Rob Sheffield's Top 25 Songs of 2017

From "Bodak Yellow" to "Boys" and beyond

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25. The Beatles, "Penny Lane (Vocal Overdubs and Speech)"

A studio snippet from the Sgt. Pepper anniversary box: just Paul and George in Abbey Road, listening to a playback of "Penny Lane," a bit of homemade dynamite Paul just wrote about a street back in Liverpool. They try out harmonies and handclaps. George suggests, "This could have a backwards drum beat on that there." Paul says, "Forward drum beat." They hum, they sing along ("fish and finger pies, shall I do that harmony? Boom boom boom"), they joke around, they try to sound unimpressed by this thing they've created. To them it's the next step of their future, even as they look back to their childhoods. (Last week John brought in his song about Liverpool, "Strawberry Fields Forever," and not that Paul's competitive, but well, you know, these two.)

Not even the Beatles, in their most delusionally arrogant moments, would imagine that 50 years later this trivial studio moment would be something people could listen to, much less cherish, much less cling to the heart as a reminder in dark times of what music can mean and how music can feel. They're just stepping back to admire the art they made today. Whatever they try next, they're sure it will be even more brilliant. (The next song they record is "When I'm 64," so they're slightly wrong about that.) But by the end, they've lost interest in throwing more ideas into "Penny Lane." They're already looking forward to the music they'll make tomorrow. They're waiting for it, that green light. They want it. 

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