Now, we at SPB love the Beatles. But we're not blinded by indie rock credentials to their flaws. In this, the first of a new series of features called The Set List, we run through the 5 (or 6) tracks that make up some of the worst things the Fab Four committed to tape. And they're not even all Ringo songs. Read on for more!
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
One of the few rare duds on Abbey Road, this song is famed for being “the song that broke up the Beatles”. If you believe John Lennon it was also supposedly the most expensive song the Beatles ever recorded too, taking over 3 days of studio time. The time and the expense would be somewhat justified if the song had any semblance of quality, though. Lyrically it’s standard McCartney throwaway: “Maxwell Edison / Majoring in medicine” and “PC Thirty One said we’ve caught a dirty one”, and as if that wasn’t embarassing enough there’s the awkwardly childrens’ song-esque “tap tap” noises in the chorus, which the other members of the band can be seen recording, grim-faced, in the “Let It Be” movie. A huge misstep on an otherwise stellar album. (Matt)
Don’t Pass Me By
Now, I’m not a Ringo hater – “Octopus’s Garden” is one of my favourite Beatles tracks and I think his drumming is hugely underrated. That said, this horrible joke of a recording should never have ended up on tape, even on the varying-in-quality White album. From the horrible hurdy gurdy guitar tone to the out of tune fiddle accompaniment, the song just keeps getting worse. It’s long too – 3:42 is far too much to endure. There’s even a moment of false hope at the 2:36 mark where you think it’s finally all over before it kicks off for another minute extra. Humouring the drummer when he wants to record a song is one thing, but letting him turn in a cringy, characterless and unlovable groanfest is quite another. Even “Yellow Submarine” is better than this. (Matt)
Wild Honey Pie
I get that there was an “anything goes” attitude with The White Album, but I don’t understand why this one was left on. Apparently, because Patti Boyd liked the song, that was enough to include it. Taken from a sing-along established in India, it was recorded solely by Paul McCartney. This 53-second long track was meant only to be an experimental piece. A failed experiment if you ask me. Hearing layers upon layers of McCartney shouting “honey pie” in different tones over and over, while twangy guitars echo in the background, is just a waste of time. Experimentation is an important part of songwriting, but one should know when their project is worth sharing with the world and when it’s not. Had McCartney spent more time refining it, it might have been a much more charming song. (Aaron)
What’s the New Mary Jane?
The recording sessions for The White Album may have brought about some of The Beatles’ best or most memorable tracks, but they also wrote some of their worst during that time. Luckily, Lennon’s “What’s the New Mary Jane” was excluded from the album and kept shelved until its official release in 1996 as part of the Anthology project. Recorded by John, George, and Yoko, it mainly features a poor melody, lazy vocal harmonies, and horrible lyrics from Lennon until it drifts off into space. It’s the kind of song you find yourself saying, “blah blah blah let's move on,” when you hear it. It's hard to find anything good to say about it. (Aaron)
Love Me Do
It may be something of a Beatles heresy to proclaim their first number 1 single to be among their worst records, but honestly – I can hardly sit through this song. The bass is thudding and hollow, the drums (which aren’t even Ringo, since his bass drumming was considered too poor for the recording) are dull and the guitars cover a range of just two chords for most of the song. Of course, for the period, it’s slightly more respectable, but in the wider context of the Beatles’ career, it’s the record I skip over most frequently. Uninspiring, lacking energy, plodding along and outshone by most of the other songs on Please Please Me, it’s a dull introduction to the most incredible pop music catalogue in music. (Matt)
Special Mention: Revolution #9
It might be a little banal to include "Revolution #9," but it just can’t be ignored. Lennon’s nearly 8 and a half minute long composition of what he believed a revolution would resemble is considered the most experimental track The Beatles ever released. Although, there is still Paul McCartney’s “Carnival of Light” to be released which was recorded over a year earlier and has been described as something similar to "Revolution #9." This culmination of loops and sounds is something that is still having trouble being accepted to this day. There’s nothing about it that bears any real replay value. The best thing it ever did was bring about a Simpsons joke and perhaps lead the way for bands such as Xiu Xiu and Animal Collective. (Aaron)
What do you think? Are these the worst or best Beatles songs? What are your least favourites? Let us know in the comments below!