Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Best Of 2015.

This the 5th Annual Edition of American Wolf's Year-End Best Of. As usual, motion pictures are divided into Best Film (spirit animal: Citizen Kane) & Best Movie (spirit animal: King Kong); hopefully one day the Oscars will follow suit. Until then, I'm what you've got. The rest is pretty self-explanatory. I feel like I should have more to say, but you didn't really come here to read this introductory junk anyway, so I guess I won't bother to finish a

Best Film: Room.

When I was a kid, I used to wonder what it would be like if I grew up in a single place, watching television. On one level, Lenny Abrahamson's film Room, based on Emma Donoghue's novel of the same name (she also penned the screenplay), provides an answer to this question. Joy Newsome (a spectacular Brie Larson) & her 5-year-old son (an equally spectacular Jacob Tremblay) are confined into a one-room shed by Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). Joy was captured by Old Nick when she was 17; young Jack has never seen the world outside of what they call Room. The film is roughly divided into two halves--their lives before & after leaving Room--with one of the most thrilling escape sequences I have ever witnessed on film in between. The film's claustrophobic first part all but beats you down as a viewer, which only makes the escape & the freedom that follows that much more powerful--& genuinely terrifying. Like the original novel, Room is essentially seen through the eyes of young Jack. He gets the voice-overs, & when more adult events are taking place, we only see them through what he sees. This allows for the film to work as a philosophical meditation. Joy trying to explain to Jack the notion of an "other side" for the first time in his life. His notions about space, sides, & the world. What is real about television, a medium he was initially told all of his life was simply make-believe. Room mixes the tension of a thriller with a pondering on reality in a way that I have never seen in another film. It is at once devastating & beautiful, held together by the most sacred love of all: Mother & Child.

Best Movie: Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens.

I was -2 years old when the original Star Wars was released. My parents told me about it like it was this magical thing--how everyone was baffled at this "Episode IV" thing, how it so effortlessly combined the genres of sci-fi, action, romance, & swashbuckler movies, among other things. When George Lucas did his stupid retinkering of it at the dawn of the new millennium, I went to go see it on the big screen. Jabba The Hutt looked stupid & fake. I was happier watching the old version in my living room. This is all just to say that having the opportunity to see The Force Awakens in its theatrical infancy was a thrill. It wasn't just a well-made, intelligent movie (we've come to expect such things from writer-director J.J. Abrams)--it was like the return of old friends. There's Princess Leia, looking like a woman now realistically in her 60s. There's Han Solo, who's only grown crustier with age. & where's Luke Skywalker? The thing that makes it all work is that unlike other back-to-the-future gimmicks (I'm looking at you, fourth Indiana Jones movie), the older generation are used measuredly & credibly. & with the new generation--the conflicted, sinister Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the reformed, determined Finn (John Boyega), & the totally awesome kickass Rey (Daisy Ridley)--we have for the first time since the original trilogy a cast that is worthy of carrying the story. They make the appearance of Leia, Han, & the rest feel organically rewarding instead of the cheap cameos they could have easily become. & just like the original Star Wars films, it leaves us happily enthralled & dying for more.

Best TV Show: Master Of None.

For the third straight year on this blog, The Best TV Show has gone to something that streams on Netflix. But Orange Is The New Black's reign has ended. Time to step aside for Master Of None, co-written by & starring Aziz Ansari. In it, he plays an Aziz Ansari-like struggling actor in New York City named Dev Shah. Over 10 short episodes, we follow him through a wide range of subject matter: Sex ("Plan B"), family ("Parents"), morality ("The Other Man"), aging ("Old People"), & gender ("Ladies & Gentlemen"). But the two most memorable episodes show how great the show is in terms of both subject matter & composition. One was "Indians On TV," which took a rare look at the portrayal of Indian-American actors in popular media (did you know that was a guy in brownface in Short Circuit?!), & the expectations & frustrations that come with it. The other was "Mornings," which followed Dev & his girlfriend Rachel (last seen as a criminally underused one-season cast member on SNL) in a series of vignettes of the rise & fall of their relationship over as series of months; think Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould for the NYC romantic hipster set. & while the finale ended the season in a less-than-spectacular (& less-than-believable) way, in terms of the rest of the episodes leading up to it, Master Of None captured The Uber Generation in realistic-looking people & dialogue, with an integrated yet credible gang of creative social misfits. Throw on top of this the best (& most varied) use of cold-opens & an amazing array of music (Johnny Cash's stark "There You Go" over one of the openings made me hear the song with new ears), & you've got the best television of 2015--on Netflix, or anywhere else.

Best TV Episode: "Connection Lost," Modern Family.

Modern Family is showing its age & is simply not up to par to its earlier seasons, but then again, few shows in their position could be. (As proof, the always-late-to-the-party Emmys didn't give Best Comedy to Modern Family for the first time since it was on the air, with Veep nabbing the honors.) Yet when it works, Modern Family still ranks with the finest television out there. Take this episode, "Connection Lost," which takes place entirely on Claire's Mac OS X desktop. Our TV screen becomes her laptop screen; we only see her through video chat & follows what online sites she goes to. & yet, the episode effortlessly holds our attention & weaves together several subplots as well as more than a few laugh-out-loud gags. (Who knew that rushing to Google something could be so funny?) The result is an innovative half-hour of entertainment that shows that Modern Family can still come out on top.

Best Song: "Hello" by Adele.

OK, so I've never actually heard Adele's "Hello." Even when I went to put in this YouTube clip, the song didn't start in the first 20 seconds so I went back to this. But even as a person completely deaf to popular radio, "Hello" has to be the song of the year, the way that Godfather was The Oscars' Best Picture of 1972 or Sgt. Pepper was The Grammys' Best Album of 1967. It saturated the media like few other songs of late, going from the expected places (inside all sorts of places in Entertainment Weekly!) to the less-than-expected places (an SNL sketch about how it can bring together a family feuding politics over Thanksgiving) to the completely unexpected places (the cover of TIME!!!). I'm sure one day I'll listen to it, perhaps even later tonight, but for the time being I don't need to. I know it's Adele at her finest--which guarantees it's a pop masterpiece.

Best Album: At Sun Records: The Collected Works by Jerry Lee Lewis.

For countless Christmases, I always secretly hoped for the German-based reissue label Bear Family's 8-disc set of all of Jerry Lee Lewis's master recordings--& more--at Sun Records. But with each year getting further away from its 1989 release date (& thus, 1989-era sound quality), it felt like a diminishing prospect. Enter this set, which suddenly appeared a few months ago. With years of painstaking research in the making, it gathers every single known take of a recording made by Jerry Lee Lewis at Sun Records, in other words, the wildest rocker of them all encompassing his complete creative output at the greatest label of them all. It's a whopping 18 discs worth of material--pretty surreal when you realize that Elvis's entire creative output is 19 songs & less than 2 discs of material--& its breadth speaks to Jerry Lee lasting years longer at the label than his former labelmates Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, & Roy Orbison. He sang hot rockers, sexy blues, country weepers, 19th Century parlor ballads, & traditional folk ballads--& that's just on the first disc! This is a full sweep of American music, in the grand tradition of Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives & Sevens, Billie Holiday's Columbia sessions, Robert Johnson's complete recordings, Hank Williams' complete recordings, &, of course, Elvis's complete '50s masters. & it can all be yours for just $389.11! Just one quibble--could Bear Family (or better yet, Rhino Records) please pull out all of the master takes & put that into a 4 or 5-disc set? In the meantime, I'll be saving up for this one.

