Today is the fifth anniversary of George Harrison's death, as I found out when NPR ran a sweet tribute to him this evening. Back when such things mattered, George was my favorite Beatle. Why do such things not matter anymore? I mean, really, is there any question that is more revealing than "Who is your favorite Beatle?" Sure, it's dated, but any rational, music-aware person should have one, and if they don't, well, that says a lot right there. Here's a cheat sheet for what you can expect from the people you ask, based on very unscientific "research" …
- If they say "Paul," you can expect some (mostly superficial) charm, and a liberal helping of cheesiness. People who like Paul tend to see Sgt. Pepper as the height of Beatle achievement, and they probably enjoy "Yellow Submarine" and "story songs" about Beatles characters like Eleanor Rigby more than "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" or "Norwegian Wood."
- If they say "John," you can expect seriousness, outward lefty politics, a love of "meaningful" songs, and perhaps a disdain for both cheesiness and Paul. People who like John, I would guess, simply didn't like Paul to begin with, or liked him until they heard "When I'm 64" one too many times, and then dug around to see who wrote the lyrics to "A Day in the Life."
- No one ever says "Ringo" in this day and age, and that's too bad. He's charming, a good sport, and (I think) not as bad a drummer as people seem to remember. I challenge you: Listen to "Rain" and tell me that Ringo is an insufferably bad drummer.
- George, finally, will always be the favorite of people who you want to know. He represents humility, first of all. He's never mugging in the movies, and mostly he looks somewhat like you or I would look if we were thrown into the Beatles commercial juggernaut in the early 60's. On the creativity side, he wasn't Lennon/McCartney, but his guitar sound was an integral part of the Beatles appeal. It's always tasteful, and he never tries to get all Eric Clapton on any song, which is why I — for one — can listen to roughly 50 Beatles songs for every Eric Clapton song. Finally, George's solo stuff was way better than either Paul's or John's, and his low profile is endearing in a world in which the faces of rock stars' are perpetually up in your grill.
Beatles, Taxman — from Alternate Revolver
[audio:http://www.douglemoine.org/files/beatles-taxman-mono.mp3]Lately, I've been listening to Alternate Revolver, a bootleg album of demoes from the Revolver sessions. George's first contribution to the Beatles' catalogue — "Taxman" — is on Revolver; it's not my favorite Beatles song, but it's a little more straightforward and rockin' than later George songs. Is it contradictory to commemorate an artist by listening to a pirated version of his/her work? Hmm. I'll venture a guess that George would appreciate it, so check out Alternate Revolver's mono mix of the song, and toast the quiet Beatle.