The Beatles’ Top 100 Songs – Part 4, 25-1

Beatles Month Staff Lists

The centerpiece to Strange Currencies’ month-long celebration of The Beatles is this feature – our first collaborative staff list. As someone who has spent a lot of time making list-form projects, I know the work, strategy, and second-guessing that goes into such an endeavor. While the nature of a group list helps to divide some of the work load, the incorporation of multiple perspectives brings about its own set of challenges. Though I may bemoan my colleagues for the exclusion of some of my personal favorites – such as “Baby’s In Black,” “I Will,” “There’s a Place,” and “I’ll Be Back” – I think they absolve themselves with their thoughtful selections and commentary.

Our methodology was simple: each contributor had 100 picks; the top pick received 100 points, the 100th received 1. In the official canon of 213 songs – excluding alternate versions, German-language re-recordings, and George Martin’s instrumental tracks from Yellow Submarine, but including the “reunion” singles from the Anthology project – 161 songs earned at least one point between our seven participants. As the editor-in-chief of Strange Currencies, I reserved the right to break ties – though the final rankings vary (often greatly) from how I ordered them in the A Century of Song project.

The collaborators for this project range in age from the late-teens to early-forties; our individual level of enthusiasm for The Beatles ranges from “pretty serious fan” to “certified obsessive”; five of us are musicians, while two are merely music lovers. Here are our picks:

25. “Ticket to Ride”

from Help! (1965)

466 points

Thirty-two Beatles tracks made it onto my recently-completed 1000-song exploration of A Century of Song. The thirty-third ranked track by the band – and the first to miss the cut – was this highlight from the 1965 soundtrack to The Beatles’ second film, 1965’s Help! Featuring a decidedly heavier sound than anything else that the band had yet recorded, the weight of “Ticket to Ride” is somewhat hard to pick up on, given the song’s considerable melodicism and charmingly “jangly” guitars. It was a major track for the group – one that found them transitioning from the pop song craft of their previous two years, toward the more introspective work in their immediate future. — MR

24. “Twist and Shout”

from Please Please Me (1963)

482 points

Whenever I think of “Twist And Shout,” I can’t help but think of Ferris Bueller singing on that parade float, while the city of Chicago dances with him – a great illustration to the importance of the song as a cultural touchstone and a testament to the track’s infectious groove. “Twist And Shout” is about as well known as “Happy Birthday” in American culture, and one take was all The Beatles had to make it right. The band had spent the entire day recording Please Please Me, while all were recovering from a cold. Long work days in Hamburg had trained them for the album, solidifying the tightest Beatles performances on record. It is incredible that John’s voice had held out for so long, given the circumstances; a closer listen to the last few seconds of the track reveals Lennon coughing from exhaustion. A second take was attempted, but was scrapped as the lads had nothing left in them. One take was all they needed to capture a stunningly raw performance. That is the magic of The Beatles. — KC

23. “Hey Jude”

single A-side (1968)

486 points

By now, the story of “Hey Jude” is all-too-familiar to anyone steeped in even the most basic of Beatle lore. Written by Paul as a showing of support for John’s son Julian – in the midst of his parents’ very public divorce – the song has long since transcended its original, narrow inspiration, to become one of The Beatles’ most universally-beloved anthems. McCartney could be fairly accused of meandering toward schmaltz at times, but damned if there aren’t plenty of moments where “Take a sad song, and make it better” still manages to be thoroughly life-affirming. — MR

22. “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”

from Help! (1965)

488 points

Have your noticed that a lot these songs are sung in the abstract? The possible backstories to “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” include John having to hide his marriage to Cynthia Powell for the sake of record sales, and Brian Epstein having to hide his sexuality out of societal fear. The truth isn’t known, but both are possible, thanks to John’s ability to tell a story without actually telling it. All the better that he channels Dylan and employs a killer flute to do so. — GB

21. “All You Need is Love”

single A-side (1967)

