A classically trained performer who has appeared in films by Jacques Demy, Claude Lelouch and Alexandre Arcady, Berry is best known in the US for two starring roles opposite Nathalie Baye; in Bob Swai...
Guitarist and pianist Freddie 'fingers' Lee has died, aged 76. The one-eyed British rocker passed away on 13 January (14).
Lee, who lost his right eye at the age of three, was a member of Screaming Lord Sutch's band The Savages, and he also performed with Cliff Richard, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Marty Wilde, among others.
He was a regular at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany and befriended the Beatles before they hit it big.
Paying tribute to his old pal, Mott the Hoople star Ian Hunter, who played with Lee in Hurricane Harry & the Shriekers, took to his website and wrote, "Fred was a character... We starved together in Germany - van broken down - club owner not paying us - but we got to play for hours every night and that was the buzz. Somehow disasters were averted and we'd make it back.
"I always felt bad for Fred. He was - quite naturally - Jerry Lee Lewis' twin. Same range, same power on the keyboards, same arrogance and he could be really funny - same love of American Country music - he would often sail into a song the band had never heard of. Fred loved the raw original beginnings of Rock 'n' Roll and remained staunchly loyal to it during a long, successful career. He had a lot of fans in Europe and never seemed to stop working - music was his life... Rest In Peace, Freddie."
In just about every one of Kevin Hart's scenes in Ride Along, there's a joke that is just aching to find its way out of the diminutive, rascally comic actor. Hart is a small-scale physical comedian — of the same ilk as Jack Black — who puts nuclear-degree energy into his facial contortions, anatomical outbursts, and the delivery of every gag in general. If only he had material that was crafted with the same energy.
Unfortunately, nothing else about Ride Along seems at all "hard at work." Not the script, which pads a lifeless story with lazy comedy, and certainly not his screen partner Ice Cube, whose only stage direction seems to be "frown, and be taller than Kevin Hart." So lifeless is Ice Cube that even his machismo-obsessed straight man bit doesn't really work. Instead of the virile and intimidating "bad cop," he comes off as a disapproving middle aged dad without much to show for his own life.
But the script pairs the wily, overzealous high school security guard and video game junkie Ben (Hart) with no-nonsense lawman James (Ice Cube) on the titular ride along, with the scrappy cop-wannabe hoping to prove to the force veteran that he's good enough to marry the latter's younger sister. In earnest, he's not. Ben never puts any respectable effort into learning the tools of the trade, insisting on employing his amateur style and controlling the radio despite his proclamations that he wants, and deserves, James' trust. And James is no saint either — he's irresponsible on crime scenes, violent with perps, and disgruntled to the point of being unable to work with anybody else on the force. These are not good police officers... of course, you'll say, this is a comedy. But where are the laughs, then?
They're not absent entirely, you just have to look for them. In a movie so focused with big, broad humor, it's the smaller comedy that actually lands best. Hart's background mutterings and fumblings, his emoticon-laden texts to girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter, whose only stage direction seems to be "smile, and never wear a full outfit of clothing"), and a bizarre repetition of the word "weird" from supporting player John Leguizamo. All good for unexpected chuckles, while jokes like Hart facing off with a pre-teen or being blown backwards into a brick wall after firing a large gun are all lazy, familiar, and flat.
Structurally, the script is a mess. Ride Along spends far too much time on set up — we get it, Hart and his soon-to-be-brother-in-law Ice Cube don't get along — and far too much time on wrap-up — there's a gigantic, dramatic warehouse shootout that, in any other movie, would be the climax, but there's plenty more to go after that — without any cohesive middle to make the movie feel like... a movie.
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Hart, who leaps at every comic opportunity like a kangaroo (wallaby would be more appropriate), is suited just right for a buddy cop comedy, but he needs something fresh with which to work — a real character, an interesting story, actually funny jokes. Even just one of these would be fine!
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Universal via Everett Collection
Lone Survivor isn't a film for the faint of heart. It's a film that beats you down and only lets you up for a few precious moments before the credits roll, but that emotional throttling is what helps make the film such a powerful experience.
Peter Berg's Lone Survivor tells the story of Operation Red Wings, primarily focusing on a group of four Navy SEALs who are sent to the mountains of Afganistan to capture or kill a member of the Taliban. The plan goes wrong, and the team has to fight for their lives to escape the enemy-infested area. The film does a marvelous job of ratcheting up the tension before collapsing into its main action sequence, one that is as thrilling as it is unsettling. The long sequence brings forth memories of the infamous D-Day opening of Saving Private Ryan, except this film's fire-fight stretches out the violence like a medieval torture device. The langourous scene is, at times, hard to sit through. Each moment slips by in coiled tension. It's undoubtedly uncomfortable, and the film makes a point to never make the violence fun or enticing. The action isn't consequence-free, and every bullet fired carries weight, making the scenes brutal and unrelenting because of it. The film takes on the aura of a horror movie that wants you to feel every second that ticks by, and director Berg makes sure that a pressing hopelessness starts to weigh on the viewer just as it does on the soldiers.
