I hesitate to call the Beatles my favorite band. It feels like a bit of a cop-out, and there are a lot of modern bands that I’m much more passionate about. But I can’t deny that I love them, and occasionally get obsessed with them, as I did after the release of the remastered CDs and The Beatles: Rock Band last September. They are sort of the Platonic ideal of the rock and roll group, so they seemed like the most appropriate choice of band for a favorite song list.
In addition to the album and the year of release, I’ve also included the name of the Beatle to whom the song is most often attributed in an attempt to finally figure out who is my favorite Beatle. As I suspected, it appears to be Paul. I also suspect that I’ve really shortchanged George, so much so that I think I might give him his own list later on. Past Masters singles are listed with the year of the single’s release.
35) “I Saw Her Standing There” (Please Please Me, 1963, McCartney)
For a long time I didn’t really have any interest in the early stuff. It’s not that I thought it was, bad; it just didn’t sound like the same band to me. My introduction to the Beatles was my dad’s copy of Abbey Road, and I moved backwards from there. This early stuff just didn’t resonate. I’ve come around, though, at least with the standout songs. This is head and shoulders above the other half of the single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and has a lot more bite than I used to give it credit for.
Update: Actually, I just went back and listened to “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and while I wouldn’t describe it has having bite, it’s still pretty awesome.
34) “Yes It Is” (Past Masters, Vol. 1, 1965, Lennon)
This is from 1965 but sounds like it could be off of Please Please Me. I first came across a version of this song on the second of the Anthology collections, and have always loved the vocal harmonies. This seems like a slick, slowed-down version of the song that Rivers Cuomo always used to try to write. Before he completely lost it.
This is one of Lennon’s least favorite songs that he wrote, which doesn’t surprise me. He and I have very different opinions about which of his songs are the best.
33) “You Won’t See Me” (Rubber Soul, 1965, McCartney)
I feel like this might be better if it were either sped up a bit or slowed down a bit. A lot of McCartney songs seem like they are only half-heartedly committed to their tempos. This song also suffers from another common McCartney problem, in that it’s a bit twee, what with its “Oooooh La La La” backing vocals. I love the way everything fades except for the piano heading into the chorus, though.
32) “A Hard Day’s Night” (A Hard Day’s Night, 1964, Lennon)
Ringo’s Ringo-ism that led to the title of this song cemented his status as the Yogi Berra of the group. Just like Berra, by the end it seemed like he was doing it on purpose. The chord that opens this always makes me think of the Oldies 92.5 television commercials from Champaign.
31) “I Should Have Known Better” (A Hard Day’s Night, 1964, Lennon)
And now the previous song’s U.S. B-side. This is one of the first Dylan-inspired songs that John Lennon wrote. It’s got some harmonica in it, I guess, but it doesn’t remind me much of Bob Dylan.
30) “Day Tripper” (Past Masters, Vol. 2, 1965, Lennon)
I learned how to play the opening riff from this song in an old Guitar World magazine, I think, and I would just sit around and absentmindedly play it over and over. I’m surprised I didn’t drive my mom insane.
29) “Come Together” (Abbey Road, 1969, Lennon)
Johanna hates this song, which I blame on the fact that she’s from Boston and probably grew up hearing the Aerosmith version. I’ll admit that it’s sort of an oddity in the Beatles catalog, but as I said above, Abbey Road was my introduction to the band, and this is the opening track, so I’m obligated to defend it.
28) “Martha My Dear” (The Beatles, 1968, McCartney)
One thing that I’ve learned while writing this blog is that I’m a sucker for a lot of things. I use the semi-apologetic phrase “I’m a sucker for” pretty much every time I make one of these lists. Well, here we go again. I’m a sucker for late-period, nostalgia-drenched, old-timey McCartney songs. I have a very high tolerance for his particular brand of cheese, and can’t get enough of his melodies. Heaven help me when he throws in horns or strings.
27) “What You’re Doing” (Beatles For Sale, 1964, McCartney)
Here’s a great example of how McCartney, unlike Lennon, can write a song about a bad relationship that doesn’t seem overly mean or sad. The “I’ve been waiting here for you…” part 45 seconds in is the best bit.
26) “Dear Prudence” (The Beatles, 1968, Lennon)
A classic “Beatles dicking around in India” song about the somewhat pervy John Lennon trying to get the young Prudence Farrow to stop meditating and hang out with him. He was then appalled when the Maharishi allegedly hit on Prudence’s older sister Mia.
25) “Mother Nature’s Son” (The Beatles, 1968, McCartney)
Another India song, this one with a perfectly sweet vocal from Paul. This probably deserves to be a few spots higher on this list solely for providing the primary sample for Danger Mouse’s version of Jay-Z’s “December 4th” on The Grey Album, my 113th favorite song of the 2000s.
