My Top 100 Favourite Beatles Songs (60-51)
60. I Should Have Known Better (1964) Rolling Stone List Ranking: 36
Main Composer: Lennon
This song had me at hello. I love the harmonica right at the start and throughout as well as the twang tastic, Dylanesque blues influence. There is something quite Motown about this too, as it is peppy but resigned with lines like ‘this could only happen to me’ sounding quite defeated in the face of love. Musically this is pretty cool: Harrison brings in a 12 string guitar late in the game and Lennon’s vocals are super and bring a gravelly Britishness to the American sound. I especially like the way he belts: ‘That when I tell you that I love you…Oh…’ For most vocalists an ‘oh’ would be filler and it probably was here but Lennon makes it sound necessary, like he is stopping to contemplate how good it will feel to tell the person that he loves them.
Despite calling it was one of his favourite songs off the ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ album Lennon was becoming a lot harder on himself, declaring the track not about anything. He wanted to be more lyrically interesting like his new hero, Bob Dylan. This naked desire to match Mumble the Zimmer Man as I like to call him would lead to this kind of 2 and a half minute jaunty pop being left behind in favour of more innovative song writing. Because why be the best when you can be legends in your own lifetime?
‘A Hard Day’s Night’ the album has been a long time favourite of mine and I always look forward to this track. I don’t have to wait long either. It is track two. Plus, thanks to their superb first movie outing, I always imagine them sitting playing cards with the Dirty Old Man from Steptoe and Son whenever I hear it. Want to know what the ‘Liverpool shuffle’ is? of course you do! Watch the film!
Favourite Bit: The harmonica. I enjoy it now because it became rare for it to feature in later tracks and as far as I can work out this was the last time it opened a track. Lennon’s peppy vocals are a treat too.
59. If I Needed Someone (1965) Rolling Stone List Ranking: 51
Main Composer: Harrison
As I mentioned in my last set of reviews, I knew right away this track was Harrison as it reminded me a lot of my childhood favourite ‘Only a Northern Song,’ melodically. However this is the superior song both musically and historically as it really sees Harrison coming into his own as a writer. This was the first of his tracks that The Beatles actually performed throughout the world and one of only two tracks from Rubber Soul that they inserted into their live act, demonstrating that McCartney and Lennon were actually impressed with this one. Soon they would grow tired of live performances and quit them altogether so this was the one and only Harrison penned song they performed publicly as a four piece which is quite sad really considering how much better he was going to get.
A couple of other 60’s bands are part of the story of this particular song. The fantastic guitar work was inspired by The Byrds to the point that Harrison sent them the recording with a note to let them know he had nicked their guitar lick for his riff, but as he was a Beatle they were proud and not horrified. (Shame Harrison didn’t try the same trick again later in his career…Maybe Ronnie Mack and The Chiffons would have been all right with it) Mancunian rockers The Hollies actually released ‘If I Needed Someone,’ The Beatles did not, but when it did not do well they were pretty unhappy about it. Why don’t you try, oh I don’t know, writing your own damn music!? There is nothing worse than an ungrateful Hollie…
I looked up their version and even though I am biased I have to say their vocals are horrendously inferior to the detriment of any technical skill. Burn. On The Beatles track the harmonies just soar but don’t overpower the record with Harrison taking the lead and the other two only chiming in at just the right moments, but over his vocal which gives it such a nice sound. I love the bridge and how Harrison goes lower than in the verses, giving the idea of ‘I’m too much in love’ a dangerous edge. I am also a sucker for the not quite rhyme of ‘Carve your number on my wall, and maybe you will get a call…from me’ All in all, a charming and likeable track that hints at the direction Harrison would eventually head. Hint: It’s East.
Favourite Bit: While the vocals are marvellous, the 12 string electric guitar riff with all those fancy key shifts is the star of the all too short show.
58. Twist and Shout (1963) Rolling Stone List Ranking: N/A
Main Composer: Cover Version
As someone who has engaged in her fair share of singing…Seriously. I wince on his behalf. We’ve all done it though. Pushed our voice to the limit in the hope that it will be worth the effort. Is there a better example committed to record of someone nearly taking their vocal chords out of the running forever but it being so, so worth it? As they say, pain is fleeting but art is forever.
