BWW Exclusive: THE BEATLES 101 GREATEST SONGS OF ALL TIME - Ranking the Best of John, Paul, George & Ringo (Including Their Solo Hits)
"They've been going in and out of style/But they're guaranteed to raise a smile/So may I introduce to you/The act you've known for all these years..." --from the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1967)
I was ten years old and in the fourth grade when I bought my first Beatles album at a Zayre department store in Melbourne, Florida. I was torn between Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour. A hippy with his hair down to his waist told me, "Go with Pepper, man. You won't be sorry." I did as he suggested, and I never looked back. The Beatles have since been my go-to group, the one that crosses generations. I would get all of their albums, bootlegs, British versions, and specialty albums. I passionately appreciated their "off" songs, like "Tomorrow Never Knows" (on the list), "The Inner Light" (not on the list), and "Revolution 9" (definitely not on the list). These days, I love that so many of my students know some of the songs of the Fab Four (thanks to movies like Across the Universe and Yesterday). Still, there's that occasional kid who will say, "I have no idea what this Beatle thing is that everyone is yapping about," which usually leads me to introduce them to the Beatles. What good is teaching if we can't open up students to fab new worlds?
As usual, I used a rubric to come up with the placement of each song on this list. This particular 101 is unlike most "Beatles Greatest" charts, mainly because it includes the solo work of John, Paul, George and Ringo. Although various solo singles made the cut, only two of their solo songs made it to the Top-20 and just one ranks rather high in the Top-10. Scroll down the list to see where your favorites landed.
Some of the Beatles' more famous songs (and some of the more popular solo hits) did not make the grade, including "Michelle," "If I Needed Someone," "Obla di Obla da," "Back in the USSR," "From Me to You," "All My Loving," "Getting Better," "Good Day Sunshine," "Two of Us," "What Is Life?", "With a Little Luck," "Woman," and "Free As a Bird." For the record, #102 was the George-scribed "Old Brown Shoe."
These lists are designed to take your minds off the current crisis, to keep focused during "social distancing" and "stay at home" suggestions. They're perfect to ignite fun debates, and I'm sure this list will not disappoint in that department. What will be the #1 pick? Will it be your choice, too? Please feel free to email me if you have any thoughts or suggestions for future lists.
So, without further ado, let me take you down from #101 all the way to #1. Here we go...
THE 101 GREATEST BEATLES SONGS OF ALL TIME
101. "Dig a Pony" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Let It Be; 1970]
We start off the list with this Lennon-esque minor classic, surefire gobbledygook but so much fun. Lennon hated it, calling it "complete garbage." But you can never trust Lennon's opinions of his own work; you must trust your own ears. And this rocker gets the honor of starting our journey into the Beatles 101.
100. "Living in the Material World" [George Harrison solo; Living in the Material World; 1973]
Adding solo songs into the mix is something most other Beatles lists avoid. And with good reason...there aren't many of the solo songs that can match a good Beatles tune. But there may be more than you think. Like this underrated George Harrison epic, the title track to his 1973 album. Sprawling, intense, it's about a spiritual soul trapped in the physical, the material, juggling the life of his true self in a world that adores him as a superstar. When talking about any Harrison song--within the Beatles, or without them--you're going to find some under-appreciated gems like this one. There's even a reference to his Fab Four buddies: "Met them all there in the material world/John and Paul here in the material world/Though we started out quite poor/We got 'Richie' on a tour." "Ritchie" of course is a reference to Richard Starkey, a.k.a. Ringo Starr.
99. "Martha My Dear" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; The Beatles (White Album); 1968]
Is this the greatest song written about a dog? It comes in fifth of all time. I think "Black Dog," "Hound Dog," McCartney's "Jet" and the Beatles own "Hey Bulldog" best it, but this McCartney infectious ode to his Old English Sheepdog still beats other contenders like "Shannon," "Old Shep," and "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo."
98. "The Ballad of John and Yoko" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Hey Jude/The Beatles Again; 1969]
97. "All Those Years Ago" [George Harrison solo; Somewhere in England; 1981]
Both #97 and #98 are musical snapshots of the life of John Lennon. "The Ballad of John and Yoko" is an autobiographical travelogue of Lennon and his new wife's 1969 adventures, famous for its chorus: "Christ, you know it ain't easy/You know how hard it can be/The way things are going/They're gonna crucify me." Don't miss footage of Lennon's Bed-In for Peace, when a disgruntled Al Capp mis-quotes the lyrics of the song to Lennon. As for "All Those Years Ago," George Harrison gets together with McCartney and Starr, a decade after the Beatles broke up, to create this immensely listenable eulogy to the Lennon, who was sadly gunned down in December of 1980. Whenever I hear this song--it pops up on the Sirius Beatles channel as well as the 80's channel--it instantly brings back those sad days, when the 1960's officially ended and the 1980's started off with an unfortunate and literal bang.
96. "Baby, You're a Rich Man" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Magical Mystery Tour; 1967]
Using the clavioline's oboe-setting to re-create the sound of an Indian shehnai, Lennon seemed to address the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, with his biting lyrics. The opening line ("How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?") is quoted at the beginning of the infamous Vincent Bugliosi book on the Manson murders, Helter Skelter, and the full song is used to great effect at the end of the movie about billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, The Social Network.
95. "(Just Like) Starting Over" [John Lennon solo; Double Fantasy; 1980]
Doesn't this song make you sad when you hear it, even though its lyrics are so upbeat? This was the hit single, Lennon's biggest solo song, that would become #1 shortly after he was shot in New York City. The song title has taken on an ironic twist since--a depressingly ironic twist. Although it's certainly beloved, and close to the heart of any Lennon fan, it doesn't stand up to some of his more demanding, fulfilling works. It's fine, yes, and certainly sounds great, but see the other Lennon songs on the list to measure the artist's true stock.
94. "Arrow Through Me" [Paul McCartney solo; Back to the Egg; 1979]
Perhaps McCartney's most underrated solo song, from the forgettable Back to the Egg album. But "Arrow Through Me" holds up, haunting and yearning, with a soulful sound that would make Stevie Wonder proud.
93. "Mind Games" [John Lennon solo; Mind Games; 1973]
As dated as some of John's songs seem, they still hold such a power. "Mind Games" is a perfect example. With stale Age of Aquarius phrases like "chanting the mantra," "mind guerillas," "druid dudes," "love is a flower," "karmic wheel," "yes is surrender," and "the stones of your mind," it seemed dated even in 1973, when the 1960's were like a hangover and everyone was trying to move on. Everyone but Lennon, that is. But we can forgive such hippy-drippy utterances because the music takes it to another level. It's a powerful reminder of what we once had, when a generation wanted to come together spiritually and politically. It all drastically came apart at the seams in the 1970's, of course; President Nixon, the villain of the times, won an election the year before this song with the biggest electoral landslide in history. The hippies would move on to polyester, disco, and Wall Street. But some, like Lennon, never left the island of peace and love and the search for tranquility.
