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Beatles’ Greatest Songs: Did Rolling Stone Get It Right?

Stop The Presses!

Rolling Stone has come out with a special stand-alone issue devoted entirely to picking the Beatles' 100 greatest songs. And not a moment or decade too soon!

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But can we really trust a magazine that shares its name with the Rolling Stones, the group the Beatles were always pitted against, to get the Fab Four's legacy and rankings right? Couldn't publisher Jann Wenner's notoriously close friendship with Mick Jagger lead to an act of editorial sabotage? Like, you know, placing "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," "Wild Honey Pie" or "Flying" at No. 1?

Don't worry-those are the kinds of stones that Rolling Stone will leave unturned. For better or worse, RS's list is all about conventional wisdom and orthodoxy. The magazine has some savvy commentary and history about each song. But the list itself is completely unsurprising, especially in the upper rankings.

Let's take a look at the top 10 Rolling Stone put together after 40 years of careful consideration:

1. "A Day in the Life"... Artsiest rock song of all time? Check.

2. "I Want to Hold Your Hand"... British Invasion breakthrough? Check!

3. "Strawberry Fields Forever"... Mind-expanding psychedelia? Of course.

4. "Yesterday"... The most-covered ballad of all time? Naturally.

5. "In My Life"... John's most sensitive moment, greatly favored at weddings, funerals, and reunions? Inevitably. 

6. "Something"... Face it, you'd have to insert your first token George about here on the list, even if he didn't so obviously merit it.

7. "Hey Jude"... A seven-minute single so killer, it would take a mountain of ineptitude to ruin the record label it so successfully launched.

8. "Let It Be"... You never need or want to hear this again in this lifetime, unless it is being mashed up with "Live And Let Die." But an all-time classic? Indubitably.

9. "Come Together"... Rock's most riveting complete-rubbish lyrics? Sure.

10. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"... The best Beatles guitar solo ever ghost-shredded by Eric Clapton. A no-brainer!

Just about every key epoch in the Beatles' short but awesomely wide-ranging history is hit on in this top 10. But there's something about these predictable, if not objectively unassailable, selections that feels a little... un-"Revolution"-ary.

The beauty of the Beatles' nearly 300-song catalog is that it's easy to come up with an alternate top 10 that makes just as much sense, or more, when it comes to picking brilliant game-changers. 

If Jann had come picking our Beatle-maniacal brains for input on the rankings, here's the top 10 we would have handed him:

1. "Help!" An exultant cry of desperation (oxymoron intended). This single captured the precise moment of overlap between the Fabs' frothy beginnings and the raw emotional honesty that would figure into some of their best later work. It was disguised as a frolicsome movie theme, but formerly carefree moptop John Lennon seemed to be saying: Please pay attention to the lonely little man behind the curtain of bangs. 

2. "Revolution" The real revolution: putting that much distortion on a record-deliberately. To those about to fry your amps, these garage-rock progenitors salute you. And again, an important moment of two eras in collision, with countercultural sentiments blending with Lennon's deep cynicism about the same.

3. "Here Comes The Sun" The most honestly optimism-prompting song ever written? Could be. You could put this on in a war zone or terminal ward and everyone would start humming along and looking for the cloud break.

4. "Helter Skelter" The invention of heavy metal-by no less a headbanger than Mr. "Ebony And Ivory" himself!

5. "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" As much as anything Dylan ever wrote around the same period, this brief encounter may be responsible for the observational singer/songwriter revolution that followed in rock & roll. Strangers spending the night together (even in separate tubs) was scandalous, in mid-60s pop. But Lennon seemed less interested in raising eyebrows with intimations of a one-night stand than exploring the mixed feelings of the morning after.

6. "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End" Paul turned much of Side 2 of Abbey Road into a medley that had its own Broadway-style reprises built in, and pop music never seemed more dazzling. Fun as it was, the portent was overwhelming. "Boy, you're gonna carry that weight a long time" could have been either a blessing or a curse, but knowing these were essentially the last songs on the last album the Beatles made gave the whole exercise a terrible, wonderful sadness.

7. "Eleanor Rigby" Speaking of sadness, who can forget the feel-bad hit of 1966?

8. "Twist And Shout" They didn't write it, but so what? This was Lennon's-and maybe rock history's-most nodule-shredding performance. (Well, at least till Paul's equally ruinous vocal on "Oh! Darling.")

9. "We Can Work It Out" An unfettered shot of relationship optimism-with the "Life is very short" section counting as possibly the greatest bridge in any pop song, ever. If only Lennon and McCartney had followed their own advice, when it came to tolerating each other.

10. "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" History's all-time ode to rejection, repression, and sublimation.

And while we're at it, how about a list of the Beatles' most underrated songs, any of one of which might also have made a more provocative top 10 inclusion than Rolling Stone's top-ranked picks? Like: "Because." "I'm a Loser." "I've Got A Feeling." "Things We Said Today." "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey." "Yes It Is." "No Reply." "The Night Before." "Yer Blues." All of which do show up later, much later, in the RS list.

But what about the undersung masterpieces that don't even make RS' top 100? Like "Tell Me Why." "Savoy Truffle." "Do You Want To Know A Secret." "Birthday." "Good Morning, Good Morning." "The Word." I can understand the omission of a personal pet sound like "Why Don't We Do It In The Road." But no "Magical Mystery Tour"? Seriously, really? And, perhaps the most glaring hot-100 omission of all: "I Don't Want To Spoil The Party"?

But maybe this would be a good time to point out the unlikelihood of there ever being another instance in history of controversy over which tunes have been left off a list of a band's 100 top tunes? Even other artists who've been trying a little too hard to build up as prodigious a canon-yes, we're looking at you, Prince and Ryan Adams-will be hard-pressed to qualify for the honor.

Here, for the sake of further argument, is the complete RS list. You'll have to pick up the special issue on newsstands, of course, to see their argument for borderline cases like "Long, Long, Long." But on the face of it, what strikes you as the most overrated or underrated track? The most egregious omission? 

1. "A Day In the Life"

2. "I Want To Hold Your Hand"

3. "Strawberry Fields Forever"

4. "Yesterday"

5. "In My Life"

6. "Something"

7. "Hey Jude"

8. "Let It Be"

9. "Come Together"

10. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"

11. "A Hard Day's Night"

12. "Norwegian Wood (This Bird HasFlown)"

13. "Revolution"

14. "She Loves You"

15. "Help!"

16. "I Saw Her Standing There"

17. "Ticket To Ride"

18. "Tomorrow Never Knows"

19. "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds"

20. "Please Please Me"

21. "All You Need Is Love"

22. "Eleanor Rigby"

23. "Abbey Road Medley: You Never Give Me Your Money/Sun King/Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam/She Came In Through The Bathroom Window/Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End"

24. "Happiness Is A Warm Gun"

25. "Here, There And Everywhere"

26. "If I Fell"

27. "You're Going To Lose That Girl"

28. "Here Comes The Sun"

29. "Can't Buy Me Love"

30. "We Can Work It Out"

31. "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away"

32. "Penny Lane"

33. "I Am The Walrus"

34. "Eight Days A Week"

35. "Paperback Writer"

36. "I Should Have Known Better"

37. "She Said She Said"

38. "Blackbird"

39. "Day Tripper"

40. "For No One"

41. "Get Back"

42. "I Feel Fine"

43. "Drive My Car"

44. "All My Loving"

45. "No Reply"

46. "Don't Let Me Down"

47. "Things We Said Today"

48. "The Ballad Of John And Yoko"

49. "The Night Before"

50. "Got To Get You Into My Life"

51. "If I Needed Someone"

52. "Helter Skelter"

53. "It Won't Be Long"

54. "Two Of Us"

55. "Taxman"

56. "I'm Down"

57. "I'm Only Sleeping"

58. "I've Just Seen A Face"

59. "I Want You (She's So Heavy)"

60. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"

61. "With A Little Help From My Friends"

62. "Girl"

63. "Dear Prudence"

64. "I've Got A Feeling"

65. "And I Love Her"

66. "Nowhere Man"

67. "Oh! Darling"

68. "Baby, You're A Rich Man"

69. "Julia"

70. "You Can't Do That"

71. "I'm A Loser"

72. "From Me To You"

73. "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey"

74. "Yellow Submarine"

75. "Think For Yourself"

76. "Yer Blues"

77. "Because"

78. "And Your Bird Can Sing"

79. "I'll Follow The Sun"

80. "Mother Nature's Son"

81. "Hey Bulldog"

82. "She's Leaving Home"

83. "I'm So Tired"

84. "Across The Universe"

85. "Back In The USSR"

86. "Lady Madonna"

87. "Love Me Do"

88. "Rain"

89. "Good Day Sunshine"

90. "The Long And Winding Road"

91. "Every Little Thing"

92. "Dig A Pony"

93. "Sexy Sadie"

94. "You Won't See Me"

95. "Any Time At All"

96. "Within You, Without You"

97. "All I've Got To Do"

98. "Long, Long, Long"

99. "Yes It Is"

100. "Hello, Goodbye"

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