Posts Tagged ‘#Beatlescountdown’

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update to my Beatles ranking. (I don’t know why I feel rushed…it’s not like the band is going to release new material any time soon that would throw off the numeration!) Anyway, we are solidly getting into the middle of the pack– and there’s lots of George songs and plenty of White Album material this time around.

150. One After 909 (Let It Be): One of the most affecting scenes in This Is Spinal Tap found  David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel revisiting their earlier material in an interview with documentarian Marti Di Bergi. The ditty this dim-witted duo reminisce over bears a striking resemblance to “One After 909,” replete with train allusions. This song matters most as a window into early Lennon-McCartney songwriting, heavily reliant on tropes and still stuck in a derivative framework. There is still a childlike sense of “learning by parroting” that’s fascinating to observe in constructing the John & Paul partnership.

149. Doctor Robert (Revolver): This is one of the lesser efforts on the sterling Revolver album, and it started an unfortunate trend of rock artists writing surreptitious songs about their drug dealers. (This in turn gave way to an unfortunate trend of rock artists crediting their songs to their drug dealers as co-writers. Seriously. On Chicago’s Hot Streets some dude named Stash Wagner is listed as a co-writer. It’s got to be the horn section’s drug dealer. It’s got to be.) The song is redeemed- almost literally- by an angelic choir in the middle-eight, one of the few Beatles moments that makes me laugh at loud.

148. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer (Abbey Road): Haters are gonna hate. There are some who would characterize this track as the very worst in The Beatles catalog. If you don’t like Paul’s stuff, this may be part of the reason why: cutesy, all too clever, and over-rehearsed, it’s a macabre morality tale in search of a moral. I’m willing to defend it as having consistent characterization and some delightfully atmospheric synthesizers that remind me of progressive rock on anti-depressants.

147. All Together Now (Yellow Submarine): This trifle is perfect for a children’s movie starring The Beatles…although the suggestive “Can I take my friend to bed” line probably prevented this track from becoming a proper classic for the toddler set the way “Yellow Submarine” did. Whether its an affectation or not, an atmosphere that at least sounds convincingly spontaneous permeates this joyful track, including one of the final appearances of John’s harmonica on a Beatles track.

146. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill (White Album): Lennon’s contribution reflects what the band’s stay in Rishikesh did to the band: it’s a hyperbolic story-song based on characters the composer would likely not have met in any other circumstance. Its acoustic setting and sing-along qualities give it more of a campfire atmosphere. It’s a side of Lennon’s songwriting that we don’t get to see nearly as often as we like, even though this never would have made the album if it were confined to a single disc.

145. I’m So Tired (White Album): Nor, I think, would have this track. “I’m So Tired” encapsulates one of the things I find frustrating about the public debate over Lennon vs. McCartney. Our critical faculties tend to praise authenticity (or the appearance of authenticity) over competence and skill, which are less easy to feign. For the last 50 years now, Lennon has been praised by Jann Wenner, Philip Norman, and virtually everyone who has written meaningful work on the Beatles as the visionary. And often he is! But that also means that he’s given a pass for sloppily written songs about laziness, ennui, or dreariness. “I’m Only Sleeping” – granted, a significantly better song- is also a testament to this phenomenon. More to the point, “I’m So Tired” violates the first principle of songwriting: show– don’t tell. You shouldn’t have to give a song a name like that to convey that you are dragged out and unable to sleep.

144. The Night Before (Help!): This is a solid filler from the first side of the “Help!” album. It’s hard not to associate this track from the scene of The Beatles playing this in an open field surrounded by military backup in their second movie. While an ostensibly McCartneyesque track, Lennon makes some vital contributions on the organ and in background vocals whose weariness and sour notes provide a needed contrast to Paul’s melodic wistfulness.

