What makes a great Beatles song | Recording and musicology | Fab forum

Please consider registering
Guest

Log In Register

Register | Lost password?
Advanced Search

— Forum Scope —

  
 

— Match —

   

— Forum Options —

   

Minimum search word length is 4 characters - maximum search word length is 84 characters

What makes a great Beatles song
5 November 2011
7.27pm
Anderson
The Jacaranda
Forum Posts: 27
Member Since:
5 November 2011
Offline

I think that a great Beatles song must consist of two elements: its being primarily written by Lennon, and its being accompanied by an inspired McCartney bass  line.  Without this formula, I believe that we are left with songs that are either mediocre or outside of the first-rank. 

To defend my view, it's necessary for me to hold that McCartney and Harrison didn't write great songs.  McCartney and Harrison were good at writing hits, but this is not the same thing as writing great songs.  A great song must feature both an interesting mood, and an unbanal tonal framework.  Neither McCartney nor Harrison seem to me very good at these things. 

One possible exception is "Helter Skelter".  Paul's bass line in this song can't be praised enough for its grit, presence, and tone.  Unfortunately, the recording is held back by Paul's awful vocal performance, a childish and boring guitar riff, and just dreadful drumming.  A great drummer may have turned this into a great rocker, but alas. 

Another exception to which I would have some sympathy is "You Never Give Me Your Money".  This comes the closest to breaking down my theory, in my opinion.  Still, I place this one just outside of the first-rank, simply because the intro and the last half (before the wonderful "all good children go to heaven" ending) are just too "Wings-ish".   And the Wings objectively suck. 

Also, if I wish to defend my position, then I must also defend my view that Lennon songs are boring without a great McCartney bass riff.  I support this view by pointing to such limpers as "Norwegian Wood," and to failed rockers such as "Revolution".  Of course, the blame in this doesn't rest just with McCartney: Lennon often fails to give Paul an interesting framework within which to work.  But consider the song "Come Together"; as with any great Beatles song, this one features that vampy Lennon mood, but Paul fails to deliver on the bass.  With Paul mailing it in, a potentially great Beatles song turns into a snoozer. 

Ultimately, though, I must deliver the goods by demonstrating that the greatest Beatles songs are also those that feature the formula I have laid out.  And so, I now present my list of those Beatles songs which unquestionably are of the first-rank, and point out that they feature Lennon as the primary composer combined with McCartney delivering an inspired performance on bass.

  • Hey Bulldog.  Clearly and uncontroversially the greatest Beatles song ever produced, Paul only occasionally goes  off course with too-bright melodies, while ultimately and quickly returning to the sublime.  This is the perfect example of a great Beatles song: vampy Lennon framework with Paul providing the momentum and subtlety that makes the song interesting. 
  • I Am The Walrus.  Underneath all of the horrendous mixing and dubious production decisions is a really great rocker.  It's one of the true mysteries in the history of music why they decided to bog this song down with that awful orchestration and those hideous special effects.  When we ignore this, however, and pay attention to  the real song that's underneath it, we find a true classic.  Again: vampy Lennon mood with Paul filling in the gaps to drive the song and make it work.
  • Being for the benefit of Mr. Kite.  McCartney's bass on the instrumental part in the middle is especially noteworthy.  As with the other songs from this period, almost train-wrecked by inexplicable production decisions.  What were they thinking adding in that goofy carnival music?  
  • Sexy Sadie. If there is a perfect Beatles song, then this is obviously it.  Classic Lennon vamp.  Classic moody, restless, bi-polar bass playing from McCartney.

Possible exceptions include "Please Please Me".  This one is pretty good, despite the awful harmonica and Paul's overly conservative bass playing.  Still, "pretty good" is not "great".  This one isn't in the "first-rank," but it's still really good.  I would say most of these same things about "She Loves You". 

"I'm so tired" is another possible exception.  This song is puzzling.  Everything is there for a classic, but Paul just doesn't deliver.  The result is a song that can't hold my attention all that well.  Still, the vocals and Lennon mood are good enough to put it up there, but not into the first-rank. 

"Yer Blues" comes close, but it's rather like "I'm so tired": I find the wasted potential frustrating.  Another potential great one that suffers from Paul mailing it in.  I like the flange on Harrison's guitar though.  One of his better performances, I think.

Strawberry Fields might be the most obvious exception.  Paul's bass is pretty ordinary in this one, but John comes close to carrying it into the first-rank.  Still, I would say: close but no cigar. 

Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.
5 November 2011
7.34pm
mr. Sun king coming together
Nowhere Land
Apple rooftop
Forum Posts: 6935
Member Since:
19 September 2010
Offline

Anderson said:

One possible exception is "Helter Skelter".  Paul's bass line in this song can't be praised enough for its grit, presence, and tone.  Unfortunately, the recording is held back by Paul's awful vocal performance, a childish and boring guitar riff, and just dreadful drumming.  A great drummer may have turned this into a great rocker, but alas. 

Another exception to which I would have some sympathy is "You Never Give Me Your Money".  This comes the closest to breaking down my theory, in my opinion.  Still, I place this one just outside of the first-rank, simply because the intro and the last half (before the wonderful "all good children go to heaven" ending) are just too "Wings-ish". And the Wings objectively suck

First, Wings doesn't suck because you dislike them. Second, John's on bass on Helter Skelter, and third, have you ever heard While My Guitar Gently Weeps

As if it matters how a man falls down.'

'When the fall's all that's left, it matters a great deal.

5 November 2011
7.36pm
mr. Sun king coming together
Nowhere Land
Apple rooftop
Forum Posts: 6935
Member Since:
19 September 2010
Offline

Oh, and please don`t use words like obviously when expressing an opinion. It gets annoying.

As if it matters how a man falls down.'

'When the fall's all that's left, it matters a great deal.

5 November 2011
7.45pm
meanmistermustard
Moderator



Forum Posts: 11265
Member Since:
1 May 2011
Offline

To say Paul and George have not written great songs is just nonsense. You might not like them but that is something different entirely. The Beatles didnt get to where they got to by replying on hits and John songs. To say songs like Yesterday, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Taxman, Hey Jude, Here Comes The Sun, Something, We Can Work It Out are mediocre or not outside the first rank is a very sweeping way to cut away a lot of songs that are considered as classics. And there are so many more.

Not liking them is another matter and down to opinion but to say that Paul and George could only write hits and not classic songs is completely not the case. A song shouldnt get more respect simply because its written by John.

 

Edit: Ok, i'll ignore the hits - For No One, I Saw Her Standing There, The End (the love you make... line).

 

Its all based on taste and opinion.

Don’t make your love suffer insecurities, trade the baggage of self to set another one free. ('Paper Skin' - Kendall Payne)
5 November 2011
7.48pm
Anderson
The Jacaranda
Forum Posts: 27
Member Since:
5 November 2011
Offline

While My Guitar Gently Weeps is just dreadful.  Outside of <insert any Pink Floyd song here>, I know of no better example of why British rock is generally so dreary and corrupted.  Too serious, too dramatic, too Clapton.  Ugh.  Just awful.

Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.
5 November 2011
8.02pm
Anderson
The Jacaranda
Forum Posts: 27
Member Since:
5 November 2011
Offline

meanmistermustard,

 

I find your subjectivism regarding aesthetics questionable and inconsistently applied.  For instance, if it's true these positions are merely subjective personal tastes, then you have no grounds at all to criticize my beliefs as "daft".  You're trying to have it both ways.  But you have to choose: either it's all subjective tastes and no one has any grounds to make any sort of substantive claims about what is or isn't good art (i.e. Britney Spears is every bit as artistically valid as the Beatles), or else you must deal with my claims on the merits through rational discussion, as opposed to dismissing them as mere taste out of one side of your mouth, and then saying I'm wrong about my beliefs on the other. 

Also: I have nothing against hits as such.  I listed "Please Please Me" and "She Loves You" as two songs that are close to being in the first-rank. 

Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.
5 November 2011
8.17pm
unknown
Nowhere Land
Apple rooftop
Forum Posts: 1245
Member Since:
5 November 2011
Offline

Well I see music as more of a suggestion for the transitory nature of life (metaphorically, of course) rather than 'entertainment', or whatever else, so what makes a great Beatles song for me, is generally the emotion it brings to you, or me, rather. Now this also has to do with the time and place, mind you. For instance, just recently I lost one of my grandparents, and that night when I was going to sleep (I listen to my iPod in bed) Across The Universe came on and it made me immensely happy, and it was like I was drifting away into nothingness. Generally when I listen to that song it does not provoke such emotions, but at that time it did. It does not make the song any greater, though it did give me a greater appreciation for that song. I used to skip it every time it would come on, but I no longer do that.

