What a great blog that you have, I love sites like these that do "this day in history". I may have an article that you and your readers might enjoy. A writer from the website I work for has written an article ranking every original Beatles song from worst to first (185-1). It is a great article so I am letting Beatles fans know about it. Thanks and have a great day!
Playing The Beatles Backwards: The Ultimate Countdown
To most Beatles fans, choosing between the songs of the Fab 4 is a bit like choosing between children. But, on the JamsBio exclusive, Playing The Beatles Backwards, one intrepid fan dares to rank the original songs of The Beatles and give his reasons why in a worst-to-first countdown. Prepare to hit the message boards to defend your favorites, and follow the countdown all the way to Number 1.
185. “Revolution 9”
Shortly after recording “Revolution 9”, John Lennon allegedly went around telling friends that his new song was the music of the future. Well, here we are, 40 years later, and I don’t see the pop charts filled with experimental song collages featuring recording engineers, chanting football crowds, mangled orchestras, and bizarre non-sequiturs.
Most Beatles fans will defend “Revolution 9” as the group pushing the boundaries of rock music. But they had already proven countless times that they could do just that without inducing headaches in the process. I mean, really, is there anyone out there who can honestly say that they listen to “Revolution 9” and actually enjoy it? If you’re looking for a Japanese horror-movie vibe, maybe, but, as music that is pleasing to the ear, no way, no how.
Lennon also believed that “Revolution 9” was the bee’s knees because it was the type of music that anyone could make. But here’s the thing: The Beatles were great because no one made music like they did. In a million years, I could never reproduce anything that’s even in the ballpark of songs like “Hey Jude” or “In My Life.” But, if you locked me in a room with a bunch of reel-to-reel machines and mikes, some generic classical recordings, a few cans of Jolt cola, and a chainsaw, I believe I could give a pretty decent approximation of “Revolution 9.”
To novice Beatles fans, I warn you not to believe the hype about “Revolution 9.” I’ve listened to it many times over the years, waiting for the light in my head to switch on so I could unlock its mysteries. All I’ve ever gotten out of it is the vague feeling that immediately after listening to it, something is going to rise out from under my bed and butcher me in my sleep.
And so, as John spookily says in the song (and I use that term loosely), “Take this brother, may it serve you well.” In fact, feel free to take it, because I just don’t get it and I never will.
184. “Honey Pie”
If we could imagine The White Album as a poker game, then “Honey Pie” was Paul McCartney’s re-raise to John Lennon’s “Revolution 9.” As in, “I’ll see your unlistenable, aggressively off-putting, avant-garde nonsense and raise you a piece of faux-vaudeville drivel so corny that Lawrence Welk turned it down for not being edgy enough.”
What The White Album lacked was any sort of pruning process. The Beatles basically threw everything at the wall and kept it all in whether it stuck or not. Whether it was the frayed relationships of the band at the time, the absence of Brian Epstein, or just plain indifference, no one was ready to stand up and say that any particular song did not meet the band’s standard of excellence. And that’s why misfires like “Honey Pie” snuck by.
If you listen real closely to “Honey Pie,” you can actually hear the other three Beatles rolling their eyes as Paul sings.
For what it’s trying to do, “Honey Pie” isn’t terrible. It’s just that it doesn’t belong. When Paul went down this old-timey avenue before with “When I’m Sixty-Four,” it worked just fine because it was a better song and because it seamlessly fit Sgt. Pepper’s all-encompassing approach to pop music. But, despite its reputation as a progressive piece of music, The White Album, with a few notable exceptions, is split pretty evenly between hard-rockers and gentle folk songs. When “Honey Pie” enters that mix, with its Prohibition horns and Paul hamming it up with embarrassing scatting and loopy falsetto, it’s jarring in the worst possible way.
Much has been made about hidden messages on The White Album, and I’ve got one for you that you may not know about. If you listen real closely to “Honey Pie,” you can actually hear the other three Beatles rolling their eyes as Paul sings. Short of that, there’s not much to recommend this one.
183. “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”
“Heavy” is the operative word here, isn’t it? “Heavy” as in “Heavy Metal,” the musical genre that was, in 1969, just beginning to emerge from the primordial ooze in the form of Jimmy Page’s thunder-god guitar and Robert Plant’s banshee wails. “Heavy” as in “weighty” or “lumbering,” because this song moves along like the proverbial beer truck underwater. And “heavy” as in “Wow, man that’s heavy,” a dated slang term meaning “profound” or “deep.”
Actually, maybe the word “dated” best describes “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Whereas most of The Beatles songbook is timeless and sounds as fresh today as it did 40 years ago, this Abbey Road track is still stuck in some clichéd version of the 1960’s. Cue the footage of JFK, dancing hippies and Neil Armstrong, and you can begin The Wonder Years episode any time.