143. Savoy Truffle (Harrison, White Album): This is the first of George’s four contributions to the White Album to make this list. It’s easy to dismiss this track as a list of chocolate sweets designed to pad the second disc. Yet there’s a lot more going on– Harrison’s ability to find the right words to match the meter of his compositions is one of his most underrated skills, and this track is especially well designed to show that off. But this track just rocks. It’s one of the most guitar-heavy on the album, but you probably didn’t notice– and George Martin effortlessly recreates the Memphis horn sound popularized by Stax.

142. Piggies (Harrison, White Album): Like “Savoy Truffle”, “Piggies” also has an unusually long melodic line with room for thirteen syllables. A social commentary every bit as biting as what Lennon was writing in 1968, its visceral attack on the British upper-middle-class conveys an anger and vulnerability that George- almost certainly the poorest of the Beatles in his youth- allowed to surface from time to time. The MVP of the track, though, is Chris Thomas, who often supervised sessions when George Martin got fed up with the band. Thomas went on to produce several Elton John albums in subsequent decades, including some favorites of mine like “Sleeping with the Past,” “Too Low for Zero” and “The Big Picture.” Oh, and he mixed “Dark Side of the Moon” as well.

141. Rocky Raccoon (White Album): McCartney often experimented in dated styles of music, as “When I’m 64”, “Honey Pie,” “You Gave Me the Answer,” and “Walking in the Park with Eloise” all demonstrate. Here, McCartney gives us a saloon number, emblematic of the British fascination with the American West that Mick Jagger, Bernie Taupin, and countless others of his generation shared. While much of the song runs on secondhand British interpretations of frontier tropes, the song has enough lyrical peculiarities to hold the listeners’ interest, with a leading lady who has three different names and the recurring motif of Gideon’s Bible.

140. Ask Me Why (Please Please Me): It’s been a while since any of you broke out Live at the BBC, but if you revisit the collection, one thing becomes clear: the Beatles often relied on experimenting with Latin rhythms early in their career. These weren’t very astute Latin rhythms– more Ricky Ricardo than Tito Puente- but they proved to be an effective way to shake up a punishing two-hour set in the Top Ten Club. Few of these vestiges made it into their recording canon, but “Ask Me Why” is one of the more prominent examples. The chord sequence is more complex than most other Lennon-McCartney tracks of this period, with minors, 7ths, and augmented chords, giving life and character to what is lyrically an undistinguished love song.

139. Old Brown Shoe (Harrison, b-side): This shuffle is a cut above the average Beatles b-side, with everyone getting a chance to shine. Harrison allows himself a short, but unusually raucous guitar solo, and contributes the bass line that generates the song’s forward momentum. McCartney also borrows from the saloon style of “Rocky Raccoon” for the barrelhouse piano.

138. I’ll Cry Instead (A Hard Day’s Night): Perhaps this song isn’t the strongest on its own, but it is an important harbinger of what is to come. Lennon’s vulnerability makes the song more autobiographical than the romantic inventions that marked the songwriting on the band’s first three albums. The band’s musical palette wasn’t sophisticated enough at this juncture to do more than to riff off some vaguely Chet Atkins-sounding riffs in order to make the song sound country-and-western. This stylistic shift makes it a shame that “I’ll Cry Instead” wasn’t featured in the movie (it was originally slated for the fooling-around-outdoors sequence that was eventually filled by “Can’t Buy Me Love.” It’s more introspective character would have added some darkness and depth to the soundtrack.

137. Honey Pie (White Album): A lot about your relationship with The Beatles depends on your tolerance for McCartney’s winsomeness. My tolerance for it– I’d even say my appreciation off it– is exceptionally higher than the norm, which makes me much more favorably inclined toward a track like “Honey Pie.” It’s easy, certainly, to appreciate the care that Paul, George Martin, and Chris Thomas took to make the song wound like a scratchy old 78-rpm record. Lennon must have gotten astigmatism rolling his eyes during the making of this song, but was probably delighted at getting to play an anachronistic electric guitar solo.

