What Price is Fame? The Message of “And Your Bird Can Sing”

The most overlooked and misconstrued song on Revolver is “And Your Bird Can Sing.” Far-flung explanations for John Lennon’s seething lyrics point to John’s purported jealousy of Frank Sinatra or his irritation over some failed one-night stand. But a deeper examination of the song reveals a more practical root for “The Leader Beatle’s” ire. Let’s take a look.


No one “did anger” the way John Lennon did it. (To wit, “Run for Your Life,” “You Can’t Do That,” “I’ll Cry Instead,” and “How Do You Sleep”). When provoked, John had no problems articulating indignation. He had “a chip on his shoulder that [was] bigger than his feet,” and John was never reluctant to let those who irked him “have it,” with both barrels.


In “And Your Bird Can Sing,” John is not only angry and frustrated; he’s deeply hurt. In this second song on Side Two of Revolver, John is speaking directly (and harshly) to someone he knows – someone very close to him, someone whom he feels has betrayed his trust. We know this is the case because John vows in the bridge that no matter how cruel the person is to him,


“Look in my direction,

I’ll be ’round; I’ll be ’round.”


In other words, John has no intention of turning his back on the offender. Despite his perceived disloyalty demonstrated by the former friend, John will always be there.


So, who is the “bad guy” in this scenario, and what did he/she do? Well, as the song unfolds, John gives us numerous (though cryptic) clues to the betrayer’s identity:


  • The person has “everything he wants.” (i.e.: He’s well-to-do: living in a chic locale and driving a prized car. He’s making headlines, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous, and succeeding in his powerful career.)


  • The person has “seen Seven Wonders.” (He’s well-traveled. He’s seen the world from the Spanish Riviera to the width and breadth of North America to exotic Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Australia. In John’s eyes, this person has seen it all, done it all. He’s far more cosmopolitan than John, far more polished and experienced).


  • The person purports to “have heard every sound there is.” (This tidbit clues us into the fact that the individual in question is involved in the music industry. However, John’s legendary sarcasm here hangs on two words: “you say.” John is smirking as he hisses, “You say you’re a music expert. You say you’ve heard every sound there is.” We get the feeling that the individual to whom John is singing has made unwelcome suggestions to John about his compositions or performances).


  • The person has quirky, idiomatic tastes. (Well, after all, his bird is green…which leads us to perceive him as exotic and singular for his day).


  • Finally (and most significantly), this individual is extremely important to John. In fact, according to the lyrics, at an earlier point in their relationship, John wrongly assumed this person, “got him,” understood him, “heard him,” “saw him.” Now, in the sunless backlash born of faithlessness, John is striking out via verbal attack.


So…who can it be now? Who fits this five-point profile?


Who had a very intimate relationship with John – so deep that he shared John’s secrets and trusted John with his own? Who had been so close to John that it was rumored by mutual associates such as Yankel Feather and Joe Flannery that a possible love affair might exist between the two? Who had been John’s advocate before possessions, world travels, the myriad demands of business, and the intricate web of power struggles set in? If your answer is “Brian Epstein,” then we’re on the same page.


It is the reference to the “green bird” that really highlights Brian’s identity for us. In Liverpool’s Scouse lingo, a “baird” is a term for a girl or a girlfriend. And “to swing,” in the 1960s, meant “to step out from the norm sexually.” Thus, John’s reference to his friend’s unusual “green bird” – a bird who “swings” – was, in all likelihood, a Lennonistic dig at Brian’s gay relationships.  On The Anthology version of this song, when Paul and John sing, “and your bird can swing,” they snicker naughtily at their sly double entendre. Wicked schoolboys both, they are being naughty.


If we agree that John is, in fact, addressing “Eppy” in this song, a second question immediately arises: what on earth would have caused John to become angry enough with Brian that he penned this attack – a song only slightly less hostile than “How Do You Sleep?” Well, let’s think back:


By 1966, John yearned to stop touring. All of The Beatles did. And although they had expressed that sentiment to Brian over and over again, he had completely ignored them, turned a deaf ear to their pleas. While this was frustrating for Paul and George, it was a personal wound for John.


You see, in December of 1961 – upon assuming management of The Beatles – Brian had pledged to Mimi Smith that no matter what happened to the other boys, he would always protect John. He had vowed to work tirelessly to defend her nephew’s best interests. Always. But now, John feels that Brian has stopped putting him first. Consumed with desire for wealth, fame, and power, Brian (John thinks) is pushing The Beatles too hard – callously demanding new films, tours, singles and LPs, interviews, radio shows, television programmes, and personal appearances. As John might have phrased it, “He wants work without end, amen!” And once upon a time, long, long ago…Brian had promised better.


Hence, “And Your Bird Can Sing.”


“You don’t hear me!” “You don’t see me!” “You don’t get me!” John lashes out with real invective, linking each verse with the string of repeating accusations. John sees Brian’s refusal to address his needs as an infidelity.


