50 Timeless Songs By The Beatles That We Can't Get Enough Of
By Sarah Norman | December 4, 2023
A Day In The life
Coming in at the end of Sgt. Pepper, "A Day in the Life" is the sound of the Beatles establishing themselves as pop geniuses to be reckoned with. Following their performance in San Francisco on August 29th, 1966, the band essentially retired from live performances, exhausted by the constant thrum of the press cycle.
Rather than break up they became a collective that primarily worked in the studio, and with Sgt. Pepper created an album full of psychedelic pop perfection that ends with Lennon singing about the mundanity of death set to a grand orchestration that's still unmatched today. While speaking about the song in 1992, producer George Martin said that Lennon's voice on this song "sends shivers down the spine."
In My Life
"In My Life" may have cracked a songwriting problem for John Lennon. While speaking with Rolling Stone in 1964 the singer was asked why he never wrote about his personal life. He answered:
I had a sort of professional songwriter’s attitude to writing pop songs. I would write [books like] In His Own Write, to express my personal emotions. I’d have a separate songwriting John Lennon who wrote songs for the meat market. I didn’t consider them to have any depth at all. They were just a joke.
After the interview, Lennon sat down to write a poem about his past, including people and landmarks from Liverpool. Lennon was initially bored by the idea but the song flowed out quickly after that, but then things got messy. Depending on who you believe the song was already finished save for the melody and the middle eight when Lennon presented it to McCartney, but according to the bassist, he and Lennon rewrote the entire thing from scratch to make them more universal. Either way, the song is a masterpiece.
I Want To Hold Your Hand
This may not be the best Beatles song but it's definitely the most important. When the up-tempo jangle of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" hit America it created a shockwave that we're still feeling today. The Lads from Liverpool had a few songs played in the U.S. before, but this was their first Number One record. According to Lennon, he knew it was something special from the moment he and Paul were writing it:
I remember when we got the chord that made the song. We had, ‘Oh, you-u-u/Got that something,’ and Paul hits this chord, and I turn to him and say, ‘That’s it! Do that again!’ In those days, we really used to write like that — both playing into each other’s noses.
There are love songs, and then there's George Harrison's love song to Patty Boyd, "Something." Written by George Harrison in 1968 and demoed at EMI studios on his 26th birthday, the song is a gorgeous ballad to the then love of his life that he almost didn't show the rest of the band because he didn't think it was good enough for the Beatles. Harrison later said:
I just put it on ice for six months because I thought, ‘That’s too easy!'In my mind I heard Ray Charles singing ‘Something.'
This plaintive acoustic tune is the sound of a young man taking up space in a much older man's head as he looks back on the ease of his earlier life. It's a song that only gets better with age, but it was almost never released. McCartney, wry as ever, explained the origins of the most covered song in history:
It fell out of bed. I had a piano by my bedside, and I must have dreamed it, because I tumbled out of bed and put my hands on the piano keys and I had a tune in my head. It was just all there, a complete thing. I couldn’t believe it. It came too easy.
Months after writing the song, McCartney finally brought the song to the band, who must have held him upside down and chastised him for not playing the song for them sooner.
For many bands, a song like "Day Tripper" would be their apex. The perfect jangly mod rock song about people dipping in and out of the psychedelic scene, but for the Beatles, it's just one of many absolutely smashing tunes that defined a genre. In 1970, Lennon broke the song down for Rolling Stone Magazine:
'Day Tripper' was a drug song. I’ve always needed a drug to survive. The [other Beatles], too, but I always had more, I always took more pills and more of everything, ’cause I’m more crazy. Day trippers are people who go on a day trip, right? Usually on a ferryboat or something. But [the song] was kind of ‘you’re just a weekend hippie.'
This rollicking satirical tune about the anti-immigration sentiment in England in the 1960s got its start with much more vicious lyrics before McCartney toned it down to something that could actually be released as a single. Featuring a grooving Billy Preston keyboard line, the song remains vital today, even if much of its venom has been removed. Making the song even more special is the fact that it was the last song the band played during their final gig on top of the Apple Records building.
Drive My Car
Written by McCartney and Lennon at the height of their powers as a duo, "Drive My Car" started out as a melody with the basic lyrics mirroring the diamond ring story from "Can't Buy Me Love." Rather than forge ahead with a song the band had technically already written, Lennon suggested turning the whole thing into a sexual metaphor, hence "drive my car."
Unfortunately for American audiences, the most soulful tune on Rubber Soul was removed by Capitol Records in favor of an acoustic track in order to please the folk hungry masses. The sensational song wouldn't make it across the pond until the release of Yesterday and Today.