Mark Wahlberg is plenty capable as Marcus Lutrell, a member of the SEAL unit that is sent on the mission. The supporting cast plays its parts admirably by believably infusing a diverse set of personalities and values into the soldiers, while still keeping them in tune with the same military culture that governs much of their thoughts and actions. There's a great scene where a difficult decision has to be made, and the viewer gets to see the different directions to which some of the character's moral compasses are tuned. Sometimes the right thing can mean different things to different people when the risk of death is on the table. The real standout in the cast is Ben Foster, whose SO2 Matthew Alexson swirls with barely contained fury. He is darkly intense and has electric screen presence that really starts to manifest when the bullets star flying and things become dire.
Universal via Everett Collection
For all the good will that the film builds up in its first and second act, the final third of the film hits some snags as history demands that the story take itself to a different location, sacrificing some of the tension that it has built up. In the last 30 minutes of the film, there are some odd tonal choices that don't gel with the tension brimming in the first half. A comedic scene involving a language barrier stands out in particular.
The movie makes a point to steer clear of any political judgment, and it doesn't try to lay blame for the botched mission on any one head. And while the film never outwardly states and opinion on the conflicts that America found itself embroiled in during this time period, the searing brutality depicted in the movie highlight that no one should be subjected to the pain that these men were faced with. Made abundantly clear is the soldiers' willingness to drop everything and serve their country the best way they know how. Lone Survivor tries to honor the soldier, but not glorify war.
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Lone Survivor is at its best when it makes you feel the worst. It gives soldiers their due reverence by showcasing the true terror of the battlefield, and while the film does start to sag a bit in its third act, it's still more than worth the experience in order understand the consequences of war, and its toll on the people in the trenches.
The son of Everly Brothers star Phil Everly has poured his heart out about his late dad in a new Rolling Stone interview, insisting the rock 'n' roll legend was "a regular guy" and "a big goof", who never acted like a celebrity. Jason Everly confirmed reports his father had died on Friday night (03Jan14), and has now opened up about the man who spanked him when he didn't finish his homework.
Jason says, "He was the guy I didn't want to make mad..."
He adds, "He was gracious, and ridiculously humble... He was also a closet inventor. He was always trying to invent stuff. When I was a little kid in the 70s, he wanted to make a guitar with a speaker in it. It was heavy and it didn't really work and had tons of feedback. He had a record player with two needles so it would play real stereo."
The younger Everly, who served as the brothers' agent during their last tour, reveals the Everly Brothers came really close to giving up on their music dreams when they first arrived in Nashville, Tennessee at the beginning of their career.
He adds, "(They) had about two weeks left of money before (they) had to go get real jobs, and that would have been it. And then they became world famous and wealthy and all the things that go with that. Everybody gets their own agent, their own lawyer, accountant and managers, and bad things happen.
"But you couldn't get in between them. If you were going to say something bad about my uncle Don in front of my father, you were in for it. When Paul Simon asked to bring them on tour for the Old Friends tour, I said, 'Paul, you know them. They're brothers. If they're getting along, then the answer is yes. If they're not getting along, then the answer is no.'"
And he reveals, "Five years ago, the Grammys brought over (sic)... they had everybody - Little Richard and Chuck Berry - and they wanted the Everly Brothers badly. The guy was begging me. Everybody wanted them to go on tour again. But you can't tell guys that have helped invent rock and roll and toured the world for 50 years on every continent over and over again what to do."
And when the music faded, Phil became a doting grandfather to Jason's kids.
He continues, "I have two little girls who are six and nine, and all my dad really wanted to do is sit with a glass of wine and play with his grandkids. He was in his 70s, he's like, 'I got nothing to prove. I'm totally at peace with my life.'
"He was a smoker, like a lot of people from that generation, and he quit 10 years ago, but it still chased him down. But he said he had a lot of good cards: 'I can't complain. I had a really good life.'"
Phil Everly passed away in Burbank, California, aged 74, after suffering complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
Much like the somber melodies that float throughout its 105-minute runtime, Inside Llewyn Davis will remain lodged in your head weeks after you and the film first meet. With Oscar Isaac's "Fare thee we-e-ell..." ringing daintily in your ears, you'll shuffle out from the grasp of the Coen Brothers' wonderland of gray, but you won't soon be able to relieve yourself of what is arguable the pair's best film yet. Llewyn's is a story so outstandingly simple — he's a man who's s**t out of luck, and not especially deserving of any. He wakes up, loses his friend's cat, plays some music, and wishes things were better. And yet his is the Coens' most invigorating and deftly human tale yet.
