My Top 10 Favorite Song Intros

Harrison Control room

The Beatles in the control room, undoubtedly crafting another timeless song introduction.

Well, after an entire semester of no blog posts, I am making my triumphant blogging return with a post that I’ve been meaning to do for a while. For whatever reason, even before I became a Beatles fan, I’ve always been really intrigued by what makes a good song intro. The Beatles have many of them, of course, but there’s something about a really well-crafted intro to a song that can truly elevate the content of the entire song. There’s a saying about not judging a book by its cover that could technically also apply to “not judging a song by its intro,” but I almost feel that you should judge a song by its intro in many cases. Just like with a job interview, if your first impression about a song in the first few seconds is negative, you probably won’t want to stick around and listen to the rest.

With some songs, I actually prefer the instrumental intro to the song itself, if only because it ends up being more memorable for me. I also believe that a really good song intro immediately grabs the listener’s attention and makes it extremely difficult to change the song. So here I’ve decided to return to one of my favorite blog post formats, the ten-item list, and explain my reasons for choosing these ten songs as containing some of my favorite introductions.

10. Ready to Go- Republica

Though this admittedly is the only song I know by Republica, I have always been a big fan of this song’s intro. I’m a sucker for a song that starts with an acoustic intro that then segues into a biting electric guitar, and that’s exactly how this song begins. Just as a minor side note, I love when songs directly juxtapose a softer acoustic guitar sound with a harder electric guitar sound, one right after the other. It makes both sounds more interesting to listen to, and adds to the overall musical depth of an already awesome song.

9. My My, Hey Hey- Neil Young

Though I’m not hugely well-versed in Neil Young’s catalog, I’ve always really liked this song, and I’m pretty sure it’s because of the haunting guitar riff that opens the song and continues throughout the song. This is among the more musically simple song intros on this list, but it goes along with my logic that a really well-crafted, memorable song intro can be as simple as a strum of an acoustic guitar.

8. All The Way From Memphis- Mott the Hoople

This is one of my favorite “rock piano” songs, written by a very underrated band from the 70s. The beginning is simple enough musically, but the driving, pounding piano beat stands alone as a very worthy introduction to a wonderful song. It’s a great example of how an energetic song intro can get the listener excited about a song long before the lyrics and guitar kick in.

7. Beauty and the Beast- David Bowie

Originally when I came up with the idea for this post, I thought of this song mostly as a placeholder, an example of a song with a cool intro that I could theoretically put on this list. However, as soon as this song popped into my head, I started listening to it more and more, and I realized that I actually really do love its intro a lot. Like with “All The Way From Memphis,” this song makes great use of a driving piano/keyboard intro that gradually layers with guitar, drums, and vocals until it explodes into the first verse.

6. Desecration Smile- Red Hot Chili Peppers

Whenever this song comes up on shuffle, I always end up playing it on repeat just to hear the intro over and over again. It’s all acoustic guitar and drums, but this instrumental sequence manages to convey so much emotion and sets the stage perfectly for the rest of the song. The moment when the first acoustic riff in the intro segues into the second is just beautiful, and the song as a whole is one of my favorites by them. This is one of the more musically subtle Chili Peppers songs I know, but with that, it’s also one of their most heartfelt, soothing tracks. This intro reminds me that the Chili Peppers, despite their sometimes wild exterior, really are master craftsmen of emotionally touching melodies.

 

 

5. Drive It Like You Stole It- Sing Street

I’ve already mentioned this movie briefly on this blog I believe, so once again, it’s packed with wonderful 80s-inspired musical goodness like this song. This starts with an awesome synth-packed punch and only gets better from there as the rest of the instruments kick in. More than any other song on this list, the intro for this song instantly makes me want to get up and dance. It’s so infectious and upbeat, and it’s a perfect culmination of the kids’ musical efforts throughout the movie.

4. Blow Away- George Harrison

This song was my morning alarm for quite some time, mostly because of the absolutely gorgeous, soothing intro that helped me ease into the day (I later changed my alarm song because this song was too relaxing and I kept sleeping through it…). There’s something about how this song begins that just sweeps you away into another world. Like so many George songs, it exudes love for this world without saying a word. This is 100% one of George’s best solo songs, and its lilting, somewhat melancholy yet also hopeful intro has a lot to do with that.

3. Coming of Age- Foster the People

For whatever reason, the intro to this song makes me feel nostalgic, but for nothing in particular. Maybe it’s because of the 80s-vibe that this entire song projects, similar to though less bouncy than “Drive It Like You Stole It.” I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I always feel strangely emotional whenever I hear the beginning of this song, and I feel that if the first 10 or 20 instrumental seconds of a song can make me feel something, that certainly bodes well for the rest of the song.

2. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds- The Beatles

Much like with “Coming of Age,” the fascinating intro to this song is definitely my favorite part of the song, and I often wish I could just play the very beginning over and over whenever I hear it. The melody of this synth riff, which repeats throughout the song, is beautifully and perfectly constructed so that it comes across as almost hypnotic, which relates well to the song’s themes of mysterious voyaging. The Beatles had a masterful way of imbuing many lyrical themes from their songs into the construction of their instrumental melodies, this being perhaps the best example I can think of. It’s haunting, addictive, and some of the Beatles’ best work.

In case anyone is curious about the link I attached, it is often extremely difficult to find original Beatles songs on YouTube, so to hear the intro to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” from this Anthology track I found, go to 0:33 in the video link.

And finally… Without further ado…

1. Warrant- Foster the People

This, ladies and gentlemen, is my favorite intro to any song ever because I genuinely think it could stand on its own without the rest of the song and still be amazing. I don’t quite know how the beginning to this song came about, but the way it begins with an echoing chorus and gradually adds in the other instruments is just stunning to listen to, and something that I’ve rarely heard other bands do in recent albums. I’ve seen it compared to Zelda and other video game soundtracks, but I also find the choral opening to be very Beatles and ELO-esque, which might be why I always respond so positively to it. It’s hard to describe why this intro is so amazing, but whenever I hear it, I feel like I’m being transported to a fantasy world and then in an action-adventure music video. It’s probably the most cinematic intro on this list, but for an alternative rock/pop band that normally doesn’t do “cinematic,” I think it’s an extraordinary achievement.

So there you have it. Creating this list, and including “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” certainly got the gears turning in my head about my favorite Beatles song intros, which could easily be a whole separate post that I’ll have to write in the future. But for now, enjoy listening to these fantastic songs!

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I’m Siriusly Excited About The Beatles XM Station

beatles radio

The Beatles, perhaps waiting to hear one of their songs on the radio!

As has become a pattern for me, I tend to blog whenever there is some newsworthy event happening in the Beatleverse, and this happens to be one of those times. These events often revolve around Beatles music entering the public consciousness in a new way, such as through iTunes, Spotify, and now, their own Sirius XM Station, channel 18. I had no idea that this was even happening until a few days before the station went live, and my initial reactions to this announcement ranged from “It’s about time” to “Finally!” Nothing against Pearl Jam, but if they have their own radio station, the Beatles deserve their own station as well. I’m also aware that those in charge of the Beatles brand and catalog (namely Paul, Ringo, Yoko, and Olivia Harrison, among others) are notoriously stringent about licensing the Beatles name. In recent years, I think these restrictions have loosened. Though I hope the Beatles don’t start advertising “sausages and diapers,” as George feared they would, I greatly appreciate that they’re latching on to new technological and musical developments and remaining relevant to modern music listeners.

Upon my first listen, the station reminded me a lot of me putting my iTunes library on shuffle and listening only to Beatles or solo Beatles music, as I did quite frequently early on in my Beatles fandom. Listening to the Beatles station has made me nostalgic for what now seem like simpler times when I was 14 and 15, when I dove headfirst into my obsession with all things Beatles and cared little about embracing the rest of the musical world. I’ve also been on a couple of long car trips in the past few weeks and the Beatles Sirius station has kept me entertained for hours each time. Many times while listening to the station, I’ve been delighted to come across Beatles songs that I’d forgotten about or hadn’t listened to for months. These include the underrated gems “For No One” on Revolver and  “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party” from Beatles For Sale. I’ve also greatly appreciated the commentary from friends and musicians close to the Beatles such as Peter Asher, as well as the “ear trivia” of playing a second of a Beatles song and revealing the song’s name later.

My one gripe with this development is that, somehow even on a Beatles-centric station that revolves completely around their music, George’s solo catalog is still vastly untapped. The station seems to roughly adhere to a format of “three Beatles songs, followed by one Paul McCartney and Wings song, and maybe a John or Ringo song occasionally,” which is fine. However, having now listened to several cumulative hours of the station over the past couple of weeks, I can count on one hand the number of George solo songs I’ve heard.

This is quite disappointing to someone who is as big a fan of George as I am and who knows the wealth of good material that he produced after the Beatles broke up. Songs like “Faster” from his album George Harrison, “Fish on the Sand” from Cloud Nine, or “Life Itself” from Somewhere in England are all exquisite songs that get zero radio airplay on this station, along with many other fantastic compositions. I hope that perhaps I just haven’t been listening at the right times and that George’s solo career actually has been greatly appreciated on this station in my absence. If not, I sincerely hope that the station begins playing more of his solo songs.

