One of the greatest joys I have experienced as a Beatles fan was watching the success of the Beatles 1 compilation. While I never owned the album myself (owning all of its tracks on other mediums), I know dozens of people who do. It satisfied a bizarre niche for Beatles fans of the CD era that had gone unfulfilled– a single disc collecting their greatest hits. And so it did– the single disc was so selective that it included only Beatles songs that had reached the #1 position on either the American or the British charts.* The Beatles 1 focused on the songs that gave the band commercial success (it is important to remember that in 1964, the average teen’s currency for buying music was the humble 45 rpm double-sided “single”– whole albums were a luxury reserved for Christmas presents and saving up a few weeks pocket money from mowing lawns.)
The result is a helpful, but incomplete compendium of the Beatles’ career. Absurdly, if this were the only album you ever bought, it would leave you without any songs off of Sgt. Pepper, Rubber Soul, the White Album, With the Beatles. The list goes on. The albums tracks were: Love Me Do, From Me To You, She Loves You, I Want to Hold Your Hand, Can’t Buy Me Love, A Hard Day’s Night, I Feel Fine, Eight Days a Week, Ticket to Ride, Help, Yesterday, Day Tripper, We Can Work it Out, Paperback Writer, Eleanor Rigby, Yellow Submarine, Penny Lane, All You Need Is Love, Hello Goodbye, Lady Madonna, Hey Jude, Get Back, The Ballad of John and Yoko, Let It Be, and the Long and Winding Road.
An amazing track list other bands would kill for, right? Who else could fill 80 minutes with tracks that had been #1 in the U.K. or Britain? Some artists could do this if they cheated– choosing #1 songs from the adult contemporary or country charts, but these were all #1s on the Billboard Hot 100, or its British equivalents. But what if we were to make a follow-up disc with the next 80 minutes worth of music designed for fans wishing to dig a little deeper in the Beatles catalog? What would be the most helpful second set of tracks a potential fan should give a listen to? What about epochal album tracks, or singles that were groundbreaking, but failed to reach #1 on the charts? Why not give George a little more attention? With these considerations in mind, this is what I would put on a theoretical Beatles 2 album.
Let me know what you think- is this more or less on target? Did I make an egregious omission?
11 1. Twist and Shout: Historically, one element missing from nearly every attempt to package The Beatles’ hits is any vestige of the cover versions of established songs that marked their early efforts. “Twist and Shout” is probably the best of these, a Merseybeat update of the Isley Brothers’ soul dance hit, made memorable by Lennon’s completely committed, larynx-shredding lead vocal.
2 2. I Saw Her Standing There: The first track off of their first album, and an exemplar of early 60s, Liverpool-vintage beat music.
3 3. Please Please Me: This track was excluded from Beatles 1 on a technicality: one of the major British pop charts did not recognize it as a #1 hit, although others did. It is time to put this to rights: this is the song that made the Beatles big outside of their Liverpool fan base and catapulted them to stardom.
4 4. You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me: On principle, there absolutely has to be a Motown cover on a project like this. The Beatles’ reverence for music coming out of black America couldn’t have been greater, and the music they recorded in late 1963 worked heavily in that idiom. This track, showing off Lennon’s smooth Smoky Robinson impression, is their finest essay in that vein.
5. If I Fell: The first great love song The Beatles wrote, it is also one of the most sophisticated and complex tracks from their early years. John and Paul’s harmony parts are so well crafted that you cannot tell which of them is the melody.
6. You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away: One of Lennon’s first real turns toward introversion and grappling with insecurity.
7. Norwegian Wood: This is one of the most important pop songs ever written. Lennon crafts a compelling narrative over acoustic guitar and sitar.
8. In My Life: A two minute pop song written in 1965 ought not to be this profound. Simple and wistful.
9. Here, There & Everywhere: Paul’s gift for effortless melodicism was never more apparent than on this track. The winding twists and turns the lyrics and melodies make, ultimately coming full circle, make this one of the best-composed songs in The Beatles catalog.
10. Rain: The Beatles’ best psychedelic track, full stop.
11. Strawberry Fields Forever: A summer of love epic, “Strawberry Fields” is a journey of self-discovery.
12. She’s Leaving Home: Paul proves to be John’s equal as a storyteller, spinning a tale about a frustrated young woman escaping from her parents’ overprotective clutches, with some elegant orchestration, and John’s punchy counterpoint vocals, to back him up.
13. A Day in the Life: Although I don’t think its quite that good, this track routinely tops polls among Beatles experts that asks “what is the greatest song in The Beatles’ catalog.” It is a diplomatic answer: the final track on the legendary Sgt. Pepper album, it is also a genuine Lennon-McCartney collaboration, allowing anyone to circumvent the poisonous “John vs. Paul” argument.
14. I Am the Walrus: A 5-minute long aural landscape, “I Am the Walrus” is a Lewis Carroll-esque journey down a rabbit hole of surrealist visions, nonsense words, and biting wordplay. Lennon was never so bafflingly clever in this psychedelic masterpiece.
15. Revolution: The b-side to “Hey Jude”, Lennon’s only real take on the upheavals of 1968 is surprisingly heavy rock for the Beatles, and in terms of its lyrics, just as surprising in its skepticism of the revolutionary zeitgeist.
16. Dear Prudence: This short, simple song on the “White Album” builds up to a great climax.
1 17. Blackbird: Speaking of short and simple songs, we would be remiss if we didn’t include Paul’s sweet civil rights allegory.
18. While My Guitar Gently Weeps: George Harrison really came into his own in the band’s final years, and wrote his first truly great song for the “White Album.” Clapton might play its famous guitar solo, but its doleful and world-weary personality is all Harrison.
19.. Two of Us: A knock-off from the almost-disastrous “Let It Be” sessions, the song assumed over time an allegorical significance, as much about John and Paul’s friendship as about Paul and Linda’s early courtship.
2 20.. Here Comes the Sun: It’s only the best song George Harrison wrote, and one of the most cheerful numbers ever committed to record.
21.. Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End: How could we not end the album with the final section of the “Abbey Road” medley?
* There were some interesting discrepancies between the two. “Love Me Do”, “Penny Lane”, “Come Together”, and “Yesterday” were #1 hits in the U.S., but not in the U.K. In fact, “Yesterday”, arguably the group’s most widely known song, was never released as a single at all in their home country. Conversely, “The Ballad of John and Yoko”, “Lady Madonna”, and “From Me to You” were #1 hits in the UK, while falling short of that position in the United States.