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The most influential boy band of all time. It’s hard to narrow down which of The Beatles’ songs really sum up their talent and career, but we’ve chosen 15 of their hits to introduce you to the band and give you a fascinating insight into the creation of these songs and quirky facts to go alongside.
This classic Beatles song was the boys’ second number one single; it spent seven weeks in the number one chart spot in 1963 due to its success. Wonder why it was such a hit? You need to look at the writing of the song to understand. Whilst the majority of their songs are credited to both Lennon and McCartney as the songwriters, it was very rare for the pair to sit down together and write a song. ‘From Me To You’ is one of the exceptions to this as not only did John and Paul write this song together but also shared the lead vocals. Perhaps it is simply because this song was at the beginning of their career before any disagreements could happen between the pair, but the combined writing of the musical couple allowed the track to transcend the group’s rise to fame.
This was The Beatles’ first official number one single in Britain, and although other songs had reached the top of some charts, ‘From Me To You’ was the first to top the Record Retailer’s chart. This song was the first in a string of 11 consecutive number one singles for the band.
11 April 1963 (UK)
No. 1 for 7 weeks (UK)
A heartfelt love song, ‘She Loves You’ was written by Lennon and McCartney in the third person. The ‘ooh’ that leads into the chorus was taken from ‘Twist & Shout’, and the call and response of ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ was adopted from a tradition from R&B music. With the hit complete, the boys began practising in McCartney’s home in Liverpool, and Paul’s father heard the song and stated ‘Son, there’s enough Americanisms around. Couldn’t you sing, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ just for once?’ McCartney replied: ‘You don’t understand, Dad. It wouldn’t work.’ When sitting down to record in 1963, a stampede of girls came tearing through the studio, followed by police officers chasing after them. The girls had broken their way through the front door and were trying to get a glimpse at the boys.
One of the better known and well-celebrated songs, it’s surprising to find out that ‘She Loves You’ was originally rejected in the USA. Before their fame in America, their producer George Martin insisted they release their song over there, but it flopped. However, after they released ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, ‘She Loves You’ was re-released, and it hit number one for six weeks.
23 August 1963 (UK)
No. 1 for 6 weeks (UK)
The band exploded into the USA with this song, throwing them into the number one top spot on chart lists. Surprisingly, it was purposefully written by the group in order to help them break into the North American music industry, and it certainly did just that. No British band before them had ever been able to break America with their music, and The Beatles were the first to do it. The boys performed on the Ed Sullivan Show with ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ in February 1964, and it was here that they set themselves up on the starting line for their career – they had 70 million viewers for the show, the largest number in the history of TV at that time.
Originally, when the band’s early singles were played in the USA, they completely flopped and were barely even registered. It was in Washington, D.C., on a radio station, that the song was played and caused the tune to burst onto the American scene. Meanwhile, in the UK, the song knocked ‘She Loves You’ off of the top spot, and this marked the first time ever that a band had removed themselves from the top of the charts.
29 November 1963 (UK)
No. 1 for 5 weeks (UK)
Perhaps a controversial choice as a great Beatles song, ‘I Feel Fine’ can be seen as one of the first songs to cement the pillars of rock & roll. This hit was created around a repetitive guitar riff, one which influenced the history of rock music and the songs that would follow this instrumental choice.
This song was also one of the first tracks to record feedback onto vinyl. Their producer explained that John would always turn the volume all the way up, which would result in feedback, and it became a joke for the band. The boys had been playing with their technology in the studio when Lennon leant his guitar up against his amp which emanated a buzz of feedback. This inspired the band, and they included the feedback in the first few seconds of ‘I Feel Fine’. Whilst leading musicians such as Jimi Hendrix also followed through with more aggressive feedback on their tracks, The Beatles were the first to do it. Lennon stated, ‘I claim it for the Beatles’, marking them as the first to have this on a recorded song.
27 November 1964 (UK)
No. 1 for 5 weeks (UK)
An incredibly influential song, ‘Yesterday’ is the most-covered song in the history of recorded music, with over 2,500 covers. Surprisingly, this hit appeared to McCartney in a dream, completely formed. Paul kept it to himself for months, surprised by its formation, occasionally playing parts for Starr or Martin, asking if there was anything similar.
The Beatles were so inexperienced in ballads that the band disallowed the song from being released in the UK as a single, embarrassed as they were known for rock songs. The recording features only McCartney after Martin requested none of the others contribute, cheekily asking it to be released as a solo record for Paul. Their manager Brian Epstein refused, saying ‘This is the Beatles, we don’t differentiate’.
