I’m always talking about how brilliant the Beatles were, and they were – for me the greatest band of all time and my ultimate childhood, teenage, and adulthood heroes. People think therefore that I am boring, and also have been brainwashed by the Beatles bandwagon that has been rolling since late 1962 and seems to place the band above all reproach. I take issue with this.
They weren’t infallible. Oh no. Whilst I don’t think that they ever consciously ripped their audiences off by putting out songs that they knew were crap, their efforts sometimes have to go down as a swing and a miss. With that in mind, I have constructed a shortlist of their 20 worst songs and picked the top 5 for an alternative look at their output.
These songs are not counted in the list because it would make it far too predictable.
• That entire second side of the Yellow Submarine album. Not because they’re bad – as instrumental pieces, they’re alright – but because they’re not Beatles songs.
• Revolution 9. Is it a song? If it is, it’s terrible. But it isn’t, it’s an avant-garde project and therefore is probably quite good. Terrible to listen to though.
• Maggie Mae – doesn’t count. Why did they put this on the album? Why does it even exist?
• Dig It – Not a song, just a jam session, indicative of the lack of effort, enthusiasm and enjoyment that went on during these sessions, and sadly indicative of how little they cared about the band by this point.
• Any Tony Sheridan/Anthology/Live at the BBC songs. No – because they’re often out-takes, and un-released for a reason, so they’re collector’s items more than they are a part of the legacy that the band wanted to create for themselves.
• The German songs. They’re just great songs, but sung in German – I don’t think you can reasonably count them.
• You Know My Name (Look Up The Number) – Yes, it is terrible, but it’s also not a real song, quite hilarious, and has Brian Jones on sax, so I think it just about survives.
• Any of the individual songs on the Abbey Road medley. Several of these would qualify on their own, but as part of a greater entity they all hang together well enough to class as one whole great song, I think.
The Shortlist: (An asterisk * denotes that the song is a cover)
1. Wild Honey Pie (White Album, 1968)
2. What Goes On (Rubber Soul, 1965)
3. Run For Your Life (Rubber Soul, 1965)
4. PS I Love You (Please Please Me, 1962)
5. Mr Moonlight* (Beatles for Sale, 1964)
6. What You’re Doing (Beatles for Sale, 1964)
7. Another Girl (Help, 1965)
8. Yellow Submarine (Revolver, 1966)
9. Lovely Rita (Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967)
10. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (White Album, 1968)
11. Cry Baby Cry (White Album, 1968)
12. All Together Now (Magical Mystery Tour, 1967)
13. Little Child (With The Beatles, 1963)
14. Words of Love* (Beatles for Sale, 1964)
15. Don’t Pass Me By (White Album, 1968)
16. Flying (Magical Mystery Tour, 1967)
17. Love Me Do (Please Please Me, 1962)
18. I’m Happy Just To Dance With You (A Hard Day’s Night, 1964)
19. I Need You (Help, 1965)
20. I’ll Get You (B-side, 1962)
The final 5, and why...
5. Wild Honey Pie
I’m all for McCartney in “experimental” mode, and I’m also all for him in “recording acoustic songs on his own” mode, after all, that method brought us Blackbird and pretty much every good song on McCartney too. That being said, he and the other Beatles ought really to have been able to spot a pointless song when they heard one. It’s only 53 seconds long I suppose, so even though it’s appalling it’s over relatively quickly, but even so – it really is appalling. Apparently the song was going to be left off the album, but Patti Boyd really liked it so they kept it on. Patti Boyd was not a musician by trade, and she certainly wasn’t an established rock and roll superstar who had been correctly judging what songs should and should not go on albums for the past 6 years. My basic point here is that they really should have listened to their instincts, told Patti to stick to being pretty, and kept this one for the vaults.
4. What Goes On
There are three things that count against this song. Well, there are 4 really, but the fourth is just the outcome of the equation formed by the other three. The three things are this. Firstly, The Beatles were at their absolute best when they loved what they were doing, and played/sang with enthusiasm. Examples of this include Long Tall Sally, I Saw Her Standing There and She Loves You from the early days, and Helter Skelter, I’ve Got a Feeling, and Come Together from the later days. They’re bad examples, because they’re all great songs – but even songs like I’m Happy Just To Dance With You, Little Child, Dig A Pony, and Octopus’ Garden are made considerably better than they actually are by a bit of enthusiasm and energy. This song is not only worse than all of those listed, but it sounds like the band were completely and utterly bored during the recording of the song. It’s telling that they also recorded “12 Bar Original” during this session, on November 4th, 1965 – and if I was allowing Anthology songs onto this list, that would also definitely be on there. It’s sluggish, tired, and completely without imagination or creativity. Secondly, Ringo sings it. I don’t mind Ringo’s singing, he does a good job on Boys and I Wanna Be Your Man, but this song requires just a little bit more than he has in his locker. Thirdly, the rest of the album is brilliant – and contains so much of what made the Beatles great. The songs are quirky, original, progressive, creative, bright and sparky – and all of that is missing from this wet flannel that dampens the middle and sucks all the momentum out of what should be one of the best albums ever made. The 4th thing then, is that this is just a terrible song. Lennon wrote the song way back in the Quarrymen days, and that is exactly where it should have stayed.
