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Thursday, February 10, 2005

Worst of the Beatles

Influenced by recent discussions with Rob Rodriguez and Mark Caro...here's one man's list of candidates for worst Beatles song, posted more or less chronologically. Post your lists, too!

How Do You Do It?
Do You Want to Know a Secret?
Devil in Her Heart
Hold Me Tight
When I Get Home
Mr. Moonlight
Eight Days a Week
That Means a Lot
If You've Got Troubles (enjoyable, but less than slight)
When I'm Sixty-Four
Your Mother Should Know (the mono mix, available on bootlegs and such, is MUCH better and saves the song)
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Rocky Raccoon
Honey Pie
What's the New Mary Jane?
Maxwell's Silver Hammer
Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues
The Long and Winding Road (the version on Let it Be)

18 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have to say I agree with most of the list with a few minor exceptions:

I don't mind Ob La Di etc. or Honey Pie (the song which reminds my dad of Bix Beiderbecke)and would like to add "It's Only Love" (which wasn't one of Lennon's faves either).

Luckily the list of "good" songs is way too many to mention here.

11:09 AM, February 10, 2005

 
Blogger Stuart Shea said...

Hey, thanks for the post...I guess the "Honey Pie" guitar solo is great (it's Lennon), but Paul's vocal is a bit much even for me.

One thing that I realized, after my pal Fred commented on this list, was that I'd even listen to most Beatles songs I don't like so much if they came on the radio.

Stu

11:54 AM, February 10, 2005

 
Anonymous Bashleo Fatghar said...

Hmmm. Several there I'd rank if not among my favorites, at least among my "more liked than most".

These would include "Devil In Her Heart", "Hold Me Tight" (there are virtually no bad moments on "With the Beatles", their second best album), "That Means a Lot" (love it!), "When I'm Sixty Four", "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" (one of my top 30 favorites), "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", and "Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues".

Worst, aside from a few you mentioned which I agree with?

Well, starting with the unholy trilogy of really, REALLY bad songs, and followed by a few others, almost all of which are from their earliest work:

Within You Without You
Blue Jay Way
She's Leaving Home

Anna
There's a Place
Ask Me Why
Taste of Honey
What Goes On
Dig a Pony

6:36 PM, February 10, 2005

 
Blogger Stuart Shea said...

Fascinating..."Within You Without You," that's one of my favorites. "Ask Me Why" and "Anna," too...

6:39 AM, February 11, 2005

 
Anonymous Bashleo Fatghar said...

I dunno - aside from "Standing There", "Misery", "Chains" and "Please Please Me", I never need to hear that first album again. I don't think it's even good, let alone great.

Weird, really, because the Hamburg album, containing many of the same songs, is SO great. I don't share the common wisdom that a 12 hour session resulted in a great product. I think they could have done a lot better.

7:45 PM, February 11, 2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A fairly universal list of "worst of" titles inhabits the Beatles literary canon. Typically, the likes of "Mr. Moonlight", "Revolution 9" and "A Taste of Honey" rub shoulders, proving, if nothing else, that the Fabs were eclectic in their failings. But how bad is bad? That the Beatles, on their worst day, are far preferable than almost anything on the radio, then or now, is beyond dispute ('cepting DeRogatis's opinions, of course).

Taste is in the ear of the beholder, and one man's "Ob La Di" is another's "Day In The Life". Therefore, I will attempt to establish some criteria for my own worst of: first, there are certain really popular songs of theirs that I will not hesitate to switch the dial on (or, more accurately, push the pre-set), simply due to over-exposure fatigue. It doesn't mean I hate them or think that they're crap, it just means I can easily survive the day without a listen. These are excused.

Second, a true "worst of" list must contain tracks that you consider dispensible. Given command over time and space, what songs can you truly banish from existence? Makes it a little tougher, doesn't it?