It is hard for me to get away from the sound of Lennon’s voice on this record as it is upfront and centre throughout. For some mental reason during the recording of their album ‘Please Please Me’ they decided to leave this, the final track, till the end of the day. Symmetry? For fun? Did they all secretly hate John? I mean, I get why. He was a prick. But still. Listen to him trying to spit out the ‘shake it, shake it, shake it’ at the end. Some would call it rock n roll. I call it a damn nasty cold. Ok, it is both. Martin confirmed that Lennon could not even manage a second take and you can hear him coughing in the background on other songs from the album as everything was recorded on the same day.
Yet the sound is gloriously appropriate for the track, a song that is a standard along the same lines as ‘Do You Love Me?’ and ‘Shake Your Tail Feather’ Yes it is fun and groovy and other 60’s clichés, but would it be worth talking about without this version? This vocal elevates it to something more urgent and desperate, giving it an edge that works so brilliantly with the happy go lucky chiming in from McCartney and Harrison and the joyful bashing and clanging delivered by Ringo. Without that sore, shredded, tonsil throbbing lead vocal this song would have been forgotten. That is my theory. Despite the fact it was a cover and many people have tried it since, this is the definitive version and by far the most successful Beatles song not written by a member of the group. There is a reason. It is perfection. The only reason it isn’t higher is they didn’t write it and they wrote some amazing songs.
It would be remiss of me not not to mention the infamous royal variety performance where Lennon quipped: ‘Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands. And the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewellery’ before closing with this song. I remember watching a documentary on Lennon when I was roughly 11 or 12. When it got to this bit I twigged the reaction of the crowd and the raucous conspiratory laughter from my Father in his chair. I knew it was funny. But I did not get it. Now I do. It is a good line. They never did perform at the Royal Variety show again despite being asked quite a few more times. Lennon claimed in a 1970 interview they never bothered as it wasn’t an enjoyable gig. I suspect it was because he knew he could never top that moment.
Favourite Bit: This is the first song where it is tempting just to say all of it. But I will plump for that little chorus of happiness/pain at around the 1 and a half minute mark. And also his garbled attempt to scream ‘Shake it, shake it shake it baby now…’ at the end. But I never get tired of that first bark of ‘Well shake it up baby, now…’ it just makes me smile so much. As does McCartney’s little triumphant ‘Yeah!’ at the end of the song, possibly celebrating the fact that his friend survived the take. Plus you’ve got to love the ‘ahhhh!’ harmonies. Oh hell. All of it.
57. Baby You’re a Rich Man (1967) Rolling Stone List Ranking: 68
Main Composer: Lennon/McCartney
‘How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?’
A question I have longed to ask a lot of people throughout my life. The 60’s version of the modern judgement ‘check your privilege’ this song is operating at a lot of different levels. On the surface it is a celebration of success but there is a sneer to the words. But even that is too obvious. There is definitely an element of calm acceptance, a sort of don’t worry be happy, just go with the flow, feel almost certainly brought from being part of the Class of ’67 and the cocktail of drugs they were on. A belief that everything will be all right. But it seems like he is trying to convince himself of something he knows isn’t true. Being rich does not make you happy. That much has surely been proven by now. But does it keep you safe from the problems of daily life? In a lot ways, hell yes. But existential fear? Nope. No matter how much you earn that will always catch up with you.
But enough of my freshman human sciences enthusiasm: What does the song sound like? Lennon nails the delivery here. His double tracked vocal is much higher than usual on the verses and gloriously shouty on the chorus. The boys seemed to be playing nice on this one, possibly because they were too high to remember they hated each other, and it gives the vocals a kind of school gang vibe. They really bellow the chorus in a ‘na-na’ football chant way that I enjoy immensely. Hell, even Mick Jagger was there to join in at the end. What a gang. Too cool for school indeed.
