Monday, March 4, 2013

You Can't Do That! The 25 Best Beatles Songs Ever--And the 5 Worst (Pt. 1)

Well…I did it for my favorite band ever,  might as well do it for my second-favorite band ever.  But where Sonic Youth got the 30 Best/10 Worst treatment, the Beatles get 5 off both sides.  The reason for this, simply, is that I did not want to feel hemmed in by a template.  

I encourage you to sit back and enjoy not only this post, but also the next two that will be put up in the coming days.  This is my listed opinion on the greatest and most grating musical moments that the most influential racket-gang of all-time had to offer, and I do not gussy it up to be anything other than that, so please--calibrate the scales before you weigh in.  

25.  "Love Me Do"
Appears on:  Please Please Me (Andy White on drums; Ringo Starr on tambourine)

The primacy of the Beatles is not a myth perpetuated by a bunch of old assholes and/or lazy people.  Over seven years they went from squeaky-clean, similarly-suited purveyors of good ol' rock'n'roll, running away from screeching lasses while barely holding back their own hysterical laughter, to turned-on/tuned-in harbingers of one of the most fascinating eras in world history.  

"Love Me Do" was their first single released as the Beatles (a rather forgettable version of the traditional "My Bonnie" was released the year before, credited to Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers) and while it did well in their homeland (#17 on the UK singles chart) it wasn't until "Please Please Me" that they topped the charts for the first time on either side of the pond.

Their first US #1 was "I Want To Hold Your Hand," which is a song so harmlessly drawn up and executed that, truly, having it drowned out by screaming young girls is my preferred way to hear the damn thing.   Later in 1963 they earned their second chart-crowner with "Love Me Do."

Much like its predecessor, "Love Me Do" does not appeal to anything particularly profound.  It's a stark toe-tapper, though, and more of the boys' personalities--which combine to create one large super BEATLE personality, of course--comes through.  It is also the resounding answer to the timidly-asked question, "What would the Everly Brothers sound like if they performed actual good songs?" 

Vocal delivery is key: 

"Love, love me do
You know I love you
I'll always be true"

The way the J & P Show stretch out "please" is also 10/10, A+.

And as embarrassing as the title is, it's a sight less cringe than the repeated desire to grasp one's fingers between your own.  

24.  "Don't Bother Me"
Appears on:  With The Beatles

The first George Harrison composition to appear on a Beatles album, but the man himself didn't like the track much, and honestly there might not be more than let's say six people who hold it in the esteem I do.  As George's confidence and abilities expanded, his songs tended towards matters of the spiritual world, not this "I had a girlfriend now I don't I'm sad" stuff that the non-enlightened folk tend to obsess over.

Lyrically it's a dryer sheet in a hurricane, but that's par for the course when dealing with pre-Rubber Soul material.    I love the snarling vexation oozing from George's vocal delivery, a psychological state heretofore unheard in the band's young catalogue.   Anyone who is gobsmacked by its inclusion here, I beseech you, go back and watch A Hard Day's Night.   'Cause honestly I can't be the only one whose mental projection screen shows those scenes in my head when I hear "Don't Bother Me"--especially Ringo and Paul's play-pugilism.  So wonderful.

23.  "From Me To You"
Appears on:  Past Masters Volume 1 (Mono version, aka "The version with the harmonica part")

Pretty sure the only reason the NME is still permitted space on this here planet is due to the fact that its old letters column inspired the title for a Beatles song.  It surely cannot be the writing.

So many Beatles songs have melodies that knock me out, listen after listen after listen.  Songs that, much like the elderly couple whose daily morning walk down North Market Street I find absolutely adorable even as I'm also kind of wishing they were able to just step a little faster, give me no choice but to believe in love.  The yearning, the bliss, the uncertainty, the comfort, the agony, all of it and oh so much more.  

22.  "Help!"
Appears on:  Help!  

With an exclamation point so you know it's real...

A new jive here, some Lennon desperation set to a soundtrack suited for beach-romping.  George's arpeggios are just the backwards pitch into ditch, abyss diverted 'cause help is always around the corner.

21.  "Blackbird"
Appears on:  The Beatles

Delicate treatment of a delicate topic.  As long as it's just Paul's voice, hands and feet, this haunting call-to-arms stays golden.  The added chirps are pure second-prize, but just a mild annoyance in the end.  This was my favorite song the first time I ever listened to the White Album.  As you'll see, it didn't stay that way as the years went on.  Which is not the fault of "Blackbird."  

20.  "Got to Get You Into My Life"
Appears on:  Revolver

This song is about weed, yo.  It's also tighter than an expertly-crafted sushi roll.  The horns, I swear!  Especially when they go staccato.  Refreshingly clear and short for a tune proselytizing the plant.   I mean, I've never smoked, and have no plans to start, but goddamn this one's a dandy.  I like the visuals I get:  Paul "suddenly see"(s) the marijuana.  That's awesome.  Like he was just cleaning up around the house, picked up a book from the coffee table and oh my, there was a bag of mean green under there!  The second verse is the best, though, as Macca basically spells out why weed will forever have his heart over any of us feckless, irritating havers of boobs.

"And I want you to hear me/Say we'll be together every day."  Marijuana! Are you listening?!  I really do hope Paul speaks to, and perhaps even on occasion raises his voice to, all of the pot he smokes.  

Weed-Off between Paul, Willie Nelson and B-Real, who wins?  Redman.