92. "Blow Away" [George Harrison solo; George Harrison; 1979]
If you're ever down, then put on this late-Seventies feel-good pop single of George's, and I guarantee that your mood will instantly change to foot-tapping joy.
91. "And I Love Her" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; A Hard Day's Night; 1964]
One of Paul's loveliest ballads, written when he was just 21 years old. The key to the song has always been the "And" in the title, used almost as an aside (but "BTW, I Love Her" doesn't work as well). You can see the pristine love balladeer that McCartney would become; Lennon wasn't wrong when he called it "Paul's first 'Yesterday.'"
90. "Every Night" [Paul McCartney solo; McCartney; 1970]
This is the song that separates Beatle Paul from Solo Paul. Throughout it, he signals that he's moving on and the Beatles will soon be a mere memory: "Every morning brings a new day/And every night that day is through." He makes his decision on his future with the last line: "But tonight I just wanna stay in/And be with you." The "you" of course is Linda, his wife and love of his life. The song is such a powerful love song, Paul's flag in the sand in the Post-Beatles world, that you just wish that Solo Paul wrote more with the quality of this.
89. "I'm Only Sleeping" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Revolver; 1966]
Sometimes what you don't do is as meaningful as you fighting off conflicts in an action-packed day. With "I'm Only Sleeping" and "I'm So Tired," John cornered the market on going-to-sleep songs. But he's struggling with work and play, an ode to the wonders of laziness. George would say it as a philosophy two years later in "The Inner Light": "Without going out of my door/I can know all things on earth." John doesn't have to save the world, fall in love, bask in the rain, or cry for help to create a masterpiece. Sometimes not doing anything, staying in bed, while the world has gone insane is a key to the universe: "Everybody seems to think I'm lazy/I don't mind, I think they're crazy/Running everywhere at such a speed/'Til they find there's no need." He would utter a similar philosophy 14 years later with "Watching the Wheels." If there is such a thing as a pandemic playlist, songs for social distancing, then this should be near the very top.
88. "Money (That's What I Want)" [Cover/The Beatles; With the Beatles; 1963]
87. "There's a Place" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Please Please Me; 1963]
According to the great Greil Marcus, the blueprint for the Beatles sound can be found in these two songs: John's passionate trajectory in "Money" and the Paul's escapist direction in "There's a Place." In the Paul song, a dreamy denial, he yearns to hide in his mind when times go bad. "There's a Place," trying to make depression put on a happy front, is like painting a smiley face on Munch's The Scream. (Paul's mother died when he was 16, and many of these songs seem to be reflected in his mourning, fighting against facing the truth and pretending to delve into a better world, crossing out the tears with forced pep.) Check out Paul's lyrics: "In my mind there's no sorrow/Don't you know that it's so/There'll be no sad tomorrow/Don't you know that it's so." Paul's later feel-good sunshiny songs--like "Good Day Sunshine," "Penny Lane," "Get on the Right Thing," "Let Em In," and "Coming Up"--were born right here. As for "Money (That's What I Want)," a Motown cover, John pleads to be free, recorded before the group would become the biggest musical force in the history of the world. John's later Primal Scream songs on John Lennon Plastic Ono Band seem tepid by comparison. The Fab Four's take on "Money (That's What I Want)" ranks with Aretha Franklin's "Respect," Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" and the Beatles' own "Twist and Shout" as one of the great cover versions of all time.
86. "Live and Let Die" [Paul McCartney solo/Wings; single; 1973]
Is this the best James Bond title song? Although I prefer Nancy Sinatra's "You Only Live Twice" and Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger," it needs to be in the conversation for Top-3. However, it does contain one of Paul McCartney's worst lines: "In this ever changing world in which we live in" (I'm glad he cleared that up, because it could have been another world, I guess). But the song itself rocks and works as both a cool title sequence and a speed-limit-breaking joyride down I-75 soundtrack. It also is better than 95% of the James Bond opening song offerings, especially A-Ha's vomit-worthy "The Living Daylights" and Lulu's eyebrow-raising, phallic "The Man with the Golden Gun" ("He's got a powerful weapon... His eye may be on you or me/Who will he bang?/We shall see..." And those are the actual lyrics that Lulu sings!)
85. "Photograph" [Ringo Starr solo; Ringo; 1973]
Written by Starr and George Harrison on a luxury yacht in the South of France, it sounds like a song written far away on a yacht, yearning for yesterdays with not much hope for tomorrows: "Every time I see your face/It reminds me of the places we used to go/But all I've got is a photograph/And I realize you're not coming back anymore." Sad as some of the lyrics may be, the music is uplifting and powerfully mellow, if that's such a thing. Although originally written on a yacht, it's not quite yacht rock, but it sure comes close.
84. "Silly Love Songs" [Paul McCartney solo/Wings; Wings at the Speed of Sound; 1976]
Paul McCartney's passive-aggressive middle finger to his many critics who wish he wouldn't squander his talents so much. Hey, he likes being frivolous as a songwriter, and what's wrong with that?
83. "Oh! Darling" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Abbey Road; 1969]
Paul screams his way through this bluesy ball buster, causing his vocal cords to strain and rasp in the process. It's sensational. But guess who wasn't a fan of McCartney's vocal work? That's right, John Lennon, who thought the song was far more suited for his vocal stylings.
82. "My Love" [Paul McCartney solo/Wings; Red Rose Speedway; 1973]
81. "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" [George Harrison solo; Living in the Material World; 1973]
Perhaps the only time in pop history when a former member of a group displaced another former member of the same group at #1. Harrison's lovely prayer shoved Paul McCartney's melodious but flawed "My Love" out of the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100. They both are here, side by side again, with Harrison's heartfelt invocation nudging out McCartney's saccharine sweet hit, the latter making the list even though boasting the second worst lyrics of any solo Beatle song: "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa/ Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa/My love does it good." For the record, the first of the worst goes to McCartney again, for "Getting Closer" (which didn't make the 101 for obvious reasons): "Say you don't love him, my salamander/Why do you need him?/Oh no, don't answer..." "Oh no" is right. If the awful rhyming of "salamander" with "answer" doesn't leave you scratching your head with a hearty WYF?, then nothing will.
80. "Love" [John Lennon solo; John Lennon Plastic Ono Band; 1970]
John Lennon's gentlest song, a whisper of sweetness, you can hear a pin drop during it. So naturally, the powers that be used it in a Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo commercial.
79. "Take It Away" [Paul McCartney solo; Tug of War; 1982]
Although "Ebony and Ivory" (the chart-topping duet with Stevie Wonder, not on the list) would be Paul's biggest hit off the Tug of War album, "Take It Away" remains its greatest song. This is sophisticated songwriting about a band being discovered by a producer who hears their song on the radio and then visits them in a club, ready to sign them to the big time. The ending is a question mark--who is in the darkened bar corner and why are there faded flowers "waiting" in a jar? Perhaps the clue to the answer is hidden in the music itself: a lush chorus, ethereal, the sound of a band shooting for the sky and hitting the heavens. And "Take It Away" is the sound of Paul McCartney at his very best.
