My Top 100 Favourite Beatles Songs (50-41)
Dedicated with some love and a lot of pain to the memory of ACM without whom I never would have made lists with such pleasure, had such a happy introduction to The Beatles or existed.
50. If I Fell (1964) Rolling Stone List Ranking: 26
Main Composer: Lennon
Another part to this list, another ‘Hard Day’s Night’ memory. I will always associate this song with the above clip where a grumpy Ringo is cheered up by Lennon as the four of them play around in a TV studio. It is both funny oddly appropriate that Lennon would romantically serenade his band mate with a plea to be true to him. They were so powerful and so young and the only people who could have known how that felt were The Fab Four themselves. Without love and dedication to each other, it never would have lasted as long as it did.
Taking the film out of my listening experience, no easy task, this is a beautiful song, an early Lennon ballad that he described as a precursor to some of his more poignant work on Rubber Soul. McCartney has in the past pointed to this as an example of Lennon’s warmth and ability to tap into his emotional side, a trait he was not always credited with. McCartney is considered the sentimentalist and Lennon the wit. And yet I find the lyrical content of this song quite…Unique. For the time. It isn’t just about asking someone to stay true and not hurt him: there are lots of moments where he reflects on how unhappy his ex-girlfriend will be when she finds out he is dating someone else. It is quite a bitter, needy, self involved love song and therefore it stands out for me compared to a lot of other 60’s love letter melodies.
Speaking of melodies, man is the tune not sublime? That combination of melancholy guitar, tight vocal harmonies and genuinely wondrous chords. It is so delicate, well paced, the intro is unique and is a great example of the four of them all working as a team to produce a distinctive sound.
When they toured in ’64 this was their only slow number and it suffered for it: It is hard to play a ballad this soulful when you have thousands of screaming girls rendering you unable to hear yourself sing. I couldn’t even listen to a live version of this, so distracting did I find their overwhelmed and overwhelming fans so God knows how they coped. Well the answer is clear. They didn’t. Soon it would be miming. And then the touring stopped. Mum was right. If you don’t appreciate your toys they get taken off you.
Favourite Bit: Tough one. I love the musical arrangement but I think the intro wins the day as it is what made me fall for the song. In particular the line ’cause I’ve been in love before, and I found that love was more… than just holding hands.’ You don’t say.
49. Got to Get You Into my Life (1966) Rolling Stone List Ranking: 50 (so close!)
Main Composer: McCartney
This song is so joyful, like someone has just come away from an excellent first date and decided to throw a hopeful parade in celebration of the affection they feel for their new relationship. And that is pretty much what this song was inspired by…Sort of…
Listening to the soaring vocal, the jaunty horns and soulful expression of happiness it all sounds quite innocent, until the refrain of the title: ‘Got to get you into my life’ A trifle menacing, a little bit desperate and shouty…Who is McCartney so keen on? Who has he discovered that he needs every single day of his life?
Check the year. Check the album. Yes, this is a ‘Revolver’ track. You with me? This is a song written by McCartney about his brand new love affair…with drugs. And no, this is not like with ‘Lucy…’ where people have decided what the song is about based on subtext. McCartney calls this song his ‘ode to pot’ pointing out it is the same as someone writing about their love of chocolate.
This admission makes the lyrics, which are already good, even better. His declaration that he wants marijuana in good times or bad, for richer, for poorer, that he basically wants to take pot behind a middle school and get it pregnant, makes the happy clappy tambourine jam suddenly seem quite unhealthy and worrying. And then of course you think to yourself: Why was I ok with this chat when I thought it was about a woman? How is putting your hopes, dreams and fears on another human being any wiser than investing in drugs? Which is more likely to hurt you and leave you fucked in the head? Yeah that is right. I am getting DEEP guys.
I love the way the song fades out to McCartney shouting repeated phrases from the track…It works as a slightly ominous warning to the danger of obsessive love, of any sort. Whether it be a person, weed, food, boxsets, wine or all of the above…You will end up stuck on an endless loop of repetitive and destructive behaviour while trying to convince yourself it is still as good as it ever was between you. Hey, as long as it helps more than it hurts…right?
Favourite Bit: This is a great McCartney vocal throughout, apparently being high as a kite didn’t stop him singing good, but I love his barking delivery of the line ‘Got to get you into my life!’ The 60’s sounded fun. If only some people who were there had some stories about how good it was…
48. Here, There and Everywhere (1966) Rolling Stone List Ranking: 25
Main Composer: McCartney
Another McCartney penned ‘Revolver’ track about committing to love only this one really was about a woman: Jane Asher. While they spent a lot of time apart pursuing their passions and did eventually split around ’68, she often inspired some wonderfully heartfelt tracks and some of the best work McCartney ever did. This song was penned while he was hanging out at Lennon’s waiting for him to wake up. He sat by the pool, strumming his guitar and it was done by the time his slumber-devoted bandmate emerged.
