(Not Yet) The Worst of the Beatles

English: Photograph of The Beatles as they arr...

I fell into a deep Beatles rabbit hole in the last couple of months and only recently emerged. I had all these observations and thoughts on the Beatles and wanted to write them up while the effects of the spell were still somewhat recent. The first was a definitive list of the worst Beatles songs. But while that’s an interesting, if not original, idea, I realized the more surprising observations were on what weren’t the worst Beatles songs once I started looking for them.

Their First Album is Actually Pretty Great

I think I had this notion that the Beatles had a quality trajectory like Frank Sinatra’s, where they recorded hours of trifling pop syrup before evolving into greatness. Or that their early records watered down the primal force of ’50s rock or something. That was so very wrong. The first Beatles album is not only an amazing garage band document, but it’s somehow both refines and roughs up rock ‘n’ roll. “Love me Do” is the Everly Brothers stripped down to the bone. “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” is almost like a hip hop collage of the “best parts” of then Phil Spector, Elvis and Little Richard, reduced to something you could play with two guitars and three singers. Once you get past the corniness, it’s great.

Ringo Songs are Some of the Best Beatles Songs

Writers of worst of Beatles lists generally make a point to harsh on “Octopus’ Garden” or sometimes even “A Little Help From my Friends.” I am not sure what happened to them that turned them against friendship, being nice to people and things that are charming, but I hope they someday get the help they need.

Ringo doesn’t have much of range, but he has personality. Also, the songs are smartly written to accommodate him and if you break them down, there’s a surprising amount of songcraft going on. On “Yellow Submarine,” the chords basically change every fourth word, making the song incredibly easy to sing.

On a Song by Song Basis, Sgt. Pepper is Unassailable

Obviously, the above the fold headline hits are amazing. But while I expected to find the song that ruins it for everybody, I realized that there isn’t one. George Harrison’s sitar song is great. “Mr. Kite” is wonderful. “Good Morning” and “It’s Getting Better” are jarringly pleasant avant pop. “Lovely Rita” only seems like a trifle because it’s in the middle of so much amazingness; on almost any other record, it would be the best song by virtue of the piano solo alone. The worst song is “Fixing a Hole,” which is just merely really good.

Let it Be Has Some Good Songs

The hits are sub par, but there’s gold to be mined, particularly the return to Everly Brothers harmonies with “The Two of Us” and the two-chord rave-up of “I’ve got a Feeling.” The album on the whole is probably the worst songwriting of their career and swapping George Martin for Billy Preston was obviously a major mistake, but they hit some solid grooves and it’s nice to hear their voices mingle without a million overdubs.

So, one of these days I’ll get around to writing the actual list of bad songs. Writing this now, I wonder if maybe the optimism inherent in the Beatles made me dwell on the positive first. In any event, the knives will come out soon.

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