Sunday, August 7, 2011

Top Ten Beatles Songs

One of the many challenges I expect to face when I eventually get around to making a top 500 of the 60s is ranking Beatles songs.  It was challenging enough just having to size up the one new Beatles recording from the 70s against the rest of that decade.  I ended up placing Let It Be at number 5 for the decade in my best-of-the-70s list behind four punk era songs, but if I had had more than one Beatles album to choose from, it's tough to guess how they would have fared in head to head competition with the best that early punk had to offer.

As reported by CNN, Rolling Stone magazine took on the task last year of ranking the top 100 Beatles songs, and the CNN report lists the top 10.  Two George Harrison songs make the top 10, which I think is at least one too many.  I'm reasonably satisfied with "A Day in the Life" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" at #1 and #2.  Apart from "Come Together" at #9, the rest of the list is overweighted with their quieter songs.  It seems bizarre to say, but I think the Beatles are really underappreciated as a rock band.  McCartney's ability to write phenomenal pop songs and Lennon's ability to think globally and act (write) introspectively, particularly in their later years, leads to lists like this one that are heavy on what I think of as Blue Album material and light on Red Album material.

The blue and red albums, a pair of double albums released by Capitol in 1973, were actually called "1962-1966" and "1967-1970" respectively.  When I was a kid, I owned the Blue Album and my best friend owned the Red Album, and I think I thought of myself as more of a Blue Album kind of guy up until at least the early 90s.  The early Beatles made a big resurgence in my personal music rankings in the mid to late 90s.  The CD set "Live at the BBC" and the movie Backbeat, both released in 1994, were major tipping points.  Joining a band around the same time also gave me a new appreciation of the effort required to be a good unit, as opposed to merely being a collection of creative individuals.  The early Beatles were the former and the later Beatles were the latter.

It's interesting that Rolling Stone notes that "A Day In the Life" was among the finest collaborations between Lennon and McCartney, while ranking it #1, yet little else on the list reflect their true collaborations because of the dominance of the later material.  The collaborations also get fewer spots because of the decision to give George Harrison two slots.  For those interested in who actually wrote what in the later years of The Beatles, Walter Everett's book The Beatles as Musicians is a nice reference.  The Beatles of the Blue Album were undoubtedly more sophisticated, and in many ways a lot more interesting, but at the end of the day when ranking songs, I think the Red Album Beatles got short shrift.

Early Beatles songs are currently coming out slightly better at Vinyl Surrender, but I Want to Hold Your Hand in inexplicably absent from the top 10 for the moment.  Sometime within the next year or so I'll make my best-of-the-sixties list, and we'll find out if I'm a hypocrite or not.

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