‘Here, There and Everywhere’ to me is like the audio equivalent of sunshine returning after a dark day. It is cautiously optimistic, like that little sigh after a string of sneezes. So sweet, soothing and contented. There are so many little touches that are simultaneously straightforward musical ideas and truly inspired moments of innovation. I wish I was more knowledgeable about musical stuff so I could tell you exactly what I mean…Ok let me try…How many male singers could get away with singing in falsetto for an entire track without really grating on the ear? Unlike others I could mention (Oh hi Chris Martin, how are the kids?) it doesn’t sound like he is showing off for the sake of it but creating a sound that worked for the tone of the track. McCartney remembers it as doing a Marianne Faithful impression. Look her up. He could have done well good on Stars on their Eyes.
And let’s not not forget his team mates: The other three are doing some solid and very basic back up work that does not overshadow McCartney’s vocal but does enhance the song and sound great. Then there is the wonderful contrast between the major chords in the verses and the tonic minor in the middle 8, that flows so neatly, assisting the narrative of the song, the aforementioned cautious optimism. After all, theirs was not an easy love affair. But it had its moments. This was one of them.
Favourite Bit: I love the shift in the ‘I want her everywhere’ sections, especially the ominous guitar scale running behind the scenes. Just dandy.
47. I Wanna Be Your Man (1963) Rolling Stone List Ranking: N/A
Main Composer: McCartney (Lennon helped)
It might seem the behaviour of someone who is not well to place this song above some of the previously mentioned tracks. This sounds as rushed as it was and, after all, it is a Ringo vocal. Well I am not going to sit here and try and convince you this song outranks the likes of ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Please Please Me’ musically but then it might take me a while to write anything as hearing ‘I Wanna be Your Man’ always results in me standing up, throwing my head back and forth while dancing like I have been cast in ‘Pulp Fiction’ without pausing for breath for the entirety of its 2 minute run. And joining in the ‘owww!’ moments, naturally. I really like how much fun it is, right from that quick little intro to the yowling chorus…and then it is over. Oh. Ok. Just one more time…Sorry…excuse me…
8 plays later…Oh yeah. This writing…thing. Ok. So. The track was written for The Rolling Stones and they released it rather than The Beatles. This was actually The Stones’ second single. Really think about that. There was a time when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were new to the scene. They were…young. And didn’t resemble haunted trees in an animated film. And were apparently not confident enough in their own penmanship to compose all their own tracks. The story goes that The Beatles were hanging out with The Stones while they were recording (oh to be a fly on that wall) and offered up the half done track. They went off to a corner to complete the song, much the astonishment of The Stones who were inspired by the speed of the dream team and went on to do pretty well themselves as song writers. The early 60’s really were the stuff dreams were made of huh? As long as you were a young skinny white male with a guitar, I suppose.
While Brian Jones’s slide guitar sounds great on The Stones version I don’t like Jagger’s vocal nearly as much as Ringo’s. Ringo’s speed, his distinctive rhythm and his joyful ‘good golly’ Teddy Boy breathless wonderment just sells the hell out of this song for me.
Lennon was not complimentary, pointing out any song that was composed for the purpose of Ringo taking the lead that was then given away to a rival band was never going to be a song worthy of comment. I disagree mate, and here is my comment: It makes me dance all crazy. And Ringo lead to drummers being properly considered part of the band, with his little platform so he could be seen. And I like the song. So there. Ok that was quite a few comments…back to dancing! I wanna be your lover baby…I wanna be your man…
Favourite Bit: How fast it goes! Just speeds by! Wheee! Sorry I am off to dance again…
46. All I’ve Got to Do (1963) Rolling Stone List Ranking: 97
Main Composer: Lennon
It has been said that this is the first rock and roll track where the bass player played chords as a vital part of the song. It has also been duly noted that this was Lennon trying to do his Smokey Robinson and the Miracles thing. It has been widely acknowledged that all of the guys wanted to be Smokey, and his vocal and musical influence is all over ‘Meet the Beatles.’ Another piece of trivia for you is they never performed this one live as the stop and start thing would have been too complicated to work out what with all the screaming kiddlers ruining the musical nuances parading the work of the Fab Four. It has also been said that another reason they never did it live is the other band members struggled to remember how it went, as they recorded it moments after Lennon played it for the first time to McCartney. It was not rehearsed or anything so nobody really knew what they were doing.
