What Goes On – 5 of Cups
Rubber Soul, 1965
As the Beatles neared the end of recording their sixth album, Rubber Soul, they needed a vocal contribution from Ringo. So they pulled out “What Goes On”, a song written by John many years earlier, when the band were still called The Quarrymen. John and Paul made some changes to the original version, and even invited Ringo to contribute ideas. The ever-modest Ringo later admitted his contribution amounted to “about five words” but nonetheless his name was added to the Lennon-McCartney composing team. It was Ringo’s first writing credit with the Beatles.
“What Goes On” is a rockabilly number, recorded in just one take and featuring some nice Carl Perkins-style guitar work from George. Although the Beatles were taking a big step forward with their sound on Rubber Soul, this song is clearly the exception. It would be the last time they performed a country-flavored song until Ringo contributed “Don’t Pass Me By” to The White Album a few years later.
By this point Ringo had firmly established a very humble, down-to-earth persona to Beatles fans. The songs he sung reinforced his stature as self-effacing, unpretentious, and generally down on his luck. “What Goes On” fits this image nicely. The song’s melody and arrangement are simple. And the lyrics tell the tale of a guy trying to understand what goes on inside the woman who has callously broken his heart.
If we listen to the lyrics carefully, we might see that this relationship was doomed all along. The verses reveal that the girl he’s been infatuated with was never really into him. Although he’s had plans for a long-lasting romance with her, he admits that until recently she didn’t even know his name. He’s upset that she’s lied to him, but I get the impression he’s misinterpreted the kind words she said, likely because she felt sorry for him. He shouldn’t be too surprised that she’s seeing someone else. After all, when does such a lack of confidence result in getting the girl of your dreams?
The 5 of Cups is the tarot card symbolizing low self-esteem, either in general or related to a specific situation in your life. It represents the emotional state of focusing on the negative. When you draw this card, consider how you’re currently feeling down on your luck or seeing the world through a pessimistic point of view. The more you remain in this frame of mind (or more accurately, frame of heart, since the suit of Cups indicates emotions), the more you’re likely to attract negative outcomes. On the other hand, love yourself first and others will be far less likely to “treat you so unkind”.
“I used to think of no one else
But you were just the same
You didn’t even think of me
As someone with a name
Did you mean to break my heart and watch me die”
*Side note: Notice how each verse concludes with the line “tell me why”. Listen very closely after the second verse, at the 1:28 mark you’ll hear in the background John answering, “I already told you why!” This is because the year before John sang a song with a very similar message, with the same corresponding tarot card.
This is song #68 of the Beatles Song Tarot Project. Click here to learn more about this magical, mystical trip through the Beatles catalogue.