With that in mind, here's a short list of tracks I'd happily trade in for some undiscovered rareties:

"Anna" I concur with the writer who observed that much of the first LP is forgettable. It almost seems as though they were performing stronger material onstage that year (see the Star Club release). As much as I dig Arthur Alexander, I don't find this reading particularly memorable. The unnatural head-cold tone of Lennon's voice definitely detracts.

"Hold Me Tight" While not totally cringe-worthy, I can certainly live without this one.

"When I Get Home" Even their weakest efforts have their moments, but the annoyance/pleasure ratio is too heavily weighted against.

"Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby" These guys could play the hell out of Carl Perkins, as evidenced by Star Club and the BBC stuff, but this performance is a little too wooden for my taste. Also, too much echo on the vocal.

"Another Girl" I don't want to say that I'm unhappy with you, Paul, but...

"Dr. Robert" Charmless Lennon ditty.

"She's Leaving Home" So much for the counter-culture. Was it really worth pissing off George Martin?

"Fool On The Hill" Overlong by half, dull, and as pointless as Genesis' "Man on the Corner". See "For No One" as evidence that Paul could really write a decent lyric when challenged.

"Rocky Raccoon" Wherein the patience of three Beatles is pressed to the limit.

"Let It Be" single version. Exhibit A in Phil Spector's defense.

"Maxwell's Silver Hammer" Why the break-up had to happen.

I won't even go into the "Mary Jane"s or other unreleased-during-their-career oddities; suffice to say, this will do for now. Any questions? Comments?

9:14 PM, February 11, 2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: "Honey Pie (the song which reminds my dad of Bix Beiderbecke"

Bix was a cornet player - did you mean Django Reinhart?

9:16 PM, February 11, 2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HAH!! I agree with most on your list. Honey Pie is the dregs.

I also have a problem with Octopus' Garden, and well... most of the Ringo songs never really struck a happy chord with me. "With a Little Help from my Friends" has been so overplayed that it shows it's flaws as well.

-Amy

2:10 PM, February 12, 2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll have to jump on the anti-"Within You Without You" bandwagon, too. One of the joys of Sgt. Pepper's on CD was that you could program the song right out of the playback, no longer having to depend on the unreliable needle drop to start side 2 with "When I'm Sixty-Four." Speaking of which, although "Sixty-Four" and its ilk don't rank among the highest points of the Beatles catalogue, I've always had a soft spot for Paul's music hall stylings.

This is an odd exercise, though. My reaction to many of these choices has been, "That one's not so bad," but if you're ranking top to bottom, something has to be at the bottom, no matter how it may relate to the wider world of music.

I'm surprised no one's mentioned "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da" being named worst song of all time in a UK online poll last year.

--Doug

11:13 AM, February 13, 2005

 
Blogger Stuart Shea said...

Wow. This has been a great thread, one that I hope continues...

To follow up on Rob's excellent "taste is in the view of the beholder" posting, I don't know if I believe that "worst songs" are ones that you'd like expunged from the record...to me, they're just not as good as the ones you truly love. I'll just put in a brief plug for "Another Girl," which slides in and out of a catchy bridge perfectly, and "Fool on the Hill," which others, including Lennon, have defended far better than I could.

Doug Tonks' post led me to wonder, too, about the thing against "Within You Without You." What have people got against it? I'd love to know. Is it the length? Message? Drone? I'm so curious...

Stu

6:47 PM, February 13, 2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to your question, Stu, I pulled "Within You Without You" out for a fresh listen, something I haven't done, I must admit, for years. Still don't like it.

Although I was coming up with various theories before listening to it again, actually hearing the song makes me realize it's very simple. I don't like George's melody. It seems to me that he's taken a style and form that he really doesn't know and tried to parrot it back undigested. As he became more familiar with Indian and Eastern musics, he learned how to use them to better effect.

I don't really know the story behind this song, but it strikes me that it might be George's response to John's previous use of the sitar in Western contexts (which he did to great effect, in my opinion). It may be George's defense of Indian music, but it comes off as naive and artless.

