So: it’s been five full decades that The Beatles have dominated music, our minds and, increasingly our wallets. Although its release was an understated affair, you might have heard something in the news recently about the Beatles: Rock Band. Apparently, sales have been decent. If you have a few hundred dollars burning your wallet, you can also procure the remastered Beatles catalog. Hard as it is to make perfection sound better, early reports are that the albums sound better than ever. What’s not to love?
Over at PopMatters, where less than one year ago we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the White Album (my own love letter can be found here), the time is apparently ripe to assess the entirety of the band’s staggering output. Stay tuned for further developments. One of the assignments for the assembled writers is to determine their personal Top 10 Beatles songs (the results will be tallied and some type of consensus will presumably emerge). At first blush, this task seems impossible. Upon further reflection, this task is inconceivable. Narrowing down that catalog is like taking a straw and trying to suck the salt out of the Pacific Ocean.
But duty calls and a fan’s gotta do what a fan’s gotta do.
I feel like I could pretty much tick off each Beatles song, from each album (in order) but in the interest of complete accuracy, I created a document with every one of their songs. I then took out the trusty highlight pen and attempted to separate the contenders from the pretenders. Actually, it started with the obvious versus the not-quite-so-obvious. Then the runners-ups and the real close runners ups.
It was impossible and inconceivable.
I love The Beatles and, while I definitely like the second half of their career more than the first half, this was an unbelievably masochistic exercise. I approached the task with an intentional chip on my shoulder: only the best of the better songs could survive. And even after skipping over (literally) dozens of worthy gems, when I counted up the songs I selected the total was more than forty. Did I mention that this task was impossible? I began thinking things like “well, maybe I could separate the list into Top 10 “early” Beatles and Top 10 “later” Beatles”…Inconceivable.
Try it yourself. I mean, I don’t know many people who don’t at least appreciate The Beatles. But if you are even a moderately avid fan, you’ll quickly ascertain how stressful this supposedly harmless endeavor actually is. You could drive yourself insane. Just try going through their songs, by album, in order (as I did) and see how quickly you have ten or fifteen songs. And that’s before you even get to the New Testament of Rubber Soul and Revolver. And then you have the truly great masterpieces to contend with. Impossible. And inconceivable.
Okay, enough of the histrionics. It’s not like I had to get my final choices tattooed on my chest or anything. I reserve the right to change my mind, which would only be fair considering this output covers music I’ve worshipped the last thirty-plus years of my life. I did try to mentally separate favorite Beatles songs versus best Beatles songs (not to mention influential and original), et cetera. I think if I wasn’t able to look at the complete catalog and made a list from memory, it would have inevitably been later-career heavy; as it happened, the final choices were fairly representative of their total output. Perhaps most interestingly, while I nominally consider myself a McCartney man (something I’ll elaborate on in my eventual essay, although I’ll simply state my ultimate impression that the Lennon/McCartney machine is an unbreakable proposition), my final choices were split right down the middle: five songs by Mac and five by Lennon (sorry George, sorry Ringo). More interestingly (at least for similarly obsessed Beatles freaks), the songs I chose represent compositions written entirely by one or the other. Obviously in the early days the lads collaborated, and that very fruitful partnership reached an apotheosis during the seminal sessions from ’65/’66. Even later, when the band was firing on all cylinders, the songwriters were increasingly operating as solo artists, using the others as a backing band (this was in obvious effect during the recording of The White Album). Nevertheless, even on the final Abbey Road recordings, each individual member was bringing his own unique and inimitable elan to whatever song was being cut. In any event, these ten songs unquestionably bear the sole imprint of the chief songwriter. Here they are, in chronological order:
And here are the other songs, crowding the sidelines:
REAL close runners-ups:
Strawberry Fields Forever
I’m So Tired
Ballad of John & Yoko
Don’t Let Me Down
A Day in the Life
Long, Long, Long
I Dig A Pony
Let it Be
You Can’t Do That
The Night Before
Think For Yourself
Run For Your Life
(All of Revolver…just kidding–sort of)
She Said She Said
For No One
Here, There and Everywhere
With a Little Help from my Friends
Your Mother Should Know
I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
Two of Us
The Long and Winding Road
She’s Leaving Home
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite
What about you? Are you up to the challenge? If so, I’d love to see your list!