The Beatles are, without question, the greatest, most-important band of all time. The quality of their work is unparalleled. Their songwriting skills were superb. Their musicianship was amazing. Their personalities were eminently likable. Their popularity will probably never be reached again. The Beatles reintroduced the concept of a band writing their own songs. They were insanely experimental – having dabbled in classical, Indian, country, dance hall, psychedelic, soundscapes, (proto) heavy metal, ballads and straight up rockers. They extolled the virtues of peace and love. They have sold the most records and have the most #1 hits in pop culture history. They regularly dominate critical lists of greatest bands, greatest albums and greatest songs.
With all that said, they released their fair share of stinkers.
Hey, they can’t all be “Let It Be” and “In My Life” can they? The vast majority of their songs are great. In fact, I’d take their awesome-to-sucky song ratio above any other band (especially given the fact that they recorded over 200 songs in a 7‑year span, in ridiculously varied amount of musical styles). But, yes, they have some bad songs. Songs I would probably skip if they randomly came up on my music player. I compiled a list of the 10 worst Beatles songs. Why? I don’t know. Maybe to be controversial. Maybe to play God-killer. Maybe I’m just a big jerk. At any rate, my list is below. Peace and love!
#10 — Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
In many ways, I think Paul gets a bad rap. At his worst, he can be schmaltzy, he can by syrupy, and he can be lyrically and melodically soft. He generally doesn’t have the same gravitas as John, or even as George – which becomes all the more frustrating to some, because he is clearly a world-class song-writer, musician, and vocalist. Sure, he wrote “Get Back,” “I’m Down,” and “Helter Skelter” – but he also wrote “Your Mother Should Know” and “Honey Pie” (two songs, incidentally, that I like). These are songs that John Lennon referred to as “Paul’s granny shit.” Old-timey, music hall music that was not nearly ‘rock and roll’ enough for his taste. But I give Paul credit for this. A big part of what made The Beatles the greatest band of all time is their willingness to absorb different styles of music, and of all The Beatles, nobody did this more than Paul. He’s written classical songs, jazz songs, standards, proto-metal, and everything in between. Hell, he even wrote a 1800s saloon song! It has given Paul plenty of hits, but also plenty of misses in his long career. Which brings us to one of his misses. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” I really should like this song. The lyrics, about a serial killer who uses a hammer to kill his victims, might be the darkest he’s ever written, and in theory, I really enjoy how he subversively cloaks it in a children’s sing-along. And some of the instrumentation is great. But somehow, it just doesn’t come together (no pun intended). It’s too jokey. Too cheesy. I often find myself skipping it. It is the worst song off of Abbey Road – but the best song on this list!
#9… #9… #9… — The Inner Light
We all know that George Harrison loved Indian music. This influence led to a broader palate heard in Beatles music. His use of sitar enhanced “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” and the Indian flavor of “Love You To” just plain works. Then there’s “The Inner Light,” which goes from influenced by to straight up cultural appropriation. This is not an Indian-influenced rock song – it is a straight up Indian song, written by a British, white man. I know he had the best intentions in the world, but facts are facts, and this simply hasn’t aged well with where the culture is today. I also acknowledge that times were different then, and Harrison’s use of Indian music did lead to many people broadening their horizons and seeking out world music. That’s good. So that just leaves the song. I don’t like it. And it doesn’t make me want to seek out more Indian music. It just makes me want to push ‘skip.’ To be honest, I could have easily chosen “Within You Without You” in this spot instead, but I will be crapping on a Sgt. Pepper’s song further down the list…
#8 — You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)
Okay. I have a confession. I love this song. I think it’s awesome. So, why is it on this list? Because even though I love it, I have to admit that it is not good. The song has a demented nightclub vibe. It’s almost as if aliens were trying to put on a lounge show, without fully understanding human culture. Everything is a little bit off. It’s very bizarre, made up of a mish-mash of sections and glued together in a seemingly haphazard manner (indeed, it was significantly truncated from a previous version, found on Anthology 2). The song seems to involve different pretend lounge singers (such as Paul’s fantastically smarmy “Dennis O’Bell) sing (or attempt to sing) the lines “You know my name/Look up the number.” There’s a part where John shrilly sings the lyrics like an especially annoying little boy and another part where, as if predicting the future, someone mumbles like a gelatinous, drunk, fat-era Elvis. Like I said, this song is very fun. But the song is just a goof. Musically and lyrically, it’s just not up to their standards.
