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
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.