The Beatles…Singles Ranked

What are the best singles by The Beatles?  They’ll be ranked two different ways.

(Some of my old Beatles singles.  Click to enlarge.)

Albums by The Beatles are often ranked, but let’s consider their singles.  First, we’ll look at them as 2-sided collections.  Which 45’s gave us two great songs?  Only singles released by The Beatles in the U.S. during their active years, 1962-1970 will be considered (all songs were recorded in the ‘60’s).

10.  And I Love Her / If I Fell  This one might normally be overlooked, but it gives us two great ballads.  Paul McCartney’s “And I Love Her” backed with John Lennon’s “If I Fell”.  These two songs from the film A Hard Day’s Night have only grown in stature.  In fact, “And I Love Her” is one of the top 10 most recorded songs of all time.  It’s a tender straight-forward love song with one of McCartney’s great melodies.  He credits George Harrison with adding the famous acoustic guitar riff.   “If I Fell” has Lennon writing as if he’s unsure of himself, hoping his new love won’t treat him the way his ex-love did.  He sings “Don’t hurt my pride like her”.  Leave it to John Lennon to write a love ballad from a slightly skewed point of view.  Both songs were included on United Artist’s A Hard Day’s Night album, and Capitol’s Something New album.

9.  Can’t Buy Me Love / You Can’t Do That  “Can’t Buy Me Love” was the big #1 single released in 1964 prior to the movie A Hard Day’s Night.  Paul McCartney’s song packed so much energy it was used multiple times during the movie.  The flip side is an underrated rocker by John Lennon…”You Can’t Do That”.  It gave The Beatles another solid rock song for their live shows.

8.  Paperback Writer / Rain  As The Beatles moved into more adventurous recordings during their Revolver sessions, they created this great single.  “Paperback Writer” is another #1 from Paul McCartney, with an unusual topic and excellent sweeping harmonies.  John Lennon’s “Rain” is a psychedelic song.  It fit in with similar pioneering recordings by other groups in 1966.  It features variable speed tape effects, a backwards vocal at the end, and some creative drumming by Ringo Starr.

7. Yesterday / Act Naturally  It’s hard to know where to place this one, because the A-side is so strong.  “Yesterday” not only was #1, but it’s the most recorded song of all time (cover versions).  “Act Naturally” is not nearly as good as the other B-sides, but it’s a fun Buck Owens tune that let’s Ringo’s love of country music shine through.

6.  We Can Work It Out / Day Tripper  These two A-sides are both extremely strong.  “We Can Work It out was another #1 with Paul McCartney as the main songwriter.  John Lennon’s “Day Tripper” was not far behind at #5.  It’s a great rocker, and it might have hit the top of the chart if it had been the only A-side, with a weaker song as a B-side.

5.  Something / Come Together  Another double A-sided single.  “Something” was George Harrison’s first A-side on a single, and in 1969 it went to #1 in both the U.K. and the U.S.  John Lennon also had a #1 with “Come Together”.  This collection is kind of like Beauty and the Beast.  A truly beautiful ballad, and a nonsense lyrics rocker, but with a cool groove, and great chorus.

4.  Eleanor Rigby / Yellow Submarine   “Yellow Submarine” was Ringo’s first & only vocal effort to hit #1.  It’s a highly imaginative song that McCartney says was always meant to be a fun sing-along for children.  The just-over-2-minutes story of Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie is generally considered a masterpiece, and is one of the top 5 most recorded songs of all time.  Paul McCartney was the main songwriter, with some lyric input from John Lennon and George Harrison.  The striking string octet arranged by producer George Martin was the only instrumental accompaniment…something totally new to Rock.

3. I Want To Hold Your Hand / I Saw Her Standing There  This might be the most exciting and important single for The Beatles.  Both songs are bundles of energy that made The Beatles explode into America!  When these songs came on the radio near the end of 1963, they sounded like nothing else.  If you bought this single, you played both sides over and over.  “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was #1 for 7 weeks, and was only moved out of that position by “She Loves You”, which was then replaced at the top by “Can’t Buy Me Love”.  At that time, in April of 1964, The Beatles had the top 5 positions on the singles chart.  “I Saw Her Standing There” started with an excited count-in by Paul McCartney, and then rocked right on through to the end.  Some credit should go to Capitol Records.  Although they badly failed by  letting other labels release some of the earliest singles by The Beatles, choosing “I Saw Her Standing There” instead of the ballad “This Boy” (which was on the British single) added to the initial excitement of The Beatles’ arrival on the American airwaves.

2. Hey Jude / Revolution  When The Beatles launched Apple Records at the time of The White Album in 1968, they chose these two songs as the first Apple single.  Paul McCartney originally wrote “Hey Jude” with Jules in the title, because he was reaching out to Julian Lennon after his parents, John and Cynthia, divorced.  “Hey Jude” remained at #1 for 9 weeks in 1968.  That’s the longest a Beatles song held the top spot.  The song remains extremely popular, and has often been chosen by Paul McCartney to close arena and stadium concerts.  Before “Revolution” became the choice for the single, it was reworked.  The Beatles decided the original version (“Revolution 1”) was too slow.  The song was turned into one of John Lennon’s best rockers!  This combination of songs certainly could be the #1 single, but the next one is also very special.

1. Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields Forever  Of all The Beatles singles, this may be the one that’s hardest to decide which song is the best.  Yes, McCartney’s “Penny Lane” was #1 and Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields Forever” was #8, but that’s probably due to “Strawberry Fields” being so original and experimental.

