Oh look, another Beatles number-one single! Considering that they have the greatest amount of number-one singles of any other artist in history (twenty!), I have a feeling that we won’t be saying “goodbye” to these four British lads anytime soon. This song is the group’s fifteenth Hot 100 chart-topper, and it stayed at that spot for three consecutive weeks at the end of 1967 and the start of 1968. The best part about covering this track, though, is that it reveals another dimension of this internationally popular band that wasn’t immediately prevalent with “Can’t Buy Me Love”. Indeed, this single marks our introduction to the psychedelic side of the Beatles, at least through this challenge.
This single comes off the US release of the Beatles’ double-EP Magical Mystery Tour, which is also the soundtrack album of their 1967 film of the same name. Essentially, the songs off this album were meant to further build off the innovative sounds and themes presented in their groundbreaking album of the previous year, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The best way I could describe Magical Mystery Tour (the album, since I have yet to watch the film) is as sort of a lesser Sgt. Pepper’s – the dreamy sonic structure and erratic, often improvised instrumentation is all there, but the songs are far less hard-hitting and memorable. Still, like basically any Beatles record, it’s worth a listen, especially since this is easily the group’s most strange era.
“Hello, Goodbye” specifically was the band’s first single release since the sudden death of their manager Brian Epstein. It was composed through a spontaneous word association exercise between Paul McCartney and assistance Alistair Taylor. Thus, although this song is credited toward Lennon-McCartney, it is first and foremost a McCartney composition. One of the most immediately notable aspects of this song is its lyricism, composed entirely of a series of words and their antonyms: “You say, ‘yes’; I say, ‘no’ / You say, ‘stop” and I say, ‘go, go, go”… You say, ‘goodbye” and I say, ‘hello'”. It’s simplistic and really quite silly, but the melody is instantly accessible and catchy. With its marching beat and simple sing-song chord structure, it wouldn’t be surprising to find yourself singing along after the chorus’s second go.
Specifically, McCartney has noted the song’s specific theme of duality, with his belief that dualities – such as light/dark, man/woman, etc. – are the core meaning to the world, and this song aims to emphasize “the more positive side of duality” (his words in quotes). Honestly, while I understand the intention on boiling this overarching theme of duality into its simplest parts, I am not fully convinced that this is a positive take on the phenomenon of opposites. Sure, George Martin’s production is bright and sunny, which definitely brings about that connotation of bliss and joy – but the lyrics themselves seem to merely state that opposites just exist, in neutral terms.
There are quite a few Beatles songs I genuinely love, but “Hello, Goodbye” just isn’t one of them. The B-side, on the other hand, is the John Lennon-penned “I Am the Walrus”, which I genuinely think is one of the strongest tracks on all of Magical Mystery Tour. Apparently, Lennon was pretty pissed about the label deciding upon McCartney’s single as the A-side on this record – and in this case, I’m on his side. While “I Am the Walrus” is delightfully weird and surreal, “Hello, Goodbye” just feels blandly commercial, especially when placed next to any of the Sgt. Pepper’s tracks the band had put out only a year prior. Had it been the other way around, we would have been talking about a very different single right now. As is, though, I wouldn’t miss giving this a listen, but I would hesitate before adding it to my collection.