Once the legal bickering has died down, there will come a day when the Beatles’ music is available on the iTunes store, and that day will be magical for two reasons. First, because the Beatles’ music will be available on the iTunes store. Second, because it will answer an ancient question: what is the definitive Beatles song?
The most downloaded track in an artist’s list of songs is a surprisingly accurate litmus test for icon status, in a weird, consumerist, “the people speak” kind of way. We need to get the terms in order: the top song is not the best song. The best song will usually be in the top ten or fifteen, but rarely at #1. We accept this. Pure greatness and mass acceptance don’t go hand-in-hand as often as they should, but that’s everybody’s whine. The top song is the most iconic song either, because - in my opinion - a song is iconic when it defines or characterizes something greater: an era, an event, a mood, the zeitgeist. This is why we canonized Bob Dylan and Nirvana: they nailed the vibes of their time and place. Power to them.
That top song is the democracy-in-action definitive song of nearly any given artist. For Nirvana, it’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by a wide margin; big surprise. I don't know many that would argue for “Lithium” or “Come As You Are” as The Definitive Nirvana Track, because they haven’t spread their roots through culture as far as “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. For Metallica, it’s “Enter Sandman” by a mile. For Alanis Morissette, it’s “You Oughta Know”. For the Backstreet Boys, it’s “I Want It That Way”. For Poison, it's "Every Rose Has its Thorn". For Queen, it’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”; “The Show Must Go On” - which I consider their best song; wanna fight about it? - is all the way down at #31. The trend: the song most closely associated with the band claims the top spot. It may not be the best, the most iconic, the grooviest or the bangin’est, but it’s Their Song. The song for which the band is judged and valued, no matter what.
So what of the Beatles? What’s it gonna be? This is where I’m torn between what I’d like it to be and what I think it will be. I’ve love for it to be “A Day in the Life”. If I were to make the decision on the definitive Beatles track, that’d be it. But I have a feeling I’ll be disappointed. I have a feeling it’ll end up being “Help!” or “Can’t Buy Me Love”. And I guess that’s fine; they’re great songs and I love them both. I’m just saying there are other possible number ones that would redeem a bit of my faith in humanity.
Ball’s in your court, listeners. Don’t let me down!
P.S. Sometimes the litmus test gives questionable results. How “Paint it Black” won out over “Gimme Shelter” and “Sympathy for the Devil” is beyond me.
Created: Jul 23, 2010Document Media