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Sunday, 23 September 2012

Getting My Five A Day: My Top 5 Beatles Songs

In this new feature, I've decided to take a look at my Top 5 songs by certain bands or artists. It may also expand to include Top 5 films by particular stars or directors, or even books or graphic novels by chosen authors. I felt it best to kick things off at the very top, so I'll begin with a look at my Top 5 songs by the Kings Of Music, The Beatles.
The songs are not in order of preference, but in chronological order to make it a bit more linear for me to compile.
And we begin with....

All My Loving(1963)

Perhaps no song captures the zing and exhilaration of Beatlemania than Paul's 'All My Loving'; a track that clatters along at a pace that wouldn't be out of place on The Clash's debut album, and a song so loaded with melody that it bamboozles and seduces with every play. It shows that even as early as their second album they were already pushing way ahead of the field, experimenting and collaborating with producer George Martin to conjure up new ideas whilst their peers stuck pretty much to the same old formula.
Beginning purely on vocals with the opening "Close your eyes...", the band kick in at full pelt on the word 'eyes', starting on a minor chord then quickly ascending, causing a burst of aural euphoria quite unlike anything else at the time. The minor chord ascending then descending all within the one line gives the song a unique feeling of both melancholia and joy at the same time, totally catching the listener off guard. The harmonious blend of Paul and John's voices was probably never bettered and practically blares from the speakers like a brass section!
Another interesting point is the way in which the song seems to slow down to incorporate the guitar solo, an almost Countrified solo from George Harrison. It's been pointed out that the solo bears all the trade marks of Carl Perkins, George Harrison's hero, which makes me wonder if George created the solo himself? If he did, why doesn't he receive any writing credit for it? Given that George was easily the best guitarist in The Beatles, I wonder how many other classic solos he contributed to 'Lennon & McCartney' numbers without credit? No wonder he was constantly dismayed at the writing credits.
All that aside, this is still one of the best songs The Beatles ever created and therefore one of the greatest Pop songs of all time. Unquestionably!

And I Love Her(1964)
Another Paul song, this taken from the soundtrack to 'A Hard Day's Night' and written for then girlfriend Jane Asher.
As opposed to all the bluster of 'All My Loving', this is a very spare arrangement, purely on acoustic guitars and with sparse percussion from Ringo. Yet once again Paul's gift of melody is extraordinary, the notes practically sighing with adoration and surrounding the listener like some twilight-purple cloak.
Once again Paul and John's voices counterbalance each other so beautifully, reaching a peak on the lines "A love like ours// Could never die// As long as I have you near me", before Paul takes the song to another level, soloing on the lines "Bright are the stars that shine// Dark is the sky// I know this love of mine// Will never die" raising the song up a key before dropping back into the dueting chorus.
The 'A Hard Day's Night' soundtrack album is often overlooked as one of the more throwaway albums in The Beatles' canon, but I actually think it's the best of the 'Beatlemania' era albums, containing not only the song I've written about here but the storming theme song, John's beautifully simplistic 'If I Fell' and George's outstanding 'I'm Happy Just To Dance With You'. It was also the album that cemented their reputation in America and therefore the one stopped them being just a flash in the pan.

Every Little Thing(1964)

From the fourth album 'Beatles For Sale' comes this tender John Lennon composition that underscores the fact that behind John's aggressive bluster was an emotionally vulnerable man. The basis of the lyrics seems to suggest that John feels he is punching above his weight, that he is undeserving of the attention his girl is showing him; "When I'm walking beside her// People tell me I'm lucky// Yes I know I'm a lucky guy".
Still less than two years into their recording careers, The Beatles have already left bands like Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Fortunes and The Searchers in their wake, moving away from the effervescent jangle of the early songs and moving into more complex arrangements and introspective lyrics. The influence of Bob Dylan was already manifesting itself in Lennon's songwriting. Beginning with a seemingly detached seven note intro, we're immediately into a world of chiming 12-string guitars and folksy melodies. There's also the unexpected use of timpani in the chorus; "Every little thing she does//(BOM BOM)// She does for me", the two beats acting like the beat of a heart fit to burst. Dispelling the theory that Lennon wrote the rockers and McCartney wrote the plaintive ballads, 'Every Little Thing' would see the emergence of John's 'living diary' lyrics, which often got too bitter for even the most committed Lennon-head.

