5. "Helter Skelter"
Appears on; The Beatles (preferably mono)
I dunno if "Helter Skelter" was the first metal song, or the granddaddy of grunge music, or whatever I read that one time in Rolling Stone/Spin/Alternative Press. I do know, however, that the Beatles when inspired could obliterate for miles and miles. This is music to destroy the soles of your shoes to, kicking and kicking away at headlight of every parked car until the last satisfying shatter.
Forget dingy sociopaths and their half-baked, half-fried dreams of war. Marvel instead at the chug and snarl that sounds remarkably fresh even after 40+ years.
4. "A Day in the Life"
Appears on: Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
John Lennon's recitation of the news is alienation verse that hiccups the occasional rhyme. "I'd love to turn you on," wobbling aside, still doesn't sound either all that promising or threatening. Honestly our hero sounds rather resigned to the daily cavalcade of the gory and mundane.
But then the orchestra ascends from the bowels of discontentment, climbing as if in a fight for just one more day of its life. (Mal Evans' countdown in the first transition is, in this context, the intonations of a faceless, feature-free, and omnipotent shadow figure.) The final curlicue once sounded, Paul enters, and I can damn near see him skipping along to the dum-dum piano. It's all very cheerful and engaging and then it all just evaporates.
2:49 to 3:15 strikes me now--it did not always--as a struggle against the morass rather than a free-form interpretation of Paul's smoky dream. Inarticulation as the last line of defense.
The end, when the orchestra gives way to the infamous crashing piano chord, which the Beatles would not let die, turning the sound levels in the studio up until a time hole appeared.
When I was a young Jenn that final chord bothered me terribly. If the orchestra had hit my ears as impending doom cloaked in grey-and-black, the pianos were termination. The end. The empty. No greys allowed. I knew nothing of death as transition, how a slamming door somehow jimmied open the nearest window, the idea of transmigration of the soul, what could I even comprehend of the soul? "A Day in the Life" still renders me breathless. I hear euphoria in the confrontation between man and world, between the artist and their infinite resources versus the rigid clock of the universe. The one that demands days must go on.
3. "Here, There and Everywhere"
Appears on: Revolver
A Paul ballad so undeniable, even John had naught but effusive praise to bestow. A Paul ballad so unassailable, not even its inclusion in the "Phoebe's wedding" episode of Friends could tarnish its luster. God only knows what Paul would have done without Brian Wilson.
"To lead a better life/I need my love to be here."
Songs about love tend to be superior to those about just sex simply because if it's an honestly romantic relationship, the couple will spend much more time doing things that aren't sexual acts: share meals, hold conversations, travel, actually sleep in a bed. Just being there with and for another. The deep, long vibration of a routine, and the security to jostle it aside when need be.
"Changing my life with a wave of her hand."
Nothing about "Here, There and Everywhere" is less than gorgeous.
2. "Strawberry Fields Forever"
Appears on: Magical Mystery Tour
You know the cut/paste origin story, do you not? You are aware of every step Messrs. Martin and Emerick to make John's wish a reality, still remember how you smacked your forehead upon realizing you were listening to two distinct takes. Oh my hell, he buried Paul in cranberry sauce! Right. I've detailed it myself on this very blog, so I shan't revisit.
I mean...come on. Dazed and confused, sure, but amazed and amused as well, John was very skilled at exploring the hazier patches without becoming a sanctimonious twat. "Nothing to get hung about," indeed. Strawberry Fields is anywhere you wanna be.
Listen to the lyrics, that man does not have the answers, nor does he purport otherwise. Instead of a half-hearted wish to turn ya on, Johnny wants to take us down, down, down. Everyone with their own unique tree to hang out in, their own nest to construct, their own inner peace to realize.
Musically, "SFF" is a marvel. The mellotron. Ringo has probably never played better in his life. He is off-the-wall good. The trumpets and the cellos, especially the cellos. I don't know precisely why their syrupy slashes press all the right buttons with me, but I can't deny what happens.
1. "Things We Said Today"
Appears on: A Hard Days Night
Yep. That one.
It's not so much I'm out of my mind, as it is more that this song is massively underrated. The innovative and mesmerizing harmonies, the quixotic chord changes, the conceit of "future nostalgia." Not to forget, it contains my personal favorite chorus of any song, ever. How does a 21-year-old rock 'n' roll demigod frolicking on a yacht in the Bahamas, hot-ass actress girlfriend in tow, conjure up such a world-weary song? It goes from strength to strength, following its bliss from one glamorous locale to the next, go on and on...
Happiness gleaned from love is fleeting; contentment hopefully less so. The echoes to be heard and traces to be glimpsed might be sufficient to keep a soul satisfied. But again...how is Paul, at the age of 21, already thinking of a day many years ahead, when he and/or his love in their halcyon days will reminisce upon the wilder, luxurious times of their youth? Long, long way from "I Want To Please Please Hold All Your Loving Me Do."
Bless you, Beatles. Forgive me what I am about to do.
Wait, what? Worst Beatles songs? Yes. Please close your mouth before any gnarly manner of insect flies in there and finds home in some warm bacteria-infested areas. Of course the Beatles had some worm in the corn. Mediocrity is a consistent critter, y'see, while genius oscillates 'tween triumph and tragedy. Which explains why the White Album on its own contains numerous songs that make my nerve endings sing with the glory of being a fully-functioning biped and still other songs that fill me with a very real sense of relief that one day, this hell-ride will end.
