You’ve seen part one of our list of the best ever Beatles songs. Now it’s time to get serious. Here are the 50 greatest ever Fab Four songs according to NME writers and musicians including Johnny Marr, Royal Blood, Bob Geldof, Hot Chip, The Killers and Suede, to name but a few. Enjoy!
After ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ was released, Paul McCartney described it as “just basically John doing Dylan”. Singing with crisp conviction over some dreamy interplay between his and George’s acoustic guitars, John twisted Dylan’s influence into an intimate, lonely song about being a lovelorn laughing stock.
Chosen By: Ryan Jarman, The Cribs
Ryan: “I used to fall asleep with my earphones on listening to my iPod, years ago, and if a really good song came on I’d always wake up. ‘Julia’ woke me up one night. It was the first time I’d ever heard it and I thought ‘man, that’s one of the best songs I’ve ever heard’ and I still think it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever heard.”
Chosen By: Mark Hoppus, Blink-182
Mark: “For some reason that song has always affected me in a way that I can’t explain and has almost made me break down and cry. The part where it goes ‘She’s leaving home/Bye bye’, it’s a simple lyric, but in that context it’s so powerful. I have many favourite Beatles songs, but that one stands out.”
Chosen by Felix White, The Maccabees
Felix: “I think it’s amazing how good George Harrison’s song writing got towards the end of The Beatles. Good on you, man! He had that sardonic wit and the tenderness that sometimes neither Lennon nor McCartney had.”
John was struggling to write a final song for ‘Rubber Soul’ when he went for a lie down and had the entire song rush into his head. “I thought of myself as a nowhere man [and] ‘Nowhere Man’ came, words and music, the whole damn thing… [it’s] like being possessed, like a psychic or a medium.”
Chosen By: EL-P, Run the Jewels
EL-P: "It's always been my favourite Beatles song. It's sexual and heavy and dark and loving. The riff is just something else. As a musician it's one of those pillars that you study. As a producer you have to know it inside and out, because they broke ground with it in terms of the rhythm."
Chosen by Kieran Shudall, Circa Waves
Kieran: “This is The Beatles at their simplest and most poppy. It kicks in with a chorus which hooks you from the off. The verse’s weaving melody hurtles towards the end of each line. Paul wrote this just after ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ had blown up, and was seemingly unfazed by the pressure of a follow up single."
‘Let It Be’’s understated opening track stands out because of a perfect Lennon McCartney co-vocal that betrays the beef they had at the time, and a bass part lent a peculiar jaunt by George Harrison playing it on his rosewood Telecaster guitar.
Chosen By: Frank Turner
Frank: “One of the things I love about The Beatles – I understand the history of them revolutionising modern music in about seven years – is that their early stuff was so incredibly lean from a purely songwriting point of view. It’s flawless songwriting and that’s a great example.”
And The Beatles said ‘let there be psych!’ The head music that the band had been developing over the course of ‘Rubber Soul’ came to a, well, head on ‘Rain’, a revolutionary tune tucked away on the B-side of ‘Paperback Writer’. Inspired by nothing more than a downpour the band was caught in when arriving in Melbourne, it became a benchmark for many psych bands to come.
With its lyrics about “a girl with kaleidoscope eyes” and “flowers that grow so incredibly high”, the hallucinogenic ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ is not exactly subtle but musically it works much harder. McCartney and Lennon’s unmatchable pop nous comes though as strong as ever on one of the band’s most memorable and indelible choruses ever.
Chosen By: Little Boots
Little Boots: “I had this massive Beatles phase when I was 16. I was really into them. That’s when I really clicked with music and writing songs. You could feel that connection – they meant it. I guess it’s the first music that didn’t feel throwaway to me. And this, off ‘Revolver’ is such a touching and intimate song.”
Mia Farrow’s sister Prudence meditated herself out of her mind in India. So deeply did she immerse herself in the Maharishi’s teaching that she became a recluse, rushing to her private hut straight after meals. John and George eventually managed to coax her out with a song John described as “a simple plea to a friend to snap out of it”.
Chosen By Johnny Marr
Johnny: “It would take a band with that cockiness, and the character of George Harrison, to name names in the way they do. They didn't hold back. It's a very anti-establishment song, especially for those times. They name names and point the finger, and it might be the first directly anti-establishment song to get in the charts.”
On their 2014 US tour, Arctic Monkeys played the song twice to mark the 50th anniversary of that Ed Sullivan Show appearance. “Apparently one in three Americans actually watched that performance, so if we’re lucky, one or three Americans might watch this Youtube video,” later quipped Alex Turner.