Best Music Video: "She's Not Me" by Jenny Lewis.

Hold up--a major solo female pop star released a video with all of her famous friends making cameos in crazy costumes & it's not Tay-Tay-Sway's "Bad Blood"?! Nope. The only good thing about "Bad Blood" was that it made me go back & re-watch The Beastie Boys' "Sabotage," which beat "Bad Blood" at its own game on a fraction of the budget before Swift was even in kindergarten. So as an alternative to the most overrated video of the year, check out Jenny Lewis's "She's Not Me." It too is chockful of inside jokes (mostly at the expense of Lewis's own child acting career) & makes me only further appreciate the comedic genius that is Vanessa Bayer. Plus, it's got Fred Armisen. As Estelle Getty. Playing Sophia. & did I mention that Feist shows up as a priest from Pleasantville? No "Bad Blood" towards this clip here.

Best Book: Koji Kondo's Super Mario Bros. Soundtrack by Andrew Schartmann.

It's been an epic year for the 33 1/3 series. They had their semi-annual open call for new title proposals & over 600 people responded (including myself), which they whittled down to a few lucky & worthy volumes (unfortunately not including myself, but props & congrats to all of those who did make it). In the meantime, this volume came out, the first 33 1/3 book to cover music that was never contained on an album. It is also the about the shortest amount of music in the series, some 3 minutes total of all the different themes. Yet it is as hummable to my generation as The Beatles were to my parents' generation, ingrained in our collective unconscious the way that few musical creations are. It is ultimately about the extremely limited confines of a 1980s 8-bit video game for kids proved the ideal palette for Japanese composer Koji Kondo. He emerges as a forgotten pioneer, a hero who proves that sometimes the most seemingly shallow & disposable pop creations can lead to the deepest sense of shared culture. Somewhere, Andy Warhol is smiling.

Best Performance (Solo): Constance Wu as Jessica Huang, Fresh Off The Boat.

If Master Of None was the finest (post-?) modern TV series of 2015, then Fresh Off The Boat was the finest traditional modern TV series (it even airs on a major network--ABC--how quaint!). Initially built around the trials & tribulations of Eddie Huang (Hudson Yang), the oldest of 3 sons in an Asian-American family set in 1995 Florida, it soon morphed into more of a family ensemble, in no small part because its best asset is mother Jessica Huang, played by Constance Wu (& upstaging the always-reliable Randall Park as husband Louis Huang is no small feat). In a way, she is the archetypal tiger mom, but it goes deeper (& more realistic than that), just like how Alex P. Keaton wasn't just another Yuppie. She is very strict & exacting of what she expects from her children, but at the same time loves them deeply & is sensitive to their needs. She is also absolutely hilarious, with some of the best line deliveries I've seen on a sitcom in ages. Fresh Off The Boat may not be the best overall program on TV right now, but whenever Constance Wu is on in it, it might as well be.

Best Performance (Group): Bill Murray, Jenny Lewis, David Johansen, et al., singing "Fairytale Of New York" in A Very Murray Christmas.

I just spent two weeks analyzing this thing in a blog I posted here. Everything I could ever hope to say (& more, & perhaps less) is already there.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Americanization Of "Fairytale Of New York"

Bill Murray's new Netflix holiday special, A Very Murray Christmas, has gotten largely mixed reviews & it's easy to see why. As a concept, it looms large like a clever, inside joke--the quintessential postmodern comedic actor thrown into the quintessential old-school schmaltz-fest--but as a 56-minute execution, it's far from perfect. Murray teams up with pianist Paul Schaffer (a nod to the Nick The Bartender sketch on SNL that was Murray's breakthrough piece) & mugs his way through a loose story-line of a holiday special being ruined by a snowstorm in New York, surrounded by his famous friends, some playing parts, some playing themselves. & like an old-school holiday special, there's singing throughout, with Murray making his way through the songs, in some cases gamely, in others, laconically.

But the whole execution is worth it for one magical scene in which everything comes together beautifully. Murray's disaster of a holiday special has ended & he is in the hotel bar with Schaffer, singing with the staff & hanger-ons. David Johansen, former lead singer of The New York Dolls & former Buster "Hot Hot Hot" Poindexter, is a bartender who looks so weird & chiseled I thought at first he was Benicio Del Toro in a long shot, & Jenny Lewis, former child actress (see The Wizard & Troop Beverly Hills) & former Rilo Kiley leader (an L.A. indie band that was made up of former child actors), is the waitress with a voice of gold. Off-camera waits Maya Rudolf, former SNL star & daughter of the late-great Minnie Riperton, playing the lounge singer, Rashida Jones, former star of Parks & Recreation (in which Bill Murray had a surprise cameo appearance in the finale as the previously-never-mentioned mayor of Pawnee) & daughter of the legendary producer Quincy Jones, as a down-on-her-luck bride whose wedding is ruined by the snowstorm, & Jason Schwartzman, former child actor in Wes Anderson's classic Rushmore (which marked Bill Murray's breakthrough as a postmodern genius) & a strong contender for the coolest resume of any working actor today (I Heart Huckabees, Shop Girl, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, the Wet Hot American Summer reboot, a half-dozen Wes Anderson films), as the bridegroom. & behind the camera is Sophia Coppola, who directed Bill Murray's finest performance to date, his shoulda-won-the-Oscar performance in Lost In Translation. & the finest moment of that film was also a seemingly impromptu musical performance by Murray--Elvis Costello's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, & Understanding" at a Japanese karaoke bar. (& Sophia herself is no stranger to a good postmodern soundtrack--just check out the music in her punk rock take on Marie Antoinette, which features another fascinating Schartzman performance, but I digress). Suffice to say, we are in good company.

Paul Schaffer begins playing his piano somberly, winding into a simple introduction as Murray hands out a last round of drinks. It is unmistakably The Pogues' classic "Fairytale Of New York." Released in 1987, the song was a duet between chief Pogue Shane MacGowan & Kirsty MacColl, telling of a couple's romantic rise & tumultuous fall over a Christmas in New York. He is all remorse & bitterness, she is all spite & broken dreams. Over the course of the song, they fall in & out of love, portrayed over two singing dialogues that feel like musical theater. In the first, they sing together about dancing on the street as the drunks swing, in the second, he calls her an old slut on junk & she calls him a cheap lousy faggot (to rhyme with "You scumbag, you maggot"). The romance is there but the pain cuts deeper. I once had an English teacher who said that you can only truly hate someone that you once loved, & vice-versa. Yeah, it's kinda like that.

