Salfino Top 10 Beatles Songs



Unlike Pianow, I will not tip my hand by sharing my super-secret point allocation.

1. Hey Jude: Hypnotic, sweeping, majestic. So disciplined in its sonic momentum. And lyrically a tonic for a very turbulent time, evoking a shared spirituality that transcends labels and even religion itself.

2. I Am the Walrus: Only the Beatles could perform this song. Lennon’s lyrics are not merely trippy but completely unsettling. And it’s always on the verge of being torn apart by its ambition, yet somehow triumphs.

3. Here, There and Everywhere: The perfect song. A strong case can be made for it being No. 1 but unlike the top two it’s so modest in its performance, not letting anything get in the way of the pure poetry of McCartney’s finest lyric.

4. A Day in the Life: Hypnotic, sweeping, majestic. So disciplined in its sonic momentum. And lyrically a tonic for a very turbulent time, evoking a shared spirituality that transcends labels and even religion itself.

5. Here Comes the Sun: It’s perhaps ironic that Harrison, who spent so much songwriting energy on overt religiousity, would convey happiness and hope through such a simple metaphor with its spot-on musical accompaniment. Ringo somehow keeps seven-and-1/2 time.

6: Strawberry FieldsLennon one-upped McCartney in their nostalgic odes to Liverpool by cleverly not talking about a place really at all, but rather a state of mind. The song sounds like it’s coming from inside your head.

7. For No OneMcCartney really owns Revolver, quite a feat given how amazing Lennon’s songs are, too. Far more musically ambitious than Here, There and Everywhere. Delicate and poignant but also so self-possessed. And ultimately that’s what really gets you, its resignation.

8. Dear Prudence: Lennon is rarely so charming. The song also has one of the most thrilling finishing kicks in rock history, due mostly to McCartney’s incredible drumming filling in for the AWOL Ringo, whose misfortune is being a musical genius in a band with three bigger geniuses.

9. Happiness is a Warm Gun: One of rock’s great singers really belts it out without the voice alterations he often insisted upon. Both McCartney and Harrison have said this is their favorite song on The White Album. Seeming to thread together different songs, perhaps it planted the seed in McCartney for the Abbey Road medley.

10. Long, Long, Long: Ringo again is the hero and I love the mix with its almost whispering lyrics. The music is so good that it’s immediately clear you should be straining to listen. This is the moment, for me, when George’s became far more than some third wheel.

Salfino Top 10 Stones Songs



I found this much easier than the Beatles list. Not that it was easy though. Rather than link all the songs via YouTube, let’s try a Spotify playlist. 

1. Gimme Shelter: What is that opening guitar? A riff? A lead? Whatever it is, it’s unforgettable. Everything comes together almost magically; the backup singer woken up from sleep with no notice and too hoarse to sing somehow leads to rock’s greatest mistake.

2. Moonlight Mile: Jagger steps out of character and the result is a warm intimacy that feels perfect whether he’s coming down from a cocaine high or a long, cold and lonely night on the road.

3. Tumbling Dice: Odd that something so laid back and groovy could be the product of 150 takes. The way Richards and Mick Taylor play off each other just slays me. There’s a fever in the funk house, alright.

4. Sway: Like “Moonlight Mile,” rumored to be actually a Jagger-Taylor composition. Taylor’s guitars shine regardless. Has anyone ever played better than on Taylor’s solo outro? Doubtful. That’s the sex, but the intro riff is what first seduces.

5. Miss You: Maybe the most bad-ass thing the Stones ever did was record a “disco” song when their fans were busy rioting over its sudden prominence. Of course, Miss You isn’t a disco song at all, whatever that even is. But it’s damn fine on the dance floor.

6. No Expectations: Much of Beggar’s Banquet seems posey to me: satanic (Sympathy for the Devil), salacious (Stray Cat Blues), revolutionary (Street Fighting Man), Dylanesque (Jigsaw Puzzle), blue collar (Salt of the Earth). But this seems very real and a fitting, beautiful swang song for Brian Jones.

7. Under My Thumb: Sounds as cool as the narrarator suggests he is as the winner of this sexual power struggle, a hallmark of all post-adolescent relationships. Accusations of misogyny are just lazy. The marimba riff works. And Marc Bolan made a career out of mimicing Jagger’s use of his breath as an instrument.

8. Memory Motel: One of the few (only?) songs where Jagger and Richards alternate lead vocals. Love the piano and the sha-la-las. I like the songs where Jagger as principle lyricist seems like an actual person.

