Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ranking the Beatles my damn self: the final countdown

I just want to thank everyone/anyone who's read this far. I've enjoyed it.

12. A Day in the Life (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)

I've seen interpretations of the lyrics as portraying mundane daily life, but I'm unconvinced. They're a little incoherent and meaningless. Just saying why this song isn't in the top 10, which surprised even me. Everything else about it, of course, is perfect, and its groundbreakingnesshoodosity cannot be overstated. One of the most perfectly arranged songs ever.

11. Dear Prudence (The Beatles)

The arrangement is spare in parts, and that makes me want to dock it, but it sets up the end so nicely, especially the fullness the piano adds, I'm going to credit them for doing it intentionally. One of the biggest influences on me as an arranger; it just builds so inspiredly.

10. No Reply (For Sale)

Ah, the top 10. No guilt anymore, right? Wrong. This song is so amazing, I *still* feel guilty. The music creates a tone here like they rarely were able to again -- a precursor to Ticket to Ride, in that way. But I think this song is a little more interesting. Not to mention that it took the spurned lover lyrical bit into new (stalker-y) territory.

9. I Am the Walrus (Magical Mystery Tour)

I again am guilty of valuing historical significance over subjective likingness. Although I surely loved this song the first 100,000 times I listened to it. But I love No Reply even now in the second 100,000. The most experimental of their real songs, no?

8. All You Need Is Love (Magical Mystery Tour)

I've read where John used this melody -- often referred to as the "Three Blind Mice" melody -- repeatedly; we're talking about the "Love, love, love" melody (and progression) here. I don't see it, unless people mean all songs with that descending, Dear Prudence-y progression. I want to give this bonus points for John and the band's coming up with it on such short notice, so it could be broadcast as part of a global special, but they did that all the time, didn't they?

7. Nowhere Man (Rubber Soul)

Just enough points for historical impact to keep it above All You Need Is Love, which is saying something. It's maybe the song I think of first when I think of that era of having instruments panned one way and voices the other. In some ways, John's most candid piece of writing, with the possible exception of his contribution in the top two. And the beautiful backing vocals, and the guitar sound so shiny ...

6. Got to Get You Into My Life (Revolver)

The first appearance of those horns, right? Paul's second-best melody of his career, and a vocal performance to match it. That descending progression again in the "Ooh" part. A tastefully timed appearance by that electric guitar. And the wonderful, wonderful fadeout. It was very hard to rate this below the song above it, maybe the most difficult call of this project.

5. Tomorrow Never Knows (Revolver)

Because the top five, I mean, that has cachet, no? Anyway, this might have made top five even if it were a capella. Then again, so should A Day in the Life, right? But what a wonderful vocal, for which we are also crediting George Martin, especially for the stunning second verse. The instrumental 'break' is so perfectly constructed out of so many different parts that could have been arranged differently (by which I mean less effectively). And that awesome vocal fadeout, which makes it every bit the match of Got to Get You Into My Life.

4. You Never Give Me Your Money (Abbey Road)

By far, the biggest surprise of this project for me is this song's not being number three. I mean, before I sat here and thought about it, I wouldn't even have thought about it, you know? This is kind of Paul's analog to Happiness Is a Warm Gun, but more coherent. And it's got those guitar arpeggios. Not the ones at the end that get reprised at the end of the record, though those are awesome too. I'm talking about the ones that sound like chimes, after "Oh, that magic feeling, nowhere to go." I think it might be my single favorite Beatle 'part.' It seems like I should have a lot more to say about this song; I love it very much. My one reservation is that I don't think it was produced as well as it could have been. Either I disagree with some of the guitar and keyboard sounds they chose, or they could have been mixed better. I don't think they would disagree with me; there are lots of tics and screw-ups, tons on Sgt. Pepper's alone.

3. She Said, She Said (Revolver)

I'm as surprised as you are. Do other people have this in their top three? It's just really really well produced; the tone and sound are consistent. I love the sound, which has a lot to do with the bassline in the verse and the ... is that a tamboura? Nice feel by Ringo on the "And she's making me feel like I've never been born" parts. The progression for the bridge is just inspired, and I still have trouble figuring out the tempo changes. And then there's the fadeout.

2. Strawberry Fields Forever (Magical Mystery Tour)

It must be my love for John's work that made me try so hard to land this in the top spot. I also think it's a better song than the top song, from a songwriting standpoint. And, of course, I love it, so that's a tough combination to best. I think Norwegian Wood ends up winning for best-conceived lyrics, but the message here, which I read as against closedmindedness, and against thinking you're right all the time, or that there even is a definitive conception of anything, including reality, is my favorite, a more eloquent further exploration of what John was saying in Rain. I find the top song to be a lyrical complement to this song, too. The progression here is better than the top song's; John worked harder in writing this. The song builds so wonderfully in its arrangement. And then of course all the work that went into mixing the "Beatle" half and the "orchestra" half, maybe George Martin's biggest achievement. And props to John, too, for expecting the impossible in that regard; he got it.

1. Hey Jude (Past Masters vol. II)

Not that this doesn't have a nice progression. Not that there isn't a lot of good stuff going on in the first half of this, from the pacing to the harmonies. And not that these aren't some unique lyrics for Paul. But let's be candid: This song is all about the anthemic second half. Four chords (three, really; the first is repeated as the fourth), over and over. This song formed me as an arranger; I've been trying to recreate it ever since. And we'll never know if this song could have taken the top spot without that words-can't-describe vocal performance by Paul in this half. I mean, everything he did (everything he did that stayed edited in, anyway) worked. He was in the zone. I never counted, but I read that the four chords are repeated 17 times. Maybe that's how many it takes, although I'm bouyant from the very second Paul's scream takes us into the beginning of that coda. As long as it takes to fade out, has anyone ever wanted it to end?

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Discuss: These 12 songs would make a pretty cool album, am I right?

1 comment:

David Whiteside said...

Great list. Very hard to do! I agree almost entirely; however, I gotta put 'Lucy in the Sky' at #1. The key changes, meter changes, instrumentation, production and performance are just so out of this world. That song would still be considered progressive today. John was a genius!