The very solipsistic countdown continues with the penultimate five in the list.
For the uninitiated, I’ve been trying over the past week to decide (i.e. write about) my favorite Beatles songs to celebrate iTunes’ (not really) historic acquisition of the band’s catalog. Honestly, it’s a chance for me to codify my favorite songs of theirs and create a venue where I can write about them. Check out Parts 1, 2, and 3 in the series so far. And check back, of course, in the next couple of days as I finish up the list with my 5 favorite Beatles songs. Obvious picks and heretic dark horses will abound. I promise.
10. And Your Bird Can Sing – Lennon dismissively called this song “fancy paper around an empty box.” I’m not sure what his hang-up was, but I’ve always loved the warm and fuzzy tones of those Rickenbackers singing. It’s obvious that Lennon thought it was a throwaway; he couldn’t figure out how to end the thing. The song abruptly cuts before Lennon has figured out how to treat such a gem-like melody. But the song, for me, is a testament that even in the midst of a troubled composition, Lennon and McCartney could dash off an unforgettable song.
9. Helter Skelter – An illustrated definition of irony: The Beatles’ resident sweetheart also happened to compose the band’s most devastatingly loud fuck-all; a song written by visionary love children becomes the rallying cry of a sociopathic cult leader.
8. We Can Work It Out – It’s all too easy to make too much of Lennon and McCartney’s duet here. On the surface, yes, McCartney plays the eternal optimist to Lennon’s clear-eyed realist. McCartney’s snappy verses contrast sharply with Lennon’s mournful harmonium in the middle sections. But Lennon yearns to be more cooperative: “There’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend.” And McCartney is more prickly than he initially appears: he keeps on insisting that his audience listen to him. Lennon and McCartney were always a balanced study in contrast blah blah blah. “We Can Work It Out” is the most balanced composition in The Beatles’ catalog blah blah blah. But any band that sneaks in a pessimistic waltz section in the middle of an A side written in sturdy 4/4 is a band obviously ahead of its time.
7. Rocky Raccoon – A couple of months ago, I got into a relatively heated argument with a co-worker about “Rocky Raccoon.” I tried to convince him that that song was my favorite Beatles song ever. I contended that it was their most narratively satisfying song and that the Old West heroics pastiche was clever and charming. I still think all of this is true, but the real reason that I love “Rocky Raccoon” is that my college roommate and I convinced an entire floor of our dorm to adore this song. There were at least a dozen times when our room was filled with drunk college kids singing about poor Rocky’s revenge tragedy.
6. Eleanor Rigby – The quiet existential lament for the inevitability of death. That’s heavy stuff from the mop-tops who just a few years before sang about wanting to holing some girl’s hand. The band managed to turn their most desolate ballad into their most humane song. Essentially, “Eleanor Rigby” is a two minute distillation of the entire corpus of Samuel Beckett, from the howling loneliness of Krapp’s Last Tape to the abject bleakness of Endgame. But instead of allowing poor Eleanor to stand in for the futility of the human condition, McCartney keeps us grounded in the character. The life of quiet desperation is Eleanor’s entirely; it just happens to reflect our lives.