78. "Because" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Abbey Road; 1969]
This is what you get when you play "Moonlight Sonata" backwards. Beautiful, haunting, with its electric harpsichord and gorgeous three-part harmonies multiplied three times. It's like bathing in a choir of angels.
77. "Taxman" [George Harrison/The Beatles; Revolver; 1966]
This has become a snarling anthem for every April 15th.
76. "I Will" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; The Beatles (White Album); 1968]
Lovely melody with McCartney vocally performing the bass line. It's effortless, almost too simple, with words that are cliched at best. But who cares with music this lovely and a "vocal bass" making this sound like no other love song.
75. "London Town" [Paul McCartney solo/Wings; London Town; 1978]
"Silver rain was falling down/Upon the dirty ground of London Town." An underrated soft rock classic, where Paul's songwriting had matured with this alienating and evocative look at a city and its citizens. In the song, individuals are walking by the narrator, "ordinary people it's impossible to meet," where we're introduced to an actor, his wife, and a "rozzer" (Cockney slang for a police officer). What "Penny Lane" was to Liverpool, this is to London, with an "Eleanor Rigby" kind of loneliness thrown in for good measure. In 1978, "With a Little Luck" was the #1 hit from the album London Town in the United States, but the title track, which only reached #39 on the charts, is the finest song from the album and easily McCartney's best work from the latter part of the 1970's.
74. "Mother" [John Lennon solo; John Lennon Plastic Ono Band; 1970]
73. "Julia" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; The Beatles (White Album); 1968]
On July 15, 1958, just a little over a year after John first met Paul, John's mother, Julia, was struck and killed by a Standard Vanguard on Menlove Avenue in Liverpool. Eric Clague, an off-duty constable, was the driver who was later acquitted of the charges. This devastated John, who kept his head in his aunt's lap for the duration of the funeral. John was 17 at the time, and he never got over the death. (Paul had also lost his mother just a couple of years earlier, and the two of them shared this bond of sadness.) Two of John's most powerful songs act as a sort of eulogy for his mum. The intense "Mother" is a guttural expression of grief, ending with her son begging, pleading for his mom not to go; the stark "Julia" quietly deals with longing and sorrow, with Lennon dreaming of his mother's "seashell eyes" and "windy smile." Whenever you see the name of John's son, Julian, you might want to also think of Julia; he was named after her.
72. "Jet" [Paul McCartney solo/Wings; Band on the Run; 1973]
Another song inspired by one of Paul McCartney's dog (also see "Martha My Dear"), this time his tan Labrador Retriever, the wild runt of the litter. The song itself doesn't make much sense, but the music moves, grooves, soaring hyper-speed like its namesake.
71. "Watching the Wheels" [John Lennon solo; Double Fantasy; 1980]
You can never accuse Lennon of being inauthentic. After years of Bed-Ins and politics, travel and controversy, he hung it all up to be a househusband and father for five years, changing diapers rather than changing minds. This song deals directly with his domestic life. People keep calling him crazy and lazy, telling him that he's missing out on the rat race. But he likes where he is, watching the merry-go-round rather than being on it. The song became a Top-10 hit after Lennon's assassination, and it's a peephole into the years of domestic bliss before that dreaded December day.
70. "#9 Dream" [John Lennon solo; Walls and Bridges; 1974]
Before he settled down, John Lennon was a wild child, and his infamous "lost weekend" lasted 18 months. Taking a break from Yoko, Lennon was companioned by May Pang, his wife's personal assistant, who can be heard on this (a song that coincidentally hit #9 on the Billboard charts). It came to him in a dream and would be one of his very favorites. It certainly puts the listener in a trance, one of the few works where you feel the dreaminess of the ethereal music and lyrics without being forced. By the way, "Bowakawa pousse pousse" has no discernible meaning.
69. "Please Please Me" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Please Please Me; 1963]
There are a lot of songs written about oral sex, from "Afternoon Delight" to "Lollipop." I bet you didn't know that "Please Please Me" falls into the same salacious category, especially with the words "come on" repeated four times, building to a climax.
68. "Birthday" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; The Beatles (White Album); 1968]
The song "Happy Birthday" only became public domain during the past decade. Before then, you had to pay for the rights to use it (which explains why, in The Godfather Part 2, they sing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" instead of it on Don Corleone's birthday). The Beatles have the second most famous song for birthdays, this rollicking rocker. But it doesn't work as well acapella at birthday parties, so we'll stick to the standard "Happy Birthday" for that.
67. "Eight Days a Week" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Beatles For Sale; 1964]
Ringo Starr is the Beatles' Yogi Berra; he is known for a malapropism or two. But surprisingly this isn't one of them. The phrase "Eight Days a Week" actually came from McCartney's chauffeur. This #1 hit, which ended the Beatles' exciting 1964 and prepared us for an even more exciting 1965, has something that had never been heard on a pop record before: Unlike 99.99% of all other songs, "Eight Days a Week" actually fades-in but does not fade out (it just ends).
66. "Girl" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Rubber Soul; 1965]
Is this the first mainstream record to include the word "tit"? No, it's not in the actual lyrics, but you can hear it in the background vocals, where the gang sing "tit-tit-tit-tit" over and over. This was on purpose, to see how much they could get away with. "Girl" is one of Rubber Soul's shining lights, much better and more sophisticated than the Grammy-winning but overrated "Michelle" from the same album (not on the list). It's both a love song for some faraway dream girl (John would meet Yoko less than a year later) and a number that dares question religion (Lennon had just read The Last Temptation of Christ). There's a lot going on in this, a very serious work subtly undermined by the Beatles' bawdy sense of humor.
65. "Get Back" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles featuring Billy Preston; Let It Be; 1969 (single), 1970 (album)]
I hope it's not true that McCartney wrote this partially as an attack on Yoko Ono. According to Lennon, every time McCartney sang the lines "get back to where you once belonged," he would look at Yoko in the studio. But the song lives on as one of 1969's great singles, and "Sweet Loretta Martin" and "JoJo" enter our worlds as two of the greatest Beatles' characters. It also offers proof that Paul McCartney was fascinated with drag queens: "Sweet Loretta Martin thought she was a woman/But she was another man." As a single, "Get Back" stands with other Beatles A-sides like "Paperback Writer" and "Penny Lane" where the B-side actually turns out to be the better song (see "Don't Let Me Down").