Some years later, Lennon looked back on his time with The Beatles and said it seemed like when he introduced songs to the group, they decided it was time to try new things.  By most accounts, it was Lennon himself who requested innovative techniques and experimentation.  In preparation for this article, I found  there are 32 recordings of “Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles in my digital music collection.  They include demos, alternate takes, various stages of layering instruments, remasters, and remixes.  It’s amazing how The Beatles and George Martin created such an original final recording.

“Penny Lane” also went through many stages, and in its own way is as innovative as Lennon’s song.  The complex arrangement includes four keyboards…3 pianos and a harmonium…all used for different textures.  The song has brass, woodwinds, key changes, unusual melody choices, and some surreal lyrics.  One of the most unique touches is a piccolo trumpet.  It’s high clear classical sound was completely new to Rock.

The original mix of “Penny Lane” sent to radio stations included a final piccolo trumpet flourish at the start of the long last note.  However, the released single didn’t include that trumpet ending.  You can hear it on the alternate version on the Anthologies.   The early “radio version” was on The Beatles Rarities album, which I bought in 1980.  Once I heard it, my mind added that trumpet flourish every time I listened to the regular version of “Penny Lane”.  When the 2015 remix came out, I placed a digital copy in Garage Band and added the trumpet ending.  It’s the version I listen to the most.

(Some colored vinyl jukebox singles from 1987, plus a picture disc.)

Now…what are the best singles if we look at the songs individually?

  1. Yesterday
  2. Eleanor Rigby
  3. Hey Jude
  4. Let It Be
  5. Penny Lane
  6. Strawberry Fields Forever
  7. Can’t Buy Me Love
  8. I Want To Hold Your Hand
  9. And I Love Her
  10. Nowhere Man

Okay, that’s impossible.  There are so many Beatles singles that could be put on that list.  There’ll never be a definitive top 10.  The Beatles had 21 #1 singles, and a total of 46 Top 40 singles during their active years.

In America, Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper, and The White Album had no singles released from them.  Plus, other Beatles albums contain so many more quality tracks.

Imagine how many hit singles there could have been!

Bonus List:  Here’s my “No Singles” playlist.  It contains some songs (chronologically) The Beatles did not release on singles in America (1962-1970).

  1.  All My Loving
  2. This Boy
  3. Things We Said Today
  4. I’ll Follow The Sun
  5. I’ll Be Back
  6. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
  7. Drive My Car
  8. Norwegian Wood
  9. Michelle
  10.  In My Life
  11.  For No One
  12.  Here, There And Everywhere
  13.  Good Day Sunshine
  14.  Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  15.  With A Little Help From My Friends
  16.  Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
  17.  When I’m Sixty-Four
  18.  A Day In The Life
  19.  Magical Mystery Tour
  20.  The Fool On The Hill
  21.  Back In The U.S.S.R.
  22.  Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da
  23.  While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  24.  Blackbird
  25.  I Will
  26.  Two Of Us
  27.  Here Comes The Sun

Sgt. Pepper…Best Album Ever?

For decades, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has topped most lists of the best albums.  Should it?

Some fans don’t even think it’s the best Beatles album, with Revolver and Rubber Soul mentioned the most (articles on those two are also on this site).  But, let’s take a close look at why Sgt. Pepper has been so highly thought of through the years.

The Sgt. Pepper recording sessions started on November 24th, 1966.  By then, The Beatles had stopped touring, and they’d barely seen each other for about two months.  John Lennon said that after acting in a film, How I Won The War, he was especially happy to get back with his friends.  Earlier that year, The Beatles had recorded the extremely innovative Revolver album in which they had cleverly utilized the recording studio in many new ways.  So, what was the next step?

The first song to be recorded was John Lennon’s  “Strawberry Fields Forever”.  It’s now considered one of his best songs, but at the time, it seemed strange.  The song started with a Mellotron (an early synthesizer) , which was a new sound.  It had a varied-speed vocal that sounded a bit weird, and psychedelic elements (backwards cymbals, a swarmandal [Indian harp]) that were definitely foreign to listeners.  “Strawberry Fields Forever” deserves a full article, but we’ll move on to the next major song, “Penny Lane”.

With John referencing a place he played during his childhood (the garden of a Salvation Army children’s home), it triggered memories for Paul McCartney about another place they knew, Penny Lane.  The song turned into an energetic description of the sights and sounds in that area of Liverpool.  “Penny Lane” has a great feel, and an excellent arrangement using a wide variety of instruments, including a piccolo trumpet in a classical music style.

The Beatles kept recording more songs, but EMI and Capitol thought it had been too long since The Beatles had released anything, so they pushed the band for a single.  The Beatles agreed to release “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” as a double A-side single (February, 1967).  It’s one of the best 45-rpm releases by The Beatles (along with “Hey Jude”/“Revolution”).  “Penny Lane” hit #1 in Billboard, with “Strawberry Fields” #8.  Producer George Martin said one of his biggest disappointments was that they didn’t hold the two songs for the Sgt. Pepper album.  Today, most people probably add the songs to their Sgt. Pepper playlists.

The title for the album came from Paul’s idea that calling themselves Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band would allow them to approach music from a different perspective.  Paul wrote the title song that rocks the opening of the  album, and then introduces us to Billy Shears (played by Ringo Starr).  He sings “With A Little Help From My Friends”, which is probably Starr’s best vocal performance.