Happiness Is a Warm Gun
This rock n roll mini-suite showcases the innate ability of the Beatles to be both extravagant and pop-oriented at the same time. "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" runs through a series of changes over the course of its 2:44 run-time, and whoo boy is this a soulful, erotic barnburner.
In 1970 Lennon told Rolling Stone:
Oh, I love it. I think it’s a beautiful song. I like all the different things that are happening in it. It seemed to run through all the different kinds of rock music... I thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say.
And Your Bird Can Sing
In just two minutes the Beatles created a template for power pop that's still followed today. "And Your Bird Can Sing" is a classic McCartney kiss-off song that sees him thumbing his nose at an imagined paramour who wants him but can't have him. It's a perfect pop song that feels effortless. If someone has never heard of the Beatles this is a spectacular entry point.
Can’t Buy Me Love
With "Can't Buy Me Love" the Beatles cemented their status as the most famous band of the 20th century. Selling 3 million copies before it was even released, the single helped the band take over all five top spots in the Billboard singles chart, and a week later they held 14 Top 100 U.S. singles, a massive record.
According to McCartney, he was essentially just trying to write a blues song with "Can't Buy Me Love," but Harrison's countryfied guitar solo took the song to an entirely different level.
Strawberry Fields Forever
Written in Spain in 1966, John Lennon was without the Beatles for the first time in his career. At the time he was thinking about Liverpool and a children's home named Strawberry Field near his aunt's home where he used to play as a child.
In 1980, Lennon explained the catalyst behind easily one of the most beloved songs of the Beatles:
I was hip in kindergarten. I was different all my life. The second verse goes, ‘No one I think is in my tree.’ Well, I was too shy and self-doubting. Nobody seems to be as hip as me is what I was saying. Therefore, I must be crazy or a genius — ‘I mean it must be high or low,’ the next line. There was something wrong with me, I thought, because I seemed to see things other people didn’t see.”
Inspired by Julian Lennon, the oft-forgotten son of John and Cynthia, "Hey Jude" is Paul McCartney's attempt to help the five-year-old boy come to terms with his parent's divorce. McCartney later said:
I was going out in my car, just vaguely singing this song, and it was like, ‘Hey, Jules. . . .’ And then I just thought a better name was Jude. A bit more country & western for me. [The opening lines were] a hopeful message for Julian: ‘Come on, man, your parents got divorced. I know you’re not happy, but you’ll be OK.'
With its mysterious lyrics and deep groove, "Come Together" is a return to the band's rock n roll roots just in time for the Beatles to break up. Initially, the song was much faster and similar to Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me," but the band slowed things down to differentiate the song from its musical inspiration, and a classic was born.
Chuck Berry wasn't the only inspiration for "Come Together," according to John Lennon he initially wrote the song to be a campaign song for psychonaut Timothy Leary.
Lennon told Rolling Stone:
The Learys wanted me to write them a campaign song and their slogan was ‘Come together.' I never got around to it, and I ended up writing ‘Come Together’ instead.
A Hard Day’s Night
Out of all the early Beatles songs that make us twist and shout "A Hard Day's Night" is the track that remains as fresh as the moment we first heard it. Lyrically, the song harkens back to the band's days in Germany but it works the same for anyone working like a dog to make their dreams come true.
It's not just the killer melody that makes this song an absolute banger, it's the absolutely wild chord strummed out from a Rickenbacker 12-string at the opening of the song.
Producer George Martin later said:
In those days, the beginnings and endings of songs were things I tended to organize. We needed something striking, to be a sudden jerk into the song. It was by chance that he struck the right one. We knew it when we heard it.
The Beatles were primed and ready to record a protest anthem when they hit the studio for The White Album. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the destruction of the Vietnam War the Fab Four had a lot on their minds. "Revolution" was the first track that the band recorded for the album, and the band wanted to make sure that their fans knew exactly how they felt. Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970:
I wanted to put out what I felt about revolution. I thought it was time we spoke about it. The same as we stopped not answering about the Vietnamese War [when we were] on tour with Brian [Epstein]. We had to tell him, ‘We’re going to talk about the war this time, and we’re not going to just waffle.'
Tomorrow Never Knows
It's insane that the Beatles invented electronica with the band's final track on Revolver. The song, with its killer breakbeat and wild tape loops, is a perfect collection of sounds that makes the listener feel like they're in the middle of a psychedelic trip.
Showing up less than a year after Rubber Soul, Revolver is the beginning of the group's musical experimentation, and "Tomorrow Never Knows" shows that the group is ready to jump headfirst into the world of psychedelia.