Llewyn Davis makes the bold, but practical, choice of never insisting that we love its hero. He's effectively a jackass, justifying all the waste he has incurred with the rudeness he showers on the majority of those in his acquaintance. But Llewyn Davis isn't the villain here, either. The villain is the industry, and all the uphill battles inherent to its machinations. The villain isn't Llewyn's substantially more successful contacts — an old pal Jim (Justin Timberlake) and new fellow couch-surfer Troy (Stark Sands), but the listening public that prefers their saccharine pop to his dreary drips of misery. The villain isn't Llewyn's resentful old flame Jean (Carey Mulligan), no matter how many volatile admonitions she might shoot his way, but the act of God surrounding their unwitting adherence to one another. And it's not even the cantankerous and foul Roland Turner (a delightfully hammy John Goodman), but the endless, frigid open road of which each man is a prisoner (if the film has one flaw, it's that this segment carries on just a bit too long, but that might very well be the point). The villain is the cold.
Call it all a raw deal. But the real dynamism isn't in the challenges that happen outside Llewyn Davis, but in the determined toxicity brewing inside as he meets each and every one.
But this isn't the Coen Brothers' Murphy's Law comedy A Serious Man — we don't watch a chaotic pileup of every imaginable trick that the devil can manage to pull. Llewyn is steady throughout, not burying Llewyn deeper but keeping him on the ground, with the fruit-bearing branches forever out of his reach. In its narrative, Llewyn Davis is as close to natural life as any of the filmmakers' works to date. Perfectly exhibited in a late scene involving a trip to Akron, Llewyn isn't a cinematic construct, but the sort of person we know, so painfully, that we are very likely to be... on our bad days.
Still, working in such a terrific harmony with the grounded feel of Llewyn himself, we have that Coen whimsy in their delivery of 1960s New York City — rather, a magic kingdom painted in the stellar form of a 1960s New York City. And not the New York City we're given by the likes of Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen. Closer, maybe, to Spike Lee or Sydney Lumet, but still a terrain unique to moviegoers. A New York that's always recovering from a hostile rain, and always promising another 'round the bend. One that flickers like a dying bulb, with its million odd beleaguered moths buzzing around it against the pull of logic. There is something so incredibly alive about the Coens' crying city; this hazy dream world's partnership with half-dead, anchored-to-earth portrait like Llewyn is the product of such sophisticated imagination at play.
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And to cap this review of one of the best features 2013 has given us, it's only appropriate to return to the element in which its identity is really cemented: the music. Without the tunes bobbing through the story, we'd still likely find something terrific in Llewyn Davis. But the music, as beautiful as it is, is the reason for the story. As we watch Isaac's hopeless sad sack drag himself through Manhattan's winter, past the helping hands of friends and into the grimaces of strangers, as we struggle with our own handfuls of nihilistic skepticism that any of this yarn is worth the agony (or that our attention to its meandering nature is worth the price of a ticket), we are given the rare treat of an answer. Of course it's all for something. Of course it's all about something. It's about that beautiful, beautiful music.
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The 2013 fall season features the premiere of two major spin-offs. The Originals brings the first family of vampires from The Vampire Diaries to New Orleans. Once Upon a Time in Wonderland follows Alice as she battles Jafar (from Aladdin) to rescue her genie quasi-boyfriend. No offense guys, but neither series is ready to spin-off.
All in the Family spawned two major spin-offs, The Jeffersons and Maude. Frasier was a spin-off from Cheers and kept Camille Kelsey Grammer rolling in dollars. But not all series can launch a spin-off or risk losing major characters.
Here are a few major spin-offs that were a little premature:
Klaus (Joseph Morgan) and Rebecca (Claire Holt) were a great in-flux of new blood into The Vampire Diaries. They have great salty lines and offer an evil alternative to the squeaky clean vampires. There also is room for them in the series with Kat Graham and Michael Trevino appearing in less of the show. There was never enough character development for them so a spin-off could does make some sense. However, pairing them with flat model types and constantly relying on flashbacks isn’t as endearing as it is on The Vampire Diaries. Also, Phoebe Tonkin is wasted as a baby incubator when she was the best part of her first American series, The Secret Circle.