136. Mother Nature’s Son (White Album): This is a pleasant enough pastoral song, very much in character with the band’s romantic attitudes toward the first couple weeks in Rishikesh, and the acoustic instruments at their disposal. Nevertheless, it is hurt by one of the strangest production choices in the band’s catalog, some slightly out-of-tune brass sections. Frankly, they intrude on the song, and undercut its theme– though not in a clever or ironic way, at least as far as I can discern.

Thank you for your patience as I work my way through the catalog. With the end of the spring semester and my return to the USA, I should be able to whittle down this list more frequently in the months ahead.


Read Full Post »

After a several months-long hiatus, it’s time to revisit my ongoing ranking of the Beatles back catalog.

165. I Wanna Be Your Man (With the Beatles): The band gets into a swampier, bluesier sound with this number. Its simplicity lends it to Ringo’s oeuvre, but I can’t help but think how epic this song would have been with differentiated verses, a murky guitar solo, Lennon’s harmonica, and letting John or Paul sing the vocals. There’s so much potential here.

164. I’ll Get You (b-side): It’s a pleasant enough song that does exactly what it’s intended to do: fill up the b-side of a hit single, in this case, the Beatlemania-igniting “She Loves You.” It’s one of the first times we see a glimpse of the otherworldly inclinations of John’s songwriting, from “picturing”, “dreaming,” and, of course, “imagining.”

163. Honey, Don’t (Perkins, Beatles for Sale): It’s a pleasant enough swing through a Carl Perkins favorite. Curiously, Ringo sings this track although historically it had been John’s throughout the band’s Cavern Club era. It fits Ringo’s luckless persona better than “Everybody’s Trying…” fits George’s, although the guitar solo is virtually the same thing played twice, and Ringo flubs some of the double-tracking.

162. P.S. I Love You (Please Please Me): The band’s first b-side, this track was re-recorded for their first LP. It is a pedestrian love-letter song, but McCartney’s soaring counterpoint over the droning voices of Lennon and Harrison are a strong signal of the band’s nascent confidence in the studio.

161. Only a Northern Song (Harrison, Yellow Submarine): George is having a bit of fun here, noting that The Beatles’ skewed publishing arrangements meant that they would see little profit out of their songs’ massive successes. But as would often happen throughout his solo career, the audience isn’t in on the joke, making the whole venture seem self-indulgent and petty. George Martin provides some damp and murky sound effects that add some life to this Sgt. Pepper outtake that found new life in the band’s animated film.

160. Dizzy Miss Lizzie (Williams, Help!): The band’s last canonical cover song (depending on your feelings about “Maggie Mae”), Lennon again delves into Larry Williams territory.  John affects a great deal of breezy confidence and passionate screaming that drives the song forward, but the band’s weariness shows in the song’s chug-along pace.

159. Tell Me Why (A Hard Day’s Night): A specimen of early Sixties British beat-pop, it is self-aware enough to be an amusing pastiche of the Beatles’ M.O. at this point. With the call-and-response vocals and a falsetto section that mocks “She Loves You,” it is made into a more serious effort by some of Ringo’s finest drumming of this period of the band’s  story.

158. The Word (Rubber Soul): A vague piece of early psychedelia, “The Word” prophetically points the way toward 1967. It does highlight Lennon’s underrated skills at harmony, with the acid cutting on the bottom balancing out McCartney’s honeyed high harmonies.

157. Rock and Roll Music (Berry, Beatles for Sale): It doesn’t improve much on Berry’s original, but then, I suppose it doesn’t have to. Lennon’s version is faster and more frantic than Berry’s more tempered original. But it goes to show: this song was “hallowed ground” for sixties’ acts, while it was conceived as a self-referential almost novelty tune when Berry wrote it in the fifties.

156. Wait (Rubber Soul): A version of this song was recorded and rejected from the Help! sessions, and running out of time to get a record out for the holiday season, the band took another stab at it. It is certainly easy to picture some wah-wah guitar on this track, which hearkens back to their early-1965 fascination with the sound. Its catchiness largely derives from the hair-trigger transition from the bridge to the verses.