Chosen By: Peter Buck, REM
Peter Buck: “I was six years old at the time and it was my first ever rock 'n' roll experience. It was unlike anything I'd ever heard before. I remember wanting to turn it up but the transistor radio was on too high a shelf, I couldn't reach it.”
Chosen By: Michel Gondry, director
Michel Gondry: “All my life, when people see me they sing ‘Michelle, ma belle’. One day I was asked to do a video for Paul McCartney. I walked past him in the corridor and he went ‘Michelle, ma belle’. So that’s my song, I guess, but at least I have the stamp of the author.”
"We were sitting in the studio and we made it up out of thin air,” Paul McCartney wrote in the press release for the single release of ‘Get Back’. “We started to write words there and then ... when we finished it, we recorded it at Apple Studios and made it into a song to roller-coast by."
Chosen By: Lemmy, Motorhead
Lemmy: “This was the first thing I heard by The Beatles that they'd written themselves and it was really exciting - very raw and with very good harmonies. The Beatles just had great melodies - 'In My Life', 'If I Fell', 'And I Love Her' and 'Eleanor Rigby' were all excellent."
What makes ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ a stand-out Beatles track is the intertwining double lead guitars, played by Harrison (certainly) and McCartney (probably). The effect is divine: psychedelic, but also propulsive, setting the song apart from other jangly psych-pop songs of the time.
Chosen By: Mike Kerr, Royal Blood
Mike: “I was probably about eight years old and my class at school had to learn a song to perform. I was never in the choir – this was a one-off – but I would retreat into the music room at lunchtime to play piano instead of playing football.”
This came bristling with huge Stax brass courtesy of members of Georgie Fame’s Blue Flames and full of the joys of pop, it marked the climax of the unstoppable reel of magnificent pop songs on side two of ‘Revolver’ and is still one of Macca’s most full-of-life songs.
Chosen By: Regina Spektor
Regina: “It has such a spirit to it with the strings; it’s both sad and happy at the same time. It’s a really passionate song.”
Chosen By: Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys
Brian: “’Norwegian Wood’ is my favourite. The lyrics are so good and so creative. I can’t forget the sitar too, I’d never heard that before, that unbelievable sound. No one had heard that in rock and roll back then, this amazing, exotic sound. It really inspired the instrumentation I ended up using for Pet Sounds.”
Chosen By: Jon Ouin, Stornoway
Jon: “This is a classic slice of unabashed Paul McCartney optimism, and one of my favourite mid-period Beatles songs. I think it was inspired by a dispute with his girlfriend of the time, Jane Asher, but it’s really the ultimate uncynical riposte to anyone reluctant to try and settle an argument."
Chosen By: Sean Lennon
Sean: “My list of favourite things changes from day to day. I like when my dad said: ‘There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known/Nothing you can see that isn’t shown/Nowhere you can go that isn’t where you’re meant to be’. It seems to be a good representation of the sort of enlightenment that came out of the ‘60s.”
Chosen By: Matt Bellamy, Muse
Matt: “I love that high energy stuff. I’d love to hear that recorded exactly as they played it then but with modern technology, because the sound quality is not doing justice to what they are actually doing in the room - you can hear the limitations of the microphones and pre-amps.”
Its simple use of language is haunting and poetic and strikes at the secret behind life – that it's never constant, that the past will always be looked at with rose tinted spectacles, and that the speed at which everything in a person's world can change is overwhelming. It’s a brutal sentiment, but one that stands the test of time.
Chosen By: Pete Shelley, The Buzzcocks
Pete Shelley: “Me and a friend used to get together at school and play along with Beatles records on acoustic guitars. I remember listening to 'Revolution' one morning, and it struck me: ‘Yes! this is what I've got to do!’. So I rushed off to a phone box, phoned him up and said, 'Let's get a band together!’."
Chosen By: Laurie Vincent, Slaves
Laurie: “John’s lyrics are so out there and when I first heard that drumbeat it made me think about beats differently. I’d always thought of drums to just back music up but that song is really different.”
Chosen By: Ira Wolf Tuton, Yeasayer
Ira: “The Beatles are the greatest kid’s music ever. From song to song it’s very easy to latch on to melodies and, as a kid, you don’t know what on octopus’s garden is, but it’s cool imagery for a kid in the same way that it’s cool imagery for someone who’s feeding their head with tonnes of drugs.”
From its offbeat chord sequence to the drear melancholy of its lyrics - delivered from a cold, clinical second-person perspective - to the French horn solo that seems to arrive out of nowhere, ‘For No One’ is gold-standard songwriting, even if its understatement means it’s rarely talked about in the same breath as ‘Hey Jude’ or ‘Yesterday’.
