checking in and checking out with the big beatles sort out

I’m a big fan of The Big Beatles Sort Out podcast, which is now towards the end of its third season. I think the relationship between the two brother-presenters is warm and witty, and I enjoy listening to every episode, even when I profoundly disagree with the scoring system and the scores. Worrying about the actual rankings is like arguing about pizza toppings. So my disagreements with Garry (who does the rankings) are on the same level as the line from Pixar’s Inside Out: “Congratulations, San Francisco, you’ve ruined pizza.”

There are two main areas of disagreement, and I think they’re to do with a couple of memos that have been circulating in the fandom for a while now. The first memo concerns the post-breakup unfair treatment of McCartney set against the valorisation of Lennon. While you will still find large sections of the internet determined to treat Lennon as if he was Jesus, I think the tendency of 70s and 80s rock critics (those another kind of podcast has termed “the jean jackets”) to treat McCartney has a joke has largely faded.

The second memo concerns Yoko Ono, who was also treated unfairly by the press – in particular the mainstream press – and whose own work has been reevaluated in recent years. I’m fine with all this. I was never a member of the Yoko-broke-up-the-Beatles club anyway. On the other hand, I remain entitled to my opinion about her contributions. To this end, there needs to be a Yoko Sidebar around here:

The Yoko Sidebar

My opinions about Yoko divide into three. The first concerns her art. She was known as an artist before she met John, and has continued to produce art throughout her life. Personally, I think it’s all a bit twee. It’s the sort of stuff I’d see in a gallery, say, huh, and move on.

Then there’s the music, which I do not like. Whether screaming and wailing, proto-disco, or whatever other genre she tries, I just don’t see the appeal. People compare her to Bjork: fine. I don’t like Bjork, either. John compared her to the B52s: yep, didn’t like them. My beef with the Sort Out crew here is that they’ve included Yoko in the Season 3 sort out, which kind of makes her a member of the Beatles. And frankly, she’s not good enough to be in the Beatles. I know there has been a strong movement towards enjoying Yoko’s music, with some people arguing that it is better, bolder, and more cutting edge than John’s solo work, but while I might agree that solo Lennon was fairly average, I still find it more listenable than Yoko.

Which brings me to the third opinion, which is to do with her character. I think there’s plenty of evidence that she is manipulative. The whole May Pang story is a red flag there, as are the tales about her sending John away on trips because of astrology or numerology or whatever, and stories about her preventing John from meeting up with Paul. I also think that the Lennon-Yoko love affair was hyped by the two gifted self-publicists, and has been hyped since John’s death. I think there was Stuff Going On in ’68 and ’69 to do with the disintegrating Beatles and the relationship between John and Paul, but I don’t really believe in the Great Love Affair. And the last thing I’ll say is this: I think Yoko is sometimes, often, crass and tasteless., exploiting John’s murder to further her career and public image. Exhibit one here is her album cover for Season of Glass, which features a pair of spectacles with blood on them. I think she has a tendency to evoke John’s name when she has something to sell, and she doesn’t do it tastefully.

So in terms of the two fandom memos, I think I’m probably guilty of not getting the second. I don’t appreciate her music and I think her personality is toxic – an opinion that has nothing to do with whatever happened in 1968 and 1969 and a lot to do with what I’ve observed since 1980.

And I think Sort Out Garry is a bit guilty of not getting the first. I think his pro-John bias was very evident in Season One of the sort out, and has become even more apparent in Season 3. The song “Imagine” for example, has been placed at #1 (so far), with a score of 100 for lyrics, 96 for music and 90 for production. I mean, it’s okay. But 100 for lyrics? I think the lyrics are, whisper, a bit twee. But this is fine, it’s his podcast. He’s put Lennon’s “Starting Over” at #5 (so far), and I probably have more of an issue with that. There was no bigger Lennon fan in the world than me in 1980 when it came out, and I had been eagerly anticipating Lennon’s first new music in years. And, well, it was a bit rubbish wasn’t it? Furthermore, considering how vicious Lennon had been about McCartney’s seventies silly love songs and “granny music”, he had some fucking brass neck to release “Starting Over” without accompanying it with a 400-page mea culpa.

Talking of “Silly Love Songs”: it’s ranked at #45, if you can believe that. Just 70 points for music, for that bass line. Absolute insanity. But even more ignominious – and what drove me to put fingers to keyboard on this occasion – is the placement of “With a Little Luck” somewhere down in the 60s. If I was wounded by “Silly Love Songs” in the 40s, I’m broken by “With a Little Luck” in the 60s. I’ve always felt this song was one of Paul’s secret message songs for John, and it breaks my heart a little bit to hear it dismissed so easily. I had to switch off the podcast for a bit and go for a walk.

I think where the bias comes through is with the tracks Garry is unfamiliar with. I think if he hears a John song he doesn’t know, he’s inclined to over-reward; a Paul song he doesn’t know, he finds reasons not to like. Meanwhile Sort Out Paul sits there bemused by the whole scoring system, as usual.

Congratulations Garry, you’ve ruined The Beatles. First the Hawaiians, and now you.

%d bloggers like this: