If you have any interest in music, recording or the Beatles, What Goes On is something you must see. In near-pathological detail, the website picks apart every single recording fluke, background noise and performance issue throughout the entire Beatles catalog. And that is not an insignificant amount of songs.
But while certain comments come off as absurdly pedantic (A comment on “Day in Life” states: Strange effect on the “t” of “flat”, it’s really over-pronounced, like “fla-tuh) some valuable lessons can be gathered from these music detectives.
For example, let’s look at their notes on “All My Loving.” Even if you’ve spent your entire life avoiding the Beatles, you’ve probably heard this song dozens of times. But at 1:19, What Goes On points out: Really bad (very unusual) mistake from Paul, he plays a completely wrong note in the bass line on the word “miss”. It sounds like he may have played the next highest string up by accident, the note is very very sharp!
And it’s true. A song that I probably first heard in the womb does have a significant flub, something that, with Pro Tools, would immediately be marked for an overdub. But does it make the song any less of a classic? Will “All My Loving” now sound like nails on the chalkboard because of Paul McCartney’s very, very sharp note?
The answer is obvious when you’re thinking about the Beatles, but it’s much harder to do when judging your own music. And yes, we can sit here and blame it all on the advent of digital recording for our overbearing perfectionism. But the reality is it’s an artist’s age-old fear that their slips, the little imperfections, are going to be so glaring if they’re not all fixed, the music is going to be unlistenable.
The majority of those decisions are made at the studio or staring at your laptop because in that moment is when you’re most sensitive to those quirks; when that note could be a little stronger or that drum fill could be a little tighter. This is when it’s important to take a break. Leave for an hour, or take a whole day off. Then come back and see if those problems are really so glaring. The difference, you’ll notice, is striking. When you escape from the bubble you stop hearing those dreadful mistakes and start hearing what Paul McCartney heard over 50 years ago: a pretty damn good song.