24) “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” (The Beatles, 1968, McCartney)
I’ve read that Lennon hated this song and called it “Paul’s granny shit.” Luckily for Paul, as I stated above, I love his granny shit. This song sort of sounds like it should have been on Sgt. Pepper.
23) “Tomorrow Never Knows” (Revolver, 1966, Lennon)
If the above is “Paul’s granny shit,” this could be called “John’s druggie shit.” I still love it, though. It must have been a trip to listen to this closing out Revolver for the first time in 1966, right?
22) “With A Little Help From My Friends” (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967, appears to be a pretty close collaboration, with a slight edge to McCartney)
Ringo is the perfect vocalist for this song, and this is my favorite of the Beatles songs that he sang (actually, looking at the list of songs that he sang, I think this might be the only one I really like. “What Goes On” is pretty good, I suppose). In high school I spent some time perfecting an imitation of Joe Cocker singing his cover of this song, famously used as the theme for The Wonder Years (Joe Cocker’s version, not my imitation).
21) “Michelle” (Rubber Soul, 1965, McCartney)
Another really insistently medium tempo McCartney song that is almost hypnotic. As a side note, if you type “Michelle” into my iTunes, you get this song and songs by Florence + the Machine, Guns N’ Roses, and Hootie and the Blowfish. That’s ridiculous.
20) “The End” (Abbey Road, 1969, McCartney)
The song that a lot of people think should have been the last song of the Beatles’ recording career. A nice, rousing, pseudo-philosophical ending it would have been, too. It features the only Beatles drum solo from unassuming Ringo.
19) “Her Majesty” (Abbey Road, 1969, McCartney)
And here is the actual last song of the Beatles recording career (yes, I know, Let It Be technically came out later). Maybe it’s just the acoustic McCartney lover in me, but this actually seems more fitting as a career capper.
18) “Get Back” (Let It Be, 1970, McCartney)
McCartney’s desperation to keep the Beatles together as a band (and brand) creeps into this whole album a bit, but I think it actually lends this a bit of energy that it might not have had otherwise. This sounds like the song that Jeff Tweedy spent his entire pre-Yankee Hotel Foxtrot career trying to write. Also, God bless Billy Preston. Go listen to “Nothing From Nothing” and then thank me later.
17) “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” (Abbey Road, 1969, McCartney)
As I mentioned earlier, Abbey Road was my introduction to the Beatles, and I have always loved the second side medley. This is here basically as a representation of the whole thing. When I play through the entire medley in The Beatles: Rock Band, this is the most fun part, I think.
16) “Yesterday” (Help!, 1965, McCartney)
My friend Anna, another big Beatles fan, told me that if I had this song at number one she would probably throw up. Hopefully she’ll be happy with me putting it down here at number 16. I’m not sure she can be trusted though; when I asked her what her favorites were, the first one she listed was “Savoy Truffle.”
There are a lot of interesting facts I could delve into here. It’s the most covered song of all time, for instance (sixth grade Jared would like to chime in here and say that he actually prefers the Boyz II Men version). I also have always enjoyed the story about McCartney coming up with this in a dream and then playing it for everyone he knew to make sure he hadn’t plagiarized it. If I come up with a tune this good, remind me to just record it and not worry if it’s original.
15) “Let It Be” (Let It Be, 1970, McCartney)
I like listening to these late Beatles songs because you can really hear the Seventies starting to creep in, especially in the guitar flourishes and the organ work. They’re some of my favorite songs, but they sort of walk the line, and I’m guessing that if the Beatles hadn’t broken up they would have gotten too loose. Or become Wings.
14) “Hey Jude” (Past Masters, Vol. 2, 1968, McCartney)
Famously written by McCartney to comfort Lennon’s son Julian when his parents separated, this song is sort of emblematic of the Beatles for me. Musically, it’s a beautiful, relatively simple melody. The lyrics are sort of unremarkable, but seem meaningful nonetheless. It has space for all the band members, and the vocals are really memorable. Symbolically, it tells a story of Lennon being selfish and destructive and McCartney trying a bit too hard, and a bit unconvincingly, to be the nice guy. George minds his business and Ringo keeps things moving along. That pretty much sums it up.
13) “Got To Get You Into My Life” (Revolver, 1966, McCartney)
Remember when I said that I was a sucker for a McCartney song with horns? Here we go.
12) “Getting Better” (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967, seems to be a bit more McCartney than Lennon, but I’m calling this one a tie)
I think this song is mostly McCartney’s, but Lennon adds the best bits, lyrically, like “It can’t get no worse” and “I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved.” So they both get credit. This is a terribly boring song to play in The Beatles: Rock Band.