493 points

It took me a really long time to appreciate “All You Need is Love.” It feels gimmicky; it was gimmicky. In the simplest terms, John distilled the Summer of Love into a series of catchphrases and slogans – a commercial jingle for love, minus Paul Anka. It works because of George Martin and his orchestral expertise; without his dexterity and their sound – a brass equal to Phil Spector’s famous “Wall of Sound” – John’s jingle doesn’t come off the page. It’s not “All you need is love…”, it’s “All you need is LOVE (bum-ba-dum-ba-dum), Love is all you need.” — GB

20. “Nowhere Man”

from Rubber Soul (1965)

494 points

Rubber Soul is, for me, the record where the Fab Four finally figured it all out. Great harmonies had been there before, but often with somewhat juvenile lyrics. While this song doesn’t require terribly deep philosophical ruminations, it does signal a growing attention to lyrics. And, for once, it isn’t about love. That said, the universality of the lyrics certainly allow most listeners to think about themselves – and their friends and family – and consider the moments or periods of their lives where they were floundering or “lost.” — NB

19. “She Loves You”

single A-side (1963)

507 points

Like the recording of Please Please Me, the backstory behind “She Loves You” is almost as incredible as the song itself. “She Loves You” was recorded during what could almost be described as a riot. Fans had gathered outside of EMI Studio’s entrance while the band was composing several takes of the song. There was a fever in the air and the group was giddy with anticipation. They knew that at any moment a mob of young girls would break down the doors and swarm the band. That intense energy translated into a raucous performance on The Beatles’ part. Eventually that mob of girls did indeed break into the studio – some of whom were tackled by their roadie Mal Evans. “She Loves You” is the most quintessential “Early Beatles” track, down to their signature “oooohs” and the pleasing final sixth chord. Brilliantly, the song opens on a shortened chorus with Ringo’s odd tom-tom fill. The chord choices are simple, derived from girl group records, leaving room for expertly crafted harmonies to melt into it. “She Loves You” is a sonic masterpiece that wrote the book for how songwriters compose the perfect song. — KC

18. “I Am the Walrus”

single B-side (1967)

513 points

Paul McCartney – after hearing John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges album – openly commented that John wasn’t pushing himself creatively, and pointed to “I Am the Walrus” as an example of what his former partner could really do when he put his mind to it. That’s high criticism from the guy responsible for Wings. “I Am the Walrus” was constructed from three different song snippets; only one section derived directly from an LSD trip. My 7-year-old loves it, and gleefully sings along to every “crabbalocka fishwipe” and “semolina pilchard,” oblivious to possible meanings and the truly terrifying imagery contained in some of it. That’s exactly what Lennon intended. “Dylan gets away with away with murder…” Lennon told Beatles biographer Hunter Davies. He wanted to peddle some elementary penguins of his own. Just close your eyes and let the rhythmic cadence of “I Am the Walrus” take you away. But don’t close them too tightly. — MM

17. “A Hard Day’s Night”

from A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

514 points

The Beatles’ eponymous opening track to their completely original A Hard Day’s Night crashes down with their now famous Fadd9 chord. John and Paul cleverly sing in a duet style, bouncing the lyrics back and forth. The lyrical content provides a glimpse into the lads’ background as working-class musicians while still being fun. Ringo provides his signature driving backbeat to the song, with washed out cymbals synonymous with the “Early Beatles” sound. George’s use of his new Rickenbacker 12-string comes across as country-influenced in the solo, adding extra flavor to the track. “A Hard Day’s Night” provides the perfect opening to an album in which Lennon and McCartney proved themselves as professional songwriters. While Beatlemania had certainly been kicked off, the opening chord to “A Hard Day’s Night” creates a sonic bookend of Lennon and McCartney’s domination over popular music that “A Day In The Life” closes. — KC

16. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”

from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

525 points

Sgt. Pepper was the first Beatles record that I ever owned – purchased during an “end of the century” sale at Flagstaff’s now-long-gone Hastings location on December 21, 1999. I remember it with such specificity, because – even in the moment – it felt monumental. Still pre-iTunes, pre-YouTube, pre-Spotify, buying the album represented the first conscious choice that I ever made to listen to The Beatles – at long last, fighting through my stubborn anti-boomer mentality. While I had heard most of Sgt. Pepper before, I had never listened to it. In my initial listen, the first two tracks passed by pleasantly enough, but by the third, the hook had been set.

