The Beatles Just Got To Go?: 18 anti-Beatles songs
By Jason Heller
1. Bill Clifton, “Beatle Crazy”It was 50 years ago today (give or take a few months) that The Beatles truly became The Beatles. In 1962, Pete Best was replaced by Ringo Starr, and the band’s first single, “Love Me Do,” was released in the UK. The Beatles had yet to become superstars in the U.S., however, when bluegrass singer Bill Clifton recorded the wry, jaded “Beatle Crazy.” Reacting to what he saw during a 1963 tour of England—where he observed the first blush of Beatlemania—Clifton helped cement what would become a burgeoning micro-genre of popular music: the anti-Beatles song. After The Beatles stormed the States in 1964, scores of pop artists began recording pro-Beatles songs, hoping to ride the group’s coattails up the charts. Instead, Clifton and his brethren chose to grumble. Full of avuncular chuckles and weary whatevers, “Beatle Crazy” makes light of The Fab Four’s funny looks, silly music, and onrushing fame, then gets violent at the end: “Beatles in the wastepipe, Beatles in the sink / Them Beatles are smarter than some folks think,” Clifton sings in an ornery drawl, “Can’t shake them loose / Would somebody pass the DDT?” Before long, millions of grownups across America were shaking their heads and saying the same thing—oblivious to the fact that they were witnessing the birth of something more than a teen fad.
2. Allan Sherman, “Pop Hates The Beatles”By 1964, The Beatles had captured the popular imagination—and the popular contempt. Comedy singer Allan Sherman (of “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” immortality) weighed in with his novelty song “Pop Hates The Beatles.” Sung to the tune of “Pop Goes The Weasel,” it condemns The Beatles in the most glib, dismissive way: “Ringo is the one with the drums / The others all play with him / It shows you what a boy can become / without a sense of rhythm.” It’s as though Sherman felt The Fab Four weren’t worth the full brunt of his wit—either that, or he’s subtly lampooning all the fusty old dads out there who hated these ill-kempt moptops who made their daughters squeal. On The Dean Martin Show in 1965, Martin and Vic Damone joined Sherman for a rendition of “Pop Hates The Beatles”—little knowing (or perhaps deeply fearing) that The Beatles and similar groups would eclipse crooners like them by the end of the decade.
3. The Four Preps, “A Letter To The Beatles”Crooners weren’t the only species endangered by The Beatles. By the mid-’60s, the traditional harmony quartet—of which The Beatles were both an extension and a mutation—could feel the Fab Four snapping at its heels. The corny, crew-cut Four Preps were exactly such a combo, and the threat of The Beatles was enough to make the squeaky-clean group stoop to mudslinging: “A Letter To The Beatles” blasts John, Paul, George, and Ringo for stealing one of the Preps’ girlfriends—who gets this response when she tries to join The Beatles’ fan club: “You gotta send us 25 cents for an autographed picture / One dollar bill for a fan-club card / And if you send in right away / You get a lock of hair from our St. Bernard.” The Beatles’ haircuts (or lack thereof) are the lowest-hanging fruit in the realm of anti-Beatles mockery. But “Letter” did innovate in one way: It launched the trend of stealing Beatles hooks while ripping on the band that wrote them—in this case, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” which “Letter” liberally samples.
4. The Exterminators, “Beetle-Bomb”The mysterious, little-known, mostly instrumental group The Exterminators specialized in the kind of R&B-slanted dance numbers that were huge in the mid-’60s. An inordinate number of those songs bore ostensibly anti-Beatles titles, including “Beatle Wig Party,” “Beatle Stomp,” and “Stomp ’Em Out”—which was perhaps only natural, considering the band’s name. With “The Beetle-Bomb,” however, The Exterminators got a little more personal. Parodying “She Loves You” as well as The Fab Four’s accents (both badly), the suddenly vocal group lays down a generic surf riff as a backer for its anti-Beatle sentiments: “Hey, old chap, I’m not putting you on / Here come The Beatles, get the Beetle-Bomb!” Following that zinger are cracks of the snare drum and hissing from the band members—intended to sound like someone alternately stepping on bugs and spraying them with insecticide.
