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20 Best Beatles Songs

Updated on May 15, 2012
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Beatles Top 20

For most recording artists, a Top 20 list would be excessive (or even impossible), but in the case of the Beatles, the difficulty lies in narrowing it down to just 20 songs. This is a band that had 32 songs reach the top 10 (20 of which hit #1), and 14 #1 albums in the US between 1962 and 1970.

This isn't a list of the band's biggest hits or best-selling songs, but simply a list of what one musician, songwriter, and long-time fan considers to be their 20 best songs (with a little Beatles history thrown in for context where appropriate). Ranking songs of this calibre against one another is impossible, so the songs are presented in chronological order. Release dates and other information is based on the original UK releases.

Twist and Shout

  • Album: Please Please Me
  • Released: March 22, 1963

Twist and Shout, the only cover song on the list, is the closest we can get to hearing how the Beatles sounded at The Cavern in Liverpool. The song was recorded live in one take, with no overdubs, at the end of a 12-hour recording session, and the performance is as powerful and energetic as if it were the band's first song of the day.


1964 Trailer: A Hard Day's Night

Beatles Movies

A Hard Day's Night (Miramax Collector's Series)
A Hard Day's Night (Miramax Collector's Series)

A day in the life of the Beatles - Beatlemania at it's most manic.

 
Help!
Help!

The Beatles deal with a mad scientist, a bizarre cult, and a tiger - and play some great music.

 

A Hard Day's Night

  • Album: A Hard Day's Night
  • Released: July 10, 1964

In 1964, Beatlemania was at its peak, and A Hard Day's Night - both the song and the film - capture the feeling of that era perfectly. It's a catchy, uptempo number featuring Ringo's trademark backbeat, vocals from John and Paul, and the jangly sound of George's 12-string Rickenbacker, which inspired many people, most notably the Byrds' Roger McGuinn, to take up the instrument.


Yesterday

  • Album: Help!
  • Released: August 6, 1965

If anyone in 1965 still doubted that the Beatles were more than just another pop group, Yesterday put those doubts to rest once and for all. One of the most covered songs of all time, Yesterday is a timeless piece of songwriting. McCartney, singing and playing acoustic guitar, is backed by producer George Martin's arrangement for string quartet. Strings had been used on pop records before, but not like this.


Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)

  • Album: Rubber Soul
  • Released: December 3, 1965

Norwegian Wood shows Lennon's songwriting moving beyond simple love songs. Influenced by Bob Dylan, his lyrics were becoming more sophisticated, even quite dark at times, as in this song, which ends with the singer setting fire to a girl's apartment. Norwegian Wood also contained the first use of the sitar by a rock group.


George Martin and the Beatles

Producer George Martin's role in the sound and success of the Beatles cannot be overstated. Martin produced all of their records (with the exception of the Let It Be album), and was instrumental in helping the band realize their unusual musical ideas, by arranging parts for other musicians (often some of the best classical musicians in the world) and developing innovative new studio techniques.

In My Life

  • Album: Rubber Soul
  • Released: December 3, 1965

In My Life, one of John Lennon's most personal compositions, is not just one of Lennon's best songs, it's one of the best pop songs ever written. In a 1980 interview with Playboy magazine, Lennon said he considered the song to be his "first real major piece of work". The classical-sounding keyboard instrumental in the middle was composed and performed by George Martin.


Beatles on Ed Sullivan

The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Beatles
The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Beatles

The Beatles perform live on these 4 complete shows from 1964 and 1965.

 

Paperback Writer

  • Album: none (single A-side)
  • Released: June 10, 1966

The common perception of McCartney as the balladeer and Lennon as the rocker is far from accurate. Lennon wrote some of the Beatles' most beautiful ballads, and McCartney was responsible for some of the band's heaviest rock numbers, including Paperback Writer. To achieve the bass sounds he was hearing on American R&B and Motown records, McCartney switched from his trademark Hofner bass to a Rickenbacker, and his amplifier was recorded in a way that better picked up the low frequencies. The song's lyrics are in the form of a letter, a technique McCartney had used previously, on P.S. I Love You and All My Loving.


