The Beatles

Getting Better

Song Review by

It's hard to think of individual tracks from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as being "pop" songs because that album was and is so strongly perceived of as a psychedelic concept work. If cuts are isolated from that album, though, "Getting Better" stands out as one of the poppiest, and not an especially psychedelic one. What gives "Getting Better" more depth than the average pop-rock song is a subtle tension between extremely, almost exceedingly, cheerful optimism and recollections of past hang-ups that have been transcended -- maybe. Musically, at any rate, "Getting Better" gets off to an upbeat start with sharp, declarative guitar chords that pierce like a thin razor. The chorus is mighty sunny and catchy, with clever interplay between Paul McCartney's lead vocal and counterpoint harmonies that weave in and around it. Even in this chorus, though, there's an undercurrent of contradiction -- it's "getting better," but McCartney almost sounds like he's trying to convince himself that it really is getting better when he sings that he's got to believe it's getting better, he's got to admit it's getting better. And then there's the extremely sly falsetto counterpoint harmony responsive line that answers "can't get no worse!" to McCartney's "it's getting better all the time." The verses are also a contrast to the hearty feel-good title phrase, the group bouncily relating how they used to be an angry young man. Things are better now, and they are so, it was widely perceived at the time, because the Beatles had found drugs. The recollections of past misdeeds get a little wicked, though, in the final verse, where they remember how they used to be cruel to their woman, beat her, and kept her from the things that she loved -- wife-beating and spousal abuse, actually, though it's not spelled out. The rhythm on that verse too gets more ominous, breaking into irregular triplets for a bit before things get resolved into a more even beat and head space. "Getting Better" has such an uplifting melody and arrangement, though, that many listeners no doubt miss these connections and just enjoy it as a superior pop-rock tune. A hint of the unresolved tension comes back, though, in the haunting fade, where the guitar beeps like a Morse code as a particularly low, thudding drum beat goes back to those irregular triplets. Ringo Starr's drumwork on this track, incidentally, is excellent, particularly in his use of high-hats as punctuation. As with many Beatles songs that ended up exploring interesting lyrical territory, the actual inspiration for the track was rather mundane: the habit of Jimmy Nicol, the drummer who'd substituted for an ill Starr during part of a 1964 tour, of responding "it's getting better" whenever he was asked how things were going. No one's made a well-known cover of "Getting Better," but a fair number of artists have recorded it, the most prominent of those being Steve Hillage, the Bee Gees (who did it on the bomb late-'70s soundtrack to the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie), the Wedding Present, and Paul McCartney himself as part of his early-twenty-first century concert tours.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band 1967 Apple Records / Capitol 2:48
The Ultimate Box Set 1995 Capitol 2:47
The Beatles: Stereo Box Set 2009 Capitol 2:48
The Beatles USB 2009 Capitol / EMI 2:48