When create lists about pop culture there are very few examples of times where you end up dealing with objective topics. Television, music and movies all deal in the realm of subjectivity, which is part of what makes this so fun. There are times, though, that you come across something so amazing that it crosses over into the realm of objectivity and that time has come as we at BabbleTop are now covering the Beatles, who are, without a doubt, the greatest band of all time. So, with that in mind, we decided to cover the top 15 Beatles songs of all time, which brings us back into the realm of subjectivity (except the number one choice, there’s no arguing that). Let us know if you agree or disagree and if so, what’s your top 15… Or should I say Top 2-15?
15. Come Together
The first song on the Beatles last album, Abbey Road, Come Together was written by John Lennon as a nod to LSD-champion Timothy Leary’s run for Governor in the State of California (against Ronald Reagan of all people). While the campaign was mostly a disaster, as Leary was arrested for possession of Marijuana, it was one of the first forays into political song writing that Lennon would become known for after he left the Beatles. The recording of the song was plagued by animosities and McCartney later said that he was too embarrassed to ask his former best friend and song partner if he could sing harmonies on it, and while that’s really sad and too bad the song still shines despite the fact that the Beatles were essentially operating as separate entities at the time of its recording. Ironically, Lennon says “shoot me” in the intro to the song. And, considering it came on the last album the Beatles recorded and about ten years before someone did, it’s a weird irony that it alludes to the loss of one of the most talented musicians of all time.
14. Here Comes the Sun
Here Comes the Sun is one of the best George Harrison songs written during his time with the Beatles. Ironically, both Harrison songs on this list end up having something to do with Eric Clapton; this time he isn’t directly involved (like he is with While My Guitar Gently Weeps), however. This song was written shortly after the death of Beatles manager Brian Epstein, which forced the Beatles themselves to get more involved with the business side of things. That created a ton of strife within the band and is actually what ended up breaking up the band. Yoko just sped things up a bit, but bringing her to… Everything was just Lennon’s way of passive-aggressively stating his displeasure with the fact that Paul McCartney essentially took over the business side of things after Lennon essentially started the band and was at first, its leader. Harrison tired of the drama and ended up skipping a meeting that was held at the Apple Records headquarters and was hiding out at Clapton’s house. The song is essentially about his feeling of relief by avoiding that drama and is a perfect song to use when you need to find some sort of silver lining. It’s a beautifully simple song and because of that, it’s one of the most famous Beatles songs.
13. Across the Universe
This cosmic song was born out of something that was very personal to the writer of the song, John Lennon. As he recalled, his first wife Cynthia was “going on about something” and it essentially put him in a terrible mood. Because she was essentially talking and talking, and Lennon’s brilliant (but clearly impatient and sort of rude) mind came up with the line “words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup.” After she stopped yelling at him and went to bed, in a bad mood Lennon couldn’t sleep as that sentence kept repeating itself over and over in his mind. He ended up going downstairs and writing Across the Universe which he admitted could’ve ended up as an angry or “irritated song”, but ended up being a song that transports the listener into space and beyond. While the story behind the song doesn’t make Lennon look like a great partner, it (more than any other Beatles songs) gives the listener a window into the brilliant mind of Lennon and how his mind came up with the music that has touched the lives of more people than air… Or space?
Help! is a song that shares a title with one of the better Beatles films (and soundtracks). It was actually written by Lennon as a “subconscious cry for help” as he was struggling with all of the fame and pressure that came from being a Beatle at the beginning of their meteoric rise to prominence. While that meaning is basically hidden under the context of Lennon singing for “help” finding a love, it was what Lennon called his most honest song as a Beatle (along with Strawberry Fields Forever). Like many geniuses, Lennon was highly critical of his own work so the fact that he considers Help! to be one of his favorite Beatles songs (or rather one of the ones that he said weren’t “written to order”) means a lot, even if he said he wished they’d had slowed the tempo down just a bit (like any perfectionist would).