Now we have got all that out of the way let me say why this song ranks in the top half of my Beatles list. Had I been a teenager in the 60’s (wistful sigh) I suspect this track would have been the moment I starting sticking posters of Lennon on my bedroom wall, drawing hearts round his face on my record sleeves and doodling: ‘Mrs Emma Lennon’ on my work books. Seriously. I LOVE this vocal performance. It is just…dreamy. He is singing right at me. All he has to do is call and I will be there and we will kiss and it will be nice. Yeah!
Lennon was not a fan of his singing voice and once he discovered studio trickery would do anything to avoid hearing his voice in its purest form. As I have discussed in previous editions, McCartney had the technically superior voice but both of them had immeasurable strengths as leading men. Lennon’s vocal here carries weight as he has a way of injecting a lot of meaning into his lyrics without ever over egging it. His voice has this wonderful throaty quality that just carries through even when he is talking about the most generic things. And…Sigh. He just had to call on me. He just had to call on me.
Favourite Bit: Easily the emotional kick of the bridge, ‘You just gotta call on me’ and his little cry of ‘oh’ He was one of my first loves. Well crushes. And what is the difference anyway? When you feel it, it is real.
45. I’ve Just Seen a Face (1965) Rolling Stone List Ranking: 58
Main Composer: McCartney
In the first part of this saga, I admitted that I started working on this list years ago. As a result, the order has shifted about quite a bit but I decided just to commit to the ranking I had chosen. Having said that, I really feel the need to confess that I have grown to adore this song, this song that I had not heard prior to my decision to gather all of their works together and listen to the albums in the order in which they were recorded, making notes as I went. This song. This wonderful, wonderful song. This song that makes my heart bounce. Forgive me James Paul McCartney. This deserves a much higher ranking than 45.
It is a straight up high tempo country song, right down to the slight twang on his Liverpudlian accent. From the intro, to the sing along chorus, the fast paced lyrics to the repeated howl of frustration: ‘Falling! Yes I am falling! And she keeps calling…me back again’ this is as loveable a 2 minute declaration of infatuation that ever I did hear y’all.
The lyrical wordplay matched with the dizzying pace is just perfect: Try singing along. It is harder than it looks. It is a surprisingly complex mash up of words that fall out in perfect order in the recording, but performing it live would be a challenge. McCartney has pointed out that it works because it is instant: Each line demands the next. It is a curious beast, pretty unique in style and execution (it is country/blue grass without a banjos and fiddles) and it stood out to me right away in how unlike the rest of The Beatles sound it is. Maybe that is why it has grown on me. It is not easily mixed up with another song. It is a glimmering jewel that is not trotted out whenever The Beatles get honoured for something. So when it pops up it is a delightful reminder of how easily, how comfortably, they could skip genres.
I always imagine someone singing this in a musical with a long tracking shot and lots of lamppost spinning a la Gene Kelly. That is what I see in my head. Sometimes, if I am in a good mood, it is me.
Favourite Bit: While I love the break neck speed of the verses and the twangy guitar, I get endless joy hollering: ‘Falling! yes I am falling! and she keeps calling…me back again’
44. You’ve Got to Hide your Love Away (1965) Rolling Stone List Ranking: 31
Main Composer: Lennon
This is a seriously cool song. But I still can’t listen to it without singing in my best Bob Dylan voice. I mean…come on! Lennon went through a prolonged phase of idolising Zimmerman but this almost sounds like he had just given up being John and decided just to be a tribute act to his hero instead. Both Lennon and McCartney commented on it so I am not just being cynical. It really smacks of American folk music and Lennon growls and mumbles like the Godfather of jangly rock himself.
So why do I like it? Pretending to be Dylan kind of suits Lennon. Unlike Bob himself, Lennon can actually hit some notes and inject some honest to God feelings into his words and with the unusual absence of the other boys singing back up (press play again if you want to check) it comes across as a resigned, vulnerable confessional, performed by a folk pro. The chorus is memorable and there are some distinctive choices like the presence of both a tenor and an alto flute, snare, tambourine and maracas. With all of that going on, it should sound like an overstuffed mess but instead it sounds more stripped back and raw than ever. The perfect gazing out of a window while it rains song. And another that is barely 2 minutes long! How do they do that???
