From “A Hard Day’s Night” to “Something”, and “Help!” to “She Loves You”, here are Paul, John, George and Ringo’s best songs. As chosen by a bevy of famous fans – including Ryan Adams, Bryan Ferry, Radiohead, Roger McGuinn, Paul Weller and Ian McCulloch. Originally published in Uncut’s July 2001 issue (Take 50).
=50 A HARD DAY’S NIGHT
Single, July 1964
SHARLEEN SPITERI: Of those classic early singles, this and “Help!” are the ones I go back to again and again. Great intro, rousing chorus, killer vocal- it’s just an inspired pop racket. Plus Ringo coined the title, and I believe all great Beatles work needs a healthy dose of Ringo.
GARY MOORE: I saw the Beatles live in Belfast when I was a kid. I liked the 12-sting Rickenbacker George used at that gig. It looked like it was from another planet. That was the guitar he used on “A Hard Day’s Night”- that high, jangly sound he got. Years later I got to know and play with George, and I got to play “A Hard Day’s Night” on that guitar. We had an argument over that brilliant chord at the start. I said, “Are you sure? It doesn’t sound like that!” He sort of looked at me- “Yes, I’m sure actually, Gary”
=50 HERE COMES THE SUN
Abbey Road album track, September 1969
LAUREN LAVERNE: George Harrison is, of course, the most hateable Beatle by a country mile. Always had a face on him like he was really too good to be there. But as much as I hate the fact he wrote it, this is a fabulous song. It starts really simply and beautifully, but by the end it’s enormous, with a million different things going on. It’s one of the most uplifting songs I can think of. It makes you feel the world is a lovely place and everything in it is smiling and swaying along and everything is going to be all right. I put it on once after I’d been out all night, to greet the day and stir my soul, but I had to take it off because it was just too pure and lovely for a sinful, dirty stop-out like my to listen to.
=50 THIS BOY
Single B-side to “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, November 1963
SEAN ROWLEY: There were those great moments early on in their career when they were writing in awe of contemporaries, and the contemporary you can hear on this is Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. In their heads, they believed they were making a copy record, but what would come out would be a twisted version that was musically as good as Smokey Robinson. It was all completely natural. They were working off everything they were listening to at this point.
49 EVERYBODY’S GOT SOMETHING TO HIDE EXCEPT ME AND MY MONKEY
White Album track, November 1968
PAPA CRAZEE: Ringo propels the boys through their best rave-up. Insipid lyrics, party chants, ringing bells, thumpin’ bass, and jagged Chuck Berry riffs, all riding atop Ringo driving it home. This song is audio crack. It only lasts a couple of minutes, but it makes you feel so damn good.
BOB STANLEY: It’s hard to believe that the band were disintegrating during the White Album sessions when you hear this. Most extensive use of “Come on!” since “Twist and Shout” or “Please Please Me”. It’s akin to the finest party you could imagine.
DAVE BIELANKO: Simple lyrics simply done but recorded impeccably, and in such a cool fashion. If it comes on at a party in 2050, chicks are still going to dance to it.
48 PLEASE PLEASE ME
Single, January 1963
DEREK HATTON: I’ve got my 1963 Cavern card, still. And something else I’ve found out as well- looking at a bit of paper from The Mirror in 1968. There was a list of the most sought-after records, and one of them was the first, don’t-know-how-many-hundred of the Please Please Me album. They had a gold and black label and they were worth £1,250 – and mine’s gold and black. All of this to say my favourites were the early Beatles.
BOB STANLEY: Their first single had aspired to sound like Bruce Chanel’s “Hey Baby”, and, sure enough, it sounded like an emasculated English attempt. Three months later they had another go, throwing in a Del Shannon growl and a Roy Orbison climax-chorus for good measure, and here was the first indicator of greatness. A total pop rush.
47 GET BACK
Single, April 1969
RAT SCABIES: It’s a good, old-fashioned tapalong, an up song, with a brilliant Elmore James slide solo that Lennon plays. And, of course, there’s Ringo’s groove. You knew it was the end. That was one of the things that actually makes “Get Back” really good. They didn’t give a fuck anymore. All the stress had suddenly been released. It was coming back out again with this energy. There’s also a very bizarre sexual message in the lyrics- “Jo Jo was a man who thought he was a loner…” Then, all of a sudden, it gets into this thing about Lauretta who was a woman who thought she was a man. We don’t know what’s happened to Jo Jo, so we assume he took Paul’s advice and fucked off back to where he came from, which leaves Paul keeping on about “Lauretta, Lauretta, Lauretta”. If she thought she was a man, why does it piss off other women? Maybe something happened to Jo Jo along the way…
HOWE GLEB: Well, hell, Paul actually mentions Tuscon, Arizona. When we would ride by his place, we would wonder what the hell is he doing way out here, when he could have been anywhere in the world.
Magical Mystery Tour EP-set track, December 1967
EDWYN COLLINS: Unlike the detractors, I like the Magical Mystery Tour film. I think it’s quaint. I can remember the footage of sunset and big, orange clouds that they used for that song. It’s very evocative, and I like the psychedelic touches to the whole thing, and the Mellotron and strings.
BRETT SPARKS: A lost gem.
45 BABY YOU’RE A RICH MAN
Single B-side to “All You Need Is Love” July 1967
WILLIE CAMPBELL: It’s a completely under-rated, brilliant song. It would’ve sat really well on Sgt Pepper. There’s a really nice groove, and it’s got a great opening line- “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?”