The Beatles Give Up Touring

With songs such as Eleanor Rigby, it was becoming obvious that the Beatles were composing and recording music they could never hope to perform live. Set lists for their 1966 concerts did not include any songs from the Revolver album, and in August, 1966 the Beatles announced that they were giving up live performance in order to focus entirely on making music in the recording studio.

Eleanor Rigby

  • Album: Revolver
  • Released: August 5, 1966

Eleanor Rigby is the only Beatles record on which none of the Beatles actually play. The accompaniment consists entirely of a double string quartet, scored by George Martin. The use of classical music elements to the exclusion of all else was very unusual at the time (even Yesterday had featured Paul strumming an acoustic guitar), but was perfectly suited for McCartney's beautiful melody and powerful lyrics about "all the lonely people".


Strawberry Fields Forever

  • Album: none (single A-side)
  • Released: February 17, 1967

In 1965, John Lennon was introduced to LSD, and it affected (some might say "expanded") his songwriting in unusual ways. Tomorrow Never Knows, from the Revolver album, was the first acid-inspired Beatles track, but it was only an album track. When Strawberry Fields Forever was released as a single (backed with Penny Lane, another piece of psychedelic pop), it heralded a new direction in Beatles music. Their psychedelic masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, would be released just 4 months later.


One of rock's most famous album covers: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band.
One of rock's most famous album covers: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band. | Source

A Day in the Life

  • Album: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
  • Released: June 1, 1967

A Day in the Life is a perfect example of a whole being greater than the sum of its parts. An unfinished song of John's is connected to one of Paul's by 24 bars of controlled orchestral cacophony (George Martin again). Each of the parts is interesting, but combined, and backed by Ringo's creative and unusual drum fills, the result is one of greatest songs in rock history.


All You Need is Love

  • Album: none (single A-side)
  • Released: July 7, 1967

Because of its simplicity and sing-along nature, All You Need is Love is sometimes dismissed as one of the Beatles' more lightweight songs. It is the song's simplicity, however, that actually makes it a great piece of songwriting. The Beatles had been asked by the BBC to represent the UK in Our World, a program that would be broadcast live by satellite to 26 countries around the world, and to perform a song with a simple message that could be understood by viewers of all nationalities - a task the Beatles performed brilliantly with All You Need is Love.


Magical Mystery Tour: The Film

The Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour
The Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour

This seldom-seen film contains videos for I Am the Walrus, The Fool On the Hill, and several other songs.

 

I Am the Walrus

  • Album: Magical Mystery Tour (double EP)
  • Released: December 8, 1967

Some consider the lyrics of I Am the Walrus to be merely acid-induced nonsense, while others have actually tried to analyze their meaning. Both groups miss the point. The lyrics are a form of opaque poetry, where words and vivid images are combined not in order to create literal meaning, but to create an interesting flow of sounds and ideas - almost like using words as musical notes. Well, that's what I think, anyway. At any rate, no one hearing the psychedelic music and words of I Am the Walrus could doubt that anything was now possible on a pop record.


Biggest Hit of the 1960s

According to Billboard magazine, Hey Jude was the biggest hit for the decade of the 1960s.

Hey Jude

  • Album: none (single A-side)
  • Released: August 30, 1968

Hey Jude is over 7 minutes long (unheard of for a single at the time), with a 4-minute coda consisting of a single repeated phrase. McCartney's vocal improvisations, utilizing his entire vocal range, keep the repetitive coda interesting to the very end. The song itself contains some of McCartney's best lyrics, and even John Lennon considered it one of McCartney's masterpieces.


Revolution

  • Album: none (single B-side)
  • Released: August 30, 1968

Revolution is perhaps John Lennon's most misunderstood song. The late 1960s was a time of violent social protest around the world, and many people believe that Revolution is supporting - or even inciting - violence as a means of achieving social change. In fact, exactly the opposite is true. Lennon suggests that those advocating violence don't have the answers ("We'd all love to see the plan") and should look at changing themselves instead ("You tell me it's the institution, well, you know, you better free your mind instead").


