Toppermost of the Toppermost?

Another month, another Q magazine “Best Of” list. This time it’s “The Real Best Of” most of the usual suspects (the Stones, the Smiths, Madonna, Springsteen, etc.), with the cover declaring “AND IT’S NOT WHAT YOU THINK . . .” And OK, this worked, because I wanted to see what Q is presenting as “The Real Best Of” the Beatles.

The Beatles 10-best list was chosen by Rob Fitzpatrick, and I give him credit for declaring them “the most underrated pop group in history. ” I agree that “they’re the only group in the history of pop music that are actually better than everyone says they are.” But the list, eh . . . . either Fitzpatrick has pretty outre taste, or his choice of the top 10 was skewed by Q’s implicit demand that the list not include the songs you’d expect.

Here’s his list , minus the commentary on each song:




1. Rain
2. No Reply
3. Getting Better
4. Savoy Truffle
5. There’s A Place
6. Things We Said Today
7. Lovely Rita
8. Sexy Sadie
9. If I Needed Someone
10. It’s All Too Much

Now obviously you can’t take this kind of list-making too seriously, and everyone’s top 10 lists are going to differ — but these as the top 10 Beatles songs? Really? I can’t resist responding.

If I were picking a Lennon track just off the White Album, “Dear Prudence,” “Happiness Is A Warm Gun,” and “Julia” would all come in ahead of “Sexy Sadie.” As for Harrison tracks,  I can’t see leaving off “Here Comes The Sun.” Strong cases could also be made for “Within You Without You,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and “Something.”And for McCartney, “Eleanor Rigby,” “For No One,” “Paperback Writer,” and “Hey Jude” spring immediately to mind.

And even this leaves off so many stellar songs it’s crazy. “A Day In The Life,” “Come Together,” “Day Tripper,” “I Feel Fine”. . . .

The song on Fitzpatrick’s list that strikes me as an especially bizarre choice is “It’s All Too Much.” I just don’t see it.

Anyone else want to comment on Q’s list, or offer up a personal Beatles top 10?





26 Comments

  1. “Yes it Is” has been my favorite Beatles song from a very early stage in my development. People always think I’m being perverse or hipper-than-thou: “Oh, you just think it’s cool to pick some obscure B-side.”

    No, that’s just how great the Beatles were. That such a gorgeous, haunting, spectral ballad, whose melody, harmonies, instrumental touches, and Romantic combination of passion and melancholy encapsulate their magic for me better than any other song — that such a song is, for them, a B-side.

    But yes, it matters that it’s a less obvious choice, decidedly not one that most people would choose. It makes it more private and precious to me.

    So I can appreciate this guy’s list. There’s not a song on there I don’t like a lot, and the majority are among my essential tracks. Personally, I don’t need to hear “I Want to Hold Your Hand” again any time soon, but I listen to “Rain” and “It’s All Too Much” and “Lovely Rita” and “Sexy Sadie” A LOT: They’re on my iPod.

  2. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    It’s supposed to be an iconoclastic list, so naturally you should expect the choices to be “different”. He also appears a little overly determined at equal representation. George gets three?

    I think it would be a pretty great list, actually, if the criterion was “10 songs you’d play to somebody to convince them of how great the Beatles were”.

  3. Avatar Craig wrote:

    Yeah, to me this list reads as: ‘The ten best Beatles songs, without being able to pick the 30 classics everyone knows’ or: ‘The ten best Beatles songs NOT on 1’

    I think it’s a pretty good list, especially bc Savoy is one of my fav songs and it always gets dumped on for some reason. That said however, the fact that Happiness/Gun is NOT on this list and Getting Better IS, kinda ruins the whole thing for me. Oh well, mission accomplished Q Magazine, we are breaking down your list!

  4. Avatar J.R. Clark wrote:

    I think these choices serve as evidence that even the Beatles’ “third-string” songs are miles ahead of everybody else’s “first-string” songs.

    Devin, I feel the same way about “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party” as you do about “Yes It Is”. To me, the song sums up the essence of the Beatles.

  5. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    I saw that Q Magazine article and while I, too, was glad to see the magazine call the Beatles “underrated,” there as a MUCH better and longer article making the same point that was published by The Word magazine 2 years ago. Seriously, The Word is an excellent music magazine, far better than Q.