Although Sgt. Pepper could be thought of as a concept album, it really was more of a theme.  Some of the songs obviously fit…”Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!”, “When I’m Sixty-Four”…but it was mainly that The Beatles really did open their minds (with a little help from their LSD) to extremely inventive musical arrangements with thoughtful lyrics…”She’s Leaving Home”, “Within You Without You”, “A Day In The Life”…and psychedelic visions…”Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, “Fixing A Hole”.

(Even the inner record sleeve was a psychedelic vision.)

The album was released on June 1st of 1967.  Dropping the needle on it was a memorable experience!  If you were musically aware at that time, you knew that nothing like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had ever been made.  It also seems impossible that an album with such complicated and intricate arrangements could have been created using a 4-track recording console!

The most complex song on the album is “A Day In The Life”.  The main part is John Lennon’s “I read the news today, oh boy” lyrics that creatively lay out stories as they were found in a newspaper.  Then there’s Paul McCartney’s middle-eight with the “Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head” part of an everyday life.  Although John normally gets most of the credit for the song, it’s actually a great example of The Beatles and George Martin working together.

Paul came up with the line “I’d love to turn you on”, as well as the sweeping orchestral crescendo that connects the song’s pieces and provides the big ending.  Of course George Martin turned the orchestral idea into reality, with a 40-piece orchestra overdubbed to sound like 160.  Ringo developed his own creative drumming and percussion that add so much to the underlying feel of the piece.  Some critics think “A Day In The Life” is The Beatles’ finest work.

(All photos can be enlarged with click or zoom)

Capitol Records certainly thought Sgt. Pepper was “The Greatest Ever!”…as you can see in the above promotional ad.  Let’s take another look at the song list:

  1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  2. A Little Help From My Friends
  3. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
  4. Getting Better
  5. Fixing A Hole
  6. She’s Leaving Home
  7. Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!
  8. Within You Without You
  9. When I’m Sixty-Four
  10. Lovely Rita
  11. Good Morning Good Morning
  12. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
  13. A Day In The Life

There can’t be any other album that contains no singles, yet has so many songs that are well known.  The imagination of the songs and the complicated arrangements stunned other musicians, because there had been nothing like it.  Many artists said it opened the door to greater musical possibilities and the full use of the recording studio.

Let’s imagine The Beatles did release singles from the album.

If the combination track “Sgt. Pepper/With A Little Help From My Friends” had been released on the same day as the album it wouldn’t have been a question of whether it would hit #1, the question would be for how many weeks.  The flip side could have been “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”.  The next single might have been “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” backed with “When I’m Sixty-Four”.  The final fantasy single would be “A Day In The Life” backed with “She’s Leaving Home”.

Stranger Things:  After this article was complete, I discovered I actually have a couple of singles with songs from Sgt. Pepper.  They were among some colored vinyl records we bought in 1987 that were meant for use in jukeboxes.  We had a jukebox, but never actually played these…they were just collectibles.

The “Sgt. Pepper/With A Little Help” single has “A Day In The Life” on the flip side.  The other one is just like the second single I proposed…”Lucy In The Sky” backed with “When I’m 64”.  They’d have been big hits in 1967!

St. Pepper was the first Beatles album to be released in exactly the same form in Britain and America.  Revolver and Rubber Soul were both missing songs in the U.S.  Now that they’re viewed in their complete forms, they’ve grown in stature.

So, is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band the best album ever?  If you look at the impact it had on the culture and the advancement it made in the recording industry, the answer is…yes.  Beatles fans have their personal favorites, and solid arguments can certainly be made for Revolver and Rubber Soul.  Of course people who are not Beatles fans will make other choices for best album.

(All photos can be enlarged with a click or zoom)

Still, the quote at the very bottom of the back cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band probably sums up most people’s reaction to the album…”A splendid time is guaranteed for all”.

America…70’s Band Is Back

Something has made America great again.  It’s probably a combination of touring and a recent rash of interviews that’s returning them to popularity.

After their appearance on the CBS program Sunday Morning, I found America had the numbers 3 and 4 positions on the iTunes sales chart with their two greatest hits albums.  That’s pretty impressive for a band that had most of their hits from 1972 to 1976, and their last big hit in 1982.

Americans Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley, and Dan Peek (l-r above) were in London because their fathers were stationed at an Air Force base there.  After high school, the trio of singers, songwriters, and guitarists formed a band.  They called themselves America, so people wouldn’t think they were a British band trying to sound American.

In 1971, they recorded their self-titled first album at Trident studios in London.  America has ringing acoustic guitars and beautiful harmonies, but the album didn’t take off until they added one more song to it…”A Horse With No Name”.  The song is by Dewey Bunnell, and it went all the way to #1 on the Billboard singles chart in March of 1972.  It sounded amazingly similar to the song it replaced at the top…”Heart Of Gold”.  Honestly, it sounds like Dewey is channeling Neil Young.  America fit in perfectly with the music scene of CSN&Y and singer-songwriters, and the album went to #1 on the Billboard chart.

The second single from the album was “I Need You” (#9) by Gerry Beckley.

America then came back to the United States to record their appropriately titled second album, Homecoming, in Los Angeles.

It was still 1972.  Homecoming featured the singles “Ventura Highway” (#8) by Dewey Bunnell, and “Don’t Cross The River” (#35) by Dan Peek.  America won the “Best New Artist” Grammy at the 1973 awards ceremony.

Unfortunately, the third album Hat Trick produced no hits in 1973.