Once Upon a Time in Wonderland
Once Upon a Time is a fluke. The edgy comic book series Fables is much better at bringing fairy tale characters into the “real world.” Using the whitewashed Disney versions of the popular stories makes each episode feels like gross product placement for the Disney house of horrors vault. The saving grace is likable actors like the lovable Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Carlyle, and the deliciously evil Lana Parrilla. However, Wonderland is just a cheap, shameless sequel that only cannibalizes the few possible storylines for later seasons of the original. Naveen Andrews dressed in an elaborate leather costume is laughable. Poor Emma Rigby as The Red Queen seems like a porn star on the wrong set. It’s also a total waste of actors like John Lithgow and rock legend Iggy Pop.
By the last season of Friends, each character feels like an outlandish stereotype. Except of course Jennifer Aniston who was playing A-list actress Jennifer Aniston. Joey (Matt LeBlanc) was so stupid and unaware that he didn’t seem functional enough to drive a Matchbox car, let alone carry a series. The spin-off finds him in Los Angeles with his sister (Drea de Matteo) and working on being an actor. It wasn’t horrible but there wasn’t enough juice in the character to keep the show alive.
Kate Walsh is magic! She added such great energy to Grey’s Anatomy as Dr. Addison Forbes Montgomery-Shepherd. It seemed like a great idea to take her to the sun-soaked beaches of Los Angeles on a hunt for love. The series wasn’t a total fail but it did rob Grey’s Anatomy of one of its greatest characters. It also had trouble finding its sea legs and a format for the show that would work.
Richard Grieco added a lot more edge and man candy to 21 Jump Street. However, it was ill advisedly decided to give him a spin-off. After it tanked, there was an attempt to bring him back to the series but it tanked. Had he stayed on 21 Jump Street he may have been able to take over when Johnny Depp unceremoniously left in the third season.
Charmed Lives/Living Dolls
Successful syndication has proved Who’s the Boss? is a part of television history. Sadly, lightning was not able to strike twice…no matter how hard they tried. Fran Drescher and Donna Dixon were dueling models working with Angela (Judith Light). They were spun-off into an odd couple precursor to 2 Broke Girls. Angela also got a modeling job for Samanta’s friend Charlie (Leah Remini) gets recruited as a model for one of Angela’s contacts she moves in to a house full of models including Halle Berry. Despite this notable casting, neither series lasted very long.
Fans of British sitcom The IT Crowd have been waiting three years for this. The show is returning — after a hiatus that would make the wait between Mad Men seasons feel like a commercial break — for a one-off finale on Sep. 27. We're dying to see what the Reynholm Industries IT department have been up to (and what they think about the iPhone 5c launch). While we wait these last few agonizing days for the return of Roy (Chris O'Dowd), Jen (Katherine Parkinson), and Moss (Richard Ayoade), let's take a look back at some of their best moments.
"This, Jen, is the Internet."
Roy and Moss lend tech-virgin Jen "the Internet" for her Employee of the Month presentation, but only after a blessing from the "elders" and a de-magnetizing by Stephen Hawking, of course.
Looking normal: easier said than done.
Jen, thrilled to be dating a "proper normal," is less than thrilled to have to invite her work mates to a couples dinner party. But, socially-challenged nerd or not, who doesn't feel awkward in situations like these?
"Wow. A gun!"
Reynholm heir Douglas (Matt Berry) finds a hidden note and emergency handgun in his father's old desk and tests it out in the safest way possible.
0118 999 881 999 119 725…3
Of course the easier-to-remember phone number for England's new-and-improved Emergency Services shows up in another episode. It's so catchy!
Roy describes humanity, concisely and accurately.
Well, he does.
Moss accepts a challenge.
Street Countdown is much the same as the regular British game show Countdown, except we play it on the street. And it can get awfully chilly. Moss has his thermals on though, so he's ready to roll.
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50 years ago, on March 22, 1963, The Beatles released their first album, Please Please Me, kicking off arguably the greatest recording career in rock & roll history. In just seven years, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr released over 200 songs, covering every genre and style you could possibly imagine. Their creative and intellectual growth during this time seems so accelerated that it's almost superhuman. If you played every one of their songs in one epic marathon listening session, it'd only take about 11 hours to hear everything they ever put on vinyl. But of those recordings, The Beatles musical batting average is unparalleled. That's why, on the occasion of Please Please Me's 50th anniversary, we've put together a ranked list of their 50 greatest songs. For how many other bands could you even attempt such a thing, let alone have affection for every single song on the list? Here are our picks.