155. Good Night (The White Album): Written by John and sung by Ringo, this song seems to have morphed in the studio from something quite sincere into an all-out parody of overblown Hollywood tunes. The choruses and orchestras come in thick from beginning to end; in fact, no other Beatles are to be found on the record! A suitably bizarre ending to the band’s most eclectic album.

154. Flying (Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-Starkey, Magical Mystery Tour): This used to rank very low- think bottom ten- on my list of Beatles songs. With due consideration and some good conversations with friends, I am rethinking my position. The guitar work about 20 seconds in is immaculate, and the electric organ overlays certainly help create the sensation of flight. As a jam band, though, The Beatles lacked the discipline and the proficiency to do very much, and so this song remained a short and evocative snippet.

153. For You Blue (Harrison, Let It Be): Look, you’ve got to leave the blues to the experts. The band’s skill set doesn’t really lend itself to the medium, and Lennon’s amateurish lap steel guitar work is little more than a twee novelty. It’s just a little surprising that this was the George song that they went with when, say, “All Things Must Pass” was available at the time.

152. Every Little Thing (Beatles for Sale): This ~might~ be the most average Beatles song in their entire catalog, with its nondescript place in the middle of the second side of an LP, and its focus on uncomplicated devotion. That’s not a bad thing– and the timpani percussion and Lennon’s strong rhythm guitar give the song added character.

151. There’s A Place (Please Please Me): Traditionally, this song is seen as the first glimmer of lyrical excellence from the Lennon/McCartney team and is often compared to its contemporary, “In My Room” by The Beach Boys with similar themes of solitude and introspection. “In My Room” is undoubtedly the more excellent of the two, but “There’s A Place” creates the space and quietude necessary for “Twist and Shout” to have the impact that it does at the end of the album.


Read Full Post »

Our intrepid countdown continues as we mark down some of the less inspired Beatles efforts on our road to Fab Four greatness. This particular batch is heavy on one particular era and one particular Beatle. The era is late 1964, between some lackluster tracks on the otherwise solid A Hard Day’s Night,  as well as some of the problematic tracks on Beatles for Sale, perhaps the band’s least compelling and most enervated studio album. And then there are some subpar b-sides, and EP tracks as well. The Beatle at hand is George, who sings lead on four of these fifteen tracks, far above his usual output. When George was great, George was great, but he struggled to find his voice until Rubber Soul, as these tracks demonstrate.

180. “What You’re Doing,” (Beatles for Sale): There is a kernel of a good song here. Harrison is copping a bit of the early Byrds sound on guitar. But the effort is marred by the single most audible mistake- or rather series of mistakes- in the entire Beatles catalogue. The song requires the first word of each line in the verse to be shouted in unison by John and Paul. But more than once during the song, they sing the wrong word or goof up the pronoun. George Martin was a meticulous man, so I am very curious how such an error-ridden take was deemed acceptable for release.

179. “Bad Boy” (Williams, Beatles VI): Lennon’s love of Larry Williams and his up-tempo rock and rollers manifests in this misbegotten track, which was not formally released in the U.K. until the 1966 compilation album A Collection of Beatles Oldies. Lennon’s singing style and the band’s accompaniment is pointlessly frantic; at a different point in their careers, I would have wondered if they were coked up. The biggest trouble with this track, in my judgment, is its incongruent Americanism. With references to hula hoops, putting tacks on the teacher’s chair, and general juvenile delinquency, an indelibly British act had little hope of translating this piece, despite their evident love of American culture.

178. “What Goes On” (Lennon/McCartney/Starkey, Rubber Soul): Rubber Soul is one of the band’s most forward-looking records, which makes a retread like this nearly tragic. One of Lennon’s earlier songwriting efforts, this was given a dust-up. But in the end, it sounds for all the world like a country-flavored reject from Beatles for Sale. Some solid background vocals from John and Paul are the song’s best quality, but the paint-by-numbers Chet Atkins guitar work by Harrison, and the song’s similarities to the last few Ringo vocal outings make this track expendable and skippable.