In A Very Murray Christmas, there is no faggot. It skips the second singing dialog entirely, radically reframing the song. In doing so, it takes out the most British part of the song & cleans it up, so that all that's left is the fairytale. In other words, it's the brooding English thriller re-cut for American audiences so that it has a happy ending.

For the song itself is full of cinematic sweeps, both in terms of the song itself as well as in the people who are performing it.

"Inside The Drunk Tank"

When David Johansen starts singing "Fairytale Of New York," he sounds remarkably like Pepe, the Hispanic-accented shrimp in the Muppets. The rubber-faced former frontman of The New York Dolls used to look like a poor man's Mick Jagger, now, as time has deepened the lines in his face & a hipster beard & ridiculous pompadour frame it, he looks like a version of what Mick Jagger could have become if he hadn't insisted upon singing "Satisfaction" into his 70s.

Johansen's voice is razor-edged, with the grit of a thousand New York early-morning hangovers. One thinks of The Dolls' legendary set on January 1, 1973 (with The Modern Lovers opening), where they played for a crowd of key taste-makers, among them Truman Capote & a young Richard Hell; Johansen was dressed in all white--blouse, tight pants, & platform shoes--& swigged from a bottle of Miller beer as he tore into "Trash." "Ah, how do you call your loverboy?" he screams midway through, referencing Mickey & Silvia's "Love Is Strange," which will be memorably mimed in Dirty Dancing a thousand years later in 1987, the same year that Johnansen reinvented himself as Buster Poindexter singing "Hot Hot Hot," evoking the glib yuppie '80s as well as he had dug into the weird artsy 1970s with "Trash." & a year after that, he would appear with Bill Murray in Scrooged as The Ghost Of Christmas Past--in the form of a deranged New York taxicab driver. Scrooged came out on November 23, 1988--a year to the day that "Fairytale Of New York" was released by The Pogues.

At any rate, Johansen sings the opening lines weirdly, cryptically, beautifully.

It was Christmas Eve, babe
Inside the drunk tank
An old man said to me,
Won't see another one

& then he sang a song
"The Rare Old Mountain Dew"
I turned my face away
& dreamed about you

It is a lilting tune, comprised of oddly-paced lines that seem as though they will be too short to cover the music, but land perfectly anyway.

It doesn't hurt that the song opens with the most daring couplet ever ventured in a modern-day Christmas song. Given its almost panoramic pop feel, I wondered at first if it was a Randy Newman song that had slipped my knowledge; if anyone could write a beautiful, honest portrait of New York that sounds like it could be sung under the lights of Broadway or in a second-rate movie house 3 blocks away, it was Randy Newman.

Besides, when Bill Murray begins the second part of the verse, he sounds like Randy Newman.

Got on a lucky one
Came in 18-to-1
I've got a feeling
This year's for me & you

So happy Christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true

This is Bill Murray's holiday special. He gives himself the most broad, the most simple, the most epic lines of the song--"So Happy Christmas/I love you baby"--7 words that would sound trite in any modern Christmas song, but here beat softly as the song's heart. Murray seems to sing with a slight Irish inflection--always a comedian, perhaps he listened to MacGowan's vocal so many times it got stamped in his mind as an impression.

I was never much of a fan of the old "Nick The Lounge-Singer" sketch, but more than anything else, it's Murray's vocal that I come back to. Pushing 65, his voice has that lovely grit that one can hear in a singer like Randy Newman--that natural scrape that comes when reaching for a note; wanna-be Dylans smoke too many cigarettes & drink too much whiskey to try to age their voice to do the same, but once you've reached Murray's age, you do so without any effort. Murray was never much of a singer (which I guess was the joke of "Nick The Lounge-Singer"), but here he becomes one, putting his lines out there with thought & charisma--a blank, almost flat delivery that, like Lou Reed, can pass you by the first time but impossibly increase with depth upon every new listen. Murray has the time & space to do so, because, after all, it is his holiday special.

Back a thousand years earlier in 1986--a year before "Fairytale Of New York" was released (although a year after MacGowan had begun writing it)--Bill Murray appeared in a very different TV special, Rodney Dangerfield's It's Not Easy Being Me. Given how old-fashioned it feels, I was shocked to learn it was only 30 years old; it reeked of the stuff they were doing on television throughout the previous decade. It was largely comprised of sketches that illustrated Dangerfield's one-note jokes ("When I was born, the doctor slapped my mother!") & ended with an extended monologue of Dangerfield that was so dated he gets huge laughs in the middle by slipping into an eye-rolling, racist "darkie" dialect for a moment. It's all the more surreal to watch it today, as Bill Murray played second-banana to Dangerfield, & the musical guest was none other than The Queen Of Soul, Aretha Franklin (unfortunately in her '80s "Who's Zooming Who" period). The star of the proceedings, Dangerfield, is eclipsed by arguably the greatest postmodern comedic actor (Murray) & the greatest rock singer EVER (Franklin), even when they are both far from their finest work. Seen in scratchy YouTube clips today, Dangerfield truly doesn't get any respect--even in his own TV special.

I would venture to guess that when future generations watch A Very Murray Christmas, no one will doubt who the star is. The fact that Murray took something that he's not particularly good at--singing--& built the special around it only adds to its bizarre comedic happenstance. This is all the more bizarre given an interview this spring with Emma Stone in The Wall Street Journal Magazine of all places:
Next week Stone goes to Cannes for the premiere of Irrational Man, then to London for a few days with her mom. Then it’s back to L.A. to start work on La La Land, a contemporary musical about an aspiring actress and a jazz pianist, directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) & co-starring her frequent on-screen partner Ryan Gosling (Gangster Squad; Crazy, Stupid, Love). Stone will sing and dance in it; she’s already rehearsing the dance numbers. But she’s also trying to follow the advice of her good friend Bill Murray, who counseled her to keep some things—like singing—for herself.

“He told me to keep some things I love just for me,” Stone says. “The idea is to have some things that you don’t feel like you need to share with the world. To have some things that are only yours.” She smiles. “Of course, now I’m doing a musical. I’m working on it.”

Bill Murray, consider your love shared.

"They've Got Rivers Of Gold"

On September 19, 1987, a few weeks after The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl recorded the original version of "Fairytale Of New York," NBC's The Golden Girls had its third season debut episode. The main part dealt with Sophia (Estelle Getty) learning about Alzheimer's Disease through a friend who shows signs of it, but today the episode is better remembered for its B-plot, in which Blanche (Rue McClanahan) accidentally gives away a cherished stuffed bear belonging to Rose (Betty White). They track down the bear to a young Sunshine Cadet named Daisy, who in turn demands a ransom for the bear. Rose finds it in her heart to let Daisy keep the bear. The episode would earn the series two Emmys.

Playing the part of the precocious Daisy was an 11-year-old Jenny Lewis, who was then working as a child actress. She had made her debut in the previous year's Life With Lucy--Lucille Ball's final TV project (Jenny Lewis played her granddaughter) which ABC ran opposite The Golden Girls. It was cancelled after 8 episodes. Thus, within a year, Lewis had made it from being crushed by The Golden Girls to appearing on its Season 3 debut. Not a bad start in show-biz. She would go onto star in MTV Generation cult faves like 1989's Troop Beverly Hills (she had a trampoline in her room!) & The Wizard (she got the biggest line in Nintendo's remake of Rainman: "That man touched my boob!").

