My personal Beatles tribute
On one of my trips to Denver, my friend Ed posed an age-old question: Who did we think was the best rock band of all time?
“I think it’s the Ramones,” Ed said.
I’m not a traditionalist in most matters, but Ed was obviously wrong. The answer, as my friend Melissa and I pointed out, was obviously The Beatles, and anyone who said differently was being needlessly contrarian, although we would definitely consider the Rolling Stones, and maybe even The Clash. Or the Kinks. At this point, my friend Dave got up and walked into the kitchen to get a drink of water, because he’s one of those people who doesn’t really like The Beatles, and he gets weary of hearing how great they are all the time. (Speaking of which, isn’t it time for those people who don’t really like The Beatles to form a club? Whenever I meet someone who doesn’t really like The Beatles, I say, “Oh, you’re one of those people.”)
Anyway, last week that the world marked the 70th birthday of John Lennon, whose solo work I like perfectly fine, even though it cannot hold a candle to the Beatles’ catalog. (Like most great bands, The Beatles were much greater than the sum of their parts.) The Beatles are one of those bands that children and teenagers are always discovering, even though their final album, “Let It be,” came out in 1970. Among my earliest albums were “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Abbey Road,” which my uncle taped for me, and in middle school I acquired a large book of Beatles sheet music for the piano. The Beatles still sound fresh and vibrant, even — and sometimes especially — when compared to the junk that passes for pop music today; when it comes to rock music, you can’t get much closer to a universal language than The Beatles. At this point, so much has been written and said about The Beatles that it’s easy to take them for granted ... which is unfortunate, because they really are great.
Last week I went out to Valentine’s in Albany for “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Lennon,” a Lennon tribute concert organized by Marc Clayton of the local Americana band the Tern Rounders and featuring a number of excellent local musicians, including Ashley Pond and Mike Poulopoulos and Matt Durfee of Palatypus. The show featured fine renditions of Beatles and Lennon songs such as “Across the Universe” and “Working Class Hero.” Feeling somewhat exhausted, I left about halfway through the show, but I did stick around for “Instant Karma,” which might be my favorite Lennon song, although I’m also a big fan of “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” one of the few Christmas songs I actually really like.
Over on The Gazette’s home page, we have a poll going where people can pick their favorite song sung by John Lennon. (Click herefor the poll.) Right now, “Imagine” is winning. I like “Imagine” well enough, but it pales in comparison to my favorite Beatles songs. Which I list below. Yes, I like the Beatles later music better than their early music.
1. “Hey Jude” — Just how great is this song? Well, it’s over 7 minutes long, with a fade-out coda that lasts for about four minutes, but still managed to stay atop the American charts for longer than any other Beatles song. I played it at my eighth grade piano recital, along with Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.” Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a more winning musical combination.
2. “With a Little Help From My Friends” — I first fell in love with this song via the Joe Cocker cover that served as the theme song for the TV show “The Wonder Years.” But the original is really much better.
3. “Let it Be” — I was never a particularly good piano player, as I had a tendency to miss a few notes every time I attempted to play a song for anyone who wasn’t a member of my immediate family. However, I did have one amazing piano moment when I was working at summer camp. I began playing “Let It Be” on a piano in the chapel, and a whole crowd gathered around me and began singing. And I didn’t miss one note! I played it perfectly! Nothing like that has ever happened again in my life.
4. “Hello, Goodbye” — I once traveled with a group of youth from New Hampshire to Beloit, Wisc., for the United Church of Christ’s National Youth Event, and “Hello, Goodbye” became the song of the trip. I have a personal policy of never really saying good-bye to people (I prefer “see you later,” because it implies that you’ll meet again), and so I always smile at the lyrics, “I don’t know why you say goodbye/I say hello.”
5. “Paperback Writer” — I don’t see this popping up on too many greatest Beatles songs lists, but I think it’s hilarious. Perhaps writers dig it more than regular people.
6. “A Hard Day’s Night” — The Beatles have a knack for writing songs imbued with a certain cheery desperation, and a sense that time, alas, is not on your side. Sample lyric: “Eight days a week/is not enough to show I care.” Of all these songs, “A Hard Day’s Night” sums up life the best, I think.
7. “Eleanor Rigby” — This song is so sad! I love it, though. It narrowly edges out “Yesterday” for the “Beatles song that makes me feel like crying” slot.
8. “In My Life” — The groom’s sister sang this at my sister’s wedding, while her father played guitar. It was lovely. And I thought, “I’d forgotten how lovely this song is.” But it is lovely, and here it is, positioned at number 8.
9. “A Day in The Life” — There’s so much going on in this song — you can listen to it over and over again and hear something new each time. Plus, the narrator appears to be an avid reader of newspapers, which is something I strongly support.
10. “Yellow Submarine” — For the kid in all of us. In seventh grade, my friends and I wrote an alternative version of the song called “The Dieting Machine,” which we played in our friend Aaron’s basement and recorded. Which makes me wonder whether any of the tapes of our recording sessions survive today and, if so, where they might be.
BONUS: “All You Need is Love” My father and my sister danced a zany dance to this song at her wedding, and everyone sang along. “That’s the best wedding dance I’ve ever seen,” a friend of mine remarked. Indeed.
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