The 50 Best Beatles Songs

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10. “In My Life”
Right smack in the middle of the ‘60s, The Beatles released Rubber Soul, and the album served a bridge between their early pop and the more psychedelic sound that followed. It also marked a string of albums written solely by the band. “In My Life” was Lennon’s attempt to capture his childhood in the Northwest of England, though much of the original lyrics were reworked by McCartney. George Martin added a piano solo recorded an octave lower but sped up the tape to make it sound like a trippy harpsichord. The combination of pop melody, perfect harmonies and Baroque solo helped ensure that millions of fans would be along for the more experimental second half of the band’s career. —Josh Jackson

9. “Something”
This George Harrison song from Abbey Road is widely regarded as one of the best by anyone, lead singer or otherwise. More than 150 artists have tried their hand at it, making it the second-most covered Beatles song, behind “Yesterday.” And to think, The Beatles waited until they were just months away from breaking up before releasing a Harrison tune as an A-side. As George would say, “Me mind boggles at the very idea.” —Bonnie Stiernberg

8. “Let It Be”
This simple song of acceptance emerged from the most tumultuous time in Beatles history—the fragmented sessions taking place throughout 1969 that preceded the band’s contentious breakup. Over just four chords in the remarkably normal key of C and a straightforward 4/4 rhythm, “Let It Be” manages to convey grace, unity and peace, even when John, Paul, George and Ringo found themselves in times of trouble. Even with the irony, “Let It Be” remains one of the band’s most beloved tunes, a mantra for the disheartened, and a symbolic song representing the Beatles’ storied career. —Hilary Saunders

7. “Strawberry Fields Forever”
This is a song that understands the psychedelic experience, passing suddenly from blissful and lethargic to menacing, as the drums grow threatening and the strings ominous. Even today, the mellotron intro still sounds otherworldly, like some kind of paradimensional organ drifting into our universe and straight onto tape. Even though the lyrics are intentionally confused and vague, this song sounds wise, alternately light yet heavy as memory. A lot of psychedelic music sounds like a clown show today, like the worst, most indulgent impulses given free rein, but “Strawberry Fields Forever” is as powerful as ever, even without mentioning tape loops, a false ending or the “I buried Paul” theory. —Garrett Martin

6. “Eleanor Rigby”
I once argued that “Eleanor Rigby” is the saddest song ever written. With the small chamber ensemble scratching their strings in quick staccato succession in a minor key, the two-and-a-half-minute song checks off many of the musical stereotypes that constitute what makes songs sad. But when Paul starts telling the interwoven tale of Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie’s lonely souls, the song’s narrative begins to exacerbate the already anxiety-ridden instrumentals. While the verses ache in their specificity, the chorus delivers the most painful existential questions: “All the lonely people / Where do they all come from? All the lonely people / Where do they all belong?” —Hilary Saunders

5. “Hey Jude”
I don’t care who you are or what your story is—I know that, at some point or another, you’ve sung along to “Hey Jude.” It’s the ultimate participatory Beatles song (you don’t even have to know the words as long as you can remember “na na na na na na na”), and it stands as one of the all-time best. Penned for Julian Lennon to comfort him during his parents’ divorce, “Hey Jude” is Paul McCartney’s master work—simple, melodic, yet structurally complex. It showcases everything in his arsenal, starting as a lovely ballad before that scream signals the beginning of rock’s greatest coda, four minutes of Paul stretching his wings (no pun intended) vocally as he ad-libs over what almost feels like a mantra of sorts, the closest McCartney ever got to “Hare Krishna.” It’s uplifting, reassuring and catchy, and we will all be singing along to it until the sun burns out.—Bonnie Stiernberg

4. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
Although ostensibly “a George song,” this beloved White Album track has a secret, uncredited session musician: fellow Englishman and guitar hero Eric Clapton, with whom George shared a rather complicated relationship, plays the wailing guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Harrison blends his burgeoning East-meets-West musical and lyrical influences, here, and as such, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is one of his most lauded works with The Beatles. —Annie Black

3. “Across the Universe”
I feel like “Across the Universe” was probably the moment where my grade school self thought for the first time, “Whoa, the Beatles are deep.” Obviously, Beatles fans who lived through the group’s discography knew that much, much earlier, but these were the simple revelations of a fourth or fifth-grader who was exposed to the Beatles music in no discernible or logical order, listening to songs from With the Beatles and Let it Be interchangeably. Regardless, I could immediately recognize “Across the Universe” as something different from the expertly crafted pop songs I’d heard before. Here was this beautifully poetic ballad, incorporating both the instrumentation and transcendental themes the band was immersing itself in at the time, and it all started with a bit of midnight inspiration from John Lennon. For as John told it, “Across the Universe” was just one of those poem-songs that poured out of him as if engaging in the process of “automatic writing”—a literal moment of “words flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup.” His prodigious songwriting talent was the sort of natural force that simply insisted upon itself, with songs like “Across the Universe” as the result. —Jim Vorel

2. “Blackbird”
“Blackbird” is the first of three animal-related songs on The White Album, and arguably the most iconic of the trio. McCartney’s soft vocals unite the acoustic guitar picking and single steady beat with pleasant bird chirps. Although Macca said the U.S. civil rights movements inspired “Blackbird,” it that transcends any particular setting, the type of song you’d listen to after having a terrible day—hopeful without being cliché. —Annie Black

1. “A Day in the Life”
The magic of The Beatles is that two men with very different aesthetics, Lennon and McCartney somehow formed one of the most dynamic combinations in the history of rock and roll. “A Day in the Life” is the consummate example of how perfectly their collaboration could work when the elements mashed. The song starts with Lennon’s reflections on the news of the day, tinged with his usual dark outlook. By itself, it’s no more than a melancholic mood piece, but then, after a sudden transition made from harsh glissandos, it changes into what sounds like a separate song—McCartney, churning out one of the light, gorgeous melodies he seemed to summon at will. Again, it may have been insubstantial on its own, but the very English nostalgia is a perfect fit with Lennon’s moody discourse on the dingy present. As they move back for one last verse with Lennon, the transition is made with Lennon drifting off into a vocal daze, druggy and gorgeous, and it all leads to that long final chord, made from three pianos and a harmonium—the perfect, haunting end to the perfect song. —Shane Ryan

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