A thousand years & one creative transition from acting to music later, Jenny Lewis was back on TV as part of A Very Murray Christmas. By now, she was much better known as a musician, first for leading the indie darling band Rilo Kiley (with fellow former child actor Blake Sennett) & then going onto a critically-acclaimed solo in 2006. Unlike so many other indie singers who have some sort of gimmick with their style, Jenny Lewis is notable for ability to sing simply, almost plainly, letting her pure voice sing for itself. One can hear it in Rilo Kiley's "With Arms Outstretched" or her solo "One Of The Guys," statements of deceptively simple that speak plainly & clearly to anyone listening.

But when it comes to sing MacColl's part in "Fairytale Of New York," she finds a quiet sadness in the song that has eluded others who have sung it:

They've got cars big as bars
They've got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It's no place for the old

When you first took my hand
On a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me Broadway
Was waiting for me

The temptation might be to sing the song in a kind of mystic wonder, an immigrant or pilgrim arriving in New York City for the first time. They've got rivers of gold. "Streets paved with gold" is the more familiar cliche, but rivers of gold is what we have here. It's a lovely, wondrous image, as one imagines a gold sea flowing down the avenues & back alleys of New York City. But there is no love or wonder in Lewis's singing, only a sense of wistfulness. She is not the new wide-eyed immigrant, she is the immigrant a few generations later. She is old, her wonder replaced by jaded reality--& as her song tells us, it's no place for the old.

Lewis snaps out of her sad delivery towards the end, lighting up on the word Broadway, as though it cannot be sung without an exclamation point following it & ending with a gruff "You were handsome," in preparation for Johansen's louder, more edgy singing about to answer.

"Sinatra Was Swinging"

When Shane MacGowan first conceived of "Fairytale Of New York," he saw it as a dialogue between two lovers, charting the course from love to loss, from success to failure, from hope to despair. In the original version, Kirsty MacColl sings the first line, MacGowan sings the next two, & then they sing the rest of the stanza as a duet.

In a Very Murray Christmas, the situation is altered by the presence of a third person--Bill Murray--which adds a new layer to Jenny Lewis' & David Johansen's proceedings:

[Lewis:] You were handsome
[Johansen:] You were pretty/Queen of New York City
[Murray:] When the band finished playing/They howled out for more
[Johansen:] Sinatra was swinging/All the drunks they were singing
[Lewis:] We kissed on the corner/Then danced through the night.

In this recasting of the lyrics, Lewis & Johansen initially only sing the parts sung by MacGowen & MacColl, respectively, with Murray picking up the line that begins the original version's duet. In singing about the band & the mysterious "They" (Is that the crowd? Or were the band howling for more of themselves?), Murray seems to be a narrator-like figure who oversees the song--after all, this is his special. (I also think it's interesting how Murray twists the words "the Band" so that they sound like classic Bob Dylan--is that another NYC joke? Am I looking too far into it to point out that "The Band" was the group that backed Dylan on his electric tour? & like immigrants, they fled the city for the peace of upstate?) Johansen then sings how a man might remember it--that hep cat Sinatra, those singing drunks--while Lewis sings how a woman might remember it--the kiss, the dancing; it is almost like a Christmas version of Grease's "Summer Lovin'."

Sinatra was swinging. What year is supposed to be again? At first I envisioned it being modern day--after all, the Pogues' video was clearly set in late '80s New York City & Sinatra was still performing into his late 80s in New York City. But others cite the image of a swinging Sinatra & the earlier line about the cars as big as bars as evidence that this is an older New York City, around the 1930s & 1940s. If we are to take MacGowan's original concept of an Irish immigrant arriving to the big city, this too would create a tighter picture.

This is all just to say that with time already at question in the song, its placement in A Very Murray Christmas only adds to the ambiguity. TV Christmas specials were the last stand of vaudeville ("You remember vaudville?" went a classic Bob Hope zinger in the 1950s about TV, "Now they've put it in a box!"), which itself peaked in the first half of the 20th century. What we have here is Bill Murray hosting a 2015 Christmas TV special ("You remember TV? Now they stream it on Netflix!") that harks back to the classic TV specials of 1960s, which themselves were a revival of the older vaudeville. (& it wasn't just Christmas specials--Rodney Dangerfield's It's Not Easy Being Me was a similar skit-&-song filled extravaganza). Thus, we have a song from the '80s about the '40s sung in the 2010s in the spirit of an American show business tradition that reaches back a century earlier.

& you thought it was just another Christmas song.

"The Boys Of The NYPD Choir"

There is no NYPD Choir. They exist only as a fabrication in Shane MacGowan's head, an assumption that turned out to be completely unfounded. When The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl shot the video for "Fairytale Of New York," the band had to make do with The Pipes & Drums Of The NYPD's Emerald Society, & even at that, they did not know "Galway Bay." So they sang the only song they all knew, the theme to "The Mickey Mouse Club." That's right, the "M-I-C (See you real soon!) K-E-Y (Why? Because we..." get the picture) song. That's why they're slowed down in the video (not that the actual song "Gallway Bay" is heard in the song anyway). But there they are, New York's Finest, drunk at a black & white video shoot, singing "The Mickey Mouse Club" theme. You can't make this stuff up.

In A Very Murray Christmas, David Johansen, Jenny Lewis, & Bill Murray all begin to sing the refrain, soon joined by Maya Rudolph, Rashida Jones, Jason Schwartzman, & a cast of several:

& the boys of the NYPD Choir
Were singing "Galway Bay"
& the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day

It is the song's moment of triumph, & the cast nail it beautifully, almost off-handedly, combining briefly into one epic refrain.

"I Coulda Been Someone"

When the American Film Institute counted down the 100 Greatest Movie Quotes in American film, one of the longest quotes on the list ranked the highest. Coming after the far catchier "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" from Gone With The Wind & "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse" from The Godfather, was this nugget from On The Waterfront:

You don't understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.

Marlon Brando's Terry Malloy says this to his brother after being betrayed by him. It is the emotional highlight of a cinematic masterpiece.

A thousand years later, Robert DeNiro's Jake LaMotta recites the same quote in Raging Bull, to an equally powerful, if opposite, effect. By this point in the film, LaMotta has gone from a fit champion boxer to a bloated disgrace, doing bizarre stand-up routines in sleazy joints to make money. He has alienated himself from everyone around him & looks like shit. As he says the most famous lines ever said by a boxer in film, they sound dead, the sound of a man who is struggling to learn the words as he recites them like a middle school kid cramming for an English exam.

Whether intended or not (my guess is it was), Shane MacGowan paraphrased a key part of this line in "Fairytale Of New York": I could have been someone. But instead of letting the phrase wallow in its own self-pity like it does on the screen ("instead of a bum, which is what I am"), he instead has audacity to answer it, giving Kirsty MacColl the best line in the whole song: Well, so could anyone. She then laments him taking her dreams, to which he replies that he kept them with him, he can't make it alone, because he's built his dreams around her. As dialogue in a rock song, it's only real rival is Joni Mitchell's barroom chat at the beginning of "A Case Of You."