5. Keith And Ken, “The Beatles Just Got To Go”The exterminator angle was picked up in Jamaica—an island apparently not immune to the worldwide Beatles infestation—by the early ska act Keith And Ken. Their 1964 song “The Beatles Just Got To Go” opens with some of the catchiest lines in anti-Beatles history: “Mr. Exterminator / This just can’t wait ’til later / The place is crawling with some creatures called The Beatles / but The Beatles just got to go.” They had a legitimate beef; compared to ska, the music of The Fab Four just doesn’t cut it on the dance floor—or, as Keith And Ken put it, “They’re mucking up the rhythm and the joint can’t swing.” Not that they’re fans of The Beatles’ vocal style, either: “If they don’t stop their hootin’ we’ll really start a-shootin’.” They close the song with the chorus of “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” modified to, “Don’t want to hold your hand / Don’t want to hold your hand.” One can only imagine how Keith And Ken felt four years later, when The Beatles released their pseudo-ska song, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”
6. The Bug Men, “Beatles, You Bug Me”The obscure group The Bug Men led their own small campaign to eradicate The Beatles with “Beatles, You Bug Me.” “Do you come from Liverwurst? / And do you have that murky sound?” the band’s singer snarls before patriotically declaring, “We’ve got to get rid of the Beatles swarm / They hit over here like a great big storm.” Even the Beatles parody embedded in the guitar-work of “You Bug Me”—specifically, a slight nod to “I Saw Her Standing There”—is somewhat subtle. But the band ultimately lets its jealousy gush forth freely in the chorus: “Beatles, you bug me / It just ain’t fair / Beatles, you bug me / You’re everywhere!”
7. Homer And Jethro, “Gonna Send ’Em Home”Most anti-Beatles songs at least try to mask their main motive: deep-seated envy. In a sense, that feeling was justifiable. Many artists, like the jokey country duo Homer And Jethro, had been headlining barn dances and honky-tonks for decades, only to have The Fab Four come along and shoot past them. To Homer And Jethro’s credit, there’s an undertone of self-deprecation to their anti-Beatles song, “Gonna Send ’Em Home.” After a twangy, cornpone takedown of those “four hairy guys… from Liverpool” who “harmonize like Johnson’s old gray mule,” the twosome owns up to its open resentment: “They’re millionaires, they tell us / They made it overnight / And if you think we’re jealous / You’re absolutely right.” (On a more disturbing note, Homer And Jethro later recorded a sneering version of “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” only with the lyrics reworked to reflect strikingly misogynistic attitudes—even considering the attitudes of the time.)
8. Brad Berwick, “I’m Better Than The Beatles”On the flipside of blatant Beatles envy is Brad Berwick’s “I’m Better Than The Beatles,” in which the lost-to-the-mists-of-time singer tries to hitch his hate-wagon to The Fab Four’s rising star. In hindsight, the hubris is delicious; doing a passable Beatles impersonation that incorporates some surprisingly potent rockabilly licks, Berwick flaunts his superiority complex with tongue firmly in cheek: “They’ll buy up all my records they can find in every store / I can do this by myself, and with them it takes all four,” he boasts. Then he lets his megalomaniacal imagination run away with him: “Now Ringo’s gonna sell his drums and chauffer my new car / Paul and John will mow my lawn while George tunes my guitar.”
9. Roy Ruff And The Checkmates, “Beatle Maniacs”Before going on to produce numerous hit records for some of country music’s biggest names, Buddy Holly cohort Roy Ruff took a lighthearted swipe at The Beatles with “Beatle Maniacs.” Compared to many of the other anti-Beatles screeds of the era, the song is almost tame: “I took my girl to a Beatle dance / That was the end of our romance / She told me, ‘You’re square’ / because I didn’t have shaggy hair,” sings Ruff, who’s clearly more upset about losing his lady to the Fab Four than he is about The Beatles’ music itself. In fact, Ruff finds a solution to his dilemma that’s far more constructive than simply stewing in jealousy: “I’ll let my hair grow down in my eyes / Be the envy of all those Beatle guys.” If you can’t beat The Beatles, join ’em.
