“Good Morning Good Morning” / The Beatles
Sgt. Pepper’s short on John songs, but here’s one – and a real doozy. Listen to this song and you’ll understand why John didn’t contribute much else to this album.
It begins with a crowing rooster (whether or not John pictured the rooster on a box of Kellogg’s Cornflakes, I always do – “the best to you each morning”). For a morning song, though, this is weighed down with restless chord shifts, harsh chugging guitar, braying horns, and a dark outlook – “Nothing to do to save his life / Call his wife in / Nothing to say but what a day / How’s your boy been.” I think of John Lennon trapped in his deteriorating marriage to Cynthia, with little Julian at the doorway; I hear his pain. “I’ve got nothing to say but it’s OK,” he mutters glumly, and those obnoxious backup singers nag, “Good morning good morning good morning-gah.” Nails in the coffin.
“Going to work, don’t want to go / Feeling low down,” he continues. Yeah, most of us feel this way, heading for our boring office jobs – but he was John Lennon, heading to work at Abbey Road studios, to make a rock ‘n’ roll album. When that sort of dream job just feels like work, it’s sad indeed. And when he’s put in his nine-to-five, he can’t bring himself to return to the old trouble-and-strife – “Heading for home you start to roam / Then you’re in town.” In his depression everything seems deserted, everyone looks half asleep.
Still, being on his own gives some sort of release. “After a while you start to smile / Now you feel cool.” Well, that’s good. It doesn’t change anything – taking a walk past his old school (echoing “I used to get mad at my school” from “Getting Better”) – but at least he’s coping. Time for an instrumental break, with George ripping into a fierce guitar solo -- code, I assume, for whatever substance our narrator imbibes in the interim, because it's followed by a much bouncier bridge. Downtown is now populated and bright and busy; “Everyone you see is full of life / It’s time for tea and meet the wife.” The guitar climbs to a screech on that thought -- a real buzz killer.
So he doesn’t go home. As a special keeper of the truth (“somebody needs to know the time / glad that I’m here”), in the last verse he stays where the action is. “Watching the skirts you start to flirt / Now you’re in gear” -- this is the story of every philandering husband, hoisting up the flag one more time to prove that he’s still alive. But the melody hasn’t changed; the intervals are still minor-key, the rhythms stiff and jerky. Casual sexual encounters (remember “Lovely Rita”?) and reality-blocking drugs (“Lucy in the Sky” and “Fixing A Hole”?) offer temporary release, but they can’t really solve what ails him. This guy wants an answer that won’t ring hollow, a new truth that will work for him. But the ending degenerates into a brutish cacophony of barking dogs, snuffling pigs, rattling chains, thunder, a train whistle. Chaos.
If you felt like this, would you want to write bouncy pop songs and pretend to be a member of an old-timey brass band? Paul could write fictional songs about runaway girls and old couples in a cottage and blokes chatting up traffic wardens – John wrote about his own inner state, and his inner state was hell. There was absolutely no “good” in John’s “good morning” right then. This song breaks my heart.