    What really irritated me about the Q article, though, was a sentence in the piece about George Harrison. It’s an example of the ridiculous tendency lately by many music journalists to exaggerate George’s role in the band. Q magazine writes something about (I don’t have it in front of me) how the Beatles would have collapsed in 1965 without the sense of “soul and otherness” provided by “the Quiet one,” which characterized the band’s musical output in its latter years.

    What a bullshit comment. First of all, it was John and Paul who started branching out in their song-writing, influenced by Bob Dylan. Nowhere Man and Eleanor Rigby, among many other songs, were their attempt to move beyond love songs. Yes, George’s interest in Hinduism had an influence but there were many many other influences. And in fact, George played a minor role in Sgt. Pepper and the Magical Mystery Tour projects. It was Paul, influenced by things that were happening in London, and John, influenced by his own acid-influenced experiments, who were looking to push the band’s music into new places.

    George had one piece of that. But to imply the band would have fallen apart in 1965 without George takes this “George was the most interesting Beatle” revisionism to a ridiculous level.

    You should instead get a copy of the 2009 article in The Word. It was FAR more substantive and interesting.

    — Drew

  6. Drew, I think George would’ve been delighted HAD The Beatles broken up in 1965! And couldn’t agree more with your slaps at that article. Sounds very foolish.

    Just to be clear, I think George became the most interesting person of the four over the course of his life. But he wasn’t the most interesting Beatle, and he certainly wasn’t the glue holding the group together in 1965. In light of silly George revisionism like this, I can understand our other thread better.

  7. I LOVE “Spoil the Party.” That John-and-Paul harmony on “I still love her” is one of their shining moments.

  8. Avatar Craig wrote:

    IDWTSTP is an amazing song, great call. No one ever mentions that song…except here!
    Mike, I’m happy you better understand the George sentiment some of us have. It’s not that we hate or even really dislike him (although personally, I can say that I would probably not have enjoyed hanging out with him) it’s that he’s getting undue respect and responsibility for the group in recent years. This serves to denigrate John and Paul and that makes me angry.

  9. Well, once you limit yourself to Beatles songs that casual radio listeners don’t know, that cuts out, what, about sixty or seventy songs? That to me is the real measure of the Beatles greatness — even if you eliminated every song off “1” and the red and blue greatest hits records, a compilation of what’s left over would still be better (and better known) than most bands’ “best of” hits.

  10. Avatar Nancy wrote:

    You can lay out the Beatles catalog, close your eyes, put your finger randomly on a song, and it will either be incontestably great or you can make a case for including it on a personal top 10 list because it includes an instrumental passage, a vocal performance, or a lyrical turn that you just love. So yeah, all the songs on the Q list are good, and I can appreciate this list the way I appreciate anyone’s “best of Beatles” list — as something interesting to think about and react to.

    But as a list aspiring to be “the real best of,” I think it only works at that personal, idiosyncratic level. The fact that it excludes all the best-known, most popular songs, as Mythical Monkey points out, makes me feel that people have been talking about and listening to the Beatles so long that relative obscurity makes a song desirable, because the grooves haven’t been worn off it yet.

    “I’ll Follow the Sun” is my personal favorite relative obscurity. I love the melody and harmonies rise to a sublime sadness. But I wouldn’t argue that it’s one of the Beatles’ 10 best songs — just that it’s one for which I have a particular love.

  11. Avatar Craig wrote:

    Great comments, Nancy, well said. Continuing with this theme, You Know My Name is just so gosh darn funny and at turns melodic and catchy that I just might have to agree with Sir Paul that it is my “favorite” song.

    Welcome to Slaggers!

  12. Avatar Cara wrote:

    A bullshit list, but I like that some of my idiosyncratic faves are on there, like Lovely Rita and Things We Said Today. To me, however, the #1 overlooked song is I’ll Be Back. A gem of a harmony with the most bittersweet feel and lyrics, especially if you imagine (as I do) that John is subconsciously singing to Julia.

