Top 5: Let Me Take You Down

I missed the Beatles by six months. I started listening to the radio and paying attention to music in the fall of 1970, after the band’s last hit and breakup, so most of what I know about them as a band is as history. I like them, but their music is not the soundtrack of my life, at least not as it was for the Sixties generation. And now, after 37 years of listening, I think I’m ready to admit the following in public: There are a lot of Beatles tunes that I don’t need to hear again. Here are five of them, in no particular order:

“I Am the Walrus.” The lyrics are unpleasant nonsense, the melody is ugly, and John Lennon’s pinched delivery of both only makes them worse. But ooh, it’s psychedelic, man. As long as there are 14-year-old boys, “I Am the Walrus” will always be popular.

“With a Little Help From My Friends.” I’m right there with everybody else on the following point: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is one of the 20th century’s great artistic achievements (although I have always liked Abbey Road better). But be honest: If it weren’t for “Within You Without You,” this would be the worst track on the album.

“Within You Without You” and “The Inner Light.” The Beatles’ very best music is timeless—whether you’re coming to it for the first time today or listening for the 10,000th time to something you’ve owned for 40 years, it sounds fresh. Not these, though. Of all the Sixties artifacts that deserve to be forgotten, “raga rock” is right up there. These tunes were badly dated and unlistenable within two years of their release. Forty years later, they’re just embarrassing.

“I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” This makes the list because it’s at least twice as long as it needs to be. I like a big guitar riff as well as the next guy, but c’mon—think of something different to do with it fer chrissakes, especially if you want to play for over seven minutes. Is docked additional points for inspiring Fleetwood Mac’s “I’m So Afraid.”

Let me stress, underline, emphasize, etc., that these tunes are exceptions and not the rule. There is much, much more in the Beatles catalog that I could listen to and enjoy if I heard it every day. (And that’s a good thing, because my radio station plays one Beatles cut an hour, more or less.) So let’s wrap this up with five things I wouldn’t mind hearing again right now, again in no particular order:

Let it Be. I’ve owned this album for years, but since I haven’t listened to it very much and relatively few of the songs rank high in the Beatles’ radio pantheon, every time I hear it, it’s almost like a new Beatles album to me. Key track: “Two of Us,” which should have been a hit single.

“Day Tripper.” Contains my favorite guitar work on any Beatles record: that sly opening figure and the reprise of it in the solo.

“Got to Get You Into My Life.” The one Beatles record I experienced as a current hit, when it was released as a single from the Rock and Roll Music compilation in 1976. It’s a sonic blast capable of taking down the walls of Jericho, or any other walls you’ve got.

The Pop Symphony. That’s how I’ve always referred to the suite of songs that wraps up Abbey Road, from “You Never Give Me Your Money” through “The End.” Individually, the songs aren’t extraordinary (although the turn from “Polythene Pam” into “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” signaled by Paul’s “look out!”, is the most exciting single moment in their catalog next to the opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night”). Listening to the Pop Symphony as a whole, however, you hear echoes of everything the Beatles did together, from the hard gigging on the Reeperbahn to the invasion of America to the triumph of Sgt. Pepper to the tensions that eventually split them apart. It’s all there, and you can tell that they feel it, too. This is one locked-in performance.

“In My Life.” This may be the prettiest melody Lennon and McCartney ever conceived, and the piano solo in the middle, played by George Martin, recorded at half-speed but played back at full speed to give it that unusual harpsichord sound, is genius. But that’s not why it’s my favorite Beatles song. It’s because “In My Life” is the Beatles song I’d most like to have written:

Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

Let the disagreements begin in the comments. (I’m not posting anything this time, because Divshare seems to be down this afternoon, and you’ve likely heard all of this music anyhow.)

