Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tuesday Top Ten: Beatles Songs

Last week, I got a bunch of emails from friends (and several from enemies, oddly) with links to Rolling Stone's upcoming list of the Top 10 Beatles songs, which is a glimpse of a special Rolling Stone issue counting down what it perceives to be the Top 100 Beatles songs.

Here are Rolling Stone's Top 10:

10. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
9. "Come Together"
8. "Let It Be"
7. "Hey Jude"
6. "Something"
5. "In My Life"
4. "Yesterday"
3. "Strawberry Fields Forever"
2. "I Want to Hold Your Hand"
1. "A Day in the Life"

To me, there is no debate as to the greatest band in rock history because The Beatles are so far ahead of everyone else that any debate is pointless. What they did to rock and roll, transforming it from a fad to an art form, cannot be understated -- and they did it over a span of roughly seven years, which makes it even that much more impressive. Think about that. They released 13 studio albums in 7 years. By contrast, U2 has only released 12 studio albums in their 30 years of existence. The Beatles invaded America in February 1964 with "I Want to Hold Your Hand." A mere three years later they came out with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Three years after that, they had broken up. Anyone who doesn't own every single Beatles studio album is doing themselves a disservice. Everything since 1964 has been influenced in some way by The Beatles. (And yes, Jester, The Beatles are more important in the history of the world than Picasso.)

Admittedly, I discovered The Beatles late. Until about my junior or senior year of high school, all I had was the blue 1967-1970 greatest hits double album (which I had only obtained my sophomore year at the earliest). I bought Abbey Road at some point either junior or senior year, and I thought it was awesome. You may not know this, but IU has the top-ranked music school in the world. One of the perks for non-music majors is that the School of Music offers several rock and roll history classes. I took a few of them (and wish I had taken more), including Z202 second semester of my freshman year. That class focused on the '60s, and the first two weeks were devoted to The Beatles. How had I not discovered all of these songs before? Maybe I just assumed the songs on the greatest hits album were the best they had to offer. Boy was I wrong. Those two weeks transformed me from someone who liked The Beatles into someone who loved The Beatles. I bought as many albums as I could afford (used, of course), listening to them religiously while I studied, and even ended up taking The Beatles class my junior year. Yes, you read that correctly -- there is an entire class devoted to The Beatles. I would be hard-pressed to find a greater college course offered at any university in the history of the world.

Now, one of the many joys of fatherhood is that I am actually awake on Sunday mornings in time to hear most, if not all, of WXRT's "Breakfast With The Beatles" while I feed Daughter her breakfast and help her train for the crawl races and baby fights we enter her in each Sunday afternoon. Thus far, she has not indicated verbally which is her favorite Beatles song, but she has, on occasion, said what could be confused for "yeah yeah yeah."

Obviously Beatles songs (just like songs in general) impact everyone differently. For instance, my history of rock and roll professor, Dr. Glenn Gass -- who may be the biggest Beatles fan on the face of the earth and was my favorite teacher at any level -- told one of my classes (either Z202 or The Beatles class) that after John Lennon died, he was fine for a period of several days or maybe even weeks. Then he was sitting in Bear's Place, a restaurant in Bloomington across the street from the music school, eating lunch by himself when The Beatles' cover of "Please Mr. Postman" (which is sung by John) came over the jukebox. Hearing that set unleashed the emotions about John's death that he had been apparently suppressing broke free, and he just broke down and started crying. Now, every time I hear that song, I think of Professor Gass, and the meaning of the song for me has changed.

All of this is to say that my Top 10 Beatles songs differ from Rolling Stone's Top 10 Beatles songs (which I think is a pretty fair list, mind you, aside from "Come Together"), and they probably differ from your Top 10 Beatles songs.

It was a near impossible task to pick my Top 10 songs. Right off the bat, I came up with over 30. The top five were not hard, but many of the songs in the Honorable Mention category could very well be in the top ten. With that, here are my Top 10 Beatles songs. For everyone's convenience, I included the name of the album and year of release after each song (and obviously no Beatles songs are on Playlist.com, so I included links to songs where available):

Honorable mention: "Anna (Go to Him)" (Please Please Me, 1963), "There's a Place" (Please Please Me, 1963), "Twist and Shout" (Please Please Me, 1963), "All I've Got to Do" (With the Beatles, 1963), "If I Fell" (A Hard Day's Night, 1964), "I'll Be Back" (A Hard Day's Night, 1964), "Nowhere Man" (Rubber Soul, 1965), "Wait" (Rubber Soul, 1965), "Day Tripper" (Past Masters Vol. 2, 1965), "We Can Work It Out" (Past Masters Vol. 2, 1965), "Rain" (Past Masters Vol. 2, 1966), "She Said She Said" (Revolver, 1966), "Lovely Rita" (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967), "Baby You're a Rich Man" (Magical Mystery Tour, 1967), "Revolution" (Past Masters Vol. 2, 1968), "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (The White Album, 1968), "I'm So Tired" (The White Album, 1968), "Hey Bulldog" (Yellow Submarine, 1969), The Abbey Road medley (Abbey Road, 1969), "Don't Let Me Down" (Past Masters Vol. 2, 1969)

10 (tie). "A Day in the Life" (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967) and "I've Just Seen a Face" (Help!, 1965)
I could choose between these two, so I included both of them. It's my list, so deal with it. "A Day in the Life" is an awesome song (as evidenced by the fact that it tops Rolling Stone's list) that melds a John song with a Paul song to come up with a the final fantastic product. If you crank it loud enough, you can hear the piano bench creak when someone moves during the sustained final piano chord. "I've Just Seen a Face" is a classic Paul song -- a well-crafted pop song about a lady. The verses are fast-paced, and the chorus is short but gratifying.