Is there a real Eleanor Rigby? The question stayed on the lips of Beatles fans from the moment the song was released, what with all of its pensive orchestration and lyrics of a gray life lived alone. It's not really important if the song is about a real person. What's more important is how the song hits the listener - and this track hits hard.
The weirdest thing about this song is that, in the 1980s, someone found a headstone belonging to a woman named Eleanor Rigby in the churchyard of St. Peter's in Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool, only a few feet away from where McCartney and Lennon first met in 1957. McCartney said, "It was either complete coincidence or in my subconscious."
Across the Universe
John Lennon never liked the recording of "Across The Universe" that was meant to appear on The White Album. Not only did the song not sound the way he wanted in his head, but it didn't capture the cosmic awareness that he says was beamed into his head when the words came to him. After the song's release he told Rolling Stone:
It’s one of the best lyrics I’ve written. In fact, it could be the best. It’s good poetry, or whatever you call it, without chewin’ it.
The version that was finally released on Let It Be features production work by Phil Spector, someone so removed from the whole Beatles vibe that he was able to pull sounds out of Lennon's head. What the audience has now is a truly spectacular piece of art that always pays out.
Back in the USSR
The cheeky opening track to the White Album is a riff on the sound of the Beach Boys and Chuck Berry, the two most important American acts to the Beatles while sounding perfectly like the Fab Four. Featuring Beach Boys vocals Mike Love on the "California Girls" section, you'd never know that the band was in the middle of breaking up while working on the song.
Starr bailed on the band after McCartney criticized his drumming so the final version of this fantastic track is actually the sound of Harrison, Lennon, and McCartney trying to hold themselves together.
The Ballad of John and Yoko
This non-album single by the Beatles came at a strange time for the band. The lads from Liverpool were falling apart when John Lennon and Yoko Ono flew to Paris on March 16th, 1969, to get married. Over the next two weeks the couple were accosted by reporters, they hung out in bed, and they were accused of co-opting the peace movement.
The drama surrounding the couple's wedding became the basis of the song, with Lennon turning the bad vibes of the moment into a comical, loving track. Lennon was in such a hurry to release this song that he and McCartney overdubbed l of the instruments on April 14th and it was released one month later.
Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds
During his lifetime John Lennon was insistent that "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" had nothing to do with drugs. While speaking with Rolling Stone in 1970 he said:
I swear to God or swear to Mao or to anybody you like, I had no idea it spelled LSD... [Julian] He had sketched in some stars in the sky and called it ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. Simple.
No matter what it's about, the song remains a psychedelic classic that's both playful and groovy.
I Saw Her Standing There
This may be one of the best songs by the Beatles, but that wasn't the case when McCartney first started writing it. McCartney's initial opening lines weren't up to snuff, but when he and Lennon sat down and started banging out variations it not only made the song, but it bolstered their relationship as co-writers.
She Loves You
By the time the Beatles were ready to record "She Loves You" at EMU studios in 1963 the world was in the throes of Beatlemania. Abbey Road assistant and Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick remembers:
The huge crowd of girls that had gathered outside broke through the front door. . . . Scores of hysterical, screaming girls [were] racing down the corridors, being chased by a handful of out-of-breath, beleaguered London bobbies...[The chaos] helped spark a new level of energy in the group’s playing.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
George Harrison became one of the best songwriters in the Beatles, but it wasn't always that way. In the early iteration of the group it was like pulling teeth to get the band to record one of his songs. McCartney explained:
There was an embarrassing period where [George’s] songs weren’t that good and nobody wanted to say anything, but we all worked on them.
After traveling to Rishikesh, India, Harrison wrote most of the music for this song, but it wasn't until he was back in England that he started putting the lyrics together after reading the 1849 poem “Rain on the Roof" by Coates Kinney while at his parent's place.
She Said, She Said
When it came time to cap off "Revolver" Lennon had a score to settle. While staying in a house in Benedict Canyon in 1965, the Beatles dropped acid with Peter Fonda who freaked out the guys by talking about death while everyone was peaking. Lennon never forgot that moment and the malicious lyrics in this song are all pointed at Fonda. Keeping the song from turning into an all out assault is the beautiful harmonies and Ringo's jaunty drums.
Everyone knows that the Beatles have amazing voices, but with "Paperback Writer" the group showed off just how well they could harmonize. With its driving pop background and choral vocals, the song shows the group transitioning from a British boy band into a truly important quarter of songwriters and performers.
