Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Best song of all time?

Wow. That would be a challenge wouldn't it?

In the world of Rock and Roll, however, they have come up with the title to that special song. Probably some of you serious fans/music collectors know what it is.

After extensive interviewing and poll-taking, both of serious fans and of professionals in the business, the consensus finally emerged. It was published in an article in Mojo magazine in 2000. Care to guess, if you don't already know? (Obviously, no matter how expert the opinions, the answer is still subjective.)

Hint: the song was first recorded on 18 October, 1965. Since then, it has been recorded by a BUNCH of people.

Trivia. There is no bridge in the song, although the author annotated stanzas 2 and 4 as "M" (middle eight - another term for a bridge). But there is an instrumental "break", apparently a harpsichord. But here's the trivia: this break was written as a piano solo, not a harpsichord. But when it came time to record that portion of the song, the instrumentalist found that he couldn't play the fingering embellishments (grace notes) up to the written tempo of the song. What to do? The difficult portion - inspired by J.S. Bach, always difficult to play at speed - was recorded at half-speed and an octive lower. The result, when played back at real time, is precisely the right tempo called for in the song. Only the speed change surprisingly gave the piano a distinct harpsicord-sounding quality. It isn't a harpsichord, though.

The song that was acclaimed by songwriters, fans and musicians as the best R&R tune of all time? And the author? The lyrics appear in the picture below. Click to enlarge.

If you are not familiar with it, listen to it here.


  1. My student days were spent in Liverpool in the 60s, so it's no surprise I am familiar with the song. We heard little else other than the Beatles in those days. A lovely song, quite haunting in a way.

  2. I am very familiar with that song, as a friend of ours did it at our wedding. One of my all-time favorites.
    Great post for me to return on! I'm going to go back and reread everything I've missed but I may not comment on everything, just because neither of us has that kind of time. Being gone for a month is NOT conducive to efficiency in blogging.

  3. Ooh great post. I love that song and hadn't really thought about the Bach bit in the middle. I'm not sure I would say it's the best song ever, but it's good enough that I'm not going to argue. For once!

  4. Maybe I'm the only one to yawn all the way through.

    Beatles, "In my Life"? Pthuie!

    It's very definitely not the best song ever, it's not Lennon's best poetry, it's not really in the running at all for the best rock'n'roll song, because its barely able to get a toe in the door of that genre, and finally, it's not rven anywhere near the best Beatles song ever.
    (reminds me of the quote about, or perhaps even by Ringo: "Not even the best drummer in the Beatles".
    Whenever any magazine trumpets its list of superlatives, I'm deeply suspicious... Just who, and how many, decide what the best song is?
    How many grown-ups read "Mojo"?
    Hardly a representative cross section of humanity.
    How many of those have a broad knowledge of Rock'n'Roll songs?
    It reminds me of all the "best film" "best actor" "best book" lists... They're usually drawn from a fairly narrow and recent pool.
    Someone far better qualified than I am, singer/songwriter/guitarist Richard Thompson on the subject: "During the last quarter of 1999, I was asked, along with many other folk from the music world, to send Playboy magazine a list of what I thought were the 10 greatest songs of the millennium. Such pretension, I thought. They don't mean millennium, do they? Probably about 30 years is the cut-off: Tears for Fears might sneak in, Cole Porter probably not.

    So I decided to call their bluff, starting my list in around 1050 with a toe-tapper by St Godric. I then slowly worked my way through the centuries and included, I believe, one entry from the 20th.

    I was probably subverting the Playboy philosophy, but I was somewhat crushed when the magazine failed to print my entry. But all was not lost: the Getty Museum asked me to contribute something a little out of the ordinary to a concert series, and the "thousand years'" concept seemed like a goer. So I did a little research, dug out a few old favourites and "A Thousand Years of Popular Music was born"."
    "The age in which song was the entertainment, the news and the bedtime story offered a wide range of topics: nobles committing adultery and murder, heroic battles, political scandals and social dissent; the ploughboy putting one over on his employers, the beggar putting one over on the farmer; the usual wooings, weddings and deportations. Politics and social comment are still big themes in rap today, but most popular song in the 20th century has been concerned with that old love thing.

    Musically, popular song has kept it simple, the intricacy and artistry often being in the performer's interpretation. A good number of Motown hits, for instance, were simple melodies over a drone, making them not dissimilar to dance music from the 1500s.

    Occasionally an imaginative artist like Prince, over a mantra-like groove, will suddenly introduce a horn chart straight out of Charles Ives; or the Beach Boys will stretch the range of the form with harmonic ideas from jazz and modern classical music. Mostly, it's still three chords, or two chords, or one chord - but there can be magic in that.

    I had assumed that everyone's brain was fried by years of MTV and news soundbites, and that
    attention spans were slightly below that of the common goldfish. So one of the great delights of this show is the reaction of the audience, people's ability not only to sit still and listen, but to absorb and enjoy and "get" a song from 100, or 500, or 1,000 years ago."

  5. @A. - Yes. Best song of all time. 'Twas even sung at Janet's wedding, if I recall correctly. So... is Penny Lane and Abbey Lane and Debbie Lane and Strawberry Fields and the Norwegian Wood all really in Liverpool, then? Or is that just a myth?