So, America went to London in 1974 to have The Beatles’ producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick help them with their fourth album, Holiday.

George Martin added the right touches, and America returned to the Top 10 singles chart with “Tin Man” (#4)  by Dewey Bunnell, and “Lonely People” (#5) by Dan Peek & his wife Catherine.  It was the only Top 10 single with Dan Peek as the songwriter and lead singer.  Both singles hit the top of the Adult Contemporary chart.  The album was also successful…#3 in Billboard.

Their hits continued in 1975 with two songs from Gerry Beckley…”Sister Golden Hair” (#1) and “Daisy Jane” (#20).  The album, Hearts, went to #4 in Billboard.  Also in 1975, America released their greatest hits album, History (they were naming all their albums so they started with an “H”).

The album was #3 and a multi-platinum success.

And then things started going downward.  Their 1976 album Hideaway did okay (#11), but didn’t produce any big hits.  The 1977 follow-up, Harbor, did worse (#21), and had no singles chart.  Dan Peek decided to leave the group to forge a solo career in the Christian Music genre.

America’s last real commercial success came 5 years later with the release of “You Can Do Magic”, a song written and produced by ex-Argent guitarist Russ Ballard.  “Magic” went up to #8 in 1982, and was the last big hit for America.

Fast forward 37 years to 2019.  After all those years of on-and-off touring and less than successful studio and live albums, America (with Dewey Bunnell & Gerry Beckley) is popular again.

I recently read a glowing review of one of their concerts (by a professional critic), and saw a very positive interview and profile on the CBS TV show Sunday Morning.  Their efforts have produced a nice bump in sales for their greatest hits albums.

America: The Complete Greatest Hits is the best collection available.  The song list has all 17 of their charting singles, including seven Top 10 hits, four more that made the Top 40, and some popular album cuts like “Sandman”.

(Click or zoom to enlarge the song list.)

If you haven’t listened to the music of America lately, you might want to stream or maybe download this album.  You may also want to go back and enjoy their breakthrough 1st album.  Of course if they’re in concert nearby, you could check them out, because apparently America is great…still.

Echo In The Canyon…Movie Review

The development of “The California Sound” started in the 1960’s in Laurel Canyon, a part of Los Angeles.  On the left side of the below  movie poster, you can see the artists who were interviewed, and on the right side are more current musicians who performed many of the era’s classic songs in a concert that was woven into the documentary.

Laurel Canyon was a neighborhood that was home to some of the most important music artists of the ‘60’s.  They included members of The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Mamas & The Papas, and more.

The movie starts out with an interview with Tom Petty, who was one of the artists most influenced by the Laurel Canyon musicians and songwriters.  He explained and demonstrated how important the 12-string Rickenbacker guitar was to the sound of The Byrds and The Beatles.  It’s so great that they interviewed Petty before we lost him. This film includes a lot of other important artists whose interviews will also be considered priceless someday.

Above is a performance by Jakob Dylan, Beck, and other musicians in front of a large screen showing The Byrds.  The song was “Goin’ Back” a Byrds track that was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King.  It was the best performance of the film.  Even though I would have enjoyed more archival footage of the original bands playing their songs, it was good to see another generation adding their own touches to the classic songs.

Musicians being interviewed by Jakob Dylan, such as Roger McGuinn and David Crosby above, provided the best moments.  All of the artists opened up about insightful and often humorous events that humanized the time when magical music was coming from the canyon.

Eric Clapton told the story of hanging out at Stephen Stills’ house along with members of Buffalo Springfield (shown above).  Clapton says when neighbors complained about the music being too loud, police officers stopped by.  Because marijuana was being illegally used, Stills slipped out the back of the house.  Stephen Stills embarrassingly confirmed he had abandoned his friends.  Of course the most interesting part is that English musicians like Clapton, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison visited Laurel Canyon and were friends with many of the musicians there.  There was a lot of sharing of musical ideas between the Brits and the Americans.

Michelle Phillips Of The Mamas & The Papas was very candid.  While married to John Phillips, she had an affair with the group’s other male vocalist, Denny Doherty.  She says “Go Where You Wanna Go” (and do what you wanna do)  was written by John as a response to Michelle’s infidelity.  A decade later in Los Angeles, Lindsey Buckingham wrote “Go Your Own Way” after his breakup with Stevie Nicks.  It would also be appropriate to do Echo In The Canyon Volume 2 that focused on all of the 1970’s artists who lived in that same area…the Eagles, Jackson Browne, CSN&Y, Linda Ronstadt, J.D. Souther, and more.

If you have an interest in the music and artists represented in this film, it’s really “can’t miss”.  The 90-minute run-time seemed a little short, but there was a good sample of all that “California Dreamin’” that emanated from Laurel Canyon.

Yesterday Movie Review (no spoilers)

The trailer for the movie Yesterday came out in February, and the film finally arrived in theaters this weekend!

The main character, Jack (Himesh Patel), is a struggling musician.  After his bicycle is hit by a bus during a world-wide power outage, he wakes up to find out he’s the only one who even knows The Beatles existed.  He uses Beatles songs as if he had written them, and becomes famous (as shown in the trailer).  Besides that high concept, the main story is the relationship between him and his manager/girlfriend Ellie (Lily James).  Both actors are excellent in these roles.

(All photos by Universal)

So how was the movie?   My wife & I loved it.  (We went a second time 3 weeks later.)