10. The Barbarians, “Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl?”The Beatles’ haircuts were obvious, easy, relatively harmless targets for ridicule. In that regard, the longhaired, semi-legendary garage-rock band The Barbarians—later cited by The Ramones as an influence—didn’t have room to complain, but they did anyway. The group’s 1965 single, “Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl?” bluntly addresses the androgyny that was starting to rise in the ’60s counterculture, its own camp included. “Are you a boy or are you a girl? / With your long blonde hair, you look like a girl,” frontman Victor Moulton sings before taking a sidelong swipe at The Beatles: “You’re either a girl or you come from Liverpool.” As a handling of gender identity, it’s pretty clumsy. Then again, this is The Barbarians.
11. Peter, Paul And Mary, “I Dig Rock And Roll Music”The anti-Beatles canon is dominated by crackpots and novelty artists. A-list artists rarely dabbled in that low form of ribbing—especially not after The Beatles graduated from fad to cultural icon. Peter, Paul And Mary is one of the few. Granted, the folk group’s 1967 hit, “I Dig Rock And Roll Music,” doesn’t seem like a Beatles-basher upon first listen. But the trio always allowed a little sarcasm into its sweetness, and that spite bleeds through in the song’s penultimate verse. After name-checking the likes of folk-rock heretics like The Mamas And The Papas and Donovan—with the condescending disclaimer, “The message may not move me or mean a great deal to me”—the threesome has this to say about The Fab Four, likely referencing its recent hit, “All You Need Is Love”: “And when The Beatles tell you / they’ve got a word ‘love’ to sell you / They mean exactly what they say.” Coming from Peter, Paul And Mary—which was then starting to see its peace-and-love ethos being watered down and mass-marketed as part of the hippie movement—it’s a compliment of the most backhanded order.
12. Rainbo, “John You Went Too Far This Time”Long before becoming an Oscar-winning actor, Sissy Spacek was a failed pop singer. And an anti-Beatles one, at that. Her 1968 single “John You Went Too Far This Time,” was released under the stage name Rainbo, and it features the 19-year-old Spacek gently, melodically blasting John Lennon for a litany of perceived lapses in loyalty and morality: infamously claiming in 1966 that The Beatles had become more popular than Jesus; publicly disowning The Beatles’ guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; and releasing his 1968 album with Yoko Ono, Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins. It wasn’t the avant-garde sounds of Two Virgins that upset Spacek, though—it was the controversial cover, which showed Lennon and Ono nude. “Everything you asked of me I did, John / From holding hands to living in a sunlight submarine,” Spacek sings in a voice that’s equal parts saccharine and strychnine. “I love the things you showed me up ’til now, John / But since that picture, I don’t think my love will be the same.” She comes across as more of a jilted superfan than a true critic, though; the song’s brass section even mournfully mimics that of “Penny Lane.”
13. Captain Beefheart, “Beatle Bones ’N’ Smokin’ Stones”Avant-rock pioneer Captain Beefheart was never known for being straightforward, so it’s hard to say exactly what he might be trying to say in his 1968 song “Beatle Bones ’N’ Smokin’ Stones.” The whole notion of “Beatle bones” seems morbid, and it’s not hard to picture the iconoclastic Beefheart essentially fantasizing about putting The Fab Four in the grave (not to mention The Rolling Stones, the song’s other ostensible target). But he gets a little more specific, relatively speaking, in the lines, “The winged eels slither on the heels of today’s children / Strawberry feels forever.” Is it a scathingly surreal denouncement of The Beatles’ sway over the youth of America? Is it a simultaneous dis on and distillation of the group’s friendly, fruit-flavored psychedelia? Whatever the case, it’s a secret Beefheart took to his own grave.