9. Let It Bleed: For all its tongue-in-cheek perversion, it’s really a song about needing someone and being willing and even eager to reciprocate in kind. In other words, nice. They backed into it.

10. Ventilator Blues: You feel like you’re doing something wrong when you listen to this song. It’s one of their nastier riffs, fittingly: Your woman’s cussing/you can hear her scream/You feel like murder/in the first degree….

Just in case you skipped the intro, you can listen to this album, of sorts, right here via Spotify.



Beatles vs. Stones: A Soundcheck Smackdown

I went to the recording of the radio show, Soundcheck, tonight, at the NY Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Dubbed Soundcheck Smackdown, the program was something of a debate about who was/is better, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.

Hosted and refereed by Soundcheck host John Schaefer, who wore the zebra stripes and had a yellow penalty flag that he threw once, and a whistle that went unemployed, maybe because he swallowed it when Ophira Eisenberg popped the f-word into her argument for the Stones, as in the Beatles asked to hold your hand, but who didn’t imagine fucking all of the Stones. Round to Stones.

Eisenberg’s partner on the Stones team was Bill Janovitz, who wrote a highly-praised essay about Exile on Main Street in the 33 1/3 book series and another book about the 50 most meaningful Stones songs.

Team Beatles was Paul Myers, who is an author and musician and the older brother of his partner, Mike Myers, who is known as the keen wit and lover of language who created Wayne’s World and Austin Powers. Notably the Myers brother have very similar body types, wore matching black t-shirts with the words “John&Paul&Ringo&George” on them, but had dramatically different hair colors (Paul pure white, Mike pure brown).

I don’t know when the show will air, but you can check the Soundcheck site for the airdate.

Before the show we were all handed index cards and pencils and asked to write in 20 words or less why we liked the Beatles or the Stones. I think the Beatles are more important culturally, but after thinking about this more than I had earlier in the week, I came up with this:

“The Beatles were the soundtrack of my life in middle school. The Stones were the soundtrack of my life in high school. I have to go with the Stones.” (What I actually wrote on the card was only 19 words, and probably better).

I think you might enjoy the show, so I’m not going to go into much detail here. But SPOILER ALERT, there was one thing to talk about that gives away who won. Sort of.

Before the show John Schaefer asked how many people favored the Stones. My sense was that all of us who went Stones knew that the Beatles were really better/more important, and our applause was half-hearted, lacking confidence.

The debate had many jabs and ripostes and good theater, but it was clear as it went along that the Ophira and Bill’s argument that the Stones were all rock ‘n’ roll-y, good for sex and burning stuff down, was a better argument than the Myers’s argument that the Beatles changed all of culture riff (even though that is almost certainly true, in a way).

At the end of the show, John Schaefer polled the crowd again about their favorites. This time, the Stones fans, buoyed by Team Stones excellent performance, cheered robustly and with confidence. But the Beatles fans were still louder. No minds were changed, but a rollicking good time was had by all.

The following two songs are the one’s each team chose as their band’s most emblematic:

Each team was also asked to name the other band’s worst song. Team Stones did quite well, though the song they cite is terribly catchy, while Team Beatles latched onto some obvious flaws in a Stones’ tune that time has embiggened. Or, at least, revealed virtues that overcome some of the disco silliness.

My radio and me in 1972-73

photo IS-1bsg6ix8j644d

Just traveled to California and drove up and down Laurel Canyon and thought not only about Joni Mitchell, who has been such a source of controversy here, mostly backstage, but my love of music very generally and where it began.

In 1972, my mother moved us (parents were divorced) to the Mojave Desert — Yucca Valley, CA.  Geologically and geographically different from Laurel Canyon, yet sharing that same artsy vibe (only the poor artists live in the desert).

The people we hung with, the new friends and relatives, aunts and uncles I hardly knew, were mostly listening to that Canyon music — Mitchell, Carole King, Carly Simon, Todd Rundgren, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, Seals and Crofts and, of course, some non-California acts like the Rolling Stones. images-1(I especially remember the hours I spent staring at Goats Head Soup’s cover and how horrified I was of the image of that soup where, now, what’s truly horrifying about that album is how it marked the beginning of the end of the greatest Rock and Roll Band in the world.)