You can tell the makers of the movie have great affection for The Beatles, and even though this is a romantic comedy, the legacy of The Beatles is never tarnished in any way.

The excitement of The Beatles (”I Want To Hold Your Hand”, “She Loves You”) and the beauty of their songs (”Yesterday”, “In My Life”) are both there.  Of course Jack is not as good as The Beatles, but the songs still shine.

Helping Jack along the way are Ed Sheeran (as a version of himself), and Sheeran’s manager (played by Kate McKinnon).  Sheeran does a great job, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he gets more acting roles.  McKinnon is funny as the obviously greedy manager.

The movie also has it’s heart in the right place, and there are some very nicely surprising scenes I won’t spoil.  You’ll be glad you didn’t read any spoilers.

By the way, one of the scenes from the first trailer was eliminated from the movie.  You may have seen where Jack is asked to “write something” on James Corden’s Late Late Show.  Of course Jack writes George Harrison’s “Something” right there.  The scene was cut to eliminate the female character (actress Ana de Armas) Jack was singing to on the show.  The writer and director decided they didn’t want to add a romantic figure in Jack’s life who could interfere with his main relationship with Ellie.

There have been some reviewers who wanted the movie to dig into things such as…would The Beatles’ songs still be relevant to today’s young people?…but that’s another movie (maybe a documentary), and this is just a fun fantasy!  This weekend’s movie goers have rated the movie highly (90% approval), and it won the audience prize at the Montclair film festival.

So, if you love The Beatles and good romantic comedies, do yourself a favor, and see “Yesterday”…it’ll make all your troubles seem so far away.

Buffalo Springfield…Springboard To Fame

Buffalo Springfield was the key to multiple successful careers.

“For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound)” was the only hit by Buffalo Springfield, but the group turned out to be much more important to Rock & Roll.

The seed for the band was planted when Stephen Stills met Neil Young in Canada in 1965.  Both were in minor groups at the time.  In early 1966, Neil Young decided to drive to L.A. (in an old hearse) with fellow musician Bruce Palmer to look for Stills.  In those days, it would seem to be  an impossible task to somehow find one person in L.A.  After a week, they gave up and were heading out of town.  Stephen Stills and Richie Furay happened to be driving the opposite direction on the same street and spotted the old hearse with Young in it.  Stills turned the car around and flagged down Young and Palmer.  It was meant to be.

The four of them formed a band, along with drummer Dewey Martin.  They chose their name after seeing a sign for a steamroller company, Buffalo-Springfield.  Soon, they had a steady gig at The Troubadour and a contract with Atco Records.  Before the end of 1966, they had recorded their first album.

The album was released just as Stephen Stills wrote “For What It’s Worth” after seeing riots on the Sunset Strip.   As a single, the song made it to #7 in Billboard, and was added to a new pressing of the album in March of 1967.

Stephen Stills & Richie Furay sing “For What It’s Worth” on TV

Buffalo Springfield had two more albums and no more hits.  Neil Young was wanting to record on his own, and the group decided to disband in 1968.  I had only purchased the single “For What It’s Worth”, but then bought their album Retrospective in early 1969.

Atco did a great job of choosing the right songs.  Besides their hit single, the best songs by Stephen Stills include  “Rock And Roll Woman” and “Bluebird”.  Neil Young’s songs that later became part of his concerts include ”Mr. Soul”, “On The Way Home” and “I Am A Child”.  Richie Furay wrote and sang “Kind Woman”.  The band’s use of banjo and pedal steel guitar for some of the songs put them on the leading edge of country rock.  There was plenty of regular rock, along with some innovative arrangements.

On the back of the album was a paragraph from the head of Atlantic/Atco Records, Ahmet Ertegun:

“Of all the groups to have emerged in the middle sixties, Buffalo Springfield will be remembered as one of the most creative and exciting.  The very power of the individual writing and performing talents of the members was also the reason for the breakup of the group.  It was comprised of Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Richie Furay, Dewey Martin, and Bruce Palmer, later replaced by Jim Messina.  More will be heard from all of them.”

At the time, February of 1969, it seemed like hype for a group that hadn’t really made it.  Actually, it was very prophetic.

Dewey Martin (drums), Jim Messina (bass & production), Neil Young (guitar), Richie Furay (guitar), Stephen Stills (guitar & keyboards)

The end of Buffalo Springfield meant the beginning of several more bands.

Stephen Stills formed Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Neil Young recorded a solo album, and then added the band Crazy Horse.  Of course he soon joined Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Richie Furay and Jim Messina started the Country Rock band Poco.

Later, Jim Messina joined Kenny Loggins to form Loggins & Messina.

Richie Furay got together with John David Souther and ex-Byrd Chris Hillman as The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band.

Manassas was a really great group of musicians brought together by Stephen Stills.  They released two albums in the seventies.

Of course, Stills and Young have had impressive solo careers, and have played on-and-off together for five decades.

All because Neil Young was driving an old hearse.

Lennon Or McCartney?

This used to be the question that was asked….”Who do you like better, Lennon or McCartney?”  I think it was meant to determine how cool you were.  Since Paul was considered the cute/commercial one, and John was thought of as the poet/cerebral one, the “John” answer was supposed to be cooler.  You might get even more points for answering “George” or “Ringo”.

That assessment has changed over the years.  We know they were both excellent musicians and vocalists, so let’s compare Lennon & McCartney as songwriters for The Beatles.

