The Beatles Song of the Week: “Don’t Let Me Down”

I’ve written about my fairly new-found admiration for The Beatles a number of times over the last couple of years. The main thing that has captivated me in exploring their music — and I’ve only done this in a cursory way as of yet — is its sheer variety. The Beatles compose and perform in so many different styles, and they’re convincing in each one.

The idea for this new series of posts came to me last month, when I was answering a question on Ask Me Anything! August 2010 edition. Basically I’ll pick a Beatles song and write about it a bit.

Up first is “Don’t Let Me Down”.

Now, one thing to remember about me as a newly-minted Beatles fan is that I don’t know much about their music, or about their trajectory as a band, or about…well, much of anything at all. It’s all a learning process. So what did I learn about “Don’t Let Me Down”? Apparently it was originally intended for the Let It Be album, and then dropped; it existed as a single and then only appeared on Beatles compilation albums. I also learned that the song was written by John Lennon, and likely intended as a love song for Yoko Ono.

As for the song itself…it amazes me, actually.

It’s one of the more searing Beatles songs I’ve heard, with the emotion raw and on display in a way that isn’t always the case with this band. The song has a slow, bluesy sound, opening with a very brief guitar figure before we start right in with the chorus:

Don’t let me down
Don’t let me down
Don’t let me down
Don’t let me down

If this song is really intended for Yoko from John, then he is imploring her to, well, not let him down. His display of vulnerability here is front and center, not just in the simple repetition of the words but also in their delivery: Lennon sings them in a heartrending scream.

In the verses of the song, though, Lennon sets aside the imperative tone and instead seems to be commenting to a third party on the nature of his love for Yoko. First verse:

Nobody ever loved me like she does
Oh, oh she does, yes she does
And if somebody loved me like she do me
Oh, oh she do me, yes she does.

The song’s tone here switches to a quieter, more meditative sound, almost as if John is surprised at the intensity of his new love. And then back to the chorus, which leads to a second verse:

I’m in love for the first time
Don’t you know it’s gonna last?
It’s a love that lasts forever
It’s a love that had no past

This verse is, to me, the key to the entire song. The lyrics leave behind both the pleading of the chorus and the surprised meditation of the first verse, and instead become optimistic and downright idealistic about the nature of John’s love. We know he has been involved with women before, but now, with Yoko, John is claiming to be “in love for the first time”, and already claiming that it will “last forever” and even sounding a bit mystical in saying that their love “had no past”. This verse is sung to a different melody than the other two, a happier melody that leads John into his upper register again in the second half, but even then, he no longer sounds pleading but rather shouting his affirmation (literally from the rooftop, in this case!)

But what really establishes the optimistic sound of this verse of the song isn’t the lyrics or the new melody; it’s the rhythm, driven forward by the doubling of Ringo’s drum pattern, making the song sound as if it’s just shifted into double-time.

We hear the chorus again, which somehow sounds less pleading this time, after the optimistic tone struck by John in the second verse, and then we’re into the third verse, which brings us back to the bluesy sound of the first verse, and a more, shall we say, intimate tone to the lyrics:

And from the first time that she really done me,
Oh oh she done me, she done me good
I guess nobody ever really done me,
Oh oh she done me, she done me good.

John’s love for Yoko is transcendent in mystical ways, but also in the physical act as well. Or I suppose that’s how this verse should be interpreted. In John’s singing of this verse, I hear a certain bit of mischief in his voice, and maybe even a bit of male “locker room” pride. Yoko is able to inspire John Lennon to the highest degree of virility that he can attain.

The rest of the song — the chorus one last time, and a close-out with John singing wordless cries — is mainly the same as the opening, but after the verses, the sense of pleading is gone. By this time, the song sounds to me like an anthem of affirmation, and a pledge by John that he won’t let her down.

What a great song.

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3 Responses to The Beatles Song of the Week: “Don’t Let Me Down”

  1. Roger Owen Green says:

    Arguably – and there are a couple of singles that should be double A sides anyway – this is the Beatles greatest B-side, of Get Back

  2. Quince says:

    To me this song demonstrates an unfeeling arogance combined with feigned victimization. Its like false gushing.

    A divorced man with children who makes such a proclomation is a cad and his sincerity thus suspect..

    "I never loved your mother son"

    "I know dad you just told the world"

  3. Brian Ashmore says:

    I am a fairly new Beatles fan, as well. Being a child of the 70s, I was surrounded by their music but never really had a firm grasp on which songs from that era were actually Beatles songs. A few years ago, (and maybe it's age), I found myself REALLY digging the Beatles…. kind of for the first time. It was pretty cool and thrilling to get to dive into the history and music of the Beatles with it kind of being a finite, completed story, so to speak. It's amazing to listen to the evolution of their music and also to kind of further the story by diving into their solo albums. I have to say it's kind of an odd feeling to kind of get involved in "that world" of the sixties and the Beatles music only to "wake up" and realize that two of them are now gone and the other two are reallly getting on in age. I feel like I've taken the last 20 or 30 years of "Beatles History" for granted since I haven't been paying very much attention. At any rate, music that was pretty much background noise for most of my life has now become indispensable.

    All these songs on Let it Be are kind of bittersweet since there was so much in-fighting going on within the band… and they kind of knew they were on the verge of disbanding the group.

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