Writing about “Rocky Raccoon” is an inevitably losing proposition. Because no matter what jokes or elementary level of music criticism I’m able to produce, it will not be one iota as good as the lyrics to “Rocky Raccoon.” This is the most clever song the Beatles ever released. Meanwhile, a lot of folks in the media consider my other Beatles write-ups better than the songs themselves. For more info, read the cover story of next month’s Deaf Life magazine.
Let’s look at the characters we meet in “Rocky Raccoon”: Continue reading “#96: Rocky Raccoon”
Ladies and gentlemen, introducing John Lennon, AKA the greatest troll in rock ‘n’ roll. As the Beatles’ lyrics became more…shall we say, obtuse, listeners were determined to interpret what the hell the band–well, let’s be frank and just call Lennon out, because he was the culprit–was talking about. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in 1963? I think I understand. “I Am the Walrus, goo goo g’joob” four years later? Slightly less clear.
Considering what a rock icon Lennon is, it’s borderline bizarre how he approached popular music as a listener. He didn’t like seeing his favorite artists in concert, because live performances never exactly replicated the familiar sound of the records he loved. He also couldn’t fathom why fans would be compelled enough to analyze his lyrics. Why can’t they just turn off their minds and enjoy the music?
So John Lennon got an idea! An awful idea! John Lennon got a wonderful, awful idea!
“I know just what to do,” he said with Continue reading “#97: Glass Onion”
For a guy who maintains a very consistent and particular public persona, Paul McCartney surprisingly often lets his freak flag fly on record. Truth be told, they typically end up becoming some of my favorite songs of his, which probably says more about me than it does about Paul’s willingness to get weird. We all love “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Band on the Run,” but my McCartney collection would be incomplete without oddball gems like “Temporary Secretary,” “Monkberry Moon Delight,” and “Morse Moose and the Grey Goose.”
Maybe the earliest evidence of Paul’s musical wild side is 1967’s “Fixing a Hole,” an eerie slice of psychedelia with lyrics that sound especially deep and thought-provoking at first but it turns out that, once again, Paul is just singing about Continue reading “#98: Fixing a Hole”
I really want to make the case here that “Tell Me What You See” is a lost Beatles masterpiece that deserves more attention. I really want to, but I can’t. It’s a filler track. But it’s a personal favorite. (Well, a 99th favorite.) One of those songs that I rarely seek out, but any time it pops up on shuffle or I’m listening to Help! I smile and think, “Yeah, I like this one.”
It’s pretty charming right out of the gate, with calming percussion and meek, wistful lyrics. As much as I normally Continue reading “#99: Tell Me What You See”
It’s hard to argue that a band that sold over 85 million albums worldwide, were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame on their first year of eligibility, and rivaled U2 as the biggest stadium draw of the 90s could possibly be underrated…but I’m going to do it anyway. After their 2011 breakup, R.E.M.’s legacy has been largely minimized, despite a remarkably consistent 30-year career boasting some of the most iconic songs in rock history. Their impact and influence is still apparent when listening to modern acts like Cloud Nothings and Vampire Weekend, but save for the melancholy “Sweetness Follows” showing up in an episode of 13 Reasons Why, there’s a sadly all-too-real concern that new audiences are not discovering R.E.M. and the band will become a footnote outside of mandolin enthusiast circles and overly optimistic karaoke singers attempting to master the speedy “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”
You’ll only get the “LEONARD BERNSTEIN!” part right and you know it.
While they seem determined to preserve their legacy and brush off any reunion chatter, R.E.M. have consistently offered up 25th anniversary packages for each of their albums (although their incredible debut EP Chronic Town and b-sides compilation Dead Letter Office have been unjustly ignored in this campaign), and what began as two-disc sets featuring the remastered original album plus a live show or demos has evolved into the mammoth Monster package: five CDs and a Blu-Ray, including the aforementioned remaster and both demos and a full concert from the era, as well as an unprecedented remix of the entire record, all packaged in a 76-page book with expansive liner notes and photos. Seems a bit excessive for an album that Continue reading “Understanding the Frequency: A Celebration of R.E.M.’s Monster”
For a couple of months in 1967 and 1968, the Beatles had a running joke/strategy that they were dumping lesser tracks in order to fulfill contractual requirements for the movie Yellow Submarine. But aside from “Only a Northern Song” (incidentally, the lowest-ranking solo George Harrison composition on the countdown), they actually gave the filmmakers some unique and high-quality tracks, from the kid-friendly “All Together Now” to the unsettling rocker “Hey Bulldog” to the feedback-laden proto-grunge of “It’s All Too Much.”
We enter the top 100 with the second George Harrison track in a row, and this lengthy, psychedelic anthem is unlike anything else in the Beatles’ catalog. With loud, shredding guitars, a surprisingly gentle vocal, a possibly superfluous brass section (I go back and forth), and a chaotic organ part, there is a lot to unpack here. The elephant in the room is that Continue reading “#100: It’s All Too Much”
As discussed in the last entry, “Ask Me Why,” the Beatles weren’t always completely cutting-edge, but more often than not, they were wearing a Chuck Berry or R&B influence on their sleeves. “If I Needed Someone” is a rare case where they imitated a contemporary, as the track probably shares a bit too much in common with the Byrds’ “The Bells of Rhymney.” But if you’re going to copy another band, you could do a lot worse than the Byrds (insert obligatory R.E.M. shoutout here).
“Just as the Byrds were influenced by the Beatles, we were influenced by the Byrds,” George Harrison admitted, and it’s clear from the first jangly note of this oddly ambivalent love song. Along with his other Rubber Soul contribution, this is the first Continue reading “#101: If I Needed Someone”
On the surface, this deceptively simple ballad is basically one cliche lyric after another. If you assembled the words to the complete discographies of 1950s teen idols and fed them into some algorithm for a computer to write a love song, “Ask Me Why” would be the output. There’s nothing here that Continue reading “#102: Ask Me Why”
Apparently the most-covered pop song of all time, “Yesterday” is essentially a perfect composition, so don’t be fooled by its ranking just shy of the top 100. When the protagonist began playing it in the recent film of the same name, I got chills, and that was a decidedly flaccid “guitarist on the quad” rendition of the song. But the versions by Ray Charles, Judy Collins, Aretha Franklin, and of course the Beatles’ original are all beautiful blueprints of the possibilities of putting this song in the right hands.
When I say the Beatles, though, I really just mean Paul McCartney, who is the only member of the band involved with its writing and recording. Even when it was performed in concert, John, George, and Ringo would step aside for Paul’s solo spotlight. Despite its generation-spanning appeal, Continue reading “#103: Yesterday”
My affinity for the Beatles’ harmonies is no secret at this point, and “Because” is one of the most stunning examples on record. John, Paul, and George blend together so beautifully here, and major kudos to whoever decided to include an a capella rendition on Anthology 3, because it allows listeners to appreciate their incredible vocals absent of the unsettling, sparse instrumentation found on Abbey Road. It truly transforms the lyrics from ominous to optimistic.
That said, I don’t dislike the original version by any means. It’s kind of creepy but also calming. Despite John Lennon’s claim that “Because” is Continue reading “#104: Because”