64. "I Saw Her Standing There" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Please Please Me; 1963]
I disagree with critic Griel Marcus, who in one essay on The Beatles thinks Paul starts this off with an expletive: "One, two, three, f**k!" We know the "good-looking Beatle" doesn't scream the f-word here; it's just that his accent makes the "four" sound like he's cussing. But this song, which would raise eyebrows in this day and age (a twentysomething ogling a seventeen year old), started it all. It's the first song on the Beatles' first album. For that point alone, it belongs on the list. But it's also a rocking great song, one of the best of the Beatles' early years, and would make the 101 even if it was not the historic first.
63. "The Long and Winding Road" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Let It Be; 1970]
If "I Saw Her Standing There" represents the first, then "The Long and Winding Road" would certainly represent The Beatles' last. This would be their final #1 single, released a month after the news of the Beatles' official break-up. It's an over-produced mess, but what a lovely mess, gooey with violins, violas and cellos. Hearing the other versions, the ones that Paul preferred (he hated what producer Phil Spector had done), makes one thing clear: Spector was actually right all along and "The Long and Winding Road" works much better over-produced, the Beatles' last hurrah closing out their career with a slick bang rather than a scaled-down whimper.
62. "I Feel Fine" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Beatles '65; 1965]
Did the Beatles open the door for the psychedelic sound of Jimi Hendrix, Cream and early Pink Floyd with their intentional use of guitar feedback that opens this #1 hit?
61. "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" [Paul McCartney solo; Ram; 1971]
60. "Happiness is a Warm Gun" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; The Beatles (White Album); 1968]
Both John and Paul have been faced with stringing together unfinished snippets of songs to create a brilliant whole. Paul did it as a solo artist with "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey", and John as a Beatle accomplished it with "Happiness Is a Warm Gun." The "Hands across the water" sequence of Paul's hit is galvanizing, euphoric; the song would be his first #1 and usher in an incredible string of hits. John takes some odd imagery ("a soap impression of his wife which he ate and donated to the national trust"), bizarre commands ("Mother Superior jump the gun"), and finally a satiric anti-gun anthem taken from the pages of a national rifle magazine. It's a lot to digest (like the soap impression), but it's also riveting. The backing doo-wop of "Bang, Bang/Shoot, Shoot!" at the end is tongue-in-cheek genius.
59. "Working Class Hero" [John Lennon solo; John Lennon Plastic Ono Band; 1970]
Lennon's most political song since "Revolution," an unadorned, basic, no frills Marxist rant. Just Lennon and his guitar, unrelenting, singing about the working class turning into middle class pods. Striking and strident, mesmerizing and harrowing, it's a declaration for individualism, just saying "No" to the cookie-cutter machine called Modern Society.
58. "We Can Work It Out" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Yesterday and Today; 1965 (single)]
Here's a song we need to hear these days, in 2020, in times so politically divided. I wish we could work all of our problems out because, as the Beatles sing, "Life is very short and there's no time for fussing and fighting, my friends." If only people on both sides would listen.
57. "Helter Skelter" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; The Beatles (White Album); 1968]
A feverish rocker made famous by the Manson family who misspelled the title in the LaBianca's blood on their refrigerator door: "Healter Skelter." Ties "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" as the Beatles' grungiest heavy metal rocker, so intense that Ringo is heard at the end screaming, "I got blisters on my fingers!"
56. "Jealous Guy" [John Lennon; Imagine; 1971]
On the cover of Lennon and Ono's 1968 Two Virgins LP, both of them appear stark naked. With "Jealous Guy," Lennon doesn't strip away his clothes; instead, he bares his emotions, all of his insecurities and vulnerabilities, creating what must be considered perhaps the loveliest love song of his solo career.
55. "Here, There, and Everywhere" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Revolver; 1966]
Paul McCartney's answer to Brian Wilson's Beach Boys classic, "God Only Knows." Is this Paul's greatest love song? Art Garfunkel thinks so; in fact, Mr. Garfunkel considers this his all-time favorite song.
54. "Can't Buy Me Love" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; A Hard Day's Night; 1964]
On April 4th, 1964, the Beatles did the impossible; they occupied the top five slots of the Billboard Hot-100 pop charts. Leading such iconic Beatles songs as "Twist and Shout," "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Please Please Me" was "Can't Buy Me Love," the #1 song that week. This feat hasn't been accomplished before or since. The bouncy number will be remembered for a number of things, but being #1 on the only time one band held up the top five positions of the pop chart leads the pack.
53. "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Help!; 1965]
Bob Dylan influenced seemingly every artist of the 1960's, and here's John Lennon recreating the Dylan style and sound to a tee (his raspy voice is beautifully Dylan-esque). And instead of Dylan's patented harmonica, there's a lovely tenor flute solo to close this folkie out.
52. "Fool on the Hill" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Magical Mystery Tour; 1967]
Like Prince Myshkin in Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, the lonely fool in "The Fool on the Hill" is ridiculed, ignored, yet he knows more than all of those finger-pointers. A wise clown who sees life's truths. According to critic Robert Christgau in Esquire: "'The Fool on the Hill' shows signs of becoming a favorite of the Simon & Garfunkel crowd and the transcendental meditators, who deserve it." He did not mean that as a compliment.
51. "Instant Karma" [John Lennon solo; single; 1970]
John's mood was pretty dire in 1970, with such gut-wrenching, Primal Scream influenced songs as "Mother," "God" and "Working Class Hero." But in "Instant Karma" he becomes a positive force, with such upbeat lines as "We all shine one, like the moon and the stars and sun." It's also the first ever Beatle solo song to sell a million records.
50. "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Abbey Road; 1969]
This is a song about obsession, where the singer (Lennon) continues the title phrase to his love (Yoko) numerous times. But this is one heavy Led Zeppelin-like rocker, almost eight minutes of relentless preoccupation and maybe even stalking. And no matter how hard I try, I can never predict that cliff-hanger moment when it just ends abruptly, that moment when it suddenly
49. "Nowhere Man" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Rubber Soul; 1965]
One of John's more personal songs, an existential look in the mirror. It's also the outsider Jeremy Hillary Boob, Phd.'s theme song in the movie Yellow Submarine. Don't miss Tiny Tim's wobbly warbling falsetto version, with ukulele, on YouTube; you won't be sorry.
48. "Ticket to Ride" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Help!; 1965]
What do the Beatles mean by "ride"? Is it a British Railway ticket to the town of Ryde on the Isle of Wight, as McCartney has stated? Or is it something more sordid? Does it have to do with prostitutes having a medical check-up and being given the green light in a red light district to "ride" (have sex)? Or, as some have claimed, is it about a woman who leaves her hubby to become a lady of the evening? Whatever lies behind its true intent, the meaning of "ride," one thing is certain: George Harrison plays the hell out of his Rickenbacker 12-string guitar on it, creating one of the Beatles' best-known riffs.
47. "Band on the Run" [Paul McCartney solo/Wings; Band on the Run; 1973]
It's like a sprawling novel set to music, a story of imprisonment and subsequent escape. Even John Lennon, never a fan of McCartney's solo work, liked it. Although it didn't make this 101, the flip side of the single, "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five," is certainly worth a listen as well.