At gatherings, the adults provided the soundtrack. But back home, in my room, lying on my waterbed, the radio was the only free form of entertainment I had. The scoops of ice cream cost $.05 cents at Thrifty’s and I think the occasional drive-in was $5 per car. I was before and am again now a TV junkie. But I never even saw a TV at any adult’s house. Not only was it looked down upon, but there was no reception in the high desert. Yet I still stubbornly spent many hours the first few weeks, maybe even few months, trying to get some signal from the black and white set I badgered my mother into bringing west. Alas, there were only faint ghosts of images, and only at night — nothing remotely watchable or even listenable. (Yes, I would have given anything to even LISTEN to TV.) So all that was left for me was my transistor radio — this model, I swear. images-2

Only the Hits station came in. I can’t say if that period was particularly good for music — that would be like asking the starving man to rate the hamburger you just gave him. But 1972’s top sure seemed good to me. 

I loved “American Pie,” it was the first time I really noticed dramatic changes in sound within one song. And it was the first song where I really paid attention to the lyrics. “Brand New Key” by Melanie was inescapable. I didn’t like it then or now. But another kitschy song, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was pure childhood delight for me. I loved “Alone Again (Naturally),” oblivious to how sad it was. My love of soul music was forged here: “I Gotcha” by Joe Tex was most popular but I preferred Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers, “I’ll Take You There,” “Backstabbers,” “Oh Girl”…. I heard them all so many times that I may as well have owned the records (which nine year olds don’t buy even if they could afford to, which I couldn’t).

“Rocket Man” by Elton John sounded different from everything else, yet was so catchy and was the first time I heard one of those great Elton choruses that I grew to love so much. 45t_rocket_man_rotten_peaches_belgiqueWhile I really liked more iconic, Rock Remnants-certified rockers like “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” by the Hollies, “Go All the Way” by the Raspberries and “Bang a Gong” by T-Rex, I had ample room in my juvenile musical palate for Cat Stevens’s “Morning Has Broken,” too. That was the first time I really noticed how beautiful a piano could sound. I could hardly afford to hate much when hating required me to turn off the radio and thus my only connection to the outside world. I looked for things I liked in everything I heard and if I really hated something, like Melanie, I had to tolerate it anyway and give it every chance to change my mind (as some songs did — like “Hocus Pocus” by Focus — learned to love the guitar riffs, still hated the yodeling.)

1973’s top 100 gave me “Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul, which seemed so grown up and off limits, but man, did I love it on those lonely desert nights while trying not too hard to go to sleep. But I also loved polar opposite songs like “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter (Hocus Pocus without the yodeling!) and “Little Willy” by Sweet, which may as well have been The Archies to my ear. It was pure kid music, barely less silly than “The Monster Mash,” another 1973 hit. And about monsters! “Will It Go Round in Circles” by Billy Preston was a pleasure for me every time, as was “Superstition,” “Stuck in the Middle with You,” “Live and Let Die,” “Daniel,” “Superfly,” “Love Train,” “That Lady” and the also-so-grown-up “Wildflower” by Skylark. “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” seemed like it was written just for nine-year-old boys and how could it be that this song inspired Freddie Mercury of all people? Music is such a wonderful chemistry experiment, a fact that comes into sharp relief when you can do nothing else but immerse yourself in it for two, long formative years.

We Made A List.

It was my idea. I thought it would be fun for each of us to make a list of what we thought the essential albums of rock were, then compare them and make an Essential Top 50 Rock Albums. My idea, the way I explained it to the lads, was that if Mork were to land on our doorstep, these are the albums we would use to explain rock and roll to him. Then we would create Amazon links and make a minuscule amount of money when people bought them.

The methodology was jury rigged. Each of the five of us made a Top 50. Some of us ranked them, some did not. Some of us limited our lists to only one album per artist, to give Mork a broader range of musics, while others felt free to list five or six albums by favorites like the Beatles and the Hellacopters because these are among the best albums of all time. Most of us seemed to enjoy the experience. One of us railed about the stupidity and un-rock and rollness of commonality. He was certainly right about that.

But I think the list we came up with together demonstrates the power of the classic music, and also the veins of taste and enthusiasm that course out of it. In any case, if you’re from Mars and want to know what rock and roll music to listen to, this is a good place to start. But first, before we start, here are the six albums that got votes in the final round, but didn’t make the Top 50.

We’ll be counting down the Top 50 over the next two weeks or so, right here. Feel free to comment.