From the beginning of their fame (1963 in England, and 1964 in America), John and Paul were quickly recognized as a great songwriting team.  Often, they would sit across from each other with acoustic guitars and work out songs together.  McCartney said they never had a writing session that wasn’t successful.

As early as 1964, fans began to see that there were “Paul songs” and “John songs”.  Normally, the main songwriter would also sing the lead vocal.

Let’s look at the “Lennon or McCartney” question a bit differently.  Which one…Lennon or McCartney…wrote the biggest hits and best known songs for The Beatles?  Here’s a list of their #1 hits in the U.S., showing the main songwriter(s).

  1. I Want To Hold Your Hand…both
  2. She Loves You…both
  3. Can’t Buy Me Love…Paul
  4. Love Me Do…both
  5. A Hard Day’s Night…John
  6. I Feel Fine…John
  7. Eight Days A Week…both
  8. Ticket To Ride…John
  9. Help…John
  10. Yesterday…Paul
  11. We Can Work It Out…both
  12. Paperback Writer…Paul
  13. Penny Lane…Paul
  14. All You Need Is Love…John
  15. Hello Goodbye…Paul
  16. Hey Jude…Paul
  17. Get Back…Paul
  18. Come Together…John
  19. Let It Be…Paul
  20. The Long And Winding Road…Paul

For those keeping score, that’s 9 for Paul, 6 for John, and 5 together.  By the way, The Beatles spent a record 132 weeks at #1 in Billboard Magazine.  Second place is 52 weeks.

It also shows the progression.  John was stronger in the early years.  John had 4 of the first ten #1’s, Paul had 2 and together they wrote 4.   By 1966, things changed.   Paul had 7 of the last ten #1’s, John had 2, and they had 1 together.

Of course, even though John & Paul admitted they were competitive, such as trying to get the A-sides of singles, they also readily helped each other with lyrics and song structures in order to make each recording the best possible version.

To compare their output, here are two lists of songs that can mostly be attributed to the individual Beatles as the main songwriter.

Beatles songs by John:

  1. You Can’t Do That
  2. This Boy
  3. A Hard Day’s Night
  4. If I Fell
  5. I Feel Fine
  6. Yes It Is
  7. Help!
  8. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
  9. Ticket To Ride
  10. Girl
  11. Norwegian Wood
  12. Nowhere Man
  13. In My Life
  14. Rain
  15. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
  16. Strawberry Fields Forever
  17. A Day In The Life (John’s song, Paul’s “bridge”)
  18. I Am The Walrus
  19. All You Need Is Love
  20. Revolution
  21. Julia
  22. Don’t Let Me Down
  23. Across The Universe
  24. Come Together
  25. Because

Beatles songs by Paul:

  1. I Saw Her Standing There
  2. All My Loving
  3. Can’t Buy Me Love
  4. And I Love Her
  5. I’ll Follow The Sun
  6. Yesterday
  7. We Can Work It Out (Paul’s song, John’s “bridge”)
  8. Michelle
  9. Paperback Writer
  10. Eleanor Rigby
  11. For No One
  12. Here There And Everywhere
  13. Penny Lane
  14. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  15. When I’m Sixty-Four
  16. The Fool On The Hill
  17. Lady Madonna
  18. Hey Jude
  19. Back In The U.S.S.R.
  20. Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da
  21. Blackbird
  22. I Will
  23. Get Back
  24. The Long And Winding Road
  25. Let It Be

If you spend a little time with the lists, you can determine which group of songs is stronger to you.  Of course Beatles fans like most of the songs from both lists.  I wouldn’t want to be without any of them.

It’s generally agreed that John was the better lyricist, and Paul the better melody writer.  The above examples show just how strong they each were at both words & music.

Music critics tend to look to the lyrics of songs as they search for meanings upon which to write reviews.  John’s songs often had thought provoking lyrics and clever word play.  He was generally more popular with critics.

For the public, melodies come first, and the meanings of songs come later as the lyrics become familiar.   Paul was generally more popular with the public, because of his memorable melodies.  Even John knew that.  He said he never expected to be walking down the street and hear someone whistling “I Am The Walrus”.

As for their solo success from 1970 through 1980, Paul was the best-selling singles artist of the 1970’s.  He edged out Elton John.  He also had five #1 albums (7 platinum).  John Lennon wasn’t nearly as active (he took about 4 years off when Sean was born), but had three #1 (platinum) albums, and his best song did come from his solo career…”Imagine”.  Paul’s best song came from his time with The Beatles, but is it “Yesterday”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Hey Jude”, or “Let It Be”?

The most important reason The Beatles were far and away the most popular group ever, is because John Lennon and Paul McCartney were in it together.

Lennon or McCartney?  The coolest answer is…both.

Sunshine Rock / Spanky & Our Gang

Sunshine Rock isn’t real.  No artists were making “Sunshine Rock”.  It’s not like Folk Rock, Country Rock, or Psychedelic Rock…which artists were consciously developing.  No one called any music Sunshine Rock in the ‘60’s.

This CD was released in 1988.  The name was invented as a way of looking back at the 1960’s and grouping various artists into a “Greatest Hits” album.  The artists and songs selected only loosely fit together.  I bought this disc, because back then it was the first time most of these songs were available digitally.

You can see the songs kind of go together, and kind of don’t.  “Bus Stop” is one of the best songs by The Hollies, but whose brilliant idea was it to start out a collection called “Sunshine Rock” with a song about meeting in a rainstorm?

