Pete Shelley: Think For Yourself (2012)

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Pete Shelley: Think For Yourself (2012)

George Harrison's Think For Yourself on the Beatles' Rubber Soul in '65 was very interesting for a number of reasons.

First it was another sign that Harrison was getting a few more songs through the Lennon-McCartney net (on the album he also had If I Needed Someone) but also that he had a pretty dyspeptic nature.

His first song on a Beatles album had been Don't Bother Me (on With the Beatles) and now two more songs keeping people at arms length.

If I Needed Someone says “maybe you will get a call from me, if I needed someone” (suspended emotion and doubt all the way through with “if” and “maybe”) and in this one there's an outright rejection: “Do what you want to do, and go where your going to, think for yourself 'cause I won't be there with you”.

Hmmm.

The late Pete Shelley (of the Buzzcocks) picks up the pace for this version and by doing so misses the more downbeat mood of Harrison's original . . . which was also notable for a word this writer had never heard in a pop song before, and hasn't since: “opaque”.

Harrison sings “although your mind's opaque, try thinking more if just for your own sake”.

Hmmm.

To be honest, as a teenager I heard this as “although your mind's up-made”.

I don't know what that meant either . . . but the way the Beatles used language meant it seemed a possible inversion of “your mind's made up”.

Hmmm.

One of Harrison's more interesting – if vinegary – songs from the Beatles' mid-period.

His gripe about the taxman was in the very near future.

.

For more oddities, one-offs or songs with an interesting backstory check the massive back-catalogue at From the Vaults.

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Brixton - Nov 6, 2021

Boy, the way you tell it, it's almost as if the Harrison originals "I Need You" and "You Like Me Too Much" don't exist between "Don't Bother Me" and the two on Rubber Soul.

Hmmm.

Not to mention the great many others on the rest of The Beatles and solo albums* that defy your strange assessment of (even stranger need to assess) the personal character of a guy who not only mortgaged his house to finance Monty Python/Terry Gilliam films, but is also on the cover of his last solo album wearing cool mirrored shades (possibly the coolest and mirroredest shades known to mankind) with a wacky-busy (possibly the wacky-busiest known to mankind-- or, the 1980's at least) Picasso-Harding mashup patterned shirt while holding his first American guitar, which he had to borrow back from the buddy he gave it to decades prior, the guy who produced the German one-hit Wunder, "Da Da Da I Don't Love You You Don't Love Me Aha Aha Aha".

"Pretty dyspeptic nature", you said?

Hmmm.

You seem to have missed what Pete Shelley absolutely did not when he covered "Think For Yourself": the speaker of the song is addressing a person/people who is/are metaphorically blind ("can't see"); any combination of stubborn, ignorant, prejudiced, arrogant, etc ("mind's made up"); closed-minded for sure, but possibly also stupid ("thick" in UK slang), lacks imagination (cannot see through or beyond), and/or has sketchy intent/whose agenda is not transparent ("mind's opaque"); who deny themselves, others, and each other ("telling all those lies about") happinesses ("the good things") the speaker feels certain are attainable ("we can have") if only the person/people would try seeing not with eyes but with hearts and minds, or, simply, if only they dared to dream ("if we close our eyes"). It is a song of freedom: the speaker and the person/people addressed are all free to go wherever, to think and do whatever they want; and it is optimistic: the speaker even wants/believes the best for the addressee(s) ("the future still looks good and you've got time to rectify all the things that you should")**.

The "you" could be the same Status Quo "you" David Bowie addresses in "Changes" when he says, "And these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds..." etc; it could be a romantic/love interest who doesn't have the same vision/idealism as the other; it could be those who squash others' dreams and desires to live and love as they wish, or those who hide the same in themselves. It would be consistent with most everything Pete Shelley ever wrote for the "you" to be all of these; he didn't miss anything, he was bang on the money in choosing this particular Beatles song to cover over all of the other choices.

Do what you want to do, of course! But it seems unfair to describe George Harrison as having a "pretty dyspeptic nature" or this song as "vinegary" when the chorus which gives us its title in fact becomes upbeat right when the man singing gives us a very positive and healthy example of not being held back by someone who sees only problems when he's already moved on to solutions.

* I have no clue anything about the lyrical content of Traveling Wilburys!
** Cf. John Lennon's similar attitude and theme from "Instant Karma" five years later: "How in the world you gonna see, laughing at fools like me? Who in the hell d'ya think you are, a superstar?! Well right you are! [...] Why in the world are we here? Surely not to live in pain and fear? Why on Earth are you there, when you're everywhere-- come and get your share!"; also: Stevie Wonder musically and lyrically drops a few Beatles fanboy vibes around Innervisions (1973), including the very first song they ever recorded for an album ("There's a Place"), "Think For Yourself", etc.

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