Nearly twenty-two years later, I’m still hooked. Since then, I’ve purchased every Beatles album at least five times – some several times more. Each song in their official catalog of 228 is embedded deep within my bones. I’ve scoured through countless hours of session outtakes and lengthy – obsessively-detailed – tomes on the band’s recording processes. I own two Rickenbackers, a Gretsch Tennessee Rose, a Vox AC15, and a Mellotron – all mostly because of The Beatles. If the words “Beatle-inspired” appear in an album review, I’m immediately intrigued. Before that night – as I drove home listening to Sgt. Pepper – I knew that The Beatles were the most vital band that had ever existed. However, until those three floor tom hits led into that first gloriously kaleidoscopic chorus, I had never actually felt it myself. — MR

15. “Let It Be”

single A-side (1970)

530 points

Paul wrote “Let It Be” with his mother, Mary, in mind, but whether “Mother Mary” in the song is his mother or the biblical Mary is up to the listener, according to Paul. While Ringo’s dependable drums give the song direction, Paul’s piano is the featured instrument for the calm buildup of this gorgeous track; but, it isn’t long before George’s tough riffs give it a new dimension.

The last single the band released, it remains among the top fan favorites. It was covered by at least ten different well-known artists before 1970 was out, including Aretha Franklin’s single version – which actually arrived before The Beatles’ take. Like all Beatles songs from this period, the lyrics beg some soul-searching. This hopeful song speaks to the “broken-hearted” or anyone experiencing loss and looking for “answers” or “words of wisdom”. It is timeless. — NB

14. “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”

from Rubber Soul (1965)

531 points

While it truly is a folk song at heart, it’s hard to overstate how important “Norwegian Wood” was to the development of psychedelic music in the 60s. Not only were its lyrics more mature and suggestive, but its instrumentation marks one of the very first instances of a western pop act incorporating influences from India into its sound – a development that would play a role in the emergence of psychedelic music, following the release of Rubber Soul. — RG

13. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

from The Beatles (1968)

531 points

Okay. Eric Clapton is a turd. He stole George Harrison’s wife from him. Fine. I get that. But this song is more than Clapton’s guitar solo. It’s an example of George’s exquisite songwriting talent. He captures an element of melancholy that seems to elevate this pop song to artistic heights. This track on the “White Album” speaks to the sense of loss that Harrison was feeling, as the tensions in the band twisted and strained their personal relationships. On the verge of collapse, it captures the emotion of the time, and is one of Harrison’s best contributions to the band. — GK

12. “Across the Universe”

from Let It Be (1970)

532 points

Written somewhere after the “White Album” and before the Get Back / Let It Be sessions, “Across the Universe” captures a rare moment of peace during a time considered most responsible for the downfall of the band. The version recorded for the World Wildlife Fund particularly portrays some of the more tranquil elements of the song – through its backing vocals and added instrumentation – compared to its album counterpart. — RG

11. “Here Comes the Sun”

from Abbey Road (1969)

545 points

These song write-ups get harder the closer we get to the top. Distilling songs so universally loved into a paragraph or two – whilst adding to the discussion – can be near impossible for something so well-known. It’s like writing a review for a national anthem. So, let’s give it a shot… The great tragedy of “Here Comes the Sun” is that it was left off of the Voyager Gold Record for legal reasons. Seriously. A monument to humanity – thrown into deep space, and immortality – wasn’t allowed to use one of the most beautiful and recognizable pieces of modern popular music, all because someone at EMI wanted more money. — GB

