When I asked friends who've put in their 10,000 hours of intense pop music listening to pick a favorite melody from the past 50 years, there was no doubt that Lennon-McCartney -- who wrote their last song together more than four decades ago -- would get a plurality of nods.
What does surprise is the variety of tunes chosen, a testament to the versatility of Paul and John and the staying power of so many of their melodies.
Predictably, "Yesterday" was the favorite among respondents, including record mogul Luke Lewis and theater producer Susan Dietz. But after that it was a free for all, with so many songs named I can't begin to list them all here.
Some tried to explain their picks, but most -- especially other musicians -- submitted the titles and left it at that.
Sunny Sir Paul, of course, is a tunesmith for whom, like Mozart, beautiful melodies flow naturally and easily, even in dreams. John is more Beethovenian -- darker, not as pure a melodist, but still capable of writing superb tunes.
We begin with Graham Nash and Dave Mason, two Lennon-McCartney contemporaries with their own treasure trove of classic tunes. Nash picks McCartney's plaintive "For No One" and Dave Mason goes for Lennon's rapturous "Across the Universe."
Writer Jim Bessman singles out the early Beatles smash "Please Please Me" describing it as "pure melodic pop at its ultimate catchiest." Songwriter Fred Goodman especially loves "She's Leaving Home" from "Sgt. Pepper," remembering Leonard Bernstein marveling that the tune was positively Schubertian.
"'Blackbird' never fails to raise goosebumps," says KPCC Radio Off-Ramp host John Rabe. Long time NY Timesman Peter Applebome picked a janglier birdsong, "And Your Bird Can Sing." Writer Marc Haefele, a frequent Off-Ramp contributor, recalls, "When I first heard 'Michelle' I thought, 'My God, these people can do anything.'"
Songwriter/critic David Finkle, one of the most articulate folks I know, was at a loss for words in describing his reaction to "We Can Work It Out," which he picks "because the bridge especially, I --guess what! -- I can't describe the effect it has on me every time." Vet PR exec Carol Strauss on "Girl": the melody has a lilting quality and the minor key makes it one of my favorites. "Because" was the fave of songwriter-producer Morrie Brown and writer Lauri Maerov.
Paul's 1970 solo stunner "Maybe I'm Amazed" was selected by more correspondents than any Beatle track save "Yesterday." Writer Greg Burk, a noted jazz and metal critic, applauds the tune's "Wistful up-and-down melody; suspense-building, upward-rolling piano obbligato; transcendent key-change bridge; plus one of the most dramatic composed guitar solos ever recorded -- all in about three minutes."
It came as no surprise that radio host/author May Pang would choose John's solo tune "Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)." It's not that 'She's So Vain' -- she definitely knows that song is about her.
My mom, who met my dad in the elevator of the Brill Building when John and Paul were learning how to tie their shoelaces, was floored the first time she heard "Eleanor Rigby." [Her (birth) name was Eleanor/ but not any more/now everyone knows her as Terry.] My brother Jeff, a fine musician and tunesmith, wanted to choose them all, but settled on "Hey, Jude."
For me, the choice was obvious: "Penny Lane," a bouncy tune that's bounced around in my head since I first heard it in my high school library. No, actually it's "Things We Said Today." But wait -- how can I not pick "In My Life" or "Yes, It Is" or "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away"?
And in the end, all these tunes call us on and on, across the universe...
(Giant hat tip to David Leaf for his help with this series.)