The Hollies, The Monkees, The 5th Dimension, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Spanky & Our Gang could put out Greatest Hits albums themselves, but most of the other artists were limited to one or two hits.  This was a way for music companies to make money from those old hits.  They weren’t going to sell any more singles or albums by themselves.

Some of the cuts that fit the theme are “Happy” by The Sunshine Company, “Come On Down To My Boat” by Every Mother’s Son, “Hello Hello” by Sopwith Camel”, “More Today Than Yesterday” by Spiral Starecase, and “Red Rubber Ball” (a Paul Simon song) by The Cyrkle.  Of course mixing in some bigger hits provides value, and helps sell the lesser songs.

Spanky & Our Gang (shown above with lead singer Elaine “Spanky” McFarlane) might be the group most associated with Sunshine Rock, or as it has morphed into today, Sunshine Pop.  Their hits “Sunday Will Never Be The Same”, “Lazy Day”, “Sunday Mornin'”, and “Like To Get To Know You” fit perfectly on such lists, even though their arrangements sometimes have elements of Psychedelic Rock and jazz vocals.

They also could do serious songs rooted in folk lyrics, such as “Give A Damn”, which is about visiting a ghetto.  They sing:  “And it might begin to teach you, how to give a damn about your fellow man”.  It’s a really good song, but might have been a bit harsh for Top 40 radio.

Spanky & Our Gang were only popular from 1966 to 1969.  Their crowning achievement is the album Anything You Choose/Without Rhyme Or Reason.

It’s brilliant.  Possibly the only reason I know the album, is because it was a commercial failure.  I spotted it in a dollar bin in the late ’60’s, and bought it.  When I looked at the two sides of the album they were labeled Side 1 and Side A.  Which one to play first?  Anyway, each side is complexly and cleverly arranged so the songs flow into one another.  This was not some simple cross-fading or other studio trick, but well thought-out musical transitions.  The songs are good too.  Besides “Give A Damn” (which just missed the Top 40), there are minor hits like “Yesterday’s Rain”, “And She’s Mine”, and “Anything You Choose”.  The album might be available to stream.  It takes some time to get to know the songs, and they might not fit everyone’s taste in pop; however, we have the whole album as part of our Spanky & Our Gang playlist.

There are a lot of 1960’s Pop Rock songs that fit the Sunshine Pop theme.  Those include:  “Every Day With You Girl” by The Classics IV, “I Will Always Think About You” by The New Colony Six, “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy”) by Harper’s Bizarre, “Groovin'” by The Rascals, “Daydream” by The Lovin Spoonful, “Sunshine Superman” by Donovan, “Happy Together” by The Turtles, “Windy” by The Association…and even songs by The Beach Boys and The Mamas & The Papas are sometimes placed in that category.

A lot of Soft Rock music from the 1970’s could also be called Sunshine Rock or Sunshine Pop.   In fact, there are so many songs, Rhino Records has released 25 volumes of it.  But, they came up with a uniquely 70’s way to describe the music…Have A Nice Day.

A few examples of the songs include…”It Never Rains In Southern California” by Albert Hammond, “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash, “Hitchin’ A Ride” by Vanity Fare, “Brandy, You’re A Fine Girl” by Looking Glass, and “Nice To Be With You” by Gallery.

When you listen to this stuff, you know you’re going to be feelin’ groovy and have a nice day.

Haley Reinhart…Live

                  (Haley Reinhart…performing in Portland, Oregon)

Haley Reinhart owns the stage.  She’s a theatrical type of performer who dresses in costumes rather than the cool fashions of the day.  She writes or co-writes most of her songs, which are a mix of pop, rock, soul, and jazz.  We experienced all of those styles when we saw Haley in Portland on April 23rd.

When we bought the tickets, we didn’t know it was a standing only show.  We got there early, standing in line for an hour, and then standing more than two hours for the show.  But, at least we were right by the stage.  That also gave us a chance to talk with a young man who had been the producer/engineer on one of Haley’s new songs, and with a guy who regularly video’s shows for Haley.  Both expressed belief in her singing talent, and expect the 28-year-old to break through to larger audiences at some point…versus the 500 capacity of the Hawthorne Theatre where this event was held.

Haley Reinhart was introduced to the nation through American Idol in 2011, when the TV show was still extremely popular.  Even though she finished third to a couple of likable country singers, Haley was obviously the best vocalist on the show.  Her three octave range and ability to tackle any style of music was reminiscent of Kelly Clarkson’s Idol run.

Musicians took note.  American Idol had requested the use of songs by Led Zeppelin for performers on the show, but had been turned down.  When Robert Plant and Jimmy Page saw Haley Reinhart perform, they called American Idol and said she could perform one of their songs.  In the above photo she’s singing Zeppelin’s “What Is, And What Should Never Be”.  Likewise, Lady Gaga was a fan and gave permission for Haley to sing one of her brand new songs at the time, “You And I”.

Three of Haley Reinhart’s videos are the most viewed in the show’s history, and for years after her time on Idol, her studio recordings from the show held 8 of the top 10 most-purchased American Idol tracks on iTunes.

So, has she gone on to conquer the music world?  No…but there have been some impressive successes.

Haley performed with Jazz groups in high school, college, and before-and-after American Idol.  Her videos with the group Postmodern Jukebox have topped the Jazz charts and have garnered hundreds-of-millions of views.

Haley Rinehart’s first album Listen Up made it to #17 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart, and included her singles “Free” & “Oh My!”, as well as popular cuts “Wasted Time” and “Hit The Ground Running”.

