For the total lack of Ringo we make no apologies – the toneless ‘Savoy Truffle’ that was his 1971 hit ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ was his only shot at this list, and even that isn’t fit to suck the piles off of ‘Mull Of Kintyre’. But in compiling a list of the best songs by post-Beatles Beatles, you have to start by nodding to those hardy tunes that nearly made it.
So we salute Macca’s ‘Temporary Secretary’ for trying its damndest to invent electro-pop in 1980. We hold a minute’s silence for ‘Pipes Of Peace’, whose melodic buzz-bomb landed just outside the list. We get stark bollock naked and wave a placard in the name of John’s slogan songs that seem a little too hippified for the modern day – ‘Power To The People’, ‘Give Peace A Chance’, ‘Instant Karma’. We pass our condolences to those fantastic tunes the ex-Beatles gave away to others’ albums – ‘Come And Get It’ to Badfinger, ‘Run So Far’ to Eric Clapton, ‘Veronica’ to Elvis Costello, ‘Handle With Care’ to The Travelling Wilburys – or those ruined forever by Bryan Ferry (sorry ‘Jealous Guy’). And we honour the noble nonsense of ‘The Frog Chorus’, but really, fuck off now.
And so to the greatest hits by The Band The Beatles Could Have Been:
A perfect crystallisation of the psychedelic hypno-state Lennon first explored on ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, the Indian swirls of ‘Revolver’ and his smoother 70s Yoko-pop tendencies, ‘#9 Dream’ from John’s 1974 album ‘Walls And Bridges’ really was “a river of sound” and sounded like the ultimate 5-minute career summation. No wonder, besides finishing off a rock’n’roll covers album, he had to have a long lie down for five years after it.
2Maybe I’m Amazed
Sounding like a rough but passionate offcut from the ‘Let It Be’ sessions – which is sort of was – ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ was the consummate climax of 1970’s ‘McCartney’ album, full of pounding piano, chilling church organ and Paul yowling “Maybe I’m a lonely man who’s in the middle of something that he doesn’t really understand” in one of his most raw and moving crescendos ever. Amazing.
Easily Lennon’s finest ever love song, the simplicity and tenderness of ‘Oh My Love’ was a glimmer of serenity amongst the political tub-thumping and emotional desperation of 1971’s ‘Imagine’ album. So gorgeous it could turn Justin Lee-Collins into a soppy-eyed romantic.
4Live And Let Die
BAM-BAM! LIVEUNLEDYYYYYEEE! BAM-BAM! DADADA! DADADA! DADA! Okay, so it’s essentially a song about being a psychopath and it’s got the grammatical nous of a Fat Les song – “But if this ever changing world in which we live in” Macca? REALLY? – but there’s no denying the punch, power and one-eyebrow-raising energy of Paul’s Bond masterpiece, these days adorned with columns of flame at the climactic chords when played live. Talk? No, it expects you to FRY.
Soporific, over-played, idealistic hippy bullshit? Or a vital socio-politico-antireligious message being slyly infiltrated over the decades into the pop-mushed brains of the world’s sheeple as the only way to get THE TRUTH embedded into the world’s collective subconscious? It’s an argument we recently had out on the NME’s debate page, but suffice it to say, I’m with the dreamers.
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Much of Macca’s output with Wings verged on the corny – ‘Silly Love Songs’ anyone? Anyone? – but ‘My Love’, Paul’s homage to 70s soul, was one tune that flirted with schmaltz and survived. Although it can be ruined somewhat if you consider that the “it” that Linda did so “good” was probably encasing wads of Quorn in edible cylindrical sheathes.
George’s mid-80s return to form was trumpeted by this hand-clappy, drum-slappy, sax-sunny pop classic from his 1987 comeback ‘Cloud Nine’. It birthed the Travelling Wilburys too, which is actually no bad thing.
8My Sweet Lord
The peak of his Hare Krishna era, 1970s Number One ‘My Sweet Lord’ – the precise antithesis of ‘Imagine’ – looked set to launch a post-Beatles George as the maharishi of mystical folk pop, like a brilliant Cat Stevens.
An essential part of Lennon’s primal therapy sessions with Arthur Janov in LA in 1970 was coming to terms with his mother abandoning him and then dying young. The result was ‘Mother’, from the opening death knell bells to its tearful cry of “Mother don’t go/Daddy come home” an almost unlistenably pained and personal gospel howl of anguish and exorcism unlike anything in mainstream pop, then or now.
A timeless example of McCartney’s bittersweet storytelling pop tradition, ‘Another Day’ (from 1971’s ‘Ram’), ‘Another Day’ was an artful look at lonely, one-night-stand worker drone ennui in the style of ‘She’s Leaving Home’ or Simon And Garfunkel’s ‘Cecelia’. Probably invented ‘Parklife’.
A pastiche of Procol Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ and just as rammed full of acid nonsense about mind guerrillas, druid dudes and finding an “absolute elsewhere” as this cut from 1973 sorts through years of Lennon’s extensive adventures in alternative ideas, philosophies, therapies and psychology to reach a basic positive message: “Yes is the answer… make love not war”. Like duh, we could’ve told him that for a fiver.
Lennon as Dylan on this dark and desolate acoustic blueprint of life’s journey from crushed childhood through abusive schooldays and worthless working life, your down time “doped with religion and sex and TV”. Proof that Lennon was indeed a visionary, since he’s predicted The Tudors right there.
A favourite of indie rom-com soundtrack compilers, 1970’s ‘Love’ – from ‘John Lennon/The Plastic Ono Band’ – is as sweet a combination of music box piano and teary guitar as you can get without the pair of instruments growing limbs and running off to get married in Vegas.
Lennon’s 70s work was full of people-power sloganeering and demands that peace should be given a fair go for once, all things considering. But it was disguised as a jingly Christmas song that his message had the most impact, a musical football lobbed into global capitalism’s no-man’s land. Plus, we get presents!
Two years before ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (although, admittedly, some years after ‘Good Vibrations’ and ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’), Macca popularised the sprawling multi-part hit single with 1973’s ‘Band On The Run’ title track, shifting from laid-back pastoral ballad to orchestral pop cracker to tell the story of some sort of rock’n’roll Italian Job.
Frustrated by the endless spouting bullshit from “neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians” and “short-haired, yellow-bellied son-of-tricky-dicky”s, John Lennon invented the internet comment with this bilious, incensed but beatific rant from 1971’s ‘Imagine’.
Included partly for its heart-breaking status as the first single from ‘Double Fantasy’ released after Lennon’s death in 1980 – as if his final thought was one of love for his wife – and partly for the way its elated, angelic twangles make Yoko Ono seem like Helen Of Troy for three and a half minutes.
A funeral paean adorned with a mournful mariachi parade and Macca gushing a moving elegy, ‘That Day Is Done’ was the highlight of his celebrated 1989 ‘Flowers In The Dirt’ album and co-written with Elvis Costello. It’s just a shame we can’t include the even-better ‘Veronica’ or ‘Pads, Paws And Claws’ that the pair wrote for Costello’s ‘Spike’.
While the world was scratching its head trying to fathom what on earth the keyboard-keys metaphor of ‘Ebony And Ivory’ could be all about (nope, still no clue), Macca was already off melding Beatles pop with disco hee-heees on ‘The Girl Is Mine’ and this prime Jacko collaboration from ‘83’s ‘Pipes Of Peace’.
Along with the plaintive ‘Junk’, ‘Every Night’ was a stand-out from Macca’s first solo album ‘McCartney’, concerned with the fragile mental state of drunkenness and insecurity The Beatles had left him in.