The music industry is a constant showdown between art and commerce. We all like to imagine our favorite artists simply tearing their souls out and leaving the tracks on their records for us to enjoy. We want pure artistic expression and not a cynically created product. Nevertheless, whether through pressure from record labels or their own desire for success, even the greatest artists have an eye on the commercial appeal of their music.
After all, if you’ve worked hard on your songs and are proud of them, you want as many people as possible to hear them. Also, if you’re serious about your art and want to dedicate yourself to it full-time, it’s going to take money. Either that or you set up your art on the weekends, exhausted from a week at the office. It’s not very romantic, but if you want to make a living, you better appeal to (at least some) of the masses.
That’s why songs written out of spite are so great. These are times when masks slip, business worries are pushed aside, and the songwriter’s sole concern is showing someone a musical major. Even better if the finished song comes with a gossip story…
Yer Blues is one of the heaviest songs ever written by the former Fab Four. Written in India during a time of hardship and discouragement, John Lennon presented Yer Blues as a parody of the British blues boom of the late 60s.
The song sends white Englishmen presenting themselves as genuine blues men. As Beatles biographer Jonathan Gould said, Yer Blues represents The Beatles’ acceptance that:
“except as the subject of self-parody, some expressive modes in African-American music lie outside the realm of their experience and thus beyond their emotional range as singers.”
But something else is happening below the surface. John made fun of these British blues guys because he resented them. The gender exercise masks a certain bitterness at John’s inability to express himself with such sincerity.
John had written relatively revealing songs about himself since Help! earlier in the decade, but still sugarcoated the message with an upbeat musical backdrop.
Ironically, The White Album (on which Yer Blues was released) found John opening up and making some of his most revealing recordings to date on tracks like Julia.