Greetings, Glancers! It’s the one you’ve been waiting for – and for quite some time, apparently. According to WordPress, the last time I looked at this post was May 20 2011. Back then I basically wrote the names of the songs I knew I really liked from each release off the top of my head. At time of writing this introduction, it is August 21, 2017. What I will do between now and the time of publishing is check back through each release, add any song I’ve missed, put them in order, and add a little bit about why I like each. Hopefully that will not take another six years (oops).
So, everyone knows The Beatles, right? They had a few hits, played a few gigs, before disappearing into obscurity. We know they need know introduction. I’ll give some personal stuff instead. I never listened to a complete Beatles album until I was roughly 19 – I was at University at least. Obviously I knew all their hits – who makes it to 19 without knowing at least twenty Beatles songs off by heart? For whatever reason though I had just never listened to an album. It’s like the famous question – ‘Who do you prefer, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones’? My answer – ‘Led Zeppelin’. At some point though I acquired the albums and blasted through them, finding that treasure trove of unknowns that so many others before had. So now I present (to anyone reading this in the future), my own personal favourite Beatles songs. I’m being a little more liberal than usual with this list – on previous lists I’ve tried to include only my absolute favourites, but as it’s The Beatles I’m also adding some fringe ones that I really like but wouldn’t include if I was being more strict. If you’re looking for a more detailed and insightful ranking of every song – try this link.
Just one final note – I didn’t worrying about the ranking up until my very favourite songs – the top 26 – everything else is sort of alphabetical, with tracks 96 – 57 being the lower tier and tracks 56 – 27 being the middles. Enjoy!
96. Any Time At All
Any time at all is a good time to listen to The Beatles, or indeed read some fool on the hill’s listathon about them. This one is a straightforward rocker from A Hard Day’s Night with Lennon growling through the vocals and a simple piano middle which was left without vocals when the band couldn’t be arsed adding any lyrics.
95. And I Love Her
I love the Spanish feel to this one, one of the very few songs the band recorded which sounded like this. It has a terrific, simple 4 note Harrison riff and veers between melancholy and happy easily.
94. Ask Me Why
Even on their first album the band’s influences were clear, not only old R’n’B but the likes of Smokey Robinson. It’s the harmonies and the simplicity and the little unexpected notes which marked them at this early stage as something special.
93. All I’ve Gotta Do
It’s Smokey again, this time on their second album. Another simplistic song of love and yearning it still showcases the majesty of writing a hit melody.
92. All My Loving
One of the only songs where McCartney wrote the lyrics first. We know the early Beatles songs don’t have the most complex lyrics – usually repeated expressions of love for 90% of the albums they were featured on, but that was standard for the industry at the time. Still, it was all about the music and the vocals in the early days – the jangling guitars of the verse contrasted with the stuttering of the chorus, and of course McCartney’s ‘oohs’.
We jump all the way to Abbey Road now and we can see how both the lyrics and music have changed. Maybe most notably it’s the production, with Martin employing all of the tracks he had picked up and honed over the previous six or seven years to create something haunting and angelic. The voices of Harrison, Lennon, and McCartney were recorded multiple times to give a more epic feel and Martin plays the Harpsichord intro against the same guitar part. We even get some synthesizer – perhaps hinting at the direction the band may have taken had they stayed together another few years. It’s lovely, but they have lovelier.
One of those songs I knew for years but had no idea was by The Beatles and then seemed obvious once I found out. The White Album is a strange one – filled with good songs and disasters. I’ve always felt it lacked even one truly great song, though this comes as close as any. It’s a song made on the spot and it shows in the lyrics – basically lets take and idea or a word or phrase and write any old crap to fit the music. Naturally it works, and lo another classic ‘occasion’ song is born. It’s all about the riff.
89. Fixing A Hole
On to Sgt Pepper – celebrating its 50th birthday this year, remember. While McCartney’s music hall stuff sounds rubbish on The White Album it somehow works wonderfully here. There’s a lot more to it, it feels like there is more honesty and ingenuity and the experimentation is pulled off successfully. The lyrics are not as drug crazed as others on the album – simple, but suitably open to simple interpretation and examination – what hole exactly is being fixed?
88. For No One
A slice of McCartney cheese on Revolver – that of course means all of the cheese has been removed – the lyrics are bleak, dark, insightful, and the marching band beat gives a plodding monotony to echo the lyrical sentiment. It’s one of McCartney’s saddest songs, yet it’s so damn catchy and the little horn piece in the middle almost makes it feel happy. I also enjoy the sudden unexpected end – a trick the band pulled off more than once in their career.