What got The Beatles in trouble late in their career was that they occasionally forgot what they did best. In a misguided attempt to recapture their early days before big productions and theme albums and the like, they tried to make it happen by simply sitting down together in a room and playing. But this just led to noodling and jamming, the terms used by mediocre bands worldwide that lack great songs.
You can debate whether or not John Lennon’s simplistic lyrics here are powerful or painful (I think he nailed the to-the-point approach much better a year later on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band). But it’s hard to deny that this song goes on interminably, and the feeling I get when that sudden ending comes up can best be described as relief. Just too heavy for me, man.
182. “Yer Blues”
Boy, it really feels like I’m picking on Sides Three and Four of The White Album, doesn’t it? Let’s just say that I share in George Martin’s contention that The Beatles should have separated the wheat from the chaff and come up with one really killer, hit-packed LP. Just think of all the unreleased stuff that could have been in the vaults for Anthology 4!
I think John Lennon got stuck between ideas here. Deep in his heart, I believe he wanted to expose some of the torment that he was enduring, the stuff that he always buried inside bouncy pop songs like “Help,” but he just wasn’t quite ready to go all the way. Hence, you get astrological references and winking shout-outs to Dylan in the lyrics. The psychological revelations would have to wait until therapy and his solo career.
…the music is as serious as a heart attack, and about as much fun too.
Meanwhile the music is as serious as a heart attack, and about as much fun too. The Beatles assimilated many forms of American music effortlessly, from country to Motown to, obviously, rock and roll. But the blues never quite fit into their wheelhouse. It feels like they’re trying way too hard here, and all that strain drains most of the emotion from the song.
At one point in the instrumental part, they kick free for a little bit and rock out, and it’s a nice break. But then it’s right back into that sludgy main riff. Lennon’s guide vocal can be heard in the distance in the final verse, straining to be heard over the pounding guitars and drums. That unintentional isolation spoke a lot more powerfully about John’s state of mind at the time than anything else this song clumsily attempted to reveal.
181. “Good Day Sunshine”
Do you know those relentlessly cheerful people who mean well but really need a slap? We all have worked with one of these people at one time or another, the kind who ask how you’re doing and then are disappointed when you say you’re just fine, not super. They whistle while they pee, and make small talk for no reason whatsoever other than to incite latent homicidal impulses deep within your soul.
Well, those people would probably have “Good Day Sunshine” ranked much better than I do. After all, their mantra is right there in the first line: “I need to laugh.” Nobody can possibly derive this much joy from the weather, can they?
Paul McCartney sings the title refrain about 20 times in the song, which is barely more than 2 minutes long. That’s happiness overload. Many Beatles songs evoke joy; this one shoves joy down your gullet until you beg for mercy. It sounds more like an advertising jingle than a rock song.
That said, I suppose there might come a day when I win the lottery, or the Vikings win the Super Bowl, or that annoying co-worker falls down the steps, when I’ll step out into the radiant afternoon and belt out “Good Day Sunshine” at the top of my lungs.
Nah, it’ll still be annoying.
180. “Ask Me Why”
It’s always tempting to romanticize the early Beatles’ records without actually taking an in-depth look at their quality. More often than not, the songs from those halcyon days do withstand intense scrutiny. Even at that early stage, the songcraft of Lennon and McCartney was close to impeccable, honed from years of playing together and strengthened by their ability to take all of their musical influences and honor them without sounding like direct copies.
But, every once in a while, a clunker squeaked by. You have to remember that they were producing music at a ridiculously fast rate back then (two albums and a handful of singles per year), so the thought that every one of those songs could be a gem is unrealistic, even for John and Paul. The strength of the band’s performance and their enthusiasm usually carried them through the rough patches in these songs so that you couldn’t notice too much.
“Ask Me Why” is just such an example of one of those, how shall we say it, less-than-inspired numbers. It was meant to sound like Motown but it came off more like some bizarre bossa nova. And the lyrics, well, let’s just say that “I love you because you tell me things I want to know” makes relatively simple stuff like “She Loves You” sound like Faulkner.
Coming as it did on Please Please Me, which was basically just a reproduction of their live act at the time and included songs that they had playing for quite some time, the rush-job excuse doesn’t quite hold water here. Chances are that “Ask Me Why” was forgotten about by the Fab 4 not too long after it was recorded. And, a rarity among Beatles songs, it’s just as easily forgotten by those who have listened to it.
179. “Long, Long, Long”
It’s not so much the song that’s the problem here. This George Harrison composition is just a simple, I would say inconsequential, ode to a lover (or God) whose been lost and then found again. The melody, which George claimed came from chord patterns borrowed from Bob Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands,” is OK, and that bizarre fade-out fits in well with the overall spooky vibe of The White Album.