As with everything else, A Very Murray Christmas takes this already complicated situation & further complicates it by fascinatingly reassigning the dialogue between David Johansen, Bill Murray, & a chorus of girls (Jenny Lewis, Maya Rudolph, & Rashida Jones).

[Johansen:] I coulda been someone
[Girls:] Well, so could anyone
[Murray:] You took my dreams from me
[Girls:] When I first found you
[Johansen:] I kept them with me babe, I put them with my own
[Murray:] Can't make it all alone
[All:] I've built my dreams around you

What began as a conversation between one man & one woman has become an abstracted conversation with oneself; Johansen plays the guy part--mostly--but is answered by the three girls like a Greek chorus expressing a societal ideal. It also sounds a bit like The Jaynettes' classic (& weird) girl group hit, "Sally Go 'Round The Roses," where the singer interacts with an echoed chorus of female voices who are roses that won't share her secret; the result in either case is a depth that is near bottomless, still water that holds so much while only serving to reflect your own image.

I coulda been someone. Well, so could anyone. New York City is a place for dreamers--after all, when Sinatra is swinging he says stuff like "If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere"--immigrants who come as far away as Ireland (like Shane MacGowan) or as close as Staten Island (like David Johansen) to reinvent themselves as stars sailing down a river of gold. Among the many other things it does, "Fairytale Of New York" presents both the myths & consequences of this situation, a land where success & failure can be as close bedfellows as love & hate.

Bill Murray gives himself the two most powerful lines (once again, it's his special)--"You took my dreams from me" & "Can't make it all alone"--& gives them all he's got, singing each one powerfully & seriously, but in a manner that can almost be mistaken for sarcasm, Nick The Lounge singer singing the Star Wars theme.

Only it isn't. Murray takes these 2 phrases, these 11 words, & forces you to hear them as they are, alone. You took my dreams from me. Can't make it all alone. They are lonely words & their delivery in this regard only makes them seem lonelier.

By the time everyone sings the concluding "I built my dreams around you," it is no longer a trap but a celebration--of love, of loss, of New York City, of Christmas. Because even if all else has failed, at least you can get a beautiful song out of it.

"For Christmas Day"

The song ends where it should, back with the boys of the mythical NYPD choir, as Christmas Eve turns into Christmas Day, the bells ringing out in an image that is both literal & metaphorical, trite & touching, an illusion of resolution in a song where everything is left open & implied. As for the scene in the hotel bar, everyone is singing & swaying like the drunks did to Sinatra, applauding themselves when the song has ended, as though they themselves have become both the stars of the special & the audience. (After all, it is based around the idea of a Christmas special that no one can get to.) They wish each other Merry Christmas as Murray sits in the foreground, drinking.

He then mouths some words & falls over, signalling the supposed finale piece of A Very Murray Christmas: The extravagant dream-sequence with Miley Cyrus & George Clooney in the heavens.

But you can turn off the television at this point because the real finale has already happened. It was actually "Fairytale Of New York," a song written as an immigrant's romance, reclaimed by the land & city that had inspired it.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Top 5 Sun Records Songs Not Released As Singles.

Sun Studio, universally hailed as The Birthplace Of Rock & Roll, was an embarrassment of 1950s riches. Their roster formed a Mount Rushmore of rockabilly--Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, & Johnny Cash--& even their second-stringers were future American musical masters like Roy Orbison & Charlie Rich.

But when you start stacking up what was actually released by each artist while they were on the label, the results are surprisingly small. Elvis released only 10 sides while he was at the label, while Carl Perkins only put out 19. Even Jerry Lee Lewis, who recorded the most extensively at Sun--a recent box set of his Sun output clocks in at 18 discs--only released about 2 CDs worth of material while he was employed as an artist there.

So what to do with all of the leftovers? Budget labels & bootleggers have been releasing this ever since, elevating some of these to minor classics in their own right. Everyone may know "That's All Right," "Blue Suede Shoes," & "Great Balls Of Fire," but these ones are arguably as worthy in their own way.

& before we begin, an honorable mention goes out to Carl Perkins' "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby," which was left off of the list because although it was never released as a single, it was put on his 1957 Sun LP; all of the songs on this list were never released in any format on Sun Records.

5. "Trying To Get To You" by Elvis Presley.

Elvis famously released 10 sides on Sun Records between 1954 & 1955--5 bluesy A-sides backed by 5 country B-sides--& "Trying To Get To You" would've been the 11th side, if only Sam Phillips had a country song to back it with. Unfortunately for Phillips, Elvis signed with RCA before he could record one, which stipulated that Phillips hand over all of Elvis's masters to the new label. (Phillips was sure not to make this mistake again when Columbia signed Johnny Cash, allowing himself to have several years' & albums worth of Cash material ready despite his departure.) Sun's loss is Elvis's first album's gain as his cover of an R&B hit by The Eagles (no, not THAT Eagles--this one was an African-American doo-wop group who are so mysterious that I literally cannot even find a listing of the members' names) was a standout track on an already near-perfect album. It is Elvis's capstone at Sun, singing with all of the confidence & charisma that would carry him through the coming years--although some would argue with increasingly diminishing results.

4. "Domino" by Roy Orbison.

I've always had a soft-spot for Roy Orbison's work at Sun. Although it is overshadowed by his more influential subsequent work at Moment Records (& with ballads like "Cryin'" & rockers like "Oh, Pretty Woman" it's easy to see why), one can hear an eagerness & vulnerability all but absent from his peers. Elvis was the hot one, Jerry Lee Lewis was the crazy one, Johnny Cash was the tough one, Carl Perkins was the quiet one--& Roy Orbison was the awkward one. He didn't have the bravado of the others & to his credit, he didn't try to. Phillips didn't quite know what to do with him but Roy also didn't know what to do with himself either (how else can one explain the coupling of "Chicken Hearted" & "I Like Love" as a single?). In a sea of rebels, Roy was the guy you could relate to. "Domino," his finest Sun cut outside of "Ooby Dooby" & "Go! Go! Go!," was better than nearly all of the other sides he would release during his short stint at the label. One only has to listen to the likes of "Chicken Hearted" & "I Like Love" to get an idea of what people should've been hearing instead.

3. "Wild One" by Jerry Lee Lewis.

"Wild One" was originally written by Johnny O'Keefe, the first major Australian rock & roll star. It kicks, it's cute, it's got lots of saxophone. Enter The Killer. He doesn't so much cover the song as he does eat it up & spit it out as fire in his own image. Gone are the original lyrics, in its place are rushed, half-improvised new ones that allude to his own hits & style. Recorded in 1958, it wouldn't see the light of day until the 1970s, which is a shame because it out-classes "High School Confidential" & most other things that would follow. It's tempting to say it would've provided him with that comeback hit in the wake of his marriage scandal, but if the similarly excellent rave-up "Lovin' Up A Storm" couldn't crack the Top 80, this probably wouldn't have been able to either. Regardless, "Wild One" should with Aretha Franklin's "Respect" & Jimi Hendrix's "All Along The Watchtower" as one of rock's finest covers, but Jerry Lee Lewis so effectively makes it his own that few are even aware that it's a cover in the first place--because after all, Jerry Lee Lewis will always be rock & roll's most wild one.

