Since their break-up in 1970, the individual members of the Beatles have had mixed solo success. Ultimately, they’ve been disappointing. In the ’60s, they combined to reach UK Number One 17 times, yet since their break-up, they’ve only added a few number ones to our musical library. To put this in perspective: Bob The Builder has more solo UK Number Ones than half of the Beatles. Why is this the case, though? John did take a 5 year break from music and Ringo is Ringo, but how did the individual ingredients for 17 Number One recipes not yield more commercial success? Whatever the reason, this doesn’t mean they stopped making good music. In fact, if they hadn’t broken up in 1970 and their work over the next 20 years had been collated into one final Beatles album, it would be their best. So what would this album look like?
The name and cover of this imaginary album would be impossible to predict. I mean, Abbey Road was originally titled Everest but John couldn’t be arsed to go to the Himalayas and suggested they just take the photo outside and name it after the street. But if you had to guess; following the pattern of previous albums (Please Please Me, A Hard Day’s Night, Help, Let It Be), it would in all likelihood be named after the biggest hit on the album. In this case: ‘Imagine’. Considered one of the greatest songs of all time, it’s no surprise I’ve chosen Imagine to open the A-Side. If anything, it’s a bit of a boring and predictable choice and I’m a bit disappointed with myself. Anyway, next you would expect a track from Paul, else his ego might take too much of a hit. There are a lot of poppy choices to go for, and none that would really fit to follow ‘Imagine’, but I’ll plump for ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’. He actually wrote this while The Beatles were still together, so this could easily have made its way onto an actual Beatles album. It also made its way into a classic episode of The Simpsons, so you know it’s good. After John and Paul comes George with ‘What Is Life’. It’s a pretty obscure one, so much so that typing ‘What Is Life’ into Google doesn’t spit out this track in the first 10 pages. It’s an absolute sensation, though, with one of my favourite recurring guitar riffs in music. It also has the trademark of a lot of Beatles songs – people over-analysing the lyrics. Theologians, philosophers and critics have all tried to decipher the meaning of the song – a song that, in reality, was written “very quickly” on his drive home.
So all three big dogs have a track on the album now. What of Ringo? As much as I love him, he probably doesn’t deserve a song on this album. He really did need the others to tick. His few successful compositions to come out of The Beatles were heavily amended by the others. However, the other three were always keen to stick him in whenever they can, so I’ll throw him in as well with his best, but the worst of this album: ‘It Don’t Come Easy’. It’s a catchy tune and made it to Number Four in the UK singles charts. Good going Ringo. It also joins the previous three tracks in being released soon after the 1970 break-up; all four having been written within 18 months of it, which adds a bit of credibility to the fantasy that these could have made it onto a hypothetical 14th album. But I’m going to ruin that credibility with my next choice: George’s 1987 release ‘Got My Mind Set On You’. So this hypothetical album took almost 20 years to write. They must have been hypothetically relieved when it was hypothetically critically acclaimed. To end the A-Side, let’s throw another McCartney in before he throws a tantrum. So up at track 6, I’ve gone for ‘Silly Little Love Songs’. It’s textbook McCartney, and fits the Beatles mould well. John previously responded to a critic who accused him of only writing monosyllabic lyrics with ‘Help’, a song that somehow crams ‘independence’ and ‘self-assured’ into the rhythm. In the same vein, Paul responded to critics who criticised him of ‘only writing silly love songs’ with a silly little love song called ‘Silly Little Love Songs’.
Onto the B-Side and I’m going to expend all of my John Lennon at once. Let’s open with ‘Real Love’ – a track that The Beatles finished after John’s death. I actually don’t much rate their finished product, but the demo version with John on piano is hauntingly beautiful. It truly had the potential to be the best song of all time. Then onto ‘Working Class Hero’ and ‘Watching The Wheels’, two of John’s most lyrically impressive works. Pay real attention to the words when you give these two a listen. ‘Working Class Hero’, in particular, is closer to poetry than music.
We’ve got two more McCartney tracks to come, and we’ve got to bridge the gap from poetry to Poppy Paul. The first Number One by an ex-Beatle fills the gap: ‘My Sweet Lord’. Then, before we finish with ‘Live and Let Die’, we’ll slip in ‘Band On The Run’, a song recorded in Lagos because Paul wanted to sunbathe in the day and record at night. This was right after the Nigerian Civil War though, so with all the crime and disease, I suppose he had to just concentrate on the song. Anyway, let’s wrap it up with a bang and end what could’ve been the greatest album of all time with ‘Live and Let Die’. So there you go: what could have been The Beatles’ 14th album. The final tally, by the way, is 4 for Paul, 4 for John, 3 for George, and 1 for Ringo. Pretty standard for a Beatles LP.
Not included on this ‘album’, but still worth mentioning are two of the best Christmas songs ever written: ‘Happy Xmas (War is Over)’ and ‘Wonderful Christmas Time’.
So although a lot of people would struggle to think of many hits from their solo careers, the ex-Beatles did release some big music after the break-up. Understandable since how spread out their releases were, but if they were all put out at once, on this one mega-album, it would have never been forgotten.
Image courtesy of Lawren via Flickr