Even cheap mp3s on iTunes cost money, and it can be daunting to a financially challenged music fan to build a meaningful library of music without spending money (and time) on songs you're not quite ready to embrace yet. In the Essential Download Series, we’ll take a look at groundbreaking and influential artists from each of music’s three classical ages and give you a place to start your own exploration of their music.

First, a little background on the genesis of the series: There are three classic ages of music every music and audio fan should probably be somewhat aware of: The Classical Age (where actual “classical” music was created), which lasted from about 1730 to about 1820. The golden age of jazz music, which arguably lasted from about the end of World War I until the mid-sixties, and then there’s the Classic Rock Age, which lasted from about 1954 to about 1998.

Now, all of you fans of Spyro Gyra or The Libertines needn't to write in proclaiming my ignorance of all things musical. Lots of wonderful “classical” music was written after 1820, and lots of great rock songs were written after 1998. Putting a date to the age when the greatest amount of creativity and cross-pollination took place is merely a convenient way of getting a grip on the history of the music.

Obviously, the first place a series like this should start is with the Beatles, so here’s our list of Essential Downloads for The Beatles.

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She Loves You (1964). In 1964, this is the song that changed the world. The quintessential early Beatles song that in spite of the fact it’s been played worldwide like 19,000,000,000 times is still fresh and interesting.

I Feel Fine (1964). First there’s the feedback that until this recording had only been an annoyance in clubs, not a musical statement. Then there’s Ringo Starr’s work on the drums. The rest of the song is okay and certainly there are “better” Beatles’ songs from the period, but this is the song every other act of the day decided to copy.

Help! (1965). In 1965, every girl wanted to kiss a Beatle, every boy wanted to look like a Beatle, and every band wanted to sound like this song. And they did, so the Beatles went even further. This may not be their best song from the period, but it is by far their most influential.

Eleanor Rigby (1966). Rock & roll music suddenly had a brain and emotions that went deeper than lust. This is the song that ushered in the Flower Power music of the late 1960s and is a wonderful example of the genius of the Beatles in all facets of their work.

Strawberry Fields (1967). Part of the Sgt. Pepper’s sessions, at 4:08 this single was almost twice as long as the Beatles’ previous releases. At once orchestral, rocking and weird (in the sense that no one had ever heard anything like this before), Strawberry Fields has been consciously and subconsciously copied for almost fifty years.

A Day In The Life (1967). Even if you’re really not planning on becoming a Beatles fan, you should have this song in your library. It perfectly captures a time and attitude unlike pretty much every other song ever recorded. Actually two songs spliced together, the classic rock age hasn’t really produced much material better than this.

Come Together (1968). Listen to the form and production of this song, and imagine that all of it was pulled from thin air, because until this song came along no one had ever done anything like it.

Revolution (1968). Imagine being the next generation older than the typical Beatles fan and hearing this song come over your car radio. Every great musical movement has a song that scares the pants off the people who came before it, and this is that song.

Here Comes the Sun (1969). Forget the fact that this is a beautiful song with a lovely message, the recording and production are still better than most everything that’s been done since – pure technical genius.

Let It Be (1970). The Beatles were almost over, and this was their swan song. Try to avoid the Phil Spector production if you can though. This is a song of pure emotion and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.

 

So there you have it, the Essential Downloads for those of you who don’t already have a complete Beatles library. They’ll sound much better in high-res, on CD or on vinyl, but even via mp3 these songs are the starting point for all fans.

Jack Sharkey for KEF