9. "Helter Skelter" (The White Album, 1968)
Like I said above, Beatles songs have different meanings for different people. For example, when I hear the lyrics "When I get to the bottom / I go back to the top of the slide / Where I stop and turn / And I go for a ride / Till I get to the bottom and I see you again," I understand "Helter Skelter" to be a kickass rock song about a spiral slide that caused Ringo to get blisters on his fingers. If you're Charles Manson, however, this served as a warning about an impending worldwide race war, prompting you to go on a killing spree. Time will tell which one of us is right, but I feel like Manson really missed the boat on this one.

8. "This Boy" (Past Masters Vol. 1, 1963)
This was an early B-side, with a definite doo-wop/bubblegum pop feel to it. One of the things I love about it is John's double-tracked vocals. There is something powerful about hearing two John's sing in unison, especially when he kicks in to "Ooohhh, and this boy, would be happy just to looooove you, but oh my my my-hi-hi-hi."

7. "I'm a Loser" (Beatles For Sale, 1964)
Who writes a song calling himself a loser? John Lennon, that's who. After discovering Bob Dylan, Lennon began to write more introspectively, and this is a great self-loathing song that hits home with anyone who has been in a failed relationship. "I'm a loser / And I'm not what I appear to be." In 1964, no one was writing lyrics like that.

6. "Sexy Sadie" (The White Album, 1968)
I once owned a black '89 Accord that I named Sexy Sadie. She met her fate when I hydroplaned off Indiana State Road 46 about ten miles west of Spencer and hit a tree going about 60 mph. The song that was playing when I hit the tree? "Sexy Sadie." I couldn't make that up. Well, I could. But I didn't.

5. "And Your Bird Can Sing" (Revolver, 1966)
This a short and sweet rocker, and it's my favorite song off of Revolver. I especially love the outtake version of this that is on the Anthology, when the group is cracking up throughout the entire song, sometimes to the point of not even being able to sing. I assume there were some herbal jazz cigarettes involved.

4 (tie). "I've Got a Feeling" and "Dig a Pony" (Let It Be, 1970)
During the second semester of my sophomore year of college, I didn't do so well with the ladies. Much of that stemmed from the fact that I had my heart broken right after New Years, so I was in a period of intense self-loathing and woman hating (and listening to a lot of Derek & The Dominos). Thus, what would often happen at 3 or 4 a.m. after a party is that I, along with "Crazy Legs" Hirst and "Mounty" Belanger (and, on occasion, others), would enjoy a nightcap or three whilst blaring the Let It Be album and singing along at the top of our lungs. It was a nice release of pent-up frustration (primal scream therapy, perhaps), and everyone loves to sing when they're hammered regardless. "I've Got a Feeling" and "Dig a Pony" were the songs from the album that I remember singing along to most often -- and I mean really belting them out. Needless to say, despite my horrific drought that semester, I have some extremely fond memories (hazy as they may be). Coincidentally, it was the only semester I got a 4.0, which means that women only brought my GPA down.

3. "Let It Be" (Let It Be, 1970)
This is just a perfectly crafted pop song with a great message: when things get crazy, just calm down. Of course, it was written at a time when the band was self-destructing, which makes it even more poignant. I don't have anything else to say about it, other than it's clearly better than any song I've ever written.

2. "In My Life" (Rubber Soul, 1965)
The first time I remember hearing "In My Life" was in my Z202 history of rock and roll class the spring of my freshman year. After class, I immediately walked to the closest used CD store and bought Rubber Soul. What I love about "In My Life" is not only that it's a sweet and powerful love song, but it also has this element of sadness and nostalgia that I think makes the song transcendent. You could play this song at a wedding or a funeral, and it would be appropriate either way. Every time I hear the intro and "There are places I'll remember," I get goosebumps. If I was capable of crying, this song would make me cry.

1. "Happiness is a Warm Gun" (The White Album, 1968)
I don't know what it is about this song, but I've loved it since the first time I heard it. Junior and senior year of college (and in law school), I used to listen to it to psych myself up before flag football games. It's still on my running mix (were I to run). Legend has is John wrote the song after producer George Martin showed him the cover of a gun magazine with the title "Happiness is a warm gun." The song has three distinct parts. It's kind of eerie at the beginning with John singing "She's not a girl who misses much." You expect him to explain why, which he does, but it makes no sense, as the song kicks into this raunchy fuzzed-out guitar chord. The remainder of the lyrics in the first part are fascinating, mostly because they make no sense whatsoever and are apparently the result of an acid trip. Then the song switches to John repeating the phrase "Mother Superior jumped the gun" for 30 seconds or so while someone plays a tambourine. Then the song switches into kind of a neo-doo wop song, where John belts out the only lucid lyrics in the song -- sexually suggestive lyrics that are not actually about putting his finger on your trigger while the rest of the guys sing "bang bang shoot shoot" in the background. All the while, the song switches tempo and time at several points. In the hands of anyone else, what I have just described to you would be a catastrophe. In the hands of The Beatles, however, it is a masterpiece.

I'd like to say thank you on behalf of myself, and I hope I passed the audition. Thoughts, questions, concerns? What are your top 10?

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