14. John Lennon, “God”Regardless of whether Captain Beefheart cryptically wished for The Beatles’ death, John Lennon—still a decade from being assassinated by Mark David Chapman—released his own anti-Beatles song, “God,” in 1970, soon after the band’s breakup. Granted, almost every former Beatle went on to dig at his former bandmates in song lyrics. But Lennon did it first, and most devastatingly, in “God”: “I don’t believe in Beatles,” he sings after listing Hitler, Jesus, and Elvis as just a few of many entities he no longer puts faith in. “I just believe in me / Yoko and me / And that’s reality.” To twist the knife he’d just stuck in The Beatles’ still-warm corpse, he mocks “I Am The Walrus” by adding, “I was the Walrus / But now I’m John / and so dear friends, you’ll just have to carry on / The dream is over.” Besides solidifying Lennon’s status as the bitterest Beatle, it also established his scorched-earth policy regarding the possibility of a Beatles reunion—although fate made the final decision for him.
15. Half Japanese, “No More Beatlemania”After The Beatles broke up in 1970, the anti-Beatles genre was effectively finished. The rise of punk later in the decade did lead to many diatribes against rock’s aging aristocracy—but even when The Clash sang, “Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust” in 1979’s “London Calling,” Joe Strummer and crew weren’t really railing against The Beatles themselves. The art-punk band Half Japanese was far more vicious in its condemnation of Beatlemania; as brothers Jad and David Fair thrash and squeal, the threat of a Beatles reunion—rumored constantly throughout the ’70s—is given a definitive epitaph: “Once is enough!” Jad screams. The song was recorded while John Lennon was alive, but it was released in 1980, the year of his assassination—a tragic coincidence that added an extra, unintended level of punk venom to the song.
16. The Meatmen, “1 Down, 3 To Go”Where Half Japanese accidentally aligned itself with John Lennon’s death, The Meatmen openly celebrated it. The gleefully offensive band was formed by frontman Tesco Vee, founder of Touch And Go Records, as an outlet for the sickest dregs of his id—and he topped himself with The Meatmen’s 1982 song “1 Down, 3 To Go.” The title refers to Lennon’s then-recent assassination, and hopes a similar fate will befall the rest of The Beatles, preferably soon. “Chapman shot him dead / Plugged him in the head,” Vee growls before aiming a few racial slurs at Yoko Ono and adding, “George, Paul, Ringo, any day / will be dead, we all must pray.” Crass, crude, and downright abhorrent, “1 Down, 3 To Go” bears the dubious distinction of being the uncontested apotheosis of the anti-Beatles song. Vee has kept up with the times; he still tours with The Meatmen, and following George Harrison’s 2001 death, he conscientiously updated the song to “2 Down, 2 To Go.”
17. John Wesley Harding, “When The Beatles Hit America”Taking his stage name from a Bob Dylan album, the English songwriter John Wesley Harding has always had a love-hate relationship with tradition. There’s no better example of that than his 1996 song “When The Beatles Hit America.” On the heels of the 1995 Beatles “reunion” that paired John Lennon’s demo of “Free As A Bird” with studio overdubs by the surviving Beatles, Harding’s song mercilessly skewers it as a grotesque marketing stunt: “The whole thing’s been a big insurance scam / to get the reissues selling again.” Witty and wordy, “When The Beatles Hit America” isn’t gruesomely Beatles-hating like, say, “1 Down, 3 To Go.” But the ever-acidic Harding does slip in a cruel punchline at Lennon’s expense: “John, who was never the quiet one / John stays silent for the time being.”
18. Edwyn Collins, “The Beatles”By the turn of the 21st century, The Beatles had become more or less untouchable, indelibly installed at the top of the pop-culture pantheon. No one told Edwyn Collins. Since his days in the post-punk outfit Orange Juice, Collins has made his name as a consummate wiseass, even as he’s been able to wring the most touching pathos from his music. His 2002 song “The Beatles,” though, is pretty much a salvo of straight-up snark. “Let’s hear it for the lost Beatle / The art-at-any-cost Beatle / The Beatle-with-the-sense-of-taste Beatle / To-never-learn-to-play-his-bass Beatle,” Collins sardonically croons. After rattling off a whole catalog of less-than-fab Beatles (including the “love-that-fell-apart” and the “new… really-haven’t-got-a-clue” varieties), he concludes by saying, “So sad about the dead Beatle.” In the grand tradition of his anti-Beatles predecessors, though, it’s clear he doesn’t mean that.