For some reason, my wife thought I’d be interested in some utterly worthless pundit’s ranking of all 213 Beatles songs. She meant well, of course, but there it landed in my In Box. Some guy named Bill Wyman, who most emphatically isn’t the bass player for the Rolling Stones, he’s some sort of – well, I don’t know what the Hell he is, but he obviously understands music the way Rock ‘n Roll critics do, which is to say, not very well at all – decided he had the acumen to offer his opinion. Of course, then, he indulged in every opportunity to wallow in the usual, snide, smug, ass-a-holic put-downs of McCartney. He actually rated Good Day Sunshine, off Revolver, as the very worst thing the Beatles had ever done. It’s not my favourite, understand, but the worst thing they’d ever done? It ruins Revolver? It’s worse than Revolution 9, say? Worse than Run For Your Life? Worse than Bungalow Bill, Sexy Sadie, and a dozen other Lennon abominations? Worse than Blue Jay Way? Worse than Mr. Moonlight? Jesus H. Fucking Christ on Rollerblades. Have a look:
This, however, is not the thing that really irks me. Everyone on Earth overrates Lennon and underrates McCartney, it’s just a thing that is what it is, like people adoring American Idol, or lapping up superhero movies, or voting for Trump. It’s just a condition of life, like heart disease, say, or obesity, or clinging to the belief that the Supreme Being and Creator of the Universe, while overseeing the disappearance of entire galaxies into black holes, also has on opinion on your facial hair and whether you eat shellfish. You have to learn to live with it, to accept that you occupy the same globe upon which people believe that dinosaurs and humans once co-existed, that evolution is a myth, that global warming isn’t happening, that there really was a Noah’s Ark, and that – God help me – the Sun goes around the earth. To draw breath is to suffer idiots.
Here’s what really pisses me off. In Wyman’s ranking of the top three Beatles songs, he puts A Day in the Life first, Strawberry Fields Forever second, and Penny Lane third. Now, that’s arguably a perfect assessment. Perfect. A Day in the Life, a pure collaboration between John and Paul, and then one by John, principally, and one by Paul. I can quibble whether it’s actually Penny Lane that should be second, or whether both sides of that epochal double A-side should simply be judged co-equal, but you know, these are the sort of things about which reasonable people can disagree. Fine. But then the chowder-head has to do this, after praising Penny Lane to the skies in almost the same language I would use (and have used, see the Songs of the Day Archive):
It’s the one pop single you can see and hear, and smell and taste and feel too. After the Beatles, McCartney ducked into an iconoclastic solo career that ultimately grew into a genial ’70s superduperstardom; with guidance from Lee Eastman, he became as rich as you can imagine. After a quiet ’80s, he went back on the road, where he’s been intermittently available ever since. He even releases the occasional record, which no one ever listens to.
That nasty, petty, catty, bitchy little aside was necessary – why?
He also concludes, like every other idiot who has no idea what he’s talking about, that A Day in the Life was really Lennon’s song, even while admitting that McCartney provided the crucial line “I’d love to turn you on”, the middle section, and the orchestral apocalypses that make the song what it is, while of course not acknowledging the crucial part of the song’s musical texture provided by McCartney’s bass and piano playing. This, mind you, despite John Lennon himself, even at the peak of his “I hate Paul” petulance in the early 70s (see again the Songs of the Day archive), repeatedly asserting that the song was a pure 50/50 collaboration all the way. John was always scrupulous in insisting that he and Paul wrote that one together, and always described an intimate interaction between them on the composition of that track that makes you weep at the thought of all that was lost when their fellowship dissolved.
Oh, and by the way, Billy-boy knuckle-head, Paul’s latest album, New, didn’t do too bad for an artist that no one ever listens to:
The album debuted at number 1 on both the Billboard 200 and Billboard Canadian Albums in North American charts, with first-week sales of 97,000 copies in the United States and 48,500 units in Canada, respectively. The album has sold 1,217,000 copies in the United States as of May 2016.
“New” received extensive airplay on radio stations, also peaking at number 4 on the country’s Hot 100. Anticipation for McCartney’s subsequent tour also boosted sales of New in Japan, providing the artist with his first album to chart in the top three positions there since Tug of War in 1982. The album reached the top five in at least ten countries; in Norway, McCartney topped the chart for the first time since his album Flowers in the Dirt in 1989.
Meanwhile, on the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper, there were repeated articles that asserted that it was all hype, that it wasn’t even a good album, that there were no really good songs on it, and it was time to consign the record to the dustbin of history and move on. You know why? Because the album, which changed pop music forever, was McCartney’s, start to finish. No really good songs? Well, to begin with, it climaxes with what even dung-where-his-brains-should-be Bill Wyman concludes is the best Beatles song, and what I’ve always contended is the finest pop composition ever likely to be written: A Day in the Life. John’s Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds and Paul’s She’s Leaving Home, and With a Little Help From My Friends, are major compositions – and oh, by the by, rocks-for-brains Bill Wyman placed She’s Leaving Home somewhere around 202 or so, the same song that composer Ned Rorem reckoned was “as good as any song Schubert ever wrote” – though, we can be sure, Billy would insist that he knows just as much about the construction of formally perfect music as a classically-trained composer.
Getting Better, Fixing a Hole, and Lovely Rita are superb pop confections, and When I’m Sixty-four is simply endearing; only the most doctrinaire moron could decry it. Moreover, no proper assessment of Sgt. Pepper can be reached without contemplating the record as it was originally meant to be constituted, with Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane included; even turnips-in-his-brain-pan Bill Wyman would then be asserting that this single album contained the three best Beatles songs on record, which, perforce, means three of the best songs ever written. Not that good an album? Really?
Can you guess how I know that questioning the sheer quality and impact of Sgt. Pepper is ridiculous? It’s that, 50 years on, there are still emotional debates about it. Modern pop music is divided into two eras: before Pepper, and after. We can snipe back and forth about which is best, but there can be no reasonable argument about which is most important.
Oh, and Bill, go fuck yourself with a wire brush, OK?
3 comments on “I’ve Had It”
When I was young, say 18, I thought Lennon was deep and McCartney was shallow. I guess I bought into the dismissive Yoko narrative that McCartney’s songs were naive but pleasant [‘the moon,June, & spoon], whereas John’s songs were “serious”. Grown up. Deep.
OMG I could ONLY have thought that way when I was a sure-of-everything teenager. Jesus.
Can you tell I was ticked off? I’m worried I was overly cautious in moderating my tone.
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You could tell, that’s why I said ouch.
You were appropriately dismissive of Mr. Wyman!