By Fahad Khan, Nina Anatchkova and Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
6. All You Need is Love
It’s all about the sentiments, man: those excessively utopian sentiments. A modern day secular hymn, it leads off with a raucous, but not unstately, rendition of the Marseillaise, the emblem of godless optimism. The song goes on to become an instant sugary cliche, but I love it, every single minute, right down to those repeated brass refrains. Finally it all starts to spiral and swirl into a maelstrom of even gloopier emotion and well that bit at the end with she loves you yeah yeah yeah gets me everytime.
5. Hello Goodbye
Once again I’m going to cite the tension between the essentially ephemeral, and even intrinsically silly — silly when shorn of their musical context that is — sentiments evoked by the lyrics and the weightiness and artistic heft that is furnished by the music. Then there’s confusion and perplexity of the song, the not knowing whether you’re coming or going. Except that it’s a gentle and joyous confusion, the perplexity of true pioneers working at the bleeding edge of art and culture with a sensitivity and a surefootedness that were utterly beyond the dreams of most of their peers.
4. She Loves You
Utterly irresistible: two minute twenty two seconds of pure pop ecstasy. Listen to how completely impatient it sounds, how much of a headlong rush into the future it represents. It manages to capture — with a supreme vitality and freshness that’s scarcely dimmed with the passage of the years — the instant when a generation’s extreme intolerance for boredom and the black and white limitations of the postwar world finally managed to kick start the 60s and modern day youth culture into existence.
3. Lovely Rita
The best song on Sergeant Pepper by a country mile. For me, Lovely Rita’s full-on zaniness has always proven a refreshing antidote to the tendency towards turgidity and a lack of focus in some of the album’s preceding tracks. It is, in essence, a randy young lad’s paean to a voluptuous and military looking meter maid, the titular Rita, whom the narrator manages to invite out to take some tea, and even gets to share a couch with — but without alas ever quite “making it”. The song ends with a heavy panting that’s either shagging or (given this aforementioned inability to make it) a gasping sort of masturbation, but it sounds so much like a dog’s panting that you kind of don’t realise what it is, or might be, straight away. Lovely Rita’s charm derives largely from its brassiness and its chutzpah. The track represents an aural allusion to that cheeky, fringey, head shake you always see them doing in the footage from the beginning of their career: and of course it also serves as a fantastic showcase of Lennon and McCartney’s complete mastery of the songwriter’s craft.
2. Sexy Sadie
The Beatles seemingly at their most frivolous and inconsequential — but it’s precisely here that you can really appreciate just how genuinely superlative Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting talents actually were. Just listen to it a few times in a row, over and over, until it finally clicks into place, and takes up permanent residence in your head. The words sound kind of silly to start with, and yet the music is so compelling, overloading the lyrics with such colour and significance, that soon they begin to appear weighty in and of themselves. Now, at this point you could well begin to roll off all the usual detailed, technical musicological/textual-rhetorical explanations as to why their songs continue to inspire awe and devotion amongst music fans of all generations; but I maintain that in essence it was the combination of both the Beatles’ supreme talent for melody along with, rather crucially, the absolute open-endedness, that somehow gnomic, elusive aspect characteristic of their art, that ensured its immortality. Sexy Sadie has that elusiveness in spades and it’s a song that continues to intrigue listen after listen after listen.
1. Strawberry Fields Forever
With Strawberry Fields Forever you feel like you’re getting the Fab Four at the absolute top of their game. They’ve reached the point where they can afford to goof around as much as they want and to make a decent stab at pushing whatever musical or cultural boundaries they felt like when they got up for breakfast that morning. All the same, it doesn’t have the self-consciousness and that hint of pomposity that tends to mar their other more overtly experimental or psychedelic works (indeed for me it far surpasses other superficially similar tracks like Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and in fact most of Sgt Peppers). Strawberry Fields has a languid and dreamy, opiate feel to it, across the which there wafts a certain air of ‘continental’ sophistication, and then there’s the insistent ‘primitive’ rhythms and finally a release into unreality and consequent bliss. The lyrics make little sense and yet they mean so much that, in the end, they manage to encapsulate the spiritual yearnings of an entire generation. When all is said and done, it’s a gorgeous, gorgeous mess. It seems to not want to go anywhere in particular but can’t really stand to stay still either: poised between a deep desire for an alice-in-wonderland style escape from the realities of everyday life, a reversion to a childlike state of simplicity, and the irresistible thrusts and promptings of personal ambition.
