Who's the best? Who's the worst? These are the most common arguments that erupt when discussing the annals of pop culture, but there is another discussion far more compelling: Who's overrated and who's underrated?
This is an entirely different basis of comparison from a simple ranking based on quality. Someone or something becomes overrated based on a matter of public perception. It is this perception that is challenged when a piece of pop culture is deemed over/underrated, making quality an essential element, but not the entire basis of the assertion.
It is normally considered a massive insult for something to be overrated, but not all that is overrated is bad, and not all that is underrated is good. Selections on a list are based purely on myth vs. fact.
The first myths to dispel involve a band that clearly isn't overrated: The Beatles. While the Fab Four is certainly the best band of all time, many of their songs get more credit than they deserve, while many of their gems have been lost in the wave of great songs produced by the Liverpudlians.
The good news first. Here are the five most underrated songs by The Beatles:
5. "Back in the U.S.S.R." (1968)
It's not that this song isn't well-known or well-liked, it just doesn't get the respect it should for being such a brilliant piece of subversive pop music. Its sun-baked California rockabilly beats combined with lyrics singing the praises are simply hilarious and the guitar work impeccable. This song is the best type of parody: one that sublimely lampoons its target while working as that type of song in its own right. Not bad for something considered by most to be just a fun piece of pop candy.
4. "Dear Prudence" (1968)
Oddly enough, the second song on the list follows its predecessor on "The White Album". "Dear Prudence" is simply an achingly beautiful track. Lennon's desperately pleading vocals are enriched by a lilting guitar track that creates the atmosphere of the newly breaking day described in the lyrics. This song is every bit as good as Beatle ballads like "Yesterday" and "Let it Be" but never receives close to the same amount of credit.
3. "Helter Skelter" (1968)
The list's third entry from "The White Album" (it's very easy to get lost in the Beatles' only double album) owes its being underrated to a serial killer. Had Charles Manson not taken the title of this song to refer to an impending war that caused him to kill, it might have been remembered for the scintillating rocker that it is. This is the most aggressively bombastic tune the Beatles ever recorded with rip-roaring guitars and the vocals to match. Listening to it should be a pure joy, but Manson doomed it to be an underrated gem.
2. "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" (1965)
This might not be the best song The Beatles ever wrote, but it's probably the best lyric. Lennon's dreamy tale of his being used by a girl to whom he attempted to do the same is pure poetry. This song also blends the elements of the Beatles' earlier pop work with the Eastern influences of their latter day recordings as George Harrison brings a sitar into the equation. This is an incredibly smart pop song that missed out on chart success and has since been lost among its grander songs that followed.
1. "Here, There, and Everywhere" (1966)
The most underrated Beatles song of all time just may be their best ever. This is an extremely bittersweet melody with some of McCartney's more vulnerable lyrics. Paul hits notes of heights he rarely reaches resulting in a honey-sweet tone to the piece and gentler harmonies than can be found in most Beatles' songs. This is a lovely tune that's never gotten its due and deserves a place alongside Beatles epics like "In My Life" and "Hey Jude".
Now for the most overrated:
5. "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite" (1966)
This song, like many others on "Sgt. Pepper's", is overrated for its being on the most famous album ever made. "Mr. Kite" attempts to create a carnival atmosphere but with Lennon's sleepy vocals and the uninspired sound effects, it sounds more like a jack-in-the-box. The tune is often included in Beatles collections and listed amongst favorites, but this terribly dull track has no place in esteemed Beatles company.
4. "Love Me Do" (1962)
There's a very simple reason "Love Me Do" is so vastly overrated: It was the Beatles' first single. As is so often the case with any artist the first is nowhere near the best and this track is no exception. This is a forgettable bubblegum lark that sounds more like it came out of the animated visages of The Archies than the moptops. It may have been first, but thank goodness it wasn't the last.
3. "The Fool on the Hill" (1967)
Much like "Mr. Kite", "The Fool on the Hill" falls into the category of just plain dull. Despite this, "Fool" remains one of the more beloved Beatles songs. This has always been an instant skip on Greatest Hits discs and other compilations, and it sticks out like a poorly circulated thumb in the midst of many great songs. Despite this, it pops up again and again in any discussion about Beatles songs and even has two different versions included on the Anthology discs. All of which are certain to inspire listeners to press the skip key.
2. "With a Little Help From My Friends" (1966)
Another "Sgt. Pepper's" song that gets overrated for its inclusion on that milestone album. But that is just the first of its reasons. This is one of those "message" songs that gets raised above its meager musical quality due to its uplifting lyrics. Results from other bands are too numerous to list, but looking at any charity single will surely turn up an example. Despite its message, "Friends" is a lesser Beatles song with a forgettable melody and not much going on other than Ringo's pleasant crooning. The real proof that this is an overrated song lies in the simple fact that it's probably best known for Joe Cocker's astounding cover version. A song has to be overrated if the recording in question isn't even the best version.
Joe Cocker: Woodstock '69 With a Little help from my friends
1. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (1966)
Like "With a Little Help From My Friends", there is a cover version that is arguably superior (by Elton John) to the original recording. In addition, "Lucy" has the ultimate sign of overratedness going for it: It's controversial. Once upon a time, somebody got the idea that the title was a reference to LSD. This is something that John Lennon continually denied this claim, and there's no reason to think he's lying seeing as he pointed out drug references in countless other songs. "Lucy" isn't much in terms of a song, and Lennon himself was never happy with the recording and actually preferred the John version (on which he played guitar). This is one of the most beloved of the Fab Four's compositions, but one listen reveals its unevenness and clunky transitions between the separately metered choruses and verses. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is the very picture of overrated: one of the worst songs in the Beatles' catalog that is considered by many to be one of its best. Perhaps if people knew more about the actual picture upon which the tune is based it wouldn't have ever garnered such undue attention.
Story by Andrew Payne
Starpulse contributing writer