While yesterday's wallow in negativity was a blast, it is time to restore the karmic balance as the Beatles would have wanted by focusing on the four best songs that John, Paul, George and Ringo produced upon being emancipated from the bonds of “Beatles,” or at least as emancipated as they ever could be. While none of them would quite attain the status of cultural force that the Beatles had enjoyed, their solo careers were proof that each one had a unique creative voice within the band.
John Lennon – “Mother”
Leading off Lennon's Plastic Ono Band album, his first post-Beatles release, “Mother” remains one of the most emotionally wrenching songs ever to be released as an American single. Inspired by Lennon's experiments with primal therapy, in which the subject is encouraged to re-explore childhood trauma as a means to exorcise personal demons, “Mother” is the sound of one of the world's biggest celebrities confronting his absent parents with brutally honest emotion and committing the catharsis to tape. Primal therapy was known for its utilization of the “primal scream,” a vocal externalization of inner suppressed pain and as the song builds to its climax, Lennon begins to amp up the intensity of his cries over a sparse piano, bass and drum arrangement. “Mama, don't go/Daddy, come home,” he howls with increasing urgency and as the song fades out, you can practically hear his throat shredding. The intimacy borders on uncomfortable and it has to be heard to be believed. Every element of this song sounds lonely: the piano's sustained chords, the basic drumming and barely audible bass. The emotion is so naked as to render it almost uncomfortable to hear. It is precisely the kind of song that the Lennon could not have recorded within the constraints of the Beatles as a group and this fact is as good an argument as any for the breakup in 1970.
Paul McCartney – “Monkberry Moon Delight”
This song, track two of side two of Paul and Linda McCartney's Ram, features a fantastically raw vocal performance by Paul lending the song an ominous sense of dread, dispelled only upon examination of the lyrics, which are classic McCartney silliness: “Well, I know my banana is older than the rest/And my hair is a tangled berretta/When I leave my pajamas to Billy Budapest/And I don't get the gist of your letter.” It's the closest to early Captain Beefheart as Macca would get and it's glorious. The song was later covered by the two people who absolutely should have covered it; Screamin' Jay Hawkins, whose version can be heard here, and one of a kind Bahamian Exuma, whose version can be heard here.
George Harrison – “Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let it Roll)”
Harrison's All Things Must Pass seemed in many ways the most grandiose and ambitious of the Beatles members' post breakup debut albums. A triple LP meditation on spirituality with the kind of blatantly religious lyrics from which the Beatles might have shied away, All Things Must Pass remains one of the most stunning musical achievements of the 1970s. Although “My Sweet Lord” is deservedly the most famous of Harrison's songs from this album, “Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let it Roll)” matches it in beauty. Harrison's composition on the opening melody line is fantastic, his guitar sounding otherworldly like some kind of heavenly pedal steel. Written as a tribute to Francis Crisp, the previous owner of Harrison's home, “Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let it Roll)” is a paean to the virtues of an unencumbered spiritual flow and the musical arrangement and Phil Spector's production expresses this perfectly, sounding like water running over a smooth rock, snow falling through trees or any number of other haiku-worthy natural phenomena.
Ringo Starr – “It Don't Come Easy”
While criticizing Ringo Starr has deservedly gone out of fashion, his musical contribution to the Beatles is still frequently undervalued. His song, “It Don't Come Easy,” co-written with George Harrison and released as a single in 1971, seems perfectly suited for his persona. An acknowledgment of the travails that life sometimes brings — such as the anxiety surround the dissolution of one's world famous rock band — Starr's characteristic humility and good nature is on display as he sings, “I don't ask for much/I only want your trust,” and “Peace, remember peace is how we make it.” A version with Harrison singing lead vocals is floating around lending weight to the theory that Starr had little to do with the composition of the song, but Starr's performance on the studio version is good enough that it becomes his own, regardless of how much input he did or did not have in the writing process. Listen to Harrison's vocals here and dig the classic “Hare Krishna” Harrisonism at 1:44.
Are any of these songs the equal to the best work of the Beatles? Perhaps not but while “the Beatles” was more than just the sum of its parts, its parts could do alright on their own. Yes, even Paul.