11) “I’m Looking Through You” (Rubber Soul, 1965, McCartney)
I love the double-tracked McCartney vocal here. I love pretty much everything about this song. But I will always be thrown by the guitar hoedown flourish after “You’re not the same” at 0:28 (and repeated throughout). I’m going to go ahead and blame George.
10) “A Day In The Life” (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967, the middle bit is McCartney, but let’s give this to Lennon)
I’ve read that the alarm clock that starts McCartney’s “Woke up, got out of bed” part was just there for timing purposes and was supposed to be edited out, but I don’t believe in that particular happy coincidence. Sounds like Beatles mythmaking to me.
I’ve always loved the Wes Montgomery version of this song. If I remember correctly, he had not actually heard the song at the time, and just had the sheet music.
9) “Revolution” (Past Masters, Vol. 2, 1968, Lennon)
I love this song because it just sounds like Lennon is having so much fun. I guess he’s singing about serious stuff, but he just sounds happy. I prefer this version to the slower one on the White Album. The faster the better.
8 ) “Lovely Rita” (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967, McCartney)
It’s funny that my 8th favorite song by maybe the greatest band of all time is about a meter maid. The Beatles are a strange group. I have some quibbles with this song; I don’t like the first twenty seconds or the heavy breathing ending. But all is forgiven every time I hear Paul sing “Lovely Rita, meter maaaaaaid! Nothing can come between us.”
7) “Blackbird” (The Beatles, 1968, McCartney)
A bit of a clumsy response to American racial tension by an Englishman, this song also sort of led to the Manson murders. But it was the first finger-picking song I learned how to play on the guitar, so I’ll always love it. I taught my friend Mike how to play it during second year of college; he picked it up quickly enough to make me realize how much better of a guitar player he would be than me if he actually tried.
6) “Eleanor Rigby” (Revolver, 1966, McCartney)
The Beatles are great with songs that tell a story (as evidenced by this and the next two songs on the list); as Karl Pilkington would tell you, no one really writes songs like this any more.
This is probably my second favorite use of strings in a pop song ever, just after “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by the Verve and just before “Paper Tiger” by Beck (I’m sure I’m forgetting quite a few). George Martin arranged the strings, so maybe he should share the writing credit.
5) “Norwegian Wood” (Rubber Soul, 1965, Lennon)
Leave it to John Lennon to write a song about burning down a girl’s apartment because she won’t have sex with him. He had some issues.
I’ve always enjoyed the version by Cornershop, a band that made an appearance on my “Favorite Songs of the Nineties” list.
4) “Rocky Raccoon” (The Beatles, 1968, McCartney)
I’m not sure even McCartney takes this song seriously. I mean, he fakes a southern accent for the first thirty seconds. But it is a big sentimental favorite of mine, and the Beatles song to which I have the hardest time resisting the urge to sing along.
It’s such holy script now that I don’t really even think about it, but is The Beatles (the White Album) the weirdest mainstream pop album of all time? There are some odd songs on there.
3) “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” (Help!, 1965, Lennon)
Third place seems like the right spot for this song; I don’t think I know any Beatles fan that would list it as their favorite song, but almost every Beatles fan I know would include it in the top few. It has a broad appeal. This is Lennon trying to be Dylan, but Dylan rarely approached this, melody-wise.
2) “In My Life” (Rubber Soul, 1965, in dispute, and while it feels like a McCartney tune, I’m giving it to Lennon)
This song is lyrically the most meaningful to me nowadays. It almost feels like Lennon trying to write a McCartney song, if that makes sense. It’s the best of both worlds. It’s very simple, instrumentation-wise, for a Beatles song, but they still can’t resist the organ solo. The more I listen to it, the more I think that it might be joining “Bitter Sweet Symphony” on my “play at my funeral” list.
1) “For No One” (Revolver, 1966, McCartney)
I’m not exactly sure why this is my favorite. I guess this is sort of the quintessential Beatles song in that it seems simple, but actually has a lot going on in it (there’s a French horn!), and it feels timeless. The timeless part is the important thing. Not timeless in the sense that it’s a song that would fit in on the charts today; it doesn’t really fit in anywhere. It doesn’t sound like a modern song, but it doesn’t sound like a song from the Sixties, either. This is what separates the Beatles from a band like the Rolling Stones. They don’t exist in the timeline of popular music. They’re somewhere out on their own, for better or worse. Sometime it leads to this, sometimes it leads to “Piggies.” Still, God bless them. I don’t know how they got away with it.
McCartney – 22
Lennon – 12
Lennon/McCartney – 1
Qualitative Totals (1 pt for number 35, 35 pts for number 1):
McCartney – 408 pts.
Lennon – 198 pts.
Tie – 24 pts.