Often I get asked what my favorite Beatles song is. And I usually fire off seven or eight songs.
It’s just impossible to do; aside from a few stinkers, the entire Beatles catalog is filled with classics — both singles and album tracks. It’s one of the reasons they’re the greatest band of all time.
That being said, I love lists, and below I’ve listed the Top 40 Beatles songs of all time. It wasn’t easy, for the group had about 75 songs that I consider great. Of course, you can ask 40 Beatles fans what the best Beatles songs are, and you’ll get 40 different answers.
Each Beatles fan has their biases. I’ll admit up front that this list has a bias toward Paul McCartney, but I’ve tried to be as objective as possible.
40. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” – A true collaboration between John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Lennon recalled that it was written on the piano, and after the opening lyrics, “Oh you, got that something…,” Paul hit a minor chord that made Lennon perk up and say “That’s it!”
39. “I’ll Follow the Sun” – An early folk number by McCartney. Featuring harmonies by Lennon, it’s simple but memorable and shows McCartney’s songwriting maturity at the tender age of 22.
38. “And Your Bird Can Sing” – The bridge makes this song — As he often did, Lennon used a descending bass line for it that moves the song in a different direction. It’s not bad for what Lennon called a “horror” and a “throwaway.”
37. “Octopus’s Garden” – This was only the second song Ringo Starr ever wrote, and for someone who didn’t have a musical gift like the other three, he wrote a charming tune that is made better by George Harrison’s superb guitar playing.
36. “I Feel Fine” – One of the first songs ever to feature feedback, its bridge is what makes it a Beatles song, with a transition from a G chord to a B minor chord. You just didn’t hear things like that back then.
35. “We Can Work It Out” – Written about McCartney’s relationship with his girlfriend Jane Asher, it features a middle eight written by Lennon that turns the song 180 degrees. It’s these contrasting styles that made their collaboration so unique.
34. “Can’t Buy Me Love” – It’s unique in that the chorus opens the song, with no instruments and no verse leading up to it. It’s another paradigm breaker for the group.
33. “Mother Nature’s Son” – Much has been said of McCartney’s little ditties, or as Lennon called them, “granny music,” but this little ditty’s beauty is in its simple melody. He was often best by himself with his acoustic guitar.
32. “Lady Madonna” – It doesn’t sound like a Beatles song, with McCartney using his bravado voice on a blues-influenced piano tune. But, like most Beatles experiments, it works.
31. “She Loves You” – The “Yeah Yeah Yeah”s in this song are what put the Beatles on the map, with an indie rock band even taking their name from the words. When I think of early Beatles, I think of “She Loves You.”
30. “When I’m Sixty-Four” – How good was Paul McCartney? He wrote this Tin Pan Alley tribute when he was 15 or 16 years old. Lennon helped with the words, and the result is part of what makes Sergeant Pepper so eclectic.
29. “All You Need Is Love” – A simple notion, really, set to a simple melody. It’s the chord progressions and the arrangement that makes this song complex and inexorably Beatlesque.
28. “You Never Give Me Your Money” – The longest song in the Abbey Road medley, it’s really a mini medley in itself: the first “song” is a slow, sad commentary on the Beatles’ business situation; the next one is a jaunty number that devolves into several other pieces.
27. “Free As A Bird” – The first new single from the Beatles in 25 years is based on a snippet of a demo that Lennon recorded before his death, enhanced and accompanied by the other three years later. It’s bittersweet to hear.
26. “Here, There And Everywhere” – A wonderful ballad by McCartney, with a melody that soars and holds its own with or without the accompaniment and backing vocals.
25. “Dear Prudence” – Lennon’s masterful ode to Mia Farrow’s sister features the descending bass line again. Although it’s an album track, it’s been covered by Siouxsie and the Banshees and several other artists.
24. “Help!” – The title song to the Beatles’ second movie has heartfelt lyrics that showed how much the Beatles had grown since their “Yeah Yeah Yeah” days. I wish I could hear the original version, which was apparently slower.
23. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – Harrison’s first entry onto the chart, like several of Lennon’s songs, had a descending bassline and a searing guitar solo by Eric Clapton.
22. “Got To Get You Into My Life” – The first Beatles song I remember hearing. Originally released as part of 1966’s Revolver, the song was re-released 10 years later as a single from the group’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Music compilation album. It was the first Beatles song to feature brass instruments.
21. “Because” – Lennon said this song was inspired by Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” I don’t hear it; all I hear is beautiful, ethereal harmonies. I recommend the a cappella version that’s on Anthology 3.
20. “The Long And Winding Road” – This song gets panned sometimes as being too saccharine, but it’s partly Phil Spector’s orchestral arrangement that makes it so. The stripped-down version is more earnest and less gaudy.
19. “Revolution” – The distorted, ripping guitars at the beginning announce a Beatles classic. Lennon preferred the slower version that was on the White Album.
18. “Blackbird” – Another White Album deep track, “Blackbird” is a McCartney acoustic number that is just perfect in its simplicity. The lyrics are about the civil rights movement.
17. “Here Comes The Sun” – The fact that a classic like this song is at No. 17 shows how talented this group was. Harrison was getting into his songwriting groove at this point.
16. “Eleanor Rigby” – Perhaps one of the most underrated Beatles songs, “Eleanor Rigby” features sad lyrics and a haunting orchestral arrangement that showed McCartney nearing his creative peak.
15. “You Won’t See Me” – The dark horse of the Top 40. Not many people have heard this tune by McCartney, which is musically more complex than it sounds.
14. “Strawberry Fields Forever” – In what was a stroke of genius, producer George Martin took two versions of the song in different keys and different tempos and melted them together to create the psychedelic sound we hear and love.
13. “Nowhere Man” – This song goes hand in hand with “Help!” – two confessions by Lennon that he was not in a good place. It’s wistful and sad but has some of the most beautiful harmonies on any Lennon song outside of “Because.”
12. “A Day in the Life” – The ultimate Lennon/McCartney song: It’s actually two songs in one juxtaposed against each other to create the magnum opus of Sergeant Pepper.
11. “The End” – It’s a fitting “end” — the last song on the last Beatles album ever recorded. Each Beatle gets his own solo, with beautiful harmonies signaling their curtain call.
10. “In My Life” – What Lennon considered his first serious work may have been written by both Lennon and McCartney. The two disputed who wrote the music to this description of the people in Lennon’s life.
9. “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” – Inspired by Lennon’s son Julian, who had drawn a picture of a friend. It’s an often-forgotten piece with Lennon’s descending bassline again.
8. “Real Love” – the second “Threetles” reunion song that revolved around an old Lennon demo, this one was in better shape and features the Beatle at his most musical.
7. “Eight Days A Week” – The opening chords make this song, but I’m taken by the handclaps as well. An underrated gem by the group.
6. “Something” – Frank Sinatra once said this was his favorite Lennon/McCartney song, which is interesting, since Harrison wrote it.
5. “For No One” – McCartney’s somber album cut is underappreciated. A single French horn solo and a harpsichord accompaniment lend a baroque feel to the piece.
4. “Penny Lane” – One could argue that this song represents McCartney at his creative peak. It’s impossible to describe this piece except that it’s perfect, from the sing-song melody to the piccolo trumpets in the bridge.
3. “Let It Be” – If ever there was a pop anthem, this is it. Simple yet deep in meaning, it’s the quintessential Beatles song, recorded during the end of their reign.
2. “Hey Jude” – Clocking in at over seven minutes, it’s similar to “Let It Be” in that it’s relatively simple, but there’s a lot more going on than you realize. It’s one of the most popular Beatles songs, and its popularity is well deserved.
1. “Yesterday” – What can you say about perfection? McCartney dreamed this song and played it for people, thinking it was a song that had to have been previously written. Bittersweet and heartbreaking, it showed that the young McCartney had much more to show us.
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