56. The Crystals, Best of the Crystals

Listening to this set, I find myself trying to argue that this is the greatest rock music ever created. (PK)

55. Kanye West, The College Dropout

The world’s biggest asshole isn’t the story. He didn’t start out that way. This incredible music made him famous, and was just the beginning of an amazing run of innovative and challenging popular music that rocks. (PK)

54. Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

All songs so well written, and then so wonderfully delivered by Lucinda. (LM)

53. Devo, Q:Are We Not Men?

A bunch of geniuses far ahead of their time. Often wrongly dismissed as a joke. (SM)

52. The Beatles, For Sale

I forgot this one. It’s the best of all. They rocked. (GM)

51. The Pillows, Happy Bivouac

Nirvana meets the Beatles and the Pixies at the Ramones’ house. You know who you are. (GM)

From the Archives: 30 Greatest R&R Guitarists (circa 1980)

How much have about 30 years altered this list that was put together by Dave Marsh in the Book of Rock Lists? We have a few guitarists on the site, so I’m interested to see what they think.

Mickey Baker

1. Jimi Hendrix
2. Chuck Berry
3. Mickey “Guitar” Baker (Mickey and Sylvia, sessions)

Steve Cropper

4. James Burton (Elvis)
5. Pete Townshend
6. Keith Richards
7. Scotty Moore (Elvis)
8. Steve Cropper (Booker T. and the MGs)
9. Link Wray
10. Eric Clapton

Other notables when the list was published in 1980/81: Eddie Van Halen (13), Duane Allman (17), Jimmy Page (22), Mick Jones (24), Steve Jones (25), Bruce Springsteen (29).

As much as I love Springsteen and his guitar playing, I wouldn’t have him on this list. I’d put Prince in the top 30, though I don’t know where. I’d have Mick Taylor (29) higher. I’d have Marc Bolan and Mick Ronson on the list. Jimmy Page would be in my top 10 because he wrote so many great riffs but I know that a lot of guitar players think he’s sloppy. I can’t hear it though. I think Tom Morello belongs on the list after seeing him with Springsteen.

I remember talking to Moyer years ago about guitarists and I questioned the extent that leads should influence the rankings and he said that there isn’t a great guitarists who didn’t play great leads. I countered with Keith Richards and Steve had to admit that I had him there. Of course, Richards played, and wrote, many of the greatest riffs in rock history.

Best Rock and Roll Movies (circa 1980)

When I was a kid, the two non-sports books I had with me the most were the Rolling Stone Record Guide and Dave Marsh and Kevin Stein’s Book of Rock Lists.

In the chaos of my early college years, who knows what happened to it. But when my daughter Cara and I were perusing a used book store in Provincetown a couple of summers ago, there before me in the music section was that long-lost book. For $7, who could resist? That was less than the original cover price! I guess they figured no one would possibly want it.

I thought about it today when I read Steve’s post about his favorite rock documentary. Of course, “Best Rock and Roll Movies” was one of the lists. Here they are in order, with links to purchase if you so desire:

King Creole (Elvis)

(Sex Pistols)
4. The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Night

(various including The Rolling Stones)

6. The Girl Can’t Help It
(Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and others)
7. (Jimmy Cliff)
(Hendrix, Redding, The Who)

(Paul Jones)

The Next New Beatles Album: “What is Life”

By Michael Salfino

whatislifeThe Beatles are that rare group whose epic popularity is matched by the almost unreal quality of their artistic output. They broke up with these creative powers still intact.

But how long could they have continued to function artistically as the greatest band in the world? Here, we imagine (to borrow a word) the next Beatles album that never was.

There are rules by which we must abide. Everything had to be recorded by January 1971. Despite George Harrison’s rising stature as at least Lennon and McCartney’s equal at that time, we can only put two Harrison songs on the album as was the group’s long-standing agreement. We do not get the benefit of having some of the weaker material transformed by the group environment. Think of “Come Together” without the menacing groove of McCartney’s bass riff, and that was despite Lennon essentially barring McCartney from any collaboration. After a lot of thought, here are the results. We’ll call it “What is Life,” which seems an album title all the Beatles could have agreed to. And it’s another concession to Harrison’s growing creative status. (Click the tracks to hear the songs.)

Side 1, Track 1: It Don’t Come Easy. We’re cheating already. While credited to Starr, this is clearly a Harrison track. But Harrison ended up giving all the songwriting credit to Starr in reality so why wouldn’t he have done that here? Starr kicking off an album would have shocked the world, too. As would the quality of this song as opposed to his prior, mostly jokey Beatles efforts.  Recorded February 1970. Highest chart position: No. 4.