This song, therefore, fits snugly into the “broken relationships” theme of Revolver. Originally entitled, “You Don’t Get Me!” it shatters the giddy mood of “Good Day Sunshine” and shoves us back into Revolver’s agonies. Track Two, Side One gave us “Eleanor Rigby.” Here, in Track Two, Side Two, John and Brian are “the lonely people,” standing in a church of broken promises, surrounded by memories from May of 1963, when they vacationed on the Spanish Riviera. During those days, John and Brian had formed a bond — a friendship born of shared vulnerabilities rarely voiced to anyone else. They had reached out to one another in mutual trust. Now a mere three years later, John is spewing fury over his perceived loss of that trust while Brian steadily continues to pursue the course he feels The Beatles must follow.


But for John, having “everything you want,” “seeing Seven Wonders,” “knowing every sound there is,” and owning an exotic green, swinging bird means nothing if, in the process of garnering such success, you sacrifice a friend. Frustrated and fuming, but promising to “be ’round” when Brian finally hears him, sees him, and gets him once again, John and the others are (for the moment) hanging on. However, the unresolved chord at the end of this song reminds us that in the future, anything can happen.


Sadly, by August 1967, anything did. Fame exacted its price. And the birdsong fell silent.

Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com


Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.


Something We Can Smile About

Over the last few months of 2016, we began taking a look at the songs on Revolver…and reminding ourselves why it was such a pivotal LP for the lads. Together (combining our Fest blog and your comments) we scratched beneath the surface of the music and lyrics to uncover new insights. Just as the year ended, we neatly completed our examination of Side One.




…perfect for the beginning of a brand-new year with myriad possibilities is “Good Day Sunshine.” Wisely selected to kick off Side Two of Revolver, this buoyant ditty expresses all the optimism contained in every “chance to begin again.” Martin employed its bright melody and uplifting lyrics to woo Beatles fans into the second half of the LP. After the anger rife in “Taxman,” the loneliness pervading “Eleanor Rigby,” and the deeply somber nature of “She Said She Said,” Paul McCartney’s “Good Day Sunshine” offered listeners something heartening, something upbeat, something to laugh (or smile) about.


Furthermore, for those fans who (by the close of Side One) were despairing that The Beatles they knew and loved had vanished – morphing into Revolver’s highly-engineered group of complex musicians – this song provided a return to The Beatles of yore. This is the way young John and Paul used to sound when they performed in Liverpool College of Art’s Room 21 at lunchtime. This is the sound of The Beatles, live at the BBC. This is the unplugged sound of The Beatles of old. And fans were glad of it.


Although both John and Paul admitted that Paul wrote 95 percent of “Good Day Sunshine,” the number is, without a doubt, highly influenced by John. But not John Lennon this time: the inspiration came from John Sebastian.


Over in America, Sebastian, the Greenwich Village-based lead singer and songwriter for The Lovin’ Spoonful, was hitting America for six! In 1965, he’d scored with “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice” and swiftly followed up with “Do You Believe in Magic?”  Then in ’66, he had another big, big, BIG hit: “Daydream.” So, the very observant James Paul McCartney handily employed Sebastian’s easy-does-it, lazy-days techniques in his new composition, “Good Day Sunshine.”


In keeping with the Spoonful genre, the Revolver song’s lyrics were lighthearted and happy-go-lucky:


“She feels good! She knows she’s lookin’ fine!

I’m so proud to know that she is mine!”


That’s about as simple and content as a lyric line can get. Spoonful-esque! But remembering Russell Reising’s caveat that on Revolver, “there are no silly love songs,” savvy listeners long suspected that somewhere in this McCartney number, there was a deeper, hidden meaning. In the volume, All the Songs, the collaborative authors suggested that when Paul sang, “I feel good in a special way,” he might have been slyly alluding to his Revolver era fascination with marijuana. If this is true, then “Good Day Sunshine” was the predecessor to “Got to Get You Into My Life,” and both songs boasted a second level of meaning. (“More here than meets the eye!”)


But honestly, for original, old-time Beatles fans, added incentives to enjoy “Good Day Sunshine” were not necessary. All of the traditional “fab” ingredients were already present in the mix. The Beatles’ winning love song formula was there. George Martin’s honky-tonk piano lead was expert. The Lennon/McCartney backing vocals were spot on. And, as Robert Rodriguez pointed out in his insightful book, Revolver: How The Beatles Re-Imagined Rock’n’Roll, Ringo’s “cymbal splashes and added percussion touch-ups, such as handclaps” were welcome custom. Finally, the entire offering was infused with McCartney magic.


Sometimes less truly is more. And this unadorned, joyful ditty proves that rule. Fans who were bewildered and confused by “She Said She Said” were – after singing or toe-tapping along with “Good Day Sunshine” – pulled back into the fold. They leaned in once again, hovering over the turntable and listening…just as George Martin had predicted they would. They reconnected.


Then…the second selection on Side Two began and Revolver, once more, took a dark and unexpected turn! What was it? And to whom was that next song written?


See you next time for “And Your Bird Can Sing.”

1. For those unfamiliar with this British phrase, “hitting someone for six” means making an impact. It originate in cricket when a player hits six off the bowling.

2. Turner, Steve, A Hard Day’s Write, 112-113.

3. Reising, Russell, “Vacio Luminoso,” 127.

4. Rodriguez, Revolver: How The Beatles Re-Imagined Rock’n’Roll, 144.

Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com


Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.