This weekend Entertainment Weekly came out with a vaguely interesting, vaguely infuriating list of the Fabs’ “50 best songs,” selected (it seems) by a panel of 10 EW writers (including that other, probably better-paid but infinitely less worthy Jeff Giles). The magazine’s crew did such a lousy job separating the Strawberry Fields from the Norwegian Wood that I figured, I can do better than that … heck, I’ll bet we all can!
And so here we are. Several of my Popdose colleagues have contributed their own lists, but this is no Popdose 100 – we weren’t organized enough this time to compile a comprehensive survey of our Beatle tastes. Still, there are a few generalizations to be reached, particularly on the popularity of such tracks as “A Day in the Life,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Revolution,” and the Abbey Road medley. Please feel free – no, feel compelled – to offer your own best-of list in the comments, or at least to take potshots at ours. Me first, though (with each song’s EW ranking, if any, in parentheses):
1. A Day in the Life (#2 on the EW list). Here is the consummate track of the Beatles’ studio era, replete with John’s wisdom, Paul’s whimsy, George Martin’s knob-twirling prowess, a touch of self-reference, a great recording-session story, the seeds of “Paul is Dead” … and the Biggest Piano Chord in History.
2. Revolution (#21). Personally, I’ll take the “slow” version off The White Album, with its groovy backing vocals and John’s extra splash of ambivalence (“Don’t you know that you can count me out … in”). Fast or slow, John’s simultaneous encouragement and admonition to the counterculture, released (on the flip of “Hey Jude”) right in the middle of the riots at the ’68 Democratic Convention, could not have been better timed. Certain over-the-top protesters at our current moment could stand to heed its message.
3. Here, There and Everywhere (not on the EW list!). Forget about “Yesterday” or “And I Love Her” or even “Blackbird.” (Well, don’t forget them entirely…) This is the prettiest melody Paul ever wrote, and its lyric, while gimmicky, is exquisitely designed and brilliantly sung.
4. Here Comes the Sun (#48). The conventional wisdom has “Something” as George’s best Beatle song, maybe because it topped the chart and because Sinatra liked it. But I’ll take the pristine, acoustic “Here Comes the Sun” every time.
5. Ticket to Ride (#46). This single forcefully announced that, as far as the group was concerned, Beatlemania was over and it was time to Get Serious. It may be Ringo’s greatest recorded moment.
6. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) (#9). John’s extramarital tomfoolery brilliantly distilled into 2:06 of hints, mystery and a dose of rudimentary sitar.
7. Rain (#28). A track full of psychedelic studio trickery, but a song that would have stood out in any Beatles era.
8. We Can Work It Out (#23). Half of the Greatest Two-Sided Single in History, along with…
9. Day Tripper (#41). All the evidence necessary that John was one of rock’s greatest singers.
10. I Am the Walrus (#32). Stomps all over “Come Together” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Glass Onion” as the best of John’s Lewis-Carroll-on-LSD nonsense songs.
11. Things We Said Today (not on EW’s list!).
12. Across the Universe (#10).
13. Blackbird (#18).
14. Strawberry Fields Forever (#4).
15. A Hard Day’s Night (#1).
16. You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away (#17).
17. Back in the U.S.S.R. (N/A).
18. And Your Bird Can Sing (N/A).
19. Let It Be (#7).
20. I Will (N/A).
21. I’m So Tired (#49).
22. If I Fell (#22!).
23. Penny Lane (#12).
24. Tomorrow Never Knows (#8).
25. Please Please Me (N/A).
26. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (N/A!).
27. Paperback Writer (#26).
28. She Said She Said (#37.)
29. Help! (#13).
30. Helter Skelter (#47).
31. Two of Us (N/A).
32. Birthday (N/A).
33. She Loves You (#6).
34. In My Life (#15).
35. With a Little Help from My Friends (#40).
36. I Feel Fine (N/A).
37. Got To Get You Into My Life (N/A).
38. Don’t Let Me Down (N/A).
39. I Want to Tell You (N/A).
40. I’m Only Sleeping (#24).
41. Julia (N/A).
42. Something (#5).
43. I’ve Just Seen a Face (N/A).
44. Dr. Robert (N/A).
45. Hey Jude (#14).
46. I’ve Got a Feeling (#34).
47. Lady Madonna (N/A).
48. I Should Have Known Better (#33).
49. Getting Better (N/A).
50. Yesterday (#3). This song’s enduring reputation is based in large part on the 5 million covers that have been recorded to date — but I’d guess that half of them were done by Easy Listening acts looking to score some reflected street cred from the one “rock” song they could stand. It’s true that “Yesterday” made the Beatles acceptable, for the first time, to the boomers’ parents. But is that supposed to be a positive?