87. Getting Better
Notable for its clinking intro and chilling lyrics which can easily be missed given how optimistic the song sounds. Lennon writes about his violent past, fighting, abusing women – all true – but that things are getting better (or can’t get no worse). I’m not sure how anyone is meant to feel about such things, but the music’s great and even has some tanpura from Harrison.
86. Got To Get You Into My Life
Back to Revolver and we have this massive horn section led rocker. I like how the chorus is held back by a double verse, giving it greater impact when it finally arrives. McCartney belts this one out, increasingly so, Harrison lets rip with a great, short solo, and the brass keeps growing – you know I’m not a fan of brass, but I love it here.
85. Good Morning Good Morning
And back to Sgt Pepper for this piece of weirdness. Ringo is perfect here, epic, furious guitar work too. The timing is all over the place, the lyrics are great fun, and again I love the brass. There’s a bunch of sound effects too – all those integral pieces of a Great British morning and more.
84. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
A contender for best name of any Beatles song, and also a contender for the best Beatles lyric, Happiness Is A Warm Gun doesn’t even feel like a Beatles song. There’s a new direction here, with lots of downer melodies, droning, and even though the song moves through several different parts, the downbeat sense runs continuously from start to finish. Lennon gives a terrific vocal performance and that distorted rumbling guitar solo is pretty great too.
83. Helter Skelter
As the sixties drew to a close a number of bands and artists were crafting much heavier, louder, angrier music – The Beatles wanted a piece of that. Helter Skelter is the answer. It’s pure nonsense of course, but the lead riff, the ferocious drums, McCartney’s vocals, and the sheer wall of noise mean it contended (temporarily) with the likes of The Who and The Kinks. It’s also notable for the double ending where a pile of distortion and drums fade in, thump for a while, then out, then back, then out, then blisters on my fingers.
82. It Won’t Be Long
Back to the beginning now, and a slice of R’n’B from With The Beatles. It’s just another early, fun, harmless track with a lot of killer harmonies and calls and repeats.
81. I’ll Get You
This one didn’t appear on any album so it was a while before I ever came to hear it. Of course it was a blessing, like uncovering a hidden treasure from your favourite band’s favourite period. An early song it has all the hallmarks of those days – the melodies, harmonies, simplicity, the energy and coherence, and the way it urges you to sing along. Featuring some of their best ‘oh yeah’ work, it remains a bit of a hidden treat.
80. I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party
Even though their sound was changing by For Sale, the basic ideas were the same – simple songs of love and yearning and hurt with a smartass twist. It’s yet another song from the early half of their career with great melodies and playing that you can stick on at any time and have any person tapping their feet and humming along.
79. I Should Have Known Better
Super harmonica work opens this classic from A Hard Day’s Night. Once again there is nothing difficult here, it’s nothing more than pulling down an immortal hook from the ether and putting it out there. The guitars are almost in the background with vocals taking complete lead – aside from the nifty solo of course.
78. It’s Only Love
A slower one for now, notable for some tambourine, and some weird tremolo guitar work from Harrison. Lyrically it’s as basic as you could hope – whatever words fit the space and idea, slap them in, but it doesn’t matter when the tune is so infectious.
77. I’m So Tired
Even slower now, as Lennon makes us all as drowsy as he claims to be. Travelling, fame, seeing the same people and not seeing others – it’s hard man. Still, I like the difference between the verse and chorus yet how they are so flawlessly intertwined.
76. I Am The Walrus
I wasn’t going to include this one, mostly because it nonsense dressed up in importance. I’m not a fan of the drifty, dreamy vocal effects yet the performance is great, the central melody is good, and it has lots of interesting stuff going on in the background. I’m not as huge a fan of this one as many are in other words.
75. I’m Looking Through You
A soft rock ballad which almost becomes genius but instead just circles the edges. As always it’s mostly about the melody – verse, chorus, middle – all good. My favourite piece though is the hurried guitar line which bridges the parts.
74. I’m Only Sleeping
Another sleep song. I prefer this one to I’m So Tired. It’s another which almost makes it into my higher tier – the lyrics feel as if they were written by or for me, and I love the little pauses for bass. The backwards stuff is great too – there’s just something about these drowsy feeling songs that never quite sits right with me.
73. It’s All Too Much
It’s starts with some nonsense before that main organ riff kicks off. I love how the guitar follows that riff and then the vocals mimic it too. My favourite though is the drums -not just how crumbling tumbling they are, but the way the pace and volume subtly changes even as the beat remains the same.