2. "A Red Cadillac & A Black Mustache" by Warren Smith.

Of all the ones who shoulda-coulda-woulda made it at Sun but didn't, my vote for the least well-known with the best back catalog is Warren Smith. A country singer by trade, he took to the rock music much more naturally than, say, his Sun label-mate Johnny Cash. It was Cash who wrote (or bought for $40 from George Jones) Smith's first single, "Rock & Roll Ruby," which did well enough locally to ensure a few more sides. Despite rockabilly that was equal parts tough & driving (the classic "Ubangi Stomp") & strange & folksy (the "Old, Weird America"-invoking B-sides "Black Jack David" & "Miss Froggie"), the only national hit he ever got was "So Long, I'm Gone," which petered out at #74. Left in the can was this song, a haunting & moody evocation of lost love shrouded in jealousy & suspicion. Only one known take of it exists, placing it in the category of one-known-take wonders like Robert Johnson's "Hell Hound On My Trail" & Elvis's own "Mystery Train." This song alone stands as proof not only as Sun's depth of quality as a label, but of Warren Smith's effortless--& largely forgotten--talent.

1. "Put Your Cat Clothes On" by Carl Perkins.
On December 4, 1956, the most famous jam session in rock history took place at Sun Studio, where Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, & Johnny Cash sang old gospel, country, & pop songs, over an hour of which made it onto the legendary "Million Dollar Quartet" tape. What is often overlooked is why half of The Million Dollar Quartet (Perkins & Lewis) were there in the first place--to cut a regular session. Perkins was on his way down--it was a little under a year since "Blue Suede Shoes" became a breakthrough smash & he was still looking for that elusive follow-up hit; Jerry Lee Lewis was on his way up--his first single, "Crazy Arms," was just newly released where it would become a local hit & launchpad to a year of glory. But for now, Perkins was the bigger star & this was his session--Lewis was there as an anonymous session man, reportedly to earn some money for Christmas presents. Out of this session came Perkins' masterpiece "Matchbox," which managed to make #67 on the pop charts as the B-side to the inferior "Your True Love."

But arguably better than both songs is "Put Your Cat Clothes On," one of the toughest & most exciting rockabilly record ever cut. Perkins sings with a force & fun that he only ever really matched with "Dixie Fried," rushing lines & keeping the festivities rocking. Also unique for a Perkins record is Lewis's piano solo. Usually Perkins' tight, well-measured electric guitar would play during the solos (as it does during the second musical break), but here a young Lewis takes center stage, with an offhand & breezy, carefree solo. His energy helps to fuel the song's drive & is what arguably pushes Perkins to such a rocking, memorable performance.

It unusual for two rock legends (one past & one future) to collaborate so organically, but therein lies the magic of "Put Your Cat Clothes On"--& by extension, Sun Studio.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Red Headed Stranger: An Appreciation.

This past week, I had the honor of seeing Willie Nelson receive The Gershwin Prize For Popular Song from The Library Of Congress. As is usually the case, a long parade of music stars sang his songs & praises in a display of the songwriter's breadth & influence.

Midway through the show, Paul Simon paid tribute to Nelson's vastly influential 1975 LP, Red Headed Stranger, & called out Edie Brickell to sing a duet with him on one of its most famous songs: "Remember Me." It was a lovely rendition & the vibe of the crowd definitely dug it.

There was only one problem. As the song ended, I turned to my wife & said, "Am I jerk to point out that Willie Nelson didn't actually write that song?"

Indeed, Willie Nelson has written countless country standards & was long overdue for the Gershwin Prize. But he is also the rare songwriter where for every classic song he's written--"Crazy," "Funny How Time Slips Away," "On The Road Again"--there's another classic he's associated with that he didn't actually write--"Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain," "Always On My Mind," "Georgia On My Mind"; & "Remember Me" falls into the latter category.

This distinction was probably missed by most of the crowd (especially as other non-penned Willie classics like "Pauncho & Lefty" & the aforementioned "Georgia On My Mind" were performed),  but it lies at the heart of Willie's finest music: His work is so simple & so classic, that he can take any song & make it his own in a way that is nearly unique among American singers. Others who had this ability--Frank Sinatra & Elvis Presley, as well as Nelson's close friends & frequent duet partners, Johnny Cash & Ray Charles, among others--often did so with a sense of bombast & flair, a voice that reached to the back of the crowd or was filled with dazzling accentuations.

Willie Nelson is not like that. He has a fine voice, but not what you might call an outstanding one, & even as he draws you in, it's not with the intrigue of a Billie Holiday or a Bing Crosby. He simply sings the way he feels, & you can take it or leave it.

Red Headed Stranger is his finest album & it epitomizes this trait. Out of the 11 songs on the LP, Nelson wrote only 4 of them & none of them are a complete song in a traditional sense: "Time Of The Preacher" is broken up into themes, "Blue Rock Montana" & "Denver" are little more than 1-minute sketches that set the scene for the story, & the closing "Bandera" is an instrumental. All the other songs on the album, which includes its most famous songs--"Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain," "Remember Me," & even the title track--came from the pen of others. Yet Willie Nelson makes each song his own such that learning this fact is not just an interesting aside, it's a jarring shock.

* * *

Red Headed Stranger is a very special album. Coming at a time when the concept album was self-imploding less than a decade after the course was charted by The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds & The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Red Headed Stranger beat the game by sidestepping it. The LP had all of the hallmarks of a concept album--a central story, musical themes, a consistency of quality that held for its length--but left the synthesizers, orchestras, & other histrionics for the fools. A month before Red Headed Stranger was released, progressive rock reached its nadir with Rick Wakeman's The Myths & Legends Of King Arthur & The Knights Of The Round Table, which he infamously staged as a live rock & roll ice show.

If Red Headed Stranger had any precedent in rock, it was Bob Dylan's 1967 LP, John Wesley Harding. Dylan's first release since Sgt. Pepper, he hired Gordon Lightfoot's backing band & lay down 12 stripped-down tunes that played like a set of mysterious parables with no refrains to hold onto. He would later call it the first Bible-rock album, but critic Paul Williams would be just as telling when they wrote that it was as though Dylan had gone back down South & re-imagined how rock & roll might have sounded just days before Elvis made his first record. Indeed, this is the mood that frames Nelson's record; just listen to how the opening notes of "Bandera" echo Elvis's "I'll Never Let You Go (Little Darlin')," his final exercise in that weird pre-rock sound of "Harbor Lights" & "I Love You Because."

But even more than any album that either Dylan or Elvis would ever cut, Red Headed Stranger holds together conceptually. To my ears, it easily outclasses the muddled studio version of The Who's Tommy & Pink Floyd's overrated The Dark Side Of The Moon, & has a fair shot at being the finest concept album ever conceived. Probably only Marvin Gaye's What's Going On & Frank Zappa's We're Only In It For The Money could beat it.

This is because, unlike even those two albums, Red Headed Stranger is a statement of rare focus & restraint. The band never grows to more than 4 or 5 people & all of it could be performed onstage with no tricks & little amplification. Built around a song cycle of a preacher-turned-murderer, it sounds remarkably timeless; when the opening describes the setting as "The year of '01," it could be 1901 just as easily as 1801.

* * *

At its heart, Red Headed Stranger is that all-American form of storytelling, a western, told as a badman ballad folktale. Like the American West in the time of cowboys, it is incomplete, some parts seem finished while others seem fleshed out, but there is more than enough to get the story, which is a basic one. A preacher wife's leaves him for another man ("The Time Of The Preacher"). At first he is in denial ("I Couldn't Believe It Was True"), but then resolves to go to town where he shoots them both ("Blue Rock Montana/Red Headed Stranger"). At this point the preacher becomes the Red Headed Stranger, at first reflecting on his lost love ("Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain") & then riding into a new town, where he shoots a woman who tries to steal his late wife's pony ("Red Headed Stranger"). The preacher seems to return, as an instrumental version of the hymn "Just As I Am" closes out the album's first side.

The second side opens in the bright lights of "Denver," where the plea of "Just As I Am" is answered by an outlaw's code:

& it ain't nobody's business
Where you're going or where you come from
& you're judged by the look in your eye.

It is there that the Red Headed Stranger meets a lady ("Denver") & proceeds to dance with her, first a waltz ("O'er The Waves"), followed by a country stomp ("Down Yonder"). He asks her to spend the night with him ("Can I Sleep In Your Arms"), before they part ways the next morning ("Remember Me"). Or do they? The album ends with the mysterious "Hand On The Wheel," a song of love & faith that seems to take place in the distant future, its central verse finding an old man & boy fishing together "with a lady that they both enjoy." Is the old man the Red Headed Stranger, the boy his grandson, & the lady the woman he met in Denver? Or is this just a vision the Red Headed Stranger imagines, like he did in "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain"? The album is unclear, & therein lies at least some of its power. It implies to me that one day this may play out, but it will take a few more affairs & murders before it does. In other words, Side 1 will have to repeat itself before Side 2 can come true. The story can never resolve because the album that contains it is unresolved. It is the rare pop music "song cycle" that is actually a cycle, as continual as the 12-inch vinyl circle it was released on.

Many of the album's elements reinforce this sense of unity. The tale of Red Headed Stranger is rooted in threes--over the course of the LP, the "Time Of The Preacher" theme appears 3 times, the Red Headed Stranger kills 3 people, & the 3 named characters--Red Headed Stranger, Little Lost Darling, & Yellow Haired Lady--have 3 words each. Even the Red Headed Stranger's home--Blue Rock, Montana--is always given as 3 words. Furthermore, sets of 3 fill the album. "Time Of The Preacher" begins with the love triangle of the Red Headed Stranger, the Little Lost Darling, & her lover, all of whom are brought together in the "Blue Rock Montana/Red Headed Stranger," where the Red Headed Stranger kills them both. The Red Headed Stranger travels in 3, with himself, the Raging Black Stallion, & the Dancing Bay Pony (even the horses have 3 names). & the album ends with a vision of an old man, a little boy, & a lady that they both enjoyed in "Hands On The Wheel."

Just as important as threes is the use of eyes. From the album's biggest hit--Nelson's signature "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain"--down through the subtle actions in the songs, eyes are everywhere. In "I Couldn't Believe It Was True," tears fill the Red Headed Stranger's eyes; in "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain," the tears are now in his Little Lost Lady's eyes; the title track finds the Yellow Haired Lady casting greedy eyes on the Dancing Bay Pony; in "Hands On The Wheel," the Red Headed Stranger looks into a woman's eyes & finds himself in her. & of course in "Denver," the land is celebrated for the ability to judge someone by the look in their eye.

The simplicity of the music & the straightforwardness of the lyric convincingly tell the story of the Red Headed Stranger, which in turns seems to tell a story about the album's artist, Willie Nelson, as implied by the Red Headed Singer's face on the cover. His understated style makes it feel like he is singing right to us, & much of the album is just voice & acoustic guitar. When there are flourishes, they are often appropriately thought out. Take the piano in "Red Headed Stranger," which appears immediately after the word "tavern" & continues through the part of the song that takes place in the tavern, as though it is a soundtrack to embellish the lyric; by the song's final refrain, which takes place outside of the tavern, the piano has disappeared.

This sense of unity & directness is all the more impressive when one considers that Nelson wrote only a third of the album's songs, none of which were complete or except for an instrumental. "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain" was a Roy Acuff song from 1945 that Hank Williams would record in 1951. "I Couldn't Believe It Was True" was penned by Eddy Arnold, "Can I Sleep In Your Arms" was written by Hank Cochran, & "Remember Me" was written by Melba Mable Bourgeois. All of the instrumentals except for Nelson's own "Bandera" were at least 50 years old; "Just As I Am" & "Over The Waves" both dated from the 19th Century. & most astonishingly, "Red Headed Stranger was released in 1954 as a single by Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith.

So in the end, Nelson didn't so much write a song cycle as he did cobble one together from existing parts--a patchwork quilt that looked like a tapestry. Tellingly, it was his flourishes--"Time Of The Preacher," "Blue Rock Montana," & "Denver"--that held it all together, moving the story along through songs that otherwise came from very different places, styles, & perspectives. By taking old existing parts & reinventing them in his own image, Willie Nelson made an album that was not only American in sound but also in its execution.

E pluribus unum reads The Great Seal Of The United States--out of many, one. The same could be said of Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger, the album, & the singularity through which he focuses its outlaw tale.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The 100 Greatest Beatles Songs Of All-Time.

Picking a favorite Beatles song is like picking a favorite child.

No other rock band--not The Rolling Stones, not Led Zeppelin, not The Beach Boys, not The Who--come close matching The Beatles in terms of quality of output. Every song is great because every song is a classic.

Yet in my most recent rekindling of my lifelong affair with The Beatles, I began to think about which songs can be put above others--in terms of influence, in terms of quality, in terms of all-around greatness, whatever that means.

I scanned the Internet for a dozen lists, then added my own The 50 Greatest Beatles Songs, as previously published on this blog, to make a baker's dozen:

Rolling Stone: 100 Greatest Beatles Songs (2011)
Digital Dream Door: 100 Greatest Beatles Songs (2015)
Entertainment Weekly: The Beatles' 50 Best Songs (2009)
Ultimate Classic Rock: Top 50 Beatles Songs (2013)
USA Today: 20 Best Beatles Songs (2012)
Rolling Stone: The 500 Greatest Songs Of All-Time (2004)

These lists ranged from 101 entries (Mojo) to just 20 (USA Today); from formal treatises (A Passionate Fan's Guide) to 23 songs culled from a larger list (The Beatles' songs on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time). All can be found by following the links above except for the one by Dave Marsh, which can be found in his classic Rock Lists, which if you don't have, you probably should. (It was Marsh who was responsible for keeping "Hey Jude" out of the Top 3).

