Joni’s third album is a massive leap forwards in terms of quality, melodically stronger, musically more adventurous, thematically there is a wider range, and it is also lyrically sharper. Blue may be the more critically acclaimed and overshadows much of her other work, but this is equally flawless and indeed contains more famous songs. Her first big hit Big Yellow Taxi is here, as well as one of the defining songs of the Sixties `Woodstock’. With this album Joni became the spokesperson for a generation and every song both sounds eternally rooted in the days they were written, and as fresh and relevant today. Ladies conveys the freedom and ideals of the Hippy movement, but is also full of the darker introspection which would fill her next album. At turns joyous and bleak, and never less than mesmerizing Ladies Of The Canyon is an album which stands high above the singer-songwriter offerings of today and is one which every music lover should hear.
`Morning Morgantown’ opens the album in storybook style with Joni telling us about an idyllic morning in a small town, who she sees and everything that happens. With pleasant melodies, soft guitar accompanied by soothing piano in the chorus it is an elegant opener which has more in common with her previous album.
`For Free’ is my favourite song on the album and the first which is primarily dominated by the piano. Casting many shadows with its atmosphere it speaks of the dark side of fame, causing loss of self, selfishness, guilt. Self-deprecating, ironic, and supremely descriptive the lyrics are among Joni’s best. Avoiding a standard verse chorus convention the song grows in depth as it continues, with subtle strings added in the second half, and the piano melodies varying with each line to avoid repetition. The only part I’m not overly fond of is the horn ending hinting at her growing jazz influences which would become more prevalent after Blue.
`Conversation’ is a more light hearted and upbeat song, even though it deals with unrequited love. The lyrics speak of a woman trying to `free’ a man from what she believes is a one sided, futile relationship. Essentially she is acting as the other woman but you can’t help but side with her with melodies and passion like this. This also features possibly the best vocal vibrato in any song ever with Joni using her voice like an additional instrument more so than anything else she has done. Like `For Free’ it has an unusual expansive ending which adds greater depth and variation, again showing her own growth and experimentation.
`Ladies Of The Canyon’ follows Joni’s usual story telling format, introducing us to a number of characters and providing us with their routines and quirks. The unusual tuning which marks the album stands out here mixed with her finger picking and harmonious `do di dos’. This seems like a sequel to `Morning Morgantown’ and as the title track it contains most of the characteristics of the album as a whole.
`Willy’ is an unashamed song of devotion, without a hint of irony and remains utterly charming and powerful today. Joni’s vocal melodies mixed with those of the piano is one of the most wonderful things to happen in musical history, never more beautiful than here as it builds up to `there are still more reasons why I love him’. As with the rest of the album there is the background hint of darkness due in part to the tone of the piano and a few lyrical flourishes. It is one of the best underrated love songs ever.
`The Arrangement’ brings any hints of darkness from previous songs to the forefront. The soft, unsure, unsteady opening revealing the uncertainties and regrets of the narrator. Speaking of loss, it is quite a quick song but leaves a lasting impression with the fade out vocals of `it could have been more’. For some reason the double notes played frequently throughout the song remind me of the rainy intro to A Link To The Past.
`Rainy Night House’ continues the dark themes, with soft background strings adding to the ominous piano. The almost overlong piano intro is perfect, evoking feelings of gazing out from a window into a rainy night. There are many wonderful vocal moments (`the upstairs choir’) and again everything blends together seamlessly. Again there is a sense of loss and regret, speaking of a past which can never be regained. Again there is an unusual ending, dissect it any way you like.
`The Priest’ brings back Joni’s guitar skills with a tale of freedom, searching, religion, and ever so small hints of a drug infused trip. The rhythm here is interesting, thumping ever onwards giving a sense of an eternal journey. Again it reminds me of other works, in this case the movie version of Stephen King’s The Stand.
`Blue Boy’ is another atmospheric piano led song with Joni’s vocals deliberately almost breaking in parts to give a sense of fragility. As always the lyrics are open for interpretation with suggestions of love of sadness yet yearning for recovery, loss, war, mourning.
`Big Yellow Taxi’ is the song you will probably have heard in some form even if you haven’t heard this album or any other Joni song. I like the way Joni’s voice sounds completely different on this song than any other on the album- she sounds more like a child. The immortal melody is pop brilliance, the lyrics all the more important today, the sound completely joyous and filled with a love for life.
`Woodstock’ is Joni’s song for a generation, speaking not only of the famous festival which she never attended but watched on TV, but of the movement as a whole. Almost every lyric here has been used as the title of another song/movie/biography/documentary about the times, from `We are stardust’ to `Child of God’. Haunting at times, Woodstock is one of the most memorable songs on the album.
`The Circle Game’ closes the album in a suitably cyclical way, sounding at times like Morning Morgantown but having its own wonderful tune. Singing of the life of one man, from birth to death, signifying life as a whole it may be the best song on the record. Everything is perfection; vocals, instruments, lyrics. While some may smirk at the sentiment everything is played straight. Rarely can a song capture a feeling, thought, or idea so well as here.
Overall Ladies Of The Canyon is a must have. Not only is it historically important and endlessly influential, it has some of the best writing and best music ever recorded. This would go on to be the bench mark for all folk music, for all female vocalists, and for all singer songwriters. Blue would follow this, an equally special album and perhaps even better due to the step forward in experimentation and the wider variety of music and influences she would display.
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By 1968 Joni Mitchell had already written hits for other artists but decided that she wanted to write, record, and perform for herself. Song For A Seagull is her debut album and showcases her love of folk, classical, and jazz music. Her first four albums would be similarly influenced before she began to experiment and become alienated by various scenes, but during this stage of her career her music never sounded so pure. The album is mostly just her voice and guitar, the music accompanying parables about love, life, and despair, moving from pastoral fantasies to songs of yearning, from the energy and joy of night life to dreaming of freedom. It neither contains the hits of her next couple of albums, nor the musical variety of Blue and later albums, but remains today a near perfect folk album and a fascinating insight into the Sixties.
`I Had a King’ opens the album with a story of lost love, perhaps relating to her own early failed marriage. It introduces us to four main features of early Joni; sumptuous yet unconventional finger picking; intense, imaginative, introspective lyrics; songs which sound like stories; and of course her soaring voice which is more of an instrument than a backing orchestra of a hundred. Melodically it isn’t overly memorable and musically the tone seems quite dark and atmospheric.
`Michael From Mountains’ immediately sounds softer and lighter, and the song can be read as either a story of lost love, of a man who was everything to the woman; Someone who is giving, but whose mind and inner self will be forever unattainable for you. Alternately it sounds like a song from a mother to her son, the relationship protecting and giving life to both. Lyrically it is very sweet and poetic and can almost be seen as a precursor to Little Green.
`Night In The City’ has a jaunty, saloon like sound. There are interesting melodies and overlapping voices, pianos and strummed chords which give the song a highly energetic feel. It is about her love of night life, and has the sense of exposure to city for first time, being awakened to the sights, sounds, atmosphere for the first time and instantly being part of it all. It is probably the most upbeat song on the album and one which is a joy every listen.
`Marcie’ is my favourite song on the album, lyrically and musically perfect, both sides serving the other flawlessly. It is the soft story of lonely woman, yearning for more. Lyrically it is highly colourful and draws the listener into the very streets that the characters walk upon. Descriptive, not too metaphorical lending a sense of kinship it is one of her best lyrics. The small details of life, trivialities, days passing lift the song to more than mere commercial pop.
`Nathan La Franeer’ is a song retelling a meeting Joni had with a strange Taxi Driver, but made more interesting by showing us all the people and things she saw out the window. The lyrics are quite biting, speaking about anger, greed, and being an alien to a fellow human while sharing a common space. The hope for all people coming together, one love, and other hippy ideals of the time are clearly portrayed, but the other side is also shown. Marked by some odd guitar noises, it is not as memorable musically. It closes the first half of the album, a stepping stone to the more dreamlike second half of escape and freedom.
`Sistowbell Lane’ opens part two, a story of quaint suburbia, soft guitar and voice similar to Morning Morgantown. Again the music is light and dreamy mirroring the idyllic lyrics. It conveys the feeling that country is better, more desirable to a middle class city life with its useless luxuries.
`Dawntreader’ tells of a sea voyage but more widely as escape and freedom. Soft guitar with vocal surges stand out, vocals and guitar getting louder as the character comes closer to leaving. The lyrics are typically idyllic, like a friend whispering her dreams in your ear.
`Pirate Of Penance’ is an interesting song dealing with an unusual theme and featuring strange dueling vocals. It is a story of a pirate who comes to town on certain days, there is a murder, and the aftermath with quizzing between locals, and a Dancer. The vocals are sung quite quickly and frantically, possibly to echo the panic felt by the character and the frenzied nature of a mob. Musically the guitar takes a background seat to the vocals.
`Song To A Seagull’ is a sparse, mellow song to a seagull. The sea theme continues, although she compares features of the sea to features of the city. She sings of the loss of dreams, changing times, dreaming of the unattainable. The song suffers like a few others on the album by not standing out musically whilst having great lyrics.
`Cactus Tree’ closes the album as it opened- soft, melodic, lyrically diverse. The song speaks of men trying to reach the women they love, but they are free and cannot be reached, trapped in relationship. Still others are scared of falling love, scared of compromise, scared of giving up nothing and everything, possibly echoing Joni’s own feelings at the time. It is a good song to finish on and leaves the listener yearning for more.
The main flaw of the album as mentioned is that too many songs lack variation musically. Luckily the music is beautiful enough for this to be overlooked. This only really matters when you take Joni’s next albums into consideration which are just as beautiful, but also have more variation. Over the next few albums Joni would reach a type of perfection before leaving behind her folk roots and embarking on a jazzy, fused, experimental journey which would separate some fans who wished for more of the same as what is on offer here.
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45. Give Up The Ghost (King Of Limbs): Once you reach the second half of Radiohead’s latest effort, the jangling, jittery noise and alienation evaporates and leaves us with a number of near-ballads. What is simple seems all the more potent and this is one of the band’s most laid back, quiet songs. The lyrics are sparse and repetitive, recurring and fading away with an equally cyclical melody.
44. How I Made My Millions (B-Side): From one gentle track to probably the softest song the band have recorded. Complete with the sound of domestic chopping board bliss/boredom as a backing Thom unleashes various emotions whilst banging on his piano. Decipher the lyrics as you will, mostly they appear as a spur of the moment cut up style. There are few words, but most of the important things in life can be discussed in such a way.
43. Jigsaw Falling Into Place (In Rainbows): The penultimate track on In Rainbows is as close to a straight rocker as you will get on the album. It is high paced for a Radhiohead track, opening with jagged strumming and hums. The emotion and force builds until the group beckons us to ‘Let It Out’ and Thom’s vocals get all the more manic juxtaposing the notion of a jumbled mess becoming coherent.
42. Banana Co (B-Side): This is a classic Bends era B-Side which could have fit snuggly into that album. There is an Iron Lung/Just feeling to it with chunky chords and Greenwood string bends as well as the requisite melodic genius. Once again let your imagination run wild with the lyrics, but just enjoy the big chorus and odd moment of chaos.
41. My Iron Lung (The Bends): When Radiohead do big rock numbers, they go all out to make a serious noise, and usually a serious point or two. This was their response to the idea that after Creep they were one hit wonders. This song proves that they could do it all again, and time has shown that they can be equal parts hits and mind-bending noise makers. While Creep was straight-forward, this is a multi layered tirade; angry, bitter, and funny as only Radiohead can be, the music is loud, brash, and full of innovation- just listen to those ‘solos’.
40. Ripcord (Pablo Honey): I’m sure a lot of ‘real’ Radiohead fans will disagree with the number of Pablo Honey tracks here. While the band may have distanced themselves from the album which made them I think it is as nonsensical to dismiss it as it is for Bends/OK fans to dismiss everything they have made since those two albums as pretentious, unlistenable junk. Ripcord highlights everything that they were and what they could be- intelligent lyrics with a depth of feeling and meaning, taking traditional song structures and messing with them, innovative with their instruments, and packed with so much emotion that the listener may collapse under the weight. Sure it isn’t as big or clever as later songs, but it’s a joy to listen to.
39. Scatterbrain (Hail To The Thief): In quite a dense and epic album, Scatterbrain is one of those quiet moments which will stick in your memory long after the first listen to the entire record. Thom sings old school, backed by a looping drum rhythm and perfectly toned guitar. As the song progresses we get extra instruments in downwards scales against the overall upward direction of the guitar.
38. Talkshow Host (B-Side): For a while this was the band’s most famous non-album track, and with good reason; it showed that the band were moving in new creative directions whilst retaining their nose for a memorable tune. This is hypnotic, other-worldly, and still today somehow sounds futuristic- maybe the rest of the musical world still hasn’t caught up.
37. Creep (PH): Before the world knew what the band were capable of, and before uselss talent shows had trained the track of much of it’s power, this was a kick to the gut of the charts. Britain apparently had a band that could rival Nirvana in terms of noise and angst, as well as taking the ill earned money from disenfranchised teens. Of course the band would later distance themselves from all charts and all other artists, but here they have never sounded more potent. It can be seen as a cry of angst, an adolescent whinge-fest of the highest quality, but given the band’s later output we know they are smarter than that. Sure it’s a song of alienation, like many of the early songs were, but it’s so perfectly written in every way that it’s impossible not to get a chill when listening to it. If you haven’t heard the album version in a while, give it a listen- you’ll be surprised by how powerful it is. We are introduced to Yorke’s soaring, agonised vocals and Greenwood’s guitar ability. Has there been a more famous guitar part in the last 15 years than the pre-chorus KA-CHUNK?
36. Vegetable (PH): More than anything else, Pablo Honey is an album of anthems. Maybe even THE anthum album. Perhaps this was unintentional, but that is how it will go down in history. Thanks to some U2 style vocals and drumming, many of the tracks feel arena-bound and Vegetable is no different. It begins softly enough with simple music and gentle singing and playing. Once we reach the bridge, Greenwood is on top form twisting each note into realms unexplored. The chorus is held off for a while ensuring that it is even more crowd pleasing when it finally arrives and Yorke belts out the infamous lyrics. All together now- ‘I’M NOT A VEGETABLE!’
35. 2 + 2 = 5 (HTTT): When I saw the band at Glastonbury in ’03, this was not the opening track, but may as well have been- it works as a brilliant introduction, building and building from soft beginnings to the frenetic explosion of the ending. Suffice to say that after a bag or two of red wine, as this was playing my limbs were going off in all angles. This is amongst their best album openers.
34. Punch Up At A Wedding (HTTT): A chilled offering, this comes at the exact right moment in the album. Largely piano led, Thom’s harrowing ‘no no’ intro is classic and from that moment, through the gorgeous chorus, over the wonderful and coherent lyrics, to the the groovy, blip filled end this is a symbol of a band on top of their game.
33. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi (IR). I didn’t think much of In Rainbows on first listen, but it didn’t take long for me to catch up thanks to tracks like this. From the watery opening to the exquisite vocals it is a song undeservedly forgotten.
32. Where I End And You Begin (HTTT): Opening with some scary sounds and with a melody eerily similar to The Gathering’s On Most Surfaces this morphs into a funky jazz rock beat. The generally mellow tones don’t cover the anger and confusion of the lyrics. In an era of collapsing Radiohead melodies and a lack of simple constructions, this stands out as a fairly old school Radiohead song but with all the sounds and experience they lacked 10 years previously.
31. Nude (IR): Aah, a classic Yorke lyric which floors you with its defeatism and realism. Aside from the words and tone the music is beautiful. Again we are faced with Pyramid Song style ghostly evocations and rarely are they shared more clearly here. We even get an old school Thom Yorke clean, high, sustained note. Lovely, in an album which likely confused many MOR Radiohead listeners.
30. Myxomatosis (HTTT): What an opening riff/noise/noyse! This one attempts to stretch your ears to breaking point while Yorke bleats over a simple drum loop. You’re likely to miss the lyrics first or tenth time round, so read them to appreciate their genius. This is violent, horrible, vicious, and inspired.
29. Permanent Daylight (B-Side): A teeny, tiny Radiohead song this with a teensy weensy lyric. But every second counts, every note, every word. I love the distortion on the vocals and on the guitar, I love the melodies, I love the fact that it is a quick few lines which you assume will be repeated or expanded on in a second verse, but instead the song finishes in a flurry og guitars and noise before slowing and fading away with a chord of ‘so what’?
28. Killer Cars (B-Side): Thom Yorke doesn’t like cars. He doesn’t like crazy drivers, he doesn’t like traffic. These of course are fears of a modern world, where instant death through no fault of your own lies potentially around every corner, and where instant boredom can turn a sane man into a jammering wreck. Opening with a strange refrain, the song is a series of ‘what ifs’ and paranoia. Like most early Radiohead songs you can easily look past the lyrics and sing along numbly because the tune is so holy. Killer Cars is no different- verses, chorus, middle bits, end bits, all the bits really are the stuff of singalong legend. There isn’t anything complex here, just interesting end of the world guitar music.
27. Stop Whispering (PH): The band invoke their inner U2 with this stadium filling anthem. We move from soft, yearning vocals through themes of rebellion to a chorus which begs to be screamed from the rooftops. The song builds in voulme and emotion as it continues until it eventually collapses in upon itself for a frantic middle section and ending. Pablo Honey is much more than just ‘Creep’.
26. How Can You Be Sure (B-Side): An interesting acoustic moment this from the funny looking ones, this is a lighter, funnier track akin to Thinking About You. The band sound as relaxed as they ever will here, and gasp upon coughs you can almost imagine them playing this on a sunkist beach- if you were drunk. The moment when the verse gives way to pre-chorus (complete with scorching piano and organ), and on to the main event is beautiful and will probably remind those lost after Kid A why they loved the band in the first place. Spot the the backing vocals too. Great lyrics.
25. Prove Yourself (PH): Another Pablo Honey anthem, charged with U2 style vocals, stadium filling melodies, lots of guitars, yet those darker, self mocking lyrics that Radiohead excel at. Those pre-chorus lyrics though- even though they touched a nerve with much of the disenfranchised youth who heard them they were still powerful enough when heard from the other side by Thom to warrant him choosing to never play the song again.
24. Bullet Proof (TB): Anyone who sees Radiohead as ‘that depressing, suicidal band’ should probably not listen to this song as it seems to instantly justify their opinion. Bullet Proof is slow, sombre, dreamy, the sound of lonesome thoughts drifting upwards and away from a broken mind. On the other side though it is absolutely glorious- the fusion of Thom’s voice, the careless drumming, the chaotic downward spiral of the effects, and Johnny’s light guitars creates a timeless snapshot of many parts of the 90s British mindset.
23. I Can’t (PH): Possibly the epic of Pablo Honey, this screams out of the stereo- the sound of a young band surely destined to be the next big thing. The chorus lyrics are the epitome of British grunge, whilst the more refined crunch and whine of the guitars is at once more melodic and resigned by the American counterparts. It’s a simple song, like most from the band’s debut, but a lot of ground is covered nonetheless; the band are pressing gently against the barriers of what can or should be done in a rock band before exploding through them a few short years later.
22. Maquiladora (B-Side): This is one of the best ‘lost’ Radiohead tracks, in the sense that many of their fans will not have heard it. Those fans crying out for a return to the sound of the early days who missed these tracks first time round should search for them and turn by the clock. Musically it is the subtle quiet tones drowned suddenly out by a barrage of noise that the band did so well in their early days- we even get a middle guitar section which sounds just as bombastic as anything from The Bends, lyrically it is excellent, and melodically it is strong enough to be a single.
21. The National Anthem (Kid A): What should have been Kid A’s opening track, The National Anthem (as if the title wasn’t enough of a clue) is the soundtrack to the millenium’s turning point signifying the multiple ‘whatthefucks’ cascading from all angles of the globe. The world was get smaller, border were merging, society was becoming one, and every last one of us was too terrified to look out of the window for fear of another lost fool staring back in at us. A repetitive drum wall and possibly the band’s best riff try to stabilise things, but the endangering guitar slices cut swathes through the veil of normalcy whilst the brass fragments make a squealing mockery of what is lieft of humanity’s sanity. And all the while Thom shrieks 12 foot back from the mic, in another room, in another time, that ‘it’s holding on’. Oh no it isn’t, Thom, oh no it is not.
20. Like Spinning Plates (Amnesiac): The album may not be seen as a high point in the band’s career and more like the cutting floor scraps from Kid A, but if this is a scrap then all of us should be proud to be rats at the foot of the band’s table. Backwards, forwards, wrong, right, this is music at it’s most hautingly pure artistic form. Listening too much may indeed leave some sort of stain on you and send you into some places you’d rather not go. But these are places we all must go, so why not have a soundtrack to the despair, the confusion, the void. When the verse gives way to the chorus it is one of the closest things to a mass epiphany that any group of fellow listeners could experience.
19. The Tourist (OK Computer): How do you end what is generally considered the best album of the 90s? Effortlessly. Withdrawn verses, hallelujahs for choruses, pleas for calm, drug induced peace, confused speed, inevitable disaster, all symptoms of THE END, and no apocalypse has ever sounded at once so welcoming, so unavoidable, so pointless. There are few moments of space on OK Computer, this is the sound of the machine shutting down, of the screens going blank, of the lights going out. Or it could be a joke put together after one of Thom’s wacky experiences on the road, words made to fit sounds made to fit the tone of an album made to make millions.
18. Motion Picture Soundtrack (KA): Sweet Jeebus when Radiohead get an album closer right they get it perfect. Organs in the future will sound like the organs of the past, our funerals will sound like a shopping trip, our loves will have the substance of moisture running through a tube, our thoughts will be digitally dispersed like peanuts in the sun, our movies perpetually lost in the fifties. The more crazed fans point to songs like this as causing angelic, religious experiences- you can’t disagree with them, but you can run away fast.
17. Lucky (OC): This is the cold joking heart of OK Computer, the controlling force of your life laughing at you as it watches you bounce from one near catastrophe to the next. You think your choices are laid out simply like a series of crossroads? Maybe, but you’re just a strapped passenger in the taxi of a crazed blind drunk who will scream over lanes listlessly providing nothing but fiery gruesome horrors at every junction. Thom drawls all over this one, the wavey, circular effects are closing in, and Greenwood lets rip with one of his most effective chilling guitar parts.
16. Nice Dream (TB): Beautiful floating guitars give way to an electrical storm of epic proportions as the dream is violated by the waking gaze. The band to let a pleasant string section into the song, and by this point we know that is asking for trouble. If you think that you’re strong enough you’re sadly mistaken as reality has a way of chewing through any protection you thought you had and tearing happily into and beyond your soul. Melodically superior to all the copycat bands who have come and gone since (melody is the simplest part of a song to write) this also pisses all over those same bands musically, lyrically, artistically, and even pissingly.
15. No Surprises (OC): Simply glorious, no metaphor silly enough, no drunken rambling inspired enough can touch the grandeur of what is on display here. Something so simple can become something so powerful and a moment such as the dual vocals on ‘my final’ can become a defining moment in the life of the listener.
14. High And Dry (TB): The Bends has its moments of balls to the wall rocking, but what it will be remembered for are its quiet moments, those anthems which didn’t need volume to speak volumes. High And Dry is perhaps the most famous of these, with its light verses breaking into sky-scraping choruses and reaching heights of emotion which few bands even aspire to never mind reach. The lyrics are open enough for you to interpret them any way you choose- most lost in love kids took the song to heart for a variety of reasons. Greenwood gives an effortless, almost anti-solo guitar solo in the middle which stands as one of his best moments.
13. Electioneering (OC): OK Computer’s forgotten moment is one of its best, and the only real moment of rawk on show; possibly that is why many deride the song unfairly as it doesn’t fit in with what they feel the flow of the album is. I find it a perfect break from the slower, more introspective songs. See it if you will as our hero hitting breaking point with the world and unleashing a bitter fury on the wrongs he sees. Yorke spits instead of sings, there is an outside or reality eastern feel to the song encapsulated by the introduction, and Greenwood gives another one of his best guitar parts, twiddling wildy on the strings and knobs to enrich the off kilter experience.
12. Polyethelene (B-Side): For much of their career, this had been the band’s greatest B-Side, remaining unknown still to much of the band’s less fanatic fanbase. It is a standard bearer for the bands first 3 albums and is almost criminal that it doesn’t appear on any album. With volume turned waaay down, Part 1 is a softly softly acoustic ballad which entices you to turn up the volume just so you can hear what is going on. It has the major/minor melody switching which gives many of the band’s songs their emotional core. This ends abruptly with a whisper, giving way to a softly growing swirling effect which then breaks out into Bends style distorted chords. Yorke unleashes some of his best vocals against Greenwoods clanging strokes and riffs to create some glorious chaos.
11. Thinking About You (PH): A seemingly simplistic, angst ridden love song the likes of which the band would and could never write now. This is Pablo Honey’s most tender, most innocent moment and while the lyrics are still bitter, twisted, and self-deprecating, there is a heart which the band would abandon on almost every other track. Musically it is plain and easy, acoustic chords with few flourishes, making it the quiter cousin of Creep.
10. How To Disappear Completely (KA): Speaking of quieter moments, this stunning mid album track is in many ways the bridging gap between original Radiohead and new Radiohead. There are melodies at its core but many of the traditional instruments have made way for computers, and everything which may have been once has been turned on its head. It’s six minutes glide by beautifully, taking the listener on a river ride through the Underworld, showing us despair and hope as one, throwing our ideas of self back at us as we witness our past and future lives colliding. It is one of the few great epics of the new millenium, utterly enchanting, crushingly sombre, viciously inspiring, and packt like sardines in a crushed tin of emotion.
9. Anyone Can Play Guitar (PH): Everybody knows Pablo Honey as that album with Creep and a pile of other rubbish songs no-one knows. They’re wrong, of course, exemplified by this song. Already we can see the direction the band wanted to go with their next albums here- yeah, it’s still guitar driven rock with typical Yorke lyrics and vocals, but moreso than any other track on their debut it shows their ambition to create something different and topple the average rock song. Sure anyone can play guitar, but we want something new. A soaring, searing chorus with effective bridges leading in, lots of disparate guitar fuzz coming together like they really shouldn’t, and a big bang of ideas all aiming for a new creation.
8. The Bends (TB): Probably still the best straight (almost) rock song they have ever made, this title track is more ambitious than anything they had done up to this point and features the alienation themes and unique sound which would serve the band for their next albums. Lyrically brilliant and action packed, it is nevertheless the melodies which stand out. Although special mention must go to the peerless structure, the crashing intro, and Greenwood’s anti-solo in the middle. And of course the ironically hopeful happy ending.
7. Street Spirit (TB): If Creep proved to the masses that Radiohead were an angst ridden angry rock band, then Street Spirit perpetuated the pseudo-myth that they were wrist cutting depression instigators. For the uninitiated it’s easy to understand- just listen to all those minor notes, just look at those bleak, dark lyrics, hear the wailing chorus, see the black and white slow mo video; clearly this is an unhappy group of individuals who would cause suicidal thoughts in any listener. And for the next 8-10 years this is what many people thought about Radiohead. On closer inspection comes the truth as Street Spirit is another of those trance inducing, near holy experiences with epic highs and teaming with emotion. In many ways it’s the perfect album closer, and it certainly fits the rest of The Bends to a T- our journey of confusion ends only with some stark realisations, but at least it is at an end. The anguish from unanswered questions, the trauma of not knowing or over-knowing is over and we can be at peace to immerse our souls in love. Ha.
6. True Love Waits (B-Side): This one came strikingly out of the blue when it seemed that the band had forever turned their backs on easy songs, instead heading towards a distinctly uncommercial, sometimes tuneless, and often confusing direction. Once Kid A appeared the band lost roughly 50% of their fanbase, outraged that their sullen heroes appeared to be dealing with sounds from beyond and forgtetting that music is meant to have notes and a purpose. For the rest of us, we sat back in awe as the group turned and churned out more maniacal genius. Then they started playing this live, a solo Thom on stage singing with only an acoustic guitar about, shock, true love, in heartbreaking terms and hauntingly beatiful melodies. Clearly the band could still do what they had spent their first 3 albums doing, and not only that, they could improve upon what had come before. Add some organs and swirly effects to the Live version and we have one of the bands best ‘ballad’s or soft songs and one whose force is undeniably limitless.
5. Let Down (OC): This is really a lesson in how to take a simple verse/chorus song and turn it into something magnificent through masterful planning and studio wizardry. Merging seemlessly with the previous song on the record, this comes bleeping in like an alien relic before Thom begins to bemoan the pressures of End Of The Century Planet Earth. He drones his way through the verses only to let rip on the chorus, all the while surrounded by fantastic sounds. The best part though, and possibly the high point of their career, comes after the short, slow interlude which sounds like a number of computers making love where the verse comes building back towards us and a host of Yorke overdubs come together like a choir straight from heaven; close your eyes and drift away.
4. Exit Music (OC): But even before we get to Let Down comes the song that it fades in from so wonderfully. Opening with gut wrenching minor chords and evoking terrible images of lost innocence, pain, hopelessness, and tragedy, this song was used to perfection in the DiCapprio/Danes rethinking of Romeo and Juliet. The lyrics do seem to match that story very well, especially at the start, but rarely does a song come along which blends it’s separate parts together so well. Those haunting sound effects in the early section add much to the whispery vocals, but the conclusion is the stuff of legend- a crashing drum leads in an electric hum to ruin a billion minds while Thom takes his vocals to extreme new heights with melodies which will be forever burned into the mind of every listener, then it all grows quiet and we are left with the dying moans of ‘We hope that you choke’.
3. Fake Plastic Trees (TB): People remember High and Dry, but many seem to forget this. It’s their best soft song, a gentle based, slowly building magnum opus, and one which gets to the core of the band’s early emotional and psychological state. For all of the experimenting with sound and structure going on in the rest of the album, Fake Plastic Trees revels in its simplicity and purity. Largely acoustic and almost entirely a solo effort, Thom sings the soothing melodies with an ever so tender, tear-stained voice, and while the lyrics are mostly nonsene, they seem to fit the song better than any other words ever could. The rest of the band gradually appear, we get a crescendo of noise towards the end, before an extending final moments of fleeting fragility as a nation of heartbroken people echo the sentiment that ‘If I could be who you wanted all the time’ then maybe everything would be ok.
2. Paranoid Android (OC): Stairway To Heaven, Bohemian Rhapsody (and yes, Halo Of Flies), classic songs which were both commercially succesful and changed people’s expectations of what could be done in a ‘pop’ song. Paranoid Android joins that list and stands tall as one of the defining songs of the decade, of the band, and remains their one true epic. Like the 3 songs mentioned above, Radiohead’s singular masterpiece weaves through various phases, explores a number of sounds, swells and retreats, makes you jump, think, scream, feel, and wonder how such a thing could ever come into being. Beginning with flickering acoustics climbing and ending in a crash bang wallop of screams and rips we hear a story of uprising, of tyranny, drenched with vitriol, and are treated to shifts in tone, pace, sound, and not a milli-moment of it sounds out of place or nothing less than vital.
1. Black Star (TB): It says a lot about the band that the most simple song on arguably their best album, the song where they sound as if they aren’t even trying, turns out to be my favourite thing which they have ever written. When a band who aren’t even trying can make a song as perfect as this, how amazing must the rest of their stuff be!? The rest of us may spend years of struggle trying to write something with a fraction of the emotion, beauty, and power that is in every second of Black Star- and it’s a song you will likely not find on any other best/favourite lists. Does this mean I am mental? Possibly, but it’s understandable that amongst the singles and the tracks which are played live that this one is oft-forgotten. It has everything I would want in a Radiohead track- vocal perfection, wonderfully catchy and emotive melodies, sublimely written lyrics which anyone can try to relate to but which are open to interpretation, and musical invention. Not only do we get a glorious, timeless chorus, but we have verses which sear with emotion and can bring inexplicable tears everytime; it’s like the band have tapped into some long lost subconcious human feeling. Or maybe I’m talking balls.
As always, feel free to comment on my list and tell me how badly wrong I got it, or even offer your own list!
As with all of the lists here, there isn’t much between my love for a lot of the songs here. Indeed, these preferences change over time and some songs may be replaced by others. I’ve split the songs into groups of 6- roughly there is some difference in love between each group but like I said, this is minuscule (but adds up over each group). Berate and praise, discuss and compare:
73: Christmas Ghost (Christmas Web Single): There are fewer more prolific bands than The Manics and as if 3 albums in four years wasn’t enough the group decided to release a few one off tracks. This one was an unexpected treat because A- it’s the Manics releasing a bona fide Christmas song and B- because it is genuinely joyful, nostalgic, and full of seasonal cheer. The track itself rocks and features some of Nicky’s best recent lyrics- ‘Sleep through the Queen’s Speech- cos it means nothing to me’. Aah, only The Manics could do it.
72: Automatik Tekniclour (B-Side): This track from the There By The Grace Of God release has a Lifeblood era smoothness and digitized sound. In other words there is lots of synth and not many guitars or drums, at least until the chorus. This one pays off blending both styles well with a crowd pleasing chorus and fluffy singalong melodies throughout.
71: Charles Windsor (B-Side Cover): The band show their love for McCarthy with this riotous cover. Lyrically and musically this could easily be a lost Manics track- anti monarchy, venomous, with punk chords and ferocious playing it symbolizes everything the band were at their inception. I love the harmonies, I love Bradfield’s yelps and screams, I love the closing solo.
70: Montana Autumn 78 (B-Side): This track is based on the Unabomber who abandonded modern life in 78 to live alone in a log cabin. Putting that aside this a straight rocker from the late 90s- edgy guitars, screamy vocals, some wonderful lyrics- all that’s missing was a massive string section.
69: Masking Tape (B-Side): This was sampled in Know Your Enemy and released as a B-Side. I think it could easily have pushed some tracks off that album and replaced successfully. This is one of their most underrated non-album tracks- it has a big sound, terrific riff, some sort of interesting experimentation, and a kick ass solo. It is one of a small selection of tracks where the band genuinely sound happy- and that is always a treat.
68: Epicentre (Know Your Enemy): The band don’t make many epics in the traditional sense, especially in their later albums. Epicentre stands out in an epic album perhaps packed with too many songs and words. If the album itself had been shorter I’m sure this track would be more highly regarded. Really, everything about it is perfect; James sings quite beautifully, there is a nice mix of acoustic and electric, the lyrics for once on the record don’t sound like a philosophy/politics student on speed, and it is backed nicely by piano and the competence we would expect from Moore. Surrounded by angry songs, this is much more mellow, yet gets it’s point across more clearly.
67: Imperial Bodybags (Send Away The Tigers): Send Away The Tigers was the band’s heaviest release in years with many of the songs returning to the band’s punk origins. Imperial Bodybags may be the best example of this- fast, angry, raw, it is the band’s remark on the ongoing futility of war. There are moments of lyrical brilliance coupled with the all too common moments of Wire losing his way, but the vicious music, speed, and vocals hide anything too shady.
66: Ain’t Goin Down (B-Side): An early acoustic effort, this is mostly James with guitar but some wonderful backing vocals raise this above the norm. Notable for a wonderful, soft solo, are the lyrics defiant, defeatist, or about oral sex? Who knows, but they do the job.
65: Journal For Plague Lovers (JFPL): A classic Richey lyric on religion, God, free-will, blind acceptance in the face of human horror. If this had been put to music HB era I imagine it being cold and terrifying in the vein of Archives Of Pain. The band aren’t so hung up on despair these days though and James turns this into a storming anthem with crunching guitars and a massive chorus.
64: 4 Ever Delayed (Single): This is another non-album track with a Lifeblood vibe to it- a sense of giving up, shrugging your shoulders to the world and giving in to the indifference which has been stalking you for years. However, the urgency James puts into the chorus vocals attempt a resistance. The title reminds us of Roses In The Hospital, possibly suggesting that when Richey left, that band became stuck in time while a second band emerged to take its place. The original band may return, but at the moment a return seems to be Forever Delayed.
63: Us Against You (B-Side): This has a HB guitar tone mixed with the youthful rage of GT. It’s a classic Manics rant against monarchy, politicians, celebrity, everything terrible they see in the London culture. James switches to banshee for the vocals in a wonderful performance and the guitar part in the middle is one of his best, growing progressively before bursting into a funky section accompanied by some Moore machine-gun blasts.
62: New Art Riot (Single): Aah, the young Manics were a funny bunch. From some truly awful garage recordings they suddenly, as if overnight discovered they could write, sing, and play. We have all the sloganeering, hatred, slut beauty, screams, and exuberant playing we would want right here. The intro is full of confidence, James sounds like he’s swallowed the leftovers from a Brown Bin, and there are catchy riffs and melodies to remember.
61: Everything Will Be (B-Side): As mentioned above, the Lifeblood era was more mellow but I always saw that as symbolic of boredom and resignation. Nothing better supports that notion than the title and lyrics here- nothing changes, no matter you or me or anyone does, all states remain constant and fixed; you light a fuse but the cord keeps getting longer; You behead one dictator only for the hydra to sprout another head. Luckily the music is so gorgeous with that lonely piano/synth feel that you can enjoy the sound rather than the sight of a revolutionary climbing into bed never to emerge again.
60: Door To The River (B-Side): And following on from that is a similar sounding track, with similar lyrics and themes. This one though seems more hopeful and can be read as Nicky apologising for getting wrapped up in any number of thing’s- the band’s ideals, the band’s success, but forgetting why he was there in the first place. The title is taken from a Willem de Kooning painting which doesn’t look like much but gives a sense of leaving, unsure of what is beyond.
59: Emily (Lifeblood): To continue the softer, most experimental phase in the band’s history, Emily begins ominously and with that slightly ‘something’s not quite right’ feeling. The song is both a dedication to Emily Pankhurst who did so much for women and humanity only to be replaced by empty celebrities or even royals as feminist or female icons. Aside from the tasty but cold verses, we are blessed with a storming chorus which has all the more impact when chanted by a crowd- ‘It’s what you forget that kills you’.
58: Patrick Bateman (B-Side): An infamous character deserves an infamous film, and he got that with American Psycho. He also deserves an infamous song- The Manics provide it. Possibly their most traditionally heavy metal song it is long, loud, angry, and punctured through with lyrical genius, from the eye-opening to the brain-expanding to the obscene. This is definitely not Phil Collins. If you haven’t heard it I don’t want to give it away, but the final minutes will go down in history as… something. Aside from the words there are genuinely strong melodies here- praise Jeebus that Bradfield has always had a God-like knack for putting wonderful music to lyrics which lesser musicians would cower away from. Sometimes it seems like Bradfield is a director who keeps having to make better and better film adaptations of Naked Lunch, of The Bible, or any number of seemingly unfilmable texts. Everything flows and sounds great, and everyone plays extremely well to top it off.
57: Ocean Spray (KYE): A dedication to James’ mum, this is the first song which featured lyrics from the guitar maestro. They are simple, but perfectly apt and set to melancholy music which has the occasional burst of angry noise. Moore whips out the trumpet again for a lovely solo, and this time it isn’t annoying but seems fitting. If it wasn’t for the truth behind the song this would be an entirely joyous experience; instead it is incredibly sad, especially when you through the video into the mix as the band look tormented, withdrawn, and in utter agony.
56: Nobody Loved You (This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours): From one sorrowful dedication to another; this time it is Nicky on Richey, and as such it is incredibly personal with lyrics which I’m sure only have true meaning within the band. Opening with a terrific, despaired yell of a riff the song becomes quiet and questioning, giving all the hallmarks of guilt, remorse, and regret. This is at times tender, haunting, angry, and tragic throughout. When James sings- screams ‘like me!’ it is almost too emotional for words.
55: Sorrow 16 (B-Side): This early effort is the band again trying to mix punk ethos with stadium rawk. As such we have plenty of guitars, plenty of one-liners covering a wide variety of subjects some of which hit the mark, some of which don’t. There is a nice chorus, James sounds a little weird, and there is a classic spelling bee finish which always works well live. For the 12 fans who know the song.
54: Never Want Again (B-Side): Though this was a GT era B-Side, it doesn’t sound like anything from that album. There are no stadium guitars, no silly drums, no overt politics, but it retains the youthful attitude; it could almost be seen as a more laid back ‘You Love Us’. The lyrics are clean and clear, it’s wonderful on the ears, the chorus is exceptional. I can’t help but feel some sort of foreknowledge in ‘I smelt death all around our name’.
53: Morning Comrade (B-Side): A classic James acoustic effort in a time when it seemed such songs were a thing of the past. This is almost a solo effort with only James, his guitar, and some keyboard it is tinged with regret and sadness but a determination to keep moving. I always read it as a call to the fans, both tribute, apology, explanation, and reason for hope. The lyrics help with the overall mood, but it is the music, the main riff, and the melody which make this stand out.
52: Yes (The Holy Bible): If Genesis was all about creation, then Yes is all about destruction. This is the sound of a band imploding and taking a sick world with it. It is the sound of one man’s final shriek of despair, of anger, of disgust, a beckoning to join him in seeing the truth of the world if you dare. Lyrically punishing- how any musician found ways to add music to these words is one thing- but to make the music sound exactly correct is quite another. Every member is on top form here finding that rare moment in a band when everyone reaches the same perfect clarity together and release something which the rest of us could only dream of. This is an astonishing opener, funny, fast, yet ultimately horrifying it is only the sight of the gaping abyss- much more terrible sights lie within.
51: Repeat UK (Generation Terrorists): The first time I listened to the album I first encountered Repeat US, arguably the worst thing the band have ever done. I thought this was going to be more of the same. Nope, this is vicious punk at its finest. The Manics hate any powers that be, especially the monarchy and this is their national anthem. As close to Nirvana as anything they have done it is typical of the time- they were young, defiant, and confident that they could make a difference, or at least make a hell of an uproar trying. Chuck in a fantastic solo and we’ve got a winner even if the production is a bit damp.
50: So Dead (GT): Damp production was a problem which hit all of GT, but if you have ears you’ll notice the great songs and ideas underneath. This is a long forgotten track- some may see it as yet another overblown throwaway rock track on a huge album but that not only are those people missing the point, they’re missing some excellent stuff here. The music does chug along and in an album context it may not stand out, but it’s in the single listen where you see the talent. There are some perfect one-liners here and the song’s construction shows an ambition which would be fulfilled later. We weave through verses and choruses where lyrics change rather than repeat and end with a groovy section. It’s not quite Rocket Queen, but it comes as close as any band.
49: Elvis Impersonator Blackpool Pier (Everything Must Go). The band have always been good at writing great opening tracks- ones which grab us instantly but more than that give us a strong indication of the album’s purpose, sounds, and themes. For those fans who had been with the band up until this point, this was a surprise. Sampling of waves? Acoustic James warbling? Was that a harp? Now that the band had lost their main lyricist they appeared to have found a new direction rather than faded away. This is a statement of intent and is in many ways the song which shows that they were capable of playing with the big stadium boys after all. Naturally the band had matured and such ambitions no longer mattered. It seemed that they knew this album would be a mega-hit, but at what cost? It’s so fucking funny it’s absurd.
48: Are Mothers Saints? (B-Sides). Bands don’t make B-sides anymore. That’s because new music is shit and writers are happy to pen a half-assed hit and sit back on the royalties. True artists write and write and make because it’s something inside that they are compelled to release. The Manics have any number of glorious B-Sides and non album tracks which put most other bands’ album output to shame. Are Mothers Saints is a prime example of how the band’s non released stuff can be just as good as the stuff everyone else knows. This is as close to lyrical perfection as a write will get, and when you mix it with some winning melodies, emotional vocals, and fantastic musicianship you can’t go wrong. This has one of my favourite solos from Bradfield- many of my favourite solos from the great man come from B-Sides.
47: Further Away (EMG). Any number of songs from EMG could have been singles, not least this one. It has the big chorus, the lyrics are straight forward and sincere and it works as a simple love song. Naturally the melodies are strong too. It’s a simple structure put used well, it’s up-tempo, it sounds almost happy, and there isn’t anything offensive musically or lyrically. In other words, it’s as EMG as you can get as non-Manics fans can enjoy it without too much thought. On closer inspection the simplicity hides the malaise; Nicky is missing home, missing Richey, missing the band of old- everything has changed. It is Australia’s less enthusiastic brother, but I’ve always got more from this than that hit single.
46: Archives Of Pain (THB). Fewer songs have ever been this horrible. With an introduction sample of the mother of one of the victims of the Yorkshire Ripper, this song not only goes for the gut with intent, it’s intent is to drag your guts out, slowly, while you watch, and flop them all over the floor. If this was how Richey felt abut the Justice system (primarily for murder) then thank God he isn’t about now to see the state of the country. Richey here supports, or even begs for capital punishment for the monsters who live among us. He points the finger at the Government whose ‘rehabilitate, not punish’ credo has dragged Britain into a chaotic Bizarro World where killers are back on the streets a few years after destroying a family’s entire existence, only to start hacking at the next passer by. Regardless of your stance on the subject, this is horrific stuff- one man’s violent, honest belief, set in stone with bitter irony. Oh yeah, there’s music too- possibly the greatest intro the band has written- definitely Nicky’s best riff; one of the greatest solos of all time; melodies and vocals as cold as a murdered corpse on a mortuary slab; frantic chorus vocals which simply feature the names of serial killers; jagged guitars which tear like hooks under an eyelid; funeral march drums of inevitability. Listen and cry.
45: Locust Valley (B-Side). Released at a time when the band’s B-Sides were ate their most experimental, Locust Valley stands out as a straight-forward rocker. Nothing exciting then you may say, but you’d be as wrong as a man in a park with his trousers round his ankles. The song has swirling effects throughout as well as other digital trickery, but above all it is the stunning melodic quality of the bridge and chorus which force this so far up the list. Nicky accompanies James with some vocals and writes a simple enough lyric, Moore’s cymbals sound like dust scatterings, there is an excellent solo and the whole thing is packed with energy- should have made the album.
44: Anorexic Rodin (B-Side). From one B-side about an artist to another. This one is perfection. Everything there is to love about the musical quality of the manics can be found here, I won’t bother covering old ground again- just listen to it. Oh sweet Lord, those verses! That bridge! The chorus is okay, crashing and chaotic, but for once the focus is on everything up to that point.
43: Golden Platitudes (Postcards From A Young Man). This was the song everyone was talking about before I had heard the album. And it lives up to the hype as it really is quite gorgeous. Warm, cozy, yet utterly filled with desperation the song is basically the same few melodies repeated while the music swells, swirls, and builds around. Strings, choirs, ooh and aahs, this is the band at their most orchestral. Wire is on near top form here, cutting and tired, excited and bored. The instrumental conclusion feels like a goodbye, waving away the past regretfully.
42: Don’t Be Evil (PFAYM). The latest album ends successfully, joining the rock past with the pop present and telling us that ‘The lines have all been blurred’. Always a band of contradictions we have good lyrics (though some repetition showing Wire’s malaise continues) against some great music. This is overall celebratory and has a chorus which is great to sing along to, particularly in a group. It feels a lot like a better version of Underdogs.
41: To Repel Ghosts (Lifeblood). A jittery opening which always reminds of Christmas (?) this would be a traditional rocker had it appeared on any other album. Here it is given a lift thanks to the production values and the thought going into ‘how we make this good by taking out all the guitars’. Like much on Lifeblood it sounds otherworldly, but while many of the songs are cold this is an altogether different mood. I’ve no idea what it is though, possibly because it’s so otherworldly I’ve never felt it before. Don’t dismiss Lifeblood when it has songs like this.
40: I Think I’ve Found It (PFAYM). Along with Happy Ending this is the happiest song in the band’s career. It really is delightful. James plays a mandolin, Nicky writes of finding and experiencing that thing which had always been out of reach, finally. The music is not complex, the structure is simple, but it is the fun sounding nature of the song which really sticks in the memory. The band actually sound like they’re enjoying themselves, enjoying being a band without making a statement. Yes it is bittersweet at times, but any time I hear these melodies I can’t help but smile. Or smirk. It’s all the same.
39: Cardiff Afterlife (Lifeblood). A sombre ending then to Lifeblood, but one which still rocks. This sounds like another tribute to Richey with its gut-wrenching tones and upset lyrics. Structurally it’s as simple as everything else on the album, but the depth lies in the production skill and all the backing effects and semi-hidden notes and sounds. The verses are fast and impactful, the chorus comes close to falling apart upon itself, and to top things off we get harps, strange, fuzzy drum swirls and both a harmonica and guitar solo. I enjoy the sudden abrupt ending too, as though the band decided to cut the final second or two of sustain at the finish.
38: Me And Stephen Hawking (JFPL). Oh Richey, how we’ve missed you. Not all his lyrics were stark and horrible, or jargonned up political statements- he was actually extremely funny too. I think the band recognise this here and make the song light, fun, and bouncy- highlighting some of the excellent one-liners. Aside from a nice riff and crunching riffs, the music itself isn’t extraordinary but the melodies and the way James lets rip on certain words which count. He never gets credit for the way he sings, aside from his actual voice. The song itself is about the early 90s genetic experiments on humans with Richey warning we’re next. It’s not exactly Orwell, but it’s something to keep our 8 eyes on anyway.
37: From Despair To Where (Gold Against The Soul). Another stadium filler this, and unashamedly so. Get on someone’s shoulders, pull out your Welsh flag, and party on Garth. Lyrically this is great, moving away from the politics of GT and centering instead on the problems of the self. Richey and Nicky were never too happy to inhabit such bodies and were the first to realise and exploit their own shortcomings. Rather than keep it inside, why not put the thoughts to lyrics and put the lyrics to some sub-metal guitar trickery? With a whispery intro, the rest of the song is a mass of noise and some truly ridiculous vocals from James- some of the notes he reaches here, and the way he blasts them out are spectacular. We get strings used to excess here, they even get a section to themselves, but they help to add some heart and maybe even class to the proceedings. Also, the sssh ending is pure gold. Lesser vocalists should shy away now. As always, the video is terrible, sad for a band with such artistic intent. Worth watching once and then forgetting.
36: Glasnost (Lifeblood): I’ve always found this track to have the superior riff over say, Autumnsong which seemed to garner a lot of praise. Glasnost is jubilant throughout and doesn’t have the struggling to write lyrics of that other track. From the prancing into to the wonderful solo this is 3 minutes of pop joy and has that special blank, empty Lifeblood feeling where regret is oh so sweet. It’s all too lovely for words.
35: The Masses Against The Classes (Single): Their second number one and an ill-fated sign that the band were going to turn away from their chart success to their raw punk roots. They are back in political mode, back in guitar, angry, screaming mode, but not quite in sloganeering mode. They have learned a few tricks since hitting the big time and recognise the benefit of more finely tuned lyrical ideas, big choruses, and better production. There are quiet moments here in the midst of chaos, but it is the melodies, the screaming intro, and the chorus which butcher their way into our memories.
34: Jackie Collins Existential Question Time (JFPL): Opening with a glorious riff, this is Beatles-esque perfection; a track under 2 and a half minutes which seems like an epic, packed with glorious melodies and lyrics which show two conflicting partners to Richey’s psyche- the cynicism and the humour. Throw in wide eyed awe, innocence and disappointment too and you have a fleeting glimpse of a lost hero.
33: Tsunami (TIMTTMY): Another metaphorical journey for the group in the vein of Australia, this hit track from their fifth album has the big sound of their most commercial songs and features one of their most famous choruses. It would be nothing though without some beautiful sitar and strings (one of their great riffs), some emotive vocals, and a bunch of Nickey’s most heartfelt and effective lyrics. He really was on form on this album.
32: All We Make Is Entertainment (PFAYM): An ironic track this which speaks of the collapse of pretty much every industry which once made British great, replaced by stupidity, the idle, the jobless, and the talentless. Britain is now know as the world leader in providing nothing. Only talent shows and empty entertainment light our skies, yet The Manics are still here, explosive and more important than ever if anyone would listen. Great lyrics by Nicky and overall a wonderful set of melodies conspire to make a modern classic by the band. It’s a brash rock song, but an anthem to pointlessness and a wake up call to a slipping world.
31: All Is Vanity (JFPL): This opens innocently enough before some bass and distorted guitar worries the ears; then all hell breaks loose as the song descends into one of the most evil riffs this side of The Holy Bible. Not only does this one make you want to chuck yourself about the room and punch stuff, but the vocals and guitar parts upon closer listening are brilliant- stalking along with potency. On even closer listening you realise that these lyrics have been heard before in the track ‘Picturesque’ That song is nice enough but you just know that these words are meant for this music and returning to Picturesque is like returning to a cardboard box after living in 5 star luxury.
30: Democracy Coma (B-Side). The album track that never was, a song which really should have appeared on Generation Terrorist in place of say Repeat US. This is fantastic from start to end, fueled by a demonic urgency, screaming with youthful outrage. It also features a wonderful solo, some quality political rhetoric, and better melodies than many bands ever aspire to. We even get one of those interesting bridges that featured frequently in many of the tracks from this era, an interlude which stands strongly alone, and makes the surrounding parts all the more interesting.
29: Mausoleum (THB). By this point in The Holy Bible you know things are not ok. A broken, veiny riff is joined by a military beat while Bradfield sings of carcasses, rotting flesh, and a general disgust at no matter what your eyes pass over and through. A mammoth bridge with breathless words which sound more like guttural moans than vocals gives way to the painful shriek of the chorus as we realise that there are no birds, that the sky is turning black. Rather than a simple solo and repeat we are treated to a lovely quote ‘I wanted to rub the human face in its own vomit and then force it to look in the mirror’ leading into one of the most urgent, frightening, harrowing, and condemned song endings in history.
28: Crucifix Kiss (GT). To many this may be just another rock song from a bloated album, but this is one of their best. Lightning quick and surging with urgency. It has that fast palm muted style I love, and while the lyrics don’t always come to together in total coherence, as one liners there are some classics here dealing with religion and hypocrisy. No choruses here, just a series of pumping verses like a sermon, an action packed instrumental break, and an ooh ahh finish. With stronger production this would have been bigger.
27: If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next (TIMTTMY). After all the trials and tribulations the band had been though we reached this turning point. Gone was the anger, gone was the glory, and we were left with a more hollow, void looking threesome. Even in these depths of despair and nothingness though the band are capable of writing dome of the best songs of the decade, and with Tolerate they got their biggest hit to date. From the empty video to the drooping drums, from the doleful clanging chords to the mournful vocals, this is tinged with sadness in every second. Surprising then that it turned into such a commercial smash, unsurprising though when you consider it features some of Wire’s best, clearest lyrics, and some of the best, most memorable melodic moments Bradfield has birthed; think of the chorus, those strings, that solo, the ‘old man’ section which is guaranteed to cause shivers every time, and of course the aah aah come down- it may be unutterably sad, but that is only matched by it’s astounding beauty.
26: Interiors (EMG). On an album of hits it’s often easy to forget those tracks which weren’t singles and were rarely played live. Beginning with a gasp (Bradfield will need all the breath he can muster for some of those vocals towards the end) this could just as easily have been a hit along with, or instead of Kevin Carter and Australia. The verses have an unusual style, all jarring guitars, funky bass, and no drums, but once the bridge closes in with sublime vocals and work from the whole group you know that this is something special. The greatest moment comes though after the quiet instrumental break which builds up perfectly to a final bridge- Bradfield unleashes one final ‘SAY WHAT YOU HAVE!!’
25: Virginia State Epileptic Colony (JFPL). Yet another smash on Journal, this one dealing with a specific instead in America’s medical history that they won’t be proud of. Edwards gives us floating lyrics which cover some old ground but come with greater clarity and less aimless rage; it’s all very Orwellian. Luckily Bradfield does that magic trick again and puts not only a melody to jumbled, near structure-less words, but puts a great melody to it. Throw in yet another background quotation which works as well as any guitar solo ever could and a perfect chorus and we get the icing on the cake for a triumphant return to form.
24: The Everlasting (TIMTTMY). You don’t get many 6 minute top 40 hits anymore (well you don’t get many 4 minute singles these days either) and this may be one of the last. As an opener to the new album this tells us everything we need to know- after the quest for success that the band so dearly wanted, after only reaching it after an irreversible loss, we get the fallout- we made it, but for what? The song is the sound of defeatism, ironic as they final got to the point they wanted to reach only to find that it was just as empty as they had feared. Musically the band had never sounded so unlike themselves, the sound being so rich and large, but as this is an epic the strings and vocals match the scope. If you want a huge chorus to shout and cry to then look no further.
23: La Tristesse Durera (GATS) Which takes us back to one of the band’s first outings with a wider sound. A funky beat opens with ever so gentle, almost comically so vocals. Given that this appears on their most over the top rock album you know that this soft quality won’t last, and sure enough just over a minute in we get an arms held high power chord. However, this is all to it’s credit, an ironic salute to the fools who patronise misery, to those who just don’t get it, to those archaic systems which reward our greatest heroes by near mocking farce. It gives us one of their greatest riffs, some of the most perfectly screamed vocals, one of the few piano sections, and one of their best songs.
22: Die In The Summertime (THB). After the ‘nice’ interlude of This Is Yesterday we get back to business with an almightily evil riff, vocals squeezed through machines as if machines not people made them, and lyrics about the loss of innocence, the realisation that there is no turning, going, or coming back, and more tirades against the everyday hypocrites who influence every part of society but must be crushed at all costs. The vocals are screamed with power, the chorus is packed with even more power, and as a whole this has the ability to knock you on the floor and keep you there.
21: Your Love Alone Is Not Enough (SATT). And so the band return to the duet, adding Miss Cardigan herself to the mix. Nina’s voice suits the song well but it’s wise to make sure for most of the song that they take turns singing lines as Bradfield’s voice is one of the strongest in the world and could easily drown out anyone else. Arguably their greatest pop song, we are treated to a simple structure, wonderful verses, massive choruses, a classic solo, strings to kill for, even Nina has a go at the oohs and laas, but Wire steals the show with (shock) a vocal part as he steps out of the shadows to add with genuine emotion ‘I could have written all your lines’.
20: Sleepflower (GATS). I always say that an opening track should set the tone for an album, to let the listener know what is in store for them. Sleepflower is bombastic, riff led, guitar based, has a pumping pace, and gives a chorus with ridiculously strained vocals to the point of creating a new religion to worship them. That’s the second album as a whole then, though this first track does not get bogged down by some of the flaws of the second part of the album. A miner evoking, industrial-esque musical middle gives way to an excellent solo before we fly through a final chorus. This is one for guitar fans the world round.
19: No Surface All Feeling (EMG). And an album closer should feel like an ending. This opens with stadium riff to fit with the rest of the album while the verses are quiet and feature studied, self deprecating, ultimately humourous lyrics. The chorus is on of the best on the album as the intro riff returns and we all raise our heads to the sun. The lyrics speak of conclusions, of the final point having been reached, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if this had been the bands last song off their last ever album. In one final bow we get a clashing outro of guitars and drums, a goodbye to all the fans from every side. Luckily for us though, they came back for more.
18: Too Cold Here (B-Side). One of a select bunch of B-sides which really should have made it onto the album, this is as cold as the title suggests, opening with a Spaghetti Western style whistling. The verse is led by a memorably bleak riff, the lyrics are polished beautifully, while the bridge and chorus come together to create one of their ultimate emotive moments. If you’re a fan but aren’t aware of some of these earlier unreleased songs, put this near the top of your list to hear.
17: Peeled Apples (JFPL). Yes it’s another one of the first track miracles where the tone for the record is so serenely conveyed. The album was meant to hark back to the early days where the band was mostly led by the force of Richey’s angry, articulate, artistic lyrics. Opening with only the second most evil riff of their career James comes crashing in with some angry shredding before screaming at us like it was 1995. The band hadn’t sounded this raw since those mid nineties days, and in truth neither had they sounded so revitalized- it’s like they’ve remembered what made them how they were in the first place and they are both ecstatic to be back, and unrelentingly rage filled about forgetting it. Once again the band to the business at putting astonishing music to Richey’s obtrusive words and we are left with both melodies, emotion, and chords ringing in our ears long after the slamming end.
16: You Love Us (GT). Probably the song that started it all and undeniably one of the greatest rock/punk/anti/whatever anthems of all time. With us against the world lyrics punctuated by vicious wit, humour, and with targets firmly in their sights, this bunch of young upstarts were clearly on their way to the top so they could self destruct and take the world with them. Massive riffs, anthemic chorus, eternal lyrics, and one a Paradise City-esque throwdown with some of the best guitar playing you’re ever likely to hear, this is a classic for a reason.
15: Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky (EMG). A largely loud and celebratory first side comes to a close with this much softer, much darker song. The harp is employed here to fill the song with sadness and pity, the lyrics are as shockingly bleak as anything on The Holy Bible, and James sings as if at a funeral, stifling back grief with anger. It stands out as a sombre moment in the dead centre of an album which otherwise shouts at the world in defiance of everything thrown at it.
14: 4st 7lbs (THB). While we’re on the subject of bleak and angry songs, why not have a look at any single line from this song. Crying? Shriveled up in the corner rocking back and forth? This is a song about anorexia, both the psychology behind it which sees a near addiction to the syndrome, a cherished desire for it, and the sheer horror of what it does. This is David Cronenberg’s body shock in music. It wouldn’t be so bad if the music wasn’t terrifying, but it is- that fuzzy riff bashing us on the head over and over and over; it wouldn’t be so bad if the lyrics were delivered with pity, but they’re not- they’re either banshee shrieked at as at full volume and at a billion miles per hour, or whispered seductively to us so that we all want to join the party; it wouldn’t be so bad if it ended on a lighter note, but it doesn’t- instead we are treated to an extended coma dream of cloud bursting softness where James invites us in his most yearning voice to understand, to the the world from a caved in point of view, and to realise that it’s better down there if only you would look in your own navel and never return.
13: Motown Junk (Single). A distinct change of tune now, back to a time when the band were just about to explode onto the scene and change the world forever. This has all the raw punk gore would could ever wish for, all the youthful exuberance that makes you wish for your glory days or tear society apart if you’re still living them. My personal favourite version of this is the Live B-Side to A Design For Life but really they are all powerful. Opening with a myriad of samples about revolution and carnage, the band strut onto the scene proclaiming all that went before as waste, and all that was yet to come as a watered down version of themselves. With rhetoric aimed directly into your eyes and riffs and melodies to slice apart your marrow, Motown Junk stands tall as one of the great punk singles and call to arms that the world has ever known.
12: Little Baby Nothing (GT). It may have a cheesy 80s sound to it but it never fails to put a smile on my face. Gorgeous vocals set to the bestest melodies you can find, and with the sort of lyrics ever songwriter wants to create when they first decide they want to write a song about prostitution, everything about this is bliss. It stands out as a classier number among the rocking hordes of Generation Terrorists even though much of the subject matter is sleazy, but for an all male band to sing about female empowerment and not sound like a bunch of twats is something remarkable. You should all know the story about Kylie Minogue and Traci Lords if you’re reading this, if you’re only a casual fan, go check out the video as it is one of the band’s better efforts, ie- not a half-assed standing in front of camera looking sad show.
11: This Is Yesterday (THB). Once you reach this point in The Holy Bible you’ll be begging for something with a slither of light. Imagine reading 40 books of Revelations just to get to The Song Of Solomon. What? We finally get the light we were hoping for, and it is glorious. From the first note you know that this will be joyous and although it only lasts a few minutes, every second counts and you’ll want to hold onto it for the final few songs of the album. From the wispy lyrics about golden memories and innocent youth, all is not quite as it seems but it’s still such a sudden contrast to everything else that the lyrics often don’t hit you till afterwards, to the transcendent guitar solo and buoyant chorus, This Is Yesterday is endlessly mesmerizing as a shining beacon in an endless mire of doom.
10: Suicide Is Painless (Single Cover): We kick off the top 10 with one of their earliest releases. There’s something warm and epic here, all the more surprising given that it is a cover. The original is a decent song, perfectly fitting for MASH, but here it gets a blasting of sheer force and it feels like the song was written just for the band. With the stirring intro, James’s affected vocals, the eerie background guitar scrapes, the infrequent strings and piano parts it’s all perfect; and then it gets better as we speed up for a balls out finish with galloping guitars and drums. The production isn’t great, but the feeling behind it mixed with the technique means this one is forever.
9: Prologue To History (B-Side): The single that never was, PTH is one of the greatest unreleased songs ever. A mighty piano intro, some of Wire’s best lyrics, some wonderful screaming by Bradfield, the usual Richey references, and of course stirring melodies which will stalk your every move. Check out some of the live versions as the band usually go all out at increasing the volume and the urgency. The slight changes in the final verse send shivers everytime, the backing vocals orgasmic, and for once in a long time, the band sound like a tight-knit family against the world.
8: Condemned To Rock And Roll (GT): What better way to end a stadium rock monster of an album with one of the band’s most over the top gargantuan rock songs. Luckily this one pays off totally thanks to some inspired writing, musically and lyrically, and it is as close to G’n’R as the band has ever come. We get an awesome intro riff (James standing high with cheesy spotlight on him alone) leading into the main riff- some of the hardest playing the band has ever recorded. James unleashes his trademark screams to give the vicious words some extra venom, and we get some great guitar pieces between verses. The song isn’t anything original structure wise and many will just see it as another rock song, but they miss out on the passion and ability. James lets a truly bizarre scream out as we enter the chaotic instrumental section which is both chilling and hilarious depending on my mood, but then we get a few minutes of glorious guitar destruction. They have never packed in as many riffs to another song and most of them are excellent, giving us a breathless finale. They haven’t really sounded like this again and as such it feels like a resounding conclusion to that young band who first started out with intent- our final words from them ‘there’s nothing I want to see, there’s nowhere I want to go’. When we next see them they are still rocking, but that joy is gone.
7: Motorcycle Emptiness (GT): This is the song which both put the band on the map commercially, and made some of the critics truly sit up and take notice. For all the nonsense and slogans, for all the announcements and bravado the band still needed t prove they could write, play, and be credible. So they pasted together a couple of old songs and added on their greatest rock riff- voila! One of the best singles of the decade was born. The lyrics which told us what we needed to know about the band were still there- culture sucks down words- only now everyone who didn’t believe before was being converted. It’s difficult to listen to such wonderful melodies and vocals and not be swept along, in time you will focus more on the words and realise that maybe these young upstarts are right. The song is timeless, impressive, packed with early strings for the band to give that huge feel, and we get plenty of solos to work with the riff. It’s a song to play to those who aren’t yet impressed by the band as most will admit the genius.
6: Ready For Drowning (TIMTTMY): This one would have made a terrific single as it has all the stirring strings and buckets of emotion which made their biggest hits so popular. My favourite song of the 5th album is also oddly one of those songs which non-fans know and love, again strange as it wasn’t a single. There are so many special moments here- the way the false gentle intro becomes a string behemoth and then turns again into the off centre verses, the collapsing guitar part that leads into the chorus, and of course the chorus itself- one of the biggest and best in the band’s history. But we save the best for the middle section- some ooh and aahs, some strings, some clanging chords, and a spoken word sample which for some reason becomes one of the most awesome things ever put on record. I’d also like to nominate this as the most balanced song ever as everything closes as perfectly and seamlessly as it started.
5: Roses In The Hospital (GATS): One of the more underrated riffs from the band is one of the many standouts on this track, a wah inspired climbing riff which gets better with every listen and suits the glory and desperation of the song. We get the juxtaposition of ‘stub cigarettes out on my arm’ and ‘heroin is just too trendy’ with ‘all we wanted was a home’ with ‘we don’t want your fucking love’. Of course the melodies are top notch throughout and the passion grows with every word until that screamed announcement at the chorus end. A drum intro may sound out of place but without it the song seems lacking, we get a brilliant solo in the middle, and the outro is possibly their best with slogans toppling over each other and big stadium drums knocking ever word into the sky.
4: Faster (THB): As horrific as The Holy Bible is as a whole, there are a few moments of defiance; against the sense of failing, raging against the closing ring of despair. Faster is one of the best singles of all time and remains a punk anthem for the ages. Opening with a suitably grim quote from 1984, spoken by John Hurt, and accompanied by an unearthly screeching, Faster quickly explodes in a spiky, bleak noise assault. The lead riff tears through each verse while Bradfield triumphantly yelps and howls the perfect, juxtaposed lyrics. Played at a sickening pace to echo the visceral and often gruesome words, the verse melodies are almost anti-melodic statements, sounding more like military orders barked into the ear; the chorus contrasts this by being wonderfully tuneful while the chorus lyrics counter the ideas of weakness presented elsewhere in the song. In the chorus we see someone with total self control, pushing past the chaotic thoughts of the verses. Of course the solo is a personal favourite, absurdly fast and wavey, although the ending brings things back to earth with the lurking thought (even in the mind of someone peerless) that control can so easily be lost, that the self is fleeting, and how can there even be a sense of self when all around is horror ‘so damn easy to cave in/man kills everything’.
3: PCP (THB): The obvious partner to Faster, PCP is one last rally, a final, primal, dying cry for life. While Faster questions it’s own optimism and grapples against darkness, PCP blows all concerns to the wayside with a furious barrage of venom and sound. As a song on its own merits, it is largely about extreme liberal views regarding Political Correctness- how some supposed liberals can become just as ignorant in their arguments as right wing extremists. Taken within the album context though, it’s the last song after pretty much 12 nightmarish songs, and it’s as if the band just said ‘fuck it, lets go out with the biggest bang possible’. A quiet enough intro begins the lie but this soon gives way to scorching guitars and metal chords. With words spat out at a rate of 3000 per minute, Bradfield is a man possessed, channeling all the pain of the writers and a few hundred years of Welsh dismay, and unleashing like a Dragon’s last flaming breath. Another fantastic, simple solo connects the bulk of the song, the melodies are like manna, the chorus takes all the worries that the band had felt their whole life, rolls it up in a snotty ball, and flicks it away with disdain, while the ending lists the few clinging concerns, tramples all over them with mocking harmonies, and we finish with the ironic quotation “227 ‘Lears’ and I can’t remember the first line”. As a partner to Faster, this goes down as the greatest double single ever released.
2: A Design For Life (EMG): Although I was aware of the Manics, it wasn’t until this was released that I really took notice – I wish I had been there beforehand as the emotional impact of hearing this song for the first time would have been so much greater. Listening to it every night on the Mark and Lard show, I was instantly smitten, and thus The Manics became the first band I followed religiously, hunting down every previous release and waiting for the Record Store to open any time something new was released. If you’re reading this list, you’ll likely know the story; this comeback song of sorts proved that the band could go on without their pseudo-leader, and not only that, showed that they could now hit the heights of the charts. The song acts as the bridge between old and new Manics- the angry punks of yore taken over by the sober, reflective, reluctant stadium fillers. Musically, it is a perfect single- every second is drenched with beauty and it’s melodies invite all comers to enjoy, from existing fans, to crusty rockers, to young upstarts like me, and top 40 attentions seeking crawlers. Everything Had To Go, and this song catered to all. The band was baring it’s soul, throwing off the self imposed rules of the past, and saying ‘here we are, have a slice’. Lyrically the song is fairly basic, but insightful- again it was the music which drew me in, but the lyrics which entranced me as finally I’d found a band who could actually fucking write rather than rhyme. The strings, oh, the strings are achingly perfect, the chorus is… perfect, the perfect is perfect. Seriously, if you’re reading this and have no clue who or what I’m talking about, go Youtube this now and let yourself get sucked in by the best British band of the 90s.
1: Life Becoming A Landslide (GATS): As you will see from my lists, my favourite song from any artist is typically never the same as anyone else’s list. Why this is I don’t know. I can only assume that everyone else is an idiot. I see that most of my number ones are rarely singles or ‘big’ tracks, or if they are singles they probably didn’t sell well. Life Becoming A Landslide was a signal, though hardly a hit. Moreover, it is about as far from a typical Manics song (if such a thing exists) as you can get. It is clearly a GATS track with it’s arena, US oriented sound, but it is a precursor to their later successes with it’s massive string section, big chorus, and radio friendly tunes. Lyrically the song doesn’t have the politics of the other albums, instead focusing (like much of GATS) on the self, humanity, the body, the brain. There are touches of such fragile beauty here that any poet would dream of capturing, yet there is the always constant hint of foreboding, anger, and near, sheer hatred lingering in the background. My words can’t come close to evoking the wonder of the melodies, just listen, while musically there is a ballad feel which I am a sucker for, as well as the growing from quiet acoustics to overblown power chord outrage. This is not the typical Manics song; this is THE Manics song.
Where’s Australia!!? As always, feel free to leave any comments on my list and please share your own.
This is the album that Yellow Submarine should have been, or at least it could have been this good with a few more songs and less instrumental guff. The UK version was only a 6 track EP while th US added a few B-Sides to make it into a full record. McCartney wanted to make a film based on a trip the band took in a bus, but this never transpired. It would have been better to have mixed together old live footage of songs, new studio footage, and the general madness and fun and games that the band got up to in the early days. The result would have been pure self indulgence, and instead the actual result was more like an experimental art film, an unscripted hour of skits and sketches involving magicians. Luckily most of the music is good.
`Magical Mystery Tour’ opens the album both literally and conceptually with McCartney inviting one and all to join him for a fun filled trip. The music is light and energetic enough, mirroring Sgt Pepper’s reprise. It also has a bit of a Help! Vibe to it, and is upbeat and up-tempo. The song is full of brass, a few samples, and fairly formulaic lyrics. The speed changes quite a few times to keep things interesting and experimental.
`The Fool on the Hill’ is a gentle McCartney song which is unduly forgotten by many. The lyrics are interesting and the flute-like instruments add something new. The song’s meaning is open for interpretation and in today’s world of fools it is easy to attach faces to it.
`Flying’ is a nice enough, mellow instrumental song features a melody played on mellatron and mirrored by chanting vocals. It is better than most of Martin’s instrumental parts on Submarine, but it isn’t one you are likely to listen to over and over. Usually it is listened to together with Blue Jay Way almost as a single track.
`Blue Jay Way’ continues from Flying with trippy, effects laden vocals and spacey lyrics. It isn’t a favourite of mine and can be skipped along with Flying. Like many of the songs on Submarine it sounds better in the context of the film rather than on its own.
`Your Mother Should Know’ is another McCartney song with nice melody. It’s catchy enough, but fairly lightweight and for me it seems to be lacking something. I think it is stretched out too long and should have either been shorter or featured an extended ending with growing instrumentation.
`I Am the Walrus’ is a fairly heavy song in comparison to the rest of the tracks on this album and features nonsensical Wonderland-esque lyrics about nothing which turn out to be some of Lennon’s most inspired words. To turn nonsensical jargon into standard lexicon and phrases people around the world know and use takes skill, and the way they fit the rhythm of the music is special. The song has never been a favourite of mine as the melodies aren’t too great, but you can’t help but admire it.
`Hello Goodbye’ finds McCartney in usual gentle melodic form, a nice song with backing violins which has an almost Christmas feel. It is his song about life in its most basic terms featuring a yin-yang philosophy. It is an underrated song on a largely underrated album. The coda has a `hippies singing round the campfire feel’ which in this case isn’t bad.
`Strawberry Fields Forever’ is a drug fuelled, superbly crafted, psychedelic masterpiece. Again showing how the band were always at least one step ahead of everyone else, at least when they were at their best. Lennon’s lyrics are existential, trippy, psychological, and full of imagery. Written after various controversies, in the middle of much drug taking and failing relationships it speaks of nostalgia for youth, for simpler times, and for home.
`Penny Lane’ is the best song here, classic Beatles with that British, mundane every day Sgt Pepper feel. The melodies are memorable, the lyrics are among the best the band would write, and it is extremely well built. The experimentation is kept to a minimum yet marked by superb trumpet work.
`Baby you’re A Rich Man’ is a combination of two Lennon/McCartney previously unreleased songs and features a clavioline part which makes the whole thing sound quite bizarre when coupled with the lyrics. It’s a bit repetitive and doesn’t add much to the album.
`All You Need Is Love’ closes the album, not the first time the song has appeared on a Beatles album. John’s song of united love, everyone knows it and most will like it.
Magical Mystery Tour is among the band’s most underrated work, a mix of classics and forgettable stuff. The good stuff outweighs the bad though and the album as a whole is pretty good. People compare this with Yellow Submarine due to the trippy nature of most of the songs and the fact that both albums and films feature some sort of journey and adventure. This is the stronger of the two, while YS could have been made better by including some of the other tracks that were unreleased at the time. They may not have fit in with the album, but like Baby You’re A Rich Man here, they could have been reworked to fit. You probably won’t return to this album much but when you do you are sure to be treated to some welcome surprises.
Yellow Submarine is the strangest entry in The Beatles catalogue, primarily a soundtrack the record is a mix of unreleased songs, previously released songs, and instrumentals composed by George Martin. The first half is Beatles, the second half is Martin. If the best of this, and the best of the other unreleased songs recorded around the same time had been put together we could have been left with a good album. What we do have is a mess of ideas and unresolved bits. The band didn’t have the greatest amount of involvement with the project and it was released very soon after The White Album. With a bit more time and involvement it could have been better.
`Yellow Submarine’ is a song that all fans will already be familiar with, Ringo’s catchy little nonsense number made even more silly due to visions of the film and its psychedelic sights.
`Only a Northern Song’ is Harrison’s attack on one of the companies which made money from his songs, and also shows his growing annoyance at being in the band, his belief that Paul and John made more money from his own songs than he did, and wishing to branch out on his own. All the anger and bitterness doesn’t translate too well and although the lyrics are ok the music is uninspiring and forgettable.
`All Together Now’ is McCartney’s attempt at a partner to Yellow Submarine- another light, fun, sing-along song which sounded like a children’s rhyme. Unfortunately it sounds more like a child speaking in tongues whilst in bed with chicken-pox. The tune itself is ok but it is repetitive and mostly boring showing a lack of interest or inspiration from the band.
`Hey Bulldog’ begins with a cool piano riff which is then matched by the guitar, but the rest of the song doesn’t keep up with the intro. The lyrics are fine and there is plenty going on, it is fairly heavy in parts for a Beatles song but it doesn’t have any noticeable melodies apart from that riff. Paul’s barking is all fine and well, I only wish there was more style to the verse and chorus.
`It’s All Too Much’ is a much stronger effort from Harrison with a hypnotic, swirling vibe and nice guitar work. It is highly experimental with bits of notes fading in and out, instruments joining and leaving inexplicably all held together with a nice verse melody. It is perhaps too long at over 6 minutes and becomes a bit grating towards the end. If it had been kept shorter the ideas would have shone through more clearly. As it is, it has a You Know My Name feel.
`All You Need Is Love’ is probably the strongest song on the album and remains one of the group’s most famous, but it isn’t one of my favourites. It also appears in slightly different version on Magical Mystery Tour and Love and is one of Lennon’s most clear messages- a firm belief in love conquering all. Naïve and fluffy yes, but also well meaning. It has a typically memorable melody and chorus, and the ending is a nice mix of various voices and memories. I think that for me after a while the song becomes too dreary and the trumpets over the chorus are quite tiresome.
`Pepperland’ is the best of the instrumental pieces, but that isn’t saying much. Most, if not all of the second half can be skipped as it is barely more than a barrage of noises which thankfully at times sounds rather ominous and foreboding. Here the strings are quite gentle and it almost sounds like the soundtrack to a romantic movie from the 50s.
`Sea Of Time’ begins with that distinct Eastern feel and following with a few nice and simple violin parts before ending with the Pepperland theme.
`Sea of Holes’ has a dizzying quality suggesting falling into a deep, dark, unknown place. There are interesting production techniques and effects but it’s mostly tuneless.
`Sea of Monsters’ sounds more like a Tom and Jerry episode than anything else- it fits well with the movie, but isn’t very good to listen to by itself, aside from the Bach interlude and the charging outro.
`March of the Meanies’ sounds quite threatening and as if it should be from a Sci-Fi epic.
`Pepperland Laid Waste’ also sounds quite foreboding but is mostly without anything of interest. Again it is fine for the film, but not something to listen to on its own merits.
`Yellow Submarine in Pepperland’ closes the album in almost regal fashion replaying the title track in a dainty way and adding a few other emotive parts. It’s a nice enough ending which highlights the strength of the main song’s melody.
Overall this is simply an ok album which could have been better. Yes it is the worst in the Beatles back catalogue but shows that the band were still capable of having fun. The first half contains some essential stuff but the second part is mostly pointless unless you’re a huge fan. Of course I am sure there are plenty of people out there who readily enjoy the second part, which does have some good moments, but it isn’t for me.
So here we have it; the album most frequently cited as the best ever, from the greatest band ever. Does it stand up today as well as it did forty years ago? I’m sure you all know the answer to that but as I came to the Beatles quite late in their lifetime I hope I can give a modern perspective. I mentioned in my Revolver review that it was my favourite offering by the band over Sgt. Pepper, but there is not much to pick between them. This has all the hallmarks of a progressive record, of a coherent whole as well as having excellent, timeless, one off singles. Everyone, everywhere knows at least one of these songs by heart and for millions more the album is or was the soundtrack to some major part of their lives. This may well have been the first album to achieve such a feat, and as such led other artists to strive towards previously unimagined heights. No longer was imagination seen as a barrier to sales, no more was creativity shackled for fear of failure- all genres, rules, and thoughts were mashed together to produce the sound of a band marching to glory- Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.
`Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band’ begins the album with one of the band’s most famous riffs soon drowned out by heavy sampling and other instrumentation. McCartney shrieks the lyrics like he did in the old days before the song descends wonderfully to the tune of adoring fans into-
`With A Little Help From…’ It is probably Ringo’s best song, and by far the best version. I grew up with every other version of the song and never liked any of them. When I heard the original I was converted. Everyone knows the melody, the chorus but listen also to the sweet natured lyrics, ignore the drug references, and enjoy the jangly guitars and innocent, hopeful, timeless message.
`Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ leads us into a trippy, dreamlike, psychedelic journey, full of botched imagery and mesmerizing lyrics and sounds. Imagine riding a banana through the Zoo after someone has dropped a nuke full of neon paint everywhere, your banana’s engineless engine powered by a troop of papercut Scotsmen and you’ll have a fair idea of how the song sounds, and it still sounds as fresh today.
`Getting Better’ is McCartney’s song about the world seeming brighter when in love, countered by Lennon’s ironic `It can’t get no worse’. The bright, sharp guitar chords are unique and interesting, changing as the strange sounding Sitar comes blasting in. The guitar is then replaced by a similar sounding piano for the ending.
`Fixing a Hole’ opens with a harpsichord while McCartney sings another song of monotonous daily life, yet blends it with life as a whole by showing us what he sees outside. Expertly crafted the song is a melting pot of riffs, instruments, and ideas sounding like a travelling fun fair opening suddenly in the middle of your room while you’re doing a spot of DIY.
`She’s Leaving Home’ continues the theme of home life, a heartbreaking song of a daughter leaving home. It is unique in that it is led by harp and strings rather than guitars and bass and features some very high vocals. The lyrics are very descriptive and touching, depicting a moment all parents dread. The harmonies are employed well here as dual speakers in a conversation.
`Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite’ has a distinct circus feel due to the samples and lyrics and is the pseudo-brother song to Sgt Pepper due to the sampling and ideas. It is mostly an experiment by the group before The White Album but manages to fit in well here without feeling out of place even though there is nothing really like it on the rest of the album.
`Within You without You’ is another one of those songs which reminds me of the fire levels in Mario as it is mostly Eastern influenced, musically and lyrically. The sitar is featured heavily while existential lyrics strive to open our minds and swirly strings grow, twist, and surge to create the sensation of life, love, and everything else flowing in and around you and everyone else. It is one of the longest songs The Beatles ever recorded and proves that they could stretch there ideas beyond a mere 2 and a half minutes, and do it without ever becoming boring.
`When I’m 64′ is a jaunty, light song with some wonderful minor interludes. Full of horns, bells, and pianos it speaks idyllically of an imagined future. The lyrics are a highlight and more than anything it sounds distinctly British or more specifically, English.
`Lovely Rita’ begins with a ghostly version of the verse lyrics, before the verse actually begins. The lyrics continue the theme of Englishness and home life, with images of tea, parking ticket ladies, and possibly crumpet and Robin Asquith before he was around. The song builds towards the end with beeps and ideas thrown together and as always it works.
`Good Morning Good Morning’ continues the albums overall theme of British life as a metaphor for life as a whole. Blasting trumpets lead the way along with great drumming from Ringo. The lyrics speak of a typical day, getting ready for work, small town life. The drums give the sensation of constantly moving forwards mirroring the advancement of the characters. Some good guitar work is interspersed throughout and the ending again collapses into various samples, this time of domestic animals such as cats, dogs, and did I hear an elephant?
`Reprise’ is simply a faster, more modern version of the original’s chorus with extended lyrics. Although it’s a decent tune I think it feels a little redundant and could easily be removed or skipped. The drums here stand out, but I wouldn’t say it’s as essential as the rest of the album.
`A Day in the Life’ is a perfect ending to the album, both speaking of daily life and being full of experimentation. Of course the song is split into two parts with Lennon’s rather dark first half giving way (with a scary instrumental interlude) to McCartney’s brilliant second half- the perfect accompaniment to getting dressed in the morning. This gives way once more to the final part- a replay of part one.
Overall this is everything that you have heard it was going to be. Few albums have ever had so much scope, so much though, and so much skill and talent packed into them. Every song is a classic (with the exception of reprise) and even if you despise the band it would take a cold hearted purveyor of lies to say they can’t find anything they like here. Nothing much I can add that hasn’t been said a billion times before other than that yes this has stood the test of time, obviously, and that it should be in your collection.
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While many feel that Sgt Pepper is the peak I prefer Revolver, although there isn’t much to pick between them. Lyrically as good as any band before or since, musically far reaching, ambitious, every song is a work of art offering something new. Smashing through every boundary, melding genres, experimenting, creating new ways of thinking and playing The Beatles never sounded better than here. For an album over forty years old to sound as sparkling and new as it did the day it was released is quite an achievement. For it still to be so highly regarded and listened to and for so many new listeners and artists to be inspired by it is an even greater achievement.
`Taxman’ opens the album and as was the norm for Harrison songs, it is quite separate from the other songs. We know immediately from the count-in intro and opening guitar strains that we are dealing with a new, smarter, more mature Beatles. The guitar sounds fits in well, sounding jagged and crooked like the subject matter, and the lyrics are among the most biting and socially relevant the band would write. The song is quite fast yet lacks the bright melodies of earlier releases.
`Eleanor Rigby’ is a rarity for the band in none of the music is played by any Beatle and because each member contributed at least one line to the lyrics. The music suits the song perfectly sounding like a mournful lament and the lyrics stand out as they speak of loneliness and death after a life of anonymity. The Beatles give the character of Rigby fame though, and she can stand for any lonely person around the world. It sounds modern today- imagine what it was like in 66.
`I’m Only Sleeping’ has a distinct drowsy feel due mostly to the vocal style, with the band taking on a drunken, slurred tone. The backwards guitar effect adds greatly to this and also adds to the sense that this is all a drug induced daydream. The vocal harmonies were supposedly meant to sound to an alarm clock but they sound more pleasant and dream like than alarming. The Eastern sounding end to the song adds another interesting twist, and melds nicely with the intro to the next song.
`Love You Too’ (which always reminds me of Lava levels in Mario games) is the most Eastern driven songs, all Sitars and unusual electronic sounds imbued with new lyrical ideas. It is obviously Harrison’s work with only Ringo adding some percussion. It is one of the most experimental and unusual Beatles songs up to this point. The timing speeds up towards the end suggesting some sort of frenzy.
`Here There and Everywhere’ is a soft and sweet McCartney ballad notable for Paul’s high pitched vocals. It is saved from being sickly by the haunting harmonies and minor shifts throughout the song. It has a strong message of love almost being a drug which we need to wrap around ourselves at all times and has a clear trippy feel.
`Yellow Submarine’ is probably Ringo’s most famous vocal, a classic pop song which all kids somehow know even without having heard it. Overall it is a nonsensical song reminiscent of absurdist poetry. There are many samples highlighting the band entering full steam ahead experimentation. If it wasn’t for the wonderful melody and the fact that Ringo sings well this would be dismissed.
`She Said She Said’ is an acid fuelled song based on a Peter Fonda comment, and written while the band were being besieged by fans at home. There is an Eastern feel again, the harmonies are classic Beatles, and Ringo seems to drum whatever he feels like. The fade out suggests that the song will rotate and play ever onwards.
`Good Day Sunshine’ is a song eternally attached to waking up in the morning and will forever be glued to milk adverts the world over. There are plenty of instrumental flourishes with the first piano use in some time and it is masterfully constructed with a couple of interesting middle parts. The ending is also unusual with the vocal key increasing suddenly.
`And Your Bird Can Sing’ is one of the most joyous sounding songs the band ever wrote, with one of their best guitar riffs. The lyrics are either poetic and mystical or nonsense depending on how you interpret them. It is one of their most underrated pop songs, if anything the band did can be called underrated. My only wish is that it could be longer.
`For No One’ is another classic with strong McCartney melodies and lyrics. Paul sings of the end of a relationship yet it sounds hopeful rather than previous angrier or bleak songs. The inclusion of the French Horn adds a different dimension, particularly on the final single note which you would expect to continue into a string of notes.
`Doctor Robert’ is another drug referencing song and probably the weakest on the album. It rolls along fairly enough with twangy guitars and a trippy `well, well, well’ breakdown. The lyrics and music are fine but personally it doesn’t have the same impact as others here.
`I Want To Tell You’ is the third Harrison song on the album, a standard pop song made interesting by the philosophical lyrics and almost out of tune piano and minor changes. The ending features almost Eastern style vocals.
`Got To Get You into My Life’ is bursting with energy and instruments, growing and surging at points and pulling back at others. It is another song of joy contrasting with the darker songs on the album. McCartney sings more like he did on earlier albums and the guitars are rough and twangy.
`Tomorrow Never Knows’ is another song to jump across pits of lava to, and is the most experimental song on the album, full of strange sounds and techniques. The lyrics are the band at their most mystical, the backwards guitars are all over the place with riffs thrown in everywhere to create a splendid noise the likes of which no-one up to that point has heard before. The vocals sound like they are being sung through a portal and the drums are a precursor to modern dance music. The seagull sound and jangly pianos give the sense of a drug fuelled rampage through Blackpool gone wrong. It is a strong end to a great album.
Revolver is a genre bursting album which samples different styles and influenced a number of new movements from Psychedelic to Dance, from British Invasion bands to progressive rock and at the same time pulls off a number of pop classics. There truly is something here for everyone, even people who don’t like The Beatles will find a moment or a song here which they can appreciate, respect, and enjoy. This and the next album are definitive signs of a band at their peak in every conceivable area.
Updated with score via the Nightman Scoring System:
Sales: 5 (Another smash hit)
Chart: 5 (Another smash hit)
Critical: 5 (Another smash hit)
Originality: 5 (A step up from the previous experimentation, this is the band taking all of popular music in a new direction. From the recording, the approach to songwriting, the lyrics and lyrical subject matter, to the music itself, there hadn’t really been anything like this before)
Influence: 5 (The 60s exploded with this album as a host of new ideas and possibilities were made available to younger artists. The musical world all stepped up a notch after this one was released and even now musicians will look back to this for inspiration)
Musical Ability: 5 (The band continue to grow and stand out as masters of their individual crafts, but with this album they employ a variety of new instruments and players into their sound)
Lyrics: 5 (A massive shift in the lyrics, with all of the previous satire coming to the fore, with the band now tackling a diverse range of subjects with all of their trademark wit and skill. A brief glance at the opening trio sees a diatribe against the taxman, a forlorn telling of a lonesome life, and an honest depiction of an existence in the spotlight).
Melody: 5 (It’s another album filled with hooks and melodies which once heard will never be forgotten)
Emotion: 3 (With a more expansive and experimental sound, the emotional content takes a back seat, with songs focusing more on a sound or an idea rather than feeling, and a number of the songs lyrical content are drug-addled or humourous)
Lastibility: 5 (Although the band is now taking on some sounds which are known for having that distinct 60s sound, it’s one which nevertheless still sounds fresh today and can be listened to by seasoned fans or newcomers and still have the same impact)
Vocals: 4 (With some of the songs, the vocals take on a smaller role and are filtered through numerous effects, a few of the performances are deliberately drowsy or plain, but even Ringo has a stellar performance and other lads are awesome on most of the tracks)
Coherence: 4 (Even though many of the songs have a distinct sound, there is an overall pyschedelic rock feel and the melding of East, West, old, and new is clear throughout)
Mood: 4 (There is less consistency in the mood throughout, though individually, songs such as I’m Only Sleeping and Taxman convey tiredness and anger accurately, while And Your Bird Can Sing is an unusual mixture of joy and angst with John writing such a sunny song about rejection)
Production: 5 (Great work, still sounds stunning)
Effort: 5 (Impressive writing and creativity to make something new)
Relationship: 4 (It’s another album which most listeners should be able to relate to – even though there is less focus on the universal subjects of love and loss which the band had been known for, here they branch out to some more of the things we all feel and talk about but hadn’t necessarily heard in songs before. Then there are those other songs which it appears you may only relate too if you’ve popped a pill or two)
Genre Relation: 4 (It was a new frontier being ploughed and quite a few of the tracks didn’t sound like anything else which anyone else was doing, but the rest of the world would catch up soon)
Authenticity: 5 (The band sound entirely dedicated to branching out and making something new)
Personal: 5 (One of my favourite albums by the band, and it’s hard to argue against this being their best.
Miscellaneous: 4 (I’ve always found the artwork for this one a little stilted compared to others, while many of the stories of the recording and writing process are highly entertaining as usual)
Rubber Soul is the stepping stone album from The Beatles marking the shift from the pop perfection of Help to the experimentalism of Revolver and beyond. A mix of both worlds it shows the band pushing all the known boundaries of pop and rock music, changing both genres forever. Things were being done both lyrically and musically that had never been thought of before, new styles were being borrowed and adapted, new production techniques, new song writing skills, new instruments all employed to propel the band forwards. Even today it sounds new and challenging and very few first time listeners should find it dated. Of course there are still one or two songs that people won’t enjoy and they hadn’t yet reached the heights of Revolver and Pepper. There is a new sophistication with the themes and lyrics, gone are the bland outbursts of love and school boy cynicism, replaced with a more developed, poetic, and intelligent style. Nothing in simple anymore and everything in the music and lyrics is conveyed with ambiguity.
`Drive My Car’ starts the album and instantly shows the lyrically progression the band has taken. It is the first song to truly feature strong original lyrics, moving on from the variations on love from before. With it’s euphemism for sex and themes about fame and doing anything to achieve it, it displays both the dark side and comedic spark of the band. Obviously this sort of thing was happening in the band at the time and in many other bands, it’s both an in-joke about groupies and a celebration of them. With it’s catchy chorus and memorable `beep beep’ moments it was destined to become a staple for car adverts through the decades. The guitars are much more blues influenced than anything that had gone before, and the percussion and piano has a distinct jazzy feel.
`Norwegian Wood’ is a Lennon ballad showcasing the band’s change of perspective to writing songs about the darker side of love, and themes which recur through the album such as deceit, jealousy, misogyny, possession, revenge etc. The first thing to notice is the Eastern influence which would be greater on subsequent albums. The new instruments fit in seamlessly with the traditional guitar use and vocal harmonies. Dealing with an affair, paranoia, and revenge the lyrics are a massive step up from anything else the band had written. Poetic, ironic, and with a story telling feel it marks the new Beatles era.
`You Won’t See Me’ has a nice melodic intro after a percussive start building up to typically sweet harmonic intro. Again the bridge switches to minor chords for added melancholy. The lyrics speak of a breaking relationship, depression, and not being able to carry on when the one you love keeps turning you away.
`Nowhere Man’ can both be taken as an introspective Lennon number, and a song decrying any number of generations- his parents for being tightly conformist, later one for being passive and irresponsible. It is notable for being the first Beatles song which doesn’t deal with love in any way. Lyrically it is quite clever and biting, though musically it is simple and uninspired. I see it and the next song as a rallying call to the kids to start making a change in the world rather than sitting back and watching- something which would become Lennon’s quest for the rest of his life.
`Think For Yourself’ is a Harrison penned track dealing with individuality and not trusting and blindly accepting other people’s and groups’ views. You can always rely on Harrison making a unique tune which is set apart from the other songs on any album and the same is true here. The unusual guitar sound makes the song memorable, the lyrics are as strong as anything Lennon was writing at the time, and the melodies are unlike most other tracks.
`The Word’ is a pseudo- political song by Lennon covering his attitudes with the metaphor of love, as if he was testing the water or breaking in the fans gently before the more overt messages of later work. The song itself is fairly repetitive, standing out by the use of the Harmonium towards the end.
`Michelle’ mysteriously won the Grammy for song of the year in 67, a rather doleful ballad by McCartney notable for its French lyrics and feel. This is one I usually skip- still a good song, it just bores me for some reason.
`What Goes On’ is a very country feeling song with good guitar from Harrison, and Ringo sings it very well accompanied by some high pitched harmonies. It is quite a simple love song with darker lyrics about confusion and mistrust. A fast paced song it helps to lift the middle part of the album.
`Girl’ is quite a melancholy love song, with lyrics speaking about being in love with someone but not being sure why. It is memorable for the sighing melodies, strong lyrics, and added beats towards the middle part and end.
`I’m Looking Through You’ is an up tempo down beat McCartney song about how people and love can fade and change over time in a relationship. Melodic and with good lead guitar it sounds quite angry yet happy at the same time.
`In My Life’ is the stand out song on the album and the best Beatles ballad. Full of powerful lyrics, regret and misty eyed nostalgia, yet it has eternal hope for the future. The melodies are beautiful, the interesting middle part giving a Renaissance twist and the recurring riff is soft and sweet but free of soppy sentiment.
`Wait’ is an unusual almost off key song that further shows the group’s experimentation. The lyrics speak of coming back to a loved one after being apart, something the group were feeling after many tours. There is irony in the `I’ve been good- as good as I can be’ considering the affairs of the band members.
`If I Needed Someone’ is a Harrison penned song marked by a catchy lead guitar line. Again the song employs minor chords for the chorus to suggest that not everything is as perfect as it should be. The lyrics are not exactly bitter, but neither are they the sort of words you would expect a pop band of the time to be singing, the narrator saying if they have nothing better to do then they may find a moment to squeeze in the subject.
`Run For Your Life’ is a much derided song amongst fans, and later by Lennon himself who wrote it. Accused of misogyny but perfectly apt considering the feelings one has can have the lyrics speak of jealousy of other men, possession over a loved one and including a famously dark line borrowed from an Elvis song. These feelings would be developed and return on Jealous Guy but here they are less subtle and more angry and accusing. The music rattles along quickly and has a blues/country feel to it. A strange end to the album.
Rubber Soul has plenty of flashes of brilliance but being a stepping stone album it doesn’t have the quality of the albums which bookend it. It is still classic Beatles and features some of their best songs, but it is inconsistent. Naturally this is subjective and some of the songs I am not overly fond of her will be another’s favourites. What we can agree on is that it clearly shows the moving towards greater artistry, creativity, and experimentation which would herald the next two albums as two of the best albums ever.
The third album by The Beatles is a massive leap forward for the band in all areas. Gone are the covers, gone are the fillers, and what remains is their first pop rock masterpiece. Their penchant for melodic commercial songs are never better than on this and Help and while they have not yet entered their experimentation phase their songwriting and playing are top quality. From the opening chord (perhaps the most famous ever) the band never look back and have now entered the realm of greatness. While not every track is a joy, they are all perfectly listenable, probably all essential, and there are a few all time classics. Although For Sale is seen as a step backwards I usually consider it part of a trilogy with the first two albums, and that A Hard Day’s Night is the true beginning. The album was a huge worldwide success and paved the way for the influx of British bands into the US, Europe, and Asia. In only a few years the charts would be dominated by The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, and Led Zep amongst others, and this album can be seen as a stepping stone.
`A Hard Day’s Night’ kicks off the album in memorable style with a single chord; a chord which when played to anyone around the world will be recognizable as the intro to the song. It is probably their most well-rounded song so far and everything fits together so well. The lyrics are simple as they always were for this period, but the harmonies and melodies were never better. The song is about being so bedazzled by someone that even though you’re exhausted and skint you will do anything for the person in the knowledge that they will make it all better. They continue their style of throwing in an unusual mid section which spices up the song, and the outro is also interesting.
`I Should Have Known Better’ is a typical Beatles rocker featuring a harmonica intro, but Dylan’s influence on Lennon is beginning to show with more personal lyrics. The verse melody is on of the most catchy of the period and the minor shift to the chorus is brilliant with the vocals almost reaching breaking point. Some of the guitar is a bit too distant feeling, but this may have been more of a production issue.
`If I Fell’ is the best ballad the group has written so far, more intelligent musically and structurally while the lyrics are touching and idyllic. The structure is experimental with an interesting introduction which is separate from the rest of the song. The main bulk of the song features a lovely repeating melody which expands and extends every time it is played. The dual vocals have never been so sublime and it sounds similar in parts to The Beach Boys and the guitar playing is gentle and does not intrude.
`I’m Happy Just to Dance with You’ is an up-tempo Harrison number and one of the weaker songs on the album. It’s good, but nothing special.
`And I Love Her’ is a McCartney ballad, not as strong as If I Fell, but a worthy addition. It has a Latin and almost downbeat feel due to the acoustic picking and the minor chord progression. The middle section as with most Beatles songs is the key to lifting it to a higher status than a usual 3 minute pop song. The guitar solo is simple and echoes the central melody. The lyrics are simple yet appropriate, and the repeating riff is memorable. It is also noticeable for the ending chord which goes against all the ones before.
`Tell Me Why’ is a fast paced Lennon song which sounds like a typical happy song while the lyrics are about a relationship going badly wrong with arguing, deception, and confusion perhaps reflecting reality. The middle section is ok apart from the `anything I can do’ line in which Lennon becomes a eunuch.
`Can’t Buy Me Love’ is the best song on the album and the best song the band had written so far. Immediately catchy with a great singalong feel. The verses and chorus blend together immaculately and it is one of those songs that when written you wonder why no-one had written it before. The music takes a background stand to the vocals, yet the guitar chimes in perfectly with dual chords and the screech midway through is the best so far. It is the archetypal McCartney song, although depending on which way you take the lyrics it can mean anything from the price of fame on relationships to prostitution.
`Any Time at All’ is one of the best early Beatles rockers with a high energy similar to songs on `Please Please Me’. The recurring guitar riffs are catchy, the piano middle section adds a different flavour to proceedings and Lennon shouts the lyrics with an almost grungy edge. It doesn’t have quite the melodic quality of their best songs and just misses out on being a classic.
`I’ll Cry Instead’ is another introspective Lennon song about loneliness and the alienation which comes with superstardom. Of course there is humour and irony due to the upbeat sound of the song which flies along at a fair pace and finishes in under two minutes. He may sing about not being able to talk to people he meets, but also sings of coming back in the future to break hearts in two. A good song with a slight country lilt to it.
`Things We Said Today’ is notable for the change from ballad to rock and back halfway through, almost giving birth to the quiet heavy quiet of future bands like Nirvana. The verse melody isn’t one of my favourites, the chorus is better and I like the guitars. The only part that annoys me is McCartney’s `on and on..nah’ dubbing mistake two-thirds of the way through, but I’m being picky.
`When I Get Home’ is a good rocker with nice growly vocals but I can’t help cringing on the `cows come home’ line. Musically and lyrically this is fine apart from the cow bit, and I enjoy the `wow oh I’ parts.
`You Can’t Do That’ is another personal Lennon penned track about jealousy, anger, cheating, and paranoia making it one of the darker Beatles songs along with `Run For Your Life’ and other later songs. Again it has a slightly country feel mostly due to the tone of the guitar. It features an unusual Lennon scream, the sort of thing usually left to McCartney, is less upbeat musically than other album tracks, and has some nice Harrison work in the middle.
`I’ll Be Back’ closes the album, another downbeat feeling Lennon song about the darker side of love. Of course it ends up being hopeful as Lennon admits that he will return to the person who may continually break his heart. He says he be a better partner this time even though the split may not have been his fault. While some of the album tracks have darker lyrics and sound pleasant, this one sounds doleful and has almost uplifting lyrics even though they are ironic. It has a Spanish feeling which adds to the tragic feel and for a 2 and a half-minute pop song it lacks a chorus so has the feeling of a statement of intent. The most interesting thing is the rather sudden ending which sounds chopped, as if there is more to come. The feeling is one of exasperation, of leaving in the middle of an argument, of trying to explain something but being overcome, turning, and walking away. It is a fitting end to a great album.
Overall it would be hard to disagree that this is the first classic Beatles album. It came with their first film, it heralded the start of their revolution and uber-fame, and is filled with songs known around the world. They would continue to mature musically and lyrically until the reached perfection and descended into experimentation to find a new outlet.
As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments section.
As a fan of the more extreme side of cinema, I ask you to join me, as I explore the history of Cinema's most extreme movies with all the sex, violence and symbolism intact. I'm here to reflect on the extreme movies that have come and gone to see what they mean, see what makes them so extreme, and of course, see if they're any good.