  13. Avatar J.R. Clark wrote:

    My favorite anecdote about the relative importance of George Harrison came from either NME or Melody Maker in 1965…Paul answered an interviewer’s question, “As for writing a rocker, I’d liken it to an abstract painting,” when George butts in. “I was just thinking, what about a song like [Little Richard’s] ‘Bama Lama Bama Loo?'”
    Paul responded, “You just write daft songs, George.”

  14. Why all this choosing up sides on George being either the one true Beatle or a glorified sideman? Why do we have to respond to a thoughtful difference of opinion by trying to club it to death? Would anyone here deny that without George’s harmonies, some of his key songs, and most crucially and emphatically–because it was a factor from the word go–his guitar playing, the Beatles would not be the Beatles, but something altogether other and lesser?

    And that remark of Paul’s strikes me not a discerning comment on division-of-labor but a simple offhand cruelty, a gratuitous swipe, just the sort of thing that, if you add it to all the other swipes (known and unknown) over the course of all the years they spent together, justifies George’s resentment of Paul’s lordliness.

  15. Avatar Craig wrote:

    Devin,

    Umm, what? I thought we had a pretty great discussion re George. Everyone got their point across one way or another. I learned some and contributed some. Are you telling us not to engage in discussions with each other? Isn’t that what this blog is all about? To over analyze and pontificate upon even the most mundane of Beatles minutia? Perhaps I’m wrong as this is your site, not mine.

    That Paul quote should not be taken seriously. Sometimes I feel we forget that these guys were friends. Friends crack on each other, sometimes cruelly.

  16. Well, you’re right, Craig. This is a place for people to express themselves, to pontificate and opine. My attempt was to balance the discourse, not end it, by reacting to a hostile tone I’ve felt creeping in re: George. You said recent reconsiderations of George’s role in the group make you angry, because by their nature they devalue John and Paul. I’d ask you to get into that more: Have reconsiderations (like the Scorsese documentary, say) sought to elevate George at J&P’s expense? If so, how? Anger is a real emotion, and when you use the word, it makes me prick up my ears; give me a context to understand why.

    The newspaper quote, which I did take seriously because J.R. offered it as a statement of George’s importance to the band, struck me as a cruelty on Paul’s part. Yes, friends crack on each other, and over time, accumulated cracks can turn into resentments. As George reiterated many times, particularly in relation to himself and Paul — this joke being, perhaps, early evidence. Sorry, J.R., if I misinterpreted your basis for quoting the exchange.

    Personally, I think George is a major guitarist and a minor singer-songwriter, but I want to make sure he gets (what I feel is) his due, especially when it comes to the alchemy of the Beatles. If I respond with passion to matters about which others too feel passion, that should not be read as a clampdown. I’m merely logging my responses to what I see here, as are we all. But if I’ve misconstrued anyone, I apologize.

  17. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    My only complaint in this continuing saga is that it’s ALWAYS Paul who gets knocked for picking on “poor” George. When in fact — if you look at who actually helped George in the studio to record his songs, it was Paul. And John is missing or playing next to no role in the recording of most of George’s songs. As Peter Doggett wrote in his book on the Beatles breakup, “John always found somewhere else to be when it came time to record George’s songs.” But Paul was always there helping out. And George Martin was no more encouraging of Harrison’s songs either yet he, too, gets let off the hook most of the time in the rush to lay it all at Paul’s feet.

    And for goodness sake, by 1965, George had shown very little evidence that he could write a great song. George blossomed later. And there’s nothing wrong with him being a late bloomer. He had 2 of the best teachers in the business to learn from.

    John and Paul are always accused of holding him back, yet George had the lead track on Revolver and 2 other tracks on the album. How is that holding him back? He could have carried on with song-writing, but he CHOSE to futz around trying to learn the sitar. That was George holding George back from song writing in 67 — not John or Paul. IMO, George wasn’t bringing much to the table in the way of songs for a long time. But that never gets acknowledged. Instead we have the Bossy Lord Paul plot.

    There’s also nothing wrong with 4 guys giving each other grief, as Craig said. They were the only ones who could do that to each other. George would tease Paul relentlessly about being over eager to please the fans and sign autographs, but no one ever calls that cruel of George to slam Paul about that. They call it teasing, which it was.

