Saturday, September 18, 2010

"The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs" (Pt. 2)

I originally said this post would be going up at some point on Thursday; it appears I misled you. Below are the remaining observations, quibbles, compliments, and asides that I jotted down while reading Rolling Stone's list. They're mostly taken from my notes on songs #1-50.

- In the blurb for "Don't Let Me Down" (#46), I like the bit about John asking Ringo for a cymbal crash right before the vocal begins. He said it gave him the push he needed to forcefully take on the song's sharp emotions.

- I must protest the placement of "Eight Days a Week" at #34. It's a decent song, but it's not in the same league as "I Am the Walrus" and "Paperback Writer," the two songs that bookend it on the list. Rolling Stone barely even makes a case for its greatness, focusing more on The Beatles' general dislike of the song.

- This might be the most perceptive description of "Penny Lane" (in terms of its sonics) (#32) that I've ever read: "... 'Penny Lane' built a detailed wall of sound that achieved the force of a rock song without sounding anything like one."

- Like so many of The Beatles' songs, "We Can Work It Out" (#30) illustrates the vast gulf in temperament and outlook between John and Paul. John: "Life is very short, and there's no time for fussing and fighting." Paul: "We can work it out." It's interesting, though, that both lines still point to the goal of reconciliation. The difference obviously lies in that John opens his with a bleak reminder of the scarcity of time alloted to us.

- There's a very astute observation about Revolver in the section on "Here, There and Everywhere" (#25). It essentially notes that, while the album was one of the band's most experimental, it still features a fair number of accessible and seemingly simple songs. So true. I think that part of Revolver's appeal stems from how small, involving, and sometimes intimate it feels. It's a work of studio wizardry that doesn't keep the listener at arm's length.

- It's heartening that John didn't shed his affection for every Beatles song (though in some interviews, he seems prepared to do so). His love for "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" (#24) always shines through brightly.

- I didn't realize how much collaboration went into writing the lyric for "Eleanor Rigby" (#22). Even Ringo had a contribution ("darning his socks in the night") that made the final cut.

- Interesting fact: "I Saw Her Standing There" (#16), the first song on The Beatles' first album, was the last song John ever played in concert; he did so at an Elton John show in 1974.

- What an appropriate and perhaps fortuitous sequence of events on July 1, 1963: acting on emotions that helped define Beatlemania, a collection of crazed young girls stormed EMI Studios; once they were expelled, The Beatles proceeded to lay down "She Loves You" (#14), a thrilling and highly charged power-pop anthem that elevated the hysteria of Beatlemania to a new level.

- I want to go on record as fully supporting the "arson theory" behind "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" (#12). In my mind, it adds a titillating detail to an already fascinating song.

- There's immense sadness in this quote from Julian Lennon: "Paul and I used to hang out quite a bit - more than Dad and I did. Maybe Paul was into kids a bit more at the time." Or maybe, Julian, your father was often horribly negligent when it came to his most important responsibility.

- In retrospect, isn't there something a bit ironic about Paul scoffing at George Martin's idea of adding a string quartet to "Yesterday" (#4)? We all know the artist Paul became, and that artist has a weakness for strings.

- Rolling Stone describes "A Day in the Life" (which is, rightly, #1 on the list) as "the ultimate Lennon-McCartney collaboration." I don't disagree. What I'm wondering is this: Would it be off-base to contend that, while "A Day in the Life" does represent the "peak" of the duo's unrivaled songwriting chemistry, it is ultimately much more John's song than Paul's? Or put another way, is it not the case that John's contribution is more consequential and doesn't need Paul's like Paul's needs John's? On its own, John's part could still be a wondrous and captivating song while Paul's would require significant work. It is John, after all, who anchors "A Day in the Life" emotionally. Fair? In truth, I don't say this as a hardened John-partisan; for reasons both similar and different, I admire each of them. I just think, in this instance, it's clear that one dominated the other outright. (Let me also state that I'm aware of Paul's orchestral contributions to the song; this doesn't change my view.)

- Finally, here are the songs I feel were unfairly omitted from the list: "There's a Place," "Blue Jay Way," "Glass Onion," and "Rocky Raccoon."

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