46. "Lady Madonna" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Hey Jude/The Beatles Again; 1968]
Another great McCartney rocker, which follows the exploits of an exhausted mother with every day of the week (except Saturday) mentioned. It contains classic puns, like using the word "runs" to describe children's activities as well as nylon stockings. But it also begs the question: "What does McCartney mean by 'creeping like a nun'?"
45. "Tomorrow Never Knows" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Revolver; 1966]
"Listen to the color of your dreams...". Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead, this Revolver closer is one of the world's first foray into true psychedelia. In fact, the opening line comes awfully close to a quote from Timothy Leary's adaptation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, The Psychedelic Experience: "Whenever in doubt, turn off your mind, relax, float downstream." (The opening to the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" goes like this: "Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream, it is not dying...") The song's title came from another Ringo malapropism and is a true leap in John Lennon's songwriting prowess. It's odd even by psychedelia's quirky standards, and there's no song that sounds quite like it.
44. "Drive My Car" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Rubber Soul; 1965]
Don't take this song literally; it's another clever Beatles' dive into a driving-as-sex metaphor. "Beep-Beep-m-Beep-Beep, Yeah!"
43. "She Loves You" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; The Beatles Second Album; 1964]
It was a long road for this iconic song to become a hit in the US. In 1963, in America, it could not seem to make any traction. It scored relatively low on American Bandstand's Rate-a-Record, landing in the low 70's, ironic when you realize what a mage-hit it would eventually become. (It probably sounded too new, too edgy, for the American Bandstand kids.) It didn't sell well here (only about a thousand copies) and couldn't chart on the Billboard Hot-100. In an interesting twist, CBS Morning News ran a story on the Beatles featuring "She Loves You" on November 22, 1963. But then tragedy struck and the country was transfixed on the death of John F. Kennedy. It wasn't until two weeks later when the Beatles story ran again...and America found something to take its collective mind off the assassination of a President. 1964 would be their year, and "She Loves You" would finally find the light in the US market, hitting #1 right after "I Want to Hold Your Hand" spent many weeks in the top spot. Best of all, the song's repeated "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" would turn out to be an iconic rock n roll catch phrase up there with the likes of "A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-A-lop-bam-boom!" (RIP, Little Richard.)
42. "Hey Bulldog" [Lennon-McCartney/The Peoples; Yellow Submarine; 1970]
This song, for years a Fab Four throwaway that didn't even make the American print of Yellow Submarine, is now rising to become a cult favorite, one of the group's finest rockers And if you want to hear the Beatles barking like dogs, then this is the record.
41. "It Don't Come Easy" [Ringo Starr solo; single; 1971]
Ringo's greatest solo hit, a plea for peace in a crazy world: "Peace, remember peace is how we make it/Here within your reach/If you're big enough to take it." George Harrison wrote the song along with Starr, which explains why the words "Hare Krishna!" can be heard (barely) in the background at one point in the middle of the song's instrumental section.
40. "God" [John Lennon solo; John Lennon Plastic Ono Band; 1970]
A glorious song in three sections. Section 1: The philosophy. In this first section, John espouses that "God is a concept by which we measure our pain." Section 2: The litany. In this key part, Lennon lists people and institutions that he no longer believes in: magic, the I Ching, the Bible, tarot, Hitler, Jesus, the Kennedys, the Buddha, mantra, the Gita, yoga, kings, Elvis, Zimmerman (the real last name of Bob Dylan before he changed it), and ultimately the Beatles. Section 3: The Death of the Dream. After Lennon states that he believes only in himself and Yoko, he sings that "the dream is over." The Beatles may have broken up months earlier, but they and the entire 1960's were officially over now.
39. "My Sweet Lord" [George Harrison solo; All Things Must Pass; 1970]
This is the gospelized rock song that got George in a barge full of trouble, fined for subconsciously copyrighting the Chiffons' "He's So Fine." But this also turns out to be one of George's finest creations, a pop prayer in praise of Krishna. Hallelujah!
38. "Day Tripper" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Rubber Soul; 1965]
Sex, drugs and rock and roll in one song. Is a "day tripper" a reference to LSD, which a young Lennon had started dabbling in during 1965? Or is a "day tripper" sort of a tourist in the land of coolness? Make no mistake that "she's a big teaser" is a sexual reference. But it's Lennon's classic guitar riff, influenced by the melding of Motown openings ("My Girl") and Roy Orbison ("Oh Pretty Woman"), that pushes it higher on the list.
37. "Beware of Darkness" [George Harrison solo; All Things Must Pass; 1970]
Although not nearly as popular as "He's So Fine"--I mean, "My Sweet Lord"--this quiet ode, a hushed lesson about putting away your maya (illusions) of the material world to find the best You, is the finest song on Harrison's magnum opus, All Things Must Pass. It's also happens to be, hands down, his greatest solo work.
36. "Lovely Rita" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; 1967]
An underrated classic featuring the world's most famous meter-maid.
35. "For No One" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Revolver; 1966]
McCartney matures into quite a songwriter with an eye for just the right melody and just the right lyric: "You stay home, she goes out/She says that long ago she knew someone, but now he's gone/She doesn't need him." Simple, formal, a kind of Baroque pop, and one of the greatest break-up songs ever recorded. Complete with the stunning use of a French horn in it, the solo by Alan Civil (great name).
34. "All You Need Is Love" [Lennon-McCartney; Magical Mystery Tour; 1967]
There are a lot of singles that act as a signature for the hippy-lovefest Summer of Love (1967): The Doors' "Light My Fire," Scott MacKenzie's "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)," and "Incense and Peppermints" by the Strawberry Alarm Clock. Leading the pack is this Beatles' anthem, a child-like utopian plea. Propaganda for peace, propaganda done right.
33. "Help!" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Help!; 1965]
"I was fat and depressed and I was crying out for help," John told Playboy magazine in one of his last interviews. In the song, John lacks independence and feels insecure throughout his adult life, looking back to a simpler time when he didn't need help. It's a giant S.O.S. of a number, and it would lead the way to John's emotionally honest songwriting, the primal tendencies that would mark his later work.
32. "She Said She Said" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Revolver; 1966]
Two key Sixties touchstones have Peter Fonda to thank: The movie Easy Rider and the song "She Said She Said." While tripping on LSD in a tub with John and George, Fonda showed them the scar from a childhood shooting accident that almost killed him. "I know what it's like to be dead," he said, much to the displeasure of the Beatles. "We didn't want to hear about that!" John later said. "We were on an acid trip and the sun was shining and the girls were dancing and the whole thing was beautiful and Sixties, and this guy--who I really didn't know; he hadn't made Easy Rider or anything--kept coming over, wearing shades, saying 'I know what it's like being dead,' and we kept leaving him because he was so boring!" But it inspired Lennon to write one of his best songs, with the original comeback that he told Fonda back in the day: "You're making me feel like I've never been born!"
