The 5 Hardest Rocking Beatles Songs
The Beatles—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr—are perhaps the most successful and influential group in the history of popular music. From the 1962 release of their first single to their breakup in 1970, they influenced every genre of music they tried their hands at, and even created a few while they were at it. But when it comes to the world of stripped down, four-on-the-floor rock n’ roll, their accomplishments are often overshadowed by those of their rougher-edged contemporaries: bands like The Rolling Stones and The Who. In order to correct this imbalance, I have compiled this list of five epically rocking Beatles songs, which showed that the Fab Four could turn it up to eleven with the best of them.
#5 "Dizzy Miss Lizzy"
This little garage-rock gem from the Help! LP might not be the most recognizable to the casual fan, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t insanely fun to listen to. Built on a simple A-Blues progression, with a guitar lead from George that is repetitive but very enjoyable, the song centers around a girl named Lizzy, who makes the singer very…okay, so it’s not the most profound thing Lennon and McCartney ever wrote, but it didn’t need to be. It closed the album on a raucous, rocking note, something that its teeny-bopper fan base probably needed after the beautiful melancholy of McCartney’s “Yesterday.”
#4 "Paperback Writer"
Released in 1966, partnered with “Rain” as a B-side, “Paperback Writer marked a departure in both the Beatles’ sound and their lyrical content. Apparently, Paul McCartney’s aunt had asked him if he could write about something other than love, and Paul was inspired to write the song after noticing Ringo reading a book in the studio. Structurally, the song is actually quite strange, stopping and then starting again twice over the course of the song, and with roughly a minute to go, John and George begin singing “Frere Jacques” in harmony in the background. What gives the song its endearing, enduring quality is its famous, driving guitar riff. The song’s bassline was also placed at the front of the mix, giving the song an extra depth that had not been present in previous recordings. Interestingly enough, it is speculated by some that it was George, not Paul, who recorded the bass tracks for the song.
#3 "Happiness is a Warm Gun"
Hailing from the White Album, which was known for its experiments with multiple genres, “Happiness is a Warm Gun” seems to contain three different songs in one. There's the slow opening, filled with surrealist images ("The man in the crowd with the multicolored mirrors on his hobnail boots..."), followed by the "I need a fix" and "Mother Superior" sections in the middle, and then the end, where the title finally arrives, and "bang, bang, shoot, shoot" is sung in the background with a kind of ominous glee. While the title might seem out of place for a John Lennon song, who was famously outspoken against violence, the truth was that he had simply swiped it from a magazine ad.
So how hard does the song rock? George’s fuzzed-out guitar lead that begins around :45 seconds in makes it worthy of inclusion on this list all by itself. It is heavy, sinister, and perfectly offsets the song's lyrical transition. Listen to it and you can almost hear Jack White’s entire career being born.
Which Beatle could rock the hardest?
The second of only two overtly political songs The Beatles ever recorded (“Taxman” being the other) “Revolution” came from John Lennon’s desire to honestly address controversial issues of the day, namely the Vietnam War. How successful he was at this remains debatable (his lyric, "you can count me out, in" was seen by some protest groups as “waffling”) but there can be no doubt that the song is one of the hardest rocking (and certainly the fastest) in the group’s catalog. From the blistering opening notes on Lennon’s Epiphone Casino guitar, to the distorted keyboards in the song’s instrumental section, to the shouts of “Alright! All-right!” that arrive just before the end, everything about the song is meant to be as loud and abrasive as possible. In fact, it is so far over-driven that the recording console was nearly destroyed during the studio sessions (the distortion sounds had been achieved by plugging the guitars directly into the console, which the recording engineers had strongly advised against).
#1 Helter Skelter
Paul was inspired to write this song after reading an interview with Pete Townsend of The Who. Townsend was talking about The Who's new song “I Can See for Miles,” which he proudly stated was the loudest thing the group had ever done. Paul, famously, thought he could do it better. The end result was "Helter Skelter"—four minutes and thirty seconds of thrashing drums, snarling guitars, and vocals that aren’t so much sung as they are screamed. It fades out and then returns twice in its ending coda, as if to startle the unwary listener. The song's famous guitar riff, played during the chorus, could be seen as birthing both punk rock and heavy metal in one fell swoop. It has since been covered by bands such as Aerosmith, Souxie and the Banshees, U2, Oasis, and Motley Crue.
The song gained notoriety following the Manson Family murders in 1969. Manson claimed to divine secret messages in the group’s songs, and "Helter Skelter" has been used as the title for two movies and a book about the crimes. Rather than speaking of an upcoming race war, as Manson believed, McCartney's lyrics are about a carnival ride—a tall, twisting slide known as a Helter Skelter.
Fun Fact: Ringo shouts “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!” at the end of the song because the band had previously finished tracking a version that was twenty-seven minutes long. No wonder.