Choosing favorite Beatles songs is a bit like choosing a favorite child, it’s damn near. They put out four psychedelic albums (if you count Yellow Submarine, which I’m not), and three post-psychedelic albums. In the 8 years they recorded, they released 12 studio albums, not counting the US releases as many of those were compilation records. To be honest, I was never a huge fan of the mop tops era Beatles and songs like “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You.” However, I did include a few from that time period. I would love to hear your top 10 to see if we match up at all.
Number Ten: “All You Need Is Love.” Written after only two weeks after the release of Sgt. Pepper, “All You Need Is Love” was specifically written for the first satellite hookup between 25 countries called Our World. The song boasted an optimistic vibe during “the summer of love” in 1967. The song featured many prominent artists singing on the chorus. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marianne Faithful, and Eric Clapton were just a few of the talents who appeared on the recording. The track also included many guest musicians playing everything from violin to trumpet. The Beatles themselves played unconventional instruments: Lennon on harpsichord, McCartney on double bass and Harrison on violin. The track was made available on Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine.
Number Nine: “In My Life.” Again, Lennon credits Bob Dylan as well as journalist Kenneth Allsop for bringing him out of his shell as Lennon continued to write in the first person. “In My Life” was a deeply personal song about lost loved ones as he led listeners down a murky path. Initially, it was a nostalgic look at Liverpool, but Lennon refrained from taking that direction. Instead, he bared his soul and allowed the listener to climb inside his mind. John Lennon ranked the song as one of his best. The track is found on the mostly acoustic record, Rubber Soul (1966).
Number Eight: “Tomorrow Never Knows.” As the Beatles got into LSD, their music reflected the times and the counter culture. With the release of Revolver, they added some psychedelic elements: Lennon penned tracks as “She Said, She Said,” “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” It was a pretty basic song if stripped down to its core, but the addition of tape loops along with Ringo’s thunderous drum pattern and Paul’s equally pulsating bass, turned the song into an acid trip on tape. By double tracking Lennon’s voice during the first part of the song, and then running it through a Lesley speaker on the latter half of the song, only added more mystery to the piece. Lyrically, Lennon lifted words from Tibetan Book of the Dead. The song closes out the Revolver album.
Number Seven: “The Long and Winding Road.” Written at a time when the Beatles were breaking up, “The Long and Winding Road” reflects the tensions between band mates. Originally written during the White Album session, it remained in the vault until the Let it Be sessions. It was a pretty basic track with only piano, guitars and drums, but then Phil Spector got ahold of it and added strings and horns. McCartney was not pleased with additional instrumentation and voiced his opinion, but to no avail, as Spector’s changes stood. It appeared on Let it Be in 1970.
Number Six: “Strawberry Fields Forever.” As a b-side to “Penny Lane,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” was recorded prior to Sgt. Pepper. It was a nostalgic look back to Lennon’s childhood. Strawberry Fields was a children’s home near Lennon. Fueled by LSD, the song went from childhood reflection to deeper into his insecurity. The first few takes were fairly simple. But guided by the watchful eye and ears of George Martin, it would become an epic psychedelic adventure in sound. Martin added trumpets and cello, and per Lennon’s request, they combined two takes to finish the song. “Strawberry Fields” was a crowning achievement, and nobody since have even come close to its brilliance. It found a home on the 1967 album Magical Mystery Tour.
Number Five: “Yesterday.” Ok, so we’ve all heard that the song came to McCartney in a dream, and the working title was “Scrambled Eggs.” While it was switched to “Yesterday,” Martin’s suggestion to record it with a string quartet didn’t sit well with McCartney, but he eventually gave in. The song was released as a single in the states and remains the most covered song in history. Though it was not in the film, it appeared on the Help soundtrack in 1965.
Number Four: “Rain.” “Rain” is a very interesting song as it further found the fab four still experimenting with LSD. Originally, the song was a b-side for “Paperback Writer,” and the song has become iconic. It featured some off the best drumming we had ever heard from Ringo. By now, they were seasoned veterans in the studio and knew quite a few tricks including backward vocals, which ended the song. And as on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” they were aware of the effect that slowing down the tape had. Although it appeared on the American release of Hey Jude, it disappeared until the Past Masters was released.
Number Three: “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Clocking in at a little under eight minutes “I Want You” was Lennon singing about Yoko Ono. Although the lyrics are pretty straight forward and simplistic, musically it was a masterpiece as it changes tempos right in the middle of things. The song ends with a slow-moving 3-minute guitar jam with Lennon and Harrison battling it out.The song was the first track recorded for Abbey Road.
Number Two: “Let it Be.” Originally recorded during the White Album sessions in 1968, the tune was stored away until the Let it Be. The usually upbeat McCartney was watching the group he was desperately trying to hold together disintegrate. McCartney‘s mother, who died when he was just 14, appeared in a dream (mother Mary reference). While the song was a simple ballad when stripped down to its core, it took nearly 30 takes and overdubs to complete. Once again, Phil Spector was brought on board. Spector added strings, brass and added extreme echo to Starr’s hi-hat. Although all of his contributions were taken out with the release of Let it Be… Naked, I’m personally fond of the original.
Number One: “Something.” George Harrison penned this song in 1968 for the White Album, but thankfully, it didn’t make the cut. A demo of the love song was given to Joe Cocker, who recorded it before the Beatles release. Harrison lifted a James Taylor line to start the song, but the remaining lyrics were all Harrison. You know you’ve written a masterpiece when the likes of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley record it. Both Lennon and McCartney were blown away by the track. So much so, they released it as the first single – Harrison’s first with the Beatles. “Something” was the opening track on Abbey Road in 1969.