Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Best three songs in a row - Pt. 4

I apologize for the lengthy delay between the third and fourth installments in this series (that is, the one where we determine the best three-song stretch on a Beatles album). It's poor blogger etiquette to broach a topic that will take multiple posts to cover and then draw out the process. My excuse for last week's dearth of activity is that I was finishing up a class. Going forward, no excuse is valid, save a grave illness.

With that said, here are parts one, two, and three, followed by my analysis of Beatles For Sale.

Album: Beatles For Sale
Three songs: "No Reply," "I'm a Loser," and "Baby's in Black"
Comments: For the third time in a row, it's the opening threesome that proved the strongest. In this instance, it's also the most cheerless. As convention has it, Beatles For Sale is the exhausted and cynical moment from the early part of the Fabs' career (a career that had been celebrated up to that point for its joy and verve). In late 1964, The Beatles were burnt out, victims of their taxing routine of writing music, recording it, promoting it, and then touring, all done in rapid succession. It was a punishing status quo and begot one of the band's gloomier efforts, Beatles For Sale.

Gloomy and also spotty. Indeed, the level of inconsistency is such that, in my mind, the "Reply"-"Loser"-"Black" nexus faces no competition for the crown. But all three are good-to-great songs in their own right. I once wrote of "No Reply:" "Fueled by the surges of John's jealous ire, the song plays out on dangerously unstable ground. It's charged, even if simplistic drama." Next, "I'm a Loser" is John's blunt, Dylan-inspired burst of self-loathing, highlighted by such genuinely introspective lines as "Is it for her or myself that I cry." Finally, though it moves and feels like a chirpy country-western waltz, "Baby's in Black" paints an unpleasant picture: John desperately yearning for a girl who's in bereavement. It works, in part, because you're not sure whether to feel sympathy for John or be put off by his overeager emotions.

Composing John's Troubled Trilogy, these three tracks loom large over the rest of Beatles For Sale and make for a front-loaded affair (though I do enjoy the non-successive trio of John's "Rock and Roll Music" cover, "Eight Days a Week," and John and Paul's shared take on Buddy Holly's "Words of Love"). Again, there really wasn't anywhere else to look for the top three-banger.

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