And there is the gorgeous heavy piano, bass and clapping hands mix, the braying keyboard that Lennon plays to replicate the sound of a Middle Eastern woodwind instrument and the feedback delay that was used to create that spacey echo on the verses. There is so much to get into and for me it seems to be saying: ‘There is so much to do! The world is full of possibilities! But…Fuck it, Let’s stay in and get stoned again.’ Listen to how it tails off and tell me I am wrong. The life of the rich and the powerful might not be all it is cracked up to be.
Favourite Bit: Got to be the question ‘How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?’ Whether they were getting self congratulatory, getting introspective or getting high it is a deeply powerful question to turn on a person who is never satisfied with their lot. So anyone and everyone really.
56. Can’t Buy Me Love (1964) Rolling Stone List Ranking: 29
Main Composer: McCartney
McCartney would later wearily recant this claim: after a lifetime of fame he had come to realise that money could indeed buy him love. Despite this depressing thought this song is pretty upbeat, an awesome mix of 12 bar blues and 50’s rock but at a dizzying speed. It is the pace of this song that always appeals to me as it seems to match so well with their schedule at the time. The were knocking songs out at an unbelievable rate and this one was another monster hit taking the group to the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, but it was in America where it really took things to another level. When it got to number 1 in America it cinched The Beatles making up the entirety of the top 5. The Beatles made up 60% of singles being sold in America. Seriously. Imagine if you didn’t like them? There was no escaping Beatlemania.
As should be painful clear by now, beneath the good looks and cheeky one liners there is musical skill beyond their years to be found in the early work and beyond. This is no exception. McCartney’s vocal sounds fantastic a great mix of his spot on mid range and some fabulous screamer moments. Harrison’s guitar solo is tremendous, which almost doesn’t need to be said. It is Harrison after all. But listen to that young man play guitar. My God. George Martin deserves praise here too as he stopped this sounding too much like early McCartney work by suggesting they insert a chorus ‘teaser’ in the intro and move some of the phrases around so it didn’t follow the usual format. This works as while it is notably early Beatles, it pushes the sound forward. Ever so gently.
I don’t want to keep harping on about the film. But it is great. And this song is featured in a throwaway scene of them running around a field. So it is associated with energy and fun for me and always will be.
Oh, and it is not about hookers. McCartney has been very, very clear on that.
Favourite Bit: As silly as it might sound it is the drop out between each ‘too’ and ‘much’ that makes me smile most. No matter what I am doing while listening to this song I compulsively have to recognise that choice. By clapping or stamping my foot or something. It just calls out to be acknowledged.
55. Girl (1965) Rolling Stone List Ranking: 62
Main Composer: Lennon
‘Is there anybody going to listen to my story?’ I love that intro because of course we want Lennon to tell us a story. It is an opening that would not seem out of place in a musical, introducing our hard as nails leading man as he takes a chance on us as an audience and spills his soul. Despite his well documented hatred of his own singing voice Lennon’s emotional pitch was always so spot on and his vocal on this is a perfect blend of wistful and vulnerable. Instrumentally, ‘Girl’ is wonderfully inventive, whimsical and melancholy, a sort of Greek Tragedy complete with Greek chorus. (doo-doo-doo-doo-doo) This is another wonderful demonstration of how hard it is to pigeon hole The Beatles: Is this Rock? Pop? Folk? Classical? Why not all of them? A bit of Dylan, a bit of Beach Boys and a whole lot of Beatles.
As cool and well constructed as I think this song is it is the lyrics that really stand out to me. So many songs about love don’t tell you anything about the intricate dynamics of the relationship being discussed. It is just ‘boy and girl meet. Love ensues,’ when it is never that straightforward in real life. The line about ‘And she promises the Earth to me and I believe her…After all this time I don’t know why’ has to be one of my favourite Beatles lyrics. It perfectly captures the baffled resignation of a person in a damaging love affair. There is nothing to fear except fear itself. And humans are terrified of being alone.
In a rare moment of maturity, Lennon admitted he wrote the song about the sort of girl he always wanted but over time he came to realise that archetypal women who rescue/ruin men don’t really exist and he moved on from believing ‘she’ was out there looking for him. In his own words: There is no such thing as the girl-she was a dream’ So did he make his flawed relationship with the mother of his child work? Nope. In an interview in 1980, the year he died, he declared that he did find her after all: Yoko Ono was his dream girl the whole time. Case closed. Humans really, really don’t want to be alone.