    Finally, there is definitely a “George Harrison was the best Beatle” revisionism going on. Or “George Harrison was the most talented” Beatle. Or George was as genius of a songwriter as John and Paul. I see those attitudes ALL the time lately in stories and comments. I guess George gets to be the Good Hero Beatle now. Apparently we know too much about the human side of Lennon. Same with Paul. And sadly, some of George’s and John’s fans seem to resent the fact that Paul got to live (I’m exaggerating of course but sometimes it feels that way and I’ve read some pretty hateful comments stretching all the way back to that dreadful quote about “why is it always Lennon and Kennedy that get shot, rather than McCartney and Nixon.” That attitude sadly persists among some John and George fans.)

    It seems like lately there’s a constant campaign to trash “Bastard John” and “Bossy Paul” and act like George — who had plenty of faults — is somehow the Beatle it is now safe to canonize. That quote I cited about George from Q Magazine is but one example. It seems we can’t celebrate one of the 4 without tearing the other 3 down (especially Paul who gets to be the villain of the piece while at least John, when gets to be emotionally damaged to explain his failings.

    — Drew

  18. Avatar J.R. Clark wrote:

    Hey–George could deliver a devastating riposte when necessary. Once on the BBC, Brian Matthew was interviewing the boys, and John & Paul were commenting on a grandiose plan to write a musical stage play. George sarcastically responded, “And Ringo and I are painting Buckingham Palace.”

  19. Avatar Craig wrote:

    Love it! Great points, Devin. No need to apologize. Perhaps me saying I was angry was a poor adjective to have used. I love George. You Like Me Too Much (Fantastic title, by the way), Taxman and Savoy Truffle are some of my favorites of not just him but the whole group. I think I get defensive (obviously) over perceived slights to John and Paul. Maybe I’m wrong, but when I hear or read things about how important and crucial George was to their success, I get miffed, yeah that’s much better than angry, miffed. We all can agree, I think, I hope, that JP were the backbone. Yes, George wrote a few very good songs, but let’s not get carried away. I have tons of respect for him, he was a a great musician and the world is better off for having him around for his too brief life.

    This is the first I’ve heard of that quote above from Paul re George’s songs. I have a couple thoughts. One: Paul would NEVER say something like that in an interview or anywhere in any kind of public fashion, even in 1965. It seems this quote, if it is an actual quote, is taken wildly out of context. I can picture Paul smiling and laughing in a good hearted way saying this to George while the interviewer was present. That being said, I’m sure JP weren’t as supportive and nurturing to George as they could have been. George always had an inferiority complex, rightly so. I think we all would if we were in a group or team or office or whatever and were working with two of the greatest while knowing you’d never be as good as those two. Anyways, I really need to limit myself on posting too much. Sorry for all these damn comments. Hope everyone has a good weekend.

  20. I think whenever we fans try to simplify the relationship between those four guys, we’re doing them a disservice.

    And which one we “like” usually is the Beatle that seems to speak to where we are/what we’re going through at the moment. That shifts over time, and it’s the ability of this one group to encompass so much that makes me fascinated with it. If you really know about the group, there’s no way to outgrow The Beatles.

    There is no “best” Beatle–there’s only the group, and whenever anyone claims that the group would’ve been just as good without this or that member–or that it was “mostly” this or that member–that seems automatically wrong to me.

    Deep down, the four of them knew this, and it’s how they were able to hang together for so long, with so little conflict. And it’s why, IMHO, they would’ve made music together in the early 1980s, had Lennon lived. They knew they were equal parts of something bigger than themselves; and to define The Beatles as just what’s on the records, is to miss much of what was so special about them. In this larger definition, each member was 25%, and that’s the only definition that, for me, holds up over time.

  21. Thanks all for the good humor and well wishes. Sometimes we all take ourselves a little too seriously, and yesterday was my turn.

  22. Avatar Nancy wrote:

    Drew, thanks for recommending that Word magazine piece on the Beatles being underrated — I’ve never seen that magazine for sale where I live, but I’ll hunt it, and that issue, up.

    And Craig, I love “You Know My Name” too! The band is obviously having a great time recording it, and that “Welcome to Slaggers” line makes me laugh every time.