LAUREN LAVERNE: I was rocked to sleep by my dad to this tune when I was a baby, and I’m still listening to it today. It’s probably as textural and ambitious as The Beatles ever got, with wind instruments imitating tropical birds at the beginning, crazy Indian bagpipes and things going backwards all the way through. It’s quite funky as well. The lyrics are fairly out-there. I’ve loved this song since watching Yellow Submarine every day when I was a kid. It’s the best bit of the film, the happy ending where flowers grow out of flowers and, eventually, poor Nowhere Man Jeremy comes out atop the fantastical LSD beanstalk and does an arabesque.
44 SHE LOVES YOU
Single, August 1963
JOE ELLIOT: I listened to The Beatles vis my parents from the age of four or five. I even had my own, plastic, Paul McCartney guitar. I used to stand on this little pouffe thing and thrash about doing “She Loves You”.
JOHN POWER: Sometimes I’ll completely forget about the Beatles only to rediscover how great they really are. Childhood memories- a bunch of 45s. “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah”, seems very accessible when you’re three or four. The influence The Beatles have had on my music is that they helped me want to make it.
PHIL MANZANERA: It’s a particular period when it was so exciting- the way they looked, everything they stood for, the energy in that song. It just jumped out of the speakers. It summed up a state of mind, an attitude- “Be excited!” The fact they hammed it up- shook their hair and went “Oooh!” The suits, the harmonies, the hooks…I used to watch it on telly and it would take 20 minutes to recover. I’m feeling that now, and I’m 50.
IAN MCNABB: After Sgt Pepper, they were like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, doing their own thing and coming up with great stuff, but there wasn’t really much of a band there. Whereas stuff like “She Loves You” sounded like someone kicking in the doors of the Sixties.
JACKIE LEVEN: I heard this when I was passing a Christian youth club one night. I thought “Fucking hell, what is that?” It still transports me right back there.
43 IT’S ALL TOO MUCH
Yellow Submarine album track, January 1969
RICHARD WARREN: That’s the ultimate psychedelic thing that they did. The actual sound of it is just mindblowing, completely ahead of its time. It takes you somewhere else. It’s quintessentially English psychedelia, really. It’s just a journey- you don’t know where it’s going next. The trumpet fanfares in it…completely blissed-out, over the top.
42 SEXY SADIE
White Album track, November 1968
STEVEN SEVERIN: I named my daughter after it- Sadie. She’s nearly four. When you know that it’s about the Maharishi, it makes perfect sense. I love coded things in songs. It’s one of the reasons I suggested doing “Dear Prudence” in the first place- because we heard that it was about Prudence Farrow, Mia Farrow’s sister, after an alleged, attempted rape. These are the things that make it so interesting, when you delve behind the songs. It’s very subtle, but millions of people didn’t get to know about the seedier side of the Maharishi.
PAUL DRAPER: The way it turns around and evolves is so stunning, it captures for me why The Beatles are head and shoulders above any other songwriters ever.
FRANK BLACK: There’s something about the chord progression, the melody, and the delay on the piano…I just get total goosebumps, almost teary. I’ve felt that way from the first time I heard it, when I was 8 years old. There’s a lot of Beatles songs that do that for me but it’s right up there. It instantly soothes me.
41 BACK IN THE USSR
White Album track, November 1968
NORMAN BLAKE: It’s a pastiche of The Beach Boys, who’d already ripped off Chuck Berry. The “Georgia’s always on my mind…” reference is brilliant. The imagery- “Let me hear your balalaikas ringing out…” You get this sound of the jet engine taking off and, of course, the first line, “Flew in from Miami Beach BOAC, didn’t get to bed last night,” is amazing. It’s total punk rock with a sense of humour.
LES McKEOWN: Just love this for its groovy and fun attitude. It’s the only song I can think of that made me want to pack my bags and live in the USSR.
40 AND YOUR BIRD CAN SING
Revolver album track, August 1966
GENE SIMMONS: When I started putting together my own bands, I can’t tell you how long it took to figure out these melodies with the harmonies and everything. The instrumentation just lifts it leagues beyond anything. Here’s a song where style is every bit as important and perhaps even more so than the content, where all of a sudden the package it comes in is so glorious that it actually enhances what’s inside the package.
JOEY BURNS: This has great playing and fantastic George Martin orchestration. I love the way the guitars weave around each other. It’s soulful, but technically it’s very clever, too.
SEAN ROWLEY: There happened to be an occasion, quite recently, when I was sitting indoors listening to the album. All of a sudden, the lyrics took on this meaning to me that I became obsessed by. I think it’s a dig at Mick Jagger, with “and your bird can sing” as a reference to Marianne Faithfull. For one very brief, very stoned moment, I was convinced I’d cracked the meaning.
39 BLUE JAY WAY
Magical Mystery Tour EP-set track, December 1967
GLENN TILBROOK: What rotten luck it must have been to be George Harrison in The Beatles, from one point of view. With a songwriting partnership like Lennon and McCartney working alongside you, your stuff is bound to get overlooked. I think it was very melodically inventive and lyrically quite experimental, and, perhaps, hasn’t got the full credit sometimes that it deserves. Musically, it’s a very strong statement. The backing vocals are completely unlike anything that had been done up to that point. What an immense leap they made.
STEVEN SEVERIN: It was the stand-out track of Magical Mystery Tour. The production is amazing, with the cellos and backwards voices, some nice organ and lot’s of phrasing. It’s one of the first tracks that made me want to work in studios and be a musician. It’s got very sinister lyrics, which is odd for them at the time.
