In honor of this upcoming Wednesday release of the remastered Beatles discography, both stereo and mono, I present to you my favorite picks out of their entire catalogue. This is not an easy task as the early mid and late period of their career have a vastly different sound from one another. Please note that this does not include songs they covered, i.e. Twist and Shout
Now the story often goes that Lennon and McCartney were the only ones capable of writing a good pop song in the early Beatle years while Harrison would come into his own later. I present to you, Mr. Harrisons first song Don’t Bother Me. Maybe it was the tweeny Beatlemania that leaked into the cultures subconcious that led us to believe that Lennon and McCartney were songwriting masters from the start but in their second album, aside from McCartney’s All My Loving, the pickings were scarce for the two main songwriters in terms of good songs, in fact all of Lennons main songs by no means show the profilic songwriter to be at the top of his game. Harrison’s Don’t Bother Me however is a charming number that doesn’t feel as dated as the rest of the output on here, and he already shows a penchant for chord structures. In fact, its the first song in their entire catalogue that is written in a minor key. His voice, often characterized as “weak’ at the time is rather tuneful, boosted by the double track and its rather endearing, more human than most of the Beatles output of the period.
Lennon and McCartney certainly have their merits during this period with From Me To You, She Loves You, I Want to Hold Your Hand, and I Saw Her Standing There, but one that sticks out for me is Misery. It lacks the glossy sheen most of their output had at the time, reason perhaps for its relative unheard status but it shows more depth to their songwriting than the simple i love her and she loves me unbridled enthusiasm that they packed into their songs. Of course as typical of their early period this features some great harmonies and a perfect bridge or “middle eight” as they liked to call them. And for under two minutes it doesnt seem rushed.
Beatles for Sale certainly doesn’t have the well known status of most of the other Beatles LP’s and it is often cited as a weaker album than most of what makes up the Beatles catalogue but I disagree. Most people seem surprised at the transition that Lennon made upon A Hard Day’s Night where he wrote all but four of the tracks (thats ten for you counting at home) but he showed startling progress again on Beatles for Sale. There were really two here that I could have picked, both No Reply and I’m A Loser are good on their own merit, but I’m going to have to go with No Reply, Lennon’s story telling is superb and of course the “middle eight” and harmonies as well, and its very easy to draw a link between this song and his other story telling songs to come later, Norwegian Wood and Girl.
On A Hard Days Night the Beatles were at the top of their early career game in terms of songwriting, and they were at the cusp of having not just Britain but the U.S. at their beck and call. While it mostly was the closest thing to a Lennon party since the Russian Revolution, McCartneys contributions while light on quantity are not light on quality. Things We Said Today shows him coming into his strengths as a melody maker, bending the conventional rules on song structure to meld between keys and it features a great understated harmony by Lennon.
And as a bonus, two songs I feel are very under-appreciated on this album, Tell Me Why and Any Time at All. Both Lennon and McCartney would admit that these are kind of off the cuff and not their best, but both paint a clear picture as to what the early Beatles sound was, energetic, good spirited and it gave good credit to the influences that they had mulled together, from Motown to skiffle to Elvis Presley and both feature some of Lennon’s better pop rock singing.