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Today I thought I would share this lesser known song by The Beatles – “Free As A Bird”. It was released in 1996, when The Beatles put together their Anthology series of CDs, book and TV series. By this time, of course, John Lennon had been dead for 16 years. The other Beatles got in touch with Yoko who gave them a recording that Lennon had made of this song. They added their own voices and musical accompaniment to his original track, to create the closest thing possible to a new Beatles song. There are also some lyrics added by Paul McCartney, the parts that he sings on his own, rather than in harmony to Lennon’s voice.

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The Beatles single “Free As A Bird” was released in 1996, to coincide with the release of the Anthology CDs, book and TV series

Free as a bird
It’s the next best thing to be
Free as a bird

Home, home and dry
Like a homing bird I’ll fly
As a bird on wings

Whatever happened to
The life that we once knew?
Can we really live without each other?

Where did we lose the touch
That seemed to mean so much?
It always made me feel so…

Free as a bird
Like the next best thing to be
Free as a bird

Home, home and dry
Like a homing bird I’ll fly
As a bird on wings

Whatever happened to
The life that we once knew?
Always made me feel so free

Ah…
Ah…
Ah…

Free as a bird
It’s the next best thing to be
Free as a bird
Free as a bird
Free as a bird
Oooooo

Free…

[Turn out nice again, mother.]

The video to accompany “Free As A Bird” is fascinating. For aficionados of Beatles trivia, there are all kinds of obvious and less obvious references to Beatles songs in the video. See how may you can spot?

Enjoy!

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At number 1 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “A Day in the Life”. This song is the last track on the band’s seminal album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which is consistently rated the best album of all time by many different experts and lists. See, for example, my own blogpost about Rolling Stone’s greatest albums of all time, here.

It may come as a surprise to many of you that this is the song Rolling Stone Magazine have chosen to be the greatest Beatles song of them all. In some ways it surprises me. Although I like this song a lot (I would put it in my top 20 Beatles songs), there are others which I would put above it based on the assumed criteria which Rolling Stone Magazine have used to rate Beatles songs, which seem to me to be

  1. impact
  2. inventiveness and/or originality and
  3. just a great song

Based on these assumed three criteria, I would say that “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is clearly the song which had the biggest impact on the music world and on The Beatles, because it was their break-through song in the United States. No other song by The Beatles had such a profound effect on the course of popular music, or on the band’s own destiny.

In terms of inventiveness, I would say that, for example, “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” are more inventive songs than “A Day in the Life”. Yes, “A Day in the Life” is an inventive song, but there isn’t really anything in it that The Beatles had not already done in terms of studio techniques.

It is, definitely, a great song. No arguing with that, in my opinion. And it is one, if not the, last example of a collaboration between Lennon and McCartney. In fact, it is two unfinished songs stitched together. Lennon had composed a song based on some newspaper stories, real-life events and his recent experience of acting in the movie “How I Won the War”, but it didn’t have a middle-eight or chorus. McCartney had started on a very different type of song, a whimsical ditty based on his memories of going to school on the top deck of the bus. The band decided to put the two very different songs together, to create a masterpiece.

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At number 1 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “A Day in the Life”

Here are the lyrics of “A Day in the Life”. There has been much speculation as to who the man was who blew his mind out in a car. Most experts seem to agree that it was socialite Tara Browne, who died at the tender age of 21 when he drove his Lotus Élan into the back of a parked van. The “4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire” comes from a newspaper story which Lennon read about potholes in the roads in Lancashire. The line “Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall” is just pure genius.

I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph

He blew his mind out in a car;
He didn’t notice that the lights had changed
A crowd of people stood and stared
They’d seen his face before
Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords

I saw a film today, oh boy;
The English army had just won the war
A crowd of people turned away
But I just had to look
Having read the book

I’d love to turn you on

Woke up, fell out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up, I noticed I was late

Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke
And somebody spoke and I went into a dream

Ah I read the news today, oh boy
Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
And though the holes were rather small
They had to count them all
Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall

I’d love to turn you on

Added to the lyrics which Lennon wrote is the beautifully haunting sound of his voice. With a little bit of echo, it floats in space. No one has a voice like John Lennon, it has a magical quality to it which is there in spades in this song. An ethereal, haunting quality to it. With lyrics like “I’d love to turn you on” and “…had a smoke….and went into a dream”, the song was banned from many radio stations for supposed references to drugs and getting high. Both Lennon and McCartney have denied that their lyrics had anything to do with drugs, and not long after this song they became fairly open about their drug taking, so had no reason to lie.

Thankfully, this hauntingly beautiful song is available on The Beatles’ official Vevo channel, so here is a link to it which will presumably not be removed. Enjoy!!

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Today, 8 December, marks the 36th anniversary of John Lennon’s senseless murder in 1980. It is always a poignant time for me; I had heard him on BBC Radio 1 the day before (7 December 1980) telling listeners of the interview which he had just recorded with Andy Peebles. I was full of excitement that my hero was returning to public life; I was too young to remember the time when he had stepped off the treadmill to bring up his son Sean (which he did in 1975).

