Top Five Beatles Songs ... 01.08.2021
DFM Masthead Disenfranchised FM Cuckoo's Eleven Top Five Songs Armchair Producer Music MD Tin Cans Scratch Take Life and Times Input


You say "why?", and I say "I don't know."

When I rebooted Top Five Songs (and this site) two years ago, I imposed a rule that no top five list would include The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. I instituted that rule primarily because it's too easy, rattling off five great songs from the greatest songwriters of our time. It elicits no surprise and warrants as much praise as selecting Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick. You can pick a dead-ringer. Slow clap.

Today, I'm flipping the rule - half way, anyway - and building my 2021 Top Five Songs lists exclusively using Beatles songs. Limiting myself specifically to The Beatles poses other challenges: how can you possibly exclude songs that are deemed poignant enough to beam into space as our world's first communication with the rest of the universe? It's like choosing a favorite child. To be honest, I've never had a song refuse bedtime or gaslight me, maybe doing that with songs isn't so fair?

What makes The Beatles great is that each song in the catalog has the merit of being considered their greatest, if offered in the right context. A friend posed the question just the other day on Facebook: what is The Beatles' best song? Dozens responded with their song choices. Each response was, "Yes, you're right!" It became clearer that their repertoire is so expansive that it's easy to forget how many "best" songs they really have. And so, in an effort to dig deeper into their collective and occasionally their solo work, 2021 will be John & Paul & George & Ringo, just prior to their 60th anniversary as the final Fab Four.

I can't help myself to keep a guardrail or two in place. To keep things straightforward, all LPs, EPs, Singles, and B-sides will be based on the UK Parlophone/Apple Records release structure. Capitol Records was their U.S. distributor, nothing more.

NUMBER FIVE - "Drive My Car"

"She said, 'Listen, babe, I got something to say / I got no car and it's breaking my heart / but I found a driver, and that's a start."

Brian Wilson described Rubber Soul as "the first album I listened to where every song was a gas." It was the album that initiated the artistic rivalry between The Beach Boys and The Beatles, and what's more, it influenced a number of English acts like The Who and The Kinks. Clocking in at a whopping 149 seconds, it's a tight, well-constructed song that introduces a more complex songwriting: a off-meter dueling guitar riff; a more robust lower end to complement Paul's upper register vocals. Lennon's best input was pushing Paul on the lyrics, calling the original "you can buy me diamond rings" hook as crap.

NUMBER FOUR - "I Saw Her Standing There"

"So how could I dance with another?"

Their first take of their first song of their first album. And George Martin knew he had something special when he added the count-in from take nine. Lennon again stole the show by changing "never a beauty queen" to "you know what I mean?" There's nothing else that quite captures being hit by the thunderbolt, as Fabrizzio would say.

NUMBER THREE -"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heats Club Band" [1967]

"So may I introduce to you / the act you've known for all these years."

What if we made an album where we just weren't The Beatles, Paul mused. After all, they had successfully fended off Brian Epstein's pleas to continue touring. No longer tethered to songs they could play live, the possibilities were endless. Fuck it, let's fill this bridge with a french horn quartet. It was more than classical accompaniment: it was breaking the fourth wall, with laugh tracks to boot.

NUMBER TWO - "Help!" [1965]

"My independence seems to vanish in the haze."

Lennon found himself on the movie set fat, depressed, and "an extra in [his] own movie." In the process, he wrote a brutally honest account of his life at the moment, all while teaching a master class on how a sad song could be upbeat.

NUMBER ONE - "A Hard Day's Night" [1964]

"When I'm home, everything seems to be right."

The longing in John's lyrics. The middle eight sung by Paul. The infectious guitar solo, which proved to be so tricky that Martin and Harrison recorded the riff on piano and guitar in an entirely different key, then sped up the tape to match the recording. And that magical, levitating, instantly recognizable opening chord. Hell, there's only one other chord in the canon of modern music, and it's by the same guys. I'm sure there's no need for a spoiler alert; I'll write more about that one later.

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