19.  "I Saw Her Standing There"
Appears on:  Please Please Me

The shimmery shimmy of the swingin' Sixties, the decade when not even the remotest of damns was given, 'cause "She was just seventeen/Well you know what I mean."

Oh yes, I feel you on that one.  Hey, Paul was only twenty years of age himself when he sang this, it's not like he's in his seventies now and singing this, except he is and it's like Mac, you are lucky this is a super-good chunk of white-boy boogie with the exuberance in abundance or otherwise the squick would smother us all.  

The use of "woo" instead of "yeah" makes a world of difference.  The long "o" sound is fresh and vivacious and everything the Beatles represented to all those shrieking skirts and, lest we forget, to all the young boys who ran out and bought guitars.

The hand claps are unnecessary and fantastic.  My heart goes boom.

18.  "Cry Baby Cry"
Appears on:  The Beatles

Crazy underrated, this.  Took me years to even appreciate what Lennon was saying.  Why is the weeping young'un making his mom lament?  The emotional and physical weariness of motherhood?  Cynicism?  How can you be cynical towards a baby?  Hey, I was a baby once, and I don't remember ever dreaming up any devious manipulations designed to age my mother ten years in just two.  

'Course I additionally don't recall any of the stories she recited to me, or any of the songs she attempted to soothe me with.  Guaranteed none of the words she spoke where on the level of this fairytale nonsense, with all manner of royalty captured in their majestic banality.   

One of my favorite Beatle choruses and, concurrently, Lennon vocals.  He apparently didn't care much for this "rubbish"; frankly, I adore it and wouldn't mind more, sir.   It appeals to the same part of me that so enjoys that classic Macca fluff.  You know, far more concerned with matters of the heart over those of the head, able to see the beauty and importance of the basic human elements and urges.  

Who do you think changed the world more profoundly through their music--John Lennon or Barry White?  Seriously.

17.  "Tomorrow Never Knows"  
Appears on:  Revolver

Behold, the deleterious effects of fully-realized genius!  Holy modal rounders, Beatleman!  

Revolver as a whole can be appreciated in the context of history as a damn-near salacious peek at the dolce stil novo the boys were about to flip music on its head with--again.  Imagine falling in love with "I Want to Hold Your Hand" then you get to the likes of "Love You To" and "Tomorrow Never Knows"!

The lyrics never struck me like that, 'cause I'm one of an exclusive group indeed (Beatles nuts who never have ingested illicit drugs; seriously, isn't there only like 11 of us?) but I can still hear most, if not all, of the lysergic supernovas.  Droning and looping layers of play indicating this is the Beatles "blue period" because the sky just fell down.  Clearly.  

It ends with "The beginning."  Which I could go off on this whole thing about Triple Stage Darkness, but!  I don't want to soil the panties, so I'll stop.

16.  "Let It Be"
Appears on:  Let It Be

Oh and isn't this just a lovely segue from that last sentence.   

One of the very first Beatles songs I ever heard when I was but a young 80s baby…"Michelle" and "Do You Want to Know a Secret" also stand out as early exposures to a band that, honestly, no one in my family was all that nuts about.  My parents were Kentucky hillbillies, see.  My father much preferred Bill Monroe and Chet Atkins to any rock musician (interestingly, though,  "Nothing From Nothing" by fifth Beatle Billy Preston was his favorite non-country/bluegrass song ever).  My mother didn't mind the odd song by the Carpenters or Abba, but anything more abrasive than that?  Forget it.

My sisters (the oldest of whom was born in 1958) had fonder memories of the Monkees.  My brother thought the Beatles were okay, but he liked much heavier shit.  His cassette case was loaded with Judas Priest, Motley Crue, Black Sabbath, et al.  

Of course, one need not have an inside connection to fall in love with the Beatles. They are no one's best kept secret.   I listened to the radio religiously, and well, discovery was inevitable.  

My initial impression was the "mother Mary" was a nun or something, as I couldn't really comprehend that the singer was referencing the woman who gave him life.  It struck me then as unbearably sad, and the organ's presence just reminded me of all those church recitals that were linked in my mind with the frightful unknowns of God and Satan and death.  

Older and ostensibly wiser, I no longer connect "Let It Be" with anyone wearing black-and-white duds telling me how horrible I am and how any second not spent in repentance is just a minute more I'll burn in Hell.   The element of the ineffable is not only still present, however, and it still suffuses my senses every single time I hear the song, but even more powerfully.   Paul's mother with her no-nonsense, hard-won wisdom is so many mothers, throughout time.  When I thought this song was about God, I felt horror at the prospect of a day I would no longer exist.  When I evolved, so to speak, and understood it more as a song about my own mother, I felt abject terror at the very strong likelihood of a day she would no longer exist.  

It's the difference between wanting to scream so you don't cry, and crying just so you keep from screaming.  

Cry I do.  Put "Let It Be" on tonight as I was writing up this review and didn't make it through the first verse before the tears completely blurred my vision, and I threw my suddenly-useless pen to the floor and gave myself over fully to my sorrow.  It's done that to me for several years now.  I'm okay by the time Billy Preston comes in…funny how that all sounds like hope and peace and life and all that great stuff to me now.  

It's simply gorgeous.  The piano was an instrument created solely to break our hearts.  

I just love this song so much I never want to hear it again, you know?  

No comments:

Post a Comment