“The Night Before” was recorded at the time when The Beatles were at the height of their boy band phase but were beginning to tire of it.
In the movie “Help!” the song is performed on Salisbury Plain. As it finishes, a mine explodes, leading the audience to believe that The Beatles had been destroyed. Within a year of the release of “Help!” the mop-top/boy-band version of The Beatles had been.
Ah, the Boy Band. That sweaty mess of teenage testosterone, bound and shackled in the unthreatening ropes of Romance. Repressed. Sanitized sexuality. Made shiny and sparkly, the subject of nameless desire for countless little girls.
What would we do without you?
If you are repelled by the careful brand positioning of Justin Bieber, you can blame The Beatles. Arguably, they were the first real Boy Band. Carefully managed and groomed by that figurehead of repressed desire, Brian Epstein, they caused mass hysteria. Airports full of swooning teenage girls. Musical appearances drowned out by screaming. Disapproving pundits. All laid at the door of the phenomenon of The Beatles.
And the world took notice. Where there was one, suddenly there were scores. The Monkees jumped on the bandwagon not long after Berry Gordy got the scent and unleashed The Jackson 5 on the world and a whole industry was born. The Osmonds and Bay City Rollers in the 70’s, Wham and New Edition in the 80’s, New Kids Of The Block and Backstreet Boys in the 90’s, through to The Jonas Brothers (remember them?) and ultimately Beiber.
Each and every one of them of them coining it in for a legion of managers, singing coaches, stylists, lawyers, accountants, make-up artists, PR gurus and occasionally drug dealers and male prostitutes.
There are many things we can thank The Beatles for, but the whole Boy Band thing is not one of them.
Brian Epstein’s role in all this is quite fascinating. He was gay at a time where to admit so meant jail time in Britain. He was the master of repression, and used the rigid codes of behavior he had been forced to adopt to shape The Beatles’ non-threatening romantic appeal. They would compel adoration and remain innocent. He was absolutely in charge of the mop-tops imagery, (matching skinny suits, haircuts etc.), using homosexual symbology to convey beauty without threat.
Pre-Army Elvis, of course, was not neutered for teen girl consumption. He had dangerously snaky hips and was not afraid to use them. He oozed sex, even while singing the most frothy of pop songs. Let’s not forget one of his first releases was ‘Hound Dog’, while The Beatles led with numbers like ‘Love Me Do’.
The 50s and 60s were obviously a time of great social change in the United States. The transition from the dangerous sexuality of Elvis to the sweet harmonies of The Beatles highlights the nervousness society felt at its own changes. The US created the suburbs as a place to stash this new thing called ‘the teenager’, and the music industry obliging created the Boy Band to entertain it. High school was a morass of unspoken desire as young adults delayed growing up, and the lyrics of the BBs gave them a safe romantic script to sing from.
Let’s look at the rules for Boy Band songwriting:
1. Always talk about LOVE. Preferably unrequited.
2. Mention hands. Holding of hands. No other body parts.
3. Have one bad boy, one sulky boy, one approachable boy, one sweet and confused boy.
4. Creative use of euphemism encouraged to expunge the faintest hint of sex for parents.
5. In the real world, never admit to having a girlfriend. It will ruin your merchandizing sales.
6. If you do have a girlfriend, make sure she is also a pop star. That way you both make more sales.
It is a wonder that the cynical Lennon managed to hold this line for as long as he did.
McCartney’s “The Night Before” is a classic boy band song, one of the last that they recorded before jumping headlong into drugs, mysticism, politics, unbelievably great music and tons of other stuff that we write about here every week.
There is little doubt that Paul McCartney was a genius but he was also a hack. He instinctively knew what the teenage girls who adored The Beatles were afraid of, and in this song he plays right into those fears.
The singer of the song has been cruelly rejected. This is not the sort of thing that would have happened to Paul much in 1965, and if it did I’m not sure it would have bothered him too much.
Paul knew however that rejection was a major preoccupation of his female audience and he instinctively writes from their perspective.
“Were you telling lies the night before?
Was I so unwise the night before?
When I held you near, you were so sincere,
Treat me like you did the night before.
Last night is the night I will remember you by,
When I think of things we did it makes me wanna cry.”
The lyrics are all very nicely open-ended, allowing the girls the chance to create their own personal narrative to the song. And of course, the boys sing the mildly dangerous bits in their own perfect choir-boy harmony. No growl. No husk. Simple, sweet and absolutely safe. Love may have been in his eyes, but what does it all means the following morning? Has he changed his mind? Did she go too far? Was he playing with her?
Even today these ideas resonates with teens and tweens.
Here is a quote about the song from one of the many bulletin boards discussing Beatles lyrics
Brianna: “It (The Night Before) reminds me of my ex because me and him were having hard times and then we spent a night together and everything was like it used to be, and he was very sincere. Then the next day it was back to being really bad, not like the night before, and then 3 days later we broke up, it was horrible.”
Personally, I find the ukulele version by AJR more charming than The Beatles’. The harmony isn’t sickening, it is truly lovely. There is a Michael Jackson quality to the youngest member of this band of real-life brothers. The older ones support and reinforce him, and the whole is very pleasing. They are a gorgeous addition to the pantheon of Boy Banddom.
Good luck boys.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
AJR, the 3-bro-band born and raised in Manhattan, is moving into the world music scene with a fusion of hardedge hip-hop and soulful pop.
Adam – 20, Jack – 13 and Ryan -17, write and perform original music while self-producing and recording tracks in their living room studio.
From street performing in parks around Manhattan, to opening at world-renown theaters like Lincoln Center, AJR has stepped out of the living room, and into the world music scene. The 3 brothers—Adam, Jack, and Ryan—are on their way to making an impact on the world. “We have been working hard for a bunch of years now,” Jack says. “And now that we have something to say for it, we hope the world will listen.”