5 thoughts on “Top 5: Let Me Take You Down

  1. I agree completely with you about “The Pop Symphony” (a great term for it!) and “Abbey Road.” But there must be a 14 year old boy inside me yet, because I do like “I Am The Walrus.” (I still dig the “Ho ho ho hee hee hee ha ha ha!”!) From “Let It Be,” I also very much like “I’ve Got A Feeling” and “Across the Universe,” but you’re right: “Two of Us” would’ve been a killer single. As to titles I could do without, I could get along without three songs from of Side One (I still think in LP terms, sorry!) of the White Album: “Wild Honey Pie,” “Bungalow Bill” and “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.” As to things I cannot hear enough, “Back In The USSR” is at the top of the list, followed by “For No One” from “Revolver” and “Come Together” from “Abbey Road.” Good post — a great conversation starter!

  2. I agree with whiteray – great conversation starter. Matter of fact, I had to write a whole diatribe on it. Actually, you inspired me to write on another subject – what is wrong with radio. I posted it today.

    As for the Beatles tunes – my friend I actually disagree. Are “The Four Seasons” by Vivaldi to be disparaged because they are also old and the only thing you hear by Vivaldi? Keep in mind, that I’m only trying to stretch an idea into a debate here and not trying to undermine your valid points.

    But, “Within You and Without You” is a great example of assimilating, and orchestrating a whole new sound, into a song that was very much heralded when it came out. It also helped to lend credence and bolster opinion that Sgt. Pepper, as an album, was a monumental effort and a peak that is rarely attained in rock n’ roll.

    One also has to realize that countless bands tried to build a career with ‘ragga rock’ – and dismally failed. The Beatles made their statement, and then deftly moved on. Don’t make the mistake of calling those few tracks “embarrassing” and “outdated” for being on the cutting edge when they were released.

    Theirs was an initial gold pressing. All bands, albums and tracks that followed, ran the genre dry and in doing so, had a great deal to do with us hearing something in the ‘ragga rock’ vein and waving it away dismissively. As happened in the Beatles wake time after time.

    I truely believe that if we stored each Beatle tune that hit the top 40 (or even any Beatle tune we’ve heard on the radio in the last 10 years) on a disk, and only listened to the tracks that we never hear on the radio (or have NEVER heard on the radio), we might once again realize just how significant and epic the originality and influence of the Beatles was.

  3. Thanks to WZJN for prompting me to read this post, and subsequently give you a shoutout in my next post…

    With regards to the Beatles, I only “discovered” them as a senior in High School (circa 1986), so I can only speak from personal experiences… It should be well documented that the team of Lennon/McCartney had a strong AND a weak link, and I for one can tell you that Paul was most certainly the one who carried the team. A perfect example is the “Pop Symphony” (and I must agree that “Abbey Road” is definitely my all time favourite). While John did contribute greatly to the success of the Beatles, if you look at the post-Beatles material (Plastic Ono Band, Wings, etc.), you have to agree that once again it was Paul with the better crafted pop songs, hands down…

    With regard to the state of radio (or lack thereof), I have enjoyed reading posts from blogs like AM then FM and Got The Fever on the subject, and believe me, I can safely say that free form radio as a whole is basically a thing of the past. That’s what I find so satisfying about the blogging game. Please allow me to invite you to check out my most recent post in the hopes that you will find another healthy alternative to what the public percieves to be “Jack” radio. I wish you continued success in all of your blogging endeavours, and I will be sure to check out your blogroll as there are a lot of interesting names that deserve a look…

    Peace and blessings.

  4. tom wood

    The thing with I am the Walrus is you just had to be there. At the time, it came across much differently from how it comes across now. The nonsense was sense of a deeper kind, or nonsense showing how the “sense” of the times was just another form of nonsense. Vietnam, riots in the streets (literally), the narrow range of socially accepted perceptual structures breaking open for the first time because of hallucinagens…The madness wasn’t just “over there” as it is so easy to believe it is today; it was in the kitchen and in the backyard and on the bus every day, in everyone’s eyes and souls, and we all knew it. Every day, so many of us were faced with situations that challenged what we had grown up believing, that showed us the world was different from what we had thought it was just yesterday. So many of us literally went to bed every night fully believing that we might wake up in a different world…Naivete, yes; but hopefully giving you a little taste of what it was like…

  5. In defense of WALHFMF: this is the prototype/introductory moment for what we think of as “Ringo-style Drumming”, both in technique and sound, and Paul’s bass playing is startling in its nimbleness and melodicism.

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