The Beatles wrote so many great songs. How can anyone decide what are their ‘best songs’?
Would it be their most popular recordings, the most covered songs, the ones with the best melodies, lyrics, production? Perhaps the ones that were groundbreaking, different, original?
In our previous course on popular music, we looked at what characteristics make a song so wonderful that people remember it over fifty years after it was written. It’s worthwhile having a look when we talk about the Beatles’ repertoire.
At home, I have a book named “The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs (Rolling Stone)“. According to it, here are the leading ones: “A Day in the Life”; “I Want to Hold Your Hand”; “Strawberry Fields Forever”; “Yesterday”; “In My Life”; “Something”; “Hey Jude”; “Let It Be”; “Come Together”; “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. And there are so many lists online.
In this class we’ll study two of these ‘top ten’ songs (in Red, previous page) and two others ranked in the book as # 22 – “Eleanor Rigby” and #82 – “She’s Leaving Home”. I might add that my personal favorite is “Here, There and Everywhere” which is also one of Paul’s favorites (lucky for that). If you are upset about my choices, please post one of your favorites on the next page.
But first this is a great way to spend nine minutes, understanding what makes the Beatles music so wonderful. Rick Beato looks at their short (less than one minute) masterpiece from Abbey Road, “The End”. It’s easier to comprehend if you’re a musician.
puts it all together at 7:30
Or if you’re still in doubt, just listen to Because
(a John Lennon classic, I hasten to add).
Voices together from 6:50
singing starts at 0:29
What makes the song “In My Life” from Rubber Soul so special? Lennon’s transition from just a run-of-the-mill pop writer to a soul searching lyricist? Dylan’s influence? The genius instrumental by George Martin? The great melody? The intro? The homage to Stu Sutcliffe? Or maybe we should just sit back and enjoy the masterpiece?
What makes Eleanor Rigby from Revolver so special? The weird and wonderful lyrics? The strange occurrence of Eleanor Rigby’s tombstone at the church where John and Paul first met? The melody and chords? The accompaniment? You decide.
If you’re not familiar with the song, first go through the lyrics without listening to the song. Then flip the page to hear the instrumental backing (two string quartets, no Beatles). Then go back and listen to the song, paying attention to the music while you hear the singing.
What is so special about “She’s Leaving Home” from “Sgt. Pepper“? If you ask me, I think it’s the interplay between the viewpoint of the young and impatient lover, with the voices of the distressed adult parents. Again, it’s not a rock and roll song that you can dance to, is it (unless you like to waltz).
Look at the lyrics, then listen to the string accompaniment (compare it to the accompaniment to Eleanor Rigby – is it better or not?)
A Day in the Life might be considered their greatest song. Two songs, actually, like an Oreo sandwich, with Paul’s ditty in the middle. The song was revolutionary in several ways, as was the album it comes from (Sargeant Pepper). No wonder it was censored!
A day in the life
And now, my own personal favorite, ever since I saw the original page with the lyrics of the song in the British Museum. I just read that it’s Art Garfunkel’s favorite song. So I am in good company.
One reason I fell in love with this song was Arik Einstein’s cover.
Compare with another lovely melodic love song:
What is special about the accompaniment?
Oh, and one more thing. We all know and love Hey Jude.