In 1980, Chocho Vladovski (of Tangra) wondered whether in time under the stars in the window there will be light, and whether he will still be listening to the Beatles and reading the timeless poets. He’s sadly not around anymore but in a world where the beat, shortness and earwormy hooks are still pop songs’ main qualities under consideration, the Beatles are still the kings in the consciousness of many audiophiles, melomaniacs and casual music fans. Sadly, this most iconic of pop bands never touched my heart of hearts and never made my Balkan feet tap to the beat, but after some consideration, I had to concede that there are a couple of Beatles songs that are worthy of my love (or at least like) and here is the top 6 among them:
6. Eleanor Rigby
Have you seen that meme that All The Lonely People come from art college? Have you seen Paul Poirier and Vanessa Crone deliver a stunning performance on the ice to a version of this song in 2011? All I am saying is that this song had to take some helping to make it past my “ordinary people sob story” detectors, but still the strings provide the perfect backdrop and support for this piece and even the singing approaches genius emotiveness levels at points (something that is usually lacking with the Beatles).
You know, figure skaters luuurve the Beatles, and they are somehow generally seen as the intellectual skating kid’s path to greatness. Joshi Helgesson skated a cute routine to this Beatles song (or at least an elevator muzak blues cover, which is something else that skaters seem to love) in the 2014-2015 season. But I am best friends with this song from before – for example, the time when my sister would practice nothing else on the guitar for more than a year. Or the time when I stumbled upon the King’s Singer’s a cappella interpretation of it and it stuck to my brain like bubblegum sticks to hair. Ew. The bare bones arrangement and evocative lyrics do this song a massive service and its pretty melody is able to shine. Also it sounds perfect on a backdrop of rainy April evening noises, as I have just found out.
4. Revolution 1
Iconic British ice dancers Torvill and Dean skated to Revolution in the 1989-1990 season, actually (I don’t know why the skating routines keep happening in this list). However, I prefer Revolution 1 to Revolution, and it is mostly because of the beat, quite bluesy both times (major plus – I think the Beatles don’t do bluesy often enough) but I prefer the more laid-back and steady version here. Probably also because I am tired of hearing Revolution and Revolution 1 sounds like a refreshing rearrangement to my Beatles-unappreciative ear.
Aaaaaah-aaah. This song is very pretty in an a cappella rendition but the harpsichord that underpins the whole thing is even better. Also the lyrics are rarely appealing and there is no English drama that can be found in the newspaper. Yes people, I think that the puns of blueness, etc. here work rather well here. Very well indeed.
2. Within You Without You
Someone told me that the lyrics to this are preachy. Well, what do you expect, it has sitars and is vaguely Indian and this is the 60s when New Age wisdom was released into the wild and even the title kinda ominously suggests what’s going to be going on here. I have no issue with that because for the most part I cannot make out what George is saying at all. His voice is just a part of this compelling oriental tapestry that’s being weaved before your very eyes. The whole thing is epically cool and like a hypnotised cobra, I want to rise out of my basket and do a little dance.
1. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
Finally, a Beatles love song I can actually believe. No pick up lines, wink wink, nudge nudge, romantic clichés and other superfluous detail. He wants you so bad and it is driving him mad. The rhythm is driving too. The guitars sound appropriately gritty and so does everything else about the production. Now this song goes from an highlight moment to a highlight moment but my favourite bits are the subdued parts, and especially how the guitar mimics the vocal, and especially especially how the second repetition of “it’s driving me mad” trails off (on the principle: tension on the first repetition, release tension on the second — always very effective). Love the drumming, love the bass, love the guitar, love the organ, love the singing, love the passion and the maturity of the delivery. Best Beatles song ever.
Francelino de Azevedo
The Beatles are my favourite band, and have been since I’ve been 8 or 9, I don’t even remember. There’s not a lot to say about them that hasn’t been said, but here are my favourite 6 songs, in no particular order.
