Saturday, February 12, 2005

Most Underrated Beatles Song

I am hellishly busy, but don't want to neglect this patch for too long, so let me pose a Fun Question. What is your candidate for most underrated Beatles song?

"Underrated" is an unquantifiable term, and even if most people can agree on a ballpark definition, some will resolutely decline to Get It. (If I asked a large group for everyone's Most Underrated Fantasy Novel, someone would propose "The Lord of the Rings.") So don't ask for a nuanced definition -- I can't give one, except to say that it must include a measure of genuine obscurity. (I.e., if you believe that "Hey Jude" is the greatest song written in the twentieth century, then you would have to consider it underrated, but please don't propose "Hey Jude.")

And my choice? Several of my favorite Beatles songs are down in the bottom fifth in name recognition, so I could come up with a different title on a different day, but right now I will go with: "And Your Bird Can Sing."


Blogger Ken Houghton said...

Good choice.

Since I fall sqaurely in the Lennon-over-McCartney camp, it troubles me that I'm likely to pick "Here, There, and Everywhere" over "Norwegian Wood." (No, I am not a member of the Cult of Piggies.)

Of course, my criterion is, roughly, "If, e.g., Barry Manilow covered it, and it was done as sententiously as his version of 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry,' would I still be able to recognize that it's a great song?"

Have to get my old 8-track of the All This and World War Two soundtrack to check. (Only Aerosmith and EWF survived on the Sgt. Pepper soundtrack, and the I Am Sam effort is so contrived as to be ignorable.)

9:33 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

My spouse the Beatle-person suggests "She Said, She Said" for one of them. Maybe "Every Little Thing", too. He notes that this is based not just on the song, but on the performance.

I'm still thinking about this. Danny also suggests you might get more clarity by asking which Beatle songs are worthy of more notice than they get.

For the record, Richard Thompson included "It Won't Be Long" in his recording of 1000 Years of Popular Music (which also includes "Sumer is Acomin In" and "When I am Laid to Rest").

9:44 AM  
Blogger Dude said...

there are hippys in the house!

9:46 AM  
Blogger Dude said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

We're not hippies, we're Boomers!

Interesting candidates here. Ken's "Here, There, and Everywhere" and Danny's "She Said, She Said" are good choices. (Also Thompson's "It Won't Be Long." I would never have thought of that, but it =is= a really fun song, isn't it?)

If I had to chose another, it would be "Long, Long, Long." Which also qualifies as "deserving more notice than it gets."

Certainly one strong George Harrison song that gets very little notice is "Old Brown Shoe." More understated than the better-known "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," which is kind of a scenery-chewer.

1:43 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

I always wanted to be a hippie, but I was too timid, and just a little too young.

9:20 PM  
Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

Anyone who got to college only after Richard Nixon took office was too young to be a hippie.

On the other hand, by the time we turned eighteen, the girls had Roe v. Wade and the guys had No More Draft.

Ken, I can't quite remember what "All This and World War Two" is. Forgive a boomer's fading memory.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

How about "I'm Looking Through You"? It's off of Rubber Soul which is the transition album and which in some ways has stood up more solidly than the White Album.

6:44 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

I'm very fond of "I Shoulda Known Better." I'm not sure it's an underrated song per se, but it's not much thought of, and I've always liked its energy, and the way it shifts tempos back and forth.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Bob said...

I would have to say "I Will" from the White Album. Short and sweet. I guess I'm just sentimental.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

"I'm Looking Through You" is a good candidate. The Beatles released a few notably poignant songs in the mid-sixties, which struck emotional notes one rarely heard in rock 'n' roll. "No Reply" is another.

"I Will" is a very nice song. There is a good handful of little-played songs on the White Album (I earlier mentioned "Long, Long, Long"). It's hard not to notice that none of them are by Lennon.

I have another candidate, which I will post later.

7:20 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

This morning our local radio station, KFOG, put out a call for people's nominations for "Best" Beatles song--not quite the same criterion as yours. But I was interested to hear one guy call in to suggest "The End." I would never have thought of that one.

9:01 AM  
Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

I haven't listened to KFOG in decades!

Emily had an audition over the weekend, and sang "With A Little Help From My Friends." She had played the song in her steel drum band but (it turns out) had no recollection of ever hearing the original recording. I no longer have my ancient LP -- probably still at my parents' house -- so I went and got the CD. (I will save the rant about the price of old Beatles CDs for another time.)