'Beatles For Sale' also saw the band move away from their lovable mop-tops image with the almost sneeringly ironic album title, the Autumnal shading of the album sleeve, and the serious unsmiling faces glaring out from the cover suggesting the strain of having to be this creative ALL THE TIME was already beginning to tell.

Cry Baby Cry(1968)

And so to 'The White Album'....seen by some as The Beatles' great folly, or by others (like myself) as their greatest album. The White Album is like the entire history of music condensed into about 80 minutes, and shows just how versatile all four Beatles had become, a mere five years on from their debut album. This album features Rock, Pop, Folk, Surf, an Orchestral Lullaby, Jazz, Protest songs, Country & Western, Children's songs, proto-Heavy Metal, and even an Avant-Garde Sound Collage.
And amongst all that is another under-rated John Lennon composition, 'Cry Baby Cry'. Since taking LSD, John often reverted to a childlike world where the writings of Lewis Carrol and Edward Lear loomed large. This influenced his writing immensely, but also led to virtually any old Psychedelic band writing flowery gibberish when all they had consumed was some herbal tea and some smoked banana skins!
When John gets it right though, as on 'I Am The Walrus', 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds', you do get the feeling that the lexicon of Pop is finally being stretched to creative new highs. And 'Cry Baby Cry' is pretty much the last time he would use this approach, but it works beautifully. Basically a nursery rhyme, John uses all his Carrol and Lear influences to spin the tale of some fabled kingdom of Marigold where the king and queen have tea with Duchess of Kircaldy. What stops the song from becoming horribly twee and cloying though, is that the melody has a sparse, melancholic, and, sometimes, quite sinister feel to it.
The song also ends (after 2mins 30) with 30 seconds of a Paul song in which he simply refrains "Can you take me back where I came from// Can you take me back?", which I also think has a slightly sinister edge to it and acts like an intermission before we collapse headlong into the nightmare world of 'Revolution 9'. Perhaps it's that sense of trepidation before the sound collage threatens to drive you insane that creates such an aura about the beautiful three minutes of music that precede it.

The Long And Winding Road(1969)

Now, I must point out that this is entirely my own theory, but I think this song is Paul acknowledging that The Beatles are about to split up, and that he's saying to the fans "Don't worry. We may be gone but the music will always be there. Whenever you need to relive your youth or recreate the 1960s, The Beatles music will always be there". Obviously I have no proof of this, but I've always believed that the long and winding road that Paul speaks of is The Beatles' music itself . It may even have been directed at John, suggesting "We may never work together again, but look what we've created!"
The song is taken from the 'Let It Be' album, possibly the only album of theirs that disappoints slightly, which may have something to do with the fact that it's the only one in which George Martin wasn't directly involved. At John's insistence, Phil Spector was brought in to 'try' and produce an album from the miles and miles of half-baked performances The Beatles had racked up in an attempt to 'Get Back' to their roots. Spector's production often meant drenching songs in overwrought syrupy strings and choirs, much to Paul's annoyance. So much so that just a few years ago Paul re-mastered the whole album and took off all of Spector's dabblings. It may have upset the Beatle purists, but the resulting 'Let It Be...Naked' is actually a better listen than the original, and it's the version from that album which I've chosen to play.
Whether Paul really had the foresight to know how The Beatles would be viewed in the years that followed their demise is obviously pure speculation, but it is that theory, along with the haunting melody (one of Paul's best EVER!) that makes it, for me, one of their greatest achievements.

So there you have it.
By only picking FIVE titles I've had to miss out such albums as 'Sgt Pepper', 'Revolver' and 'Rubber Soul', often seen as the high water mark of all popular music. I've also had to leave out such landmark one-offs as 'Penny Lane', 'I Am The Walrus', 'Eleanor Rigby' and 'Strawberry Fields Forever'....classics all!
But I feel that the five I have chosen are the five that represent The Beatles as the greatest craftsmen in the history of music, and that all five contain some of the most heart-stopping melodies of all time.


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