EDWYN COLLINS: I just got a book which says this track is evocative of the fog over LA. I think it’s indicative of a substance called LSD.
38 LET IT BE
Single, March 1970
JIM REID: It’s almost like, schmaltzy, but it doesn’t matter, it’s just such a good pop song. I think that Paul kind of gets a raw deal. John got shot and everybody thinks John’s the genius. John was a genius but so was Paul. Just ‘cos Paul lived on to be old and embarrassing, don’t forget what he did in The Beatles.
37 LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album track, June 1967
GOLDIE: That’s a real favourite because I was camping in Derbyshire- gas camper, fucking cold, freezing my nuts- and I listened to it on an eight-track recorder. At first I hated everything that was slightly white-rock-oriented. I was just into things like ska, but I discovered that album. I was singing it all the way home at the end of that holiday.
GARY NUMAN: I always thought it was about drugs. It made me, as a small boy, feel quite adventurous just listening to it.
Help! Album track, August 1965
RICHARD LESTER: All during the shooting of Help! , Paul was writing it under the title of “Scrambled Eggs”. At one point, I got so annoyed with him sitting at the piano he had onstage, I said, “If you don’t finish that song or forget it, I’m going to have them take the piano off the stage, ‘cos I can’t stand any more of it.”
JAMES WALSH: “Yesterday” is perhaps the greatest dream a man has ever had. I’ve always tried to maintain the philosophy of this song because I believe McCartney shows the humanistic side of love perfectly.
GOLDIE: I’ve always been a ballad freak. Obviously. It’s music, man. It’s a really poignant piece of ballad. What’s around it makes it such a good track. The way it was on that LP, surrounded by all this stuff- fuck!
35 ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE
Single, July 1967
BILLY BRAGG: It’s one of the all-time great songs, whether you look at it as a Beatles song or a political song or a song about hope. I think it’s the most universal pop song that has ever struck a chord with me. My son was six when he started watching Yellow Submarine, and he totally understood “All You Need Is Love”. That, to me, is the essence of a great song, if a six year old and a 60 year old can get it. Like all great political songs, it has a universality, like “Blowing In The Wind”, or “We Shall Overcome”. It never says what we shall overcome, but all the same, these are universal songs.
KEN LOACH: It was a bit disingenuous, but you kind of recognise a good heart. We were all working at a time when you did feel a lot of things were possible: there was a sense of optimism. I think our group enjoyed the fact that these four kids from Liverpool were turning the world upside down.
PAMELA DES BARRES: It’s startlingly profoundly simple in its eloquence. It’s like a prayer/mantra to me, and it has been from the moment I heard it. As it ends, when the Fab Four began to chant “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah”, it’s a sweet ache, a longing reminder of when it was all sparkling new and undreamed. I heard this song play at Los Angeles love-ins, frolicking half-naked in the sunlight, when all you really, truly needed was love.
34 ELEANOR RIGBY
Single, August 1966
KEN LOACH: Some time after it had come out, we were working on a project about a girl who is diagnosed schizophrenic and has trouble separating from her parents. It was a Play For Today called In Two Minds, and then it became a film called Family Life. “Eleanor Rigby” was obviously very pertinent to that- lyrics like “Wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door”- which is about having to separate from her parents in order to establish an identity. But it’s done in a very droll, elegant way without being heavy-handed.
BRETT SPARKS: What’s nice here is that it’s just the strings and the melody- the persistent quarter notes against which Martin writes these painful, flowing, melodic string lines in the violas and cellos. And the minor-key heart stomping never stops. There is no great glow of hope, no major-key chorus. It’s a real tear jerker that probably wouldn’t work if it weren’t for the artfulness of the damned Mozartean (Symphony No 40) string arrangement. The first time I heard it, I was in the den of my parents’ house in Hobbs, New Mexico. It made me feel lonely.
JERRY LIEBER: Eleanor Rigby is a beautiful piece of work. It makes you feel the geographic area is in the song. You can smell it, like grass. It’s like something out of the 19th century. It speaks of a certain set of values that isn’t really even referred to anymore. It’s almost as if it were written for a novel like Jane Eyre. It’s evocative and it’s complete. Everything is intact. It’s together, lyrically and musically, and the arrangement, production and vocals are all integrated. I love The Beatles’ work. I’m one of their big champions, Stateside. I think they’re the best pop songwriters. It’s all original. It comes out of their culture and their experiences. It’s like watching Picasso. Over a period of time, you see the work change. It comes out of another state that’s on a higher plane and communicates more completely.
33 WE CAN WORK IT OUT
Single, December 1965
SHARLEEN SPITERI: A genuine Macca/Lennon co-write, which is always a nice thought. I’ve actually covered this one, too, with Texas, although we stuck closer to the Stevie Wonder version. The song’s a nice balance of light and shade. It’s pop but it’s haunting.
PAMELA DES BARRES: It put words in my mouth and gave me confidence to speak them out loud. I was going steady with a greaser boy in school named Bobby Martini. We were fighting real hot and heavy one afternoon, because Bobby didn’t understand my newly-burgeoning, normalcy threatening hippie girl ways, and after a particularly loud, vociferous complaint from Bobby, I shot back at him, “Life is very short and there’s no ti-i-i-i-ime, for fussing and fighting, my friend!” I felt deep and wise and full of wicked truth.
