To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Beatles debut in America, I have compiled a list of my 50 favorite songs by John, Paul, George and Ringo. This list was not easy to compile. There were well over 200 songs from which to choose and the fact that there are that many to choose from is a testament to the greatness of The Beatles. Among the great songs that did not make my list were “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Twist & Shout,” “Yesterday,” and “Let it Be.” Without further adieu, here are my fifty favorite songs from The Fab Four:
Originally recorded by the Shirelles, this is the first Beatles song where Ringo Starr sings lead. It had been previously sung by Pete Best, the Beatles’ original drummer.
49. The Night Before
Featured in Help!, Paul McCartney’s vocals and bass playing shine on the song as do the back up vocals by George Harrison.
48. Any Time at All
John and Paul take turns shouting “Any Time at All.” The best part of this song is the piano which comprises the bridge.
47. If I Fell
John and Paul’s harmonies are reminiscent of the Everly Brothers on one of their first ballads.
Paul wrote this song about then girlfriend Jane Asher. But the highlight of the song is George’s guitar work and Ringo on a Hammond organ.
45. It Won’t Be Long
This is one of those early Beatles songs where John and Paul exchange “yeahs, yeahs.” Yeah, it’s good.
44. Don’t Pass Me By
Part of The White Album, this was the first Ringo composition The Beatles ever recorded. As with many of the Beatles songs which featured Ringo on lead vocal, it had a strong country tinge.
The best part of this song is John’s harmonica part which along with the lyrics evokes the influence of Bob Dylan.
Written by John for Yoko Ono, The Beatles performed this song during their rooftop concert at Apple Headquarters. The intensity of John’s vocals is augmented by Billy Preston on keyboards.
41. Long, Long, Long
This George Harrison composition is featured on The White Album. This song has an ambient, ethereal feel to it.
Written by Paul for Linda Eastman who would soon be his wife, this was also performed during the rooftop concert. Unlike “Don’t Let Me Down,” this song made it on to the Let it Be album. A song composed by John called “Everybody Had a Hard Year” that had been rejected during The White Album sessions would serve as the bridge for “I’ve Got a Feeling.”
39. Dig a Pony
Here’s another song from the rooftop concert. John’s lyrics don’t make much sense, but the arrangements are so good the lyrics don’t really matter.
38. I Will
Clocking in at less than two minutes, it is one of the Beatles’ shortest songs. On a personal note, when I saw Paul perform live for the very first time in September 2005, he played this song. The reason I remember this so well is that he had a brain freeze. He forgot the lyrics to his own song. But Paul took it with good humor telling us, “Hey, at least you know it’s live.”
The closing track of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the song incorporates John’s account of the death of Tara Browne, an heir to the Guinness beer fortune in a car accident the year before, with Paul providing the bridge describing a man waking up to the litany of his morning drudgery before “he went into a dream.” These themes are unified by a full orchestra which was conducted by longtime Beatles producer George Martin.
36. She’s a Woman
The first Beatles song to go over three minutes, I love the intensity of Paul’s vocals.
John wrote this song in 1968 for his late mother, who was killed ten years earlier when she was struck by a vehicle driven by an off-duty police officer. Although raised by his aunt, John inherited many of his artistic sensibilities from his mother. The opening lyrics were adapted from a verse written by the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran.
34. Martha My Dear
Paul’s piano is accompanied with a string arrangement from George Martin. The result is arguably the best song ever written about a dog.
33. Lovely Rita
This is my favorite track from Sgt. Pepper’s. I particularly like the jazzy conclusion.
32. Lady Madonna
This is Paul’s homage to Fats Domino. I quite like the horn section in this song.
31. Paperback Writer
Paul’s bass in this song is incredible. A must listen for all struggling writers.
30. Octopus’ Garden
This Ringo composition appeared on Abbey Road. My favorite part of the song takes place when George is blowing bubbles during the bridge.
This is also from Abbey Road. Songs about a serial killer generally aren’t upbeat, but this one is.
The opening track from Revolver, it begins with Paul on piano and is followed by Ringo on drums and two minutes of good cheer.
Paul’s sunshine was often juxtaposed by John’s storms. While Paul has something he can laugh about when the sun is out on “Good Day Sunshine” John tells us, “You might as well be dead when the rain comes.” This song marks the first time the Beatles recorded their lyrics backwards. They also made a promotional video in which Ringo looks very cool walking across a green wearing sunglasses. It is considered by many to be the first music video. The Beatles were MTV 15 years before it even existed. It also arguably features Ringo’s best drumming on a Beatles record.
This song appears in the film Yellow Submarine as well as its soundtrack. George is conveying his frustration with Northern Songs, Ltd., the publishing company founded by John and Paul as well as Beatles manager Brian Epstein and music publisher Dick James. This effectively meant that John and Paul earned more money on George’s songs than did George. So it didn’t really matter what chords George played. Nevertheless, bitterness and cynicism mix well with psychedelic music.