177. “Another Girl” (Help!): I read Rob Sheffield’s quasi-memoir Talking to Girls About Duran Duran yesterday, and in it, he goes on an extended riff about McCartney’s public persona. He wisely notes that this is McCartney’s only known attempt at a snide Dylanesque “It Ain’t Me Babe” kind of song. It doesn’t work because it cuts so incisively against the grain of who McCartney projects himself to be. The song’s callous rejection of one girlfriend for another breaks no meaningful thematic ground nor is its ponderous instrumental track very good either. A disappointment from a creative stage in the band’s career. It did inspire a fun sequence in the Help! film that I enjoy watching, though. Pure filler.

176. “Thank You Girl” (B-side): This early flip side of “From Me to You” isn’t terrible or anything, but it is a more careless throwaway, and an indictment of the slapdash nature of many B-sides throughout the record industry in the early 1960s.

175. “Baby’s In Black” (Beatles for Sale): The band clearly wanted to try out some country, and this song does have an appealing 3/4 swing (the first Lennon/McCartney song in waltz time?)  The experiment doesn’t wholly succeed. As a song grappling with loss, and perhaps even death, it is too direct whereas the superior “Yes It Is” is evocative and circumspect. Moreover, Harrison’s limp guitar solo shows that his proficiency in rockabilly didn’t necessarily translate to country and western. Inexplicably, this song remained in the band’s live setlist until their final performance in Candlestick Park.

174. “She’s A Woman” (b-side): Some have portrayed this song as a daring rhythm-and-blues outing. Others have called it proto-punk. Nah. The flip side to “I Feel Fine” is simplistic, repetitive, and ties the band to a more Stones-like sound that they don’t have the experience or the proper background to perform well. Also, it rhymes “presents” with “peasant.”

173. “Magical Mystery Tour” (Magical Mystery Tour): This song encapsulates a lot of what is wrong with the television movie to which it serves as our theme. Empty promises, lyrics that are merely coy salesmanship, and a failure to evoke either magic or mystery are just the beginning of its problems. I can’t think of a less inviting way to entice someone to psychedelic wonder than this track. You can hear Lennon rolling his eyes while he’s singing the background vocals.

172. “Anytime At All” (A Hard Day’s Night): There is a fair bit of anonymous phoned-in writing on the second half of the A Hard Day’s Night LP. This track kicks the side off, where Lennon repeats his trick of flipping between a sensitive verse and an urgent chorus used earlier in “It Won’t Be Long” and “All I’ve Got To Do”. An uncreative “I’m here if you need me” kind of song, it is further diminished by possibly the worst instrumental break on any Beatles song.

171. “I Call Your Name” (Long Tall Sally EP): Some cool rhythms can be found here which resemble almost a cro-magnon version of reggae. Although the band’s version flounders, it did at least inspire a worthwhile cover from The Mamas & The Papas.

170. “Chains” (King/Goffin; Please Please Me): This is George’s first lead vocal in the band’s professional recording career. As such, it comes across merely as a showcase, and it breaks the first rule of doing cover versions: don’t do them if you can’t add anything to the original. Even so, the band’s courage in defying strict Northern gender roles and doing songs by The Shirelles or, in this case, The Cookies, is noted. It gave the group a much wider repertoire of songs to use in their live set.

169. “I Need You” (Harrison; Help!): Sometimes less is more. Harrison’s second composition to land on a Beatles record, “I Need You” has a simple and earnest core to it. What could have been endearing merely becomes jarring, as the band experiments with too much wah-wah pedal, having become somewhat infatuated with the device during the Help! sessions. It’s an incongruous choice for a plaintive song that could have been much better without it.