I woke up the following morning to hear the news that he’d been shot dead outside his home in New York City. I blogged a little about that a year ago. I had already bought his ‘comeback’ album Double Fantasy. One of the most tender songs on this album was this song here, “Beautiful Boy”. After his murder the song’s lyrics became even more poignant.

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Some of the most poignant lines from John Lennon’s 1980 song “Beautiful Boy”. Within a few months of writing this song, he had been murdered.

The lines “life is what happens to you / While you’re busy making other plans” seemed prophetic. And the lines “I can hardly wait / To see you come of age / But I guess we’ll both / Just have to be patient” almost too sad to hear.

How could Sean even begin to understand suddenly losing his father at only 5 years of age? The answer, of course, is that he couldn’t.

Close your eyes,
Have no fear,
The monster’s gone,
He’s on the run
And your daddy’s here,

[2x]
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful boy,

Before you go to sleep,
Say a little prayer,
Every day
In every way,
It’s getting better and better,

[2x]
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful boy,

Out on the ocean sailing away,
I can hardly wait
To see you to come of age,
But I guess we’ll both
Just have to be patient,

‘Cause it’s a long way to go,
A hard row to hoe
Yes, it’s a long way to go
But in the meantime,

Before you cross the street,
Take my hand,
Life is what happens to you,
While you’re busy making other plans,

[2x]
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful boy,

Before you go to sleep,
Say a little prayer,
Every day
In every way,
It’s getting better and better,

[2x]
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful boy,

Darling, darling,
Darling Sean.

Here is the official video of “Beautiful Boy”, a song which takes on so much additional poignancy after the events of 8 December 1980.

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At number 2 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. People reading this may be wondering why this song is so high in Rolling Stone’s list. The reason is simple, this was the song which saw The Beatles break through in the United States. They went from being unknown there to being the biggest band the country had ever seen in terms of their popularity. Their success in the USA is, more than anything else, what has ensured that they are the biggest selling musical act in history. Ever.

Thus, in terms of impact, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is one of the most important songs that The Beatles ever recorded. Who knows whether they would have been as massive as they became if it were not for this song, we will never know. But, this song catapulted them to superstardom in the USA, and they became the first British band to ever crack the US market.

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At number 2 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “I Want to Hold Your Hand”

As the text above (taken from Rolling Stone Magazine) says, this song “changed everything”. Previous to this song, The Beatles had singles released in the US, but none had achieved any chart success. Then, in late 1963, they signed to Capitol Records. Maybe due to this switch of record label, maybe the song itself with its upbeat message, maybe the death of John F. Kennedy, maybe some luck, maybe a combination of all or some of these things, but “I Want to Hold Your Hand” captured the youth of America in a way that no song had done since Elvis’ early days.

Based on the chart success of this song, The Beatles arrived in the United States in early February 1964 and appeared on the Ed Sullivan TV show to the largest audience that programme has ever seen. As they say, the rest is history…..

Oh yeah, I’ll tell you something
I think you’ll understand
When I say that something
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

Oh please, say to me
You’ll let me be your man
And please, say to me
You’ll let me hold your hand
You let me hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

And when I touch you I feel happy
Inside
It’s such a feeling that my love
I can’t hide
I can’t hide
I can’t hide

Yeah, you’ve got that something
I think you’ll understand
When I say that something
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

And when I touch you I feel happy
Inside
It’s such a feeling that my love
I can’t hide
I can’t hide
I can’t hide

Yeah, you’ve got that something
I think you’ll understand
When I feel that something
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

Unfortunately, I cannot find any Beatles versions of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on YouTube. If you do not know this song, you can listen to it via one of your favourite music streaming services.

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At number 3 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Strawberry Fields Forever”. This John Lennon song was recorded in late 1966, and released as a double-A sided single along with Paul McCartney’s “Penny Lane” in February 1967. Remarkably, “Strawberry Fields Forever” failed to get to number 1 in the Disunited Kingdom, kept from the top slot by Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Release Me”. In my mind, this is one  of the best (worst?) examples  of a timeless song, a song which must be one of the best songs ever written, being kept from the top spot by a forgettable song which very few people would rate in their top 10,000 (rant over!)

“Strawberry Fields Forever” is one of my favourite Beatles songs, bar none; it is simply magnificent. In fact, words fail me to even begin to express how wonderful this song is. It is pure Lennon genius, one of the reasons he is one of the greatest songwriters in the history of popular music.