50. “Octopus’ Garden,” Abbey Road (1969) Ringo Starr’s second songwriting venture for The Beatles, after The White Album’s country barnburner “Don’t Pass Me By,” is a briny odyssey to the bottom of the sea — complete with bubble sound effects! — that’s like an even trippier follow-up to “Yellow Submarine.” (500) Days of Summer fans will remember that Zooey Deschanel’s title character considered this her favorite Beatles song. We like it too, but we also think the Fab Four recorded 49 better ones.
49. “One After 909,” Let It Be (1970) Appearing on the group’s last LP, Lennon and McCartney’s rockabilly ode to boxcar travel feels like something that could have been originally recorded by Chuck Berry or Carl Perkins. That’s because it was among the very first songs the duo ever wrote, going as far back as 1957, when the Liverpool lads were in their teens and rock & roll was in its infancy.
48. “Money (That’s What I Want),” With The Beatles (1963) Because they produced such a vast repertoire of original material, sometimes the Beatles don’t get enough credit for their covers. Their take on the first hit ever released by Motown (and co-written by Motown founder Berry Gordy) is a blues’d-out celebration of materialism with a snaking honky-tonk piano: the perfect mission statement for four working class lads trying to make it.
47. “I Saw Her Standing There,” Please Please Me (1963) The Beatles’ first album was basically just a recording of the live act they’d play at nightclubs in Germany and the U.K. in the early ‘60s. Of all their early work, “I Saw Her Standing There,” the best Jerry Lee Lewis record Jerry Lee Lewis never made, is the most lustful of the bunch: “She was just seventeen / You know what I mean…”
46. “Yesterday,” Help! (1965) Not Paul McCartney’s first art-song experiment nor his best, “Yesterday” is unique in being pretty much his solo project. None of the other Beatles recorded with him on the track and most of the instrumentals are supplied by a symphonic string section.
45. “Eleanor Rigby,” Revolver (1966) McCartney kept the strings from “Yesterday,” only he had them drive the melody and play far more aggressively on his character study of loneliness and heartbreak. At that point “Eleanor Rigby” was among the most daring efforts of The Beatles in writing a non-love song.
44. “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Revolver (1966) Lennon saw McCartney’s challenge on “Eleanor Rigby” and raised him “Tomorrow Never Knows,” a lysergic reverie inspired by The Tibetan Book of the Dead, featuring tape loops and recordings played backward, including Macca’s spiky guitar riff on ‘Taxman.” No wonder Don Draper hated it.
43. “The Fool on the Hill,” Magical Mystery Tour (1967) Bristling at some of the negative press the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was receiving at the time, McCartney wrote this dreamy ode to faith, and the subtle divide between wisdom and idiocy. But let’s face it. It’s the flute solo that makes “The Fool on the Hill.”
42. “Nowhere Man,” Rubber Soul (1965) Even better than “Eleanor Rigby” as a non-love song about feeling unmoored and lonely, “Nowhere Man” was semi-autobiographical for Lennon, whose first marriage was foundering due to the Beatles’ incessant tour schedule. But even if it’s about discord, the foursome’s vocal harmonies were rarely better.
41. “Don’t Let Me Down,” Standalone Single (1969) Lennon wrote “Don’t Let Me Down” as a plea to Yoko Ono. Despite its incessant, chant-like recitation of the title — hinting at the primal scream soundscapes of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band — it’s Lennon at his absolute most vulnerable.
NEXT: 40-31, including the song that caused The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson to lose his mind
40. “Think For Yourself,” Rubber Soul (1965) George Harrison’s first great song owes more than a little to The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” especially the fuzzbox reverberation added to McCartney’s scorching bassline.
39. “Here, There, and Everywhere,” Revolver (1966) McCartney brought a lullaby sweetness to Revolver, especially on “For No One” and “Here, There, and Everwhere.” The latter must feature the most beautiful Beatles harmonies ever. Despite having had virtually no relationship with McCartney for years, and having strongly criticized much of his former songwriting partner’s other work, Lennon told Playboy in 1980 that he still considered “Here, There, and Everywhere” among the Beatles’ very finest achievements.
38. “Rocky Raccoon,” The White Album (1968) A folk-rock ballad about an Old West love triangle, complete with tinny saloon piano, “Rocky Raccoon” was actually written by Paul McCartney in India, during the Beatles’ stay at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s spiritual retreat. Maybe the longing for the West implied in the song explains why McCartney left the Maharishi after only two weeks.
37. “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Standalone Single (1963) They were the hand-claps heard 'round the world. Released a week to the day after JFK’s assassination, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was — and is — a celebration of life, innocence and discovery capable of holding the darkness at bay. Its decidedly juvenile, bubblegum tone was, however, mocked in Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 when a shallow rock band called The Paranoids record the song “I Want To Kiss Your Feet.”