31. "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" [Lennon-McCartney; Rubber Soul; 1965]
A sitar-laced classic with one of Lennon's best lyrics, words so strong and filled with innuendo that it would wind up in poetry anthologies. People have been trying to unlock its meaning for 55 years. Is it about an extramarital affair? A lesbian love story of revenge (the "bird" in the title causes this interpretation, "bird" of course being British slang for a girl)? Does he or she burn the house down? Or just start a fire in the fireplace and maybe smoke a joint? There are so many ways to interpret the lines, "So I lit a fire/Isn't it good?/Norwegian wood." For a bizarre musical treat, listen to Alan Copeland's late-1960's mash-up of "Norwegian Wood" and the "Mission Impossible" theme that actually won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Performance by a Chorus (a category no longer in existence).
30. "Paperback Writer" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Hey Jude/The Beatles Again; 1966 (single)]
1966 was the year that Paul and the other Beatles began veering off the typical boy-meets-girl love songs. In this bouncy rocker, the singer is an aspiring writer scribing a letter to a publisher regarding his new thousand-page adult novel about a dirty man and his clinging, clueless wife. And yes, John and George really do sing "Frere Jacques" in the background throughout it.
29. "Come Together" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Abbey Road; 1969]
As with "Tomorrow Never Knows," Timothy Leary inspired this song as well. Leary wanted to run for governor of California, against incumbent Ronald Reagan, and asked Lennon to come up with a campaign anthem. "Come Tegether" was born instead. Its opening is scarily ominous, when Lennon whispers "shoot me" over and over, because that's what a deranged fan would do to him in just a little over a decade. Strong as the words are--about "ol' flat-top" with "joo-joo eyeballs"--it's Paul's legendary bass riff that may be the best thing about it. In the end, Leary obviously didn't become California Governor; he didn't even get to run since he was sent to prison for possession. But due to him, we have this great song that has lasted much longer than any political term in office ever could.
28. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Meet the Beatles; 1964]
The Beatles first #1 single in the states, a rousing number that seems so innocent today. (Unless Bob Dylan was right, and instead of singing the line "I can't hide," they sang what he thought they were singing--"I get high" in a nod to marijuana intake.) The TV series "Glee" did an interesting twist of the song, with Kurt singing it like a torch song.
27. "Twist and Shout" [Cover Song/The Beatles; Please Please Me; 1963]
You don't need to be Matthew Broderick on a parade float to enjoy this, the Beatles at their most rockin' and rollin'. This larynx-ripper would be Lennon's vocal tour de force, his greatest, most pulverizing singing in what must rank as the finest of the 25 cover songs that the Beatles recorded.
26. "A Hard Day's Night" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; A Hard Day's Night; 1964]
Thank another Ringo-ism for the title: "We went to do a job, and we'd worked all day and we happened to work all night," Ringo told dj Dave Hull in '64. "I came up still thinking it was day I suppose, and I said, 'It's been a hard day...' and I looked around and saw it was dark so I said, '...night!' So we came to 'A Hard Day's Night.'" The song boasts that memorable, strident opening chord that immediately awakened the world to the genius of the Mop Tops. In less than a year, they opened a song with the Rickenbacker 360/12 chord here, the fade-in on "Eight Days a Week," and the feedback that started "I Feel Fine." They were on a creative high but would not peak for a few more glorious years.
25. "Rain" [Lennon-McCartney; Hey Jude/The Beatles Again; 1966]
24. "Dear Prudence" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; The Beatles (White Album); 1968]
23. "And Your Bird Can Sing" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Revolver; 1966]
The Beatles' three most underrated songs, each happening to be a magnificent John composition. "Rain," the B-side of "Paperback Writer," would prove to be a better song than Paul's rocking A-side; it's certainly Ringo Starr's finest hour as a drummer. "Dear Prudence" is what you get when you mix the innocence of childhood with Donovan and Mia Farrow's sister, Prudence. In India, John and George tried to coax Prudence to come to get away from her serious meditation for moment and come outside and have some fun; Donovan comes into the picture by teaching Lennon a finger-picking guitar technique that he used to beautiful effect here. And "And Your Bird Can Sing" is the exact center of the Beatles experience, coming right in the middle of '66, the music similar to the good ol' early "She Loves You" days of the Fab Four, and the lyrics so intangible, so obscure in meaning, open to interpretation like so many latter Beatles classics. With "And Your Bird Can Sing," the early mop top Beatles meet the hippy-haired psychedelic Beatles in one two-minute pop masterpiece.
22. "Across the Universe" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Let It Be; 1970]
Perhaps the greatest of all cosmic ballads, a head trip through the vastness of space and time. John called it "good poetry, or whatever you call it, without chewin' it." I had to look up the meaning of the repeated phrase "Jai guru deva om," which translates as "O Hail/Victory to [my] heavenly teacher...om." For the record, "om" is just a sound, nothing more, and doesn't translate into anything.
21. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band/With a Little Help from My Friends" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; 1967]
Okay, I know I'm cheating here; I know that these are often treated as two different songs. But really, they are one song in two parts, and neither is as strong without the other. The first is the title cut to the Beatles' most famous album about "the act you remember all these years," and it introduces "Billy Shears" (Ringo Starr) who will sing the second song, one of the great tunes about friendship, "With a Little Help from My Friends." The two, together, move up dozens of spaces to #21, where singly they wouldn't be loitering anywhere near this area of the chart.
20. "If I Fell" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; A Hard Day's Night; 1964]
No matter how hard you try not to, when this song plays, you must sing along with it as loud as possible. It's an unwritten law for all Beatles fans: All listeners must join in "If I Fell," which is the best song of the Beatles' first year and features some of the group's tightest, most exquisite harmonious.
19. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; 1967]
Julian Lennon matters so much to those interested in Beatle lore. It was the young boy's drawing that inspired John's most acid-trippy song (though it was not intended). Another song that was due to Julian can be found even further on the list. As for "Lucy," don't miss William Shatner's spoken-word version of it, a sight for sore ears.
18. "Here Comes the Sun" [George Harrison/The Beatles; Abbey Road; 1969]
George came into his own in 1969, with this lovely optimist primer, so much better than Paul's wake-me-up "Good Day Sunshine" a few years earlier (not on the list). George McGovern knew of the song's power, adopting it for his failed 1972 Presidential campaign. And in the late 1970's, Carl Sagan wanted to immortalize it on a Voyager Golden Record by launching it into outer space via the Voyager Spacecraft. But the label's copyright got in the way and didn't give permission for the song to be enjoyed by some space being. So, "Here Comes the Sun" remains ours, to be enjoyed only by us mere mortals.
