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Friday, September 18, 2009

Weekly Top Five

Beatles Edition!

1. "A Day in the Life"
Released on the album "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band" 1 June, 1967

When “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” was released in June of 1967 it was an instant critical and commercial success. Building on the experimentation of “Revolver” “Sgt. Pepper’s” took that sophistication and refinement to such an intense degree that the album became an instant classic*. The album was a whimsical and wide-ranging collection of songs that broke the mold for what could be included on an album together, but no song captured the fractured and disparate feel of the record quite like The Beatles penultimate masterpiece, “A Day in the Life”.

Formed from the combining of two song fragments, one from Paul McCartney and one from John Lennon, neither fragment would have stood quite so tall by itself, and yet once combined they took on a life of their own, creating a tour de force the like of which has seldom been equaled.

It’s fitting that the best Beatles song ever recorded would be one of the few that actually featured significant songwriting contributions from both Lennon and McCartney. The bulk of the song is Lennon’s folk piano ballad referencing several personal and contemporary stories in his classic mid-career postmodern surrealism, which straddles McCartney’s up-tempo vignette.

But it is the monstrous, swelling cacophony that splits and ends the song that is the most iconic. With nothing to go on but the vague instructions from Paul to “make it sound like the end of the world” George Martin, in one of his more ingenious turns, had an entire 40-piece orchestra play all at once, moving steadily up their scales in whatever manner and speed each individual player felt like. What emerged was a terrifying, all-encompassing shriek that builds and builds until finally, when it seems it can’t get any shriller, resolves to what has to be one of the only single piano chords that can be recognized without any context. The chord trails off for nearly a full minute leaving the listener awestruck and the power of the previous 4 minutes.

“A Day in the Life” is a singular achievement that was only made possible because all involved were so immensely talented at what they did. Lennon and McCartney brought to the table catchy and interesting song fragments, and legendary performances, Martin helped splice the ideas together into a cohesive and extraordinary whole. And in the end the five of them created one of the most brilliant recordings of all time, and certainly the greatest of The Beatles’ short but staggering career.

There you go; the five best Beatles songs of all time. What do you think? Did I hit the nail on the head? What songs should have been included?

5. "Paperback Writer"
4. "All You Need is Love"
3. "Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever"
2. "Yesterday"
1. "A Day in the Life"

*For instance the weekend after the album came out Jimi Hendrix, who had already become obsessed with the album, covered the album’s opener, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band”, at one of his shows in London.