Our Broward-Palm Beach New Times colleague Ryan Burk recently stirred up quite a healthy debate in the reader feedback section of his blog post, “Top Five Worst Beatles Songs” with comments ranging from Snarfblatt's supportive, “This is a spot-on review,” to Chris Clouston's “You should have your freedom of speech taken away if this is how you use it…” (Top Worst Amendment? The first!) My personal favorites are the ones that start something like, “Clearly, you are not now and never have been a Beatles fan because if you were, you would have read John's postscript to his third letter to BLAH BLAH SNORE SNORE ZZZZ.” For the record, Burk's Beatles Hell Mixtape features:
1. “Hey Jude”
2. “Glass Onion”
3. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”
4. “Yellow Submarine”
5. “Her Majesty”
I love a free press and would never wish to restrict Burk's freedom to complain about whatever popular songs he wants, but I have to agree with the popular opinion that this is a very controversial list.
Should “Her Majesty” even be considered a “song”? A ditty perhaps, but its inclusion feels a little too easy and anyway, it's a fitting coda to the schizophrenic stylistic exploration of “The End.” Hating “Yellow Submarine” that much is like hating the sight of a child's smile. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”? That bass line is great! “Glass Onion” may be lyrically a little too self-parodic but that 1-2 drum hit that kicks it off and pops up occasionally throughout the song is pretty great.
And “Hey Jude” a “festering turd of a song”? Come now! Ok, maybe Ringo rides that cymbal a little hard but McCartney's yowling Cary Grant impersonation is great to sing along with in the car. Anyway, no “Hey Jude” means no this. And you wouldn't want to live in a world where that didn't exist. By no means should “Hey Jude” be considered the absolute worst Beatles song, especially with the following contenders. After the jump, my absolutely objective, debate-ending, 100% for sure top five worst Beatles songs.
5. “Do You Want to Know a Secret”
Some would consider including such an early Beatles song slightly unfair due to the incredible leap in experimentation and songwriting that occurred around the recording of Help! but the fact is the Beatles came out of the gate strong and most of their early output was head and shoulders above their contemporaries. “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” is just not a good song, however. Despite a promising opening, the song almost immediately devolves into early '60s schmaltz, completely indistinguishable from much of the rest of the dreamy-eyed teen pop hits of that era with some of the more insipid lyrics ever to grace a Beatles tune. It's no surprise that the composing of the song was inspired by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs because it's clearly intended for babies. When George Harrison sings, “I've known a secret for a week or two/Nobody knows, just we two,” you just want to push his shaggy head off your shoulder and run for your life if you can, little girl. This is one secret he can keep.
4. “Penny Lane”
There's nothing wrong with this song lyrically but musically it's twee and syrupy with some obnoxious horn trills and about 20% too much “bounce.” Rolling Stone ranked it #449 on their list of the top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. This is pretty impressive until you realize that R. Kelly's “I Believe I Can Fly” came in at #406 and also that Rolling Stone is horrible. The fact that this is one of the songs most associated with the Beatles is a tragedy. Penny Lane is in my ears and I want it out NOW.
3. “Good Day Sunshine”
Another example of Paul McCartney's frequently misguided affection for music hall and empty-headed trampoline music, “Good Day Sunshine” doesn't even have the respect to put some decent lyrics in its candy floss. “I feel good/in a special way/I'm in love and it's a sunny day”? Well, isn't that fucking wonderful for you. At one point, McCartney “burns [his] feet as they touch the ground,” the one bit of depth in the entire song. Leonard Bernstein liked it but what does he know about music?
2: “Why Don't We Do it in the Road”
The Beatles' self-titled white album is frequently criticized for its non-cohesive everything-but-the-kitchen-sink genre explorations, its self-indulgence, and its “Revolution 9.” Regardless of your opinions on that song, it can't be denied that it represents something very unique in the Beatles canon and in pop music in general. It's not the kind of song you would necessarily play if you wanted to introduce someone to the Beatles' oeuvre but as an exercise in sound collage, it's fascinating. “Why Don't We Do it in the Road,” however, is the epitome of a throw away. A sub-B-side blues tune, “Why Don't We Do it in the Road” was composed by Paul McCartney after he caught two monkeys in flagrante delicto in the middle of the road prompting him to ponder why this sort of interaction is so uncomplicated for the rest of the animal kingdom, yet so fraught with hang-ups for humans. The question is definitely one to ponder, particularly while stoned, but McCartney's “No one will be watching us/Why don't we do it in the road?” repeated over and over again falls a bit short of “Cogito ergo sum” (or even “I'm ok, you're ok”) as far as philosophical positions go.
1: “The Long and Winding Road”
The fact that this didn't make Burk's list is perhaps his most egregious oversight. Even Beatles fanatics have been known to mutter the occasional unkind word under their breath when this song is brought up in polite conversation. Many argue that Phil Spector is the true villain here, with his typically overwrought production but listen to the unadorned version and you'll find it almost as bad. It's just a boring McCartney ballad, made to play behind poignant home edited slow motion films of Nana and Grampa's early years at their fiftieth wedding anniversary party. Don't play this song for them! It's terrible! The one bright side is that its appearance on the last album released by the Beatles (though not technically the last one recorded) provides the spoonful of sugar that makes the “Beatles breaking up” medicine go down. If this was indicative of the kind of future the Beatles had to look forward to, it was probably all for the best.
All of that being said, the Beatles still are and will always be considered one of the top five rock/pop bands of all time by anyone who is not trying to deliberately be difficult. Their occasional missteps only make the weight of their successes all the more apparent. By the way, their best album is Abbey Road. There, we can all stop discussing that now.