All living things must abide by the laws of the shape they inhabit
5 November 2011
8.19pm
meanmistermustard
Moderator



Forum Posts: 11265
Member Since:
1 May 2011
Offline

Firstly i edited my post as i realised that what i wrote was wrong and was therefore corrected immediately. For that i apologise, tho i still dont agree with what you wrote it is entirely down to opinion. My opinion or taste is of no greater value or weight than anyone else.

Plus my point about hits was that you say that Paul and George can only write hits when that is obviously not the case. Taxman was never a 'hit' neither was Here Comes The Sun, yet both are widely considered to be classics and far superior to songs like Hey Bulldog and Sexy Sadie (2 songs that i really do like). And the same can be said for For No One, The Fool On The Hill and Back In The USSR.

Don’t make your love suffer insecurities, trade the baggage of self to set another one free. ('Paper Skin' - Kendall Payne)
5 November 2011
8.29pm
DoctorRobert
Through the bathroom window
Shea Stadium
Forum Posts: 401
Member Since:
4 September 2010
Offline

I like him.

You all will have read that Dave Dee is no longer with us. But Mickey and Titch and I would like to carry on the good work that's always gone down in number two.
5 November 2011
9.08pm
Anderson
The Jacaranda
Forum Posts: 27
Member Since:
5 November 2011
Offline

meanmistermustard,

 

I should point out that you're still missing some distinctions, and making the exact same mistake as before (despite your claim to have realized your error).  For instance, in response to my claim that McCartney and Harrison did not write great songs, you say that this is "obviously" not true, on the grounds that some of their songs — which weren't hits — are "widely considered to be classics and far superior to songs like Hey Bulldog and Sexy Sadie ".  But this commits several serious errors. 

First, it assumes that truth regarding aesthetics comes down to popular opinion.  And yet you also say that no one's opinion on art matters any more than that of anyone else.  It's plain that these two claims contradict one another.  If no one's opinion matters any more than that of anyone else, then you may not appeal to popular opinion to refute my claims.  Despite your edited post, you're still talking out of both sides of your mouth

Second, the former claim is an ad populum fallacy.  You've given no argument for why popular opinion is a sensible or accurate method of giving weight to the value of a work of art.  So even if we put aside your on-going and blatant contradiction on the matter of artistic subjectivism, you are also committed to the extremely dubious position that the artistic merit of a work is determined by popular opinion. 

Third, suppose we put aside your inconsistent ad populum attempt to argue against my position; in this case, your assertion that no one's opinion on art matters any more than that of anyone else is also dubious and misses several distinctions.  For one, even if we grant that no one's opinion matters any more than that of anyone else, it wouldn't necessarily mean that I am wrong.  Your position may just be taken as saying that there are objective truths about art, but that human beings just can't know them.  Perhaps these truths exist in some abstract philosopher's heaven, while we are all in the same epistemological boat of cluelessness in regards them.  In this case, it would be true that I would have no grounds for insisting that I am correct, but you would have no grounds for insisting either that I am wrong (because, for all you know, I could be right), or that these things are subjective.

Finally, you could simply go whole-hog subjectivism, and argue that no work of art is any more artistically skillful than any other.  In this case, barring some convincing argument from the subjectivist, I would dismiss this claim on the grounds of extreme implausibility.  Because if whole-hog artistic subjectivism is true, then it follows that the work of Picasso has no more artistic merit than some mindless doodle I could draw up in five seconds right now.  But the artistic superiority of Picasso's work to my mindless doodle seems almost as certain as any other piece of knowledge I believe I can claim.  And I'm not going to simply throw aside something which seems relatively certain to me without a good argument. 

For these reasons, I reject your rejoinders. 

Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.
5 November 2011
9.27pm
minime
Candlestick Park
Forum Posts: 515
Member Since:
16 February 2011
Offline
11

a-hard-days-night-george-1 I think pay you much attention to melodies and bass lines, Anderson. Perhaps it's because I, who know almost nothing about instruments on technical level that I think songs such as "While my guitar gently sweeps" or "She's leaving home" are superb. If I actually learned to play guitar or knew more about the rock traditions, maybe my opinion would change. But as it is, I'm glad that I don't have to worry while listening to Beatles how "orthodoxic"  it is. To me, great Beatles songs are those that evoke strong emotions (not "this truly sucks", though), do not break my ears because they are so out of sync (though I must say, I rather enjoy "Wild Honey Pie"), have meaningful or witty lyrics and whose vocals interpret the song's meaning. Actually, vocals are the only part in Beatles songs that I have something to say about regarding how "good" they are. Perhaps it's because of this that I do not think Ringo made any "fantastic" Beatles piece, although Octopus's garden is quite heart warming.