Chosen By: James Bagshaw, Temples
James: “I remember seeing The Strokes and wanting to be like that, but the first seeds would have been The Beatles when I was 10. They made me want to play music with a group of people. I wasn’t listening to the weirder stuff back then, it would have been early singles, and ‘Paperback Writer’ was a standout.”
’Ticket To Ride’ was the first Beatles album track to cross the three-minute mark, if only by ten seconds. In doing so, however, it took the band into new territory, making extensive use of overdubbing techniques and, in John Lennon’s view, becoming “one of the earliest heavy-metal records made.”
Chosen By: Ruban Neilson, UMO
Ruben: “I have to choose the whole second side of ‘Abbey Road’ because it’s like one song the way they all bleed together. It always sends chills down my spine and I think it’s designed to do that. It’s as if they knew they were splitting up and had so much left to say that they had to cram it all in before they went.”
Chosen By: Duncan Wallis, Dutch Uncles
Duncan: “Apart from being Harrison's most successful Beatles single and most celebrated song amongst the other writers in the band, It's a remarkable example of how stretched their appeal was across the genres of the time and also how evidently influential Harrison is amongst the psych bands of the present day.”
One of Macca’s last great Beatles ballads, and a song that became something of a spiritual anthem thanks to his renaming of his dream vision of his mother Marie as Mother Mary. “I don’t mind,” he said, “I’m quite happy if people want to use it to shore up their faith. I have no problem with that.”
Chosen By: Bob Geldof
Bob: “I went to see them in '64. And what I remember is the smell of piss as girls fainted. There was a green marbled lino on the cinema floor and all we saw was the streaks of dirt that the rivulets of piss made, running down the aisles. I picked 'In My Life' because it's a great song."
Chosen By: Dave Grohl
Dave: “To me, it's a quintessential Beatles rocker. Paul's rolling bass line. The trademark Ringo drum fills. George's gritty distorted guitar. And that sound that only the back of John Lennon's throat could produce. I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for The Beatles I would not be a musician."
“It’s very strange to think that someone has written a song about you,” Julian Lennon wrote of ‘Hey Jude’ in 2002. It must be even stranger still when that someone is not your Beatle father but his best mate and the song in question is an arm-around-the-shoulder to help you deal with your parents’ divorce. The Beatles’ most universal song.
Chosen By: Theo Ellis, Wolf Alice
Theo: “Supposedly Lennon wrote the lyrics to ‘I Am The Walrus’ purposefully trying to confuse the shit out of everyone, as by this point people were breaking down Beatles songs, writing essays on them and slowly building them to be the institution they have become. It sounds like a demented nursery rhyme."
Chosen By: Justin Young, The Vaccines
Justin: “My favourite Beatles album is ‘The White Album’, it’s maybe not the most focused record ever but certainly very pleasing for good pop songs. On ‘The White Album’ I like ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’... Beatles songs redefined pop music."
Mark: “‘Images of broken light/Which dance before me like a million eyes/They call me on and across the universe’. I like the whole lyric but that’s the line I like the best. I recently found out that John Lennon believes this song’s lyrics were the most poetic he’d ever written, and I think I might agree."
Chosen By: Bob Mould
Bob: “'Sgt Pepper' was cute and clever and had all the backwards guitars and stuff, but this was the culmination of all their years beating it out in the clubs. It's their speed record, really raw and elemental, not too sophisticated. And the drumming is amazing."
Chosen By: Rebecca Taylor, Slow Club
Rebecca: “It’s my earliest memory – I still say that’s my favourite song. It reminds me of being a child. My dad had a tape that he made with The Beach Boys on one side and The Beatles on the other. We’d rotate this tape for two weeks every summer. That was the one I always looked forward to; I knew every word.”
Chosen By: Courtney Barnett
Courtney: “It’s so peaceful. I don’t really know what the lyrics are about but it’s just so gentle. I want it played at my funeral, to make people feel sad.”
Chosen by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan: "They were doing things nobody was doing. Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies made it all valid... I knew they were pointing the direction of where music had to go."
Chosen by Brett Anderson
Brett: “It’s an amazing song. When I was a kid, my dad was a huge classical music fan - he travels every year to Liszt's birthplace and kisses the soil. The only pop album he had was ‘Sgt Pepper’s’, and so when he was in a jolly mood he'd put that on. So I spent my formative years listening to ‘A Day In The Life’."
Chosen By: Alexis Taylor, Hot Chip
Alexis: “You don’t need me to tell you it’s a masterpiece but what I find interesting is that it doesn’t sound dated. That sound of the melotron is totally distinctive. John’s voice really gets to you as well, it’s just so English and unique and also so weird and perfect.”