5. Martha, My Dear – I’ve always secretly loved the term chamber pop. It suggests a kind of elegantly intricate songcraft that got co-opted by a bunch of sensitive guys with acoustic guitars. But I like to imagine that “Martha, My Dear” is the pinnacle of the power of chamber pop. This cooly English love poem begins innocently enough, but soon McCartney’s gentle voice soon on that winkingly soulful edge that he occasionally flashed. The song is so meticulously composed that it often sounds like filigreed soul or baroque rhythm and blues, which is basically the essential sound of Paul McCartney.
4. Here, There, and Everywhere – The Beatles’ response to The Beach Boys’ perfect pop symphony, Pet Sounds, is this tender song. But whereas Wilson’s melodies were gracefully curved, McCartney’s best melody was a smeary wash that could still compete with anything from Pet Sounds. This swooning dream of a song is just so unabashedly pretty. It feels almost too delicate, too fragile to bear the weight of its praises. In fact, it even feels weird to sing along to it. It’s like watching a newly-married couple dance and insisting on cutting in the middle of the song. Just sit down, drink your drink, and admire the lovely scenery.
3. A Day in the Life – From the suicide that opens that song to McCartney’s mid-day reverie to that final chord that rings like an awakening consciousness, “A Day in the Life” is out-and-out masterpiece of song-craft and production-craft. But beyond the song’s obvious importance, it’s a hauntingly disembodied narrative that just barely tells a story: a man shoots himself at a traffic light, our narrator watches a film in a dingy theater, another man altogether goes about his day. Ranging from mundane to tragic, “A Day in the Life” is a sort of pop Ulysses for those who never had the time or the patience for Joyce.
2. Hey Jude – The Beatles were ultimately a life-affirming band. And nowhere is their optimism more potent and genuine and affecting than on “Hey Jude.” Originally penned as a pep-talk to Lennon’s son Julian, who was stressed about his parents’ divorce, the song has taken on a life of its own. From that first striking piano chord to the long, soulful ride into silence, “Hey Jude” has to be the most universally beloved Beatles song. Everyone loves this song: children, future soccer moms, frat boys, sensitive boys and girls, hack punk rockers, kids with new snare drums, sweet old guys, this fucking guy, Wilson Pickett loved the song harder than almost anyone else, and on and on and on . . .
1. Twist and Shout - Rock n Roll was originally slang for fucking. Not sex, not whoopie, and certainly not making love. Fucking. “Twist and Shout,” then, is the ultimate rock n roll song because it is the ultimate song about wanting to fuck someone. I mean, listen to Lennon make a fetish of this young girl’s hips. He sounds dangerous; he sounds like a hormonal animal pulsing with blinding lust. He sounds like he’s tearing out his own throat. In a sense, this is exactly why button-down America collectively freaked out about the prospect of rock n roll. These guys wanted to fuck your daughters, and they weren’t ashamed to scream it at the top of their lungs. What’s more, it’s clear that these good daughters wanted to fuck right back. And The Beatles were giving them permission: ”C’mon and work it on out!” The song subverts an entire moral order: it undermines the stiffling hegemony of procreation and argues for a redefined natural order premised on the idea that men and women can and should do what they please in their short lives, that women have an inherent sexual agency, that rock n roll is a form of salvation that delivers more kicks than a stuffy church. This song will forever cement the promise of rock n roll: it won’t change the world so much as it will change minds. Rock n roll makes promises and expects you to keep them. Rock n roll gives you permission and obliges you to follow through. It expects you to work it on out.