Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Best three songs in a row - Pt. 12

Parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, and eleven.

Album: Abbey Road
Three songs: "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," "Here Comes the Sun," and "Because"
Comments: The last album that The Beatles recorded but their penultimate release, Abbey Road stands as one of the group's best and most distinct offerings. A majority of the time, it's also my personal favorite. Allow me to quote myself:

Abbey Road is just so rewarding on multiple levels. It boasts outstanding individual tracks: "Something," "Here Comes the Sun," "Because," "You Never Give Me Your Money," etc. And the Side Two song cycle? Stunningly inventive, richly whimsical, and tastefully indulgent, it's one of pop music's singular creations. Together, all of this music results in an album of impeccable tone and feel, even as it's full of striking contrasts as well. It has a unity and completeness that its free-flowing, capricious sounds would seem to belie. It's an album of technical artistry and thick pop pleasure. It feels both casually and meticulously crafted. And it's a classic, but one that rarely comes off like it's trying to attain that status.

This album, not Let It Be, is The Beatles' swan song, and I don't think they could've made a better one. For whatever reason, it's such a pleasure in ways that other Beatles albums just aren't.

As far as its best three songs in a row are concerned, you've already seen what I decided on: "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," "Here Comes the Sun," and "Because." My thinking followed these lines: The Side Two medley is what first comes to mind when I reflect on Abbey Road. But because it's largely made up of either very short songs or song snippets, it didn't factor much into my consideration of the best three in a row. With the exception of the medley opener, "You Never Give Me Your Money," those songs need each other to flourish. Yes, "Mean Mr. Mustard" makes for a fine time on its own, but how much more do we value it because of the way "Sun King" snugly gives birth to it? Or because of how effectively it pairs with "Polythene Pam?" The same could be said for "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," "Golden Slumbers," "The End," etc. This, then, shifted my focus to Abbey Road's first nine tracks, from "Come Together" through "You Never Give Me Your Money."

Next thought: If any song in that stretch but "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" had followed "Come Together" and "Something," then those three would've come out on top. Both "Come Together" and "Something" are classics, the former so playfully hip and the latter so delicately emotive (and compellingly vague). As it is, "Hammer" - a fun but exceptionally lightweight number - was too much of a burden on the other two. From there, after dismissing "Oh! Darling" and "Octopus's Garden," I narrowed it down to a four-song set: "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," "Here Comes the Sun," "Because," and "You Never Give Me Your Money."

Now all four of these range from very good to great. 1) Long and full of obsessive repetition, "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" is suffused with John's burning desire for Yoko, and both George's thickly overdubbed guitar part and Paul's work on the bass are top-notch; 2) I've never heard or read anyone venture an ill-word about "Here Comes the Sun," George's balmy daydream of a song. 3) The treated harmonies on "Because" make for the most hypnotic moments in The Beatles' catalogue; and 4) The variety of tones and emotions that Paul brings to bear on "Money" really elevates the song, and that romping piano part is irresistible.

Having to decide between "I Want You" and "Money" to complete the trio, I went with the former. What an absorbingly weird song it is. As noted on Wikipedia:

The song is an unusual Beatles composition for a variety of reasons, namely its length (nearly eight minutes), small number of lyrics (only fourteen different words are sung), three-minute descent through the same repeated guitar chords (a similar arpeggiated figure appears in another Lennon contribution to the album, "Because" as well as McCartney's "Oh! Darling"), and abrupt ending.

Thus the matter was settled.

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