What follows is a list of my favourite Beatles songs ranked from number 40 to number 1. These are my favourites. It doesn’t mean that I think that these are the best Beatles songs although in most cases I think they are. But I’ve excluded songs such as “Yesterday” and “Something” that most people love because, as good as they may be, they are not amongst my personal favourites. All of the songs that follow were either written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney or by George Harrison.
Number 40 – It Won’t be Long
This is the opening track of the Beatles second album “With the Beatles”. It utilised the “Yeah Yeah Yeah” phrase also used in “I’ll Get You”, “Polythene Pam” and famously in “She Loves You”. This track is an upbeat rocking number which would have been released as a single by just about any other recording act at that time.
Number 39 – Revolution
Which version? Both of them, the original version which was the flip side to “Hey Jude” and the opening track on side 4 of The White Album. John Lennon’s lyrics take a political turn: “But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao – You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.” Did Don McLean refer to this in “American Pie” when he sang “When Lenin (Lennon?) read a book on Marx”?
Number 38 – There’s a Place
This was a track from the “Please Please Me” album. It’s a John Lennon composition and although mention is made of a girl, it’s really about introspection.
Number 37 – Dear Prudence
This John Lennon song was written whilst the group was spending time in India with the Maharishi in 1968. The reference to Prudence was to Mia Farrow’s sister who was shy and introverted. “Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?” The song has a nice tinkling guitar intro and fade out.
Number 36 – You’re Gonna to Lose That Girl
This is a great pop song by John Lennon. As with many songs by the Beatles, this would have been a smash hit if released by almost anyone else. But for the Beatles, it was just another track from the movie soundtrack album “Help”. In a way this was a continuation of the theme expressed in “She Loves You”, where the guy being sung to must take some action or he might lose the girl.
Number 35 – Hey Bulldog
This song is underrated. It’s hidden away as a track on the “Yellow Submarine” album and is easily the best track on that album. Unusually for a Beatles song, it has a piano riff rather than a guitar riff similar to “Lady Madonna.” Some ad lib banter can be heard towards the end.
Number 34 – I Saw Her Standing There
This was the flip side of the Beatles first hit “Love Me Do” and is the opening track on the “Please Please Me” album. It’s a typical Beatles song from their early era and the lyrics “Well my heart went boom, when I crossed that room” was not exactly a portent of things to come but in its time “I saw her standing there” had a lot to offer.
Number 33 – No Reply
This song has no musical introduction and commences with a double-tracked John Lennon. The narrative is about a man lamenting his lost love. It is the opening track of the “Beatles For Sale” album which was the last album the Beatles recorded that included compositions by others.
Number 32 – The Word
This is not a boy girl love song. But it is about love. “Now that I know what I feel must be right, I’m here to show everybody the light,” is evangelical. It’s from the “Rubber Soul” album which exemplified the Beatles’ musical development.
Number 31 – You Can’t Do That
This was the flip side to “Can’t buy me Love”. This is John Lennon at his menacing, aggressive best. “I’m gonna let you down, and leave you flat” as a threat to his girlfriend not being true might be politically incorrect today but it packed a punch back in 1964.
Number 30 – I’ll Be Back
This gorgeous ballad is the last track on the “A Hard Days Night” album. It was composed mainly by John. Apparently this song was created around the chords of Del Shannon’s “Runaway”.
Number 29 – This Boy
This song was not a hit but its flip side, “I want to Hold Your Hand” was a monster hit. It’s a slow somewhat soulful ballad. George Harrison once said that this song was John Lennon trying to do Smokey Robinson. Perhaps. Music critic William Mann wrote in 1963 that the song had pendiatonic clusters. I have no idea what pendiatonic clusters are but it sounds impressive.
Number 28 – Taxman
This song was written by George Harrison and he was the lead singer. John and Paul added some background vocals “Mr Wilson – Mr Heath”. George was complaining about the very high level of tax payable in Britain. There are some clever lines and the lyrics are political and biting. “And my advice for those who die, declare the pennies on your eyes” – “And you’re working for no one but me”. The Beatles must have thought that this was a pretty good song because it was the opening track to the “Revolver” album.
Number 27 – Back in the USSR
Paul McCartney said that the concept of this song was inspired by Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA”. The main thing about this song is the tribute to the Beach Boys “Well those Ukraine girls really knock me out, they leave the West behind, and Moscow girls make me sing and shout, that Georgia’s always on my mind.” The backing is pure Beach Boys and is a tribute. Paul McCartney has said that the Beach Boys album “Pet Sounds” is his favourite non-Beatles album.