So understand that this list is not a childish reaction to promiscuous praise or a contrarian riposte to the litany of honorifics that have been bestowed upon the Beatle boys (by people who were alive back then, nonetheless!). If I'm willing to acknowledge the apex and nadir moments of my favorite band, then I have to do it for my second-favorite.
5. "The Ballad of John and Yoko"
Appears on: Past Masters, Vol. 2
Vis-a-vis "Taxman," this manages to be only a mildly annoying entreaty to please oh please spare a kind thought for the poor put-upon rock star and his misunderstood artist wife. But while George's anti-avidity anthem at least had Paul's glissando fest and a ripper solo besides, "Ballad of John and Yoko" has...John making reference to being crucified in the chorus. I'm not even a Christian, but I loathe that sort of inflammatory, and frankly lazy, lyrical tactic. It's throwing an itchy pox-ridden blanket of faux-controversy over a chilly, twitching body of mediocrity.
The killer is...the tune itself, freed of John's crap, is pretty cool and even a li'l funky in parts. (The guitar even sounds as annoyed and fidgety as I am towards the end.) But it doesn't fit with John's crap! I don't care about his honeymoon hijinks. It is amazing to me that anyone ever did. People get paid to follow celebrities around and ask dumb questions?! Are you for real, that can't be! Let the artists eat their chocolate cake in peace you animals!
Longest three minutes in Beatle history.
4. "Please Please Me"
Appears on: Please Please Me
AKA, "Blow Me Do."
My best friend--you may recall him as the unabashed hater of "You Know My Name" from a few posts in the past--really likes "Please Please Me." He digs the urgency, the barely-restrained passion. I dig...the "come on" call-response part. Reminds me of "I Like It Like That" by Dave Clark Five. They should have scrapped everything else around that and rebuilt. 'Cause otherwise I find this a trite attempt at salaciousness that really just makes John come off like a typical young asshole. It's the throbbing dullness of this track paired with its status as a beloved classic that puts it so high on my list.
3. "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"
Appears on: The Beatles
Hey guys I'm gonna play "Classical Gas" real fast, check it out...HEEEYYY BUNGALOW BILL! WHAT DID YOU KILL?
More Spirit Camp fun. Well golly gee, seems this middle-aged woman and her college-aged son came all the way from America to get them some peace and enlightenment...and then go out and shoot some wild life! A very interesting song could have been written from this, but John Lennon decided that as a Beatle, and thus as someone used to defying all the conventions of songwriting, he would slap together a very irritating campfire sing-along. Why bring kids into this, John? Hell, why bring Yoko into it? And I like Yoko!
Uh-oh, they're doing another round! Aim directly for my heart, Bill! Remember me for the great S'mores I made, everyone!
2. "Wild Honey Pie"
Appears on: The Beatles
I am a Paul McCartney fangirl. I have many comrades. It is my personal opinion that he was the best songwriter in the Beatles, had the most artistically successful post-Beatles career, and ranks on the shortlist of greatest composers of the 20th Century. I defend him to the death on so many occasions. His "granny shit songs"? Magnificent! Wings? Band on the Run is a masterpiece! And on it goes. But I cannot, will not, shall not raise even finger one to help "Wild Honey Pie." No, actually I will raise a digit up.
I like dissonance as much as the next obsessive Sonic Youth fan, y'all, but oh the drear this horrid genre-exercise engenders inside of me. As brief a bit of spastic flail as "WHP" is...I still want to rip my toes off with lobster claws every time I put the first disc on and inevitably forget that not only is this ode to drug-induced stupidity on there, but it's followed by "Bungalow Bill"! Oh huzzah! I'm gonna take off my fingers too, a digit-free life is the life for me!
It's like eating shit, puking the shit back up, then eating the shitty puke. It almost beggars belief how this ended up on an album, even one that totals 30 songs of wild variety and quality, but then I remember the drugs and it all makes sense.
1. "All You Need Is Love"
Appears on: Magical Mystery Tour
This is what happens when you sign up for Philosophy 101 and spend valuable class-time doodling on the desk, ogling tits 'n' ass, and deciding that reading the back jacket of each assigned book is sufficient to pass all the tests.
Lennon fucked up here. "All You Need Is Love" could have been a very powerful statement, and the Beatles were uniquely qualified in terms of both ability and popularity to deliver that statement, but the ball was well and totally dropped. It's not that he, Socrates, does not know how to express what he means. It's that the method is lacking. The lyrics are immoderate and clumsy, to the point where either Lennon is saying give up on trying to imprint your own unique stamp on the world because everyone deep down is capable of doing what you can do if not better so you should abandon any fanciful aspirations and just give in to love, or that your potential is limitless so long as you believe in the power of love.
Regardless what John was trying to express...the sentiment is wrong-headed and even dangerous. Love is not all you need. You need love, yes. But you need hate as well. You need trust, and distrust. You need to be able to discriminate between gold and brass, understand? Not all shiny things are fucking gold. You need money. You need other people. You need dreams. You need responsibilities and boundaries. You need not to look towards filthy rich, obnoxiously lavished-upon musicians to tell you the secret to a happy life.
And you most certainly do not need to listen to writers like myself. But if you've made it this far, that means you wanted to, and I appreciate it. After that last blast of negativity, I'm going to slip into some Abbey Road and enjoy a nice day. See you next time...