My iPhone delivered “Little One” when I wasn’t expecting it the other day, the first time I’d listened to the song in years, most likely. From A Basement on The Hill, the posthumous album the song comes from, was one of those totem albums for me for a few years around its release — something I listened to obsessively in the weeks after its release, then hid from for awhile because it felt too weird, too raw to hear following the death of my mother, before returning to with renewed obsession months later. But listening to “Little One” the other day, it was like hearing it anew, noticing all those thing my Elliott Smith worship had kept me from hearing first time(s) around.
It’s one of those songs that was clearly far from finished at the time of his death; it’s not just the shaky vocal — complete with what had to have been temporary lyrics at points (The “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven” line, obviously, but the entire thing seems more disjointed lyrically than songs from his earlier, finished albums. “Even though some can’t sleep/They’ll need some company” rings false, needing a second draft, for me) — but the fact that tracks seem to drop in and out of the music, as well (especially in the lead up to the bridge, for some reason).
Despite all that, though, it’s maybe the most Beatles-y sounding song Smith ever made, with the possible exception of “A Distorted Reality Is A Necessity To Be Free” from the same album, with its guitar line that sounds as if George Harrison dropped in during recording. But this song, though — the heaviness of the bassline, the way it plods along, or the backwards guitar that’s weaves in and out of the whole thing. The imprecision of the backing vocals, as well, adds to the Beatles-ishness of the whole thing.
There’s a melancholy at play that I can’t properly place, Beatles-wise — there’s some Harrison in there, definitely, but I keep wanting to lean Lennon, for some reason. It’s the thing that truly separates this from the Beatles, for me, though; even in their darkest moments, there was some light there to be found, but “Little One” just sounds like the end, a sad and slow surrender that doesn’t finish as much as ebb away. On an album filled with troublesome moments, this remains the most painful of all of the songs to hear, even moreso because of that last line, hearing “I love you” as a final goodbye.