17. "Maybe I'm Amazed" [Paul McCartney solo; McCartney; 1970]
Paul's greatest solo song, and the second highest charting Beatle solo on this list. He plays every instrument on it, and his talents--both performance and songwriting--have never been sharper. He even claimed that it's the work that he would like to be most remembered for, but let's be realistic: that probably won't happen with songs like "Hey Jude" and "Yesterday" in his repertoire.
16. "Don't Let Me Down" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Hey Jude/The Beatles Again; 1969]
Another B-side that eclipses the supposed A-side ("Get Back"); this features some of John's most impassioned vocals, which is saying something. It's been covered by numerous folks, from Phoebe Snow to Maroon 5, from Annie Lennox to the Black Crowes. And Rod Stewart's gay tragedy, "The Killing of Georgie, Part 2," completely steals Lennon's music here, something that, according to the Beatle, "the lawyers didn't notice."
15. "Revolution" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Hey Jude/The Beatles Again; 1968]
Prepositions matter. And in the overtly political "Revolution," they matter more than the music itself. John sings the word "out" here, in answer to the line, "But if you want destruction, don't you know that you can count me out." And such a statement mattered, especially at the time. In another version of the song on the White Album, he hedges his bets, however, and says both "in" and "out." This is the best version, a groundbreaker. I was five when it aired on The David Frost Show in 1968, and I was so excited to see the Beatles, who I knew my whole life. But the song was unlike anything my young ears had ever heard. These can't be those same sweet mop tops who adorned my older sisters' Meet the Beatles and Help! LP's, can they? They seemed scary to me, but it's the intensity of the song that really rattled my soul. It's 52 years later, and that intensity still shakes me, especially in uncertain times. "Don't you know it's gonna be all right?" No, I don't.
14. "Penny Lane" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Magical Mystery Tour; 1967]
Paul's melodic snapshot of a day in the life of a south Liverpool suburban street. It's a nostalgic daydream, similar to the reverie displayed in Dylan Thomas' poem, "Fern Hill" ("Now as I was young and easy under the apple bough/About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green..."). In McCartney's world, we meet a barber, a banker, and a nurse. There's a fireman with a portrait of the Queen in his pocket, a man who "likes to keep his fire engine clean." November 11th Remembrance Day is alluded to ("selling poppies on a tray" is a symbol for remembrance of World War 1, even though for years I thought the line was "selling puppies on a tray"). And a "fish and finger pie" is sexual slang and not something you would pick from any restaurant menu.
13. "Blackbird" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; The Beatles (White Album); 1968]
Inspired by Bach's Bourree in E Minor, this song has grown in stature of late as one of the Beatles' very best. Does its meaning have to do with the sad state of race relations in the 1960's? McCartney has said that he wrote it after reading something in the newspaper about the riots that had been exploding across America. But the music is anything but explosive; it's calming, hypnotic, even haunting, all to the beat of Paul tapping his foot. "Blackbird" is currently one of McCartney's standouts, so much so that he titled his collection of song lyrics and poems Blackbird Singing.
12. "I Am the Walrus" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Magical Mystery Tour; 1967]
Lewis Carroll updated into an LSD trip, a hallucinogenic take of The Walrus and the Carpenter. This John work is his ultimate Joycean word collage, with everything thrown in the mix like Edgar Allen Poe, Hare Krishna, pornographic priestesses, elementary penguins, Corn Flakes, the Eiffel Tower, and playground nursery rhymes ("yellow mattered custard dripping from a dead dog's eye"). And flowing in and out of the whole thing are snippets from Act IV, Scene 6, lines 219-222 and 249-262 of William Shakespeare's King Lear. If "A Day in the Life" is John's Ulysses, then this is most definitely his Finnegan's Wake.
11. "Eleanor Rigby" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Revolver; 1966]
A lament for the elderly, a tragic tale of loneliness featuring some of McCartney's finest imagery. Instead of just saying that she wears makeup, he writes that Eleanor Rigby "waits at the window...wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door/Who is it for?" McCartney said he picked the name "Eleanor" as an homage to Eleanor Bron, an actress who appeared with the Beatles in the movie Help!. He chose "Rigby" as a nod to Rigby & Evens Ltd., Wine & Spirit Shippers, a Bristol store that he noticed in The Happiest Day of Your Life featuring Jane Asher, his then-girlfriend. (The name "Eleanor Rigby" sure sounds better than Paul's original title for his sad heroine of loneliness: Miss Daisy Hawkins.) Interestingly, outside the church where John first met Paul in 1957, a gravestone has the name "Eleanor Rigby," an actual Liverpudlian who died of a brain hemorrhage in 1939.
10. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" [George Harrison/The Beatles; The Beatles; 1968]
Who knew that George would wind up having the best song on the double White Album? With the youngest Beatle coming in to his own, did John and Paul realize that they suddenly had some incredibly stiff competition? ("While My Guitar Gently Weeps" would be just one of four Harrison songs on the White Album, with "Piggies," "Long Long Long," and "Savoy Truffle" also showcasing his talents.) Partially due to guest Eric Clapton's master class guitar work, along with Harrison's sudden powerhouse songwriting skills, this now stands as a staple of classic rock stations, along with "Stairway to Heaven," "Layla," and "Won't Get Fooled Again." Great company.
9. The Abbey Road Suite ("You Never Give Me Your Money," "Sun King," "Mean Mr. Mustard," "Polythene Pam," "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," "Golden Slumbers," "Carry That Weight," "The End") [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Abbey Road; 1969]
I admit that the inclusion of this one is a bit unfair. This isn't a single song; it's a medley of eight short songs, flowing in and out of each other. But it's my list, and I get to make the rules, and I rule this an epic medley that deserves a hearty place in the Top-10. And it culminates with Ringo's only drum solo, a fierce guitar competition between John, Paul and George, and finally, the Beatles' most moving line: "And in the end/The love you take/Is equal to the love you make."
8. "Yesterday" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Help!; 1965]
Paul's greatest love ode, a song of heartbreak and longing. Odd as it may sound, this could be considered as the very first Beatles solo record; Paul is the only performer on it. According to George Martin, the song "wasn't really a Beatles record and I discussed this with Brian Epstein: 'You know this is Paul's song...shall we call it Paul McCartney?'" But Epstein would have none of it, never dreaming of splitting up the Beatles. Still, could you imagine a song by "Paul McCartney and the Beatles"? "Yesterday" may rank #10 on this list, but according to BBC Radio 2, Rolling Stone magazine and MTV, it would be chosen as the #1 Best Song of the 20th Century. Would it have received such an honor if it had been called by its original title, "Scrambled Eggs"?
