Ladies and gentlemen, we have hit a landmark with this one. “Tell Me Why” is the first original Beatles composition on the countdown that was not tossed off and given to Ringo like a bag of moldy tangerines. In his later years, John Lennon was notorious for denouncing many of his Beatles songs as throwaways, but he was spot-on in this case. “They needed another upbeat song [for the movie A Hard Day’s Night] and I just knocked it off,” he remarked in 1980.
Some speculate that the lyrics are from the perspective of a child whose parents are splitting up, which definitely fits and it was a theme John approached in his solo work. But even in an era where pop songs weren’t expected to be weighty, these lyrics are pretty damn pedestrian: the chorus consists of nothing more than, “Tell me why you cried, and why you lied to me.” And the totally insincere, “If there’s something I have said or done / Tell me what and I’ll apologize,” is one of the least Lennon-esque Lennon lyrics ever.
It’s totally insipid, but I’ll give it this–it’s got a catchy chorus. That falsetto John hits on “me-eee” is pretty splendid. However, it also boasts what is quite likely the worst moment in the entire Beatles’ canon: a heavily muffled, out-of-nowhere line in the middle eight that sounds something like, “If there’s anything I can do,” but at a pitch that only dogs should be able to hear.