So now you can download Beatles tracks one-at-a-time on the iTunes store
for $1.29. But just because you can do something doesn't mean you should, and that's doubly true for the Beatles' music. While some parts of the band's catalog are entirely cherry-pickable, much of the Beatles' work -- especially later stuff -- is built so that if you're not hearing the albums whole, you're not hearing the music right. Below, we channel our crotchety side for five examples from the Beatles catalog that serve as reasons why you -- if you're going to download the Beatles on iTunes at all -- should forget buying individual songs and cough up the cash for whole albums.
|You need this one.|
5. "Twist and Shout"/Please Please Me
Disregarding the obvious fact that you should own the Beatles' first album in its entirety simply because you are a human, live on Earth, breathe air, and presumably strive for some degree of cultural relevance, there's another good reason: the last track on the album, a cover of The Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout." As legend has it, much of Please Please Me was recorded in one long day, while Lennon suffered from a cold. Producer George Martin knew that the song would destroy the singer's vocal chords, so he had the band play it last. On that fateful day in 1963, The Beatles finished the other songs, went out for a drink, came back, and blasted out this version -- with Lennon's larynx grating itself into the microphone right before your ears -- in just one take. It sounds rough, gorgeous, punky, and essential, but you wouldn't appreciate how much edgier it is than the rest of Please Please Me if you don't have the whole thing.
4. The Bewildering Mindfuck That Is The White Album
|You need this one, too.|
By the time the Beatles recorded the White Album in 1968, the group was starting to fall apart. You can actually hear this in the White Album, which is why it's worth owning the whole thing. While Paul laid down wacky shit like "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and doled out gorgeous little ditties like "Blackbird," George got Eric Clapton to pinch-hit the guitar solo on monster-rocker "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and John wrote some of the most haunting, moody rock songs ever committed to tape ("I'm So Tired," "Sexy Sadie," "Helter Skelter," "Yer Blues.") The White Album is the Beatles at their best and their worst. It's schizophrenic, inconsistent, weird, revelatory, depressing, and totally worth owning every minute of.
|Probably shouldn't forget Sgt. Pepper's|
3. "A Day in the Life"/Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sgt. Pepper's technically contains 13 songs. But in one sense, it only has two: There's the entire Lonely Hearts Club Band
movement -- the first track through its reprise. Then there's the final, masterful "A Day in the Life," which stands separately from the rest of the album while flowing naturally from it. Note the way those somber acoustic chords transition "Club Band (Reprise)" into the chilling opening vignette of "A Day." Arguably the finest song in the Beatles catalog, "A Day in the Life" was meant to serve as a sort of epilogue, a crucial counterpoint, to the rest of the album. Sgt. Pepper's
just isn't right without that huge build-up and the ringing final note at the end of it. (Hat tip to Steven Schick
; those who've taken his Beatles class will know what I mean.)
|The art's not bad, either.|
Uh, "Taxman" into "Eleanor Rigby" into "I'm Only Sleeping" into weirdo sitar groove ("Love You To") into (later) "Yellow Submarine" (!) into "She Said She Said." Uh, yes -- and that's only the first half of this album, which marked the Beatles' departure into the truly experimental. Don't be afraid of that "E" word -- you, human, need every song on this album like you need air, water, and food. (Yes, even "Tomorrow Never Knows.")
1. The Final Abbey Road Medley
Abbey Road was the last thing the Beatles ever recorded. Its final track ("The End"), which comes at the finale of an eight-song medley, concludes with the lines "the love you take is equal to the love you make" -- a deep, grandiose, typically Lennon-esque statement. Then, after 14 seconds of silence, a little Paul ditty called "Her Majesty" trickles in with some cute nonsense about the Queen (she's "a pretty nice girl"!) before being suddenly cut off. How you read the Beatles -- whether you prefer the striving, arty aims of John, or Paul's relentless attempts to dazzle and please, the ying or yang of this group, and maybe of all rock music ever -- can come down to how you take those last few minutes of Abbey Road. You won't have to wrestle with that by cherry-picking tracks on the iTunes store, since you probably won't pay $1.29 for the mere 23 seconds of "Her Majesty." You single-track-buyers probably won't even get the entire closing medley. Call us crotchety, but that's just sad.