7. "In My Life" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Rubber Soul; 1965]
"There are places I remember...". I remember when I first heard this song, eight years after its initial release when I was ten years old, 1973. It was on the recently released Beatles Red Album (their greatest hits from 1962-1966), and as I listened to all of the classic early hits, everything came to a stop when "In My Life" played. It sounded different than the other songs, both pop and classical, classy and meaningful, a wistful wisp of nostalgia, with a cool harpsichord break (I thought it was a harpsichord; it turned out to be George Martin on a sped-up piano). I knew then, as I know now, that this was one of the great ones, certainly the standout of that red album chockfull of hits. The world has caught up to me, and now this is considered perhaps the most beloved of all Beatles songs.
6. "Something" [George Harrison/The Beatles; Abbey Road; 1969]
George Harrison's greatest moment as a songwriter; even Lennon agreed that it was the best song on Abbey Road. If you doubt Harrison's contribution to music (and how dare you, if you do), check out his songs, both solo and with the Beatles, that made this list: "Living in the Material World," "All Those Years Ago," "Blow Away," "Taxman," "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)," "My Sweet Lord," "Beware of Darkness," "Here Comes the Sun," While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and the best of them all, "Something." That's a major outpouring from a major artist, who had been waiting in the wings all those years ago and ultimately eclipsed by the greatest two songwriters of the modern era. But the Beatles boasted three songwriting geniuses, as certainly proven by this, what may be the perfect love ballad.
5. "Strawberry Fields Forever" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Magical Mystery Tour; 1967]
From playwright Joe Orton's diary (Wednesday, January 24, 1967): "I was introduced to one or two people. And Paul McCartney. He was just as the photographs. Only he'd grown a moustache. His hair was shorter too. He was playing the latest Beatles recording, 'Penny Lane.' I liked it very much. Then he played the other side--Strawberry something. I didn't like this as much." Orton was lucky--he was working on a film script for the Beatles and got to hear their masterpiece before the rest of the public. This is the greatest 45 record of all-time-"Penny Lane"/A-side, "Strawberry Fields Forever"/B-side-where both Paul and John were at their creative peaks. As time goes on, Orton's thoughts aside, "Strawberry Fields Forever" has become the stronger of the two songs, one of the Beatles finest creations. Strawberry Fields was a Salvation Army children's home near John's childhood residence in Liverpool. It's a nostalgic impressionist classic, a sorrowful remembrance, a questioning trip both spiritual and real. In fact, this song finds both sides of Lennon's soul-the creator of psychedelic surrealism mixed with the real man who exposed his personal life for the world to see. Both of these worlds meet head-on in this incredibly evocative song that only gets stronger and stronger, better and better, with age.
4. "Let It Be" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Let It Be; 1970]
This is the last single before Paul announced to the world the dissolution of the most famous band in history (yes, John had quit in 1969, but Paul made it official in 1970). I used to think "Let It Be" was a religious song (and if you ever heard Aretha Franklin's gospel cover of it, then it becomes a religious song). But the "Mother Mary" that speaks to the singer in the lyrics isn't the Virgin Mary; it's Paul's mother, Mary, who died of cancer when he was young. The single version is more in line with the religious angle, with Billy Preston's striking Hammond organ solo not found on the album version. This was a back to back #1 with Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," another mainstream spiritual journey, power pop as a sermon, as the Sixties were ending and the Seventies remained an uneasy question mark.
3. "Hey Jude" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Hey Jude/The Beatles Again; 1968]
If John Lennon had never met Yoko One and had never separated from his wife, Cynthia, then "Hey Jude," the Beatles' biggest hit (nine weeks at #1), would never have been born. Paul wrote the song to help comfort John's son, Julian. "I knew it was not going to be easy for him [Julian]," Paul said. "I always feel sorry for kids in divorces." Do you think it would it have been as big a hit with its original title, "Hey Jules"? It's a long song, seven minutes and eleven seconds in length, with the most memorable coda ("Naaa-NaaNaa-NaNaNaNa!") in music history. It was nominated for the Song of the Year Grammy, but shockingly lost to "Little Green Apples" by O.C. Smith. I don't know what you may think of "Little Green Apples," but one thing is for certain: It's no "Hey Jude," the Beatles' finest single to hit the pop charts.
2. "Imagine" [John Lennon solo; Imagine; 1971]
As you may have noticed, the solo songs of John, Paul, George and Ringo all but disappeared once we got to the Top-25. Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" hit the Top-20, barely, and here is John Lennon's solo masterpiece, a #3 hit on the Billboard Hot-100 in 1971, and #2 here. I was eight years old when the song was first released, but didn't hear it until I was ten; it played during my sister's high school dance recital. The dancing was passable, but it's the song itself that caught my attention: slow, hypnotic, with a meaning deeper than I could comprehend at the time. The singer dares to imagine a life with no heaven, no countries, and no possessions. Years later I would connect with his lyrics, of course, which were about uniting humanity, trying to bring peace to a "brotherhood of man." In high school, 1980-1981, after our administration turned down "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas as our class song (they said it was too nihilistic), we wanted to choose "Imagine," mostly because John Lennon died during my senior year and we wished to honor him. In the end, "Imagine" was nixed for being too "communistic." So, instead of the brilliant John Lennon work, our graduating class chose "Old Days (Good Times I Remember)," Chicago's nostalgic ditty about Howdy Doody and the 1950's that, the title aside, had nothing to do with my generation. It proved that the kids my age (myself included) compromised way too easily. It was symbolic of surrender, of giving up any youthful integrity that we may have had. Nowadays, when I tell people the title of our official class song, I become red-faced with embarrassment. Just think how cool it would have been if we actually chose "Imagine," John Lennon's greatest work, as our class song. In the end, all we could do is imagine it in a world of mediocre compromise symbolized by the stale Chicago tune we wound up picking instead.
And here it is...the Beatles greatest song of all time...
1. "A Day in the Life" [Lennon-McCartney/The Beatles; Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; 1967]
"I read the news today, oh boy..." Tara Browne, Guinness heir who guided Paul through his first LSD trip, died in a car accident on December 18, 1966. Browne would be the inspiration to the Beatles' ultimate masterpiece, the closing song of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. "He blew his mind out in a car/He didn't notice that the lights had changed." These lines can be interpreted as either a car wreck, or a drug overdose. Did he run a red light? Or is he dead in the car and the street lights keep changing? Lennon sings the main part, a haunting ode to death, that culminates with an orchestra building into an explosion of sound. And suddenly we're in the middle of this miraculous musical quagmire with a different storyteller--Paul. McCartney appears in a mid-song romp where he wakes up, gets out of bed, combs his hair, has some coffee, is late for work, gets on a bus, and is thrown off for smoking a joint. And then he dreams, and we're back with Lennon, who sings about 4000 "holes" in Blackburn Lancashire. At the end, he sings the song's final words, a verbal time capsule to the 1960's: "I'd love to turn you on." And then once again the orchestra veers off the tracks, building to a wild climax, "the end of the world" as Lennon called it. There's a momentary pause, followed by the brilliant piece de resistance: The final, seemingly eternal chord, the last moment of the greatest song on the greatest album by the greatest group of all time.