Overall, there were 167 songs that made the initial list. (#167, by the way, is "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," which made #101 on a single list.) By my count, there are 217 songs released by The Beatles while they were together, meaning that about 75% of their catalog were decent enough to make the reaches of somebody's list. Think about that for a second. That stat alone should prove the quality of the work we are looking at here.

Among some personal surprises that didn't make any list: "I'm Looking Through You," "All Together Now," & "Old Brown Shoe" (that said, my pick for the worst Beatles song, "Don't Pass Me By," also missed every list). Among some personal surprises that did make a list: "Revolution 9," "Flying," "Wild Honey Pie," & "Real Love." (& even more surprising: "Revolution 9" is only 5 spots away from making the Top 100.) Finally, the most "classic" song to do poorly in the Top 100: #86 "Michelle," which won Grammys & made the 1st Beatles greatest hits LP, A Collection Of Beatle Oldies, despite never being released as a single.

Only 5 songs appeared on every list; not coincidentally they comprise the Top 5 of the list: "A Day In The Life," "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Penny Lane," "Ticket To Ride," & "A Hard Day's Night."

The album with the most songs on it is "The White Album," which makes sense because it has more songs on it than any other. Of its 30 songs, 15 made the Top 100.  (Perhaps this is the half that should've been used had they made the album 1 LP instead of 2?) However, in terms of an album being represented, Revolver has 11 of its 14 songs in the Top 100, which is nearly 80% of its contents. This too makes sense because in recent years Revolver has overtaken Sgt. Pepper as their song-for-song, finest album. (That said, Sgt. Pepper has the next most songs represented, with 8 cuts--assuming we count the "Abbey Road Medley" as one song.)

What follows is the full Top 100 list, followed by Top 5 best-ofs for each Beatles album. If you need a place to start, these are the song to go with; but before long you'll find that you'll need them all.

Alright, here's The Top 100:

1. A Day In The Life
2. Strawberry Fields Forever
3. Penny Lane
4. Ticket To Ride
5. A Hard Day's Night
6. Hey Jude
7. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
8. I Want To Hold Your Hand
9. Let It Be
10. She Loves You
11. Eleanor Rigby
12. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
13. Come Together
14. Help!
15. I Saw Her Standing There
16. In My Life
17. Yesterday
18. Something
19. Tomorrow Never Knows
20. All You Need Is Love
21. Here Comes The Sun
22. Paperback Writer
23. Can't Buy Me Love
24. Revolution
25. Abbey Road Medley
26. I Am The Walrus
27. Please Please Me
28. We Can Work It Out
29. Rain
30. Helter Skelter
31. Get Back
32. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
33. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
34. Eight Days A Week
35. Nowhere Man
36. You've Got To Hide Your Love Away
37. Blackbird
38. I Feel Fine
39. Across The Universe
40. All My Loving
41. With A Little Help From My Friends
42. Day Tripper
43. The Long & Winding Road
44. Taxman
45. Drive My Car
46. I Want You (She's So Heavy)
47. I'm Only Sleeping
48. Dear Prudence
49. Back In The USSR
50. Here, There, & Everywhere
51. She Said She Said
52. & Your Bird Can Sing
53. Don't Let Me Down
54. If I Fell
55. Got To Get You Into My Life
56. I Should Have Known Better
57. Lady Madonna
58. I've Just Seen A Face
59. Love Me Do
60. Yellow Submarine
61. Julia
62. Hello Goodbye
63. Twist & Shout
64. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
65. The Fool On The Hill
66. For No One
67. From Me To You
68. & I Love Her
69. Girl
70. Getting Better
71. You're Going To Lose That Girl
72. I'm So Tired
73. She's Leaving Home
74. The Ballad Of John & Yoko
75. I'm Down
76. This Boy
77. Hey Bulldog
78. Sexy Sadie
79. Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me & My Monkey
80. I'm A Loser
81. No Reply
82. Oh! Darling
83. It Won't Be Long
84. Yer Blues
85. Baby, You're A Rich Man
86. Michelle
87. Lovely Rita
88. Mother Nature's Son
89. You Won't See Me
90. Long, Long, Long
91. Two Of Us
92. I'll Be Back
93. Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!
94. I'll Follow The Sun
95. Because
96. All I've Got To Do
97. Glass Onion
98. It's All To Much
99. Birthday
100. Good Day Sunshine

Please Please Me Top 5:

1. I Saw Her Standing There
2. Please Please Me
3. Love Me Do
4. Twist & Shout
5. Do You Want To Know A Secret (#114)

With The Beatles Top 5:

1. All My Loving
2. It Won't Be Long
3. All I've Got To Do
4. Money (That's What I Want) (#104)
5. Hold Me Tight (#138)

A Hard Day's Night Top 5:

1. A Hard Day's Night
2. Can't Buy Me Love
3. If I Fell
4. I Should Have Known Better
5. & I Love Her

The Beatles For Sale Top 5:

1. Eight Days A Week
2. I'm A Loser
3. No Reply
4. I'll Follow The Sun
5. Rock & Roll Music (#136)

Help! Top 5:

1. Ticket To Ride
2. Help!
3. Yesterday
4. You've Got To Hide Your Love Away
5. I've Just Seen A Face

Rubber Soul Top 5:

1. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
2. In My Life
3. Nowhere Man
4. Drive My Car
5. Girl

Revolver Top 5:

1. Eleanor Rigby
2. Tomorrow Never Knows
3. Taxman
4. I'm Only Sleeping
5. Here, There, & Everywhere

Sgt. Pepper Top 5:

1. A Day In The Life
2. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
3. With A Little Help From My Friends
4. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
5. Getting Better

Magical Mystery Tour Top 5:

1. Strawberry Fields Forever
2. Penny Lane
3. All You Need Is Love
4. I Am The Walrus
5. Hello Goodbye

"The White Album" Top 5:

1. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
2. Helter Skelter
3. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
4. Blackbird
5. Dear Prudence

Yellow Submarine Top 5:

1. All You Need Is Love
2. Yellow Submarine
3. Hey Bulldog
4. It's All Too Much
5. Only A Northern Song (#148)

Abbey Road Top 5:

1. Come Together
2. Something
3. Here Comes The Un
4. The Abbey Road Medley
5. I Want You (She's So Heavy)

Let It Be Top 5:

1. Let It Be
2. Get Back
3. Across The Universe
4. The Long & Winding Road
5. Two Of Us

Past Masters, Vol. 1 Top 5:

1. I Want To Hold Your Hand
2. She Loves You
3. I Feel Fine
4. From Me To You
5. I'm Down

Past Masters, Vol. 2 Top 5:

1. Hey Jude
2. Paperback Writer
3. Revolution
4. We Can Work It Out
5. Rain

The Beatles 1 Top 5:

1. Penny Lane
2. Ticket To Ride
3. A Hard Day's Night
4. Hey Jude
5. I Want To Hold Your Hand