To say that this song is innovative would be an understatement. Apart from all the backwards tapes, speeded up horn sections, and other amazing psychedelic stuff, George Martin, The Beatles’ producer, had to splice together two versions sung at different tempos. This necessitated his speeding up one section and slowing the other down, to get them to match. Easily done today with computers, but it required hours (days)of work by Martin in the days of 4-track tape. It nearly drove him to despair; Lennon just assumed it would be easy for him. Notice, in the text in the screen capture (from Rolling Stone Magazine), that the song took some 8 days to record! This was unprecedented at the time.

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At number 3 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Strawberry Fields Forever”

“Strawberry Fields” is about a place behind Lennon’s childhood home, where he would go and play, Strawberry Field (no “s”). If you go on The Beatles tour of Liverpool, you can stop outside the gates to this place and see where he would disappear to dream and play, either on his own or with friends. It was his happy place, his place to escape, his Shangri-La. “Living is easy with eyes closed / Misunderstanding all you see / It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out / It doesn’t matter much to me.”

Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out
It doesn’t matter much to me
Let me take you down, cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

No one I think is in my tree
I mean it must be high or low
That is you can’t you know tune in but it’s all right
That is I think it’s not too bad
Let me take you down, cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

Always, no sometimes, think it’s me
But you know I know when it’s a dream
I think I know I mean a “Yes” but it’s all wrong
That is I think I disagree

Let me take you down, cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever
Strawberry Fields forever
Strawberry Fields forever

Cranberry sauce

Here is the official Beatles’ video of “Strawberry Fields Forever”. On the plus side, as this is on their official YouTube channel, the link is not going to disappear. But, unfortunately it is only part of the song. The video gives a prelude of some of the psychedelic video techniques they would use in their movie Magical Mystery Tour, which came out in December of the same year. If you want to listen to the full song, you can listen to it on e.g. Spotify by following this link.

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At number 5 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “In My Life”. This 1965 John Lennon composed song is one of my favourite Beatles songs of any period. It is the 4th track on the second side of their 1965 album Rubber Soul. It reflects a departure for Lennon, in that the song is more personal and introspective in an obvious and direct way than his previous songs. For me the song is simply perfect, Lennon at his best. In addition to being number 5 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs, “In My Life” is also ranked by them at number 23 in the 500 greatest songs (by anyone) of all time.

“In My Life” was recorded in October 1965 and was never released as a single, so came out with the release of Rubber Soul in December 1965. As I have commented before (but in case there are new readers of this blog), The Beatles rarely released album tracks as singles, and they tended to not include their already released on their albums. None of the tracks on Rubber Soul was released as a single in the Disunited Kingdom, although some were in other countries.

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At number 5 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “In My Life”

One of the beautiful features of “In My Life” is, for me, the exquisite ‘harpsichord’ sounding solo. In fact, it is a piano solo, sped up. George Martin, The Beatles’ producer, wrote a piece  of music for this song with Bach influences, but found that he could not get it to match the tempo of the song. So, he played it on a piano, then sped it up to match the song’s tempo, the resulting sped-up piano sounding more like a harpsichord. It adds to the majestic feel of this wonderful song.

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

In my life I love you more

Here is a video of this beautiful song. Apologies if the link stops working, Beatles songs on YouTube are often removed for copyright reasons, but as of my writing this the link works.

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At number 6 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Something”. This is one of George Harrison’s best known songs, and was the first (and last) time that one of his songs was released as a Beatles’ single, along with “Come Together” (which I blogged about here). As I said in that blogpost, “Something/Come Together” only got to number 4 in the Disunited Kingdom, but in the USA “Something” got to number 1, the first George Harrison composed song to top the US charts.

“Something” was highly praised by Harrison’s more illustrious songwriting band members, John Lennon said it was the best track on the Abbey Road album, and Paul McCartney said it was the best song that Harrison has ever written.

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At number 6 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Something”

The official video for “Something” was shot in August 1969, during the Beatles’ last photo shoot at Lennon’s Titenhursr Park estate. By this time, they could barely bear to be in each other’s company. The video shows each band member with their wives, but not with each other. It illustrates how they had become separated as band members, Lennon had already told the others that he wanted out, but McCartney had persuaded him to not go public about it. Within a few months their official split would be announced by McCartney. The photo below, one of those taken during this last photo shoot, again shows the distance which had grown between them.

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Taken during the Beatles’ last ever photo shoot, in August 1969 at John Lennon’s Tittenhurst Park estate.

Something in the way she moves
Attracts me like no other lover
Something in the way she woos me
I don’t want to leave her now
You know I believe and how

Somewhere in her smile she knows
That I don’t need no other lover
Something in her style that shows me
I don’t want to leave her now
You know I believe and how

You’re asking me will my love grow
I don’t know, I don’t know
You stick around and it may show
I don’t know, I don’t know

Something in the way she knows
And all I have to do is think of her
Something in the things she shows me
I don’t want to leave her now
You know I believe and how

Unfortunately I cannot find The Beatles’ version of “Something” on YouTube, but here is a version of George Harrison performing it live in Japan with Eric Clapton.

Which is your favourite George Harrison song?

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