The Beatles

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Love Me Do / P.S. I Love YouLove Me Do / P.S. I Love You (1962)

Where the top side tempers sticky simplicity with a rough-and-tumble romp, its flip is florid enough to make the titular addendum moot.

C-

 
 
 


Please Please Me / Ask Me Why

Please Please Me / Ask Me Why (1963)

Vocal panache gets the upper hand this time, as infectious builds and fuller melodies slowly win me over despite the cloying sentiment. Yes, even on the B-side.

B

 
 


From Me to You / Thank You GirlFrom Me to You / Thank You Girl (1963)

I can’t fight my inner child on this one, so I won’t try to: “From Me to You” has always been one of my favorite “lesser Beatles” songs. I think it has something to do with those off-beat guitars and Ringo’s tight (as always) fills, but I won’t reflect too long out of fear the cutesiness will wear me down.

A fun, simple pleasure saddled with a sour B-side.

B


She Loves You / I'll Get YouShe Loves You / I’ll Get You (1963)

I can overlook the slight emptiness in light of ebullient hooks, but not the most turgid B-side yet. Low-register melodies aren’t their strong suit.

C+

 
 
 
 


I Want to Hold Your Hand / This Boy
I Want to Hold Your Hand / This Boy (1963)

Attention to detail far outstripping what some might expect from “disposable” pop: Up front, chomping guitar interplay, pristine handclaps, and spunk to spare, and on the flip, a winning meld of past and future. Paul’s romanticism sets him up for poignant minor drops while John steers the bridge to an intensity that echoes the A-side’s.

Eternal misgivings aside, I can’t deny the strength of this single.

B+


Can't Buy Me Love / You Can't Do ThatCan’t Buy Me Love / You Can’t Do That (1964)

Up front, Paul with a forgettable little shuffle; John, on the other hand, plays the flip like the cool kid at the back of the bus. Problem is, the tough guy pose isn’t very convincing.

C

 
 


A Hard Day's Night / Things We Said TodayA Hard Day’s Night / Things We Said Today (1964)

Another slightly empty A-side and a brooding, bland flip. I miss The Beatles circa 1963.

C

 
 
 
 


I Feel Fine / She's a WomanI Feel Fine / She’s a Woman (1964)

Where the A-side avoids my indifference thanks to robust harmonies and brilliant guitar bubbles, Paul’s adventures in masculinity completely tank the B-side, and thereby the single.

C

 


Ticket to Ride / Yes It IsTicket to Ride / Yes It Is (1965)

Again, a moderate step forward (melancholy, loping guitar and loose drum pattern) saddled with a half-assed B-side. Again, a single undeserving of its acclaim.

C

 
 
 


Help! / I'm DownHelp! / I’m Down (1965)

Neither of them are terribly interesting, but I’ll take Lennon the sad-sack over McCartney the Little Richard-wannabe any day.

C

 
 
 
 


We Can Work It Out / Day TripperDay Tripper / We Can Work It Out (1965)

While I won’t deny its riff, “Day Tripper” perfectly represents how The Beatles usually leave me rhythmically wanting. Surely such an intentionally Rock-ing track deserves a fuller bottom end?

On the other hand, “Work It Out”‘s push-pull dynamic between sections fits its lyrical thrust well, and Paul’s vocals are as crisp as the melody. There’s just not much else that grabs me.

As a listener who places a priority on rhythm and texture, this is a perfect representation of my ambivalence towards The Fabs’ early years.

B


Paperback Writer / Rain
Paperback Writer / Rain (1966)

When people blather on about The Beatles’ greatness, this is one of the releases that comes to mind in their favor; or at least it would if I had heard “Rain” before now. Seriously, how cool is this song? Lennon’s wide-eyed daze ranks among his best performances, George’s crystalline guitar traces ripples through the sky, and Ringo and Paul lay down a powerhouse rhythm for the ages, all adding up to a far more natural, restorative high than the self-conscious “Tomorrow Never Knows”. If all of Revolver was this good, I’d actually love it like I feel I should.

As for the A-side, it’s everything “Day Tripper” wanted to be: a ferocious riff, snarling tone, stunning bass line—topped off with Ringo’s invigorating between-verse rim clatter.

Singles like these almost make me a Beatles fan.

A


Yellow Submarine / Eleanor RigbyYellow Submarine / Eleanor Rigby (1966)

Paul graces “Eleanor Rigby”‘s mournful string arrangement with an equally evocative vocal performance while Ringo entertains the children up front with nautical whimsy perfect for his unassuming humor. Both tracks flesh out the personas of their vocalists in welcome ways, and though I can’t really say I like “Yellow Submarine”, I struggle to think of a more effective group singalong.

B


Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields Forever
Strawberry Fields Forever / Penny Lane (1967)

Much like “Good Vibrations”, “Strawberry Fields Forever” brims with wonderful details, not the least of which is a marvelous cello part (though I’m partial to the final verse’s counterpoint here). Other features of note include one of best Lennon’s (and not coincidentally, most laid-back) vocals, another case of Ringo’s brilliance, the way the cymbals bloom and shiver after the final chorus, and, of course, a furious coda that threatens to bowl you over if you stand too close.