Paul McCartney's endearing love song to Liverpool, "Penny Lane" was written as a way to prove that he was just as whip smart a writer as John Lennon. Producer George Martin explained:
The song was generated by a kind of ‘I can do just as well as you can, John,’ because we’d just recorded ‘Strawberry Fields.' It was such a knockout, I think Paul went back to perfect his idea. And they were both significant. They were both about their childhood.
Both songs were released together as opposite sides of the initial single from Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.
I Feel Fine
Rock 'n' roll fans take for granted the fact that overdrive and feedback has only been around for a few decades. This track features distortion that may seem quaint next to what Pete Townsend and Jimi Hendrix would do in the late '60s, but this is another first for the Beatles. Producer George Martin said:
John always turned the [volume] knob up full. It became kind of a joke. But he realized that he could do this to advantage.
McCartney's acoustic ballad got its start as a call to arms about civil rights, but the genius of Macca's writing is that he makes use of all the subtext possible to make sure the song will be heard by everyone, rather than just his intended audience. The songwriter explained:
I had in mind a black woman, rather than a bird. Those were the days of the civil rights movement, which all of us cared passionately about, so this was really a song from me to a black woman, experiencing these problems in the States: ‘Let me encourage you to keep trying, to keep your faith, there is hope.'
Got to Get You Into My Life
This may sound like a love song, but it's actually McCartney singing about his love of ripping mad nugs directly after trying it for the first time. He later explained::
It’s actually an ode to pot like someone else might write an ode to chocolate or a good claret.
Don’t Let Me Down
Recorded in 1969 during the "Let It Be" sessions, "Don't Let Me Down" is an R&B influenced grooved out rock song pushed along by Billy Preston's elegant keyboards. As chill as the love song is, it's actually a desperate plea from Lennon to Yoko. McCartney later said of the song:
It was a very tense period. John was with Yoko and had escalated to heroin and all the accompanying paranoias, and he was putting himself out on a limb. I think that as much as it excited and amused him, at the same time it secretly terrified him. So ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ was a genuine plea.
All My Loving
This early Beatles song is the first time that McCartney wrote something without composing the music first. Written while the Beatles were no tour with Roy Orbison, McCartney penned the lyrics on the bus and then found a piano backstage at a venue and banged the music out. He later said:
It was the first song I’d ever written the words first. I had in my mind a little country & western song.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
By 1966, the Beatles were exhausted by being the Fab Four. McCartney had the idea to not be the Beatles anymore, so the group decided to start a fake band. McCartney said:
Everything about the album will be imagined from the perspective of these people, so it doesn’t have to be the kind of song you want to write, it could be the song they might want to write.
The song was written to introduce the audience to concept of the album, and rather than a classic pop rock song they went for an all out psychedelic hard rock track influenced by Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix loved the song so much that he covered the song in London two days after the album’s U.S. release.
I’m Only Sleeping
One of the more laconic songs in the Beatles discography, "I'm Only Sleeping" is a literal song about sleeping, or trying to sleep until McCartney woke John Lennon up for a songwriting session. Much of this song was created through happenstance, with the psychedelic reverse sounds created by an engineer who threaded the multitrack tape machine incorrectly.
Is "Taxman" one of the most well thought out tracks by the Beatles? No. Does it absolutely slap? Most definitely. Penned by George Harrison after he figured out how much money he was paying to the UK government, it's a nasty little pop song full of hilarious cynicism. Harrison later said:
‘Taxman’ was when I first realized that even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes. The government’s taking over 90 percent of all our money,” Starr once complained. “We’re left with one-ninth of a pound.
Put all that stuff with Manson aside, "Helter Skelter" shows that the Beatles found it just as easy to be (so) heavy as they found it to be relaxed crooners. Inspired by the Who’s 1967 single “I Can See for Miles," McCartney wanted to record something nice and loud. He said of the Who's inspirational track:
[It was] a marathon epic of swearing cymbals and cursing guitars. It wasn’t rough [or full of] screaming. So I thought, ‘We’ll do one like that, then.'
If I Needed Someone
This remarkable jangly tune exists thanks to the Beatles getting into the Los Angeles pop kings the Byrds. When Lennon and McCartney attended one of the Byrds’ first British shows in early '65 they fell in love with the group's jangly sound.
Two months after popping into a Byrds recording session they wrote "If I Needed Someone," a crystal clear rendition of that sparkly Byrds sound. Roger McGuinn said:
George was very open about it. He sent [the record] to us in advance and said, ‘This is for Jim’ — because of that lick.
Baby, You’re a Rich Man
This is pure Lennon spite right here. "Baby, You’re a Rich Man" is pointed directly at the wealthy upper class of England, and some of it was Lennon talking about himself. Weirdly enough, the song may feature backing vocals from Mick Jagger but no one can really remember.
