My Top 1000 Songs #246: Mean Mr. Mustard Medley
Time to return to Abbey Road Side Two--my favorite 20 minutes of music ever recorded--for the other three-song medley. And, again, one could treat the whole thing as a single song, or chop it various ways. But for purposes of this list, I'm looking at "Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam/She Came In Through The Bathroom Window" as a single track. (One could say the medley begins with "You Never Give Me Your Money," but that one strikes me as a stand-alone song, with the insertion of "Sun King" kinda breaking things up.)
Now, as individual songs, these are arguably bottom-barrel Beatles (bottom-barrel Beatles still being better than many bands' highlights). But that's the glory of this little suite (more so than the later "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End" run, where the individual components, while incomplete, are pretty great on their own merits). You've got two half-finished Lennon toss-offs, fun yet lightweight by design; concluded with a melodic but similarly somewhat nonsensical McCartney composition. Yet when Paul mashed 'em all up for Abbey Road, the result was not just the clichéd sum-greater-than-the-parts; it became something else entirely. In just over four minutes, they traverse widely disparate musical styles; whimsical character studies along the lines of what they'd been exploring since "Penny Lane"; with the little flourishes that only the Beatles could pull off--John's bemused snark, Paul's ability to conjure melody and suggest something deeper without even trying, some nifty jamming from George, the subtle but brilliant Paul/Ringo rhythm section. All in service of (and elevating) some stray tape they could've left on the studio floor. Magic!
I still remember first hearing this as a kid. I knew the Beatles as purveyors of serious, accomplished, obviously timeless songs played on an endless loop on the radio. But this just felt like the band goofing off, barely even trying, and it was still absolutely amazing, better than almost anything I'd heard up to that point. Much of the White Album, which I discovered around the same time, struck me the same way--how could this half-assed weirdness still be so good? Who else could pull that off?