Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ranking the Beatles my damn self: IIX

One time, at the start of a gig, a friend of the singer's either felt compelled or was conscripted to introduce us. I don't remember all of his introduction -- it was funny, but lengthy, and I eventually cut him off, concerned no one had told him we had limited time for the set -- but I'll never forget the beginning: "These guys ... these guys are not my favorite band ..." It was funny, and it was said with love.

That's kind of how I feel when I look at today's set. These songs ... these songs are not my favorite songs ... but they're so much fun. Again I'm struck by how your 100th-favorite song by a band can be so much fun.

106. When I'm Sixty-Four (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)

This song ... OK, enough of that. But my fondness for this song comes 75 percent from whatever they did to John's voice, and how the harmony of that line works. (George again gets a nice part.) The other quarter comes from how much my kid enjoys when it comes up during the Yellow Submarine film, but I promised myself I wouldn't overdo the personal-life shtick.

105. Good Morning Good Morning (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)

It seems preposterous, but with the exception of John's voice when he's singing balls-out, I am unable to think of a Beatle 'sound' I enjoy more than the crunchy saxes. I know he wasn't fond of this song, but he was missing out. Damn lyrics aren't everything.

104. She's a Woman (Past Masters vol. I)

I'm not entirely sure what Paul's trying to do with his voical here; it never struck me when I listened to this song all the time 12 years ago, but it's kind of strange, isn't it? He must have been imitating someone.

103. We Can Work It Out (Past Masters vol. II)

This kind of marked the end of the transition from the early period to the middle period for me. I mean, first of all, it backed Day Tripper (in the UK; in the U.S., it was the A-side). Second, it was released in between Rubber Soul and Revolver. The only Rubber Soul single released in the U.S. after We Can Work It Out was Nowhere Man. And the next single was Paperback Writer/Rain, so clearly they were firmly into the middle by then. Not my favorite track, this, but it does mark the end of the early period, where the music sometimes had this infectious upbeat energy that I think it rarely if ever had again.

102. Ballad of John and Yoko (Past Masters vol. II)

I really have no idea why I like this song as much as I do. The part where John sings "Think!" is pretty awesome, though.

101. Baby It's You (Please Please Me)

John's vocal is meant to be tender but just sounds earnestly -- and endearingly -- goofy. Nice moment right at the end of the verse where they go all-out vocally. Doesn't have much to do with the Beatles, but Smith did a fascinating thing where they recreated that effect, but with the whole ensemble, not just the vocals. If anyone knows how I can get my hands on that track without buying the whole disc, hit me up.

100. I Want to Hold Your Hand (Past Masters vol. I)

More fun, and a big breakthrough, of course, but this song hasn't been the same for me since high school, when a band I was in would play "Just What I Needed" by the Cars and it turned out to have the same progression in the verse. That wasn't the problem, though; the problem was that our singer, who otherwise did a fine job, sounded like Henry Kissinger when he sang that song. (No bet on what I sounded like playing guitar.) So now that Bminor-y chord that's the fourth and eighth lines of the verse (in I Want to Hold Your Hand) saps some of the appeal of the song. Probably you had to be there. If my 100th-favorite song wasn't going to be one I loved, I'm glad it could be one so iconic. Because, you know, the Beatles still desperately need me to make their case for them.

99. Blue Jay Way (Magical Mystery Tour)

I might have overrated this; I'm into it right now.

98. Magical Mystery Tour (Magical Mystery Tour)

The album is uneven as anything, and we won't even talk about the film, but the song goes to some nice places. Has it been established who's singing the first verse? Sounds like Ringo and John together to me.

97. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)

I really like Paul's vocal here; it makes this song much more interesting than it deserves to be. The thought and effort are apparent.

96. Helter Skelter (The Beatles)

This song moved around the rankings some before settling here. Doesn't benefit from repeated listens, but you have to respect the things that gave it such impact the first time you heard it. I didn't like Paul's late screamers much, or his screaming on the later songs, but he's great here. And the riff in the chorus is aces, the guitar sound prefiguring AC/DC by seven years.

95. I'm Down (Past Masters vol. I)

I normally don't go in for 12-bar blues unless Hendrix is involved, but a fun track. There's something about the lead vocal that's not perfect, and it's cute. And John's playing the organ with his elbow ... what evokes the fun period better?

94. Blackbird (The Beatles)

I mean, sure, I like the song. But can we all admit that this wasn't his best vocal performance?

93. Glass Onion (The Beatles)

Great use of strings. My take, unless I stole it from the original countdown guy: John was trying to talk people into taking his lyrics less seriously. I love "Listen to me." Oops; I just checked, and I did steal that from the first countdown guy, although he researched his piece, so he might have gotten it from someone else. Kind of like the Beatles!

92. Bad Boy (Past Masters vol. I)

Discovered this late, and never lost the sense memory of hearing for the first time this or any other song where John sings like this.

* * *

Tomorrow's set should see some genuine affection creeping in, after we dispense with a couple more songs that many others love but I just like.

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