Sometimes people ask me if I have the full list of my Beatles ranking already planned out or if it’s a work in progress that I’ve been assembling as I write them up. (Yes, people do ask me about the list. Yes, I do have friends. “Hey, we were just talking about the list. Nobody was saying you didn’t have friends, Anthony.” The tone was implied.) Well, if you’re dying to know how the game is played, the art of the trade, and how the sausage gets made, yes, the ranking is fully complete and safe in my possession, despite the efforts of desperate Russian hackers trying to get their hands on it who have dejectedly turned to meddling in American politics instead.
Vladimir Putin’s favorite Beatles song is “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” so he’s had it out for me ever since I ranked it at #193.
From time to time, I hear a song, wonder where it is on the list, and then react with appalled rage that it’s so low. Surely I made a mistake when I compiled things! How could I have put this brilliant work of art at the low ranking of [insert any number greater than 5]? Then I start looking at the songs directly above it…go a little further up the list…and realize that I can’t bump any of them any lower. Once in a while, I might take another listen and boost something three or four slots, but it’s becoming a common problem especially as the list continues. There’s just too many damn good songs to consider.
Seeing “Norwegian Wood” ranked at #86 shook me initially, but again, I look at the rest of what’s to come, and I have to go to bat for those 85 songs yet to show up. They’re all awesome. “Norwegian Wood” is awesome too, and unlike anything else the Beatles had released up to that point for several reasons.
- The sitar: George Harrison encountered the sitar on the set of Help! earlier in 1965, and bought himself “a real crummy-quality one.” Though his tutelage under Ravi Shankar was still a few months away, George offered up his elementary sitar skills when the band decided to spice up “Norwegian Wood” with something different. It wasn’t the first instance of Indian influence on pop music, but soon enough the sitar was popping up in songs by the Rolling Stones, the Monkees, and even Elvis Presley.
- The subject matter: The Beatles had long moved on from the “me to you” era by 1965, but with a few exceptions (notably the title track from Help! and the song that’s about to pop up at #85), their output up to this point still consisted largely of impersonal love songs. Though the lyrics to “Norwegian Wood” are deliberately vague, they actually recount an affair John Lennon was having. It seems so abundantly obvious once you know that–the lyrics are so incriminatingly specific, but also so arrestingly mundane–but in hindsight, it feels incredibly bold that John would commit his infidelity to record.
- The twist(ed) ending: Now, aside from “Weird Al” Yankovic, most pop stars make for lousy role models. So I don’t think John Lennon committing adultery comes as much of a surprise to most readers. But arson?! Ok, so this part of “Norwegian Wood” is facetious–I hope–but take a closer listen to the last two lines of the song. The narrator wakes up to find his lady friend is gone. “So I lit a fire / isn’t it good, Norwegian wood?” I’ll go out on a limb and say that he didn’t chop some wood, place it under the chimney, get cozy under a blanket, and pour himself a cup of hot cocoa here.