I do like the instrumentation more than I'd have guessed, though. Had the same backing track been joined to a more adventurous melody and vocal, it might well not be in my crosshairs.

While I'm at it, however, please allow me to pedal back on my defense of "When I'm Sixty-Four." Perhaps my own dotage has made me more charitable to it, but listening to it again made me remember that, as a younger person, my response had been, "What's that all about?" In fact, although I did drop the needle there rather than skipping it too, it strikes me now that, if it wouldn't have produced a sequence that was just too damn short, I could just as easily have started side 2 with "Lovely Rita" (although I still have a reasonable tolerance for Paul of the music hall.)

Speaking of dotage, we're only two years away from finding out if Paul still gets his Valentine. I guess the Isle of Wight won't be too dear, after all.

11:20 PM, February 13, 2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Fool on the Hill" isn't the absolute bottom of Beatles songs, but it's not that far away. It always seemed far too MOR (and why did Paul need his own "Nowhere Man" in the first place?), but seeing it brought to life in Magical Mystery Tour put the nail in the coffin for me.

I saw Magincal Mystery Tour for the first time in a theater with a friend, and of course it was no surprise that Paul mugged his way through the song. Although I'm sure we were polite and just whispered to each other, my memory of the event is that my friend and I yelled at the screen, "PAUL, DON'T SPIN!!" But, as deep in our hearts we knew he would--in fact we knew, being Paul, he had no choice--he spun. Where's Richard Lester when you need him?

11:33 PM, February 13, 2005

 
Anonymous Bashleo said...

Regarding Within You Without You....

Let me first say that I REALLY like "Love You To", one of the better tracks on Revolver, and consider "The Inner Light" to be among George's best Beatles songs.

WYWY, however, has absolutely no charm to it whatsoever. The melody is even more of a drone than the worst Stevie Nicks vocal, the words run into each other until I literally couldn't tell you what he's saying anymore (try the old verse thing, George), and the Indian music is downright dull (it's wonderful in George's other two Indian flavored songs).

A drag all the way around. Blue Jay Way without a beat. And Blue Jay Way is a train wreck.

I don't know if I'd get up out of a sick bed to turn it off, as I would with "She's Leaving Home", but it's the closest to that level of any song in their catalog that isn't "She's Leaving Home".

5:04 PM, February 14, 2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE the "Within You, Without You" critic(s):

Everyone is free to like or dislike as they please. But sometimes, people are drawn to or repelled by things without even understanding why. We can offer up explanations and rationalizations, but may not come within a mile of the "real" reason.

That being said, let's assume we believe our offered critiques to be true.

The writer declares WYWY to be bereft of merit on the basis of its melody, asserting that George took "a style and form that he really doesn't know" and constructed a song. By how have we arrived at this miraculous insight into the artist's intent? Isn't it just as likely that he is pulling together elements from a style that he is drawn to and applying them to a form that he has much more command of?

Clearly, George had great ambitions for this, his contribution to Pepper (after "Northern Song" was shot down). What seems obvious is that the melody is subservient to the point he was attempting to make lyrically. Perhaps his reasoning was similar to John's for recording a slow "Revolution", that he didn't want his message to be lost or detracted from by affixing it to too "pretty" a melody (something his solos showed an abundant capacity for).

Personally, WYWY was a song that it took me years to fully appreciate, both musically and lyrically. Earlier impressions found it overlong and frankly, a little monotonous. But over time, my ears tuned in to some of the sonic detail and the hand in glove way his words embraced the tune (as such). The karaoke anthology version showcases the exciting blend of west and east that, despite the incongruity, works.

It is for reasons like this, the ability to grow upon and continue to enthrall after thousands of hearings, that makes a work truly worthy.

Perhaps one less reason for me to find this (or any other) song objectionable is that I don't presume to 'classify' a composition, measuring it against preconceptions of what does or does not fit the paradigm. I find life much more enjoyable when things aren't expected to live up to an established "style".