10. “Help!”

from Help! (1965)

553 points

Three Beatles songs have exclamation points in their titles. While you puzzle over the other two, consider this: In interviews later in his life, John often pointed to “Help!” as a track that he liked, while he disparaged many other classic songs he wrote during his Beatles tenure. Why? For one thing, he felt that it was an honest cry for help, penned during his “fat Elvis period” as he referred to it. In slight self-criticism, he did remark that it should have been recorded slower and folkier, maybe closer to the Dylan homage he originally intended it to be. The song’s lines also feature deliberate multisyllabic words, in fulfillment to a challenge from journalist Maureen Cleave. John Lennon always talked like he felt he had to prove something. “Help!” was his most direct and personal song up to that date, and proved to the world, and Lennon himself, that he was capable of drawing from inside himself a meaningful and moving song; one that still bops and swings. — MM

9. “Eleanor Rigby”

from Revolver (1966)

566 points

A pop song from a four-piece band with nary a guitar or drum to be found? Yes, please. Maybe it’s the literature lover in me, but this character study is poetry with music. I mean, take a normal pop song and strip the music and it’s often a cringe-y experience, but with “Eleanor Rigby,” it really is a poem that can stand on its own. It captures the loneliness of the downtrodden and forgotten. Beautiful. Rumors have it that each member of The Beatles contributed some parts of the lyrics as well, though it began as a piece of Paul’s. There’s so much depth here in this fictitious story that people have even dug up birth certificates and auctioned off mementos referring to potential real-life “Eleanor Rigby”s. And yes, there IS a headstone in Liverpool for an actual person named “Eleanor Rigby” in a cemetery across the street from where John Lennon grew up. Maybe there is a mystical connection. Spooky. — GK

8. “Something”

from Abbey Road (1969)

571 points

George Harrison was a songwriter before “Something” – and he wrote many life-changing pieces after – but nothing really compares. It marked his ascendancy as a writer and is the bookend case to make Abbey Road the “George album” over Revolver. All of those are facts and trivia; what matters in a song is what it makes you feel, and if you want to feel it again. Almost sixty years on, “Something” still feels fresh. Honest writing is true writing, and “Something” continues to move us like no other. — GB

7. “Yesterday”

from Help! (1965)

612 points

As the editor-in-chief of a website that generates absolutely zero revenue, certain thankless tasks are bound to fall upon my shoulders. While my six colleagues and I divvied up the chore of providing blurbs for each of these one-hundred songs, “Yesterday” was the last to remain unclaimed. Now – at the eleventh hour – it’s my job, and as I struggle to find an angle in which to approach the most-covered song in the history of popular music, I suppose I’ll do what those countless artists who turned to “Yesterday” could not bring themselves to do, and just let Paul’s utterly perfect two minutes stand on their own. — MR

6. “Penny Lane”

single A-side (1967)

613 points

If “Strawberry Fields Forever” is John Lennon’s stroll down the figments of his psychedelic memory, then “Penny Lane” is Paul McCartney’s counterpoint. In what may be, penny-for-penny, the most musical value ever crammed into a single release – apologies to The Beach Boys’ stellar “God Only Knows” / “Wouldn’t it Be Nice” – music lovers have never gotten more bang for their buck when they forked over for this sweet sweet double A-side single of “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields.” McCartney’s jaunty prancing bass line on the verse of “Penny Lane” is melodic perfection, and the song soars with an unexpectedly fantastic piccolo trumpet solo (of all things). This is the peak of McCartney’s artistic input, and shines a light on his knack for pop melodies and thoughtfully crafted compositions. — GK

5. “For No One”

from Revolver (1966)