Other than this, I am absolutely thrilled that the Beatles are being celebrated 24/7 (or as the station cheekily notes, 24/8, referring to “Eight Days A Week”) on Sirius XM. They, perhaps more so than any other artist with their own radio station, have a large enough catalog of Beatles, solo Beatles, and Beatles influence songs to support a long stretch of engaging radio programming. What’s more, the whole vibe of the station feels like more than just another radio station. It really celebrates the Beatles’ musical achievements and the massive impact they had on their fans, as evidenced by soundbites from celebrity fans or screaming admirers from their heyday. I hope that it maintains its current charm and continues to celebrate both the sung and the unsung heroes of the Beatles’ success.

What Makes a Song Good?

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George clearly contemplating the writing process, with guitar in tow

Today I’d like to discuss a topic that’s been coming to my mind recently as I’ve listened to Beatles songs and other songs alike, and that is, how do we as music listeners actually decide why a song is good or bad? The most important thing to remember here is that there really is no objective measurement of “goodness” or “badness” of a song. You can pretty much conclusively determine if someone is a skilled or unskilled piano player, but it’s a bit more murky to extend that level of objective analysis to judging the quality of an entire song. Of course, there are certainly songs I think are better than others, so here are a few points of comparison between songs and some examples to support that, both from the Beatles and from other artists I admire.

One point that’s recently been floating around in my mind is the idea of “good” songs balancing vocal and instrumental melodies. That is, the melody of the instruments is as important to the beauty and structure of the song as the melody of the vocals. This is assuming we’re discussing traditionally structured “pop” songs here, not 11-minute long instrumental jams. I hate to sound like a grump, but I find that so many modern pop songs have little instrumental substance and it’s all about highlighting the singer and their impressive growl or sky-high vocal riffs. There’s something about a song that has, say, an interesting opening guitar riff, melodic vocals, and other scattered instrumental breaks that just feels more complete to me. Songs like this also communicate that the quality of the song is what is most important, not the singer’s vocal talent. There’s a distinct, noticeable difference to me between a song that exists to celebrate beautiful, thoughtful music and a song that exists for a singer to show off how high they can belt.

Both categorizations have their place in the music industry, but the Beatles were musicians first and foremost and wrote songs that nearly always fall into the former category. Take “Eleanor Rigby,” for example. The staccato strings are really the iconic part of this song, not the Beatles singing. They sound great, obviously, but this song is a fraction of its final self without George Martin’s incredible string arrangement. Luckily Beatles fans are blessed with an officially-released instrumental version of this on the Anthology 2 album, and this may be the finest example of a Beatles song in which I actually prefer the solo orchestration to the complete song. There’s just so many interesting things to notice when you listen to only the string part, so many percussive strokes and instrumental counterparts, and it conveys the message of the song’s lyrics almost as well as the singing itself. But the complete song itself is what I highlight as a perfect example of a song that values its instrumentation just as much as its vocals.

In case that all weren’t enough to celebrate, it’s just over 2 minutes long and it feels perfectly complete. The song doesn’t thematically or instrumentally need to be any longer. There are no wasted notes here; they all contribute to the moving final product. The song’s inherent structure is so well-thought-out that it carries the beauty of the song all by itself. The more I listen to “Eleanor Rigby,” honestly, the more I marvel at it. It’s quickly moving up my list of favorite Beatles songs.

Another Beatles song that demonstrates their mastery of vocal and instrumental balance is “Here Comes The Sun.” This song features such a delicate, airy acoustic guitar part that I do wish there were an official version of just the instrumental parts without any of the Beatles’ vocals. It also features a lovely string arrangement, but rather than that being the star of this song, the interplay between the strings and the guitar combine to support the beautiful vocal part. “Here Comes The Sun” is absolutely a George Harrison masterpiece that is quickly becoming my new favorite Beatles song, mostly because the guitar is soothing and relaxing. I once heard a rare version of this song that features an additional overdubbed guitar solo, but I felt that it overpowered the rest of the song and did not mesh with the existing acoustic part. “Here Comes The Sun” is simply perfect and musically balanced the way it is.

