Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.
Who They Are: John, Paul, George and Ringo. From Liverpool. If I have to say more than that to explain The Beatles, then I’m frankly stunned, shocked, and amazed that you are actually reading my website. If this is you, please check in via the comment section on what actually drew you here, and why you keep you reading me. “Know Thy Audience” is as key a concept in the internet era as “Know Thyself,” so I’m legitimately interested if there are any readers here who are not at least a little bit Beatle Savvy.
When I First Heard Them: Earliest childhood: The Beatles were a ubiquitous part of my younger days, as was likely the case for any musically-sentient kid in the 1960s. My favorite album of theirs when I was young was Beatles VI (1965), culled from my Dad’s record collection. That was one of Capitol Records’ kluge releases for American and Canadian markets, combining album cuts and singles from what’s now known as the “core catalog” as released by EMI in the United Kingdom. (It was not until Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that the catalogs on both sides of the Atlantic aligned). Beatles VI was released near the tail end of the era when the Beatles were still recording cover songs in the studio and playing increasingly futile live shows, where the primitive amplification of the era wasn’t up to the task of drowning out a stadium full of screams. There aren’t (m)any widely-loved classics of the Beatles canon to be found within Beatles VI‘s grooves, but it’s still a favorite record of mine. As with so many things, our positive childhood moments resonate differently than those we experience when we’re older and, nominally, wiser. As a young’un, I also appreciated the fact that The Beatles released material that worked for musically-oriented grown-ups as well as it did for curious chiddlers: I have most fond early members of Yellow Submarine (the film, and its songs), and of hanging out with a friend who had the Magical Mystery Tour album, which I think inspired my earliest critical musical conversations with a smart peer.
Why I Love Them: The Beatles so transformed rock music as a self-contained, self-composing, and self-aware quartet that it’s honestly hard, all these years on, to really sense just how transformative they were. They’re like the Citizen Kane of rock n’ roll: radical and revolutionary in their own time and own approach, but then so influential upon everything that followed, that it’s hard to see, after the fact, just what was so special about them when the broke every mold that tried to contain them. They were blessed with three titanic songwriters, four brilliantly unique personalities, some of the best technical support ever provided any rock group (looking at you, George Martin and Geoff Emerick), and a quartet of player’s players, great and innovative at what they did, and how they did it. (If you’re a rider on the popularly reductive “Ringo was a crap drummer” bus, then, well, please don’t bother commenting to explain your silly position; as far as I am concerned, if the only thing he ever did was create and play the rhythmic pattern on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” then his standing as an idiom-altering icon would be secured). As a youngster, I mostly appreciated the singalong and clever lyrical elements of The Beatles’ work, but as a musically-literate adult, I even more deeply adore the ways that they truly reinvented Western instrumental and vocal music, merging four-on-the-floor early rock tropes with Eastern music, jazzy music hall fare, Sinatra-esque balladry, Stockhausen-styled experimentalism, dark cabaret, smoky blues, and whatever else crossed their interest horizon. They also set the standard in terms of groups having distinct and defined personalities, publicly and privately. The fact that I could start a long flame war on pretty much any active internet site by stridently declaring that Paul is the best (or, at least, my favorite) Beatle, half-a-century after the group’s demise, is a stellar summation of the ways that the Fab Four still live in the cultural consciousness of the musically literate elements of the Western world. And probably the Eastern one, too. And all the ones in between. (Note: I credit the cuts below to the canonical UK release albums of The Beatles’ catalog, and not to the American versions in which I first heard many of them).
#10. “A Hard Day’s Night,” from A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
#9. “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party,” from Beatles for Sale (1964)
#8. “The Fool on the Hill,” from Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
#7. “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” from The Beatles (1968)
#6. “A Day In the Life,” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
#5. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
#4. “Revolution,” from “Hey Jude/Revolution” single (1968)
#3. “I Am The Walrus,” from Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
#2. “Eight Days A Week,” from Beatles for Sale (1964)
#1. “Tomorrow Never Knows,” from Revolver (1966)
9 thoughts on “Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #40: The Beatles”
I should also note that my first album was the US album Beatles VI. My sisters and I used to lipsynch to it. Your #2 and #9 were on that album. Back in the USSR was #25 on my list, Day in the Life #26, and Walrus #29, but all have been higher, depending on what I had listened to most recently.
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I had made a bet with myself that either TNK and/or Rain would be on your list.
My list, the last time I made one:
10 Twist and Shout from Please Please Me, one of the great covers EVER
9 Good Morning Good Morning from Sgt. Pepper. LOVE the Macca guitar, and the Kellogg’s reference makes me laugh.
8 While My Guitar Gently Weeps from the white album.
7 A Hard Day’s Night from A Hard Day’s Night. The whole soundtrack was quite an achievement.
6 You Won’t See Me from Rubber Soul. I only realized in the past few years that it is the Mal Evans sustained chord on the Hammond organ throughout the last verse, last chorus, and outro that gives this a special buzz. At the same time, I have definitely related to the notion of feeling invisible.
5 Drive My Car from Rubber Soul Extraordinary chord structure.
4 I Want You (She’s So Heavy) from Abbey Road. Heard it on the Binghamton Public Library headphones. Literally thought I died.
3. Help! from Help! A little after 09/09/09, my daughter and I watched the movie Help!, her for the first time, This specific song my daughter knows all the lyrics to, without either encouragement or prompting from me.
2 Got To Get You Into My Life from Revolver. Imagine, if you will, a teenage boy home alone in the late 1960s playing a great album. This McCartney song comes on, and he’s enjoying it well enough. But as it gets to the final chorus, he starts slowly increasing the volume, making the horn so resplendent in his ears and down his spinal column that he practically weeps for joy.
1 Tomorrow Never Knows from Revolver. So the stereo is pretty loud when the last song, by Lennon, comes on, and he’s utterly transfixed by the backward tape, the chanting. Totally mesmerizing. Ultimately, the bass/drum section could be applied to any number of Beatles songs. Try singing A Hard Day’s Night or any number of other songs to it; it works. I realized this when I heard the LOVE album, and the mashup of Within You Without You with Tomorrow Never Knows really elevated my appreciation of the former, and in doing so, stoked my appreciation for the latter. Heck, it even goes with Jingle Bells. Some background on one of the most audacious recordings the Beatles would ever attempt.
Great list, Roger!! I could have seen most of them ending up on or near my own lists, had I created it earlier, or if I create a new one in the future!!
Great choices all, Eric. The great thing about the Beatles is that you could have come up with ten different songs of theirs and have had just as great a collection.
And FWIW, I agree with your assessment of McCartney’s talent.
Yep, I know that at different times in my life, the list would have looked much different . . . . so many amazing things to choose from!
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Weirdly, my three favourite Beatles songs are all from Magical Mystery Tour – not their most consistent record but lots of great stuff. I like everything on your list.
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Yeah, “MMT” and “Yellow Submarine” are shockingly good, given the odd/filmic backgrounds to them!!!
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Yup, Hey Bulldog is in my top ten – had the benefit that I didn’t hear it until later.
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