618 points

In writing about “For No One” for the A Century of Song project, I claimed that the track arguably stands as The Beatles’ most underrated song. Apparently this is a sentiment that I have often shared amongst my collaborators: three of whom gave “For No One” more than the eighty-eight points that I allotted to it. In time, Paul McCartney would make winding character studies something of an artistic calling card – a path that would yield highs (“Lovely Rita,” “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”), lows (“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”), and, more damningly, perhaps, songs that fail to register too far in either direction (“Teddy Boy”). That’s not the case with “For No One.” In three elegant verses, Paul sets out a heartbreaking story that avoids becoming too specific, and, in turn, becomes universal – at least universal enough for a handful of die-hard Beatle fanatics to recognize it as one of the group’s greatest achievements. — MR

4. “Tomorrow Never Knows”

from Revolver (1966)

619 points

How does someone write about “Tomorrow Never Knows” without leaving out at least one aspect that makes it one of the absolute crowning achievements of western music? You could focus on the influence that LSD had on John while he was writing, but you would miss out on the technical advancements that make this one of the most influential pieces of music ever made. You could talk about how it feels more like a soundscape experience than a traditional song, but that would be missing out on the songwriting and arrangements that only that group of people at that exact moment in time could have created. Fifty-five years later, there has been nothing in the rock world that has ever come close to replicating it, yet music would not be the same without it. — RG

3. “In My Life”

from Rubber Soul (1965)

677 points

“In My Life” holds its grip on us, because at its heart, it is about nostalgia. It’s timeless and easy to identify with. The easy tempo and baroque melody are equally at home at your cousin’s wedding or the junior prom – further driving the nostalgia stake home. How do I know? Because I used it at my wedding. The capstone to Rubber Soul, “In My Life” remains timeless, and beautiful, and true. The perfect song for a couple’s first dance, or at a celebration of their 50th anniversary. — GB

2. “Strawberry Fields Forever”

single A-side (1967)

681 points

At the time of this writing, I am five days away from my 19th birthday. In the year since I reached adulthood, I left home for college, voted for the first time, and faced challenges both mental and physical. Admittedly, these are all things that most American 18-year-olds face, but 2020 and 2021 have been especially difficult times for everyone, let alone a freshman in college. My entire childhood, I couldn’t wait to be an adult, but looking back, was my excitement invested in the wrong place? Should I have cherished the final years before I was off on my own a bit longer? 

Sitting in a hotel room in Spain in 1966, John Lennon continued to workshop an idea that he had been playing around with for the past few years. All he really had was a descending chord progression fitted with lyrics that vaguely reminisced about a Salvation Army home near his childhood home. After some altering, John presented his finished idea to the other Beatles during their first sessions for what would become Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. After a few attempts, it was decided that takes 7 and 26 could be combined to bring out the best that the song had to offer. This very move is what gives the music of “Strawberry Fields Forever” such a meandering feel – one that is only brought out more by Lennon’s nostalgic and longing lyrics. And in the end, we are reminded that no matter how hard growing up can be, we can always return to Strawberry Fields. — RG

1. “A Day in the Life”

from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

686 points

In writing about “A Day in the Life” for the A Century of Song project – where it came in at #3 – I spent the entire entry talking about my first conscious exposure to the song. There was no mention of John Lennon’s haunting melody; of Paul McCartney’s sprightly middle section; of Ringo’s remarkably lyrical drum fills; of the clever interweaving of news stories, both mundane and macabre; and of George Martin’s herculean production efforts – efforts that helped to advance the concept of “popular music as art form.”

These individual elements – impressive, unprecedented, and brilliant as they may be – pale in comparison to the all-encompassing whole that is created by the sum of said parts. The enormity of the sound, the seamless transition through its three “acts,” and the undeniable vibe of it all, work in conjunction to create something that is as visceral as it is ethereal. It was something that no band – including The Beatles themselves – could ever quite match again.

Each of the ninety-nine songs that preceded “A Day in the Life” on this list adds a vital piece of evidence to the ironclad case that The Beatles truly had no peers. Plenty of songs that didn’t make the cut are little short of extraordinary in their own right. However, there can only be one at the top. The Beatles are pop’s greatest auteurs, and this is their masterpiece. — MG

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