5 November 2011
11.17pm
GniknuS
Rain? I don't mind
Apple rooftop
Forum Posts: 1332
Member Since:
1 May 2010
Offline
12

paulsbass said:

Anderson said:

meanmistermustard,

 

I should point out that you're still missing some distinctions, and making the exact same mistake as before

etc. etc.

 

For these reasons, I reject your rejoinders. 

Hey Anderson, are you familiar with "The Big Bang Theory"? ARE you Sheldon??

Lol.

I actually kind of agree with Anderson, although I don't agree that Sexy Sadie is the Beatles best song even though it is really good. Music is subjective, but I'd consider Cry Baby Cry to be one of my favorites for a few of those reasons. Tremendous bass work, actually the entire rhythm section is fantastic, and an ominous sort of mood set by John, although I do sort of wish they just ended the song, but the end is still cool. At the same time, I'd consider a song like Mother Nature's Son to be one of my favorites for its simplicity, so it just depends on what you like.

I think George made an interesting point on Anthology that John usually had a way to give his songs some type of edge, and I like his songs so much because they have an interesting way of sticking with you. So this is why I like Norwegian Wood so much, and from Paul's perspective why I like Penny Lane so much.

Still, let's try to keep this civil, all three wrote very good songs and it's up to the individual listener to decide if they think a song is great or not.

I sat on a rug, biding my time, drinking her wine
5 November 2011
11.26pm
mr. Sun king coming together
Nowhere Land
Apple rooftop
Forum Posts: 6935
Member Since:
19 September 2010
Offline
13

paulsbass said:

Wow, you DO know how to make friends here, don't you!! Welcome to the board!

You sound like willing to start some uproar here, let's see how people respond…

For my own part, I liked the thread title and wanted to write my thoughts about it.

But I think for now I'm just too baffled by the way you arrogantly dismiss most of the world's greatest band's songs, based on VERY subjective and questionable observations and reduce their success to a formula that is so obviously wrong I don't know where to start to correct you.

That really is all I need to say. Thanks for saying it for me, Paulsbass!

As if it matters how a man falls down.'

'When the fall's all that's left, it matters a great deal.

5 November 2011
11.31pm
mr. Sun king coming together
Nowhere Land
Apple rooftop
Forum Posts: 6935
Member Since:
19 September 2010
Offline
14

Maybe Sheldon Cooper, through sheer annoyance. Loved the joke earlier!

As if it matters how a man falls down.'

'When the fall's all that's left, it matters a great deal.

5 November 2011
11.41pm
unknown
Nowhere Land
Apple rooftop
Forum Posts: 1245
Member Since:
5 November 2011
Offline
15

Paulsbass, I'm not nine, I'm in ninth grade, fourteen years old.

All living things must abide by the laws of the shape they inhabit
6 November 2011
12.06am
minime
Candlestick Park
Forum Posts: 515
Member Since:
16 February 2011
Offline
16

I misunderstood you wrong, too! I'm so sorry a-hard-days-night-ringo-13 I guess you're not the youngest one here, after all

6 November 2011
12.15am
mr. Sun king coming together
Nowhere Land
Apple rooftop
Forum Posts: 6935
Member Since:
19 September 2010
Offline
17

To me, the thing that makes a great song is an uniqueness about the song. For some songs, it's the bassline from Paul (Come Together, Paperback Writer, Rain), the melodic piano (A Day In The Life, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Hey Jude), great drums (Rain, Day In the Life, Helter Skelter), or an added touch (the Indian instruments on Pepper tracks, like the Tamburas on Lucy). Or just great guitar (Taxman, Something, Revolution). If there was a tried and true formula, that would mean the Beatles could be copied. Now, tell me again if that's happened?

As if it matters how a man falls down.'

'When the fall's all that's left, it matters a great deal.

6 November 2011
12.55am
meanmistermustard
Moderator



Forum Posts: 11265
Member Since:
1 May 2011
Offline

Thank you for your intriguing reply Anderson. 4 points that answered nothing.