72. Love You Too
It’s Harrison, it’s Revolver, so you know that means sitar. And because it’s me, you know that means all I can think of is videogame lava levels. Lots of throngs and rumbles and persistent, consistent beats, and best of all that sitar solo.
71. Martha My Dear
More music hall cheese from McCartney raised by strings and melodies. Even the brass somehow works, and you know how much I hate that stuff.
70. Mother Nature’s Son
There are so many songs on The White Album which I think would have been much better had they been written and recorded a couple of years earlier. This is a prime example – a lovely idyllic song which comes off as cold and distant instead of something truly beautiful. It’s a song I should adore, but that weird something that pollutes The White Album stains it too much. Listen to John Denver’s version – not necessarily better, but it takes things in the right direction.
Well, it’s not technically The Beatles, but as Martin was so integral to the group we’ll include it anyway. It’s another song that reminds me of something from a videogame, maybe a cut scene where the hero is finally reunited with his lover. I’ve no idea.
68. Revolution 1
Revolution 9 is not on my list. This one is – listen to that brutal guitar in the intro, then laugh as it gives away to such a gentle blues riff. It’s another of their songs which feels like it was written in a stoned haze off the cuff by a group of friends and performed and recorded right there and then. Except the production reminds us of the work which went into it. Lyrics, melody, bla bla.
67. She Said She Said
Revolver again and another classic guitar line. More great work from Ringo and interesting lyrics which recount some funny times with Peter Fonda and others. I think it’s the timing in this one which stands out for me, along with the guitar, the song slowing and arcing and stopping and starting.
Though it appears on Abbey Road it feels like a White Album composition, having that same empty feeling. Even though it’s beautiful, catchy, and all the rest, it still has that dreary, sleepy feeling that puts me off somewhat. Again, the fact I like it in spite of this is enough to prove how good it is.
65. Tell Me Why
More fluff from A Hard Day’s Night – but like almost 100% of their fluff, the hooks are inescapable.
64. There’s A Place
More McCartney innocence – a song that seems like it was written for dreamers and for children, but it’s also fairly sexual so we’ll credit Lennon for that. Great harmonica, lovely melodies.
63. The Fool On The Hill
McCartney again, and more dreamy stuff. He also does all the recorder and piano stuff. There’s some psychedelia going on and a stumbling rhythm – it does veer a little too close to the dreary stuff mentioned above but manages to keep away from the edge.
62. Think For Yourself
I’ve always loved the free-form, bouncy nature of the bass, the tonal shifts, and the general variety brought around by Harrison striking out as a writer. The song feels like it avoids a standard verse and chorus structure (even though it doesn’t) and the lyrics are ambiguous enough to act as both a love song and a more personal attack on something larger.
61. Two Of Us
The opening track from Let It Be is a charming, folksy affair and a rather poignant love song. The lyrics mingle romanticism and nostalgia, hope, and although they feel personal they are entirely universal. The whistle end suggests an ease and sense that everything is good, which seems to oppose the mood in the band at the time.
There’s something weird about a lot of the songs on Rubber Soul – they’re still pop/rock commercial songs, but they veer off in unexpected ways from the norm, whether it be a strange melodic turn or a sudden momentary shift in tone or pace. Wait has all of these, my favourite the sudden change from ’till I’ and ‘come’ in the same line, leaping up the scale for a much higher note out of the blue. Harrison’s guitar is good too, bringing little pauses so emphasis the notion of waiting.
59. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Back before I really started listening to The Beatles, this is one of the songs I was most intrigued by – it had the coolest name and I wondered what it was all about. Certain friends who already knew the song and the band more than I did would always say how good it was, so it was quite hyped in my mind. Naturally when I first heard it, it didn’t live up to my expectations. I always assumed it was going to be either a bad-ass rock song, or some gripping ballad with blistering solos. What we get though is a downbeat pseudo ballad, minor key versus which pop away as the chorus comes. The guitar is subtle and introspective, matching the lyrics and themes. Maybe if I’d heard it before I’d heard about it, I’d like it more.
58. What You’re Doing
This is all about the nice riff and the sweet melodies running from start to finish. It’s not going to change anyone’s life, just another album track proving their non-hits could be hits too.
57. You’re Going To Lost That Girl
A great example of expanded call and repeat, it almost feels like something from a musical – you can just imagine the lead singer backed up by a group of cheesy, haranguing teens singing the repeat section. Those harmonies are epic, melding nicely with the melodies, but there isn’t a lot more to it.
Return in a few days for Part Two of my rundown, and feel free to add your favourites in the comments!