When pop critics go to the amusement park we tend not to wander further than the rollercoasters. “Rollercoaster ride” became a cliche because it’s such a good way of summing up the rattling three-minute thrill of a great single. But parks have other attractions, and so does pop. Leon Cassidy invented the “dark ride” in 1928 – a sedate single-rail panorama past a succession of scenes designed to surprise, delight and satisfy. Think of a ghost train, or Pirates Of The Carribean, or the Tunnel of Love.
The joy in the rollercoaster lies in the adrenalin. The dark ride relies on its ability to enthral you moment-to-moment, and to have the succession of those moments make a deep aesthetic sense. Lennon and McCartney, who wrote “Bad For Me” and passed it on to Kramer, could play the rollercoasters but the songs they wrote were often ‘dark rides’. “Bad To Me” leads me at a trot through a series of melodic turns, sometimes unexpected, always pleasing.
I’m reaching for a cumbersome metaphor because the simple question ‘what makes a good tune?’ always turns out bloody difficult. I suppose it doesn’t help that I’m no musicologist – but even if musicology can describe a melody where I can’t, it’s still not usually much good at expressing what that melody does to one. Is there a notational explanation for the sense of rightness I get from the “sad…bad…me” sequence in this song? And if there was, does that mean that using the same melodic sequence would have the same effect in a different song?
It seems to me that Lennon and McCartney were, before anything else, fantastic at taking the listener through a song. The arrangement, with its strong piano chords as signposts, helps create the sense of hand-holding. But the lyrics and even the performance of “Bad To Me” are quite beside the point (in fact the paper mood of the lyrics would ordinarily be scuppered by as sweet a tune). This may be one key to the Beatles’ enormous cross-cultural and cross-generational popularity. Terrific tune, anyway.