Favourite Bit: It has to be the teeth sucking in the chorus. It is just such a wonderful audio expression of love that is more bad than good for you: That kind of ‘well here we go again…’ noise. Such a great song, such a great album.
54. Eight Days a Week (1964) Rolling Stone List Ranking: 34
Main Composer: McCartney/Lennon
Eight Days a Week is charming. It is a happy, clappy, pop song put together with skill and performed with admirable ability. Who could object to it? It turns out Lennon. There is a never ending list of quotes linked to his hatred of this song. He was often dismissive of their music but this is one of the few he actively named as being ‘lousy.’ Did the others stick up for it? Nope. They never performed it live and although it continued their success in America and I first heard it on The Beatles album ‘1’ which contained their chart toppers, it would seem this was one the boys wanted to forget.
Even the origin of that quirky little title has been disputed. McCartney has credited both Ringo and a chauffeur with coining the term. Perhaps the two people/jobs were interchangeable in his mind? Either way it troubles me that both versions of the story are fleshed out with details that one expects of an origin story. How many other ‘and then we wrote a song’ legends are made up of interchangeable bollocks? Maybe Lindsay and Stevie were just good friends and Carly Simon has never been kissed.
Despite McCartney’s memory and Lennon’s sour attitude, I find this song pretty winning. The instrumental fade in distinguishes it right away and, like with ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, I always feel compelled to clap along with the obvious beats. I am a fan of drama in songs and so I love the bit where it turns from peppy to serious with ‘Eight days a week…I lo-ov-ov-e you…Eight days a week…is not enough to show I care’ like the person singing it to their loved one is going ‘In all seriousness I really love you’ while refusing to let go of their hand. This section sounds a little despairing, like they really don’t know how to communicate the strength of their feelings but then it goes right back into the happy verses again.
So what is there to object to? The only explanation I have for their lack of enthusiasm for this lovely song, was they were sick of trying to write ‘hits.’ McCartney brought this to the studio uncompleted and Lennon helped him with it but both of them recalled it not really working and it being a real effort. The album, ‘Beatles for Sale’ was made up mostly of covers as the boys were becoming more drained in their effort to maintain their world wide success. They were no longer a band, but a brand. And this did not seem to sit well with them. I understand why this song must have seemed like a pain…I am sure everyone has had to work on something that just wasn’t coming together and feeling like they had to find a way to make it seem effortless. I am glad the pressure was there though. If repeating their earlier successes had been easy they might not have scorned commercial satisfaction in favour of studio experimentation…and the world would have been a slightly darker place.
Favourite Bit: I just love both the lyric and the vocal delivery of ‘eight days a week…is not enough to show I care’ It is just so earnest and in the hands/voice of Lennon not nearly as cheesy as it could have been.
53. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (1967) Rolling Stone List Ranking: 19
Main Composer: Lennon
Speaking of questionable origin stories…Seriously. I didn’t even plan that. Ok…Is it even worth going over this story? Fine, let’s just pretend that you, the reader, have never heard of The Beatles, or Sgt Pepper and have got lost on your way from the town in ‘Footloose.’ So Lennon publicly stated that this song was inspired by some art from his young son Julian. When he asked young Jules who the girl floating around in the drawing was the little boy replied: ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds’ How adorable. But Lennon, being a crappy Dad, did not hear his son being charming and think: ‘Perhaps I should spend more time with him seeing as he seems to be a delightfully creative little sod and I should nurture that sweetness rather than leave him as my Father did’ he thought ‘there’s a song in that!’
Perhaps my disillusionment with my own silly hero worship is at fault here but despite Julian confirming the story, Ringo and McCartney both at different times claiming to have seen the picture and Lucy O’ Donnell the classmate, getting a mention on the news when she died in 2009, I really don’t believe this happened. I am not sure why I am so unreceptive to this legend but it just smacks of the aforementioned ‘behind the music’ docusoap stuff. Someone said it and everyone went with it. If you hear enough times that this picture influenced a song and you were there at the time this supposedly happened you might start to get it in your head that you did at some point see the infamous Lucy with her Diamonds. To misquote a probably misquoted Freud (can nobody be trusted to write down things correctly???) sometimes a psychedelic rock song is just a psychedelic rock song.
