January 13, 2009 by MK
Original incarnation found over at Pop Matters within their outstanding breakdown of The White Album for the 40th Anniversary of its release.
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
The recording of “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” can be seen as the moment when Lennon-McCartney turned into Lennon-Ono. To shamelessly mix metaphors, if the Walrus was Paul, then the Monkey was Yoko.
In June of 1968, Lennon’s affair with Ono was quickly overwhelming every aspect of his life, including his marriage with Cynthia Lennon. The other marriage in Lennon’s life, his songwriting collaboration with McCartney, was also in shambles. The days of sitting in the same room and finishing each other’s songs were over. Ono quite literally moved into Beatle territory by becoming the first outsider ever allowed in the studio.
It’s important to note the double meaning of the titular “monkey”. 1968 was the year Lennon and Ono descended into heroin abuse, at once isolating Lennon from his band mates and solidifying his bond with Ono. This monkey on the back showed up in the lyrics (“the higher you fly, the deeper you go”). As Bob Spitz states in his landmark biography, The Beatles, the new level of drug use “manifested itself in John’s adversity and craziness, but the underlying influence had also crept insidiously into the songs”.
“Adversity” and “craziness” are two words that could easily sum up the manic freakout that is “Me and My Monkey”. One can hear a sense of urgency in Lennon’s pleas to “come on” and “take it easy”. Lyrically, it’s a defensive crouch that begs for empathy. The only hitch, of course, was Lennon wouldn’t return the favor for any of his band mates. He had imploded his life from many to Ono and was angry that anyone would question his motives. As Lennon himself later said, “Everybody seemed to be paranoid except for us two, who were in the glow of love.”
But for all the turmoil, the song never loses its joyful sense of abandonment. A spaz-out of the highest order, “Me and My Monkey” jettisons all limits in a maze of ringing bells, racing blues, and shouted come-ons. In other words, it’s Chuck Berry on crack.
Furthermore, though it might not have the typical makings of one, “Me and My Monkey” feels like a punk song. It is aggressive and urgent with a lack of self-consciousness. Sounds like a description for the Ramones. Just another genre in which Lennon’s influence can be heard.
As if it needed more help, “Me and My Monkey” also stands out for its track placement. Sequenced between McCartney’s pastoral “Mother Nature’s Son” and the lilting Lennon ditty that follows, “Sexy Sadie”, “Me and My Monkey” juts out like the markings of a polygraph during an egregious lie. It is a true WTF? moment. “Love Me Do” this ain’t.
In his selfishness and defiance, Lennon created a track for those who complain the Beatles don’t rock enough. It’s useful to view “Me and My Monkey” as a companion piece with McCartney’s “Helter Skelter”. Where Lennon goes weird, McCartney goes foreboding, in effect producing a funhouse mirror image of finger-blister freakouts.
(Further Listening: The blues-boogie version Fats Domino(!) recorded in 1970. It’s a great insight into Lennon’s songwriting prowess. Even in the most frenetic of songs, he provided a song structure to batten down the hatch.)