Thursday, October 16, 2008

Significance of song placement and order

I wouldn't want to fetishize the notion of the Beatles' immense contribution to pop music and cast everything genius and ingenious about them as proof-positive of their sui generis status. But it's hard to resist the temptation at times.

Consider something as seemingly commonplace and rote as song order. In pop's early years, when most artists (or their handlers anyway) viewed albums as little more than vehicles for potential hit singles, there wasn't much of a focus on arriving at a balanced distribution of quality or a nimble song-to-song flow over the space of a 12 or 14 track record. The strongest and most bankable material was to occupy the lead positions on each side while many of the remaining songs simply served as filler. It was the practice of the day.

Not so for the Beatles, even on their debut in 1963. Please Please Me contains 14 songs, thus 7 to a side. But on the final spot of the A-side (hardly a flattering placement by the standards of the time) is the rousing title track which, possibly outside of "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Twist and Shout," is the album's most insistently catchy and radio-ready entry. I should also point out that the other two songs I mention actually bookend Please Please Me, translating into a further dispersion of the highlights.

The Beatles then were of the view that an album could and, perhaps, should function as a unit of front-to-back strength and quality. This was their aim even if it was far from easily achievable.

P.S. Commentary on "Please Please Me" will arrive soon.

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