Ten Beatles Songs, ridiculous to say these are the best. But ridiculous not to try to make such a list. This one is as much personal as anything else.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1964)
This is the first song I remember hearing. It was their first No. 1 in the states, and along with it came a lot of talk about their hair and the screaming fainting girls. This song is a perfect piece of pop songwriting, totally catchy, but also varied by parts and tone, so that it’s not too sweet or too blue, not too dependent on one hook when a few will be better.
This is the one song I’ve played in public recital on the piano. It is also one of the songs I sang to my daughter every night for many years, as she fell asleep. But the reason I list it here is because as I’ve come to appreciate Paul McCartney as a lyricist, this is one of his finest poems. Spare, wonderfully structured, plainly said and deeply felt, and not at all sentimental in and of themselfs, these are words that don’t really need strings or any of the pop craft you hear here. A magnificent achievement.
Here There and Everywhere (1966)
Another McCartney perfection. John Lennon called this one of his favorite Beatles tunes, which says something.
Eight Days A Week (1964)
Lennon thought this one was lousy and the Beatles never played it live. I suppose I can pick it apart, it’s simple and some of the lyrics are just fine, not perfect, but I love the harmonies and the sentiment and those jangling guitars. If I’m having a party this is the Beatles tune that goes into the dance mix, no matter what John said.
Helter Skelter (1968)
McCartney goes all heavy metal, and comes up with a loud rocker that is most notable for it’s sweet harmonies and affability. But that doesn’t mean that the noise isn’t loud and the music less than assaultive. I kind of landed here because so much of The Beatles is novelty, in a cute and clever way. You can dress Helter Skelter in the same clothing, it was a challenge song, Paul trying to write the dirtiest sounding song he could, and for all it’s sonic sturm it isn’t really threatening until John talks about his blisters. I buried Paul, and all that. But it does rock until the extended coda and it does carve out new musical territory, and I always enjoy hearing it.
Hey Jude (1968)
Okay, more McCartney. This song is so simple, so perfectly simple, it’s hard to imagine how it became a seven minute epic, but at that it seems absolutely right. Variations and more variations, along with the lovely sing song consolation that will not take no for an answer, ending with sing along Na na na na na na monumental coda, which elevates everything to yet another higher level. Take a sad song and make it better. They did.
A Hard Days Night (1964)
Here’s the problem. This is a perfect song, with a great arrangement and fantastic harmonies. Give credit here to John Lennon, finally. The problem is that the Beatles have 30 others just as good. But I love this one for the opening chord and the lyrics, which (like Eight Days a Week) refer to a working life. That’s not a big deal, but it takes the pouffery of the pop song back into the grind of the working week, and that’s something I notice. Plus it sounds fantastic.
Get Back (1969)
I remember hearing this the first time, watching the video, which is a fantastic bit of expression of the Beatles’ power, and a world still trying to rein them and all of the youth in. The lyrics are nonsense, but sound great, and the song is a terribly affable rock song elevated by Billy Preston’s keyboards. I won’t claim this is one of the band’s great songs, but it is one of my favorites.
Within You, Without You (1967)
I made a Beatles Top 11 earlier in the year, kind of a lark because I did it quickly, but I meant it. When I started putting this list together I did so without consulting the original, but I did remember that Within You, Without You was on that list, kind of representing Sgt. Pepper. Lawr commented that he didn’t think the Beatles could write a bad song, except for Within You, Without You and Revolution #9. I’m not tempted to put the goofy pastiche on my list, but I cannot escape this George Harrison song. I am not a religious person and certainly not going all gaga over some big religious personality, er fraud, so forget the horrible lyrics, but they don’t matter, I think. The propulsive rhythm and the sawing harmonies and the densely layered mix, are really beautiful and appealing in a way that trad Indian music isn’t. To my ears, I mean. I do feel bad that two of my top 10 Beatles songs are really solo acts, featuring no other Beatles but the composer. So be it. I just wish I’d included Gomper on my Stones list.
Can’t Be Me Love (1964)
I guess the plain speaking, harmonizing rockers are my favorite Beatles, and this tune, like Eight Days a Week and Hard Days Night is both insistently rocking and rolling a sophisticated metaphor around on its tongue. McCartney wrote this one, but my favorite Beatle was always John.
Every single other Beatles song could be listed here, except for Revolution #9, which isn’t really a song as much as a collage. A good collage I think, so let’s go out with that. Backwards!