36. “Yellow Submarine,” Revolver (1966) A frothy, foamy novelty to be sure, but “Yellow Submarine” shows how willing the Beatles were to experiment with studio artistry after years of numbing world tours. Though great for a singalong, “Yellow Submarine” would mean very little performed live since so much of its narrative depends on studio-derived sound effects and vocal manipulation. The song itself was basically a mini-movie for the ears well before Apple Records decided to make a movie of “Yellow Submarine” for real.
35. “Don’t Pass Me By,” The White Album (1968) Ringo Starr’s first solo composition is arguably one of the best country songs of the ‘60s, a toe-tappin’, linedance-ready extravaganza that’d fit in at the Grand Ol’ Opry.
34. “Norwegian Wood,” Rubber Soul (1965) George Harrison first fired up his sitar for John Lennon’s existential love song, beginning a lifelong love affair with the instrument that would result in him partnering with Ravi Shankar and exploring the subtleties of Indian mysticism. Lennon achieved a new level of songwriting, with lyrics to “Norwegian Wood” of stunning poetic depth and emotional maturity, like “I once had a girl / Or should I say, she once had me?”
33. “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Magical Mystery Tour (1967) The Beatles’ psychedelic period kicked off with a bang in February 1967, with the release of “Strawberry Fields Forever” as a standalone single paired with McCartney’s “Penny Lane.” Both songs reflect nostalgia on the part of their makers for their early, pre-fame days in Liverpool, but of the two it’s “Strawberry Fields Forever” that really sticks with you. It kicked off the Beatles’ habit of including sonic Easter Eggs in their recordings—just when you think it’s ended, it starts up again! It was so good that it unhinged Lennon’s greatest rival across the pond, Brian Wilson, who, after hearing “Strawberry Fields Forever,” declared that the Beatles “had gotten there first” and subsequently abandoned The Beach Boys' magnum opus SMiLE for almost 40 years.
32. “Girl,” Rubber Soul (1965) You know a song is good when its makers fight about who wrote what in it. McCartney has taken credit for writing lines in “Girl” like "Was she told when she was young that pain would lead to pleasure" and "That a man must break his back to earn his day of leisure." But Lennon also said that he wrote those lines as a critique of Christian doctrine. With guitars played like ukuleles and mandolins, giving the track more than a whiff of a Greek folk dance, “Girl” is so good, who cares who wrote what?
31. “Ticket to Ride,” Help! (1965) A great transitional song that combines the Beatles’ taut pop focus with hints at the philosophical musings to come, “Ticket to Ride” is the single best track on Help! It was also famously covered by The Carpenters, who lent it extra shades of pre-Goth melancholy.
NEXT: 30-21, John Lennon visits the stars, Paul McCartney invents heavy metal
30. “If I Needed Someone,” Rubber Soul (1965) A guitar jam, an exercise in multi-part harmonies, and a kind of individualistic statement by its author, George Harrison, “If I Needed Someone” is the opposite of “Nowhere Man” and “Eleanor Rigby.” Where Lennon and McCartney elaborated on loneliness and the need for human connection, Harrison, already something of a mystic, argues for the completeness of the self.
29. “You Really Got a Hold On Me,” With the Beatles (1963) John Lennon contorts his vocal cords like never before — or after — with his take on Smokey Robinson’s R&B ballad, hitting falsetto notes and nailing runs with agonizing emotion.
28. “Hey Jude,” Standalone Single (1968) It’s funny that the Beatles had stopped touring by the time “Hey Jude” was released, because the seven minute epic pretty much invented the concept of arena rock. It’s a song of such, um, singability — especially when it comes to those na-na-na-nahs — that you need to be in a stadium with thousands of others singing along to appreciate it best. Hence why it’s Paul McCartney’s go-to jam for any and all live performances he may give.
27. “Hello, Goodbye,” Magical Mystery Tour (1967) A song of such binary simplicity — “You say ‘yes,’ I say ‘no’ / You say ‘stop,’ and I say ‘go, go, go!’” — that it could have been written directly for Sesame Street. Which is exactly why it’s so great.
26. “Dig a Pony,” Let It Be (1970) Lennon called this bluesy exploration of his lust for Yoko Ono “a piece of garbage.” It’s fierce and hormonal, full of burnt-out longing and an unsettling urge toward instant gratification.
25. “With a Little Help From My Friends,” Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) Billy Shears (Ringo Starr’s Sgt. Pepper alter ego) lends his melancholy pipes to what is either the saddest song about friendship ever written or the most joyful celebration of co-dependency. The song is somehow all vulnerability — and all bravado — right from the opening line: “What would you do if I sang out of tune / Would you get up and walk out on me?” Is Billy expressing a fear or a hope?