32 I’M ONLY SLEEPING
Revolver album track, August 1966
TIM BURGESS: It gave me that idea for a Charlatans song called “Can’t Get Out Of Bed”- “I’m just taking a rest for a minute, can you leave me alone?/I want to take some John Lennon Time.” Maybe I should tie it in with “I’m So Tired”. I don’t think any of us could get out of bed, cos we all wanted just a bit of peace. By taking a bit of personal time, we probably came up with the best song on that album.
JOEY BURNS: It’s a great angle to write a song from because music comes from another world, a kind of dream state. They’re great chords and I love the shuffle feel to it. It’s a classic Lennon song, but then Paul takes the bridge, and it’s an example of them really working well together. My parents had that “red” album with all the hits from 1962 to 1966. I played it a zillion times and I used to have dreams about going to a Beatles concert.
LOUIS ELIOT: It’s just pure sunshine. This is going to sound incredibly pretentious, but its wooziness is, like, palpable. The actual sound of the track fits the lyrics so well. Everyone’s rushing around and probably feeling that they can change the world, and I can’t help thinking that he was so contrary, Lennon, he’s lazily lifting up a finger.
31 YOU’VE GOT TO HIDE YOUR LOVE AWAY
Help! album track, August 1965
AIMEE MANN: I’d heard that John was influenced by Bob Dylan. To me, that doesn’t sound like Bob Dylan. I always thought The Beatles were geniuses at taking in an influence but filtering it in this really beautiful way.
SEAN ROWLEY: The album that entered my life at a very early stage was Help! I would’ve been five. That was knocking around the house. “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” has got a real strong pull back to the Everlys and John starting to get the Dylan thing. That amazing shot of him in the film, where he’s sitting in the sunken bath when they all shared the house- that’s how I wanted to live my life, with mates, sitting around listening to music, being chased by girls.
30 SHE SAID SHE SAID
Revolver album track, August 1966
WILL SERGEANT: A truly great tune. I made a tape of Sixties classics for parties at the Bunnyflat, and “She Said She Said” fitted in perfectly between “My White Bicycle” (Tomorrow) and “The Days Of Pearly Spencer” (David McWilliams).
JACKIE LEVEN: I love the confusion the song sets up, and the way the songwriter resolves it when he says “No, no, no, no, you’re wrong, when I was a boy…” I was intrigued by the complexity of emotion it expressed. I was in relationships then, and, to me, that’s what it was about, the way you hit zones in relationships and wonder why. You have to dig deeper and find out what the other person is about. It’s a tough thing to learn, and I really liked the sense of guidance this song gives.
MARK COLWILL: There’s just a way that Lennon had of putting words together- I wouldn’t say poetry, but the lyrics just seem to flow.
29 DON’T LET ME DOWN
Single B-side, April 1969
MARTIN ROSSITER: I didn’t know how much about The Beatles until I was about 12 and bought one of those songbooks for playing on the piano, so I only ever knew my version of “Don’t Let Me Down”. I thought it was this quite slow, loving ballad. We were in rehearsal and the guys started playing it- “Oh, they’re doing a rocky version…” We recorded it for a BBC session. Then I heard the original and realised that they were right and I was wrong. So I’d recorded the song without ever actually hearing it. My reaction was, frankly, they did it better than us. They are The Beatles, so we’ll forgive them. But how dare they?
DAVEY RAY MOOR: The Beatles were my first feeling of sheer exhilaration that I can remember. They were immensely sophisticated, at times, ornate, but this was a very straight, soulful piece of communication, quite primal, essential. In an interview, Lennon once said, “When you’re drowning, you don’t say ‘Please mister, would you mind handing me that paddle?’ You say, ‘Help!’”
ED HAMELL: I love the way the two front guys harmonise. Like brothers.
28 EIGHT DAYS A WEEK
Beatles For Sale album track, December 1964
PAUL DRAPER: The perfect pop record. One of my favourite Beatles moment ever. Johns vocals “Ooohhhhwwwhhooo” going into the second bridge- what an incredible moment. And it’s all over in about two and a half minutes.
JOHN SIMM: Perfect pop music – makes you smile!
27 AND I LOVE HER
A Hard Days Night album track, July 1964
PAMELA DES BARRES: When I first became a Beatlefreak, I was discovering my fem-wiles at the same time. There seemed to be sticky movement down below whenever I thought about my precious, long-legged Paul. I took to carrying a certain Beatle card around in a little gold box so I could peek at the curve of his Manhood in those shiny mohair pants. In A Hard Day’s Night, Paul sings this song, and during a side-view close-up, a slim string of saliva hangs from his cupid’s bow upper lip. Gasp. Today, some wise-tech-ass would zap Paul’s sexy, innocent dribble from the silver screen, but, thank God, back in ’64 I was able to clutch the arms of my seat in the darkened theatre in Reseda, California, waiting for a glimpse of that perfect, shining drop of Beatle spit. And I loved him.
TOMMY SCOTT: I love how simple it is. Maybe about five years ago I got Love Songs by The Beatles and I thought that was the best stuff. Dead mellow. I don’t like listening to mad stuff when I’m at home.
KYLE COOK: That song just stretches back in my memories as far as I can remember. Music has that ability to just kind of exist there in your subconscious. Such a beautiful, beautiful memory. The Beatles could create these amazing melodies, and that song and the lyrics and the European feeling that you get…it’s a very magical tune.
SHAUN WILLIAMSON: It’s got the most beautiful opening (sings it). It sets the mood for the song. It’s very optimistic, about being in love. Simplicity and perfection, really. I think he wrote it for Jane Asher.