Remember when all the folkies went apeshit over Dylan going "electric"? Did the fact of his new direction not following established "folk" parameters make it less valid? Maybe only to those imprisoned by expectations.

We are free to like or dislike as we please, but calling the work of a capable artist "naive and artless" speaks volumes about the critic.

Now about "Blue Jay Way...

7:09 PM, February 15, 2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, what a delightful turn this thread has taken. Come for the Beatle talk, stay for the drive-by psychoanalysis and character assassination. (But let's face it: That's pretty much how life is in modern-day blogland.)

To the most recent correspondent: Thank you for only insinuating the dark morass of my soul rather than exposing it fully. I've worked very hard at building this deceitful house of cards and justification that allows me to get up in the mornings, and I'd just as soon not see it come crashing down now. I also appreciate your patronizingly addressing my explanation as if it were, in fact, true. I'll keep up the facade if you will. While I'm desperately grasping at those delusions, though, I'd take issue with your characterization of my response to "Within You Without You" as being "repelled" by it (although, if you've got the insight into my actual feelings that you claim, maybe I shouldn't argue).

Sweeping all the ad hominem attacks off the table, let's get back to the song at hand. I suppose I could have said George was "pulling together elements from a style that he is drawn to and applying them to a form that he has much more command of," but I chose not to. I don't have a problem with the first part of that statement. He was obviously drawn to Indian music, and he was clearly enthusiastic about playing it and bringing it to the attention of his Western audience. But "he meant well" is rarely an effective defense of art. Enthusiasm often clouds judgment and goes hand in hand with naivete, as well. Add the fact that George was close to the beginning of his learning curve concerning Eastern music, and you've got the building blocks for my opinion that the song is not as well crafted as it might have been.

My major disagreement with your statement is the presumption that George applied the ideas borrowed from a piece by Ravi Shankar "to a form that he has much more command of." What form would that be? Part of the point of the song is to eschew Western musical forms. In fact, George Martin had to be fairly clever to come up with an orchestration that would allow the Western instruments to combine smoothly with the Eastern ones. George Harrison was intentionally working outside the form of which he had much more command. I see that as a weakness of the song (you're welcome, of course, to see it as a strength).

But I'm intrigued by the larger points you raise. Is all critique off limits for a "capable artist" (and I'm sure most of us here would agree that George and the boys were far more than merely "capable"). Is this entire thread beyond the pale? Are all negative opinions necessarily suspect? If we shouldn't "presume to classify a composition" or any other piece of art, should we just acknowledge that it is what it is and end the conversation then and there? These aren't just rhetorical questions. I'm curious to discover what kind of opinions are out there.

I don't know if my neglect in signing my original criticism made me an easier target, but I hadn't intended to write anonymously. In fact, I thought I had attached my name and didn't realize I hadn't until I'd already posted. I'll correct my error this time around.

Given the passion on display here, I'd hate to see the fan mail DeRogatis must be getting on his new book. And just for the record, I categorically deny ever booing Dylan at Newport.

--Doug

8:57 PM, February 16, 2005

 
Blogger Stuart Shea said...

Sigh...

I didn't want to have to take this thread down, but I might think about it. Please, folks...

Stu

7:50 AM, February 17, 2005

 
Anonymous Forsythe P. Jones said...

I'd just like to lighten the mood by pointing out that the "Hey Jude/ Revolution" single is really pretty good.

7:38 PM, February 21, 2005

 
Blogger Stuart Shea said...

Indeed it is. And thank you.

And who am I, really, to threaten to take a thread down, anyway? Free speech can be painful to encounter, but it's only difficult because we feel so strongly about things. So, really, hurt feelings and such are a lesson to us, teaching us about why we hold things dear and why we think that they're important.

Love...
Stu

8:56 AM, February 22, 2005

 

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