Don’t make your love suffer insecurities, trade the baggage of self to set another one free. ('Paper Skin' - Kendall Payne)
6 November 2011
1.18am
kedame
Miles above you
Candlestick Park
Forum Posts: 530
Member Since:
23 January 2011
Offline
19

Wow...this has to be the silliest post I've ever read. To dismiss Paul and George's songwriting outright is to dismiss the entire band. Half of the songs are Paul's, and he helped write some of John's best (A Day In The Life, the added bit at the end of Cry Baby Cry) and helped musically with some of the best (Come Together...how can you believe the swampy piano and bass line on that song are crap? The only thing that would make that song even better is Paul's voice singing harmony with John's). George's songs are also great! Here Comes The Sun is simply too beautiful for words. Never has such a happy song made me feel such sadness, which says something about it's beauty. While My Guitar Gently Weeps is pure poetry. How can you just dismiss it so easily? How can you dismiss the cleverness and wit of Taxman, or the pure joy of It's All too Much, or the spiritually glorious beauty of Long, Long, Long.

Also, Paul's songs are popular for a reason. People like them. Their musicality is often brilliant, and he can write lyrics just as inspiring as John and George, even if you don't understand their meaning sometimes. Just because you don't get it doesn't mean no one else does. He inspires millions of people around the world with his music, and you deem to dismiss it entirely???? That's insane and seriously stupid. He's different than John, but not better or worse. He's brilliant in his own right.

And Wings doesn't suck. Have you ever actually listened to Wings or just read reviews from people like Jann Wenner and Robert Cristgau? I hate to sound like a constant Paul-defending harpy, but seriously, go listen to Little Lamb Dragonfly and Some People Never Know. Go listen to the entire Band on the Run and Venus and Mars albums. Listen to Beware My Love, and tell me it isn't as good (better, even) than anything any 70s rock band did! He wouldn't have lasted as long as he has without writing good songs.

You can't love a BAND and dismiss 66% of their songs. You can like some better than others, sure, but you can't outright say they suck and still enjoy them, surely.

"You can manicure a cat but can you caticure a man?" John Lennon- Skywriting by Word of Mouth
6 November 2011
1.36am
Anderson
The Jacaranda
Forum Posts: 27
Member Since:
5 November 2011
Offline
20

GniknuS,

 

I gave serious consideration to "Cry Baby Cry".  I can't quite put my finger on what it is I don't like about this one.  The bass is very good, so: check.  Lennon vamp: check.  I would say that it has both solid McCartney bass and solid Lennon vamp, but just not enough of both to propel it into my "first-rank". 

paulsbass,

 

You request that I "prove you wrong" on your bare assertions.  But I feel no need to do so.  None of your positions are supported with any sort of reasons or arguments.  I don't mind bare assertions if they are in the context of an overall argumentative framework where I can understand their context and work out the reasons you would give for your position on my own.  But in the case of your post, the only thing even resembling a reason for any of your assertions is your application of the predicate "blistering" to Ringo's drums and "heaviest" to the guitar in Helter SkelterThere is just nothing of substance to which I could respond. A large portion of your post just seems to be insults and threats. 

I will, however, comment on your incredulity regarding my "dismissal" of the bass line in "Come Together".  The "bass slide" trick is the laziest move in the game.  It's what you do when you can't come up with something actually creative.  All of the notes he hits are utterly obvious.  Where is moody bi-polar Paul?  This song is perfectly set up for a classic "restless Paul" bass line, but he never deviates from the safe and mundane.  If I had to use one word to sum up his bass line in "Come Together," it really would have to be "lazy".  It's obvious he didn't put much thought or effort into it. 

Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.
Forum Timezone: Europe/London

Most Users Ever Online: 597

Currently Online:
41 Guest(s)

Currently Browsing this Page:
1 Guest(s)

Top Posters:

meanmistermustard: 11265

mr. Sun king coming together: 6935

Ahhh Girl: 6296

parlance: 5965

Annadog40: 5521

Mr. Kite: 5134

Zig: 4924

mithveaen: 4633

Ron Nasty: 3422

fabfouremily: 2951

Member Stats:

Guest Posters: 88

Members: 2821

Moderators: 4

Admins: 2

Forum Stats:

Groups: 3

Forums: 34

Topics: 3299

Posts: 147996

Newest Members: MaMaladeSkyze, Barbara123654, Zmos, Crazmos, leansbeans

Moderators: Ahhh Girl: 6296, meanmistermustard: 11265, Zig: 4924, Joe: 3757

Administrators: Joe: 3757, Ellie: 1

Members Birthdays
Today: LSDTripper
Upcoming: When Im 64