11. Let it Be
Let it Be was the last song released by the Beatles before they broke up and because of that it took on a whole other meaning. It was the most successful (at least initially) Beatles single, and the most successful song ever at the time of its release. It debuted at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100, something that had never been done before. The song was one of many on this list that was written by Paul McCartney that had something to do with a dream (A Day in the Life, Yesterday). It came around the time that the band was going through one of its many stressful periods (especially after the death of their manager Brian Epstein), namely during the recording of the White Album. In that dream, Paul essentially got advice from his mother, who is referenced in the song as “Mother Mary”. It was especially poignant as Paul’s mom died when he was 14 and so he took the dream as a legit visit that ended up meaning a lot to him. Clearly, as he wrote the song a few years later and it ended up personifying the tension during the last days the Beatles recorded together and his attitude towards it.
10. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
A song written during what the Beatles eventually admitted to the clueless George Martin was a “drug album”; Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds has long been considered to be a reference to an acid trip. It’s not just the title of the song, which ends up as an expanded acronym for LSD, but the contents as well. The song describes what sounds a lot like a pretty fun trip that was defended by the band as an innocent song about Alice and Wonderland. The surviving Beatles still defend the title as something that came from a drawing that Lennon’s son, Julian, made in nursery school. Regardless of your belief about the title or the content, this is one of the most covered Beatles songs for a reason. It sounds like a song that could’ve been released this year because of its experimental nature. Because of that and it’s timelessness and originality, it gets a spot on this list. It would honestly probably be higher if it wasn’t responsible for the reprehensible John Fred and His Playboys song Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)
9. Happiness is a Warm Gun
Happiness is a Warm Gun ends up being a sadly ironic song considering that Lennon penned it and met his end a little over ten years after the release of this song at the wrong end of a warm gun. The song was inspired by a magazine cover that George Martin brought to the studio with the same title as the song, the title of that magazine was based on a book by Peanuts creator Charles Schulz which was titled Happiness is a Warm Puppy. While that would’ve been an amazing Beatles song, too, Happiness is a Warm Gun ends up on this list because it was one of the first Beatles songs and songs in general that had a three-part structure. The White Album is one of the best albums to listen to front to back as the songs seem to blend together into one long, awesome, musical adventure. Happiness is a Warm Gun is the best representation of that even if some gun rights advocates misinterpret the meaning of the actual song (along with the point of Taxman).
8. Rocky Raccoon
Rocky Raccoon is a folk-western song from the White Album that isn’t typically regarded as one of the best Beatles songs but it makes this list because it displays the versatility of the band (and because it’s just a great song). Originally titled Rocky Sasson, the “Rocky” in the title was inspired by the lead singer of the psychedelic rock band 13th Floor Elevators Roky Erickson. This song is the last Beatles jam to include John Lennon’s harmonica playing. It is the Beatles displaying their range by entering the folk-rock genre and essentially showing everyone that they’re better at it than most others. I’m sure if they had stayed together like the Rolling Stones they’d have been able to do rap better than Tupac, based on the fact that Rocky Raccoon is so great at genre hopping.
7. Hey Jude
Hey Jude is one of the most recognisable songs in the Beatles catalogue. There have been many claims about the origin of the song, but the true story is that it was written by McCartney after he visited the soon to be ex-wife of John Lennon (a month after John Lennon had an affair with Yoko). McCartney felt odd that he was no longer supposed to communicate with Cynthia Lennon, who was a close friend. He wrote the song about John’s first son, Julian, who was having a really hard time with the divorce of his parents. He changed the title from Hey Jules to Hey Jude, because it “sounded better”, but the crux of the song remained the same. John Lennon believed the song was about him and Ono, and even in interviews right before his death said that he thought it was a song for him and McCartney’s way of giving approval for his new relationship. Regardless of the reasoning behind the song, it’s a classic and it could be even higher on this list.
6. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
While My Guitar Gently Weeps is widely considered to be George Harrison’s best Beatles era work. Ironically, the song that he penned had a guitar solo that was so difficult that no one in the band could actually complete it. Enter Eric Clapton, who is widely considered to be the best guitar player of all time. He nailed the solo and helped create a classic song that highlighted why the Beatles should’ve let Harrison write more songs per album. It is also an example of why the Beatles are the best band of all time considering it’s better than 99% of songs before or since, and it was written by the “third-best” member of the Beatles. If you haven’t seen the live version of this song with Tom Petty and Prince, Google it, it’s worth your time.
