To this listener it’s a fantastic track in its unexpectedness. I love and still can’t get over the fact that it just "doesn’t feel" like a Beatles song. Yes, I could get really nerdy and talk about little giveaway Beatle-y things like guitar tone, how the snare drum is being mic-ed, and the general Ringo-ness of the 8-beat that’s being played, but why? It’s fun, refreshing, and light; a sort of Beatles “back to basics” before launching into the belle melange of the next two albums (more on that later, perhaps): indeed well worth a listen.
2) SHE'S A WOMAN
A Paul McCartney effort for the most part, the original (sung a good deal higher than where I’m able to reasonably attempt it) is another showcase of his early-days rock n roll vocal capability, echoing performers like Little Richard and, to a lesser degree but still, James Brown; I’ve always thought of “She’s a Woman” as a sort of follow up to his more-than-respectable turn on the Beatles version of “Long Tall Sally;” in addition the album “For Sale” which came out around the same time showed him off similarly with the “medley” of “Kansas City” and “Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey”—admittedly another favorite of mine to perform in the cover circuit (I guess I just like to scream like I’m Paul McCartney; evidence as to its effectiveness is thus far inconclusive).
3) ANY TIME AT ALL
But enough nerding out. There’s just some great stuff going on here. This is for sure worth many listens, as it grows with time and as details become more clear and obvious with repeated exposure. John and Paul trading riffs on the choruses is a first standout moment; ostensibly done because the second half of the melody was out of John’s vocal range, but the effect ends up feeling much more profound, reminding the listener (as least, certainly, this one) that this is a group with a powerful vocal bench, not constrained to one lead singer or one set of timbres. In the early days, John and Paul often sang together, in both harmony and unison, on the lead lines (She Loves You; Please Please Me etc.); by now this was less of a signature feature, so this moment stands out as a cool demonstration of their growing vocal individuality while still presenting them effectively together.
The orchestration work is brilliant too for an early pop tune that wouldn’t have required it, with some fantastic bridge riff work doubling piano and 12-string guitar, devised by George Martin, and executed by McCartney and George Harrison. It’s just a super team effort, which stands to reason given its appearance on without a doubt the strongest Beatles album of the early era: “A Hard Days Night,” which might also explain why the track sometimes has a tough time standing out against the iconic powerhouses that surround it (A Hard Day’s Night; Ticket to Ride etc.). But underestimate this track at your peril. It’s jolly good craic and highly recommended by this fab four nut.
4) BABY, YOU'RE A RICH MAN
I’ve always just found this song super cool. The psychedelic vibe that’s almost over-conscious in its application just feels like an overindulgence of singular flavor, but in the right way, like one of those death-by-chocolate cakes, covered in more molten chocolate. I’ll take it. The song just sort of spins itself slowly into oblivion, similar in ways to something like “Tomorrow Never Knows” (ridiculously awesome song: too well known to be on this list) but with a little less to prove. That might in fact be the key to what speaks to me in this song, a certain lack of concern that I aspire to. And finally, one word: Ringo. Just take it in and feel the love. Incredible performance, similar—and this is apparently an opinion Beatles expert Ian McDonald and I share—to his unparalled rocking out on “Rain” (again, great song; maybe too well known at this point for this list). Have fun with this one!
5) I'LL FOLLOW THE SUN
There’s that bit of Paul McCartney that by all evidence resides firmly in the West End stage of the early twentieth century. It’s used well in pastiche in a song like “Honey Pie,” and, vocally, can be effectively brought to bear in something as solidly showtune as “Til There Was You.” Even “I Will” and “Martha My Dear” are encrusted with fragments of this kind of style. What I like in particular about “I’ll Follow The Sun” is how all these different aspects of the “vaudeville” Paul are brought together in a song that sounds nothing like a stage piece at all yet evokes it—specifically the bond between the song’s emotional strength and its narrative imagery—and encapsulates it in a style that would eventually come to characterize the McCartney Beatles ballad for the rest of the group’s existence (see examples, also “The Long and Winding Road,” “Golden Slumbers,” and, in a funny sort of way, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.”)
It’s a beautiful tune with lyrics that are lovely and simple and uplifting and sad and hopeful and bittersweet (and there are so few of them, a wonderful display of economy), all the while never unclear. McCartney at some of his best, really. (George Martin apparently thought so too lol!)
Some contenders that didn’t quite make this list (ones I suspected would be too well known), but I might write about anyway at a later date: Rain; Mother Nature’s Son; I’ve Just Seen a Face; You Can’t Do That, and many others I'm sure. Feel free to look them up.