Exactly one day after Sir Paul’s 68th birthday and two months before I see him in concert in Pittsburgh(!) comes the final installment of this Gratuitous Beatles Blogging series.
The ending of the Beatles was a tumultuous time — and thus, this list is going to take a few liberties. With the Get Back Sessions starting in late 1968 and and the final songs for Let It Be not recorded until 1970, it’s an album that’s difficult to place and which constantly sparks debate. In my collection, I file it before Abbey Road, which was started second but released first in 1969 — and I’m following the same rule here, by placing all of the Let It Be tracks in the year that it should have been released, and in which most if it was recorded. A controversial decision, to be sure, but one that I’m sticking with.
In 1969, the Beatles continued the recording of what would eventually become the Let It Be album, as well as filming the documentary by the same name. The disjointed project, which was marked by studio mishaps and personal arguments, was to be shelved for around a year. Perhaps the only saving grace was the decision by George to bring in Billy Preston, following his return to the group after a bad fight with Paul. After their famous, impromptu final concert on the Apple rooftop, it would be months before the group would decide to get together one last time, to record the epic Abbey Road.
On a personal level, things were changing fast. John and Paul each married their respective soul mates Yoko and Linda within days of one another. As Paul took on his new role as father to Linda’s daughter Heather and prepared for the second child they were expecting, he seemed as eager to work with the band as ever. Meanwhile, John continued collaborating with Yoko, and pulled away from the group more severely than any other member. Together, John and Yoko staged two bed-ins for peace, formed the Plastic Ono Band and played a handful of solo shows, engaged in numerous other peace related projects, survived a serious car accident, and continued battling heroin addiction. George was writing songs at a pace more quickly than he ever had before, and couldn’t even tolerate Beatles sessions without bringing in a fresh face. (Though when that fresh face is Billy Preston’s, who can really blame him?) Meanwhile, Ringo’s attitude towards the band came off as wholly indifferent.
For the group as a whole, business was also going poorly. Virtually every division of Apple except for the record label had failed almost as soon as it was started. Ugly arguments ensued over money, and specifically over management. While John, George, and Ringo wanted the tough, bullying, and ultimately thieving Allen Klein as their manager, Paul wanted his own father-in-law John Eastman. The dissent ultimately proved wise as Klein’s true nature was revealed, but marked Paul as an outsider and enemy, a role he would continue to play throughout the final dissolution of the group.
Eventually, John quit the band he started. Solo albums were recorded. Lawsuits were filed. Nasty barbs were traded in the press. And in the midst of it all, in early 1970, Paul made the official announcement that the Beatles were no more.
1. Let It Be
Let It Be is, in my opinion, one of the absolute greatest Beatles songs, and without a doubt Paul McCartney’s masterwork. Paul’s somber piano perfectly compliments his strong, clear, emotional vocal, which I think is among the fullest and finest he ever recorded. Among Paul’s repertoire of classics, he has many songs about hope — but Let It Be is about faith. When he sings There will be an answer, it seems clear that he believes it, and it’s difficult to not believe right along side him. But Paul’s not the only one pulling out all the stops here — Billy Preston’s organ adds a cathedral-like feel, and George’s guitar solo from the album cut of the song is blistering, emotional, and I dare say one of the best that he ever recorded. It’s epic, and though fierce, not at all jarring or overdone — and I think perfectly captures the desperation of wanting of anyone who indeed needs to tell themselves that there will be an answer enough to sing about it.
VIDEO: The album version of the Beatles’ Let It Be. The video starts with images of the Beatles’ Anthology artwork, then turns into footage from the Let It Be film of the Beatles recording a live take of the song, interspersed with images of the Beatles throughout late 1968 and early 1969. In the footage, Paul plays piano, George sits in a chair on the other side of the room playing guitar, Ringo plays drums, John sits on Paul’s drum riser and plays guitar with Yoko sitting beside him, and Billy Preston plays organ. Let It Be lyrics.
This mellow love song is among the most widely beloved of Beatles tracks, and certainly one of George’s greatest musical accomplishments while he was with the Beatles. It was also the most commercially successful song he ever produced. Something bears the kind of simultaneous vagueness and specificity to make it easily relatable to most of us who have ever been in love. The track also features some of George’s most elegant guitar work, one of Paul’s most brilliant basslines, and some stunning drumming by Ringo.