24. “And Your Bird Can Sing,” Revolver (1966) The Daily Mail’s Richard Simpson alleged that John Lennon wrote “And Your Bird Can Sing” as affirmation of Mick Jagger’s claim that his girlfriend (in Brit-speak, bird), pop singer Marianne Faithfull, could really sing.
23. “Helter Skelter,” The White Album (1968) Yeah, so Paul McCartney pretty much invented heavy metal in one song. All in a day’s work… even if you end up with blisters on your fingers and inspire the mantra of the Manson Family.
22. “Let It Be,” Let It Be (1970) It’s one of the age-old questions of rock history: why does “Let It Be” work so beautifully while “The Long and Winding Road” falls flat? The simple answer is that the former was produced by Beatles studio god George Martin, the latter by Phil Spector. The real reason is that McCartney kept his cloying sentiment in check on one and gave it free rein on the other.
21. “Across the Universe,” Let It Be (1970) John Lennon’s love of vocal reverb was at its full flower on “Across the Universe,” which pretty much stands as a solo track. Sweet without being saccharine, it’s the ultimate expression of his cosmic musings.
NEXT: 20-11, the most joyful handclaps you’ll ever hear. Plus, John Lennon misreads Lewis Carroll.
20. “Please Mister Postman,” With the Beatles (1963) Okay, the handclaps on “I Want To Hold Your Hand” are great, but nothing — absolutely nothing — will prepare you for the pure joy that emanates from the handclaps that open this Motown cover. Originally written for girl group The Marvelettes, the Beatles reversed the gender of the song’s pronouns and showed that guys can be every bit as romantic as their girlfriends… when they want to be.
19. “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” Abbey Road (1969) Embrace the heaviosity. At seven minutes, forty-seven seconds the second-longest Beatles recording ever after the experimental “Revolution 9,” “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” shows that when they recognized a really thumping, infectious groove, they could put all of their lyrical ambitions aside and just live for the beat. The whole song is pretty much just the lyric “I want you / I want you so bad” repeated ad infinitum, but with George’s fuzzy electric guitar, Paul’s slithering bass and John playing a Moog synthesizer, this blues explosion makes us anything but.
18. “Taxman,” Revolver (1966) George Harrison did not appreciate paying the exorbitant taxes to Her Majesty that Brits of his mega-wealthy bracket had to pony up in the ‘60s. Hence this blistering screed. Always remember, those of you who’ve died, declare the pennies on your eyes.
17. “Fixing a Hole,” Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) Of course we love “When I’m 64,” but when it comes to “northern songs,” the kind of ditties you’d hear in a Liverpool pub, nothing beats “Fixing a Hole.”
16. “Something,” Abbey Road (1969) George Harrison wrote of sex and spirituality in the same breath like no other. But with “Something,” he went even deeper. Frank Sinatra called it “the best love song in 30 years,” though when he’d cover it during his own concerts he credited it to Lennon & McCartney, until a fan finally corrected him.
15. “Back in the USSR,” The White Album (1968) Simultaneously a tribute to The Beach Boys and Chuck Berry (who influenced The Beach Boys and also, profoundly, The Beatles) McCartney’s opening cut on The White Album is pure rock & roll, culminating in a russkie version of “California Girls” in the immortal lyrics “Well, the Ukraine girls really knock me out / They leave the West behind / And Moscow girls make me sing and shout / That Georgia’s always on my my my my my my my my my mind.”
14. “I Me Mine,” Let It Be (1970) Harrison’s rant against ego also marked his most ambitious foray into the Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” style, which he’d later perfect on his first solo album, All Things Must Pass, with that immortal kiss-off to his ex-wife “What Is Life.”
13. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) Exhibit A for what is psychedelia. Inspired by an 1843 circus poster, Lennon created a Victorian trifle that’s one part music-hall singalong, one-part carnival barker’s pitch, all parts genius.
12. “She Loves You,” Standalone Single (1963) What was different about The Beatles? What separated them from the rock & rollers who came before them? If you had to pin it down to one thing, it’d have to be energy. And nothing they ever wrote was as energetic, as full of the possibilities of being alive, as “She Loves You.”
11. “I Am the Walrus,” Magical Mystery Tour (1967) After he learned that students at his old school in Liverpool were being made to analyze his song lyrics in English classes, Lennon decided to write a song with absolutely no meaning that would totally baffle anyone who attempted to dissect it. So he turned to Lewis Carroll and the poem “The Walrus & the Carpenter” from Through the Looking Glass for inspiration. However, John failed to realize that the Walrus is actually the villain of the piece when he’d emphatically state that’s who he was, a mistake he later realized. But, hey, “I Am the Carpenter” just wouldn’t have had the same effect. The sonic collage at the end is like the aural equivalent of the Sgt. Pepper’s album cover.
