HARISON HAMM, Opinion Editor—The Beatles, in their relatively short prime, produced more good songs than perhaps any band or artist in history. They also have some top-tier songs that rank among the best ever produced. Today, let’s rank the ten best.
One note: You won’t see “A Day In The Life” here, which I know is a controversial opinion. I value listenability and replay factor, so while “A Day In The Life” is a masterpiece, I didn’t put it in the top ten. Here’s what made it:
10. “She’s Leaving Home” (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967)
The most underrated Beatles song, “She’s Leaving Home” is a gorgeous piece of Paul McCartney storytelling that features some of John Lennon’s best backing vocals. It’s perfect for Sgt. Pepper with its ornate instrumentation and Lennon-McCartney blend, evoking emotion from a familiar story.
9. “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967)
No, this is not a drug song; it was written based on a childhood drawing by Lennon’s son about a girl named Lucy. (The initials spell LSD by coincidence.) It is a psychedelic song, though, possibly written under the influence. It features vague, pretty lyrics and a simple chorus. The six words from the title sound perfect together.
8. “Eleanor Rigby” (Revolver, 1966)
More McCartney storytelling and more orchestration from producer George Martin. The song is about an older woman who deals with loneliness and crosses paths with a pastor named Father McKenzie. It’s impressive that these ultra-famous guys in their mid-20s at the height of Beatlemania produced a song with such eternal perspective.
7. “Dear Prudence” (The White Album, 1968)
“Dear Prudence” is a beautiful and positive song, not something we always see from the often-cynical Lennon. Like all great Beatles songs, it combines great lyrics and instrumentation, with George Harrison providing a simple, enduring guitar riff and Ringo Starr advancing the song with his drumming. It builds into a meaningful climax.
6. “Hey Jude” (single, 1968)
McCartney will be playing this on the piano in front of massive crowds (post-pandemic) until the end of time. It’s a seven-minute epic with an uplifting sentiment and “nah nah nahs” that can galvanize any audience.
5. “Something” (Abbey Road, 1969)
George Harrison, by the end of the Beatles, wrote songs on par with Lennon and McCartney’s best. This one is an elegant love song that simply observes: “Something in the way she moves attracts me like no other lover.” But the best part is when he sings, with understated emotion, “You’re asking me will my love grow/I don’t know, I don’t know.” It’s uncertain, simple but complicated, like life.
4. “Yesterday” (Help, 1965)
McCartney’s second-best, and perhaps most famous, work. With acoustic guitar and a smooth orchestra, he sings about good times gone away. “I believe in yesterday” is a brilliant way of conveying the emotion of a lost love.
3. “In My Life” (Rubber Soul, 1965)
This was Lennon’s first introspective work. It’s a beautiful song, backed by calm Ringo drumming and Martin’s clever piano work. The line, “All these places lose their meaning/when you think of love as something new” carries particular weight.
2. “Here Comes The Sun” (Abbey Road, 1969)
Harrison wrote this uplifting song as the band was coming to close. Its delightfully positive message has made it one of the most popular Beatles songs over the years. The instrumentation might be my favorite part. Harrison plays the acoustic guitar expertly, and Ringo provides some of his best drumming on this song. (By the way, Ringo’s best drumming work is on the underappreciated single “Rain.”)
“Here Comes The Sun” is the ideal culmination of the Beatles collective power, with the music advancing the song and elevating the message. As ever, they were greater than the sum of their parts. Ironically, Lennon did not contribute to this song.
1. “Let It Be” (Let It Be, 1970)
McCartney’s best. “Let It Be” is a beautifully simple message of hope underlined by McCartney’s piano and Harrison’s scintillating guitar solo. It has a lovely origin story: in a time of trouble, McCartney’s late mother, Mary, had come to him in a dream and told him to “let it be.” He woke up enamored with those three words and wrote this, in which “Mother Mary” shows up with “words of wisdom.”
Its message is timeless, like many Beatles songs. It finds a way to pack everything into a few brilliant words and let the music do the talking.