In general, I feel that with songs I really admire, I could take out the vocals entirely and listen to only the instrumental backing and I’d love the song just as much. One example of a non-Beatles song that perfectly fits this description is “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits. The separated, choppy, yet beautifully melodic guitar part always hooks me from the second that the song comes on the radio. I really do feel that this song would function almost as well as a wholly instrumental song. I say “almost” because I do also feel that part of the reason the guitar here is so enchanting is because of how it counters the vocals by providing continual instrumental breaks throughout the song. These “breaks” wouldn’t exactly be breaks if they were not broken up by an intervening vocal part, now would they. This song, unlike the previous two, does not feature any sort of orchestration. Its notable instrumental part is almost strictly guitar, but the guitar here has a life of its own and  beautifully carries the melodic weight of the song so that no additional instrumentation is necessary for the song to feel complete.

Slightly unrelated, but this song also directly connects to the Beatles by featuring a lyrical reference to “guitar George” who “knows all the chords” and “doesn’t want to make them cry or sing.” There’s a chance this isn’t intentionally referring to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” but it seems more likely than not. After all that, I’m actually not 100% positive that this is a Beatles reference, but given that George Harrison is by far the most famous rock guitarist named George that I can think of, I’ll stick with this theory until proven wrong. Perhaps the guitar part throughout this song is meant as an ode to George’s carefully crafted Beatles guitar parts, which would certainly  explain why I love the song.

Much of the Beatles’ legend rests on their reinvention of the very idea of successful pop songs, and as this blog continually states, I do believe that they are still the masters of crafting songs with incredible attention to vocal and instrumental balance. However, they also epitomize the magical formula that I find takes a song from average to excellent, and that is a balance between highlighting vocals and highlighting instrumentals. It doesn’t necessarily have to be split 50/50, but I do feel that songs with a celebrated instrumental part, like the songs all mentioned above, possess more overall beauty than songs without.

I could go on and on about Beatles songs that feature a beautiful balance between vocals and instrumentals, and how this is also present in wonderful songs by other artists, but I’ll save that for another post. Until then, continue braving the long, cold, lonely winter and finding sunshine in your favorite songs.

George Martin, The Real 5th Beatle

george martin

The man who made the Beatles into rock pioneers.

Hello followers and readers of Beatle Me Do! I have returned from a hiatus for which I greatly apologize, but I have a few ideas for fun posts that I will be publishing throughout the summer! In the meantime, I have decided to dedicate a post to the late Beatles producer, George Martin, who died on March 8 of this year at age 90. Before becoming a music producer with the Beatles, Martin primarily produced comedy albums. However, he is most well known for signing the Beatles to a record contract in 1962 and producing every single Beatles album except for Let It Be, which was (some say) infamously produced by Phil Spector.

The debate over who is “the fifth Beatle” has gone on for decades and is practically a cliche by now. Some Beatles fans support awarding this illustrious title to members of the Beatles camp such as their manager, Brian Epstein, or their first drummer, Pete Best. However, if there really is such a thing as “the fifth Beatle,” I strongly believe that George Martin deserves that title.

His work in the studio with the Beatles helped transform their songs from acoustic demos into sonic masterpieces. He was a major player in the Beatles’ studio experimentation starting in around 1965 and strongly supported their use of the studio itself as an instrument. When the Beatles were on top of the charts and the musical world, George Martin was the man behind the curtain, the wizard of Oz who literally orchestrated their success. His death marks the passing of a figure essential to the Beatles’ musical innovation.

I’d like to touch on a few Beatles songs on which Martin had a particularly noticeable influence. First up is the acoustic version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps from the Beatles Cirque de Soleil show, Love. This show features some remixes of Beatles songs, but these remixes are composed only by compiling bits and pieces from different Beatles songs. This particular version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps originates from a demo version from the Beatles Anthology 3. It features a George Martin-composed orchestration that was the only original music composed for the Love album. I absolutely love this version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps; it’s a beautiful song made even more poignant and striking by the orchestra. Seeing the Love show is definitely on my Beatles-related bucket list!

Next, I’m going back to one of Martin’s first orchestral contributions to Beatles music, the famed song Yesterday, which features only Paul McCartney, an acoustic guitar, and a beautiful Martin-composed string quartet. Supposedly Paul was a bit skeptical about the idea of putting a string quartet on a song released by a rock band, but was convinced otherwise after Martin explained exactly how he planned to arrange it based on the chords of the song. This song is now legendary among the many iconic tracks in the Beatles’ catalog, thanks not only to the beauty of its melody and lyrics but also to the perfect melancholy accompaniment that the strings provide.