NEXT: 10-1, What topped our list?
10. “Yer Blues,” The White Album (1968) John Lennon wrote one of the greatest blues songs ever while in India when he was “trying to reach God and feeling suicidal.” If the blues are fundamentally about sin, guilt, and the suffering of the flesh, “Yer Blues” has all three in terrifying abundance.
9. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) Mixing radio-drama sound effects, symphonic instrumentation, blaring fanfare, and hard-rock vocals, the opening track is just the prologue to the greatest concert that never happened by a band that never existed.
8. “This Boy,” Standalone Single (1963) The B-Side to “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is so endearing because of how deliberately it wasn’t trying to break with the past. Lennon said he was trying to write a song in the style of Smokey Robinson with “This Boy,” but it really goes back even further, to ‘50s doo-wop like The Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Night.”
7. “All My Loving,” With the Beatles (1963) Producer George Martin’s classical training really shines through on the Dorian-scaled “All My Loving,” a song that in its symmetrical rises and falls has almost a mathematical perfection. No wonder he actually did give it the symphonic treatment by having a full orchestra play “All My Loving” for the Magical Mystery Tour movie.
6. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) The imagery of Lennon’s lyrics alone are wondrous: tangerine trees, marmalade skies, plasticine porters, looking-glass ties, kaleidoscope eyes. It’s like The Twilight Zone gone Technicolor. Never mind the technical wonders of the electric piano, the fuzzed-out bass, the reverb effect on Lennon’s voice. Its images are indelible, its sounds even more so, and yet “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” isn’t just a trip of sight and sound but also of mind.
5. “A Day In the Life,” Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) What can be said about “A Day In the Life” that hasn’t already been said? Nothing. Maybe “Nothing” is the only appropriate response. Its literary ambition, technical innovations, and narrative arc are practically more than the mind can fathom. And that final chord, achieved by three grand pianos being played at once? Well, if Bruce Springsteen thought the opening of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” was “the snare-shot that kicked open the door to your mind,” as far as we’re concerned the final chord of “A Day in the Life” blows that door right off its hinges.
4. “All You Need Is Love,” Magical Mystery Tour (1967) The Summer of Love came to a whalloping close with the release of “All You Need Is Love” as a standalone single just a couple months after the release of Sgt. Pepper’s. It utilizes a similar sonic collage technique to that at the end of “I Am the Walrus,” recorded around the same time, but goes further, mixing in fragments of “Greensleaves” and even “She Loves You.” It’s arguably the most optimistic song ever recorded...
3. “Eight Days a Week,” Beatles for Sale (1964) …Except for maybe “Eight Days a Week,” Lennon’s earlier articulation of the “All You Need Is Love” theme. This song slowly fades in and it’s like it’s already been playing in your mind even before you’ve started to listen to it for real. And when it fades out, it’s like it dissolves into your brain, never to be rooted out.
2. “And I Love Her,” A Hard Day’s Night (1964) The finest hour (or, rather, three minutes) of Paul McCartney’s storied career is as cool as an island breeze. Ringo’s on bongos and George adds a little broken-chord guitar punctuation. It's one of the most beautiful things ever created by humans.
1. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” The White Album (1968) It’s with a twinge of guilt that George Harrison’s guitar classic tops our list. That’s because the Fab Four became the Fab Five on “While Our Guitar Gently Weeps,” with the addition of Eric Clapton, one of a handful of people on the planet who could actually match Harrison’s ax skills, to add a little more six-string spice. Clapton worked his magic, delivering a guitar solo of a virtuosity unseen elsewhere in the Beatles’ oeuvre, then stole Harrison’s wife. It’s not the behind-the-scenes heartbreak that causes anyone to weep, though, when listening to this song: it’s the startling, transcendental beauty of it, with its intricate double-tracked harmonies and the koen-like simplicity of its lyrics. Its beauty is so great, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” makes you aware of your own mortality while you’re listening to it: the realization that there is only a finite number of days you will spend on this orb, a finite number of people you will love, a finite number of times you can listen to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” But it sure is sweet while it lasts.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: ITV/Rex/Rex USA, AP Photo, Everett Collection, David Magnus/Rex USA, Daily Sketch/Rex USA]
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A classically trained performer who has appeared in films by Jacques Demy, Claude Lelouch and Alexandre Arcady, Berry is best known in the US for two starring roles opposite Nathalie Baye; in Bob Swaim's crime thriller "La Balance" (1982) and Diane Kurys' engaging memoir, "C'est la vie" (1990).