Number 26 – Do You Want to Know a Secret
This is a great song which was a mere album track on the “Please Please Me” album. I am not sure why it was given to George to sing and I don’t think he sang it particularly well. There was a hit version by Bill J Kramer and The Dakotas that went to number 1 in England. The Beatles had so many hits up their sleeve that they could afford to dole a few out to friends and others.
Number 25 – Got to Get You Into My Life
This is the second last track on the “Revolver” album. It has a busting jazzy melody which is complemented by the use of brass, something unusual in Beatles songs. In the last verse Paul lets loose and the brass is joined by electric guitars. Superb stuff and a great intro to the brooding “Tomorrow Never Knows”.
Number 24 – Hey Jude
This was the Beatles best selling single record. Why? It can be divided into two parts, the ballad and the extended fade out. The ballad is not bad. The melody is pleasant enough and the lyrics, giving advice (perhaps to John Lennon’s son) are ok. The fade out goes on for a full five minutes and have lots of people jamming and shouting in the background (apparently including Mick Jagger). I have no doubt that the fade out is the reason for this song’s enormous commercial success.
Number 23 – When I’m Sixty Four
This track from the “Sgt Pepper” Album clearly shows Paul McCartney’s great versatility. It asks if a woman will still be with him when he gets older, when he is sixty four years old. The song was arranged in a 1920’s band style.
Number 22 – With a Little Help From My Friends
This is the second track on the “Sgt Pepper” Album. It commences with the ending of the opening track. The expression “With a little help from friends” has entered modern day vernacular. The Beatles were into LSD trips at this stage and some of the references in this song may have reflected that. “What do you see when you turn out the light? I can’t tell you but I know it’s mine” sounds like being on a trip.
Number 21 – If I Fell
This song was written by John. John and Paul sang together into the same microphone when recording. The structure is unusual. It opens with an introduction that isn’t repeated later in the song and the body of the song has no real verse/chorus structure. The song was featured in the movie “A Hard Day’s Night.” Most of the Beatles slower songs are associated with Paul but this composition by John is wonderful and underrated.
Number 20 – Michelle
This lovely Paul McCartney ballad is on the “Rubber Soul” album. It incorporated a few French words and so far as I am aware, is the only Beatles song recorded in English which contained a foreign language. I am not including “Sun King” which had some fake foreign sounding words. But “Michelle” is a beautiful song, quickly became a standard and showed Paul McCartney’s versatility as a song writer.
Number 19 – I Want to Hold Your Hand
This is the song that propelled the Beatles to the number 1 chart position in America in 1964. It’s a great rock n roll song from that era but really, the Beatles (as followed by the British invasion) were ready to bust open the American charts. In the same week that “I want to hold your hand” went from number 43 to number 1, “She loves you” went from number 51 to number 11. This song will forever be associated with Beatlemania, those wild frenetic days when four lads from Liverpool with long hair drove girls wild and drove parents around the bend.
Number 18 – Norwegian Wood
This is the second track on the “Rubber Soul” album. If any song exemplifies the change in Beatles style then “Norwegian Wood” is it. George Harrison used a sitar. To my knowledge, this had never previously been done on a pop record. The lyrics tell of a strange encounter with a woman. It’s a lament by John Lennon, a small vignette.
Number 17 – I’m Only Sleeping
This song was about sleep, or meditation, or just lying in bed. Who knows? There are some lovely harmonies and a backwards guitar. It helped to set the psychedelic mood for “Revolver”.
Number 16 – Things We Said Today
This song is from the “A Hard Day’s Night” album but it was not included in the film. It’s haunting and eerie. It’s an underrated song which is not played often but I regard it as first class.
Number 15 – Magical Mystery Tour
Some might say that this song doesn’t deserve to be in this list and certainly not this high. It was written by John and Paul during a period in which most of their songs were written mostly by one or the other. It employed circus and fairground barkers “Roll Up! Roll Up!” Later on it was said that the song was the equivalent of a drug trip and that “Roll Up” was referring to rolling a joint. I love the trumpet playing and the lovely piano fade out at the end.
Number 14 – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
This is the title track from the Sgt Pepper Album. It starts with fake tune ups and then the guys sing that they hope we will enjoy the show. This introduces the album’s thematic quality. The second last track on the album states that they hope we enjoyed the show. The two tracks are different in that the opening track is slower and theme setting whereas the closing track is a rocking number that fades into “A Day in the Life.”
Number 13 – All My Loving
This is regarded as a classic. It was the third track on the “With the Beatles” album. It was the first song that the Beatles sang in their famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan show on the 9th of February 1964. Over 73 million people watched that show which was the largest audience ever for a TV show to that time.
Number 12 – Day Tripper
Apparently this song had drug references. I don’t get that but it doesn’t matter. It has a sensational guitar riff and is a classic rocking song. It was the flip side to “We Can Work It Out” which was more popular.