168. “Devil in Her Heart” (Drapkin; With the Beatles): This was originally sung by The Donays, and its 45 single appears to have been the only thing they ever recorded. (This was the era where girl groups on small labels were paid in shampoo vouchers and bubblegum.) The Beatles make a go of it, with a wink and a smirk; its lyrics were clearly written as an exchange between girlfriends, despite the band’s change of pronouns. What I find interesting is how, for the band’s first three records, George seems to have been deliberately marketed as the younger brother of the band, given much more simplistic, juvenile material, while John and Paul handle songs dealing with more mature aspects of relationships.

167. “When I Get Home” (A Hard Day’s Night): This song comes in like a wrecking ball, with a relentless beat creating what Lennon called a “four-in-the-bar cowbell song” in the vein of Wilson Pickett. Yet it lacks Pickett’s easy soul and wan smile. Running on fumes during a busy schedule, the band resorts to cliches like “til the cows come home” and sounds nowhere more tired than in this attempt at a high-octane, uptempo track.

166. “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You” (A Hard Day’s Night): Although three songs from the album appear on this post, I truly do believe that A Hard Day’s Night is the best of the four LPs from the height of Beatlemania. This is the only lackluster track on the otherwise sterling Side 1. The penchant for saddling Harrison with simplistic songs from a young teenager’s point of view is wearing a bit thin by now. While John and Paul sing of coming home to a woman (mercy!), Harrison remains stuck at the high school dances wearing uncomfortable loafers.


Read Full Post »

It’s time to begin our next big project on the Northumbrian Countdown: ranking the Beatles catalogue. As many long-time readers know, I am a huge, huge fan of this group, to the point of being considered obsessed as a teenager. I owned their entire catalogue by the time I was 15. My high school graduation speech was about The Beatles. During my senior year, my friends and I made (with a bit of help from our moms) Sgt. Pepper costumes to wear for Halloween. I’ve seen Paul once in concert and Ringo four times. I’ve probably read upwards of 50 or 60 books on them over the course of my life. While I try to be humble, I know my Beatles. Now it’s time to rank their output.

A few words about this. First of all, I am listening mostly as a fan and partly as a historian of the 1960s and 1970s, and this will impact what I look for. I don’t have much musical training beyond a basic proficiency in piano, so I’m not one to talk about pentatonic scales and aeolian cadences, and all that. In terms of what I am looking for, I suppose I am looking for how a song comes together as a whole. Does it highlight a crucial aspect of Beatlemania? Does it move the band’s oeuvre in a new direction, or perhaps even alter the trajectory of rock and roll itself? I also try and consider context as well- the Beatles generally wrote their music, at least at first, for dancing, not listening with headphones. I penalize lazy writing, hackwork, and malice. If I have a bias, I suppose it’s that unlike many Beatles writers, I slightly prefer Paul over John, or at the very least tolerate Paul’s music-hall diversions more than Lennon’s pretensions to literary genius.

Now we come to the problem of what, exactly, is ranked. Obviously, every track on every British studio album is accounted for, with the exception of the George Martin instrumentals on Yellow Submarine. Some rankings include the cover songs that showed up on their first five LPs, and others don’t. I will incorporate them. Similarly included are the hodgepodge of non-album singles, EPs, and other material collected in the two Past Masters volumes, with the exception of their two German-language remakes of their hits. Abbey Road was tricky (some people consider all of side two one long track), but I combined “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” and “Sun King/Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam/She Came In Through the Bathroom Window” while considering the other tracks individually. I do not include the two reunion tracks from the 1990s.

So, let’s begin our magical mystery tour through the collected works of one of the most important musical artists of the twentieth century. All songs are Lennon-McCartney unless otherwise noted.

203. “Run For Your Life” (Rubber Soul): Tanking at the very bottom of our ranking is this closing track from one of the band’s finest albums. “Run For Your Life” is in some ways the single track that least caters to the band’s best qualities. It is malicious, with John Lennon dwelling on seeing a lover dead. It’s not ironic. It’s not winking. Lennon gives every indication that he’s serious. It’s also unoriginal, with it’s first line nicked from an early Elvis record, with bland, generically country and western instrumentation that could have just as easily come from Beatles for Sale, two albums earlier. I have no trouble writing this off as the nadir of the band’s recording career.

