Writing a post about Pet Sounds with Mike Nessinggot me thinking about back up harmonies. Many years ago I was wandering round Manhattan listening to a mix on my walkman when one of the earphones blew out in the middle of “You Won’t See Me” off Rubber Soul so I couldn’t hear Macca, only the back up vocals.
Everybody notes McCartney’s back up singing to Lennon on stuff like “Dig A Pony” where he doesn’t appear to be there at all -the singing is almost subliminal but “You Won’t See Me” is proof if any was needed that the Beatles were a gifted harmony group -it was one of the greatest things about them.
There is an air of resignation on “You Won’t See Me,” it is a perfecting of the lost girlfriends that populated Beatles For Sale, a powerpop ballad as opposed to folk-rock ballad of earlier Beatles vintage. A girl has broken up with Macca but he can’t find out why, “the days are few and filled with tears” Macca sings and Harrison and Lennon go “oooh, lala” in the background and it is hauntingly sad. If Lennon had written it you wouldn’t have blamed her for hiding but Macca is just in a world of pain and the entire song is devastated. “I wouldn’t mind if I knew what I was missing” Macca sings and Lennon sings “No I wouldn’t” right after and it is yet another musical conversation by the best friends.
There is no resolution to the song, it jump starts in with a guitar lick and Starr’s hitting the cymbal and fades into despondency with the “ooh lalalas” bringing it to a close. But it is almost ridiculously moving, “I won’t want to stay, I don’t have much to say” Paulie says and he earns every second of the anguish he brings to us.
I will be writing about Cheap Trick playing Sgt Peppers in its entirety at some point but the Beatles aren’t the greatest only because of Pepper, they are the greatest because of songs like this one especially.