My main problem here is that I always think that I’m going deaf when this song comes on. Hot on the heels of the rip-roaring “Helter Skelter,” “Long, Long, Long” is practically silent. I suppose that was a decision made by the group to highlight the contrast in material, but it’s still annoying. I can hear the high-pitched noises meant for dogs at the end of Sgt. Pepper’s almost as well as I can hear this song.
Hot on the heels of the rip-roaring “Helter Skelter,” “Long, Long, Long” is practically silent.
Even when you turn it up, the mix seems off. Ringo’s drums are way up and George’s voice seems lost in the wilderness somewhere. It’s a disorienting effect, and if you’re trying to distinguish the words without the lyric sheet handy, good luck with that.
I used to love listening to headphones and falling asleep with Beatles albums playing in my head. Especially on the later records, that made for some colorful dreams, let me tell you. But I couldn’t do that with The White Album, and it’s all “Long, Long, Long”’s fault. Every time it would end, and the heavy guitars of “Revolution” would kick in, I’d be startled awake. So “Long, Long, Long” has cost me many hours of sleep, probably taking years off my life in the process. I’m holding a grudge.
178. “Little Child”
You have to give “Little Child” some credit. It manages to cram a whole bunch of early-60’s Beatles cliches into it’s 1 minute and 45 seconds of existence. Let’s go down the list, shall we: Dance-hall setting? Check. Prominent harmonica? Bingo. Lots of “Oh, yeahs” and “Come ons”? You got it. Some general whooping and hollering for effect? Put it in the books, baby.
As such, it’s very hard to distinguish this song from any number of Beatle hits. Before I listened to it again, I tried to imagine the song in my head, and it kept morphing into “Please Please Me” or “Twist and Shout” or “I Saw Her Standing There,” until I finally gave up in frustration and put the damn thing on.
Am I implying that the Beatles were trying to rehash some of their earlier efforts in an attempt to recapture that success? Why, that would be downright cynical of me. No, I just think they were pressed for time and came up with this one in, oh, I don’t know, about 7 minutes or so. George Martin probably stepped out to work on his diction (seriously, how did this man never end up with voice-over gigs?) and, when he came back, voila, an album cut was all done.
“Little Child” is harmless enough, but it lacks the spark of inspiration that usually accompanied even their (relatively) minor works. And so it finds a place in the bottom 10 of our list. Sad and lonely indeed.
177. “Old Brown Shoe”
I’ve got a few issues with this song, a relatively obscure George Harrison B-side the band recorded during their tumultuous final year together in 1969. Number one issue: the vocals. George sounds like he’s trapped in a well with a large object on top of him constricting his breathing. I can’t be certain that was the effect he was looking for, but I’m guessing that’s a big fat no. As such, it betrays an indifference to recording the song that doesn’t make me all that keen to listen to it.
The other issue is that someone in The Beatles camp thought it prudent to include this song on a few Beatles compilations, where it generally failed to measure up to the songs around it. I can sort of accept it being on Hey Jude, a compilation that was essentially a repository for singles and B-sides from the later years that weren’t available on any LP.
But, as a kid, it always infuriated me that “Old Brown Shoe” was included on Greatest Hits 67-70. To paraphrase the old SNL skit, who was the genius that came up with that? Keep in mind that I had this album on 8-track tape, which did not allow fast forwarding or skipping tracks. If you wanted to hear a song again, you had to wait until the whole “program” was over and then skip until you were back at the start of the desired cut.
It was an unwieldy process that younger listeners may not understand, but let’s just say that I endured “Old Brown Shoe” far too often just to get to classics like “Something” or “Let It Be.” This song was meant for a B-side. Any ambitions for it greater than that were foolish.
176. “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)”
The Beatles were inherently funny guys. It’s well-known that one of the first things that drew both Brian Epstein and George Martin to them was not their musical ability, but their sense of humor. When they came to America, the quick wit they displayed in press conferernces helped to show the media what the teenagers already knew: these guys were something special.
John and Paul are trying so hard to sound off-the-cuff in this nightclub act parody that they end up sounding off-their-rockers.
And yet, when they overtly tried to be funny, the results were often disastrous (case in point: the Magical Mystery Tour movie). “You Know My Name (Look Up My Number)” certainly falls into the forced whimsy category. John and Paul are trying so hard to sound off-the-cuff in this nightclub act parody that they end up sounding off-their-rockers. The truly funny thing was that John thought enough of this craziness to consider it as a single for his Plastic Ono band before the Fab 4 officially called it quits. Had he gone through with that plan, he might have inadvertently sabotaged his solo career right off the bat, in which case remaining a Beatle might have seemed much more palatable to him.
This song gets points for trivia’s sake (yes, that’s Brian Jones doing the sax solo) and for Lennon’s female voice anticipating Terry Jones in drag with Monty Python (seriously, close your eyes during that part of the song and imagine John shouting “Who are the Britons?”), but it’s never near as funny as the participants seem to think it is. I guess you had to be there.
(1 - To be continued here)
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