Monday, February 2, 2009

Ranking the Beatles my damn self: se7en

We got Eleanor Rigby out of the way, so you must have some idea of what's coming today. I won't make you wait long for it.

120. I Will (The Beatles)

This song, Blackbird, Rocky Raccoon (well, half of it), Mother Nature's Son, Honey Pie ... am I wrong, or is the McCartney stuff from the White Album more "solo" than anyone else's? The rest of the band were clearly necessary for Dear Prudence, Happiness is a Warm Gun, Savoy Truffle, Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey ... but a lot of Paul's stuff sounds like demos. Weird, as he gets the rep for trying hardest to keep the band together.

By the way, I love Paul McCartney. That maybe wasn't clear.

119. Yesterday (Help!)

And there it is. Why? I don't know. Just not fun to sing, listen to, think about ... maybe I'm just not very deep. A musical hedonist.

118. The Night Before (Help!)

Nice vocals by everyone on this. As with other songs from this album and A Hard Day's Night, maybe not the strongest track, but benefits from the material around it, instead of getting shown up by it.

117. I'll Be Back (A Hard Day's Night)

Major/minor/major/minor. And it works! This in some ways typifies how I think of the early Beatles. John was clearly the lead singer, and Paul did harmonies when they thought he should. I know he sang plenty, and they sang plenty together, but look at this album, for example. How many of the songs did John sing? He dominated all or parts of 9 of the 13 songs.

116. Tell Me Why (A Hard Day's Night)

The first of the really great songs on this album. The music isn't much, but the vocals from everyone are just superb. I really think Matthew Sweet must have listened to this and to With the Beatles a lot.

115. It's Only Love (Help!)

So John later said he didn't like this song very much. And it's maybe a bit corny. But there's something genuine in the chorus. And I would listen just for the way he sings the words "to make it up girl".

Speaking of John saying he didn't much like this song: I was watching A Hard Day's Night yesterday, and I figured out why it bugs me. It occurred to me during the film-ending 'concert' medley. More specifically, during the 'performance' of I Should Have Known Better. If you watch John singing it, his smile seems forced. And maybe this isn't fair; I could be wrong, and there could be other reasons for the smile seeming forced -- oh, I don't know, the idea of spending a day lip-syncing comes to mind. But when he poo-poos the material, you start wondering Did he like any of it? Certainly the simpler, earlier songs? Was he just being mercenary about it, not writing what he liked but what he thought would sell? It brings out the cynic in me.

114. Love Me Do (Please Please Me)

Great song? No. But as a first song? Sweet. George Martin didn't like it, not as a single, and the Beatles rarely mined this Everly vein again, but it's the perfect opener for them; one of the other strong songs from this record might have raised the bar too high, and shown up some of the filler.

113. Can't Buy Me Love (A Hard Day's Night)

Just blues, man. Great vocal performance by Paul. George Martin was big into starting hits with the chorus.

112. Long Tall Sally (Past Masters vol. I)

Christ but Paul could sing, no? And he made it seem so effortless.

111. Don't Let Me Down (Past Masters vol. II)

Lots of writers refer to three-chord songs. They usually mean the verse has only three chords, or the chorus does. This song has three chords.

I tend not to favor John's simpler later compositions. He was moving in a more direct direction, and I respect that. But I think he did himself a disservice in interviews in later years, acting like It's Only Love wasn't any good, and Run for Your Life was filler, and why were they always messing in the studio with his songs, like Strawberry Fields Forever and Tomorrow Never Knows? Yeah, 'cause I'm sure the first time he heard Tomorrow Never Knows, he thought it was 'alright.' He was blown away by it! *Everyone* was blown away the first time they heard that song. Not to mention, John wanted it even weirder. Oh, OK, I guess John didn't show up in the studio saying he'd accidentally played Rain backwards as he was passing out the night before, and could they do that on the cut. Probably he wanted to do I Am the Walrus with only a single kazoo for accompaniment.

110. Rock and Roll Music (For Sale)

Follows No Reply, I'm a Loser, and Baby's in Black. I mean, can you imagine if they weren't cutting two albums plus however many singles a year back then, if they could have done all originals? The originals on this album are unreal. Fortunately, he had that voice, so even if he was singing someone else's song, he made it sound like this.

109. I'll Get You (Past Masters vol. I)

Might have rated this this highly solely for what little harmony is in this song -- the "I've imagined I'm in love with you" line and the bridge. Mostly that one line. People who ignore the early stuff are missing out.

108. Love You To (Revolver)

I'm bad, skipping around on this album, but I should listen to this more. The harmony is awesome, and I can't hear him sing "I'll make love to you" without laughing; he sounds so much like the master of all he surveys.

107. One After 909 (Let It Be)

Nice swing. I might not be able to explain why I like this song this much. It might actually benefit from being on a weaker album.

106. I've Got a Feeling (Let It Be)

More for John's part, and the part where each sings his part at the same time, than for Paul's part.

* * *

We've kind of knocked off the middle-grade stuff from Please Please Me, With the Beatles, A Hard Day's Night, For Sale, Help!, Revolver, the White Album, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road, and Let It Be. You can be sure that tomorrow we'll be doing the same for the Past Masters discs, Magical Mystery Tour, and Sgt. Pepper.

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