Friday, September 4, 2009

Top 25 Beatles Songs -- Do You Agree with EW? I Don't.

Okay, I’m not really a huge one for making top “Fill in the Blank” lists, and that’s partly because sometimes biology really is destiny. Take it from novelist Nick Hornby (High Fidelity): Compulsive list making is a guy thing, like slavishly alphabetizing your CDS and books. We don’t understand.

And yet here I am, doing it, because I just can’t get with Entertainment Weekly’s list of “Top 25 Beatles songs,” which appears in the new issue (September 11, 2009). Actually, it’s a top 50 list, but I don’t have the energy for that, so I cut it off at 25 in the name of having the energy to then compile my own alternate list.

Here they are:

EW’s List:
1.) A Hard Day’s Night
2.) A Day in the Life
3.) Yesterday
4.) Strawberry Fields Forever
5.) Something (in the Way She Moves)
6.) She Loves You
7.) Let It Be
8.) Tomorrow Never Knows
9.) Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
10.) Across the Universe
11.) Eleanor Rigby
12.) Penny Lane
13.) Help!
14.) Hey Jude
15.) In My Life
16.) While My Guitar Gently Weeps
17.) You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
18.) Blackbird
19.) Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End
20.) Can’t Buy Me Love
21.) Revolution
22.) If I Fell
23.) We Can Work It Out
24.) I’m Only Sleeping
25) I’m a Loser

My List:
1.) Hard Day’s Night
2.) Yesterday
3.) Eleanor Rigby
4.) I’ve Just Seen a Face
5.) I’m Looking Through You
6.) Penny Lane
7.) Your Mother Should Know
8.) With a Little Help from My Friends
9.) She’s Leaving Home
10.) Let it Be
11.) You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
12.) Money Can’t Buy Me Love
13.) Paperback Writer
14.) I Want to Hold Your Hand
15.) Get Back
16.) Come Together
17.) Got to Get You Into My Life
18.) Girl
19.) We Can Work It Out
20.) I Saw Her Standing There
21.) Hello Goodbye
22.) She Loves You
23.) When I’m Sixty-Four
24.) Yellow Submarine
25.) Run for Your Life

Clearly, there’s plenty of overlap: “Hard Day’s Night,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Let It Be,”“Penny Lane,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” “We Can Work It Out…” I mean, some of them really are beyond argument. And some of the titles in my top 25 appear farther down on EW’s list, like the seductive, sinister “ComeTogether” (their no.44), the bitingly witty, compulsively melodic “Paperback Writer” (their no.26), the brittle, melancholy “With a Little Help From My Friends,” (their no.40) and the exuberant “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (their no.43).

But for my money (you know, the stuff that can’t buy me love), there’s a whole lot ofpretentious, overrated, simplistic junk on EW’s list. Naysayers can mock “Yesterday” as sappy until they turn blue (meanies) and it will still be a rueful heartbreak song as vivid and timeless as Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s “One formy Baby (and One More for the Road).” But I hate “Hey Jude” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and think “Girl” is a way better song than “Norwegian Wood.”

I find “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “A Day in the Life” painfully dated, and “Blackbird” and “Revolution” obvious and preachy.

I love the way the bitterness of the lyrics is at war with the bouncy tune of “I’m Looking Through You” and “Hello Goodbye.” “She’s Leaving Home” is an amazing feat of narrative songwriting that manages to contain two completely contradictory perceptions of the same event.

Yes, “Yellow Submarine” is viciously catchy and kinda goofy, but it’s so upfront that its silliness is downright ballsy. And “When I’m Sixty-Four” is all that and then some — marrying a music hall-style, novelty song tune to lyrics that evoke both the first flush of overwhelming love, the kind that makes you imagine blissfully growing old together, and the nagging fear that maybe it won’t last takes a kind of pop genius. Especially when you’re 16, as Paul McCartney was when he wrote it in 1958 (it wasn’t recorded until nearly ten years later).

As to “Run for Your Life,” well, that’s sheer blood mindedness on my part: Recorded for 1965’s “Rubber Soul,” it’s so not early Beatles, and I don’t care that it’s derivative (of “Baby, Let’s Play House, which Elvis Presley recorded in 1955), or that it’s misogynistic or and that John Lennon (generally cited as the sole author, despite the Lennon/McCarthy credit) said it was his least favorite Beatles song. he hated it. I like it. So there.

What about you? (Oh, and check out my review of Across the Universe (pictured above), the Julie Taymor movie that looks at the turbulent 1960s through the prism of the Beatles song catalog. It’s uneven, but when it’s working it makes you hear classic Beatles songs as though they were brand new. That’s no mean feat, and it’s never less than gorgeous.


CheckMait said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CheckMait said...

I do agree with your list more so than EW's, though I've always thought "She's Leaving Home" is an ABC Afterschool Special, and "When I'm Sixty-Four" is just ... well, a suitor of one of the girls on "Petticoat Junction" sang it to her, so that's about as negative a recommendation for it as I can think of! Great list otherwise. (

Note: I fixed some typos, which is why I deleted my earlier post.)

Ken said...

Hey Maitland! My list is very short because at this point I really only like one Beatles' song and somehow it didn't make either list: "She Said She Said." Maybe I'd add "Tomorrow Never Knows" because it's just so tripped-out. But that's it. I've heard more than enough Beatles to last several lifetimes. Now if you want a Troggs list...

PS: Do you think Robert Zemeckis will get today's biggest hitmakers to rerecord Beatles' tunes for his sure-to-be-creepy/crappy motion-capture remake of "Yellow Submarine" a la Robert Stigwood? Are any Bee Gees still around?