Counting down the 10 WORST BEATLES SONGS – “Maggie Mae” is an old Liverpudlian sailors’ tune about a streetwalker and is just one of the many throw-aways churned out in the LET IT BE sessions of January 1969. While of some slight historic curiosity for its lyrics as a folk song, it is neither musically interesting nor particularly well performed. It is in fact emblematic of all that was wrong with the LET IT BE sessions, which started with a McCartney brainstorm that the Beatles had become too much mere studio sidemen for each other and needed to get back to playing as a band.
Paul figured they’d record the whole experience in the studio and get not only an album but a film out of it! And there was the rub. For Paul, the eternal camera hog, this must have sounded like bliss, but it was nobody else’s idea of a good time. The animosity among John, Paul and George was already bad and was only exacerbated by forcing them together in one room every day for a month with tape and camera rolling. What they got with the film LET IT BE was a painful document of four guys in dire need of a break from each other. The hours upon hours of tape became such a challenge to whip into shape as an album that it wasn’t even released until months after ABBEY ROAD (which was actually the last album they recorded). The critic Alan Smith nailed it as “a cheapskate epitaph, a cardboard tombstone, a sad and tatty end to a musical fusion which wiped clean and drew again the face of pop.” At least LET IT BE gave us that rooftop concert, a moment’s charming confirmation that the Beatles had never relinquished the chops and the showmanship to work as a live band. But it also gave us “Maggie Mae,” the worst 40 seconds of the worst Beatles album ever.
Counting down the 10 WORST BEATLES SONGS – “What Goes On,” recorded in November 1965, was the first time Ringo got a songwriting credit. John explained in an interview that it was a very early song he’d written to which Ringo and Paul added a middle 8 during the recording session. We’d been told in the fan mags at the height of Beatlemania that Ringo liked country music, and here at last was an example — but unfortunately not a very GOOD example. In the UK this song leads off side 2 of RUBBER SOUL, but in the US edition of RUBBER SOUL it doesn’t appear at all, being deferred along with “Drive My Car,” “Nowhere Man,” and “If I Needed Someone” to the YESTERDAY AND TODAY compilation. It’s not horrible, but it doesn’t quite reach any kind of high point or solid hook, and it doesn’t have much of that Beatles magic we always like to hear.
In case you’re following the countdown, so far we’ve highlighted (or perhaps the word should be “lowlighted”) 10 Bad Boy, 9 Mr. Moonlight, 8 Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, 7 Ask Me Why, and 6 What Goes On.
Counting down the 10 WORST BEATLES SONGS – “Ask Me Why” reveals the immaturity of John and Paul as songwriters from its opening line. Once you start with “I love you-woo-woo-woo-woo,” you’ve pretty much painted yourself into a corner. The song gets stuck there and never gets out. This is an extremely early work, actually first released in the UK as the flip side of “Please Please Me” in January 1963, and was not part of the legendary February 11 all-day recording session for (although included on) the album PLEASE PLEASE ME. In the U.S. it was originally the flip side of “Please Please Me” on Vee-Jay Records, which then changed its mind and replaced it on the re-release with the far superior “From Me to You.” The tune is competently constructed, cliché as it is, but the lyrics give it no help.
Counting down the 10 WORST BEATLES SONGS – “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is one of Paul’s jaunty little “music hall” tunes like “When I’m 64” or “Honey Pie,” but with a sketch about a psychopathic med student, he turns his usual whimsy into a sick joke. A literal approach to the lyrics has been taken in this youtube animation, so I advise you to avert your eyes if you don’t find bloody murder amusing. The production of the music is lavish and all in a bad cause. As John said, “I hate it…. He made us do it a hundred million times. He did EVERYTHING to make it into a single and it never was and it never could’ve been.” This is the third cut on ABBEY ROAD (1969), the last album the Beatles recorded, a bemusing shift of mood after “Come Together” and “Something.”
Counting down the 10 WORST BEATLES SONGS – “Mr. Moonlight,” closing out side one of BEATLES ’65, was the goofiest tune we’d ever heard from the Beatles. It doesn’t quite make sense as a pop song. The rhythm is wrong for dancing, the shift from shout to shoobie-doo is jarring, the hook is lousy, and their totally deadpan delivery does not sell it. The original by Dr. Feelgood & The Interns in 1962 failed to crack the Top 40, and the song would be languishing in utter obscurity if the Beatles hadn’t released their cover version in December 1964. The song still languishes in relatively deep and well deserved obscurity even so. You have to wonder — what were they thinking?