PHIL MANZANERA: I was 13 when this came out, and it reminds me so much of being in Venezuela, the acoustic and Spanish guitars…to me, it has a little Latin feel about it. I associate it with the excitement of the early Beatles- a particular period which has a definite resonance- and of coming to England. London seemed to be all in black and white…a hip, sharp place with people in leather jackets and boots. It was just, “Wow!” It propelled me into being obsessed by everything to do with pop music.
26 THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD
Let It Be album track, May 1970
MARTIN ROSSITER: Paul, I gather, isn’t too found of this version. Who am I to question McCartney? But it sounds as if the surreptitiousness of the version is the thing that offends him the more than the version itself. It’s almost, in a way, the best example of the twisted genius of Phil Spector – get 473 choirs and 19 bass players and stick them in a room for 14 days and hold guns to people’s heads-allegedly. But out of that did come some sort of magic. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. It’s one of the few songs that leaves you on your front-room floor, naked and breathless.
White Album track, November 1968
PAUL WELLER: It has such great chords, fantastic melodies and beautiful lyrics. It’s showing the other aspects of John. He’s got that gruff, acerbic side, the popular view of him, but there’s that really touching, loving side to him. Obviously it was more significant that it was about his mother, and Yoko, but no matter who he was singing about, it would still be beautiful. I really relate to the line where he says, “Half of what I say is meaningless”. As writers, we all chuck out lots of rubbish…
EILEEN ROSE: It’s warm, delicate, innocent, almost a nursery rhyme- John Lennon at his most vulnerable. That’s a great opening lyric- “Half of what I say is meaningless, so I sing this just to reach you, Julia.” It conveys the frustration, the inadequacy of words to describe emotions, maybe even the embarrassment of having sensitive emotions. It’s almost like he’s singing to himself. It’s brave to be doing that in time. There’s nothing more compelling than when somebody’s really going out on a limb.
WILLIE CAMPBELL: There’s so much feeling, a really honest emotion. There’s probably a crossover between his mother and Yoko, cos that was the new love in his life.
GUY GARVEY: For all the books written and bar room conversations that I’ve had about John Lennon’s lyrics, especially his less straightforward, trippy stuff. I believe that this is him letting us know the truth. I’ve written one of the lines from it on my bedroom wall to remind me not to squeeze too hard when trying to write my own words: “When I cannot sing my heart, I can only speak my mind.”
24 NOWHERE MAN
Rubber Soul album track, December 1965
NODDY HOLDER: You could already see them growing out of that Fab Four, moptops image. They were experimenting with different sounds. “Nowhere Man” was a great example. They’d be doing all that raucousy stuff and then, for the first time, you saw this softer side.
EUROS CHILD: Rubber Soul is my favourite Beatles album- that and Revolver- and this is my favourite track. There’s just something about the freshness. I don’t think I quite grasped what it was about at first. I saw it more as a story about someone who was lost.
BRETT SPARKS: Coolest minimal guitar solo ever. And that minor seventh chord!
23 COME TOGETHER
Abbey Road album track, September 1969
STEVEN TYLER: We did it in that kinda Beatles movie Sgt Pepper, and it was the best part of the film, I think. That movie got shelved so fast! But we got a chance to work with their producer, Brian Epstein- I mean, shit, George Martin… What an atrocity that movie was! But, y’know we’d never done anything like that back then. We were all heavily under the influence of the sauce. By the end of the day, we were all 10 sheets to the wind. But the memory will live forever cos of the way the song sounds, y’know? Aw yeah, great guitar riff. It’s all about songs, man.
PAUL WELLER: I love John’s voice- his funky way of singing. I just like the performance on that. I like the lyrics as well- it’s not like they’re kind of definite, but it’s that feeling he creates with them.
HOLLY JOHNSON: “Come Together” has a very groovy bassline and a groovier chorus…this is The Beatles song that Frankie Goes To Hollywood nearly covered.
HOWE GLEB: Such a complete rip-off of a Chuck Berry song, but with extraordinary rejuvenation. Like Bowie said, “It’s who does it second, not first, that usually matters.” Groan! Abbey Road was also the record playing at the time when we first dared to play Spin the Bottle with the girls. Severely embedded sonic landscape, you see.
LES McKEOWN: The meaning of this song has changed over the years for me. At first it appeared mischievous. Then, as I got older, the message shifted to reveal something more profound in the composer’s psyche, and it shines a light in our belief systems surrounding people and peace.
RAT SCABIES: Urgh- dope’n’sex, but from them…surely not. The suits were safely back in a Liverpool wardrobe, while Ringo laid down one of the most memorable drum parts ever. It was time to admit that some of their stuff was ok.
22 I’M SO TIRED
White Album track, November 1968
LES McKEOWN: It reminds me of my teens and smoking hash for the first time. The atmosphere blends with the words to reflect exactly how I felt, and it still has the power to bring back the most distant memories.
RYAN ADAMS: The riff is like it’s 5am and I can’t shut my brain off. That happens a lot. I’m feeling mad and pissed off and freaked out and there’s all this shit going on and I can’t stop it.
MARK “LARD” RILEY: Claustrophobic, intense, troubled, frustrated, low on self-esteem, confused, insecure, infuriating- equals John Lennon. “I can’t sleep, I can’t stop my brain, you know it’s three weeks, I’m goin’ insane/You know I’d give you everything I’ve got for a little peace of mind.” Not likely to be covered by Hear’Say on their second, difficult album.