Lennon swore on countless occasions that the song spelling LSD was not intentional but it was still banned by the BBC while ‘Day Tripper’ and ‘Got to Get You Into my Life’ which were openly about drugs, lived to smoke another day. It is just…so hard to believe. How did nobody spot that? Plus even if I decide to buy the inspiration and the chorus having nothing to do with drugs I refuse to accept that drug culture in the late 60’s had no impact on the lyrical content and musical choices.
Taking my two cent out of this rather tedious argument and using it to phone someone who actually cares what I have to say on the matter…Man, this song is fantastic. While Lennon was ultimately unsatisfied with the arrangement and his vocal (so new, so new) it sounds phenomenal to my ears. McCartney is on an organ, Lennon on electric guitar with the sound fed through a Leslie speaker and Harrison a tanpura giving it a nicely measured Eastern sound. The delivery is slow and slightly nasal until the chorus where it is all enthusiastic bellowing and fun to sing along to. And those lyrics…While I can’t believe drugs were not an influence, the imagery is sublime and so creative and surreal that it almost seems unfair to dismiss them as the work of a man who is off his tits on pills. I see every image in my head clear as day and is still one of the most relaxing songs I have ever heard.
When I was a teenager I adored these lyrics and, having memorised them, wrote them down whenever I was bored in class to remind me that life could be exciting. In IT I once sat and typed them when I was supposed to be doing something else only for the girl next to me to lean in and read what I was saying…She was suitably impressed: ‘Did you just make that up? That is so cool!’ she whispered. Only a few weeks earlier she had stolen my trousers when we were getting changed from PE and ran out the changing rooms with them meaning I had to get back in my PE kit for the next class and now she was sitting reading my ‘poetry’ and trying to engage me in conversation about it. It was odd. And flattering. In that moment it felt like I was the author of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. So I nodded. I never actually said yes. But I took credit for Lennon’s genius nonetheless. It would have been my own fault if she had then ripped off her mask to reveal she was an Apple lawyer.
I would like to take this opportunity to make it right. Lauren if you ever read this: Firstly, I hope you have grown out of stealing peoples trousers, making up mean songs about your classmates and giving people nicknames they don’t want. I didn’t write Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Not even the bit about the rocking horse people and the marshmallow pie, that we both agreed was especially good. Go and buy Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. You won’t regret it.
Favourite Bit: I think it has to be the opening line ‘picture yourself on a boat on a river…’ It has stuck with me all these years and I still go to this imagery whenever I am bored. If you are talking to me and suddenly I appear absent behind the eyes, I am probably on the river with the tangerine trees and marmalade skies…
52. Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and my Monkey (1968) Rolling Stone List Ranking: 73
Main Composer: Lennon
What a title. Before I began this experiment I was not familiar with this one at all and I wanted to know what kind of song could fit with a name like that. I turned it off the first time I started playing it. It was just too noisy, too chaotic, not what had I been expecting and not what I wanted. The bridge between nonsense and poetry, white noise and confessional: I wasn’t sure I wanted to cross.
But I came back to it. After a few listens I grew accustomed to the siren like bell and even noted that it stops not long after it starts, fading to the back of the song. I love how the track sounds like a rehearsal, with McCartney whooping intermittently and the dive into nonsense noises towards the end of the track. It brings a rawness to the production that sounds refreshing at a time where the studio trickery occasionally overtook the musical relatability (is that a word? It is now) of their work. The backing track is thick and heavy and the vocal is sharp and more rock than blues despite the arrangement choices initially leaning another way. It is a lot of fun and pretty cool. Once I got past the clanging bell.