5. Sexy Sadie
During the recording of the White Album (or really, the self-titled album) the Beatles famously travelled to India to learn from a famous guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It was a time when the Beatles were trying to expand their minds through traditional Indian teachings and meditation, all the while they were habitually using LSD and marijuana. Towards the end of their trip, one of the women in their group claimed that the Yogi had propositioned her for sex, which angered John Lennon and made him feel like the Yogi was a hypocrite (and he subsequently abandoned the yogi’s teachingss). While the story fell apart upon further inspection, Lennon ended up penning a song titled Maharishi, sending a message to the man who “made a fool of everyone”. Devout Hindu George Harrison begged Lennon to change the title and Lennon agreed, and that’s how Sexy Sadie was born.
4. Eleanor Rigby
Like many songs on this list the meaning behind the title of Eleanor Rigby has been hotly debated amongst Beatles fans since it’s release. Many of people think that the song was a reference to a mostly abandoned gravestone that McCartney came across as a child, but the original title was actually “Miss Daisy Hawkins”. The “Father McKenzie” in the song also had a different name originally, “Father McCartney”, that was changed once McCartney rifled through a phone book. It’s one of the most famous Beatles songs and it was an early example of the band evolving from pop-rock to a more experimental studio-based sound, and because it was the first step the Beatles away from playing Motown covers, it gets a top five nod.
By this point I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about the songs that came to McCartney in a dream. Yesterday probably the most famous example and was originally titled “Scrambled Eggs”. It was a milestone for the Beatles as it was essentially the first without contributions from the other members. Up until that point, they had always, mostly, all contributed to each song in some way, with back-up vocals or instrumental parts. While it was a departure from their usual style, it highlighted that the Beatles were one of the first (and only) bands to have multiple lead singers, still something that rock/rap bands like Linkin Park, or others, have been unable to accomplish with as much success. Because it opened the door to solo songs for each of the Beatles (Even Ringo!) and because it’s a beautiful song, and because it’s considered the most covered song all time, it gets into the top three on this list.
2. Strawberry Fields Forever
By all accounts, John Lennon had a rough childhood. He was abandoned by his father — similarly to how he neglected his own son, Julian — and he was abandoned by his mother, who left him to be raised by his aunt. The house he grew up in was adjacent to an orphanage and that orphanage had a field next to it named, you guessed it, Strawberry Fields. This song was Lennon’s way of exorcising demons from his childhood, and while his childhood trauma would be a focus for him throughout his life, this song is widely considered one of his best works. There’s a section of Central Park in New York named Strawberry Fields, with a memorial to Lennon who lived on the park with his wife and second son, Sean, the son with whom he tried to be a better father. This song is beyond beautiful and is a strong case for the argument Lennon was a deeper song writer than McCartney (and his “Silly little love songs”).
1. A Day in the Life
A Day in the Life is considered to be the best song of all time by most credible sources (including BabbleTop). The story of its recording is one of the best examples of producer George Martin being the fifth Beatle. Apart from playing multiple instruments on many of their songs, he also helped with fine-tuning the writing. In this case, the song was put together using an incomplete song by Lennon and McCartney each. Lennon’s contributions were written about a newspaper article he had read during writer’s block. One of the stories was about Guinness Beer heir Tara Browne, a friend of the Beatles, who had died in a car accident (“He blew his mind out in a car”) and who was said to have introduced the band to LSD (“I’d love to… Turn you on”). The middle section of the song, composed by McCartney, is about a man who wakes up only to go back into a dream, a common theme in McCartney songs. The orchestral glissandos (thanks to George Martin) were really the first of their kind making A Day in the Life one of the most popular avant-garde songs of all time. While this song may not be one of the most covered on this list, it is the best example of what the Beatles have come to be known for: experimentation while still being pop.