Among the EW-approved songs I left off my list, the most blasphemic exclusions probably are “Eleanor Rigby,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Nowhere Man,” and “Come Together.” Meanwhile, EW didn’t even get its list of the five least Fab tracks right, mucking it up with the throwaways “Wild Honey Pie” and “Dig It” and the instrumental “Flying.” C’mon, you Time Warner elitists — have some balls! I’m down with their inclusion of “All You Need is Love,” but (leaving off “Revolution 9,” which nobody ever sits through anyway) I’d add “Hello Goodbye,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Run for Your Life” and the single worst Beatles song of all time, “Mr. Moonlight.” (I know it’s a cover, but if it wastes 2Â½ minutes of my time on Beatles for Sale (which is easily the least of all Beatle albums, to begin with), it counts.
1. Two of Us. Lennon and McCartney had a marriage, for all intents and purposes, and this is one of the great relationship songs either of them came up with while the group was still together.
2. Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey. John was capable of making the most ridiculous word drool sound profound.
3. Yesterday. Of course, we’ve all heard it a million times. I’ve long wondered, though, what it must have been like to have been a teenage music lover in 1965, stumbling upon this song on the radio for the first time.
4. Abbey Road side-two medley. “Cheater!” some might say. OK, there are, what, 16 mini-songs here? You can’t really listen to one without hearing them all, and the breadth of material (not to mention the connective tissue that holds it all together) is truly mind-blowing.
5. Hey Jude. I’m a sucker for dynamics, and the soft-to-loud shift in this one gets me every time. My dad and I have a long-running debate about the extended outro—I think it’s genius; he just hears a bunch of hippies “na-na-na”-ing.
6. Got To Get You Into My Life. The horns are impeccable—they just blast you out of your seat. McCartney’s half-sung/half-screamed chorus is equally rattling.
7. The Long and Winding Road. According to my mom, this was playing in the hospital the day I was born. It was our mother/son dance at my wedding. I prefer the un-Spectorized version from Let It Be … Naked — it enables one to focus more on the words than the silly choir in the background of the original.
8. Here Comes the Sun. Has any album ever started its second side with a better song?
9. Real Love. The Anthology episodes aired in late November of 1995, the week I got married, so my association with this song (as well as “Free As a Bird”) is strong. Of the two “new” Beatles tracks unveiled that week, this one strikes me as being more Beatlesque.
10. She’s Leaving Home. The first Beatles song I ever really fell in love with, heard for the first time on the brown-covered Love Songs double album my parents bought in the ’70s.
1. While My Guitar Gently Weeps. It might as well have been George’s goodbye to the band — this song has power behind it. It’s the sound of someone who can leave home now. Oh, and it kinda rocks, too.
2. No Reply. Simple, direct, but the shift from verse to chorus is the prototype for the whole power-pop movement.
3. For No One. Elegant, baroque and utterly memorable.
4. A Day In The Life. The mini-epic, the widescreen equivalent of a pop song.
5. Oh! Darling. I remember my brother, an avowed Beatle basher, staring astonished at the tape deck: “That’s McCartney?!”
6. Let It Be. An absolute lifesaver when I was a young tyke in Parochial school. How that and Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken” slipped through the noose of the advisory board, I’ll never know.
7. Something. There are few pure love songs. This is one of them.
8. You Won’t See Me. It’s got a great groove, does it not?
9. You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away. Lennon gets all Dylan on us, but the nice thing about the Beatles was how they absorbed their influences and came back with something worthy of comparison.
10. Revolution (single version). During this time, I assume it was necessary to remind that after the orchestra swelling, Hindu chasing, wife swapping, in-fighting and hippie dipping, the Beatles were a kick-ass little rock and roll band. With that opening riff and that howl, and Lennon’s
assertive voice thereafter, the message was clear: Yeah, we still do that, too.
1. Penny Lane. “Penny Lane” at #1? Well, yeah — today, anyway, because just a couple of mornings ago, I listened to the remastered version, and let me tell you, people…hearing the brass and woodwinds swell around the 2:20 mark is as close to a religious experience as I’ll probably ever come.
