terms extraordinarily poignant.
“I’ve lost her now for sure,
I won’t see her no more,
It’s gonna be a drag… Misery”
When John was shot in December 1980 inevitably a TV reporter shoved a microphone into Paul’s face and asked him what all useless reporters ask anyone who is going through a personal tragedy.
“How do you FEEL?”
There is no reasonable answer to this question at a time of tragedy.
To expect someone to be articulate at a time like that is an extremely cruel request.
Paul answered: “err… well … err… It’s a drag really..”
Paul was attacked in the press for his callousness but in my opinion it was the nameless reporter that was callous in asking such a ridiculous question.
About a year after Johns death Paul expressed what he was feeling in the form that he was most comfortable with, a song. He recorded “Here Today” in 1982 and it says more about how Paul felt about John than any sound-bite ever could.
The bridge and last verse of “Misery” are the most tender of all-
I’ll remember all the little things we’ve done
Can’t she see she’ll always be the only one, only one.
Send her back to me,
‘Cause everyone can see
Without her I will be in misery
and in many ways from the time of his mother’s death until his own John was very much in misery.
The song would have stayed a poem at the back of a draw had it not been for The Beatles punishing work schedule.
The version of “Misery” that was recorded by The Beatles can be dated January 1963, when Paul and John were backstage at a concert at Stoke-on-trent, where they were playing a concert.
In February 1963, Helen Shapiro was Britain’s most successful female singer (having first achieved chart success two years earlier at the age of 14) and The Beatles were fifth on the bill as part of her nationwide tour of the UK. Her artist and repertoire manager, Norrie Paramor, was looking for new material for a country and western album she planned to record in Nashville, Tennessee and suggested that The Beatles compose a song especially for her.
John, as well as being an artist, was a pro and a hack and had no problem reusing his mothers requiem to try and get a hit.
"Allan Clarke and Graham Nash helped on that song", remembers Tony Bramwell, then an employee of Brian Epstein. "Clarke and Nash began throwing in suggestions for lines, while the boys were trying to get it ready for Helen Shapiro."
Shapiro’s manager didn’t like it and so British singer and entertainer Kenny Lynch, who was on the same tour, recorded it instead, thus becoming the first artist to cover a Lennon/McCartney composition. Surprisingly it did not make the charts. Kenny Lynch remained friends with McCartney and in 1973, Lynch appeared in the cover photograph for McCartney’s album, Band on the Run. You can see Kenny directly behind Paul on the cover.
When The Beatles needed original material for their Please Please Me LP they dug out “Misery” and polished it up. There is a definite mood dissonance between the dark lyric and the jolly backing track. It sounds a lot like “Gerry & The Pacemakers”, another Liverpool group who were also managed by Brian Epstein and were very popular at the time.
It all feels painted by numbers but there is one bit of studio trickery. Normal studio multi-track tape speed at the time was 15 ips (inches per second), but “Misery” was recorded at 30 ips so George Martin could record a piano at half-tempo an octave below. I think Elvis Costello stole this piano part for “Oliver’s Army” in 1979.
The ukulele version of Misery is performed by “The Big V”. The Big V are the result of a 25 year genetic experiment by Dr Phillip Johnstone and his wife Frances at their laboratory in Exeter, Devon. They have created a band almost entirely from their own D&A. The purpose of this experiment is yet unknown.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Manifesto of The Big V:
If your brother, the son of your father or of your mother, or your son or daughter, or the spouse whom you embrace, or your most intimate friend, tries to secretly seduce you saying, “Let us go and serve other gods,” unknown to you or your ancestors before you, gods of the peoples surrounding you, whether near you or far away, anywhere throughout the world, you must not consent, you must not listen to him; you must show him no pity, you must not spare him or conceal his guilt.
No, you must kill him, your hand must strike the first blow in putting him to death and the hands of the rest of the people following.
You must stone him to death, since he has tried to divert you from Yahweh your god….
(Deuteronomy 13:7 – 11)