The Beatles are easily the greatest rock band – or indeed, band of any kind – of all time. Their influence can be heard in every musical artist that has followed them in the last fifty or so years. Throughout the 1960s, Beatlemania swept Liverpool, then Hamburg, then the whole of Britain, and eventually the entire world, as millions of adoring fans were entranced by this incredible music. Billboard magazine gave the Beatles the top spot on their list of the most successful Hot 100 artists of all time. They’re the most cited artist influence on AllMusic. Time magazine included the band on their list of the Most Important People of the Century in 1999. The band’s individual members – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr – each brought something that was entirely their own to the table. It was almost as if the gods themselves had played a hand in getting these four guys together to create some of the greatest music in history. They each have their own place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and deservedly so. The Fab Four collectively gave us some of the most inspired music ever created. Here are their 10 best songs from their short lived, yet infinitely influential ten-year run.
10. Here Comes the Sun
The Beatles’ songs are never about what they seem like they’re about. “Here Comes the Sun” might sound like it’s about being excited by the coming of spring, but it’s really about how George Harrison was getting bummed out by the band moving more into business affairs with its own record label to avoid getting shafted by suits who wanted to exploit their ridiculous levels of fame. Harrison was sick of all that, saying it was “getting [to be] like school,” so one day, on the day of an important business meeting that the band was having at their office, he played hooky and went to Eric Clapton’s house, where he ended up writing “Here Comes the Sun.” As Harrison explained, “The relief of not having to go see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden with one of Eric’s acoustic guitars and wrote ‘Here Comes the Sun.’” The song is one of the better known of George Harrison’s compositions as a Beatle. He initially struggled as a songwriter in the band, since a lot of their tracks were written by Lennon and McCartney, but as the band progressed and they all matured as musicians, Harrison’s talent for writing lyrics grew, and this would eventually become a contributing factor in the break-up of the band. But hey, we got some good Beatles songs out of him while it lasted.
9. And Your Bird Can Sing
Revolver is quite possibly the Beatles’ greatest album – maybe even better than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Revolver has been certified five times platinum. It has the top spot in Colin Larkin’s list of the All Time Top 1000 Albums and the number three spot in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. With just one album, the Beatles helped to inspire the counterculture movement of the 1960s and bring on the expansion of electronica, prog rock, psychedelic rock, and wold music in the mainstream pop music scene. “And Your Bird Can Sing,” however, is a track on this absurdly influential album that John Lennon dismissed as “another of my throwaways…fancy paper around an empty box.” But he was being modest. This song is one of the catchiest and most passionate songs that the band ever created. Okay, that passion might have been fueled by drugs and Paul McCartney’s realization while he was high that there are “seven levels” of human existence, but still, we got a hell of a tune out of it. George Harrison’s solo from this track was included on Guitar World magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos, while the opening riff is used by Tenacious D to psych up Jack Black before his battle with the Devil.
8. Let It Be
When the Beatles were recording the White Album, things were pretty tense between the band and the sessions were stressful. One night during this time, Paul McCartney had a dream about his mother, Mary, who had died of cancer when he was just fourteen years old. The dream stuck with him, because it felt so real, like he was actually getting to see his mother again, and he ended up writing a song about how her spirit comes to help him “in times of trouble.” McCartney later elaborated in the dream, adding that she told him, “It will be all right, just let it be.” All of the “Mother Mary” references in the song, particularly how she always comes down to help Paul when he’s in need, have been interpreted as Biblical, but McCartney has said that this allusion was not intentional. His mother just happened to be called Mary and just happened to be wonderful. This song is so beautiful that, if it catches you in right mind, it’ll bring you to tears – but in a good way. It’s good to have a nice, long cry every now and then. There’s no shame in it. Just stick it on and let the emotions flow and remind yourself that everything will turn out okay, so let it be.
7. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is often cited as being the greatest album ever made, and it’s star track is “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” It’s widely speculated that, since the initials of “Lucy,” “Sky,” and “Diamonds” spell out LSD, it’s a song about drugs. But if the band members themselves are to be believed, that’s not true. Sure, there’s imagery such as “tangerine trees and marmalade skies,” “a girl with kaleidoscope eyes,” and “cellophane flowers of yellow and green” that no one could possibly come up with if they weren’t tripping their balls off, but the Beatles have insisted for years that the song is not about an acid trip. That sort of imagery was inspired by the writings of Lewis Carroll, they say, and the title came, not from LSD, but from a painting that John Lennon’s son Julian brought home from nursery school. Julian later explained, “I don’t know why I called it that or why it stood out from all my other drawings, but I obviously had an affection for Lucy at that age. I used to show Dad everything I’d built or painted at school, and this one sparked off the idea [for the song].” John said of the painting, “I thought that [it was] beautiful. I immediately wrote a song about it.” So, it’s not about LSD, but it’s still a beautifully written song, with very vivid imagery – and one of the Beatles’ best.
6. Ticket to Ride
In the biopic Steve Jobs, about the Apple mastermind who idolized Bob Dylan and John Lennon, there’s a moment where Michael Fassbender’s Jobs tells Seth Rogen’s Steve Wozniak, “You think John became John by winning a raffle, Woz? You think he tricked somebody or hit George Harrison over the head? He was John because he was John.” But then Wozniak corrects him by saying, “He was John because he wrote ‘Ticket to Ride.’” It was as simple as that. One of the greatest musical geniuses of all time was such a musical genius because he wrote incredible music. It really is that simple. Lennon sat down with Paul McCartney and started writing lyrics, and three hours later, they had “Ticket to Ride,” which has been described by music critics as “psychologically deeper than anything the Beatles had recorded before” and “extraordinary for its time.” Some interpreters and Beatles biographers believe that the unusually heavy sound of “Ticket to Ride” in comparison to the light and breezy sound of the Beatles’ previous work at this point was influenced by Lennon and Harrison getting into LSD. Lennon said that it was a “new sound” at the time. “If you go and look in the charts for what other music people were making, and you hear it now, it doesn’t sound too bad. It’s all happening, it’s a heavy record.” This one’s a trailblazer!