VIDEO: The official promotional video for the Beatles’ song Something. Each of the Beatles is shown wandering around outside with his wife. George and Pattie gaze longingly at each other, John and Yoko walk hand in hand, Ringo and Maureen ride small dirt bikes, and Paul and Linda frolic on their farm with their sheepdog Martha. Something lyrics.
3. Across the Universe
Of all the songs on this list, Across the Universe probably has the least claim. It was originally recorded and obscurely released on a charity album in 1968 — a Phil Spector-ized cut of the same track as then mixed and released in 1970. It has no real ties to 1969 other than through proxy, but it also doesn’t really fit anywhere else, so proxy is just going to have to do.
Across the Universe is among John’s prettiest and most delicate songs. Musically, the song is incredibly simple. Lyrically, images are layered upon images, every time followed by a chant and the refrain that nothing’s gonna change my world. There’s no real way to ruin this song, but I prefer the Let It Be… Naked version of Across the Universe to Phil Spector’s take, and that’s the one that’s presented below.
VIDEO: Across the Universe plays over various black and white drawings of John Lennon, sometimes with Yoko Ono, appearing over images of outer space. Across the Universe lyrics.
4. Two of Us
Musically, 1969 was an absolutely great year for Paul. We can leave the arguments about whether this song was written for John or for Linda for another day, but whoever it’s about, it is absolutely beautiful from the opening acoustic guitar to the closing whistles. There are few words superlative enough to accurately capture what exactly Paul and John have achieved here with their harmonious double lead vocal. Divine is the closest I can get. The sound of them is enough to bring a tear to your eye. I’m also a fan of Ringo’s drums, and check out George playing a bassline on electric guitar!
VIDEO: The Beatles song Two of Us, played over footage of the Beatles recording the song in the studio. Paul stands at a microphone playing acoustic guitar, George sits on Ringo’s drum riser and plays electric guitar, while John sits across from Paul singing and playing acoustic guitar, with Yoko next to him. Two of Us lyrics.
5. Get Back
What’s that, a third Paul song on this list? That’s right, Paul fans! I know that you were all wondering which year, exactly, I don’t view as a John year. And now you know. 1969 most definitely belonged to Paul. Get Back, in particular, has a hell of a lot going for it. In addition to sheer catchiness, there’s Paul’s choice to sing with a twang, as well as George John, Ringo, and Billy Preston all simultaneously knocking it out of the park. Ringo’s marching drum beat, George’s John’s noodly guitar licks, and Billy’s organ, inspired as always, easily make this song absolutely brilliant.
VIDEO: A clip from the mockumentary The Rutles, in which the band, dressed as the Beatles were during their Apple rooftop performance, performs the Get Back parody Get Up and Go. The costumes, set, and song itself are all so spot on that they risk copyright infringement.
Wait wait wait. What the … how did that get in there? Dammit. Hang on, just a minute, technical difficulties …
Here we go:
VIDEO: Get Back plays over various footage of the Beatles recording the song in the studio. In most of the clips, they appear relaxed, happy, and like they are having a good time. Yoko, Billy Preston, producer George Martin, and assistant Mal Evans also occasionally appear throughout. Get Back lyrics.
Bonus Track: The End
Having determined early on in my list making process that the Abbey Road medley could simply not be included — as it is not, in total, “a song” — I chose The End as the final song to feature here. The track — in which each band member shows off his individual talents before coming together one last time — was the most fitting choice possible for the (almost) final track on the final album the band recorded.
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
VIDEO: The Beatles song The End plays over an image of the cover of the Abbey Road LP. The End lyrics.
Which songs would have made it onto your final list? It broke my heart to leave off both Here Comes the Sun and I Want You (She’s So Heavy). Would you have given some love to Come Together, Oh! Darling, Because, The Ballad of John and Yoko, or I Me Mine? Am I the only one who thinks that Old Brown Shoe is fabulous? View a full list of Beatles songs by year here, and leave your own picks in the comments. As for me, I’ve enjoyed doing this little series, and hope to have some new Beatles-themed posts coming at you soon!
Previously in this series:
Top 5 Beatles Songs From 1963
Top 5 Beatles Songs From 1964
Top 5 Beatles Songs From 1965
Top 5 Beatles Songs From 1966
Top 5 Beatles Songs From 1967
Top 5 Beatles Songs From 1968