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A High Five From The Beatles

Steve Levy

March 25, 2016

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As one of the more “historically saturated” (i.e., OLD) members of Real School, I became a musician as a direct result of The Beatles appearance on American Television in 1964. Conventional wisdom at that time was that they were a silly fad and would be all but forgotten in months. Now, over 50 years later, I have students as young as 10 who like The Beatles music.  

One of my adult students recently suggested a project; he wanted to learn every song from one Beatles album. We chose “Rubber Soul” and had a lot of fun and learned a lot about the structure of their songwriting in the process.  We found that an average Beatles song from this period was often 3 minutes long or less but was chock full of ideas and surprises.

What I often find, is that what many people know about the band is from a rather narrow spectrum of their later recordings. I wanted to suggest a handful of songs from their beginning-middle period that have stayed fresh and exciting to me for (*GULP*) a half a century now. It was hard to limit myself, but I chose 5

1. Don’t Bother Me (1963): Written by guitarist George Harrison, it’s a rather dark and moody song with and interesting minor chord progression colored with tremolo on the rhythm guitar, double tracked vocal, and a lot of energy and additional percussion. It was George’s first song written on his own, and I’ve read he didn’t like it much, but I sure do. 

2.  Anytime At All (1964): Opens with a crack on Ringo’s snare drum and is a great high energy melodic number driven by acoustic rhythm with 12 string electric guitar riffs and a break where the guitar chords are mirrored by a harmonizing piano part. 

3. We Can Work It Out (1965): Classic example of later Lennon/McCartney songwriting where Paul had the gist of it and John had a good idea for the middle. Interesting shifts between 4/4 and ¾ time signatures, a double time tambourine part and the use of a harmonium, a bellows driven reed organ. 

4. And Your Bird Can Sing (1966): John Lennon considered this a “throwaway”, but I and a lot of Beatles-influenced guitarists love it for the harmonized guitar parts played by Harrison and McCartney. There’s much speculation on the meaning of the cryptic lyrics. My favorite is that it was triggered by a press release from Frank Sinatra’s publicist that began, “If you’re tired of kid singers wearing mops of hair thick enough to hide a crate of melons…”. To get the bird reference, check out Gay Talese’s iconic article in Esquire, “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold”.

5. She Said She Said (1966): “Welded” together by George and John from several of John’s ideas a a last minute addition to flesh out an album 2 days before a tour. Explosive drumming from Ringo, time shifts, and great guitar riffs and bass from George as Paul McCartney walked out of the studio after an argument. Wildly creative song born of necessity.

I hope you will check out and enjoy these favorites of mine and that it leads you to explore more of the many gems in The Beatles catalogue.

What are your favorite Beatles songs? Let us know below!