Some believe this was written as an ode to The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein who was gay but not openly so due to the fact that, get this, such ‘practice’ was still illegal in the UK at the time. Much has been written about Brian’s relationship with John, none of it conclusive. Some say they had sex, some say Brian wanted him but John wouldn’t hear of it, it has been said that John was so far in the closet that he was chilling with the fawns…I can’t really pretend to have any idea. Still 50 years have passed and there are still people out there who don’t like the idea of same sex relationships for…reasons. Reasons I can’t even pretend to comprehend or relate to but reasons that mean there are still many, many people who have to pretend, confess, tread softly, deny, announce, sacrifice and bury their thoughts and feelings in an attempt to remain on solid ground. So adding Brian’s fear, façade and painfully short life into the mix of what was already a pretty melancholy tune just highlights that Lennon wasn’t the only one needing help when The Beatles were at their height.
Favourite Bit: I love the musical arrangement, the little ‘hey’ in the chorus, but most of all I love the lyrics, especially the line: ‘Feeling two foot small’ It was supposed to be two foot tall but Lennon said small by accident and left it in commenting that: ‘the pseuds will love it’ He had a point.
43. I’m Looking Through You (1965) Rolling Stone List Ranking: N/A (Seriously?!)
Main Composer: McCartney
I am quite shocked this didn’t cut it for Rolling Stone. So far, I have accepted that perhaps they know more than me but…Didn’t they love snarky McCartney? I LOVE snarky McCartney! It very nearly rhymes and man, was he passive aggressive when Asher had pissed him off. Those frustrated rocker growls at the end of the chorus, his snarling insistence that love has a ‘nasty habit’ of disappearing overnight, and his belief that he has seen though her. Ouch. I really love the melody, the melodrama of the lyric and McCartney’s vocal which has some great screamer moments. Also, Ringo plays a matchstick box. So what’s not to love about that??? Get it together Rolling Stone Magazine!
He actually wrote the song at her family home, where a lot of his post argument compositions came from. The emotional baggage is raw and selfish: She went to have her own career and he felt this meant he was free to find someone else as she was gone. This might be fair (wait for it) if he hadn’t been in the most successful and busy band of all time. And he really complained because she wanted to study acting in another city to the one he happened to be in??? Jeez Macca. Grow up.
In subsequent and countless interviews and biographies McCartney admitted he was very self involved at this age, he was so used to being nakedly admired and desired that he just couldn’t accept it when he didn’t get his way. It must be really interesting to be a musician and to write autobiographical songs like this and listen to it back cringing at your younger self. It must be like having your diary published or something. There you are, forever a twenty something, jumped up, ego maniac, who wasn’t ready to commit to a relationship with someone who didn’t worship you, like you felt you deserved. How do you deal with that? I suppose you can laugh about it. Or you can just convince yourself you are different now so it is ok. We all change and evolve and make room for the possibility that others may be just as important as us. Isn’t that right Paul?
Favourite Bit: Ooh the lower vocal on the bridge: ‘Why tell me why did you not treat me right? Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight’ Just…Just…God…I want to go back in time and slap him.
42. I Feel Fine (1964) Rolling Stone List Ranking: 42 (Hey!)
Main Composer: Lennon
So was it? Do you know? I don’t.
So here it is. One of the most controversial and possibly ground breaking opening two seconds to any song ever in the whole entire universe.
Was it the first time anyone had ever used feedback on a record?
I don’t know. Nobody is paying me to do this. I am writing it for fun. So I don’t know. But for argument’s sake let us say it was at least one of the first. That is pretty good. Lennon claims it for The Beatles anyway as he defies anyone to find a record that did it deliberately. According to George Martin, feedback was a regular occurrence in Beatles Land as Lennon always turned the volume up too high on the amplifier causing that distinctive grumble that welcomes ‘I Feel Fine’ to the fold.
Let’s leave that particular moment aside and pay attention to what happens next. What a groovy riff. What a cool bit of guitar playing. Harrison is fairly dismissive of his and Lennon’s work on this track, pointing out any blues riff with that tempo sound this way, citing the similarity it has to a wonderful track by Bobby Parker called ‘Watch Your Step.’ He is not wrong. But still, ‘I Feel Fine’ has earned its right to be called unique: it has that wonderful shift in the middle 8 to a real happy ‘early days Beatles sound’ and then back to the runner about his baby loving him and feeling fine about it.
And then there is Ringo. Yes, ladies and gents. It is that time again where I try and convince you that Ringo is a good drummer. Nay, a great one. Open your ears. Look past the gloriously obvious. It is like…properly rhythmically interesting. And unique. And just…Ok guys come on please just admit he is good ok?! He is more than keeping up with the others and even adding some calypso flavouring to proceeding. Credit where credit is due. Plus in one of the promo videos he rides an exercise bike. So there’s that.