Everyone knows the Sergeant Pepper's album, and everyone loves it. The songs are all extremely familiar, although mostly in context of each other's company (especially for Side One) rather than as individual songs. As far as the very well-integrated Side One is concerned, the songs seem so much of a unity that one rarely thinks of them individually, and (save for "A Little Help") they are rarely played on the radio.

All this I know, but when I play the CD, I am struck by something. We tend to think of the songs as pretty much equally memorable, even if we know that "She's Leaving Home" is a bit markish and "For the Benefit of Mister Kite" pretty insubstantial. I certainly assumed as much.

But when I listened to the album it struck me that "Getting Better" is not just a pleasantry, but a song that is notably better tighter, better organized, and better performed than those coming before and after it. Several subsequent playings confirmed this. It possesses all the smoothness of "Lucy" and the others, but has considerably more energy and compactness. I am probably not expressing this well, but listen and see.

Rather than saying that "With A Little Help From My Friends" is a classic and all the other songs on Side 1 are pretty good to a more or less equaldegree, I would rank "Getting Better" just below "Little Help."

8:51 AM  
Anonymous Jeffrey Smith said...

You guys have really cranked up my internal jukebox here. I particularly enjoyed "hearing" "The End" again, as I like both the melody and the sentiment. (And in fact my internal jukebox does pull that up pretty regularly.)

My wife chose "Please Please Me" as representative of all the early songs that she feels are just dismissed as early songs.

I, who have somewhat of a fondness for bombast, often feel that I'm the only person who likes "Only a Northern Song."

10:26 PM  
Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

There's no bombast in "Only a Northern Song"! "Hey Bulldog," now, that's another story.

My brother Michael just sent me a list:

You're Gonna Lose That Girl
I'll Be Back
It Won't Be Long
Across the Universe
Happiness is a Warm Gun

As he notes, they are all John's.

I like "You're Gonna Lose That Girl" and "I'll Be Back Again" the most of them.

And let me suggest that the greatest early-middle Beatles song has to be "All My Loving." A beautifully compact, touching little ballad, well within the under-three-minutes limit of its day.

4:16 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

"Across the Universe" is a fine song--as done by Bowie on Young Americans, with Lennon producing.

Greg: All This and World War II is a, er, documentary set to Beatles music. The soundtrack was once described (by Stephen Ford, I believe) as a "best-selling album." Since, other than my 8-track, I've never seen a copy available in the United States, I presume it was a U.K. best seller.

Otherwise, the Canadian commentator who described it on IMDB as a "combination of sacrosanct Beatles tunes and wartime stock footage [that] didn't sound like such a good idea, and when you actually saw it, it turned out to be even more ridiculous than you would have guessed" is fairly correct, except for the "sacrosanct" part.

Parenthetically, I was listening to a couple of Phish tracks from the "Unsurpassed White Album" yesterday. Highly recommended; better energy than the original.

2:33 PM  
Anonymous scraps said...

"You Won't See Me": intricate construction, soaring lead melody, catchy harmonies, great key change in the middle of the verse, lovely bridge; I've never understood why it languishes in obscurity. Maybe it sounds too much like a Badfinger song.

2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I picked up this link on search and was hear I am. It's a great question and I can't resist. Your posters have offered some excellent submissions. There really are too many to limit it to just one.

Other underrated songs in my estimation would be side 4 of the white album. In particular Revolution 1, Honey Pie, Savory Truffle, Cry Baby Cry. The Word and For No One from (Rubber Soul).

And if I might offer for consideration here a song that might not be considered underated, but underappreciated. Ob La De, Ob La Da, not necesarily one of my favorites necessarily, but because it is loaded with little subliminal jokes in the background throughout the song. You practically need to study that single song to hear all the stuff thats going on...and unfortuantely, if you don't have something to unmask the little slogans going on (almost like studying Revolution 9's background voices) you completely miss them.

For example, Listen and you hear "arm" and "leg" called out by John and George repectively after Paul sings let the children lend a hand I believe the first time around. CLEVER! And the Classic Spelling Bee Style Example of Mel Evans (roadie) saying Home...H...O...M...E after the last chorus of "in a couple of years they built a home sweet home".\\

In a similar vein, you might even be able to include Free
As A Bird.

anyway...I've said too much! Thanks for your time! You've gotta love the Beatles, that's all there is to it. They've

8:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...
this proves me wrong...and right. Funny how that works!

I'm from Iowa Man!

9:05 PM  
Blogger P said...

My current favourite is 'No Reply' off Beatles for Sale. I especially enjoy the middle section.
My second underrated track is 'Dear Prudence' off the White album. Take note....Paul plays drums on it!

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