Beatles in Mono or Stereo?

Until the late 1960s, stereo mixes of rock and pop records were generally an afterthought. For all Beatles albums up to and including the White Album, the mono mix was considered the important mix, and was given the most attention. Today most people prefer stereo, but purists believe that to really hear these albums as the Beatles intended, you need to listen to the mono mix.

The Beatles in Mono (The Complete Mono Recordings)
The Beatles in Mono (The Complete Mono Recordings)

Remastered versions of all the original mono mixes.

 
The Beatles (The Original Studio Recordings)
The Beatles (The Original Studio Recordings)

The complete remastered collection of Beatles albums and singles in stereo.

 

Poll: Mono or Stereo?

Do you prefer the mono or stereo mixes of the Beatles music?

See results

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

  • Album: The Beatles (aka The White Album)
  • Released: November 22, 1968

By 1968, George Harrison's songwriting had matured to the point where many of his songs were as good as those being written by Lennon and McCartney. While My Guitar Gently Weeps is Harrison's first true classic. George invited his friend Eric Clapton to play guitar on the track, which undoubtedly made the rest of the band try just a little bit harder, making this one of the standout tracks on the White Album.


Blackbird

  • Album: The Beatles (aka The White Album)
  • Released: November 22, 1968

McCartney again displays his underrated talent for lyrics with Blackbird, making a statement about the civil rights movement without being heavy-handed: "Take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise". The arrangement consists of Paul playing acoustic fingerstyle guitar and singing, the only percussion being the sound of Paul's foot tapping. A very understated approach - but sometimes a whisper is louder than a shout.


Come Together

  • Album: Abbey Road
  • Released: September 26, 1969

Come Together is fairly simple in songwriting terms, with more of Lennon's "opaque" lyrics. What makes it an outstanding track is the arrangement and performance, especially McCartney and Starr's inspired bass and drum parts. Lennon's vocal is excellent, and, while there's not much solo guitar on the track, what Harrison does play is memorable and enhances the song.


George Harrison Movies

George Harrison: Living In The Material World
George Harrison: Living In The Material World

The 2012 Martin Scorsese documentary.

 
Concert For George Harrison
Concert For George Harrison

Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and many others pay tribute to George Harrison in this 2001 concert.

 
Concert for Bangladesh
Concert for Bangladesh

Harrison's 1971 benefit concert features Ringo, Bob Dylan, Billy Preston and others.

 
George Harrison - Dark Horse Years 1976-1992
George Harrison - Dark Horse Years 1976-1992

Music videos plus 4 songs from Harrison's 1991 concerts in Japan.

 

Something

  • Album: Abbey Road
  • Released: September 26, 1969

Something is George Harrison's best song - a love song as good as anything written by Lennon and McCartney. It was the first Beatles single that was not a Lennon-McCartney composition. The arrangement is again inspired, with extraordinary bass playing by McCartney, and one of Harrison's best guitar solos. Frank Sinatra called it the "greatest love song ever written", and added it to his live performances.


Here Comes the Sun

  • Album: Abbey Road
  • Released: September 26, 1969

Here Comes the Sun, another George Harrison composition, features some nice vocals and acoustic guitar by Harrison, as well as one of the first recorded uses of the Moog synthesizer. There are some interesting time signature changes in the bridge, which sound quite natural, thanks to Ringo's drumming.


1970 Trailer: Let It Be

Let It Be
Let It Be

The 1970 album produced by Phil Spector.

 
Let It Be... Naked
Let It Be... Naked

The unadorned Let It Be album, with Phil Spector's additions removed.

 

Let It Be

  • Album: Let It Be
  • Released: May 8, 1970

The Let It Be album was the soundtrack for the 1970 motion picture of the same name. The film - which ended up being a documentary of a very unhappy band in the process of falling apart - was disappointing, but the music itself was still very good. With its gospel-flavored music and inspiring lyrics, Let It Be is one of McCartney's most memorable songs.


