When future grunge greats Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley were just a year old, John Lennon was perfecting the art of writing depressingly straightforward lyrics about loneliness and wanting to die. I mean, this song literally starts with, “Yes I’m lonely, wanna die,” which doesn’t leave much open to interpretation. Some suggest the song was a parody of the emerging British blues scene, but Lennon says otherwise:
The funny thing about the [Maharishi’s] camp was that, although it was very beautiful and I was meditating about eight hours a day, I was writing the most miserable songs on earth. In “Yer Blues,” when I wrote, “I’m so lonely I want to die,” I’m not kidding. That’s how I felt.
As a…well, I hesitate to use the word “diehard” fan of 90s alternative rock, I definitely think it’s possible to enjoy music with messages and attitudes that I disagree with or find unappealing. But while listening to “Yer Blues” doesn’t make me want to go out and kill myself, I can’t say it’s a song I often feel compelled to listen to, and I think that’s almost entirely because of the lyrics. I love the sludgy riff, and John Lennon is one of the few singers in rock who can scream and let loose and it sounds amazing. I can’t really speculate where “Yer Blues” would rank with less aggressive lyrics, but as an overall recording, it’s pretty awesome. But since the whole basis of this ranking is how much I enjoy listening to each song, it ends up pretty low.
(Side note: I also think there’s a lot to be said for enunciation. I may not listen to “Yer Blues” very much, but Nirvana’s “You Know You’re Right” is one of my most-played songs ever. I couldn’t make sense of the mumbled, mostly incomprehensible lyrics, dare I say, with a gun to my head, and to this day, fans debate whether that extended syllable Cobain repeatedly screams in the chorus is “HEY!” or “PAIN!” It’s totally “HEY!” by the way.)
Paul McCartney supposedly disliked the colloquial title, preferring “Your Blues,” but Lennon decided that “yer” would counteract the unexpectedly dark lyrics. So kudos to Cobain for being direct and writing a song called “I Hate Myself and Want to Die” I guess.