3. Yellow Submarine
Now, this one is relatively contentious, in so far as it’s quite a self-aware bad song. McCartney knew what he was doing with this one, and he achieved it to a T, and so I feel somewhat bad picking it out as one of the worst things the band did. However, it is dreadful, let’s be honest, and while it’s catchy and kids love it (McCartney’s goal) and it does conjure up a whimsical kind of childish fantasy world, it’s also a cartoon song of idiocy on Revolver, which was the band’s most mature and forward thinking album to date. You have to look at the songs they left off in order to make room for Yellow Submarine, and if you think that the album could have had Paperback Writer and Rain on instead, there really is no excuse for keeping it on the album – especially when it would be re-released on the soundtrack to the movie just two years later, although I suppose there’s no way they could have know that would happen. It’s worth noting though that the song is in much more comfortable surroundings on that album and doesn’t sound quite so horribly out of place. But placed inbetween Here, There and Everywhere (arguably McCartney’s most beautiful song thus far) and She Said, She Said, Lennon’s first real introspective acid trip, featuring the most beautiful interplay between Lennon and Harrison’s guitars...well, it just feels wrong. And it’s a terrible song, when all else is said and done. Maybe it could have worked for a lesser band on a lesser album...but not this band, and not this album.
2. Run For Your Life
Ah, John Lennon – how did we love thee? Let us count the ways. Well, people refer to him as a great rock star, a poet, a peace-inspiring, policitian-worrying freedom fighter, and in the years since his death (often telling referred to as an assassination), a saint. But people very rarely focus on the working-class, misogynistic, wife-beating side of him, and I can see why – it doesn’t make for good press and it does somewhat sully his public image as a loveable mop-top turned proper artist type person. But hold on there a second Paul, I hear you cry, isn’t there a song that Lennon wrote at the height of the band’s popularity which not only comes at the end of one of their most melodically, harmonically and musically beautiful albums but also reveals quite explicitly just how unpleasant Lennon could be when he set his mind to it? Yes, I reply, there is. And this is it. Now, Lennon isn’t the only Beatle to write a fairly self-satisfied song about basically being a misogynist – McCartney’s “Another Girl” on the Help album doesn’t sit comfortably and hasn’t aged at all well, but at least has some musical interest and decent moments. This one doesn’t. Now, in Lennon’s defence, he said plenty of times that this was the song he most regretted writing, and that it was his least favourite Beatles song – and the opening line was actually lifted from an Elvis song, but that doesn’t excuse its inclusion here, in my opinion. Let’s just have a look at a few of the lyrics...
Well I'd rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or you won't know where I am
You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end, little girl
Well you know that I'm a wicked guy
And I was born with a jealous mind
And I can't spend my whole life
Trying just to make you toe the line
Let this be a sermon
I mean everything I've said
Baby, I'm determined
And I'd rather see you dead
People will say “yeah, but it was a different time...” and it was, but that doesn’t make it ok. They used to lynch people too, but I don’t think any of us would feel comfortable listening to songs about how much fun they thought it was. So, not only a pretty rubbish song, but actually offensive too? Definitely should have been left off. Incidentally, that’s two songs from Rubber Soul on this list. Although the Beatles didn’t put their singles on the albums, (at least not in 1965) I can’t help but feel that the inclusion of We Can Work It Out and Day Tripper instead of the two songs here would have improved this album considerably, and also reduced the number of songs about murdering cheating girlfriends in the Beatles catalogue to a more pleasing 0.
1. All Together Now.
The only good thing about this song happens in the first second. The song is in F, but McCartney slides into the opening chord from E, and it sounds quite good. And it gets worse from there. As with Yellow Submarine, it’s effectively nothing more than a children’s song, but that still begs the questions, why write it and why record it? They weren’t a comedy Disney band, this isn’t the title track to Pre-School Musical, so what’s it doing? It’s not even a proper song, it took 5 hours to record and Lennon played the banjo on it. Now, to re-iterate, I’m not against the Beatles ever having had a bit of fun, or writing and recording something for a laugh – but they had so much more in their locker than this. Good Morning Good Morning is pretty stupid, but at least it has interesting time-signatures. Hey Jude is simplicity itself but at least has some good lyrics at the start to offset the irritation of the stadium sing-a-long at the end. If they wanted to have a lark in the old days, they would record a cover of a childhood favourite, and it usually turned out pretty well, with the odd exception. So why come up with this garbage just to fill album space? They recorded their entire first album in just 12 hours, and every song on it is better than this. Now it was recorded in May 1967, so the band were presumably a) tired from recording Sgt Pepper, (which is immense) and b) off their faces. But neither of these things forgive the song a) being released or b) even existing in the first place. My feelings about why this song is so bad can be summed up by this part of its Wikipedia entry. “The song ends with an old fashioned hand-pumped car horn.” What is this, Carry on Beatling?
I could have written equally scathing things about the other songs on that shortlist, none of which are really anything special, though several of which are saved by at least one or two redeeming qualities – but if you ask me, these 5 could just drop off the face of the earth and nobody would be any worse off for it.
God bless the Beatles though, still the best band of all time.
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