I enjoy the smugness of the lyric: ‘She’s in love with me and I feel fine’ Like: ‘Yep…job done’ I feel like it should be delivered by Burt Reynolds while he is reclining on a hammock. It is full of slightly sickly lines about ‘little girls’ (EWWW) but Lennon et co imbue the song with enough enthusiasm to make it a pleasure to listen to anyway. So the feedback was cool, the guitar sounds good, the drums are fantastic, it has elements of blues/rock/pop/folk/country/calypso, the vocals are charming…For once Rolling Stone and I agree and it feels finnnnnnne…
Favourite Bit: Has to be the intro. That riff, that sound…So awesome.
41. Helter Skelter (1968) Rolling Stone List Ranking: 52
Main Composer: McCartney
While this should have been made clear by now, perhaps it needs to be said in very blunt terms: McCartney was a competitive mofo. Some have credited him with preemptively inventing heavy metal, a claim which is something of a stretch but it is hard to deny that ‘Helter Skelter’ is noisy. One of my favourite facts I have come across so far is that this crazy array of crashing, bashing and smashing was made possible by my other favourite band.
McCartney was farting about in Scotland when he read a piece talking about The Who’s ‘I Can See for Miles.’ Now the story is either that it was a review of the song or Townsend boasting about it and no source seems to share the same quote. But essentially the offending publication claimed that The Who had created the most outrageously loud and raunchy rock n roll track in the history of all the world ever. Intrigued, McCartney sought it out, expecting I Can See for Miles to be teeming with screaming vocals and heavy vibes…He felt underwhelmed by the song, as it was not what he was imagining and so set out to make his own raunchy, noisy mess. The result is of course, ‘Helter Skelter’
Oh and yes I know what/who this song is associated with and no I am not going to talk about it. That’s all I am going to say about that. You want to know more, you know where Google is.
McCartney also resented the stick he got for writing sentimental ballads and wanted to prove there was more to his abilities than that by writing a song about a children’s slide. Fair enough. Another way to read the lyrics is the language of a person who is out of their head on drugs. The boys went a bit method for this and all the people working at the studio, such as the sound engineer, agree that the group were somewhat under the influence during the recording of this song. The documented madness includes Lennon refusing to play the tune right and pissing about on a saxophone, Ringo screams of pain after playing the drums for several hours and Harrison setting fire to an ashtray before wearing it like a hat. It all sounds a bit like the Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland. With extra skunk and a baffled sound engineer looking on.
The Beatles are such a critically acclaimed band that they have become a very easy target for music snobs in recent years: To say you don’t like The Beatles makes a hell of a statement, like you are against the idea of music that people of all ages, backgrounds and interests can relate to and just want to sit in a darkened room enjoying music that only you and a niche group of people ‘get.’ My point is, The Beatles are generally regarded and accepted as one of the best and most important things to happen to music, full stop. That is why it is always interesting to me to come across a track like this one where the critics, both then and now, are divided. The boys have plenty songs that people dismiss as ‘not their best work’ but this one seems to be polarising: People either think it was them at the peak of their innovation with ‘Helter Skelter’ paving the way for Metal itself or they think it the groaning, clumsy work of a bunch of hippies high off their own power. And drugs.
Me? I fall somewhere in the middle in that I love it, I really love listening to it, but artistically I think it is total nonsense. But who cares? I don’t. Not when I get to hear that McCartney scream. As I have said, it is my favourite colour in his vocal, when he really lets rip, and it is on great form here. I love the trippy, out of tune bass and saxophone, I love the way it descends into noisy cymbals and strange gurgling guitars, I love the confident intro, the taunting lyrics, the false ending and the way the noise fades in again and I love, love, love the unprocessed moment of Ringo throwing down his drums sticks, following Lennon innocently asking ‘How was that?’ and howling: ‘I’VE GOT BLISTERS ON MY FINGERS!’ I love that they kept that take, I love they didn’t polish this particular turd, because this song was meant to sound raw and heavy. A furious crashing of buzzing joy, simultaneously a shot of adrenalin and a song that crushes your spirit.
I will always have a place in my soul for ‘Helter Skelter,’ one of the most gloriously untidy songs the Fab Four ever produced. Even though when I am listening to it I am impatiently waiting for that ending…Possibly my favourite way any song has ever concluded.
Favourite Bit: Never has the question been easier. Say it with me now: ‘I GOT BLISTERS ON MY FINGERS!!!’
Next Time…The band flirt with getting political, Lennon thinks his bum looks big in this and the music world is set alight by the arrival of a military man…40-31