21 GOLDEN SLUMBERS/CARRY THAT WEIGHT
Abbey Road album medley track, September 1969
IAN McCULLOCH: It’s “Golden Slumbers” that I love. I saw Paul McCartney play at the King’s Dock 10 years ago, when he sang, (sings) “Once there was a way to get back homeward…” and it was the River Mersey behind, and I was like, tears. This fella, for all his thumbs aloft, he’s one of the greatest voices of all time. There’s hardly any lyrics. It’s just what there are are mega… brilliant song.
RICHARD LEISTER: I’ve always loved that, because on Paul’s Flowers In The Dirt tour that we did it together, it finished the concerts. I was always moved by it. It worked for me. It’s a great finish to Abbey Road and it was a great finish to his live act.
TOM McRAE: Paul goes from balladeer to rocker in 16 bars. It can bring me out of my worst moods- “Boy, you’re gonna carry that weighta long time…”
JAMES WALSH: “Golden Slumbers” is the Beatle’s song which has soundtracked great moments in my life. I can relate to the simplicity of the lyrics, and the opening chords could melt the steeliest of hearts.
EILEEN ROSE: I’ve always been taken by the concept of “home”. In a single word, it conveys safety and youth and innocence, and the point from which you start the rest of your life. You can never get back to it, to relive the sweetness of it, or change whatever may have gone wrong. “Sleep, pretty darling, do not cry, and I will sing a lullaby…” There’s a resignation to it. “Go to sleep and maybe you can dream…”- it’s like buying someone a drink. “I can’t fix it but I can commiserate”. I like how it goes into “Carry That Weight” and it gets majestic. I think “You’re gonna carry that weight” refers to the things that happen when you’re young that you probably take all your life to work out. And I imagine being a Beatle was a lot of weight to carry.
Single, July 1965
GARY MOORE: I was about 10 or 11, and I was starting to play guitar. There’s a fantastic little riff that George Harrison did, just under the high bit in the chorus, and it took me weeks to figure it out. Then I saw them on TV, and he played it all wrong. When I met him, I said, “Do you remember when you played at the London Palladium and you screwed up that part?” A roadie had put his guitar strings through his Gretsch the wrong way. I waited for about 30 years to find out why he didn’t do it right.
FRANK ALLEN: The Searchers were on tour in the States at the time of its release and we were lounging around the pool at the Holiday Inn in Nashville when it came on the radio. The Zombies were there, and a couple of Beach Boys, who were part of that night’s concert. We all stood amazed at how they could come up with such mind blowing pop songs, which seemed to get better every time.
IAN McCULLOCH: “Help!” – what a song. He (Lennon) was obviously kinda going round the twist then.
19 LOVE ME DO
Single, October 1962
BRYAN FERRY: To be a pop star wasn’t an option when I was at school, until The Beatles came along. It was all Tommy Steele. And pop wasn’t covered in the national papers at all until they landed at Kennedy Airport. I remember hearing “Love Me Do” on the radio, and thinking “God, that’s different.”
ANDREW LOOG OLDHAM: “Love Me Do”, “Please Please Me” and “From Me To You” were the first three singles and, during that time, I was employed by Brian Epstein to get publicity from London for The Beatles. I was able to experience this celebratory triple-drive to the top of the charts as a fan. After “From Me To You”, I started working with The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles became the competition, albeit fab and friendly, but I was never able to hear their records the same way again…The Beatles simply made records that changed the name of the game, and those three singles were the first serve.
DEREK HATTON: I remember everybody in Liverpool waiting in a queue for “Love Me Do” when it first came out. I went to the same school, the Liverpool Institute, as Paul McCartney. He was in the final year the year I started. We were literally only round the corner from the Cavern, and we used to go down at lunchtime. Cilla Black was a very good cloakroom girl- the problem was when she started to sing. The first time I ever spoke to Paul properly was in 1983 when we gave him the freedom of the city of Liverpool, and we had a long conversation about the old days.
RICH ROBINSON: It sounded so unique, specifically because of the harmonica. It wasn’t until later that I heard that Delbert McClinton had shown John how to play it.
HOLLY JOHNSON: “Love Me Do” wafted over me in my pram as I was being pushed down Penny Lane by my mum who lived just round the corner from “The Beatles!” This record was the beginning of Beatlemania. The world would never be the same.
NODDY HOLDER: I’d actually seen The Beatles in a youth club in the Midlands. At the time, most groups were doing a Cliff Richard and the Shadows-type act, but The Beatles had this very raw sound. The only band I’d seen with such a basic sound and exciting show were Johnny Kidd & The Pirates and Screaming Lord Sutch & The Savages- but it was always singer and backing band. The Beatles were a four-man band. They were real scruff bags on stage. So rock’n’roll. When “Love Me Do” came out, it encapsulated what I’d seen on stage that night.
PETER NOONE: It was so naïve, how they began. You listen to that, you go “Wow, they went a long way, didn’t they?” That’s like the first holy communion picture- all these naïve, 12 or 13 year old people, doing what they thought they should be doing right at the beginning…and then every record got better.
18 WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS
White Album track, November 1968
JOE ELLIOTT: That’s the one that would always get my dad whistling. He never really knew the words, but he knew the melody. I love the chord progression, and it’s got a great solo. The whole verse is in a minor feel, but when it gets to “I don’t know how…” it goes major. You can hear where Bowie got his early influences from in stuff like this, and I think George Harrison influenced a lot more guitarists than they ever let on- Brian May, Richie Sambora, Joe Perry. I’ve never met a Beatle, but I did have the pleasure once of having my foot stood on by Ringo Starr. I remember going “Wow!”