So what of the monkey? Lennon said the monkey was Yoko. Er…How romantic? He said in interviews the song was about how he and Yoko were happy and secure in their love and it was everyone around them who had the problem. If that is the case: I love it. It wonderfully, unbearably smug. They were both well aware that her being attached to him wherever he went was making life difficult for the band and the people who worked with them and not only did they not care but they were proud of the chaos they were causing. I have been around that couple. They can’t have thought we enjoyed their unpleasantly public PDA and insistence that they were soul mates but man, did they not give a fuck.
But with his defiance, came insecurity. McCartney firmly believes the monkey in the song was actually code for heroin. When asked about this Lennon admitted that the he and Yoko indulged in smack to cope with the rigorous hazing his disgusted colleagues put his Lady Love through. So what came first? Were they a co-dependent nightmare so his friends were mean or were his friends mean so they became a co-dependent nightmare? Either way, it would seem they were not as happy in their bubble as they would have people believe…
I appreciate this song a lot more with this context as it adds desperation to his claim that he has nothing to hide. For a while longer, Lennon and his Monkey were going to stay put and there was not a thing anyone could do about it.
Favourite Bit: For a man suggesting I ‘take it easy’ he certainly sounds stressed…I love that chorus.
51. Penny Lane (1967) Rolling Stone List Ranking: 32
Main Composer: McCartney
I have beef with this song. While I want to celebrate it, because is great, it came about as a result of McCartney getting competitive with Lennon after hearing ‘Strawberry Fields Forever.’ Both songs are inspired by childhood nostalgia, often a great creative catalyst, and were released as a Double A Side as they could not decide which song should be the B Side. This is where I get genuinely irritated with McCartney’s ego. There are several examples of his song being the lead single, the A Side over a less commercial Lennon track. But here…To my ears there is no contest. Strawberry Fields Forever is extraordinary…Penny Lane is great but I don’t understand how you could think it was worthy of anything other than 2nd place in this particular battle. Why couldn’t he let John have the A side? Both songs came about thinking about Liverpool but one is better. Sorry JP McCartney. Actually I’m not. You are childish and petty sometimes and you should go to your room and think about what you did. But enough of that…Penny Lane is not at fault here. Ol’ wax work face knows what he did.
I live in Liverpool now. Having been here a while this song is the one I am reminded of most when walking around the city. Sometimes when people get so famous it is impossible to picture them as children because it just seems like they have always been successful, rich adults. Can you picture Barbara Streisand or Frank Sinatra as teenagers? But this song takes you back to when McCartney and Lennon used to meet at Penny Lane to catch the bus together. I wasn’t there and I am guessing you weren’t either. But you can feel it in these words, you can picture the world they lived in. It hasn’t changed that much either. The main difference is the Penny Lane signs get nicked a lot by tourists nowadays. Because those two young men with little else in common except a love of music became phenomenally famous.
The song itself is a great amalgamation of sights, sounds and the slightly surreal. Some have suggested there are a lot more drug references here than in the likes of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. And I don’t even want to tell you some of the analysis I have read for: ‘four of fish and finger pie.’ Like LSD (ha!) the imagery the lyrics create is very strong with the talk of the Barber who McCartney claims was a real dude and the details about the roundabout…The blue skies seem unlikely but even McCartney said that was probably wistful nostalgia that brought that out in him and I get what he means. That is why we smile in photos: We want to secure the memory of happiness even if people rarely have an ideal day from start to finish. It is powerfully evocative.
The music is pretty great too. And complicated. We have three piano parts, tambourine, hand bell, a horn section, bass, guitar, drums, harmonium and a piccolo trumpet solo…Practically an orchestra. Now the boys weren’t interested in touring their music they were able to expand their sound in a way that most rock acts didn’t at the time and it brought about some pretty out there work.
Penny Lane may forever be the B Side in my eyes, but it is whimsical nostalgia at its most creative and joyous and I wouldn’t be without it.
Favourite Bit: The trumpet solo is great, the recreation of the fire truck, the descriptive lyrics, the piano…there is a lot to love. But my personal favourite? ‘Very strange.’ I just love McCartney’s delivery both times and enjoy chiming in with him.
Next Time…Ringo wants to be your lover, Lennon channels Dylan and The Who inspires McCartney to make some noise…50-41