Another song which has an unmistakable George Martin touch is In My Life, on which he plays the sped-up piano break at the end of the song. I believe this is one of, if not the only, Beatles songs to feature a piano solo, or if not it was definitely the first to do so. It’s songs like this that truly embody the spirit of Rubber Soul, an album which challenged the definition of rock and roll and began pushing the boundaries of musical experimentation in rock music.

Eleanor Rigby is one of those Beatles songs that features an orchestra arrangement so strikingly iconic that I could listen to just the instrumentals and enjoy the song just as much. This is all thanks to George Martin, who insisted on creating a relentlessly staccato string arrangement that I regard as an absolute masterpiece. You can listen to the instrumental version of Eleanor Rigby, a track on the Beatles Anthology 2 album, here. Every time I listen to this track and try not to let my inner sing-along drown out what I’m actually hearing, I notice new little intricacies of the arrangement. It’s songs like this that absolutely astound me as to their fearless musicality and give me a true appreciation for the power of orchestral music. This song is just perfect.

Finally, what better way to close out this George Martin tribute post than with the behemoth of all classical arrangements in rock songs, the string section in A Day In The Life. This song is often ranked as the #1 best Beatles song, and while it’s not my #1 personal favorite, it is without a doubt an absolute, indisputable masterpiece. This is largely due to the enormous, chaotic, vaguely conducted orchestra part that builds and builds and always makes me feel like a car is about to hit me. Martin’s touch on this song is evident in its sonic power to completely overwhelm your senses and leave you breathless at its conclusion. What a song to close out Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. What. A. Song. Period.

Rest in peace, George Martin. I know this tribute is a few months late, but I tried to make a post that pays the proper respect to a man who was literally  and figuratively instrumental in crafting many of my favorite songs of all time. He was among the giants of the musical world, and he will certainly be missed.

 

Beatles, “Blackbird,” and Break-Up Rumors

Today I’d mostly like to discuss Dave Grohl’s recent performance of the Beatles’ famed “Blackbird” at the Oscars. I knew about a few of the scheduled Oscar performances before the date of the program, but for some reason I hadn’t heard about this one and it took me completely by surprise. When I heard those iconic opening chords and saw Dave Grohl alone on the stage with a guitar, I knew it would be a good tribute, and I was not disappointed. From spearheading production of the Sound City documentary from a few years ago, to recording “Cut Me Some Slack” with Paul McCartney, to performing on the Beatles 50th Anniversary Special, Dave Grohl has certainly earned my respect and admiration for his Beatles and classic rock-related ventures. He is one cool dude. In case you missed his feature on the Oscars, here it is for you!

One brief un-Beatles related tangent… This performance, along with some ambiguous comments by members of Foo Fighters, recently led to a rumor that Foo Fighters were breaking up, once and for all. Apparently these rumors have surfaced before, but supposedly this time Dave was striking out on his own to “do his own thing musically” and get away from the band.

So how did Foo Fighters respond to this rumor? Not with a concisely-stated tweet or Facebook post, but with this masterful 7 minute-long video. You really have to watch it yourself to get its full effect.

In conclusion, anything Beatles-related that Dave Grohl does is bound to be wonderful, and the members of Foo Fighters are complete bosses. Also in case you’re just not patient enough to watch the entire video and have not heard the news, Foo Fighters is NOT breaking up. Spoiler alert.

Anyway, going back to the original topic, I just love how Beatles music is now used to pay tribute to people that have nothing to do with the 60s or rock music in general. Their songs have become universal anthems for just about any subject or person because they were written with a timeless, relatable appeal. Not just Blackbird, but songs like Hey Jude, Yesterday, Let It Be, In My Life, and many others have been covered so often by other artists that I bet there are some people today who don’t know that those songs are originally by the Beatles. In those cases, I’d rather that they know the song’s origins, but as long as Beatles songs are still relevant in some form in this generation, their music is living on and speaking to people. That’s about all I can ask.

You didn't seriously think I'd forget his birthday, now did you?

You didn’t seriously think I’d forget his birthday, now did you?

Finally, happy belated birthday to George Harrison, who after all this time is still definitely my favorite Beatle and one of my musical and personal inspirations. I’ve devoted many a post to him on this blog, but for now I’ll just say that his music is thoughtful, creative, and truly beautiful, just like him. I wish his solo songs were more well known by the general population, but with recent releases like the “George Fest” DVD and the masterful Scorcese documentary from a few years ago, he seems to be gaining more acclaim, slowly but surely. Let’s continue that upwards trend, to 2020 and beyond!

As is the nature of the Beatles in the 21st century, something new Beatles-related is bound to come up soon, but for now I’m signing off. Enjoy your days, and may they all be Good Days (of) Sunshine. 🙂