Side 1, Track 2: Another Day. Written and previewed for the Let it Be sessions. Lennon would have resisted, in all likelihood. He famously blasted it in “How Do You Sleep” (“The only thing you done was Yesterday, and since you’ve gone you’re just Another Day”). But Lennon lost all these battles before (Ob La Di, Ob La Da; Maxwell’s Silver Hammer), and this song is far superior to both of them — even Lennon would have admitted that. Recorded January 1971. Highest chart position: No. 5.

Side 1, Track 3: Instant Karma. Sort of a follow-up to All You Need is Love, which has the same chord progression. The ‘50s studio sound would have stood in stark contrast to the first two tracks. Peaked at No. 3 on the charts. It’s smart and cynical, yet somehow anthemic. Recorded January 1970.

Side 1, Track 4: Junk. The Beatles passed over this song twice, once on The Beatles (The White Album) and then on Abbey Road. It’s a perfect, earthy and plaintive response to Instant Karma’s broad call for man to take responsibility for his fate. McCartney seems to be saying that our objects have meaning in the memories they’re a part of, yet we’re constantly seeking to replace them and with it, unknowingly, a piece of ourselves. Released April 1970.

Side 1, Track 5: Remember. Continuing on the idea of nostalgia, which literally translates into “the painful desire to return home.” But then at the end, Lennon literally blows up the past, so it’s unclear if he wants us to find peace in our childhood memories or whether the dreams we had and that others had for us are a weight that we must release. The staccato rhythm is like a clock ticking, relentlessly. Recorded October 1970.

Side 1, Track 6: What is Life. Despite peaking at just No. 10, this is exactly the kind of song you imagine when someone talks about a hit record. So simple yet uplifting and life affirming. Musically, it stands as an enduring testament to the Phil Spector Wall of Sound. It’s also the greatest riff Harrison ever wrote and arguably one of the best in rock history.

Side 2, Track 1: Maybe I’m Amazed.  Recorded in 1970 but written in 1969. It’s earned a place in the Holy Trinity of epic McCartney pop-rock ballads Hey Jude and Let it Be. But it’s much more simply a love song. Amazingly, it wasn’t released as a single and we can’t assume it would have been here. McCartney said in 2009 he wanted to be remembered for it.

Side 2, Track 2: Wah-Wah. Very non-Beatlesesque in how it’s about to fall apart at any moment, with the horns and guitar overdubs too numerous to count. There’s a thrill in hearing a song like this. It’s at the core of the Rolling Stones appeal, for example. Another classic Harrison riff, with another assist from Clapton. The lyric is a snipe at some of the petty business disputes that ripped the band apart (or were threatening to, in this alternate reality). Recorded Summer 1970.

Side 2, Track 3: Mother. Raw and aching. A primal scream for relief from childhood pain that never leaves us. It was somehow released as a single and actually peaked at No. 43, as a nearly four-minute festering wound. This song highlights Lennon’s amazing vocal ability. The two most underrated things about the Beatles are Lennon’s singing and McCartney’s bass playing. And Harrison, always Harrison. Recorded September 1970.

Side 2, Track 4: That Would be Something. Harrison loved it, for some reason. It’s okay. But we have to get some McCartney songs in here and this was not a fertile period for him. Not great, not even good. But not an album wrecker.

Side 2, Track 5: Working Class Hero. I wrote the lyrics to this song as my essay in business class when I was a senior in high school and got an A. What can you say? Lennon, post-therapy and post-drug addiction, was peaking again after a pretty quiet year (for him). This was really his last great run of songs. Recorded Fall 1970.

Side 2, Track 6: Teddy Boy. A Beatles attempt is on Anthology. In the context of this album, it’s a perfect response to Mother. Putting them right after one another is perhaps too obvious. This is C-plus McCartney material, but it’s still McCartney. Recorded originally in 1969 with the Beatles.

Side 2, Track 7: God. “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.” Talk about getting in the last word. He’ll say it again, too, in case you missed it the first time. If this is the last Beatles album, its ending is as poignant as The End: “And so dear friends, you’ll just have to carry on. The dream is over.” But there’s also the uplifting call to believe in yourself and in the love you’ve made. Another epic Lennon vocal, too.

Album grade: Are you kidding me? Five stars, easily.