Naysayers like some of my co-bloggers notwithstanding, if you asked 1000 people the question “Who’s the best band of the rock era?”, the overwhelming response would be Those Four Guys From Liverpool (or Lau Gibelaigerilekua Gizonak Dutenek, as our Basque readers would say.) This is probably because of the fame (and catchiness) of their many hits, or how they seemed to embody the spirit of the 1960s, or the way they led rock from silly moon-June pop tunes to genuine art (kuidas nad viinud muusika rumal lugusid umbes kuu ja juunist tõeline kunst, as our friends in Tallinn might put it). What I want to talk about today is a less celebrated side of their talent, its versatility.
Pop : I Want to Hold Your Hand
The most obvious category the Beatles occupy is pop. Try to forget how familiar this song is, and listen to it as if for the first time. It is an almost perfect pop song, from the goofy lyrics, to the two-part harmonizing, to the wild jumps from note to note. And there’s just enough lead guitar to make it clearly a pop song from the rock era.
This, on the other hand is all heartfelt lyrics with just enough wordplay to keep it light, and the guitar turned down to where it could easily be replaced by piano or strings. Perry Como covered it. Sinatra or Bublé could too.
Power Pop: I Saw Her Standing There
Loud, raucous, full of wild energy. This could have been the Raspberries, if it hadn’t been 1963.
Country Rock: What Goes On
Jangly guitars,countryish chords. mournful lyrics. (OK, the scouse accents are jarring.)
Children’s Song: All Together Now
There are others, e.g. Yellow Submarine and Octopus’s Garden, but this combines simple lyrics, silly instruments (the Harpo Marx honking), and a gradual speedup that makes the ending almost frantic.
Psychedelia: Tomorrow Never Knows
Strange sounds, spooky lyrics, backwards guitars. No part of it fits with any other part, or stands still long enough to be understood. It’s a zen koan of a song.
Electric Blues: Yer Blues
Piercing guitars, piercing lyrics, piercing voice. The essence of the blues.
Metal: Hey Bulldog
Heavy piano-bass-drum base, with a scorching guitar break. Led Zeppelin might have done this, if they’d had a sense of humor.
Grunge: Helter Skelter
According to Butch Vig, Nirvana producer “I was talking about this whole grunge thing with a friend … when ’Helter Skelter’ came on the juke box. I said: ’Here’s the first grunge song, listen to it!’… So it wasn’t really anything new. I didn’t invent grunge. And Seattle didn’t either.”
Sure, you can find better grunge or blues bands, and perhaps even equally good pop bands. But, as Ovid might have said, “Nemo alius potest facere omnia.”