2. Two of Us. Rock’s original bromance falls apart, and the sound is typically, heartbreakingly lovely.
3. Here Comes the Sun. Is it possible to listen to this and not be pissed at John and Paul for pooh-poohing George’s songwriting all those years?
4. Hey Jude. A hackneyed choice, sure. But I’ll always have a soft spot for this song, because of the story I relayed here.
5. Blackbird. Civil rights anthem or just plain beautiful ballad? How about both? This is one I can listen to all day.
6. Oh! Darling. Half boozy English blues, half aggro rocker, this song doesn’t say much — but it says it with so much style. Plus, it’s a bitch to sing. Go on, try it.
7. The Long and Winding Road. Nobody writes a “B” section like McCartney, and this song’s is so painfully beautiful that listening to it is enough to make me forgive him for “Freedom.” I can take the “naked” version or the original, depending on my mood.
8. Across the Universe. I went through my “John the Genius” phase, but I’m such a sucker for melody — and John ended up being such a lazy jerk — that I’ve since come around to a more pro-Paul position, as reflected by my McCartney-heavy list. But I can’t argue with poetry like this. Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup / They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe…
9. All You Need Is Love. The ideals of a generation, summed up in a perfect throwaway pop song.
10. Lady Madonna. An irresistibly insistent piano melody, heavenly harmonies, brass, and handclaps — all in under 2:30. God bless ’em.
11. We Can Work It Out. In the end, of course, they couldn’t work it out…but it’s hard to listen to the tender optimism of this song without being moved.
12. Good Day Sunshine. Nestled between Revolver‘s more experimental numbers, a lovely, cheery little pop stroll.
13. She Said She Said. I normally don’t have a lot of patience for the Beatles’ “sitar period,” but this is about the smoothest synthesis of pop and psychedelia you could ask for.
14. I’ll Follow the Sun. One of the only pre-Rubber Soul Beatles tracks that moves me. I tend to lump all their early stuff into the same dopey boat, but “I’ll Follow the Sun” reminds me that they were always more than that.
15. I Will. A perfectly simple, perfectly wonderful love song. Shorter than two minutes long, it took McCartney more than 65 takes to get it right, which should tell you everything you need to know about why the band’s songs are still so timeless.
1. Abbey Road side-two medley
2. In My Life
4. Tomorrow Never Knows
5. A Day in the Life
6. Eleanor Rigby
7. I’m a Loser
8. If You’ve Got Trouble
9. Can’t Buy Me Love
11. A Hard Day’s Night
12. The Ballad of John and Yoko
14. Dear Prudence
15. Things We Said Today
16. Love You To
17. And Your Bird Can Sing
18. I’m Only Sleeping
19. Yer Blues
20. Don’t Pass Me By
21. She’s Leaving Home
22. Cry Baby Cry
23. Fool on the Hill
24. I’ve Got a Feeling
25. It’s All Too Much
26. Love You To
28. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
29. Let it Be
30. Kansas City
1. Ticket to Ride
2. Here Comes the Sun
3. I Saw Her Standing There
4. Two of Us
5. With a Little Help from My Friends
6. Norweigan Wood
7. She Loves You
8. The Word
9. Get Back
10. A Hard Day’s Night
1. Strawberry Fields Forever
2. A Day In the Life
3. Tomorrow Never Knows
4. Abbey Road side-two medley
5. I Me Mine
6. I Should Have Known Better
7. Things We Said Today
8. I Need You
9. No Reply
10. Ticket To Ride
11. If I Fell
13. For No One
14. Dear Prudence
16. Long, Long, Long
17. The Long and Winding Road
18. Paperback Writer
19. I’ll Be Back
21. Across the Universe
22. All You Need Is Love
23. Penny Lane
24. Hey Jude
25. Day Tripper
1. Two of Us
2. Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End
3. A Day in the Life
4. Here Comes the Sun
5. Don’t Let Me Down
6. Helter Skelter (an air-drums classic)
7. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
11. Eleanor Rigby
12. Got to Get You Into My Life
13. She Said She Said
14. Revolution (single version)
15. The Long and Winding Road
16. Get Back
17. You Won’t See Me
18. Can’t Buy Me Love
19. Hello Goodbye
20. Hey Bulldog