The Long and Winding Road

  • Album: Let It Be
  • Released: May 8, 1970

Despite being severely over-produced, with layers of strings, harps and female voices added by producer Phil Spector (Paul McCartney was quite unhappy with the result), McCartney's sad and beautiful The Long and Winding Road was still good enough to become the Beatles last #1 single.

The Beatles Anthology
The Beatles Anthology

The 11-hour authorized documentary on 5 DVDs.

 
The Beatles Anthology
The Beatles Anthology

Companion book to the documentary series.

 

Looking over this list, I notice how evenly spaced it is chronologically, with songs from every year between 1963 and 1970. This was not intentional on my part, it's simply the result of the high level of songwriting and musicianship that the Beatles, aided by producer George Martin, maintained throughout the entire decade. From their very first release to their last, there was something special about every new Beatles record.

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    • blake4d profile image

      Blake Ford Hall 4 years ago from Now Rising Out of Phoenix Arizona Earthlings

      Man you should have included at least one video music link, in fact all 20. I think your hub rocks, but it kinda sucks because you are all data, I like to be able to play the video right off the hub. But to each his own. Good research though. Keep on Hubbing. Blake4d

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 4 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      blake4d, thanks for reading and commenting. I would love to have included music videos for all the songs, but I'm pretty sure that would be copyright infringement. I think the movie trailers are ok because they only play excerpts, which is permitted as fair use, and trailers are intended to be used as advertisements anyway. I'm glad you found the info interesting, though.

    • 2patricias profile image

      2patricias 4 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      Phew! You've included A Day in the Life. But my list would certainly include "I'll follow the sun".

      Regarding the earlier comment that you should have included video links, I disagree. I only need to read the title and I hear the song in my hear - that's the lasting power of the Beatles.

      Fantastic hub, I've voted it up.

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 4 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      2patricias, the Beatles catalogue is so good that I had to exclude almost 200 great songs! "I'll Follow the Sun" is one of my favorites, too. As I said, the problem was narrowing the list down to 20. Thanks for the vote up!

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Fantastic list! We named our middle daughter Julia after the Beatles song. It has to be my favorite. I think Blackbird might be my second, but it's so hard to choose. I'm amazed you were able to choose 20! I love all the information around each song as well! ;)

    • FalconSays profile image

      Karen S. Falcon 4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I love the Beatles! Great Hub, thumbs up :-)

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 4 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Robin, Julia is a beautiful song, a great example of John's ability to write a beautiful ballad.

      FalconSays, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I guess you can tell that I love the Beatles, too!

    • CJ Naiduk profile image

      CJ Naiduk 4 years ago from New Jersey

      ehh. What's up doc? Nice hub. It's always fun seeing other people struggle through an attempt at ranking Beatles' songs. If you haven't already, you'll definitely want to consult the book "Revolution In The Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties," by Ian MacDonald. He provides information on the recording of every song, chronologically by album if I remember correctly, as well as an interpretation of its meaning and/or significance. I hope you'll share some more articles about the Beatles.

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 4 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      CJ, I've heard that Ian MacDonald's book is good. I'll have to look for it. Thanks for the tip. You're right, ranking Beatles songs is a struggle. This was going to be a Top 10 list, but too many great songs were being left off. I finally settled on 20 - I had to stop somewhere! Thanks for the comments.

    • Thundermama profile image

      Catherine Taylor 4 years ago from Canada

      I loved this hub. The Beatles feels like the soundtrack to my life. My husband plays them daily and even went so far as to drill random Beatles band trivia into our children's little brains. I think they can identify almost any Beatles song within the first 5 seconds of hearing it and tell you which one is singing. Paperback Writer will always be my favourite. Fabulous hub!

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 4 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Thundermama, the Beatles were the soundtrack to many people's lives. I'm glad that you are introducing your children to the classics! : ) Thanks for stopping by.

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