Number 11 – Happiness is a Warm Gun
Whilst on Tour in the US, John Lennon saw a magazine which had an advertisement headed “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”. Great. You’ve just shot something and you should be happy. John thought that this was insane but also a good title to a song. This song is the last track on the first side of the White album and can be divided into four sections. The last section which features the title of the song is brilliant classic doowop music. The Beatles could write just about any genre of music which they chose.
Number 10 – I Am the Walrus
In an interview, John Lennon once said that many of the lyrics which he came up with were utilised only for their rhyming qualities rather for any philosophical or esoteric reason. He probably had “I am the Walrus” in mind when he said that. Surely “Semolina pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower” was not meant to convey anything. If the Beatles ever wrote a song whilst they were tripping, then this must have been one of them. Although the lyrics are generally meaningless, I love this song. It’s melodic and weird. Brilliant stuff.
Number 9 – Come Together
This song is just so cool! It opened the “Abbey Road” album and had some unusual sound effects. The lyrics are largely nonsensical but it all worked seamlessly.
Number 8 – Here There and Everywhere
This is a lovely song which is on the “Revolver” album. In a later interview Paul McCartney said that he was partly influenced by the Beach Boy’s album “Pet Sounds” in writing this song. In an interview he said it’s his favourite song that he wrote.
Number 7 – Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds
This is the third track on the “Sgt Pepper” album and is all about LSD. Or is it? Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds sounds like a reference to LSD although John Lennon said that his son Julian came home from school with a painting and declared that it was Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Who cares! This song has amazing word pictures “Picture yourself in a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies”. How about that? I think it was about LSD.
Number 6 – Tomorrow Never Knows
John Lennon in writing this song was apparently inspired by Timothy Leary and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream”. How about that for an opening? Strange sound effects were used and lots of studio tricks which created an amazing soundscape. It’s weird, ethereal and strange. It’s brilliant!
Number 5 – In My Life
This song is from “Rubber Soul” album. It was written by John Lennon and was very personal. John made references to friends; apparently there was a reference to Stewart Sutcliffe who was a great friend of the Beatles and who died before they became famous.
Number 4 – She Loves You
This song optimised what Beatlemania was all about. On release, it was a huge hit in Europe and Australia but went nowhere in the US. That is until 1964. Apparently the “yeah yeah yeah” was taken from a Bobby Rydell song called “We Got Love”. The Beatles who weren’t well known were an opening act for Bobby Rydell and they took note of the “yeah yeah yeah”. I wonder if Bobby Rydell got any royalties.
Number 3 – A Day in the Life
This song was inspired by various articles that John and Paul read in newspapers. It’s like a collage, a montage. “I’d love to turn you on” is a reference to getting high or tripping surely! The soaring orchestral passages half way through and at the end of the song (followed by an interminable note) describe experiencing a trip. The middle part talks about waking up and going back to sleep again. This song closed the “Sgt Pepper” album and is a masterpiece.
Number 2 – Eleanor Rigby
This song was on the “Revolver” album. It tells a story in three brief verses. The violin backing gives the song a medieval baroque feel. Ray Charles made a great funky version of this song but frankly, his version is a different song. This song was written in 1966 when the Beatles were still in their early to middle twenties. Paul McCartney is a genius. So was John, but anyway….
And so, before number one, I’d like to do some honourable mentions. Now honourable mentions refers to songs that didn’t quite make it into my top 40 favourites. But there are so many Beatles songs that almost made it that they could hardly be called honourable mentions. So instead, I am going to list my three favourite Beatles recordings which they did not write. And so, in descending order:-
Number 3 – “Roll Over Beethoven”
This is the opening track on the second side of the “With the Beatles” album. It features George Harrison double tracked and is frenetic and exciting. Perhaps Chuck Berry would have approved of this version of his classic song.
Number 2 – “Money”
John Lennon does a great shouting version of the old Barrett Strong classic song. There is heavy use of piano throughout and Paul and George so some great background harmonies. Apparently, this song led to near riots in the old cavern days.
Number 1 – “Twist and Shout”
This song was released as a single in America and had huge sales. Well, all Beatles releases had huge sales but this song was really good. The song was originally recorded by the Isley Brothers and had a more soulful calypso feel to it and I actually prefer the Isley Brothers version. But the Beatles version is just great.
Number 1 – Strawberry Fields Forever
Strawberry Field was apparently a Salvation Army home in Liverpool about which John Lennon had fond memories. Everything about this song is remarkable. The production (George Martin was also a genius), the structure, the lyrics “Living is easy with eyes closed” the wistful nostalgic feel. It may not be everybody’s favourite Beatles song. But it’s mine.