GREG GRIFFIN: George Harrison stands head and shoulders about anybody, maybe apart from Lennon and McCartney. There’s no people on earth that he might have to wrestle with a bit, apart from them two.
17 I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND
Single, November 1963
ROGER McGUINN: The first time I heard The Beatles, I fell in love with their sound. After hearing “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You” on the radio, I went to the record shop on 8th Street in Greenwich Village and bought “Meet the Beatles”.
EUROS CHILD: You get purists who say The Beatles were good from “Help!” onwards, but I like the early stuff just as much. It’s maybe the first track I heard by them. It just got me into the whole thing.
JACKIE LEVEN: As much as I loved “She Loves You”, this had moments that were so exciting and transcendental. I remember playing it over and over again until my parents began to worry about my sanity or the terrifying power of pop music. There’s something about the falsetto “hand” in the chorus that was so exciting. It’s so sexual as well, and it coincided with my first, tender courtships of a non-sexual nature, a real awakening to what it was all about.
PETER NOONE: They had more energy before they even started singing than most modern bands get in the whole of an album. They had it together in the studio. In the very early days, I was at a TV show in Manchester, where people like Ray Charles were singing Beatles songs. I went in the dressing room and there was Paul McCartney talking with George Martin about compression. They said “Which Beatles song do you do?” I said “I don’t do any, I’m just, like, a fan.” They said “Oh, that’s nice, bye…”
IAN McNABB: What that must’ve sounded like to the Americans, who were still in a bit of a Bobby Darin period- they were on a downer ‘cos of the Kennedy thing and the Cold War- and this explosion of energy from some place they’d never heard of just really knocked them on their ass. From my generation, the one thing I can relate that to was when “God Save The Queen” came out, by The Pistols.
16 NORWEGIAN WOOD
Rubber Soul album track, December 1965
DEREK HATTON: My favourite album was Rubber Soul, “The Word” is brilliant, “Michelle” is brilliant…and “Norwegian Wood” just hits me. I felt that Rubber Soul was almost like, “You’ve had the last five albums, here’s the sixth, and it’s goodbye- we’re going into the next era”.
RENNIE SPARKS: This song has the same structure as a Raymond Carver story. The most bitter sweet song about furniture ever written. When I was younger, I didn’t like it because I didn’t like songs about foreigners.
ASTRID KIRCHHERR: It was such a new, fresh thing for a rock’n’roll band to use a waltz to write a song. I like the words as well. They were really starting to experiment a lot at that time. I knew they had a lot of potential, each one of them, but I never, ever expected them to rule the world of music. I definitely knew Paul was going to be a musician and John would be a writer or a cartoonist and a musician, and Stuart a painter and a writer and maybe an actor, and George… George was 17. And now I’m very, very proud of, particularly George, the way he ruled his life, and he’s happy and he’s found so many interesting things to do, like gardening. He calls himself a gardener, which I think is wonderful.
15 PENNY LANE
Double A-side single, February 1967
HOLLY JOHNSON: As a child, “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields” was my first lesson in Pop Music. The fact that the actual locations were just around the corner from where I lived gave me the perspective that I was living in the Emerald City of Pop Music right next door to the Wizard of Oz, and one day I would be wearing the Ruby Slippers as the Toppermost of the Poppermost.
ROD DAVIS: This song makes Penny Lane sound more romantic than it was in real life, but the words bring back my childhood. Penny Lane was so much more exciting than our little village of Woolton, which was at the end of the tram track. There was the Plaza Cinema and the Abbey, W.H Smith’s, Bioletti’s the barbers, where the more daring among us went to get a hair cut, and my grandma lived near the roundabout. When I was at school at Quarry Bank, we used to jump over the wall at the bottom of the school grounds, walk past the fire station and stroll along Allerton Road to Penny Lane and maybe buy a bag of chips.
MARK COLWILL: I’ve two sisters. The one who was six years older than me was a teenager in the Sixties, so I used to listen to her records. “Penny Lane”, when I was six or seven, was my favourite. It’s just the classic pop song. It makes me smile. I always see the images is presents as not quite the Sixties- I always feel it’s more the Fifties. It evokes slightly a just-after-the-war sort of feel.
AIMEE MANN: He (McCartney) has this lightness of touch that’s really beautiful. There’s nostalgia in the music and that’s reflected in the arrangement, also, which is part of the brilliance- the piccolo trumpet and the bassline. It’s a classic McCartney melody, and classic George Martin. It’s also my favourite kind of lyric writing, which is real specific-people and details and descriptions. He does this screenwriting thing of showing instead of telling.
Single B-side to ‘Hey Jude’. August, 1968
JIM REID: When I think of something like “Revolution”, I don’t remember when I hadn’t heard that song. It’s a part of your life. It’s like musical Prozac. You put it on and it makes you feel good. Sonically, a brilliant record- pure noise before anybody else was doing it.
TJINDER SINGH: It’s a corker, and it’s totally rocking. It’s pretty out there as a B-side, as well. Lyrically, it’s a bit vague, and in the different versions, he changes it from “you can count me out” to “you can count me in”, but at least it focuses on the issues.
CLIFF JONES: It gave birth to the Seventies. Instead of the “we” generation, it became the “everybody for themselves” generation, the way Lennon dismissed agit-pop in one fell swoop. Above all, I love the guitar. Ever since I was a child, I’ve listened to that track. It’s like sulphuric acid. It’s brilliantly aggressive, but without ever hurting you. Perfect synchronicity of music and content.
