Saturday, June 10, 2017

Ranking Beatles Songs

Over at Vulture, Bill Wyman (not the metal detecting amateur archaeologist Bill Wyman) takes us through his personal ranking of all 213 songs by The Beatles, a fundamentally silly but entertaining exercise.  In the process it becomes apparent he does not appear to actually like most Beatles songs.  He particularly undervalues their songs from the post She Loves You and pre-Revolver era, with what I think is a deficient appreciation for the lovely melodies and harmonies of many of those tunes (unfortunately it is very difficult to find original Beatles on YouTube so no links on this post).

Here's the full list.  Have a go at it yourself.

At the bottom end he makes some inexplicably bad choices.  Ranked last at #213 is Good Day Sunshine; not top-flight but far from their worst, though he correctly puts the execrable She's Leaving Home from Sgt Pepper at 204.

I'll Be Back at 189?  Listen to the harmonies.  A gorgeous tune.  The same with No Reply at 173.

And he then has I Don't Want To Spoil The Party and Yes It Is at 176 and 161, respectively.  Both "minor" songs from the 1965 era, but both with beautiful harmonies, melodies and lyrics.

I'm A Loser is 146 on his list, an obvious mistake.  It's one of the Top 50 Beatles songs.

Ranking Tell Me Why at 127 and calling it "a bit . . . eh" illustrates the difference between Wyman's taste and mine.  I love Tell Me Why.  The lyrics are trite but the sheer exuberance of the performance makes for exhilarating listening.  Lennon's vocal is astonishing good and once again, we have great harmonies.

Wyman has the terrible Fool On The Hill at 107, higher than We Can Work It Out (109), another classic by the Fab Four, easily surpassing Fool with lyrics, melody, harmonies and arrangement.

On the flip side, I agree with many of his Top 50 with some exceptions.  The Long And Winding Road (45) is lousy and bloated by Phil Spector's overproduction.  Too bad it was their last single.  And Your Bird Can Sing (33) is not terrible, but not top-notch.  I Saw Her Standing There at 21 and Lovely Rita (19) leave me shaking my head.  Nowhere Man (17) was one of their worst singles.  George Harrison's Something (13) is quite good but doesn't come close to Here Comes The Sun (16) his best effort with the band.

The author ranks the Abbey Road medley as 22 through 29, but that's too easy.  The second side contains brilliant songs like You Never Give Me Your Money, along with miserable pieces like Sun King, and several song fragments.

Here's his Top 10 with my comments.

10. Rain.  Don't know if it's Top 10 but it is an under appreciated song and definitely Top 25.
9.   Eleanor Rigby.  Yes.  And Giles Martin's re imagining the song for the Love album is even better.
8.   Norwegian Wood.  Good but not Top 10.
7.   Here, There and Everywhere.  One of my least favorite Beatles songs.
6.   Dear Prudence.  OK, but not great.
5.   Please Please Me.  Their second single and first #1 in the UK.  It captures the excitement of the early Beatles.  Great tune.
4.   She Loves You.  Nope.
3.   Penny Lane.  Catchy.  Outstanding production and instrumentation. Not Top 10.
2.   Strawberry Fields Forever.  Yes, Yes, Yes.
1.   A Day In The Life.  As a 16-year old I would have said yes but don't feel it's held up well over the years.  As a musical historical artifact it is a milestone but no longer a Beatles Top 10 for me.  

I've never done my own formal ranking but a few years ago put together a playlist with the Beatles songs I most like listening to repeatedly.  It has 52 songs so it's basically my top 25% of their songs.  Here is the list chronologically from earliest to latest (with Wyman's rankings in parens):

Twist & Shout (43)
Please Please Me (5)
I Saw Her Standing There (21)
It Won't Be Long (133)
All I've Got To Do (159)
All My Loving (92)
Tell Me Why (127)
Things We Said Today (73)
I'll Cry Instead (37)
You Can't Do That (53)
I'll Be Back (189)
No Reply (173)
I'll Follow The Sun (122)
I'm A Loser (146)
I Feel Fine (63)
I Don't Want To Spoil The Party (176)
Every Little Thing (198)
What You're Doing (168)
Help! (36)
You're Going To Lose That Girl (57)
Ticket To Ride (18)
The Night Before (77)
Drive My Car (38)
Day Tripper (30)
We Can Work It Out (109)
What Goes On (174)
You Won't See Me (71)
If I Needed Someone (83)
Rain (10)
I'm Only Sleeping (84)
Eleanor Rigby (9)
Tomorrow Never Knows (12)
She Said She Said (11)
Doctor Robert (121)
For No One (34)
Strawberry Fields Forever (2)
With A Little Help From My Friends (86)
Fixing A Hole (150)
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (68)
Hey Bulldog (89)
Blackbird (31)
Back In the USSR (47)
Happiness Is A Warm Gun (110)
Revolution (56)
Long Long Long (147)
Everybody's Got Something To Hide, Except Me & My Monkey (144)
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (32)
Here Comes The Sun (16)
Mean Mr Mustard (24)
Polythene Pam (25)
You Never Give Me Your Money (22)
Let It Be (15)

Looking more closely at the list I realize 35 of 52 are from the pre-Sgt Pepper era (1963-66).  

Now that I'm obsessing about Beatles songs, I went back through the entire list and identified those of their songs I do not like and am okay never hearing again.  It totalled 74 tunes, including eleven covers, several singles (Lady Madonna, All You Need Is Love, Nowhere Man, Love Me Do, Yellow Submarine, Hello Goodbye, The Long and Winding Road, and The Ballad of John and Yoko), along with a bunch of Harrison songs (seven, to be exact).  That leaves 139 songs I like and can listen to repeatedly or 65% of everything they recorded.  A pretty good batting average.

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