Will Beatles fans ever get tired of proclaiming the group as the greatest thing that ever happened to music? Will those fans who are writers ever run out of ways to memorialize their phenomenal success? So far, nearly 10,000—yes, ten thousand—books about the Fab Four have been published. One of my favorites was All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release (by Jean-Michel Guesdon, Philippe Margotin, Patti Smith and Scott Freiman), which, as you can imagine, gives juicy details about our favorite Beatles tunes. Of course, not all of the 10,000 books were as well-researched as All the Songs (many were merely fan adoration), but they’re proof that a whole lot of people are still obsessed with the Beatles. I’m one of them.
Recently, my love for the group got a shot in the arm when I read yet another Beatles anthology, In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs, edited by Andrew Blauner. Twenty-nine writers (all avowed Beatlemaniacs) make their case for the group’s best recording, which got me thinking what my choice for the top Beatles song would be and, more importantly, why?
I knew selecting one song was going to be tough because of the 305 songs the Beatles recorded, a few dozen of them created a true music revolution. How can a song like “Help!” compete with “Lady Madonna”? How do you fairly compare “Let it Be,” released after the group had grown sophisticated in the recording studio, with the raw energy of “Please Please Me”? I also knew I’d have trouble fairly judging their songs because I fell in love with the Beatles backwards. By the time I was paying attention to what I heard on my transistor radio it was 1968 and the group was well into the second half of their career. It was their White Album and songs like “Get Back” that made me pay attention to the Beatles.
In fact, I didn’t really appreciate their early music until I became a traveling deejay, in the late 1980s, and teenagers would request those first Beatles classics by name. Decades after those songs were released, I watched new generations claim the group’s music as their own. Name any other band or singer who’s been able to consistently do that. Yes, the Beatles songs released between 1962 and 1966 were pure rock-n-roll and, as modern teens showed me, they were a whole lot of fun to sing along and dance to.
Since it’s those early songs I keep going back to for a pleasurable listen, I decided that my favorite Beatles song would come from that era. But how to choose only one? I tend to listen to them as a collection, one after another, so I decided that would be how I could narrow down my quest. I spent more than a few hours enjoying “She Loves You,” “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” “Eight Days a Week” and so on. Over and over, until, finally, my choice for the best Beatles song shot right out of my CD player. Click here to listen to my favorite Beatles song.
It certainly isn’t the lyrics of “I Saw Her Standing There” that gave the song the crown it deserved. Like nearly every Beatles hit (and every other song from that era), “I Saw Her” was about one thing: being a love-starved adolescent: “Well, my heart went boom, when I crossed that room, and I held her hand in mine…”, Paul passionately sings. No, there’s nothing about his love-at-first-sight lyrics (Paul’s credited with writing most of the song) that make it stand out from any of their other hits. For me, it’s the song’s music, and how the band played it, that pushes it to the top of my charts. When Paul kicks things off with “1,2,3, 4!,” I feel like I’m in that recording studio, in 1962, long before the group began spending hours polishing the sounds that ended up on albums like Revolver and Sergeant Pepper. Instead of polish, “I Saw Her” is all passion and that’s why every time I hear its opening notes I feel like I’m there at the beginning of rock & roll.
In a way, I’m right, because in another book about their phenomenal career, Dreaming The Beatles, Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield explains that “I Saw Her Standing There” opens the very first Beatles album, Please Please Me. That collection, which was pretty much recorded in a single day, included lots of our early favorites, and the group’s producer, George Martin, wisely decided to start side A, track 1 with “I Saw Her Standing There.” Music would never sound the same again, whether you were hearing it when it was released in the ‘60s, or in 2019, when listening to it feels like the lads from Liverpool have jetted in to rescue me from today’s overproduced techno-pop.
Isn’t that what makes a good song great and what makes it a great group’s best record: how hearing it can still send a jolt through this 63-year-old, sitting at my computer, jumping back and forth between typing my story and listening to the song on YouTube. And, you know, Paul’s lyrics are starting to make sense, because when I listen to “I Saw Her Standing There,” I really do feel my heart go boom.
What Beatles song still shakes up your world?