To celebrate 50 years since The Beatles first cracked the charts with Love Me Do, I have delved deep into the innumerable number of Beatles songs and narrowed the list down to what I think are the five best songs by the four Liverpool boys.
Ringo’s songs have somewhat of a cult-status about them today, being the ones that everyone likes, but no one ever picks as their favourite. Octopus’ Garden was reportedly only the second song Ringo had ever written, and yet it managed to capture the free, surreal essence of more acclaimed Beatles’ songs such as Lucy In the Sky or I Am The Walrus.
It is the stand out song on their Abbey Road album for a few reasons; it’s irresistibly creative, with bubble sounds (made by George Harrison blowing through a straw into a glass of milk) and lyrics that are childishly pure and calming; it’s the perfect combination of Ringo’s round-edged vocal style and a comforting story about simply finding safety in an octopus’ garden. I think our love for Ringo and the strange Octopus’ Garden can be best summed up by the quote from 500 Days of Summer: Tom Hanson states that ‘nobody loves Ringo Starr’, to which Summer replies: ‘that’s what I love about him’.
Having started out as a guitar-heavy rock song, Two Of Us was reworked with acoustic guitars and made into one of the most peaceful, twee numbers in The Beatles back catalogue. McCartney stated that it was written for his wife Linda, and as it opens with the sound of soft guitar picking and ends with Lennon’s joyful whistling, it is hard not to be charmed by the story of two people – which some believe to be Lennon, rather than Linda – withstanding the elements to return home together.
The track was released on the Let It Be album alongside other Beatles ballads such as Let It Be and The Long And Winding Road, and marked a calmer, folkier element to the band in their later years. The reason Two Of Us is always on my list of favourites is because, whether it’s about Linda or John, it’s the perfect anthem for companionship, and though it was written in a time when tension was high within the band, it shows that despite their problematic futures they would still have ‘memories longer than the road stretched out ahead’.
Although nowadays it is hard to listen to this song without feeling a painful amount of irony, it is one of the greatest testaments to McCartney’s songwriting, and he wrote it when he was only 16. The song is quite unusual with its prominent use of clarinets and its more classical feel, but its lyrics are possibly the most grounded of any Beatles song, as the young lover sings of future dreams of ‘renting a cottage in the Isle of Wight’ and ‘digging the weeds’ in his garden to pass the time.
It was released on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, one of their more psychedelic collections, and though the orchestral quality shows their experimentation at this time, it also sits in the midst of more experimental songs just to allow a bit of comforting reality amongst their surrealism. There’s a simple beauty to it that comforts you, and lets you know that you don’t have to be a rockstar to live a happy life.
There is certainly no shortage of catchy hooks in The Beatles back catalogue, but the opening of Day Tripper definitely stands out as one of, if not the, best. This was one of the first Beatles songs that I ever heard, and one of the first things that I learnt on guitar; once it’s in your head, it just doesn’t leave, which is what every artist strives desperately to do.
The mix of harmonies, jangling instruments and good old fashioned rock and roll come together in a feel good fusion of road trip nostalgia on the surface and drug metaphors when you delve a little deeper. Day Tripper was a huge success to boot, hitting number one in the charts and peaking at number five on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966. In terms of chorus, riffs and subject matter, it is one of the most fun, carefree and no holds barred songs the band ever created.
I was worried this may be an obvious choice, but for a single that was used as the finale of the Olympic closing ceremony, selling around 8 million copies, winning an Ivor Novello and NME’s single of the year in 1968, topping the Billboard Hot 100 in the same year, gaining the number one slot in America for nine weeks and being the song that The Beatles are probably best known for, I feel it is justified.
Hey Jude is an undeniably powerful song and one of the best sing-along anthems ever written; it is emotional and raw, hypnotic and clever, and an amazingly enthralling song for one that is over seven minutes long. The reason for its universal success is because, though it starts out as a slow, lamenting love song (written for Julian Lennon during John’s affair with Yoko), it slowly evolves, through a masterclass of McCartey’s vocal talent, into a stadium filling, mammoth force of a song, sure to pull anyone into singing along by the time it reaches the ‘na na na’s. There will never be another song that can incite such union in any group of people, and it will undoubtedly be topping surveys like this one for years to come.