Here is yet another song by John about his relationship with Yoko and how everybody was freaking out about it. When I first heard the song, I thought it had an alternative, indie feel about it decades before anybody knew what alternative or indie meant.
This is my favorite song from the Let it Be album. The reason for this is because of the string orchestra which accompanies Paul on piano. Interestingly, Paul always hated Phil Spector’s arrangement and in 2003 released Let It Be…Naked which featured “The Long & Winding Road” and rest of Let It Be as he intended it. It’s good, but in this case I think Paul should have let it be.
Paul wrote this song for the film A Hard Day’s Night. It’s an understated song with subtle chord changes.
No, Paul did not write this song about Harry Reid. Rather, he wrote it about the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi after The Beatles falling out with him following their sojourn with him in India early in 1968. The song appears on The Magical Mystery Tour album and film.
Here’s another song Paul wrote about Jane Asher this time with a little help from John on the bridge. OK, a lot of help.
20. In My Life
John wrote this song with a little help from Paul. But the key to this song is the piano solo by George Martin.
19. Dear Prudence
John wrote this song for Prudence Farrow (the younger sister of actress Mia Farrow) during the Beatles’ stint in India with the Maharishi. I really enjoy John’s guitar playing in the song’s intro.
18. Drive My Car
This is the opening track on both Yesterday & Today and on the British version of Rubber Soul, and for good reason. The opening guitar riff grabs you by the throttle and takes you for a ride for two and a half minutes.
17. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
Although primarily written by John with Paul writing the bridge, this song is best remembered for George playing the sitar for the first time on a Beatles record.
The opening track of the North American version of Rubber Soul, Paul goes country. I especially love Paul’s double tracked vocal when he sings, “Falling, yes I am falling/And she keeps calling me back again.” On a personal note, my former high school classmate Tom Landa recorded a version of this song in 1997 with his Latin-Celtic band The Paperboys.
15. Day Tripper
Here’s another John and Paul collaboration. But it’s the opening guitar riff by George that makes this song. It may be the greatest opening guitar riff in the history of rock ‘n roll.
Inspired by John’s childhood in Liverpool, this song is the Beatles are their psychedelic best. They also made a memorable promotional film for this song. BTW, at the end of the song, Ringo says, “cranberry sauce,” not “I buried Paul”.
13. Savoy Truffle
George wrote this song about Eric Clapton’s love of chocolate and other confections. It is to my knowledge the only song to ever make reference to Montelimar.
This is one of Paul’s songs inspired by his time in India with the Maharishi. Paul is accompanied by a brass score arranged by George Martin. This song was covered by the Beatles’ favorite American artist, Harry Nilsson.
Many consider this to be George’s masterpiece. The bridge is absolutely brilliant. The song has been covered by numerous artists, most notably by Frank Sinatra who initially believed it was the Lennon-McCartney composition, but soon rectified the matter and gave credit where it was due.
One of George’s first compositions, the guitar riff was borrowed from Roger McGuinn of The Byrds who used it on “The Bells of Rhymney.”
This George composition opens with a piano intro by Paul. George’s lyrics are witty (“I want a love that’s right but right is only half of what’s wrong/I want a short haired girl who sometimes wears it twice as long”) and he does contribute a guitar solo in the bridge. It didn’t make the cut on either Let It Be or Abbey Road, but was released as a B-side to “The Ballad of John & Yoko.” This definitely was an A-side quality song.
This was written by George and recorded with studio musicians at EMI’s recording facility in Mumbai (then known as Bombay) while working on his first solo album Wonderwall. Instead, it became a B-side to “Lady Madonna.” The melody and arrangements are simply stunning as are the lyrics “the farther one travels/the less one really knows.”
I love the harpsichord intro and the three-part harmony by John, Paul, and George.
6. Oh! Darling
This harkens back to ’50s rock ‘n roll. Paul gives his most raw, impassioned vocal during his entire tenure with The Beatles.
5. Hey Jude
This was written by Paul for Julian Lennon following John’s divorce from his mother Cynthia. It slowly builds to its climax of “Na na na na na, na na na, Hey Jude.” No McCartney concert is complete without this song.
George got a little help from Eric Clapton on lead guitar. No classic rock radio station’s playlist is complete without this song.
3. Medley (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)
This comprises most of side two of Abbey Road. It represents the Beatles’ last big hurrah before they went their separate ways. The medley concludes with perhaps the best couplet Paul ever wrote, “And in the end the love you take/Is equal to the love you make.”
This is yet another song written by John for Yoko and concludes side one of Abbey Road. Running nearly eight minutes, I love it for the repetitive guitar chords and its abrupt conclusion.
This George Harrison composition is my favorite Beatles song. I love the song because of its inherent optimism (“Here comes the sun and I say it’s all right”). The long, lonely winters shall pass. My mood always brightens after I listen to this song.
So those are my fifty favorite Beatles songs. If you read this, I hope you will share your favorite Beatles songs with me.
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