Her most successful single is “Can’t Help Falling In Love” (the old Elvis hit).  Her recording has over 250-million streams, and has been certified as “Gold” by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Haley Reinhart has toured the U.S. coast to coast, and has toured in Asia.  She also toured Europe with Postmodern Jukebox.

Her two most recent albums are What’s That Sound?, featuring many 1960’s hits, plus some original songs, and Lo-Fi Soul, which is her newest album of all-original songs.

The album has received excellent reviews, and has a 5-star rating on iTunes.  It features a mix of pop and soul, with elements of rock and jazz.  Haley sang most of the album’s songs during the Portland concert.

She certainly showed us her full vocal range and power.

Here, the two guitarists had just finished a major battle of dueling rock guitars, and dropped to their knees as if they were exhausted.  The uptempo songs and dramatic vocals gave way at times to ballads and intricate jazz vocals.

The enthusiastic fans at the concert certainly think Haley Reinhart’s career is on the way up.

The Beatles…Rubber Soul (Two Versions)

Rubber Soul is a great album, but it might actually be a little under-appreciated.  These days, Sgt. Pepper and Revolver get most of the praise, and a lot of fans think Rubber Soul should be right there with them.

One reason it might not be, is because of the differences between the British and American versions.  They’re somewhat like two separate albums…with a six song variance (Capitol left off 4 songs and added 2).

The American version starts off with a song that had been on Help in England…”I’ve Just Seen A Face”…a country-tinged acoustic song.    The first track on side two was also from Help, “It’s Only Love”, another acoustic song.  Capitol Records apparently wanted Rubber Soul (released December 3rd, 1965) to fit in with the Folk Rock trend of that year.  Besides adding the two acoustic songs, they took away 4 songs…”Drive My Car”, “Nowhere Man” (released as a single in February, 1966), “What Goes On”, and “If I Needed Someone”.

The British version of Rubber Soul started with a rocker, “Drive My Car”.  Paul McCartney said “Drive My Car” and some of the other songs were influenced by American soul music.  The name Rubber Soul came about after McCartney heard an American musician use the term “plastic soul” when referring to Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.  McCartney said he thought of Rubber Soul as an English version of soul music.

Meanwhile, American fans mostly thought of Rubber Soul as a Folk Rock album, because of the song choices.  Here are the album track lists.  The U.S. version has 12 songs, and the U.K. version 14.  The original vinyl  albums divided the songs equally between the two sides.

Here’s a confession.  Although my Beatles playlists basically follow the British album versions, I placed “I’ve Just Seen A Face” at the beginning (and moved “Drive My Car” to the middle), because to me it’s not Rubber Soul without it!

Capitol Records succeeded in having Rubber Soul be mostly an acoustic album to fit the trend, but in doing so, they left off three really strong songs…”Nowhere Man”, “Drive My Car”, and “If I Needed Someone”, which hurts the overall impression of the quality of the album with Americans (even though it was extremely popular as it was).  Surprisingly, the American version of Rubber Soul included no singles at all.  That did have the positive effect of the album being thought of as an artistic statement, rather than just a collection of songs.

Let’s look at how the full version of Rubber Soul came to be.

Already in 1965, The Beatles had been touring, wrote and recorded the songs for the album Help, filmed the movie of the same name, and then toured America (including the Shea Stadium concert).  So of course their record company wanted them to do another album before Christmas.  Holy night!  How much can one band do!

It was already mid October, 1965.  The Beatles needed to write, record, and mix 16 new songs (14 for the album, and 2 for a single) in about a month and a half!  As crazy as that sounds now, it was actually more uninterrupted time than their hectic schedule had allowed for previous albums.

While on tour, The Beatles had interacted with Bob Dylan, The Byrds, and other American artists.  Dylan introduced them to marijuana and his lyrics.  Both would expand The Beatles thinking and affect Rubber Soul.

The Beatles’ songwriters came through.

John Lennon was the most prolific.  He was the lead writer on 9 songs…including “Norwegian Wood”, “In My Life”, “Day Tripper”, “Girl”, and “Nowhere Man”…which John said just came to him all at once.

Paul McCartney was the main writer on 5 songs…“Drive My Car”, “You Won’t See Me”, “We Can Work It Out”, “I’m Looking Through You”, and “Michelle”…one of the most recorded songs of all time.

George Harrison provided 2 songs…”Think For Yourself” and “If I Needed Someone”…which was a salute to the style of their new friends, The Byrds.

“We Can Work It Out” and “Day Tripper” were selected as a double A-sided single to be released the same day as the album, but were not actually on the album.

Rubber Soul accented intricate three-part vocal harmonies to go with the more sophisticated lyrics.

Even though The Beatles were on a deadline, they were innovative.  This was the first rock/pop album to use a sitar.  They also incorporated other unusual instruments, including a harmonium (a type of pump organ).  George Martin was able to produce a Baroque harpsichord sound by playing a piano part along with a slowed down tape of “In My Life”, and then having the effect sound perfect at regular speed.  Rubber Soul was the transitional step The Beatles needed to get to the full studio experimentation of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper.

We all know there is no definitive answer as to what Beatles album is best.  Our own opinions can change.  But, how does Rubber Soul stack up?  When The Beatles put together their 4-record “best of” collection known as the red and blue albums, they selected more songs from Rubber Soul than any other album…8 of the 16 songs recorded during those sessions.  In a 1995 interview, George Harrison said it was his favorite Beatles album.