    About the whole “best Beatle” debate, I agree with Michael’s point about its always being a mistake to argue that one or another member was inessential. I vividly remember Philip Norman’s “Shout!” as an object lesson in the idiocy of this kind of thing (his argument was that the band was all Lennon).

    The synergy among the four of them was crucial, and at some point arguing over which was best/most necessary is like arguing about whether flour, sugar, eggs, or cocoa is the most vital in a chocolate cake. Take an ingredient out, and you’ll have something left — but it won’t be chocolate cake.

  23. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    OK. Here’s another example of what I mean by the annoying George revisionism and hagiography. And this time its’ committed by none other than Giles Martin — yes THAT Giles Martin, George Martin’s son who has been working on Harrison’s demo reissues. Here’s a quote I just read from Giles in a story on the new Harrison CD of demos on Metromix.com. The quote:

    Giles Martin: “Listening to George’s solo stuff was very different from hearing The Beatles’ masters (tapes). John and Paul were hugely competitive and wanted to be hit songwriters. George wanted to write spiritual songs, and that resonated with a lot of people. His lyrics meant something. He wasn’t being psychedelic or pop. It’s very George. There’s nobody like him.”

    So George’s lyrics “meant something”? And John and Paul’s didn’t? John and Paul were just aiming for hits, and writing in genres that didn’t mean anything to them. What. The. Hell?

    Yes, Giles, I know your flogging a CD you worked on. But there’s nobody like Paul McCartney, either. And nobody like John Lennon.

    Sorry, but this kind of thing is what I”m talking about. The need to inflate George’s reputation by taking digs at John and Paul. And it’s highly irritating. Especially coming from someone like Giles Martin, who should know better.

  24. Avatar Craig wrote:

    Exactly! What a bullshit quote that is. Apology to those of you who think we are beating a dead horse here, but this is precisely what we’re talking about. I pretty much just have to laugh at this statement. Umm yeah Giles, if JP weren’t writing hits then George would have been a gardener in Liverpool. “He wasn’t being psychedelic or pop” he was being boring 90% of the time and complaining about everything under that beautiful sun of his. Ok sorry for the dig, now I’m doing that thing where I have to insult one member in order to prop up others, whoops!

  25. The Giles Martin quote is indeed asinine, and that strategy of elevating one’s current subject by denigrating another is one that, as a critic, I’ve always studiously avoided because I detest it coming from other critics. It’s simply not necessary: if your guy/girl is that great, he/she shouldn’t need to stand atop the slain corpses of lesser mortals. I think George deserves his due, and that the Scorsese documentary did an honorable if less than thrilling job of trying to give it. But inflation is not his or anyone’s due and rewriting history disrespects all involved.

    I think of the Dylan fanatics who clearly cannot stand that the Beatles mean more to more people, and so make their own Beatle hatred an essential pillar of their monuments to Dylan. Michael Gray was perhaps the first offender in this regard, with Clinton Heylin later taking it to near-psychotic lengths. One day soon I’ll assemble their quotes in a post, stand back and let the fur fly.

  26. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    I wanted to share this great quote I just found on Spinner in an interview it did with Olivia Harrison. I was excited to see she supports my own theory (isn’t that nice!) that George developed later as a songwriter and there wasn’t as much “supression” of his songs as some of the books suggest. Spinner asked her about feeling “stifled as a writer” by the other Beatles. Here’s her quote:

    Olivia Harrison: “Well, he wasn’t stifled as a writer. Nobody can stifle you as a writer. You can just keep writing; you might not get your song on an album. He developed later as a songwriter. It seems to be history that he was suppressed or something, but really, he developed later as a songwriter. Although there was so much material that John [Lennon] and Paul were writing, sure, it would be hard to get your songs on an album when they had been writing so many songs for all those years. When we look back on it, we say “All those years?” But Giles, how many years was it? Five years?

    GIles Martin: Yeah.

    Olivia: “It wasn’t 20 years. It seemed like 20 years. I think everything happened perfectly at the right time for George.”

    Interesting perspective she has. Anyway, I thought people here might be interested.

    — drew

%d bloggers like this: