My favorite Beatle song moments

You’ve heard it – that transcendent moment in a treasured song, when the guitar solo screams, the chorus wails or the unexpected  chord puts everything in a new light.

What are your favorite moments in your favorite songs?

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a Beatles fanatic. So I’ve decided to share my five favorite moments in Beatle songs. If you know the band, I bet you have yours, too.

So here, without further ado, are my favorite moments in the Beatles’ body of work (in reverse order, Letterman style):

5. The opening chord of “Hard Day’s Night.” The sudden, ambiguous rush of 12- and 6-string guitar, bass, percussion and possibly piano that opens the song heralded a new era for pop music. The iconic chord hits my gut, promising adventure ahead. Is it a major or a minor? In the key of the song, or out?  The precise combination of notes in that chord is STILL being debated. (I hear it as a G7sus4 with a D bass; you may hear D7sus, F9 or any number of other chords). Whatever you call that chord, it provides a bright moment that anticipates joy.

4. The key change leading to the guitar solo in “And I Love Her”/the final  chord of the song. Okay, I’m cheating – these are two moments in the same song. It’s my blog, right? The key change is unexpected, adding interest and propelling the listener to that faux-Spanish solo by the ever-improving George. And that final chord, known by music heads as a “Picardy third,” makes the contemplative key of D-minor resolve in a major-D smile. Beautiful moment, every time I hear it.

3. “Now shake it up baby, now!” John Lennon ripped into that opening lyric from “Twist and Shout” at the end of an historically productive recording session Feb. 11, 1963. In just over nine hours, the group had already recorded nearly the entirety of its first album, “Please Please Me,” including the title cut as well as Paul’s incredible “I Saw Her Standing There.” (His “One two three FAAAH!” count-in is also one of my favorite Beatle moments).

But there was one more song to record. Physically exhausted, stripped to his waste and fighting a head cold that was quickly eroding his voice, Lennon agreed to run through the group’s typical end-of-set potboiler, a cover of “Twist and Shout,” by Phil Medley and Bert Russell.  What happened next might have been the most exciting two minutes 33 seconds ever commited to tape. Lennon delivered a raucous, explosive performance matched by his three bandmates. Yes, they tried a second take, but Lennon couldn’t do it – because he had given everything he had in that one incredible take.

2. The first time Paul sings “And anytime you feel the pain” in “Hey Jude.” This monster composition of Paul’s, at the time of its release the longest single in pop history, is a masterpiece of melodic interest, vocal tone and lyrical encouragement. The moment that does it for me is the line I cite above, which comes just after the home-key F chord become an F7. Meanwhile, Ringo is pounding out one of his signature drum fills. On the word “pain,” the track really takes off – the chord changes, to Bb; the bass comes alive and those glorious background vocals really lift the song to new heights.

And, ladies and gentlement, Christopher Ave’s No. 1 Beatle song moment is:

1. “And in the end…” Side Two of Abbey Road is a masterpiece, in my mind the Beatles’ crowning achievement. As in the cases above, it’s important to know the context in which Abbey Road was recorded, 40 years ago this year.

The Beatles had all but disintegrated during the contentious Get Back/Let it Be sessions in early 1969. Lennon was focused on his new music – and life – with Yoko Ono; George Harrison was seething at his second-tier status as a writer in the band — his blossoming talent would soon explode onto a triple album, All Things Must Pass, to be released the next year; Ringo Starr was tired of endless takes and becoming more interested in a film career; and Paul McCartney, who had taken the reins of the group after manager Brian Epstein’s death in 1966, was increasingly frustrated with his bandmates’ loss of interest in the group and the business differences that would ultimately tear the group apart.

Still, somehow, the group came together at EMI’s Abbey Road studios one more time. Paul had persuaded producer George Martin — who had all but abandoned the group during much of the White Album and Let it Be sessions — to produce an album “like we used to.” Balance Engineer Geoff Emerick, a critical component of the band’s mature sound who quit the group during the White Album sessions, was also persuaded to come back.

That the band, riven with such strife, was able to produce much of anything is surprising. That they produced such an enduring, and endearing, work as Abbey Road is simply astonishing.

That brings us back to Side Two of the album. Its culmination is the Long Medley, starting with “You Never Give Me Your Money,” a mini-tour of the Beatles’ musical history that briefly recounts their business differences before hurling back in time, to the early rush of the group’s fame (“One sweet dream, pick up the bags, get in the limousine”). The nostalgia can also be heard in the “Yeah, yeah, yeah”s of John’s charming fragment, “Polythene Pam” as well as the yearning in Paul’s beautiful “Golden Slumbers (“Once there was a way to get back home”). Then comes Ringo’s only recorded drum solo, followed by those battling lead guitars,which were played live in one take by the three guitar-playing Beatles.

Then, finally, gloriously, there is Paul’s final couplet, neatly summarizing both the Beatles’ chosen theme and the impact the group had on so many:

And in the end

The love you take

Is equal to the love

You make

There – I’ve given you mine. What are your favorite moments in the Beatles’ recorded history? And if you know any Beatle fanatics, please point them here – I’d love to hear everybody’s top fab song fragments.

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12 Responses to “My favorite Beatle song moments”

  1. kgreenbaum Says:

    Just a couple for now that I can think of.

    In “She Loves You,” there’s no shortage of “yeahs” — the signature hook of that song and the early Beatles. But there’s something about the harmony in the last “yeah” of the song that grabs me. They split off in a different way than they did in any of the other harmonies.

    I also love the counter line in “Help!” — and the fact that they drop it for the first half of the final verse. “(Whennnnn) When I was younger, so much younger than before…”

  2. Christopher Ave Says:

    Great ones Kurt! That final chord in “She Loves You” is a sixth chord – G6, in this case. What’s funny is the Beatles wanted to end it that way – “This is great! It’s never been done!” – but producer George Martin, an urbane, sophisticated musician himself, was against it. Why? “Too much like the Andrews Sisters,” he complained. (Remember “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”?) But the Beatles prevailed, much to Martin’s credit.

    And I completely agree about “Help” – excellent use of a counter melody.

  3. John McMullan Says:

    5) The last round of choruses (especially the falsetto “you”) at the end of “Please Please Me.”

    4) The entire introduction of “Paperback Writer” from the incredible vocals, to Ringo’s snare hit right before the riff, and the riff itself. Brilliant.

    3) Lennon’s scream in “Revolution.” You know which one I’m talking about.

    2) That chord. That “Hard Day’s Night” chord. It was Chris’ #5, but for me, they only topped that moment once.

    1) “She Loves You” The live version on The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl. From John’s announcement, “…the next song we’re gonna sing is an oldie…some of you older people might remember…(long pause)…it’s from last year, it’s called ‘SHE LOVES YOU!'” Then Paul’s frantic count-in, Ringo’s toms, the screams, the “yeah-yeah-yeah’s,” George Martin’s incredible salvaging job of making it listenable, and the joy of the song itself. After that 2 minute blast of adrenaline, it ends with aG6, and a synchronized bow in black and white. (Well, the bow is in my mind, but I see it every time.)

  4. Christopher Ave Says:

    Awesome moments – thanks! And that John McMullan has created more than a few of his own musical moments, I should say – search iTunes for “John McMullan” and “The Trend” and you’ll hear what I’m talking about.

  5. francine taylor Says:

    My earliest Beatle recollection is being at a babysitter’s house in about 1964, I believe and hearing the song “Hard Day’s Night” come on the radio. The babysitter’s daughter started squealing and dancing to the song and that’s why it imprinted even though I was barely 5 years old.

    I also remember watching their appearance on Ed Sullivan and not understanding why it was such a big deal though I liked the music and it stuck.

    My favorite ballad of all time, or say at least in my top five cause there are many, is “And I Love Her”. I love the syncopated beat which makes it more complex than a typical ballad.

    I absolutely LOVE the ballad of John and Yoko and just never tire of it. When I first had that 45 I would play the song over and over on repeat–vinyl you know. I think Lennon’s bass licks just add so much to this tune, and with every beatle song, even though with the melody, they were catchy and pop. That to me sums up what worked so well with the Beatles tunes. They were complex and simple at the same time, but one time listening catchy.

    There was a summer around the time I was 10 when I would visit my grandmother in east texas–small town. My uncles had a “reel to reel” with an assortment of beatle songs and I made it my mission to learn to use the reel to reel so I could hear beatles songs. I associate Ballad of John and Yoko and Lady Madonna to hot humid summer in east texas, inside with some air conditioning but not every room in the house.

    I also remember around that time listening to “Sargaent Pepper’s Magical Mystery Tour” album and actually playing the song backwards to hear “I killed Paul” or whatever it was that the urban legend preported. I still love “When I’m 64”, which is just an old fashioned english ditty with the horn solo in the background, etc. I love the placement of that tune in “The World According to Garp”.

    My Abbey Road album was just plain wore out for all of the times I played it. However, I admit I listened to the A side more than the B. I associate the opening instrumentals of “Come Together” with chlorine because my swim coach played it a lot in 1974 while we had practice and it would echo through-out the indoor natatorium.

    Moving towards the end, I was in a little diner with my dad and sisters on a Sunday morning, I think, when I heard the announcement that the Beatles were breaking up. I can still smell the pancake syrup, the coffee and picture looking up at the wall of the diner from the counter and not believing what I was hearing. The announcement was followed by “Let it Be” and that song always takes me back to that sad moment. We were walking out of the diner as it played and I didn’t think to ask my dad to let us finish hearing the song before we walked out. I was a kid.

    I found out that John Lennon died when I passed a newspaper stand on the way into a part-time job at a grocery store during college. The stand was red. I passed it and then literally backed up to read the headline. I didn’t have a TV at the time and had not heard it on the radio the night before. I was checking groceries and the younger people coming through that day were all talking about it. Another sad day….

    I met a woman named Jillian a few years ago at a music gig of a friend. She does a show here in LA called Breakfast with the Beatles. She has many beatles stories both first hand and otherwise. She was in contact and knew George Harrison up until his death in LA at a secret location. It was very cool to meet and talk with her.

    And finally I LOVE the beatle cover songs done for the soundtrack of I am Sam. I think they are all SUPERB and consider them the best beatle covers of all time–Rufus Wainwright, Sarah McLochlin, The Wallflowers, Aimee Mann, Sheryl Crow, etc, plus I love the movie with the protaganist played by Sean Penn and his love for the beatles and how it permeates his life. For any Beatle fans who haven’t seen “I am Sam”, it’s a must view, even with the shameless Starbucks product placement throughout. (Sorry Starbucks–grande tall cappcino–“It’s a wonerful thing”.

  6. Christopher Ave Says:

    Wow, great memories Francine! You make me realize there’s probably a fresh blog post in the near future, about how music so often ignites specific memories. I know I have my private little collections of memories and associations with different songs. If you don’t mind, I’ll share some of your thoughts above in the new blog post!

  7. Desiree Perry Says:

    I can’t approach this topic from a musician’s point of view, since my career as a clarinetist ended back in 7th grade. (My mom was always worried about my health and did not want me in the band playing at cold football games.)

    But here is a Beatles song moment from another outlook.

    I was very young and graduating from buying 45s to LPs. With baby-sitting money to spend, I went shopping at National Record Mart. I had picked out a forgettable top 40s pop hit when I looked in the cut-out bin. (Remember the cut-out bin of sale records with the cut off corner?) Most of the records were flops or unfamiliar to me. Then I saw “Let it Be” for $2.00. I had enough money to buy this record too. Since I was building my LP collection, I thought this was a rather sophisticated purchase. I think I was proud of myself.

    My parents listened to jazz and blues instrumentals. So I only knew the Beatles music from the radio or older friends. I don’t think I knew any of the songs on “Let it Be.” When I got home and played my new purchase, it was not like any of my other records, the light upbeat pop that an early teen would like. This album had lyrics like I had never heard before:

    The wild and windy night, that the rain washed away
    Has left a pool of tears, crying for the day
    Why leave me standing here, let me know the way

    This song was sad and emotional but had this some what upbeat bridge. The whole album was like that, I was totally intrigued. Really life changing. I stopped buying top 40s pop records and next bought “Rubber Soul,” Abby Road,” “Revolver,”… well in time, all of them. And those lyrics still blow me away.

    Many times I’ve been alone and many times I’ve cried
    Any way you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried

    But still they lead me back to the long winding road

    I can’t tell you what that other record I bought that day was, but I still can remember, like it was yesterday, finding “Let in be” in that bin.

  8. steve takamatsu Says:

    Many of my favorite Beatle songs BECAME that because of what i”ve read about them later (i.e. one-take Twist and Shout, how Strawberry Fields was pieced together, etc)… like Chris i’ve inhaled so many Beatle books.. Anyway, ignoring those songs, and going for songs that really hit me the FIRST time i heard them, here is my list.

    #5 Eight Days a Week: Absolutely love the fade-in. I love the simple lyrics, awesome lennon vocal, nice harmonies and chord changes. You sing along from the first time you hear it, but somehow never tire of it. . My kids love it too.

    #4: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise): Of course I knew “A Day In the LIfe” (the track it introduces), but i didn’t discover this until much later. The Reprise is so electric, and just soars off the vinyl (what a great rhythm guitar sound), and sounds so modern. To this day, i think it is much more interesting and exciting than its non-Reprise sibling…

    #3: Because: sublime harmonies (not just hitting notes, but blending perfection), chord changes that come out of nowhere but work seamlessly together… I still can’t get over how beautiful and innovative this song is.

