Surfer, passing by: will you pause to list the three Beatles songs you like best, today?

‘Happy Birthday, MIL22!’Photograph by

‘Happy Birthday, MIL22’

Elderly intellectual Parisian piano teachers married to each other in the latest Michael Haneke film, Amour, are exercising their right to musical snobbery when they sniff disdainfully at the idea of someone playing a tape-recording of Yesterday’ at the funeral of a member of their elevated social set. It takes less than two seconds to realise that this exchange could easily have been stolen from real life — the Beatles having been, arguably, the 20th century’s most irresistible agents of cultural democracy before the internet took off.

The letters of Samuel Beckett starred in last winter’s reading at post-Gutenberg — and made our blog’s most popular entry. This winter, the essays of a fastidious, spinsterly Cambridge don psychologically married to his mother for much of his life (or so it always seemed to us) have been our special delight. It hardly matters how E. M. Forster came by his understanding when, in 1940, he answered his own question, ‘Does Culture Matter?’:

Culture is a forbidding word. I have to use it, knowing of none better to describe the various beautiful and interesting objects which men have made in the past … Many people despise them.


I know a few working-class people who enjoy culture, but as a rule I am afraid to bore them with it lest I Iose the pleasure of their acquaintance. So what is to be done?

It is tempting to do nothing. Don’t recommend culture. Assume that the future will have none, or will work out some form of it that we cannot expect to understand. … The difficulty here is that the higher pleasures … rather resemble religion, and it is impossible to enjoy them without trying to hand them on. The appreciator of an aesthetic becomes in his minor way an artist; he cannot rest without communicating what has been communicated to him … It is therefore impossible to sit alone with one’s books and prints, or to sit only with friends like oneself, and never to testify outside.

… So, reader surfing by, this month, this year, or as long as this blog is alive … are you moved to testify on behalf of the Beatles oeuvre – put your three most beloved songs from it into a comments box below, with or without an explanation or any expectation of a reaction? … A message in a bottle cast out to sea?

6 thoughts on “Surfer, passing by: will you pause to list the three Beatles songs you like best, today?

  1. Thanks, hanspostcard, and the Wikipedia says that your choices link together in this way:

    According to Lennon, [‘In My Life‘s] origins can be found when the English journalist Kenneth Allsop made a remark that Lennon should write songs about his childhood.[3] Afterwards, Lennon wrote a song in the form of a long poem reminiscing on his childhood years. The original version of the lyrics was based on a bus route he used to take in Liverpool, naming various sites seen along the way, including Penny Lane and Strawberry Field.[4] Those original lyrics are on display at The British Museum.

    … Amazing, what you can learn about the roots of almost any famous song, now …

  2. Eleanor Rigby, Long And Winding Road(melodic, lyrics a bit trite), We All Live in a Yellow Submarine. Only A Northern Song

  3. Sorry it must seem as if I’ve been ignoring you, Aine … too many other hearths needed tending. Grand merci. I look forward to listening to your songs again, and thinking about them – having been surprised to find how much knowing more about any piece of music adds to the joy of listening to it. I chose ‘Fool on the hill,’ ‘Octopus’s garden’ and ‘While my guitar gently weeps,’ when I wrote this entry – then accidentally edited the list out of existence. Most other visitors here – even people I know to be frighteningly uninhibited – seem protective of their Beatles treasures. … Hmm.

    There are fascinating, intricate technical analyses of Beatles songs – eg., by someone called Alan Pollack. I liked discovering how two of my three choices, for that day, fit into his deconstructions.

    This is yet another one of those Beatles songs in which alternation of parallel minor and Major modes is used as a structural element. Compare with “I’ll Be Back” or “Fool On The Hill”.

  4. Well, if we are talking about melodic structure, leaving lyrics aside, I would have to agree with you on My Guitar Gently Weeps. However, at about the same time George Harrison was lamenting, Rita Coolidge was also doing so in Leon Russell’s Superstar, which for me, eclipsed Harrison’s lament in terms of melody and lyrics. Perhaps your readers are reluctant to reveal their Beatle preferences because there is still some cultural snobbery afoot? I remember arguing years ago in a class that McCartney, Lennon, Harrison, Dylan, Simon and Garfunkle were the same sort of “Shapers” described by John Gardner in Grendel, only to be ridiculed. The latter three are better wordsmiths, but all have done their important part to chronicle and transmit culture to whatever future generations who remember to look back to find them. p.s. Did you like Norwegian Wood (written in the Swiss Alps)?

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