Despite not being completely sure of the track, it was released in the USA in 1965, and due to its massive success, it was released as a single in the UK in 1976. The hit was voted the best song of the 20th century in a 1999 BBC Radio 2 poll and voted number one pop song of all time by MTV and Rolling Stone magazine. In 1997, the record was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Number 8 in UK charts
Controversially, Lennon stated that ‘Day Tripper’ was ‘a drug song’, reinforcing that he ‘always needed a drug to survive’, along with the other Beatles, but asserting that he was the one that took the most pills as he was the ‘more crazy’ one. The song, as Lennon claims, is about people who appear to be posers, thinking of themselves as hippies and music lovers, but The Beatles saw them as ‘just a weekend hippie’ rather than as ‘full-time trippers’ like themselves.
Despite the song being written on a tight deadline, Lennon and McCartney still managed to create a great hit. ‘Day Tripper’ was originally meant to be a single, but after the boys had recorded ‘We Can Work It Out’ and thought of it as more commercial, the two tracks were put onto the first ever double A-side single. Although ‘We Can Work It Out’ came out higher on the chart lists, its sister track ‘Day Tripper’ was much more popular at their concerts. The song was so beloved live that the boys played it every night of their final concert tour.
6 December 1965 (UK)
No. 5 for 10 weeks (UK)
This song introduced the world to The Beatles’ psychedelic phase of their career, with slow, luxurious backing vocals that were new to the music industry, bar songs from the Beach Boys. Martin claims the Beach Boys were an inspiration to The Beatles but insisted they did it first.
McCartney created the unusual structure when driving to John’s house; he liked the idea of writing it as if it were a letter. Paul was inspired when he noticed Ringo reading a paperback book and exclaimed he was going to ‘write a song about a book’. When the boys sat down to record the track, they took the front skin off of Ringo’s bass drum and filled it up with jumpers, which gave off the unusual boom you can hear on the hit. Their engineer Geoff Emerick put a microphone so close to the drum that he was chastised by the EMI studio; a microphone was not meant to be closer than two feet to the bass drum as you ran the risk of damaging the microphone with air pressure. ‘Paperback’ was such a hit that EMI revised their policy, saying only Emerick was allowed to do that and only with The Beatles.
30 May 1966 (UK)
No.1 for 10 weeks (UK)
Based on a children’s home name in Liverpool, known as Strawberry Field, the hit was written completely by Lennon when he was in Spain away from the other boys. John reached into his childhood memories and remembered the orphanage – he used to climb over the wall and play within the wild gardens. As Lennon had been abandoned by both his parents, living with his Aunt Mimi, he found solace of the gardens of the orphanage.
John played the song for the rest of the band when he returned to England and was met by stunned silence. Paul complimented Lennon in a respectful tone, claiming ‘that is absolutely brilliant’. As the band were no longer touring, they were free to record in their own time and took two weeks trying to cut the song. The track was the first to be cut from the Sgt. Pepper album, as they were under pressure by EMI to release a new single – they released it as a double A-side with ‘Penny Lane’. Martin has said that he regretted this decision to remove it; it was ‘the biggest mistake of my career’.
13 February 1967 (UK)
No. 8 for 9 weeks (UK)
The final song on one of the most influential albums, ‘A Day in the Life’ created controversy for the band as there was believed to be drug references in ‘I’d love to turn you on’, resulting in it being banned by the BBC. George Martin had a TV show that was based on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band whereby he asked Paul what helped influenced it, and Paul replied, ‘In one word, George, drugs. Sgt. Pepper was a drug album’.
Despite this controversy, the song resulted in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album being at the top of the album sales in the USA for 15 weeks. The legendary final chord helped with the song’s rise to fame, as it was played by McCartney, Lennon, Martin, and the band’s road manager, Mal Evans. Martin had ordered every spare piano in the building to be brought into the studio, and all four of the men played the same E-major chord at the same time. The sound engineer turned every single fader to maximum so as to catch every ounce of noise – so much so that because the levels were so high, you can even hear Ringo’s shoe squeak.
1 June 1967 (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, not as a single)
No. 1 for: N/A
Despite the claims that this hit was about LSD, it is, in fact, borne from a heart-warming story. Lennon insists it was not about drugs, but instead, the inspiration came from his then four-year-old son, Julian, who painted a picture of Lucy O’Donnell, his classmate whom he sat next to. He drew her with stars in the sky and titled it with the hit song’s name. Lennon and McCartney decided to create a song similar to the Alice in Wonderland adventures, with ‘kaleidoscope eyes’ and ‘newspaper taxis’, creating a psychedelic nursery rhyme.
When Lucy first heard The Beatles song as a young teenage girl, she told her friends it was about her, but they didn’t believe her, telling her it was about LSD. She didn’t argue with them because she was too embarrassed to let them know she didn’t know what LSD was. The story has a heart-breaking ending, though, as Lucy herself died in September 2009, aged 46, of lupus. Julian released a benefit single titled Lucy to pay tribute to his former peer, a touching memoir to her and The Beatles hit.