5. I’m Only Sleeping
If you’re a lazy individual who never wants to get out of bed in the morning and would happily sleep away your entire life, then the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping” should be your anthem. Many critics have interpreted John Lennon’s lyrics to be based on the joys of being high, but it’s much simpler than that – he was merely writing about the joys of lying in bed and doing nothing. Lennon’s friend Maureen Cleave said, “He can sleep almost indefinitely, is probably the laziest person in England. ‘Physically lazy,’ he said. ‘I don’t mind writing or reading or watching or speaking, but sex is the only physical thing I can be bothered with anymore.’” The song was intended to put the listener into a dream-like trance, which was achieved by George Harrison playing a reversed guitar duet, which had never been done before “I’m Only Sleeping,” so yet again, the Beatles were shaking things up and creating new avenues of sound. But since it was an entirely new sound, it was nearly impossible for Harrison to create it. One guitar was recorded using fuzz effects, while the second had no effects on it. This ended up giving the song its intended sound, but it took a lot of effort on Harrison’s part. Geoff Emerick, an engineer who worked on the recording, said, “I can still picture George hunched over his guitar for hours on end, headphones clamped on, brows furrowed in concentration.” Poor guy. But we got a beautiful sound out of it.
4. Hey Jude
This song is so beautiful and full of passion. It’s breezy, it’s heartwarming, it’s easy to listen to – and it’s even better when you know the backstory behind it. John Lennon’s son Julian was glum, since his parents were going through a divorce amid John’s affair with Yoko Ono (is there anything she didn’t screw up?), so Paul McCartney wrote this song, originally called “Hey Jules,” as a way of cheering him up. Isn’t that just the sweetest thing? McCartney saw a child who was going through one of the worst things a kid can go through and he used his gift to make him feel better about it. It’s so touching. It’s a significant release, too, marking a number of milestones for the band. It was their first single release through their own record label Apple Records and, when it was first released in 1968, it was the longest single ever to top the British charts and tied for the longest run at the top of the American charts as well. Billboard magazine named “Hey Jude” the tenth biggest song of all time, however they measure that (there’s a bunch of different factors involved). There’s a reason for all this success. It’s a lovely, emotionally charged song that will cheer you up when you feel as glum as Julian Lennon did when his parents separated.
This question often comes up in quizzes: which is the only Beatles album title to end with an exclamation point? It’s Help!, and there’s a reason it’s the only one with that sort of panic and urgency in its title. “Help!” is the namesake track on the album, and aside from being catchy, it is also very sad and powerful, because it was so honest and autobiographical and raw. John Lennon wrote the lyrics with Paul McCartney and said that it was a response to how overwhelmed he felt by the ridiculous level of fame that the band achieved. He explained, “The whole Beatles thing was just beyond comprehension. I was subconsciously crying out for help.” The song was so popular and powerful that it earned itself the number 29 spot on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. This song is perfect listening for when you, too, are in need of help. Listen to this song whenever you’re going through some sort of distress or you feel overwhelmed by stress or you simply can’t cope with this whole life thing right now. It’ll fix you right up. You’ll hear a kindred spirit in Lennon’s voice.
“Yesterday” is the most covered song ever written – there have been more than 2,200 artists who have done their own cover versions of the song – and there’s a reason for that. It’s a beautiful and timeless song about the melancholic feeling you get after you break up with someone and reflect on the entire relationship and all the problems you had and how you should’ve seen the end coming. It’s a story and a song and a feeling that we can all relate to, and that’s why it’s been so successful and popular over the years. Even all these decades later, “Yesterday” remains one of the biggest pop hits of all time. Both MTV and Rolling Stone magazine have rated “Yesterday” to be the greatest pop song of all time, while a BBC Radio 2 poll found it to be the best song of the 20th century. The song has a prestigious spot in the Grammy Hall of Fame. A BBC report claims that in terms of royalty payments, “Yesterday” is the fourth most successful song in the history of music! And if that’s not enough, Chuck Berry – one of the biggest influences on the Beatles and their music – said that it was the song that he wished that he had written. Wow!
1. Don’t Let Me Down
There’s an added poignancy to this song in that the band played it during their final live performance. It was an impromptu gig on the roof of the headquarters of the band’s company Apple Corps in London, and in some widely circulated footage of the event, they play the emotionally charged “Don’t Let Me Down.” It’s a hard-hitting song that really makes you reflect on things, so it was the perfect track to end their epic run on. It’s the kind of song that puts you in a trance and just takes you with the rhythm, which is why it’s so surprising that the gig was cut short after some people complained about the noise. Imagine being one of those people. Imagine being the person who was lucky enough to be present for the Beatles’ final ever live concert, and then shutting them down with a noise complaint. But at least they had enough time up there on the rooftop to play “Don’t Let Me Down,” the ultimate Beatles track. Whatever mood you’re in, whether you’re feeling blue and need to be picked up or you’re brimming with excitement and want to rock out, the Beatles won’t let you down.