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Monday, September 14, 2009

Weekly Top Five

In honor of all the craziness surrounding The Beatles over the last few days I've decided to dedicate this week's Top 5 to the Fab Four from Liverpool. I can't actually fully articulate how much this band has meant to me through the years, but since I first discovered their aural charms well over a decade ago they have become musical, literary, fashion, and lifestyle icons for me. Nearly everything I've done in any artistic capacity has been informed by their generation-spanning musical range and unprecedented mix of whimsy, psychadelia, lyricism, and good ole fashioned fun. They are the first, the best, and the last, and I am overjoyed that they have found a way to bring their music to a whole new generation of fans.

I realize Top 5 lists are a bit cliched so I wanted to steer away from something that would be too easy for me to do (i.e. top 5 Beatles albums, top 5 Beatles moments, best 5 members, those sorts of things) and instead go for something that would make me sweat a little in the making. So, I've decided to dedicate this week's Weekly Top Five to the five "best" Beatles songs. Considering The Beatles recorded and released well over a 300 songs during their 8 years as recording artists I figured this would be sufficiently difficult, and controversial. Since The Beatles wrote very very very few bad songs I've decided to focus less on how good the song is and more how important it is/was to pop music and/or their career, and how clever it was in regards to the craft of songwriting. This is by no means meant to be a definitive list so let me know how you feel about my picks. Trust me, I won't be offended if you disagree. the Beatles are like a Rorschach test, reasonable minds can very much disagree.

So, here goes:

Weekly Top Five: Beatles Edition

5. "Paperback Writer"
Lennon/McCartney
Single; released 10 June, 1966
A-Side; "Rain" B-Side

Like "Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever" a year later, the one-two punch of "Paperback Writer/Rain" heralded a drastic change a'comin in the Fab Four's sound. In the psych-pop firestorm that was "Revolver" many would forget that it was actually the fuzzed-out guitars and Beach Boys-on-acid harmonies of "Paperback Writer" that got the inferno started that heady summer of 1966 when The Beatles officially came out of the drug closet and waved the banner of psychadelia high and proud. Featuring a fuzz-guitar sound that bands have been trying their damndedest to replicate for 40 years, and a lyric that seems at once throw-away and deeply poignant, "Paperback Writer" is a classic Beatles track from the first multi-tracked syllable.

The 10th #1 single in a row for The Beatles, "Paperback Writer" was the current hit as the boys criss-crossed the globe on their last world tour before calling it quits and focusing exclusively on their studio output. So, the song not only exists as a sort of John the Baptist to "Revolver's" Jesus but it also signals the end of an era of Beatles music which could be dutifully replicated on stage by just the four of them (their next single, and the last before the earth-shattering "Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever", was "Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby" whose songs' orchestrations are so complex that there is no way either song could ever have been satisfactorily recreated on stage without lots of extra musicians).

Aside from it's unique position in history, this song was also ground-breaking in it's construction. It's a rocker whose backbeat is one of the most propulsive in all of Ringo Starr's illustrious repetoire, belying the influence of heavier acts like The Who and Jimi Hendrix who were beginning to emerge in the underground London rock scene (but who were relative unknowns in the US) and were by all accounts bending the ear of Rock royalty like The Beatles and The Stones. It features an all-vocal breakdown that is at once classic early-Beatles and also strangely, psychadelically unsettling, upbeat and subtley sad. The bass was so thumping and complex that engineers at the time thought that it would make the needle skip when played too loud, so in the original mix they boosted the mid's to mask the urgency of the low's.

But above-all "Paperback Writer" is downright catchy. I defy anyone to listen to those first few seconds and not have "Paaaaperbaack Wriiiiter!" stuck in your head all day. It's pure psych-pop genius, and that is why it is the 5th best song The Beatles ever recorded.

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