The Beatles, 1964.
The Beatles have always been a part of my life.
Like rain. Or the sun. Or the colour yellow.
I devote little attention to the music. It’s just there, in the background, always three skips away, or on some Sky Arts documentary.
Like most people under 50 I’ve no recollection of the first time I heard one of their songs. It was likely my mother humming Love Me Do when I was still in the womb.
The band itself was long defunct by my 1980s childhood, of course. Despite this, the first cassette I ever stuck in my Walkman, as a kid flitting down Athlone’s Ballymahon Road, was a Beatles’ best of.
The years passed and the songs would pop up or creep in here and there.
As a teenager I learned basic guitar chords in order to play Fool On The Hill. I have vague recollections of nights in bars in San Francisco’s Mission district, where a pal and I would load the jukebox with dollars to play Abbey Road end-to-end.
Fifteen years after that I was back to playing Beatles’ tunes, this time back on guitar at my sister’s wedding.
But in recent years the music slipped out of reach. I drifted away, wandering the outer reaches of Eno’s Ambient series, or trying to follow Monk solos.
The Beatles, 1969.
Last May I came close to seeing a Paul McCartney show in Japan. Circumstances conspired to prevent that from happening and afterwards I meandered on, with a vague, guilty notion that I really needed to listen to more of his solo albums, or go back to The Beatles.
But I didn’t. Until last week.
Sifting through the racks at a Dublin record store I came across a copy of Let It Be. It occurred to me that – despite knowing the melody of almost every tune on it – I’d never actually owned a copy of it.
That night I put it on, listened to the opening track Two Of Us and, for the first time in a long time, I heard, really heard, the greatness again.
Two Of Us is The Beatles.
Written by McCartney, it lacks some of the Lennon bite. But this is balanced on the album, as it follows a skittish vocal outtake of Lennonesque nonsense.
The song has all the classic Beatles’ element.
Paul and Linda McCartney.
It’s lyrics are a brotherly you-and-me-against-the-world, the you and me McCartney and Lennon (as Ian McDonald surmised*) – despite the former’s claim that the song was written about Linda Eastman.
The pair’s Everly Brothers-style vocal harmony harks back to their early days playing together in Liverpool.
It’s impossible not to tap your foot to the rhythm, or hum the descending C to A of “hard-earned pay”.
It’s not all swiftness and light though. The song’s brightness is subverted in its six-bar middle section, as McCartney shifts to a melancholy B flat.
This is resolved as we move into the verse again, but the closing lyrics point to divergent paths ahead: “Two of us wearing raincoats, standing solo, in the sun”.
Recorded at a fractious time, as their group began to fall apart and amidst tension between Lennon and McCartney, Two Of Us is, in three and a half minutes, all that made The Beatles great.
It’s why some Beatles’ songs are close to pop perfection.
And it’s why I should listen to them more often.
*Ian McDonald, Revolution In The Head (Pimlico, 1994), p 268