Four years into their pop reign, “Paperback Writer” broke new ground for the Beatles. It was their heaviest single to date, with grungy guitar licks and hard-hitting drums, and for the first time ever, the lyrics departed from romantic territory into a compelling story about a man trying to publish a book. A dirty story of a dirty man, in fact. Gee, I wonder what it could be?
I realize I’m only ranking it at #68, but “Paperback Writer” deserves a lot more love. It really opened the doors for a lot of the clever experimentation the band would embark on in the following years. And if you’ve never caught them before, pay attention to the backing vocals in the verses. They may sound familiar.
As anyone reading this can well attest, as much as I love writing about music, I don’t really know how to write about music. Like I can’t explain why certain key changes and melodies work. I just know that they do. Hey, none of the Beatles could read music, so I figure I’m in pretty good company.
So with that in mind, I need to highlight one of my favorite hooks in the Beatles’ catalog. “I’ll Get You” could never be anything other than a B-side, but when it comes to the Beatles, that’s not a mark against it. Because Lennon and McCartney delivered some second-tier classics in the early days, and despite their lower rankings, I still find “Ask Me Why” and “PS I Love You” quite charming indeed.
“I’ll Get You” tops them both on account of a specific melodic shift in the line, “When I think aboooouuuuut you, I can say…” It’s a little treat in a song that didn’t need it, but John and Paul still pulled it off immaculately.
Krispy Kreme donuts. The “Mr. Plow” episode of The Simpsons. The Beatles’ harmonies.
“What are three things that are pretty great, Alex?”
For all the division in our society in modern times, I think we as a collective can agree that all of those things are all quite exceptional. (Four if you count Alex Trebek.) I don’t know if it’s possible to gush too much about how amazing the Beatles’ harmonies were, but over the course of their seven-year recording career, John, Paul, and George united in three-part harmony just three times. “This Boy” was the earliest and best–I’ve never liked the maudlin “Yes It Is,” and “Because” is gorgeous, but the longing, impassioned “This Boy” is the greatest Smokey Robinson song he never wrote.
There’s a certain joy and comfort in discovering that someone else shares an uncommon habit or preference of yours. When I find a person who also acknowledges that cereal is far superior without milk, I know I’ve found an ally who will pick up a spoon and go to war with me.
When the inevitable 50th anniversary Let it Be box set is released later this year, there’s one outtake you can safely bet will be omitted. See, it took several attempts before “Get Back” evolved into its final form, and along the way it took…well, let’s go ahead and call it a detour before Paul McCartney becomes a victim of cancel culture.
Pictured: Paul McCartney walking onstage at Coachella 2021
In the version we all know and love enough to rank at #88, the chorus “Get back to where you once belonged” implies a return to one’s roots–in fact, that was even part of the song’s marketing campaign, suggesting that the Beatles had recorded a “pure spring-time rock number” that was “as live as live can be.” But in an earlier draft, it carried a far more sinister message with Continue reading “#88: Get Back”→
With two rather selfish and demanding singles under their belt (“Love ME Do”! “Please Please ME“!), the Beatles finally found themselves in a giving mood for their third A-side. I always felt like “From Me to You” sort of flies under the radar, at least from the perspective of a 21st century American Beatles fan. You never hear it on the radio and it doesn’t attract the same appreciation as their other early singles, even though it’s just as catchy and enjoyable, and I never understood why until I started doing research for this write-up. Yes, I do research for these. I fact-check everything. Why is that so hard to believe?
By far the most puzzling inclusion on the Red and Blue albums–seriously, how did this George Harrison-penned b-side make it onto a Beatles best-of?–“Old Brown Shoe” is an all-around enigma. When George was coming into his own as a writer with masterpieces like “Here Comes the Sun” and “Isn’t It a Pity,” he composed this oddball track, even recording a demo on the same day as “Something” and “All Things Must Pass.” And yet, as readers of this countdown know, I have an inherent bias towards George tracks, and so “Old Brown Shoe” has long been one of my random favorites.
The one constant in the Beatles’ early years was evolution: in 1962-3, they recorded electrifying pop songs that birthed the Beatlemania movement. They rode that wave in 1964 but upped the ante on their songwriting, raising the bar for all their contemporaries. By 1965, they wore their Bob Dylan influence on their sleeves on the folksy Help! and explored even more styles on the diverse Rubber Soul. Revolver in 1966 took that sense of curiosity and experimentation to another level, and a year later their psychedelic work was unlike anything that had ever hit the mainstream before.
The Beatles aren’t exactly what I would consider to be a very riff-oriented band. That’s not a knock against them; they came up with some terrific ones during their tenure. But unlike, say, Led Zeppelin or Soundgarden, two other favorites of mine whose songs are usually defined by meaty, repetitive guitar lines, most Beatles tracks succeed as a result of the combined forces of John, Paul, George, and Ringo rather than any one individual element. “Day Tripper” might be the biggest exception to that rule.
Normally I post a witty caption here, but I just got really bummed out imagining how amazing a Soundgarden cover of “Day Tripper” would have been. RIP, Chris Cornell.