Beatles: The Subtle Message John Lennon Put in One of His ‘Best’ Songs
The Beatles weren’t just musicians. They were also cultural commentators. The Beatles‘ music covered concepts from religion to revolution and from the monarchy to the civil rights movement. However, few would guess there’s any social commentary in their song “Girl.”
On the surface, “Girl” is a fairly simple song about a relationship gone wrong. However, it’s actually a protest song featuring some biblical lyrics. Here’s the song’s socially conscious lyric that went over many fans’ heads.
How a different Beatles song and Yoko Ono inspired ‘Girl’
Many Beatles songs were inspired by the music of others. “Girl” was inspired by another Beatles song. According to All The Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release, John Lennon was inspired to write “Girl” as a response to “Michelle,” a song penned by Paul McCartney. The two songs have vaguely similar instrumentation. However, “Michelle” is an upbeat, cutesy love song while “Girl” has a darker tone.
The track is about a girl who’s wonderful and sadistic at the same time. Although she can be very difficult to deal with, the man in her life feels the highs of their relationship are worth the lows. John would say “Girl” was about his dreamgirl and declared in 1980 that Yoko Ono was the sort of woman he’d pined after in the song. It’s not clear if his comments were complimentary!
The biblical element of ‘Girl’
However, there’s more to “Girl” than meets the eye. According to Turn, Turn, Turn, Popular Songs Inspired by the Bible, John was referencing Christianity in it. Specifically, he referenced the religion in the lines “Was she told when she was young/That pain would lead to pleasure?…That a man must break his back/To earn his day of leisure?”
John explained “I was just talking about Christianity, in that – a thing like you have to be tortured to attain heaven … – be tortured and then it’ll be alright, which seems to be a bit true but not in their concept of it. But I didn’t believe in that, that you have to be tortured to attain anything, it just so happens that you were.” Criticism of Christianity appears throughout John’s work.
Paul corroborated John’s explanation of the song. Prior to the release of Rubber Soul, Paul said the song was inspired by a book John was reading about how Christianity teaches pain leads to pleasure. Paul dismissed this teaching as a “drag,” saying “Girl” was a “protest” in its own small way.
The lyrics about pain leading to pleasure also reference the Book of Genesis. Specifically, John was alluding to how Adam and his descendants are forced to toil following the original sin. In the Bible, the fall of man leads to a world where everyone is forced to toil for their day of leisure.
How John Lennon felt about the song
John was proud of the song. He called it “one of my best.” He didn’t make it clear if he meant it was one of the best songs he wrote for the Beatles or one of the best songs he ever wrote. Either way, that’s quite the endorsement!
John would later write a sequel to “Girl” called “Woman.” “Woman” is a much brighter, poppier song than “Girl.” It seems the main character of “Girl” grew into a happy adult!