#7 — Matchbox
Let’s talk about Ringo. Like the rest of the Beatles, Ringo was a world-class musician, a highly creative artist and an engaging, lovable personality. But, unlike the rest of the Beatles, Ringo was not a good singer. He just wasn’t. Sure, his unique (ie – bad) singing style added a level of charm to many of the songs he sang (“Boys,” “Good Night,” “Octopus’s Garden”) and there are even some songs where you couldn’t imagine anyone doing a better job (“Yellow Submarine,” “With a Little Help From My Friends” (unless you enjoy the Joe Cocker version more…)). But when it comes down to it, Ringo is a subpar singer, and no song better illustrates this more than “Matchbox.” What makes this an especially bad performance is not Ringo’s tone, which he has no control over – it’s his delivery. He pauses in weird places. Like in the very first line, for example: “I said I’m sitting here watching/Matchbox holding my … *checks watch* clothes.” The part about the peaches is really smooshed together. And then there’s his “Weeeeeeeeeeeell”… The Beatles have done a lot of covers, and most can be argued to be superior to the originals.
I can’t see anyone making the argument for this song. In fact, it’s not even the best version recorded by a Beatle…
#6 — Flying
The Beatles as a whole were better than the sum of their parts. Separately, they were great musicians and artists, but together they were transcendent. Except when they wrote songs together. There are only three songs that all four Beatles were credited as writing together on their original albums – “Flying,” “Dig It,” and “Maggie Mae.” All of them are pretty terrible. But “Dig It” and “Maggie Mae” had the good sense to be short (both are mercifully under a minute long), so “Flying” made the grade on this list. “Flying,” off the Magical Mystery Tour album, is a lumbering, bluesy instrumental. Well, it’s not quite an instrumental. There are some “fa la las” belted out in an ironic, old-timey style. It’s obviously one of those “songs that came from a jam session” sort of deals, but it’s obvious to me that if John, or Paul, or, hell, even Ringo, came in with an idea before they hit record, this would have been a lot better…
#5 — She’s Leaving Home
This will probably get the biggest reaction of any song on the list. I know that a lot of people really like it. Paul McCartney has gone on record to say that it is one of the best songs he’s ever written. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys (and a world-class composer in his own right) lists it as his favorite Beatles song. So, who am I to say that it’s not good? I’m just a guy. A guy who will most likely skip the song if I come across it. “She’s Leaving Home” is a tearjerker. I don’t have a problem with tearjerkers, and The Beatles have done plenty of excellent ones (“Eleanor Rigby” and “For No One” immediately come to mind). The problem with “She’s Leaving Home” is that it is SO melodramatic. The song is pure, sentimental treacle. Every note and every line of this (admittedly lyrically vivid) song seems to be screaming at you to cry. I don’t like to be screamed at to cry. The other problem that I have with this song is that I don’t like the protagonist of the story. Maybe I’m not supposed to, but it’s hard to like a song about a character that causes so much misery to her family. In the chorus, John sings as the stricken parents, wondering what they had done wrong and when the Greek chorus states that she left to have “fun,” I have to wonder this myself… Bletch.