It may come off as one of the band's lighter tunes, but "Hello, Goodbye" is a marvelous song made out of opposites. From hello to goodbye to positive and negative. As great as the song is, Lennon couldn't fathom why "I Am The Walrus" was its b-side when the track was released as a single. Brian Epstein’s assistant Alistair Taylor remembered McCartney working on the song:
He had a marvelous old hand-carved harmonium. [He told me to] hit any note on the keyboard . . . and I’ll do the same. Whenever I shout out a word, you shout the opposite, and I’ll make up a tune. ‘Black,’ he started. ‘White,’ I replied. ‘Yes.’ ‘No.’ ‘Hello.’ ‘Goodbye.'
Good Day Sunshine
Written by McCartney in an attempt to capture the power of "Daydream" by the Lovin' Spoonful, this jaunty pop tune was aided by George Martin's decision to record different parts of the song at different tape speeds.
Fans trying to pinpoint where Lennon's songwriting changed should look no further than "Nowhere Man." Written about his experience as a member of the biggest band in the world, the song accurately describes his insulated experience as someone who only exists for an hour or so on stage. And then that killer guitar solo! Ugh. So good. He told Rolling Stone:
The whole thing came out in one gulp. I remember I was just going through this paranoia trying to write something and nothing would come out, so I just lay down and tried not to write and then this came out.
With a Little Help From My Friends
"With a Little Help From My Friends" may not be the most well known Beatles songs, but it's up there. Recorded in an all-night session after a photoshoot for the Sgt. Pepper album cover, Starr almost left the session to get some sleep before the rest of the band hounded him into recording the immaculate vocal that can be heard on the album. McCartney later said about writing the lyrics with Lennon:
I remember giggling with John when we wrote the lines ‘What do you see when you turn out the light? I can’t tell you, but I know it’s mine.’ It could have been him playing with his willy under the covers, or it could have been taken on a deeper level.
And I Love Her
The Beatles always felt that the secret to the success of "And I Love Her" was the "And" in the title. McCartney's first ballad that really knocks it out oft he park, it took a few tries to get the song down. Initially the band was playing it as a big ol' rock song, but when that didn't work Ringo switched to bongos and everything fell into place.
Within You Without You
Leave it to Harrison to whip out the sitar and write an absolute classic. He first saw the instrument on the set of Help! in 1965, but it wasn't until he traveled to India in 1966 to study with Ravi Shankar that he actually got a handle on it. Shankar says that Harrison practiced for eight hours a day to master the instrument, and from that rehearsal he wrote "Within You Without You." Lennon later said of the song:
It’s one of my favorite [songs] of his. His mind and music are clear. . . . He brought that sound together.
You Won’t See Me
Cut in only two takes on the evening of November 11th, 1965, "You Won't See Me" was one of the final songs recorded for Rubber Soul. Aside from the Sword of Damocles hanging over the band, McCartney and his gal pal Jane Asher were in the midst of a breakup. The stress of the album and his relationship with Asher brought out some of the songwriter's most spiteful lyrics. Even with the rush job and all the stress, this song still swings.
The Long and Winding Road
As the Beatles were falling apart in 1969, McCartney took a step back and wrote this poignant ballad about the unattainable goal of going back to when the stakes weren't so high for the band. To add insult to injury, after McCartney cut the song on the piano producer Phil Spector added strings and a choir, completely blowing the song out. Engineer Geoff Emerick remembers:
It was his record. And someone takes it out of the can and starts to overdub things without his permission.
By April 1970, McCartney was done with the Beatles.
I’m So Tired
While living on the Maharishi's ashram John Lennon was meditating all day and not sleeping at night. Without drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes to help him out, he was left to obsess over Yoko Ono and how he just wanted to get away from his wife, Cynthia. Out of all the songs that lads came up with while in India "I'm So Tired" is the one that gets to the heart of the Lennon's state of mind.
For No One
Written in the second person, this McCartney track was penned as a way for him to get through an argument that he had with Jane Asher while on vacation in Switzerland. To add to the somber strangeness of this classic track, the whole thing was recorded by McCartney and Starr before they overdubbed some clavichord and called in Alan Civil of the London Philharmonia to play the beautiful French-horn melodies.
"Hey Bulldog" should not slap as hard as it does, but this track that was just whipped off while they were recording a promotional video for "Lady Madonna" has an aggressive vibe tat the band has never had. Lennon later said of the song:
Paul said we should do a real song in the studio. Could I whip one off? I had a few words at home, so I brought them in... [It's] a good-sounding record that means nothing.