Meanwhile, McCartney opts for a more grounded reminiscing on childhood, as “Penny Lane” bustles with trumpets, flutes, and piano, all screaming the virtues of suburban panorama. It’s the perfect foil to Lennon’s drift.

For as much as I think The Beach Boys enjoyed a considerable edge on The Beatles from 1964-1966, SMiLE’s demise positions this single as the probable changing of the guard.

A


All You Need Is Love / Baby You're a Rich ManAll You Need Is Love / Baby You’re a Rich Man (1967)

Decidedly less sublime than the last single. “All You Need Is Love” hits all the proper peacenik notes, but I prefer my propaganda less coercive and less sing-songy. Same goes for the flip: No amount of chunky bass can cover up a simplistic melody and a leaden, chant-y chorus.

B


Hello, Goodbye / I Am the Walrus
Hello, Goodbye / I Am the Walrus (1967)

“Hello, Goodbye” is Ringo’s show. Credit to Paul for a catchy melody, but this is where my advocacy for Starr hits an apex. Just listen to those fills on the instrumental break and final verse: light touch, nimble movement between snare and toms, and pauses for breath. They’re basically singable drum solos, and how Ringo manages such a feat while leaving the simultaneous vocal lines intact is nothing short of sensational (something that can’t be said for the coda).

As could be expected of me, though, “I Am the Walrus” is my favorite between the two. From the still-divine snare tone to the queasy strings, John has everything at his disposal to accent a fraying mind, and the outro-collage outdoes all his prior efforts thanks to the slightly terrifying strings climb and speech loops.

And Ringo.

A


Lady Madonna / The Inner LightLady Madonna / The Inner Light (1968)

As a retreat from, you know, actually earning their reputation as a Great Band, The Beatles could have done (and would do) much worse than this: bouncy boogie-woogie backed with George’s most serene exploration of Indian music yet.

B

 


Hey Jude / RevolutionHey Jude / Revolution (1968)

“Revolution” deserves to be heard in mono. Doing so not only conveys that blissful snarl of a guitar at full power, it makes even clearer how pathetic John’s politics are. Hearing his lazy sneer go through line after line of reactionary simpering is ever so irritating, especially when he trots out the chorus. Not everybody has the luxury of everything being all right, Lennon. (Before the formalists swoop in: Yes, I also find “Revolution” dull as a song—something made doubly clear upon inspecting the tedious “Revolution 1”.)

I’ll be kinder to “Hey Jude”, if only because well-crafted greeting-card aphorisms have their place and its existence allowed Wilson Pickett to completely wreck the original in a fraction of the time.

Boy am I glad The Beatles stopped experimenting so much.

C+


Get Back / Don't Let Me DownGet Back / Don’t Let Me Down (1968)

I guess “Get Back” is The Beatles’ attempt at a rootsy rocker? Regardless, between Paul’s ungainly bleat, a gutless guitar tone, and a sleepy drum part, this sinks fast. And while “Don’t Let Me Down”‘s attempts at smooth moves falter on a terribly clunky bridge, at least its singer is able to stop crooning (poorly) for a heated refrain.

C-


The Ballad of John and Yoko / Old Brown ShoeThe Ballad of John and Yoko / Old Brown Shoe (1968)

It takes a special kind of dreck to make a song I’ve disdained since childhood seem acceptable, and George comes through with “Old Brown Shoe”, which catapults into my Beatles Hall of Shame on the back of a godawful vocal and truly wretched rhythm. I describe a lot of the group’s output from this period as clumsy, but this has to be one of the prime offenders.

Then the A-side, well, it’s just John the egotist thinking he makes a good Christ figure and folk-rocker, when in fact he fails at both in grand, grotesque fashion. I’d much rather hear Yoko’s account of events.

D-


Something / Come Together
Something / Come Together (1969)

Coming off the last few duds, it’s a miracle The Beatles had anything left in them for another worthwhile single—let alone that Abbey Road turned out so well. Everybody seems to go out of their way to praise “Something” as George’s finest moment, and while the whale-like guitar tone and awkward bridge keep me far from that camp, it’s certainly a very well-written, pretty love song. Those snakey solo bends deserve all the acclaim they receive.

“Come Together” is more my pace, with Lennon taking an already crispy groove into higher echelons of Cool with a cigarette-smoke sigh. Once again, the more low-key he plays it, the more impressive the vocal.

B+


Let It Be / You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)
Let It Be / You Know My Name (Look Up the Number) (1970)

Surprise, surprise, I rather enjoy “Let It Be”. It’s a pretty, pious piano hymn that has the good graces not to overstay its welcome (hey, Jude).

What really warms my heart, though, is the B-side. “You Know My Name”—from the first section’s hoarse exhortations to the last’s scat grumble—makes a winning case for The Beatles as worthy peers of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. And at the very least, the lounge, jazz, and music hall gags reassure me that even The Fabs weren’t beyond slipping some choice humor into their songs.

A-

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