#4 — Slow Down
The Beatles were usually an incredibly tight band. Not this time. “Slow Down” is a mess. George, who later became an amazing slide guitarist, seemed to have a terrible time hitting the notes with his slide. It’s noticeably bad. And his guitar solo could have used a few more takes too. Then there’s a spot about 1:14 into the song where someone is singing the wrong word. John, the lead vocalist, sings “but now you got a boyfriend” and at the same time, someone is singing “girlfriend” or something. Apparently, it’s a bad cut between takes on George Martin’s part, where the piano and the bass also drops. This may be the sloppiest song the Beatles ever recorded. Not loose. Sloppy. And definitely not up to their standards.
#3 — When I Get Home
I would give John Lennon the edge over anyone as the greatest lyricist in Rock and Roll (and yes, that includes Dylan – or whomever you think is better). His words are always evocative, and never labored. He is a special kind of lyricist that was a master of all lyrical styles. He could be universal or specific. Detached or personal. Clear or obtuse. He could do it all, which is why it is so frustrating when he writes a badly written song. Music-wise, it is all right (though nothing special), but lyric-wise, it’s a mess. The song is about a man telling other people that he has no time to speak to them – he’s rushing home to see his girl, because he’s “got a whole lot of things to tell her.” But during the bridge of the song, he states, “When I’m getting home tonight/I’m gonna hold her tight/I’m gonna love her till the cows come home.” So, he doesn’t have a whole lot of things to tell her. He’s just going to have a lot of sex. Which is fine, except for the way he describes it. Introducing the colloquialism “’till the cows come home” to a romantic sentiment is just wrong, man. I don’t want people thinking of cows during sex. And I certainly don’t want them to stop “when the cows come home.” I mean, does that mean that he thinks the cows are better options? Sheesh. Speaking of better options, he immediately continues, singing, “I bet I’ll love her more/Till I walk out that door, again.” Besides being a little awkwardly written, I think it means that he only loves her when he sees her, and, based on some other lyrics during the verses (“I’ve got no business being here with you, this way”), perhaps the protagonist is speaking to another one of his lovers on his way to see his wife or girlfriend. This actually makes the song more interesting (though a little icky), but if this is the case, why is he rushing home to see the other woman? And why would he be telling the other woman? I’ll be honest, the more I write about it, the more interesting this song becomes, but I really can’t forgive the “I’m gonna love her till the cows come home” line…
#2 ‑Mr. Moonlight
John seemed to give a little something extra vocally when he sang on a cover. On songs like “Twist and Shout,” “Rock and Roll Music” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” it sounds like he was literally singing his guts out and shredding his throat along the way. And I mean that as a compliment. John’s vocals in “Mr. Moonlight” are just as impassioned and full of energy as the covers listed above… but I honestly don’t know why he bothered. The song is pretty terrible. Paul and George on backing vocals give off the proper feeling to the song – they sound like Mariachi singers bored out of their gourde. Then there’s the organ solo. It sounds exactly like that electric organ sound you hear whenever a TV show parodies a soap opera… and it sounds like it’s played by a grandma in a retirement home. Lyrically, we can’t blame the Beatles, since they didn’t write it, but I’ll just say I’m confused. Is John singing to actual moonlight? Ie – the light from the sun that bounces off the moon? If so, why is he so formal in calling him Mr.?
#1 — Revolution #9
Look, the only reason why this wouldn’t be the number one song on this list is if I didn’t classify it as a song. And that was a distinct possibility. I mean, there’s no written lyrics, there’s no melody, there’s no rhythm. It’s just a random mish-mash of weird tape loops smooshed together for over 8 interminable minutes. The Beatles were always pushing the envelope, and I love it when they took experimental risks… but I just can’t sit through this one. I have probably listened to every Beatles track hundreds of times, but I honestly don’t think I’ve ever made it all the way through this one. It’s torture. This is the only Beatles song I will skip 100% of the time I come across it. Maybe, maybe, if this were one or two minutes, I could stand to make it through (which is why songs like “Maggie Mae” and “Wild Honey Pie” get a pass). But it would still be my least favorite song the Beatles did.
Agree? Disagree? Filled with rage? (I hope not. It’s just a list…) Please feel free to comment. And remember — the love you take is equal to the love you make!