Tuesday, March 5, 2013

You Can't Do That! The 25 Best Beatles Songs Ever--And the 5 Worst (Pt. 2)

Phase Two, in which Doris gets her oats.

15.  "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite"
Appears on:  Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band

The circus is in town!  Scratch that, actually, the circus is the town.  Everyone lives in Big Top tents and rides elephants to and from work, which is either constructing an aerial apparatus or reading Nancy Drew mysteries to the caged freaks.

As stirringly off-kilter is the patchwork of harmonium 'n' Hammond 'n' glockenspiel 'n' loopy-loops, it's really John's performance that makes it such a personal favorite.  Even double-tracked up he still sounds resolutely blase amid such blithe proceedings.

With all this barmy somersaulting and horse-dancing going on, the listener might not expect Paul and Ringo to show up high-stepping it in their rainbow suspenders and flaming top hats, but they do.  Why this was never sold as a kiddy song alongside the likes of "Octopus' Garden" and "Yellow Submarine" I'll never figure, as it blows both the aforementioned away.

Any song that irritates Lou Reed so intensely that he is rendered seemingly literally unable to attack it with any critical substance has something going for it.  Something very real and worth investigating.

14.  "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)"
Appears on:  Past Masters, Vol. 2 (not the Anthology version, which has a friggin' ska section.  Whimsy has its limits.  Ska music violates each and every one of those limits.)

A legendary pastiche, I call it.  A legendary piece of shit, my best friend retorts.   I tell him, I tell you:  hating this song is a strong indication that you are also nauseated by the very thought of having a good time, AKA "fun."  And you don't care much for Statler and Waldorf, AKA the crotchety old bastards in the Muppet Show balcony.

This is a classic comedy song in four distinct parts, united only by the title and the fact that the J & P Show are having the actual time of their collective creative life.  Starts off as a piano stomper that fools the unsuspecting ears into thinking some throwback good times are afoot, then LOUNGE NUMBER!

I'm not an idiot; I understand that people have good reasons to convulse in distaste at this track, and despite the conviction of my opening paragraph up there, said reasons likely have little to do with the phlegmatic existences their soulless shells demand they endure.  Because while the the first half of "You Know My Name" is at its worst in love with its own distorted reflection in the fun house mirror, the second half is like the Kool Aid Man bust right through said mirror.  Except the Kool Aid Man in this instance an obese middle-aged man with a comb-over and walrus stache who is wearing naught but an adult diaper.  I can understand how this might disturb some listeners and cause them to turn away in disgust.  After the lounge section, it truly ceases to be a "song" as we would accept from the Beatles, and becomes an exercise in goofball self-consciousness.  It's scatterbrained, it's silly, I half-believe Paul was wearing drag for that third part, and that the entire thing birthed Monty Python full stop.

Fun!  Not lowercase, and not with a period at the end, you grant that?  Brian Jones' sax solo on here is the best thing that fella ever did in his too-short life.  Which is saying something, really, 'cause dude had like 9 kids.  Or 6.  You can look up the number.

13.  "I Feel Fine"
Appears on:  Past Masters, Vol. 1

Forget the famously non-incidental feedback, what about Bobby Parker?  What about joy, namely the unabashed kind of joy that we seem to lose the handle on the older we become?

"I Feel Fine" is another Beat-all-y'alls track that benefits from early exposure to my li'l ears.  It had a shuffle not dissimilar from those classic country songs my dad loved and the middle eight sounded like magic.  It was distinctly different from MTV.  For one, there were no carefully calculated images suggesting ways that I should react to the song.  I could just hang out by the stereo and pay it allll of my attention.

It's that shuffle that really deserves some extra shine here.  Legendary drummer/perfectionist Buddy Rich is on record dismissing Ringo's skills as "adequate," and so often, the degrading words of a famous musician towards another of his or her tribe will be referenced when one of us little non-famous folks want to validate our similar opinion.  But that's lazy thinking/debating.  I also don't put too much stock in artists talking crap on each other, as their personalities tend towards insecurity and hypersensitivity anyway.  I'm sure as long as there are sticks to wield and skins to beat, drummers far less famous than Mr. Starkey will bemoan how a "mediocre" thronesman could be considered one of the all-time greats when clearly he's not even top 100 all time, man!  

But the man never fucked up a Beatles song.  Okay, at least not with his drumming.  And in more than a few instances, "I Feel Fine" being one of those, he was able to give a performance that was precisely what the track needed.  No superfluous fills, no showy cymbal crashes.  Feel over technique.  Vibes over virtuosity.

12.  "I Want You (She's So Heavy)"
Appears on:  Abbey Road

A greatly unsettling scream for sensual healing.  Lennon had this disquieting tendency to make natural human desires sound like Satan Devouring His Son.  "She's So Heavy" is basically 8 minutes in the hazy maze cave, trying to navigate through the reeking clouds of lust and pools of blood that once stepped in begin to draw out your own.

I don't recommend trying to complete your own unique puzzle with the pieces of another person.  Of course my advice sounds pretty lame next to this masterwork of form-experimentation.  When I discovered Abbey Road as a teenager, this song helped me put all those metal tapes my brother would begrudgingly let me listen to in proper context.  As in, those guys were wimps.

"Heavyyyyyyyy!"  The exultation to settle it, once and for all.  Saxon?  Motley Crue?  You get nothing.  Good day!

11.  "Michelle"
Appears on:  Rubber Soul

One of those cloud-puff Paul ballads that divide the super-opinionated fanbase.  I fall firmly on the side that J.P. McCartney is the greatest writer of pop songs that's ever lived.  This does not mean he's batted 1.000 in his career, that would be a silly claim, no one ever bats 1.000 ever, especially if they're not actually playing baseball.  Which would be the case here.

"Michelle" is quite repetitive, quite carefree, and undeniably French in parts.  It gets nitpicked to hell for all of these qualities, and I've more than once come across the fan lamentation that no matter how gently gorgeous the track itself is, truly memorable love songs should display a bit more commitment and devotion than is evident in these threadbare lyrics.

There's a reason so many damn girls were named after this song (including one of my nieces) and it's not just because their parents thought it would be funny to say "my belle" each time they called their name.  This song is immaculate.  That "I love you" at 1:26 certainly strikes me as being borne from the heart.

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