    #2: There is a bootleg “live” version of Revolution that rocks my socks off every time. It is a bit faster and the guitar sound is more cutting and less fuzzy than the single version, but also includes doobie wah harmonies like the album version. I do like the other versions, but this one really shows what a rockin band these guys were as well.

    #1: The great stories behind it notwithstanding, the medley to close out Abbey Road, culminating in The End is the ultimate for me as well. The fun ditties, how its all pieced together, the drum solo, the guitar battle, the wonderful harmonies and ending. The first time i heard it, i had to put the needle back to the beginning and listen to the whole thing at least 3 or 4 times. So creative, so innovative, so fun! And when this comes on when i’m in my car, i will stay in and listen to it all before getting out. Even now.

    It is hard to not include Hey Jude on this list; albeit a relatively simple song, the melody and lyrics have such a sadness to them that hits you every time. I guess the only reason i leave it off my list is that i GREW to love this one (so i can’t say its a favorite “moment”)

  9. Christopher Ave Says:

    Steve,

    Love your list. You’re absolutely right about the Sgt. Pepper reprise. What an awesome, driving sound! They recorded that live as a band in the “big” studio room” at Abbey Road.

    I made my list with the implicit notion that the context — both where the moment came in the song, and perhaps when and how it was recorded — matters. You reject that notion and judge on the initial feeling the moment gave you. Interesting! Neither approach is right or wrong, of course.

    Again, nicely done.

  10. Dave Morrison Says:

    Great blog idea, Christopher, and I’m beginning to think we were separated at birth! I don’t think I could improve on your list at all. I was 10 when The Beatles appeared on Sullivan and I have vivid memories of being sprawled on the floor in front of our black and white TV watching musical history being made. My dad didn’t quite get it but my mom was an instant fan.

    Trying to pin down my favorites moments is tough but here are a few (in no particular order):

    – That galvanizing, clarion call of a chord that opens “A Hard Day’s Night”; that sound stops me dead in my tracks every time; saw the movie in a tiny theatre in downtown Tarpon Springs, FL during it’s first run; much screaming ensued, but not by my mom, thank goodness!
    – Here’s one you don’t think about very often, “Hey Bulldog”; the first time I heard this, I didn’t think it was The Beatles, but that song flat-out cooks and it sounds like they were having a blast doing it…..and that bass line is amazing
    – Love the feedback wail that opens “She’s A Woman” and, even though we here in the States got the “Dave Dexter-ized” reverb-washed versions of their early albums, I didn’t mind at all
    – Those big, beautiful acoustic chords that open and propel “I’ll Be Back”; the vocals in that song almost bring tears to my eyes

    I could add more, but the background music playing in this coffeeshop is REALLY messing with my musical recollection. More to come if I can find a quiet spot to jar my memories.

  11. Jay Anthony Says:

    Hi, Chris

    Should be editing Times stories instead of doing this but that’s not as interesting (only so many wacky tales from Pasco a person can handle, agreed?).

    The Beatles memories involve the same girl, my high school and college sweetheart. We were deeply in love, talking of marriage after college. We were each other’s first lover.

    In this instance, she was spending a couple of college year’s in New York City. Once when I came to see her, “A Hard Day’s Night” had recently come out. So we went to a theater on 42nd Street (before it became “the infamous Forty-second Street). We really got a deal because it was a double feature and the other movie starred our earlier rock idol…Elvis Presley.

    As we were watching Elvis woo Hope Lange in the first feature, “Wild in the Country,” my girl elbowed me in the ribs and whispered “Stop it.” I hadn’t the slightest idea what she was talking about. A couple of minutes later she did it again. This time I asked what it was all about. She said you’re pinching my shoulder. I said I had not. We both then turned around and saw one of NYC’s street people right behind us, reaching toward her shoulder again. I jumped up, yelled at him, then called for an usher (still had them in those days) who came and threw out the bum.

    We spent the rest of the movie holding hands.

    The second memory isn’t quite so funny.

    In February 1966, after I hadn’t heard from the girl from several weeks, I called her at school in NYC. I asked what was going on. She was real reluctant to answer, but finally admitted she had met someone else. She said she never thought she could love someone more than she loved me, but she did this guy. Of course, I was devastated and dumbstruck. They went on to marry and are still together to this day, apparently true soul mates.

    Around that time “We Can Work It Out” was still getting plenty of airplay on AM radio. I sort of became my anthem, expressing what I would have loved to say to her on the phone. But, about 10 years later I met my own soul mate.

  12. Christopher Ave Says:

    Wow, GREAT stories Jay! And how meaningful, as they involved that “first love.” Great stuff!

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