All You Need Is Tunes

  • Share
  • Read Later
Besides the freakish improbability that two of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century should have not only come from England (a country with a virtually nonexistent profile in popular music at the time) but would have come from — and met! — in Liverpool, of all places, the most extraordinary thing about the Beatles phenomenon is the unsurpassed ratio of good songs in their recorded output. OK, we wouldn't be talking about them at all if "Misery" had been their best bid for stardom. And of course, off-the-wall items such as "Wild Honey Pie" only make sense in a context such as the sprawling collage of the White Album.

But even those such as myself who aren't particularly fond of "The Fool on the Hill" or "Don't Let Me Down" would be unlikely to call them bad songs; there's something in every Beatles number that sets it apart from the work of ordinary songwriters.

From among this wealth of choices, I have attempted to select the 10 best Beatle songs, a daunting task that I chose not to further compound by trying to put them in order. (It was George Harrison's misfortune as a songwriter to get stuck with Lennon and McCartney; in any other band he would have stood out, but not on this list, even if his post-Beatles work stands up to that of his bandmates. Then again, the challenge of proving himself probably provided the push that made him write "While My Guitar Gently Weeps.")

1. "I Feel Fine" A great guitar lick; probably the first feedback ever heard on a pop record; an uncanny combination of yearning and affirmation, all under three minutes. Perfect pop single, anyone?

2."Penny Lane" A Paul character song when his characters still had personality — unlike Maxwell Edison, say. Probably the most moving bit of pop nostalgia ever, give or take Ray Davies' "Waterloo Sunset," and a great showcase for McCartney's unbelievably swinging bass playing. My dad's favorite Beatles song.

3. "Ticket to Ride" Lennon wrote it, but Paul came up with the beat. It rocks. If your hair doesn't stand up on your neck for that intro, your spinal column is disconnected.

4. "If I Fell" The intro alone tops most anything from that era in terms of harmonic sophistication. Lennon writing like McCartney, with an Everly Brothersístyle harmony to drive it home.

5."Here, There and Everywhere" Again, an intro that just blows away the competition, and a modulation to die for to introduce the bridge. McCartney at his peak, sweet but not yet saccharine.

6. "For No One" Paul, and how — how to break your heart without yanking on the heartstrings, how to make austerity a pop virtue, and how to make it all sound simple.

7. "In My Life" As mysterious as it is revealing — a song about the past, but with no obvious musical antecedent; a tune without a real hook that's nonetheless unforgettable. George Martin's only solo on a Fabs tune, a perfect bit of ersatz classical piano to anchor it all in some imaginary yesteryear.

8. "A Day in the Life" That last lingering chord was the final flickering of Beatlemania's innocence, and with it, that of the '60s. There wouldn't be any more funny band outfits; there would sometimes not even be a whole band, as the Lennon/McCartney dichotomy of the song's structure would play out in their lives and on record, and the world around them likewise would become increasingly fragmented.

9. "A Hard Day's Night" The title track of the most influential music film ever (think MTV would have existed without it?) has it all — the clever, made-up title (John via Ringo); boundless exuberance; relentless splashing cymbals; the Lennon/McCartney tag team as Paul takes the bridge that was too high for John to sing. The first record I ever bought, and still the best.

10. "She Loves You" What can you say? One of their first big hits; the all-time top-selling Beatles single in England. How much would some of us give to hear this for the first time again? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Amen.