202. “Taxman” (Harrison- Revolver): I’ve always found it fascinating that George Harrison was both the most spiritual of the Beatles, yet also the most miserly. Some consider “Taxman” to be the first sign of greatness from the Quiet Beatle, but I disagree strongly. This song fits one of the most loathsome rock archetypes: rich people complaining about problems only rich people can understand. At the time this song was written, income taxes on the very top earners in the U.K. topped 90%. My problem is that this kind of taxation rate was necessary to sustain the U.K. welfare state, and Harrison, of all the Beatles, benefitted most from that welfare state. His father enjoyed a municipal job driving buses. The Harrisons dwelled in government-subsidized council flats, housing that was far superior to that enjoyed by any previous generation of the English working class. What’s more, The Beatles, and most British rockers, collected welfare payments between gigs, a practice Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn calls “rock and dole.” This social democracy gave Harrison the material comforts as a youngster and financial stability as a young adult to help him realize his potential. So for Harrison to whine about the tax rate now that he was finally among the top earners strikes me as deeply hypocritical.

201. “Wild Honey Pie” (White Album): The question of whether the White Album should have been cut down to one lean, trim album or left in its sprawling 90-minute state remains a contentious debate among Beatles aficionados. Few, however, would disagree about this song’s reputation as filler, barely a minute of acoustic guitar, and funny voices warbling “honey pie.”

200. “Maggie Mae” (trad. arranged by Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-Starr- Let It Be): The “Get Back” sessions of early 1969 often got derailed into jam sessions and impromptu cover songs. Led by Lennon, the band tries their hand at this ribald Merseyside ditty about a neer-do-well prostitute. It has neither the joy of true spontaneity, nor any of the polish that would come from actively working on the song. Instead, the four Beatles try to soldier their way through a song none of them can remember, and none of them look back on especially fondly. The track cuts off mid-verse, 40 seconds in.

199. “Matchbox” (Perkins- EP): Although George Harrison was the group’s resident Carl Perkins devotee, the band’s first of three Perkins covers went to Ringo, probably because the song’s doleful lyrics matched his public persona. Unfortunately, the result is paint-by-numbers rockabilly, and Ringo hasn’t learned the art of double-tracking yet, as he can be heard changing the cadence of the lyrics throughout between tracks.

198. “Mr. Moonlight” (Johnson- Beatles for Sale): I’m going to come out and say it- Beatles for Sale is easily my least favorite album by the band. It’s problems include the band’s burnout from constant touring and Beatlemania, and with limited time and limited energy, the group resorted to quick, easy covers of familiar material. This obscurity bespeaks Lennon’s deep interest in black rhythm & blues, an interest shared by many Merseyside artists. But the recording of this song is dreadful, with Lennon’s bite removing much of the soul and plaintiveness of the original. The gimmicky organ part sinks the already troubled track. George Martin made a rare mistake putting this on the album rather than the frantic “Leave My Kitten Alone.”

197. “Little Child” (With the Beatles): This is the band at their most pedestrian and least inventive, as they recorded this forgettable track for their sophomore album. It exposes Lennon’s tenuous harmonica abilities and it’s patronizing tones haven’t aged well.

196. “Misery” (Please Please Me): I’m grading the first album on a bit of a curve, since the band hadn’t logged much studio time, and only had a day to record ten tracks. Nevertheless, “Misery” is a marked step down from the album’s stellar opening track, “I Saw Her Standing There.” Written for British pop act Helen Shapiro, some amateurism is on display. Between the silly falsetto during the fade-out, and the band’s shaky incorporation of a piano into their sound, it’s clear that the band still had a bit of a learning curve to navigate.

And here we are…just a few songs to start out the first post. Stay tuned as we count down to Beatles greatness!


Read Full Post »