    @Janet - So glad to have you back. I kept trying harder and harder to make good posts while you were gone, in hopes I might again catch your interest. Turns out you were gone and my efforts were wasted. Please try to arrange for a substitute to come and make comments if you ever feel the urge to leave again, K?

    You say a friend of yours "did it" at your wedding? That must have been interesting. Even awkward, I suppose. I think it was a real coincidence I did this post that must have brought back fond memories for you. Of the song, I mean. Anyway, I'm sure glad you are back. Get busy bringing your own blog up-to-date now, please. Make a post about where you went since you refused to tell us here. Just kidding. No I'm not. Actually, let me guess where you went, because I am more than a little psychic. Mmmmm.... hummmm.... I say Liverpool. Right. I AM right, huh! Was the cool or what? No. Not Liverpool. Wait. I'll get it. Oh, I know. Bakersfield. I always get those two mixed up. :)

    @Expat mum - Yes, it really was a good post, wasn't it? Everyone seemed to like it a lot. Except... well, you know. And you don't have to agree it is the best song ever, even though it really is. I'm just glad you like it. And Bach. Hell, I'm just glad you didn't paste in the life story of Stevie Wonder or something. Hope you are doing well. Take care. :)

    @Soubriquet - So you agree it is the best song of all time. Thank you.

  6. @Soubriquet - I think Paul Simon said it best. (The one who dumped Garfunkel.)

    Much of what you say is true
    I know you see through me
    But there's no tenderness
    Beneath your honesty

  7. No myth. To tell the truth I thought you were a mythter. You never can tell.

  8. I knew Penny Lane well. Quite a pleasant sort.

  9. @Soubriquet - Okay, just what part of the word "subjective" did you feel was unfair? :)

    I admit to the futility of trying to come up with any such song. And I think trying to rebut anyone's personal taste is pretty futile as well.

    It is still rather interesting though, don't you think? The Playboy thing was pretty asinine, I agree. All the same, I think I will try to come up with my own thousand year top 10. I wish you would too. Your own personal list I mean.

    Thank you for your very interesting comment. I will let you know what my list is. Take care.

  10. I never said the word "subjective" was at all unfair.
    My point was that "In My Life" is hardly a rock'n'roll song, it's a pop ballad, and in my opinion, which is, of course, the opinion of a non-musician, it's a lack-lustre dirge.
    The Beatles recorded many better songs, but then again, so did huge numbers of other artists.
    Rebutting anybody's personal tastes is far from futile, it's a huge industry, and many of those writing rebuttals do very well out of it, we pay them large sums of money, and call them "critics".
    But really I was just idly poking you with a pointy stick to see what reaction there might be.
    As for the thousand year top ten? I'm not quite eclectic enough to vote for anything before sound recordings began, and I'd struggle to whittle a list of my favourites to ten.
    Added to that, what I listened to yesterday might not be so favourite tomorrow.
    Despite Richard Thompson's list, I'd say we have no means of knowing what a thousand year old song sounded like, as music notation did not exist, any more than digital recordings.
    I've walked along Penny Lane, (Used to take groups of Japanese students to Liverpool, they tend to be great Beatles fans, I've passed Strawberry fields on the bus, and Abbey Road is in London, I've driven along it a few times.

  11. Soubriquet - I have backed off my 1000 year list already, for the very reason you stated. It's hard to choose a song nobody living has ever heard. So you win on that score.

    I can't say what my favorite song is because I have to many that are tied, and even those short lists change from day to day. As you say. I do disagree with you about being able to rebut individual taste. Critics don't make money with personality types such as mine.

    The great philosopher Madonna Ciccone (A.'s Idol and life model) once said, "Poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another." I'm not EXACTLY sure what that means but it seems somehow to tie in to what I am trying to say here.

    But I can think of no person who makes comments to this blog that I enjoy more or which make me think more than yours.

    Ever since you told me the truth about John Paul Jones. :)

  12. Thank you, Max, I apologise for needling you over that song... Though, for instance, Helter Skelter is far better rock'n'roll, but then, I always preferred the White Album to the anodyne sweetness of Rubber Soul.
    Interestingly, if you bought the U.S. release of r.s. you'd have got twelve tracks. The U.K. release had fourteen.

    John Paul Jones, of course, formed Led Zeppelin along with Jimmy Page in 1968.
    He was also a musical arranger for, amongst others, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Julie Felix, Marc Bolan, Donovan, R.E.M., and many others, played with Champion Jack Dupree, Memphis Slim, Paul Anka, Bo Diddley, Everly Brothers, Brian Eno, Foo Fighters...

    As for the great philosopher Madonna Ciccone, it seems to me that these days she looks to Kabbalah for her permissions.

    If, just if... I had a list, it might include The Allman Brothers band playing Mountain Jam, something or other by Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Dave Lindholm's Pieni ja Hento Ote (http://tinyurl.com/32w68q),
    Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, 25th Century Quaker, Maybe Cat Stevens, Morning has Broken,
    Pink Floyd? Shine on You crazy Diamond? or Echoes, from the album "meddle"
    Richard Thompson- Beeswing?
    Fairpord Convention, Red and Gold, with Sandy Denny singing.
    Jimi Hendrix, All Along the Watchtower, Something by Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Al Stewart, Ohhh it's impossible. Just impossible. What to leave out?
    And tomorrow's list would be different, as would yesterday's.



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