2 June 1967
Not released as a single
The first time the boys played ‘All You Need Is Love’ was on the international television event, Our World, and had one of the biggest audiences of all time for a song’s first performance. The event was transmitted across 31 countries via satellite and had The Beatles performing to friends who were sat on the floor around the band. Members of the friend-filled audience included Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. Despite the impressive audience, the song ‘All You Need Is Love’ didn’t even exist two weeks before the show was due to air. Of course, in true Beatles style, with less than two weeks, they still decided to create an elaborately orchestrated and brand new track. Whilst the rhythm track was pre-recorded in a studio for the show, they sang live on the show with a full orchestra and a chorus. As Lennon was aware the song would be played internationally when creating it, he wanted to create a simple and clear message that the whole of the world would understand – and it did just that: the message that all you need is love could transcend across the world over.
7 July 1967 (UK)
No. 1 for 3 weeks (UK)
McCartney found the idea for the song whilst demonstrating to friends how to write a hit; Epstein’s assistant Alistair Taylor helped Paul think of opposite words. Paul started off by shouting ‘black’, followed by Alistair exclaiming ‘white’. ‘Yes’. ‘No’. ‘Hello’. ‘Goodbye’. Paul became inspired and wanted to create a tune that would go with the words that lead to the creation of ‘Hello, Goodbye’. Despite its fame, the lyrics were then written by McCartney also on a whim; he hadn’t planned what they were going to be and simply sung along with the melody, which happened to make it one of the most memorable songs.
The song hints to The Beatles’ old music and hones in on the simple yet catchy tune. Whilst the main body of the song rings home with their previous music, the last minute is filled with Ringo Starr’s drum beat sounding like a marching band with the repetitive ‘hela, heba, helloa’ sung over the top. This catchy chanting helps the song transform from a typical pop song into what would become an anthem of their time. The ending of the song has, quite frankly, made it one of the most recognisable moments in music history.
24 November 1967 (UK)
No. 1 for 7 weeks (UK)
‘Hey Jude’ was never the song’s original name. Paul initially wrote the song for Lennon’s son Julian after the divorce of John and Cynthia. John, however, believed the song was written for him, with Paul singing about the strain Yoko Ono was putting on the musical duo’s relationship. Lennon called ‘Hey Jude‘ one of McCartney’s greatest masterpieces and was thrilled that the song was dedicated to aspects of his life.
‘Hey Jude’ begins with comforting lyrics and a soft melody, moving to a hectic and exultant chorus. The hit lasts for over seven minutes with over four of McCartney screaming ‘Hey Jude’ and plenty of ‘nah nah nahs’. The band hadn’t planned for this; apparently, McCartney had been so taken by the music that he was having too much fun improvising to stop. Despite the length, repetition and melodies, the song is one of the most successful Beatles songs of all time.
Fun Fact: When the band began to record the master take, Paul hadn’t realised that Ringo was in the bathroom. The entrance for the drums came in so late that Starr managed to run back to his kit and start up just as it came to his part.
26 August 1968 (UK)
No. 1 for 9 weeks (US)
This hit was the song that really solidified Harrison as a songwriter within the band, creating the song on a day when he skipped off meetings with Apple Records. In 1969, it was mainly arguments and discussions about money settlements with Apple, and the boys were getting tired of it, so George decided to ‘sag off Apple’ and go over to Eric Clapton’s house. ‘The relief of not having to go see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden…and wrote ‘Here Comes the Sun”.
The two main songwriters of The Beatles were surprised by George’s song writing, openly admitting that ‘our songs have been better than George’s’ up until that year, with Paul saying that ‘this year his songs are at least as good as ours’. It’s a shame that it took so long for Harrison to break through with his writing, as ‘Here Comes the Sun’ is almost an anthem for The Beatles, being one of their happier songs, and allowing George to come to the fore just as they began to break up.
1 October 1969 (UK)
Not released as a single
This was the end, their final album. ‘Let It Be’ was the title track for the end of their career together and what a song to end with! Although there has been debate whether the album can actually be referred to as their final release, it was originally conceived as Get Back, due to be released before their Abbey Road album. It could be considered to be their penultimate album and, instead, seeing Abbey Road as their final. Nonetheless, Let It Be marked the end and certainly ended on a note of finality.
It was an end of an era as the boys decided to split, and McCartney seemed to write this song as a way to come to terms with the end of the band. The track appears to be staggered – the instruments play separately rather than together, seeming to take turns playing the accompaniment. Harrison’s guitar playing should be noted, whether it was intentionally played clipped and abrupt or George simply wanted the music to be over, it leaves a hint of finality. Many Beatles songs ended with a fade-out, but this did not. It did exactly what the track described, and asked you to ‘Let It Be’.
8 May 1970 (UK)
No. 2 in the UK charts