The Beatles: Great storytellers in song

The Beatles from an early photo as they landed in New York City.

I was introduced to the Beatles in 1964 by my uncle. I was 11 and he was 19 and had purchased the album, ‘Meet the Beatles.’

In my extended family in 1964, buying something as worldly as a secular rock-n-roll record by the Beatles was a pretty bold step. My uncle told me he didn’t care for the music, even if the Beatles were a pop culture phenomenon.

So, he gave me the album.

Beatlemania washed over me like it did millions of other young Americans. I couldn’t get enough.

All this occurred about the time the Fab Four appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. The adults in my life were horrified, of course.

They objected to the long hair (by early 1960s standards) and especially to the “yeah, yeah, yeah” lyrics of the song, She Loves You.

“So disrespectful,” they told me.

I never figured out whom the Beatles were disrespecting. But you couldn’t get away from She Loves You on the radio.

My dad especially disliked the Beatles, as well as my enthusiasm for them. “No one will even remember who they are in 50 years,” he said in frustration one day.

My dad was not Nostradamus, obviously. But he knew what he didn’t like.

Needless to say, I’ve been a Beatles fanboy now going on 60 years. My fandom grew even more after they quit touring and began releasing studio albums, from Rubber Soul forward.

After they left the stage and ditched the matching suits, they really began their run of producing incredible lyrics and memorable songs.

So, as I was listening to a Beatles playlist on my iPhone today, it occurred to me what great storytellers, they were. Especially Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

All of which leads me to the purpose of this blog post. I’m ranking my 10 top Beatles songs that tell a story.

So, here goes with my ranking of their top songs with a narrative from 10 to 1, along a bonus group of songs that didn’t quite make the cut:

No. 10: Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Narrative: Desmond and Molly meet, marry and build a family in a great sing-along.
Key lyrics:
“Happy ever after in the marketplace
Desmond lets the children lend a hand
Molly stays at home and does her pretty face
And in the evening she still sings it with the band, yes”

No. 9: The Fool on the Hill
Narrative: Town folks are disturbed by old man living alone on the hill. So, they mistakenly think he’s a fool.
Key lyrics:
“And he never listens to them,
he knows that they’re the fools
They don’t like him
The fool on the hill sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head see the world spinning ’round”

No. 8: Norwegian Wood
Narrative: Revenge. Woman invites man to spend the night, then makes him sleep in the bath.
Key lyrics:
“And when I awoke I was alone
This bird had flown
So I lit a fire
Isn’t it good Norwegian wood?”

No 7: She’s Leaving Home
Narrative: Young girl repressed by her parents sneaks out to make her way on her own
Key lyrics:
“Something inside, that was always denied,
For so many years, 
She’s leaving home”

No. 6: Rocky Racoon
Narrative: Rocky takes his gun to shoot the low-life who stole his girl. Big mistake!
Key lyrics:
“Rocky burst in and grinning a grin
He said, “Danny boy, this is a showdown”
But Daniel was hot, he drew first and shot
And Rocky collapsed in the corner”

No. 5 The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
Narrative: Great white hunter shoots a mighty tiger for sport
Key lyrics:
“The children asked him if to kill was not a sin
“Not when he looked so fierce”, his mummy butted in
“If looks could kill it would have been us instead of him”

No. 4 Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
Narrative: Crazed young man goes on homicidal rampage in bouncy sing-along
Key lyrics:
“But as the words are leaving his lips
A noise comes from behind
Bang, bang, Maxwell’s silver hammer
Came down upon his head (do-do, do-do do)
Bang, bang, Maxwell’s silver hammer
Made sure that he was dead”

No. 3 Lovely Rita
Narrative: Man intrigued by meter maid’s uniform, asks her out, gets to sit on the sofa with her sisters
Key lyrics:
“Standing by a parking meter
When I caught a glimpse of Rita
Filling in a ticket in her little white book
In a cap she looked much older
And the bag across her shoulder
Made her look a little like a military man”

No. 2: A Day in the Life
Narrative: Man reads news about disturbing car crash, and more.
Key lyrics:
“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”

No. 1: Eleanor Rigby
Narrative: Downbeat story of loneliness and death of a woman who was buried along with her name. Quite a departure for a rock band. This should have been made into a movie long ago.
Key lyrics:
“Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt
From his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved
All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?”

BONUS TRACKS
Penny Lane
Ballad of John and Yoko
Get Back
Happiness is a Warm Gun
Lady Madonna
She Came in Through the Bathroom Window
Piggies
When I’m 64
Hey Jude
Taxman
Blackbird

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jimstafford

I'm an Oklahoma City-based freelance writer with interests in Oklahoma startup community, Apple Inc, OKC Thunder & Texas Rangers.

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