The movie “Yesterday” – a romantic comedy featuring the music of the Beatles as a core mechanic – is a great watch, but something about it got me thinking about my love of the Beatles as a band.
I find that I separate the Beatles’ music into four groupings, in order from least awesome to … not least awesome.
The Crap Anyone Could Have Come Up With
This is where a surprising number of their songs end up, when I look over their catalog. I mean, let’s be real: the songs are all done fantastically well, especially for their time, and they hold up even today (although the stereo separation of the time was laughably primitive by today’s standards).
But at the same time, there’re a lot of songs that are intriguing solely because it’s the Beatles that did them. They’re written well enough, they’re performed well, they sound awesome, I guess, but they’re still… just… songs.
The Good Songs That You Still Like Today
This is where most of their early output goes for me.
“She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah…. yeah.”
I like these songs, don’t get me wrong! I get the nostalgias when they come up on my playlists, and they’re definitely there. But this is where the Beatles’ promise showed through… as promise.
The songs seem to hold together well (better than the first group). These songs just have an “it factor” that separate them from a well-produced set of songs that anyone else could have written.
The Great Songs
Here we find the songs that make The Beatles … The Beatles.
These songs are nearly all transcendent in some way. If other bands had one or two of these, that band’s going to have had a great career. Bands that can compete with the Beatles with these songs… they’re rare. Really rare. And truthfully, I don’t think any band has ever managed to actually stand toe-to-toe with the Beatles.
They have an incredible list of transcendent songs, really, and it gets worse: these songs aren’t their best!
Dear Prudence, Magical Mystery Tour, Yellow Submarine, Back in the USSR, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Dah, Drive My Car, Tax-Man, Paperback Writer, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, When I’m 64, With a Little Help from my Friends… Blackbird.
The list goes on and on and on. And then goes further.
And we haven’t hit the real gold yet.
The End of the Road
There are some songs, though, that are in the conversations for the greatest songs ever. What’s amazing is that it’s not just “the Beatles’ entry for the greatest song” but that the Beatles have a bunch of songs that can legitimately be considered for the “greatest song.”
Even here, there are tiers for me: I find that McCartney’s songs are excellent and introspective and tend to evoke nostalgia really well, and Lennon’s where you get the true peaks.
But in typical Beatles fashion, they break the mold here too: while I feel that Lennon was generally more transcendent than McCartney, McCartney actually has what I consider to be the most transcendent song in their catalog… and Harrison was no slouch here, either, with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
Songs in this group include, well, “Weeps,” along with “Strawberry Fields,” “Penny Lane,” “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” “I Am The Walrus” – right now my favorite Beatles song, which is saying something – and, at the top of the heap for me, “Hey Jude.”
I’m always amazed at what the Beatles were able to accomplish.