With a Little Help From My Friends
What makes this song unique, not only in the Beatles’ catalogue, but in the whole world of music, is the combination of so many disparate elements, that mingle with each other so perfectly. Paul’s bass is insistent, pulsing, talking throughout the song, while the piano brings a note of longing. Ringo’s vocal delivery is perfect, laid-back and sympathetic, contrasting with the others’ backing, which is simply gorgeous. The sum of it all is simply undescribable, mood-wise. Is it a happy song? A sad one? Or is it one that englobes the whole myriad of human emotions in less than three minutes? Probably not as much, but if any song is close to this ideal, that’s “With a Little Help From My Friends”. Also, some people say they prefer Joe Cocker’s version, and I couldn’t disagree harder, as he made a normal song out of something so special.
I’ve Got a Feeling
This was recorded live on the famous 1969 rooftop concert, perhaps I wouldn’t consider I’ve Got a Feeling so special if it weren’t so. On the other hand, I think it’d still rate highly, no matter what. As it is, this song is a glimpse into a different reality where they never stopped touring during their creative peak. And what a reality would that be! It is believed that it was their mastery of the studio that brought the Beatles to true greatness, well, there’s “I’ve Got a Feeling” proving this belief at least partially wrong! Both Paul’s and John’s voices feel much different live, with a weariness that don’t just add to the song, but in fact makes it. George, Ringo and Billy Preston are also completely tuned to the two stars. Mood-wise this is also very ambivalent, Paul’s lyrics are supposed to be happy, while John’s were meant to be sad, but both singers somehow mixed their emotions, so it ends up sounding so very urgent! This is a song felt in the guts and in the heart, a huge chunk of what rock and roll is supposed to mean.
Cry Baby Cry
Music is above all melody, and in the traditional pop song, the strongest melodies are saved for the refrain. Of all the great refrains found in the Beatles’ discography, this one is perhaps the strongest. The melody is gorgeous, and sung by John at his softest, which is accentuated by the hammering of the piano, bubbling bass and occasional guitar scream. Even though the verses themselves are not bad, with their folkish melody and intriguing lyrics, they could be cut from the song to the point where it would be three minutes of “cry baby cry / make your mother sigh / she’s old enough to know better / so cry baby cry” and it would still be an excellent song. In fact it would gain a different meaning, more like a mantra, and might even had been better than the original.
The Beatles’ most influential song. In 1966 this changed the perception of what a ‘pop song’ was meant to be. The melodies were lusher and more “classical” than anything else on the charts, and the somber lyrics made it even more clear: Rock was Art! Even if not for it’s historic significance, this song would still be one of the greatest ballads ever written. The verses’ vocal melody is simply stunning, and the strings are likely to have been the most beautiful in Sir George Martin’s career.
Long, Long, Long
The quiet “Long, Long, Long” might be one of the most overlooked Beatles’ songs. However, it touches me in an unequaled way. The way it starts so silently, as if drawing you inwards, but then submerges you in gorgeous intensity, on the “so many tears” bridge, it’s a journey throughout George’s soul. The ambiguous lyrics were meant to symbolize a rapprochement with God, but really they can mean anything you feel the strongest about. It’s also one of Paul’s and Ringo’s best performances, and they do provide a huge depth to the song.
The Abbey Road “suite”: You Never Give Me Your Money / Sun King / Mean Mr. Mustard / Polythene Pam / She Came in Through the Bathroom Window / Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight / The End
Yeah, I went there. I asked Fahad and Nina if they’d let me and they said yes, so I did it. But really, even if they had forbidden me I’d choose “You Never Give Me Your Money” by itself. Everything in there is perfect, the piano, the bass, the vocal melodies, but specially the most beautiful guitar sounds George has ever produced. Seriously, it’s like he simply doesn’t stop with amazing guitar lines, culminating in the gorgeous part that appears when Paul does “came true / today” and continues till the end. That line is so haunting, if I listen to it once, I’ll hum it for the rest of the day. But, after a short rest on the beginning of Sun King, the rest of the suite continues with musical magic. It was meant to be the Beatles’ swan song, and they showed off all their range, diversity of melodies and moods, and, why not, instrumental virtuosity. No other artist in history can claim to close their career with something so significant, with the possible exception of Mozart and his Requiem Mass, and that’s because he fucking died writing it!