DAVE BIELANKO: It’s brilliantly lyrically and so very John Lennon. Everything that happened from Chuck Berry and Little Richard built into what became violent rock’n’roll. It’s a super influential tune. You hear it come on the jukebox in a bar- it’s “Wow!” That’s the sign of a band that’s operating on a different plane, but still playing the same game. The rock version captured how angry it was. It’s a punk rock song any way you cut it, well before the fact.
13 HEY JUDE
Single, August 1968
RAY CHARLES: “Hey Jude”, now that’s beautiful. That should be what music is all about. They were great performers, too. We worked together in Hamburg before they were famous. But what they had was songs. The best. Never dirty- just beautiful songs you can play to your grandmother and to your children alike. “Hey Jude” has that quality. It doesn’t get any better than that.
IAN McCULLOCH: Me and Will always stick up for Paul. People still talk about Paul being a pillock, but John did more things that were worthy of being a pillock, saying things like “We’re bigger than God”, and by being nude on that album cover. That was horrible. Then he suddenly went all Che Guevara. And he was out of his mind. But “Hey Jude” is all down to the tune and the words. It sounds like a brilliant love song, but it’s to a boy, which gives it some edge, that it’s not “Hey June”. It’s up their with sodding “Never Walk Alone”. It’s anthemic, but so simple. The only thing I must mention is that he gets a bit too, “Hey Judy, Judy, Judy”. I always thought when Paul tried to rock too much it didn’t sound that natural.
ARTHUR BAKER: The chords from the start…so many people have stolen them since. I really love soul music, and, to me, it was their most soulful song, and it had great lyrics. People like Wilson Pickett did great versions of “Hey Jude”.
HOWE GELB: It was just about the time we were learning to slow dance with the girls, so it was sweet and dangerous to have such a long time hanging on while the song went on and on and on.
12 TICKET TO RIDE
Single, April 1965
BOB STANLEY: This was the first song that made me understand (when I was about 12) the emotional tug of a chord change. They take the crystalline jangle of The Byrds- about a month after the release of “Mr Tambourine Man”!- and mould it into the most melancholy, beautifully resigned song. The guitar sound may be traceable, but the chunky, lopsided drum pattern is all Ringo.
AIMEE MANN: I remember hearing that as a kid and feeling like, “There’s something more going on than meets the eye.” John Lennon always sounds like there’s this real pain coming out of him that’s in his voice regardless of what he’s singing, an undercurrent of angst. That’s why people find it so appealing.
IAN McNABB: The first thing that comes into your mind is them skiing in the snow. It’s a pretty heavy record. It’s based on sevenths and fifths. They usually used thirds and fourths, and pretty intervals and harmonies. It’s much more rhythm and blues, and bluesy, and really just that beat and the great lyric. I love that Lennon, sort of mid-period Beatles thing when he’s just a little bid fed up. You’d have to talk about “Help!” at the same time. It sounds a little bit weary but still full of energy and youthfulness, because that was before the real cynicism kicked in. “Help!” may appear poppy, but it’s probably the first “shout-it-from-the-mountain-top” that maybe it’s not Utopia out there.
PAPA CRAZEE: This song is everything great about Sixties pop. In three blissful minutes, you get a beautiful melody, sharp harmonies, shimmery guitars, drug imagery, and slamming, free low-end. Ringo’s beat is Eastern-influenced mayhem (even before George started playing that ridiculous sitar).
11 PAPERBACK WRITER
Single, June 1966
BILLY BRAGG: It’s one of the great guitar riffs of rock. Then you’ve got the Beach Boys harmony bit over the words “paperback writer”. It adds a bit of psychedelia to it. Most of all why I like this song- it’s talking about the ability of everybody to create culture. The Beatles were the first people to dominate the mass media who hadn’t been to public school or Oxbridge. They were the first people from outside that closed world to make a contribution to our culture. “Paperback Writer” is emblematic of that burst. It didn’t matter that you couldn’t write a deep and meaningful hardback book. You could be a paperback writer.
RAT SCABIES: I used to read so much when I was a kid, nearly all trashy novels. This let me know that it was ok to dream about being Mickey Spillane. It also has that killer guitar riff, plus the then innovative production, and it also sounds like a band having a great time.
RICHARD WARREN: That is the best single ever released. It’s better than “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields”. Everything that you need to know is in those two songs (“Paperback Writer” and “Rain”). They work together. The thing I really like, it’s like psychedelia before it turned into tie-dye and hippies and flowers in people’s hair. You can still tell that The Beatles were an R&B, beat-based group, still quite military and quite sharp, but this thing was creeping in- the British beat psychedelia. They were jack of all trades, and the master of them all. And it always sounded completely like The Beatles.
NORMAN BLAKE: It’s a great song, great lyrics, and pretty unusual as well, arrangement-wise. It’s got a sort of looping bassline, and a real garage, rock’n’roll feel. As a songwriter, you can tell that McCartney’s developing his technique. Compare The Beatles to their counterparts now- someone like Westlife. I can’t imagine any of those people writing a song as complex as that.
10 HAPPINESS IS A WARM GUN
White Album track, November 1968
TIM BURGESS: I really love the fact that it’s a growing, cinematic song that starts somewhere, finishes somewhere else, and never revisits any point in between. Some people will take the gun reference as a joke, some could get really angry about it, and others could get confused and say that guns are great. People in the Southern states of America might have thought it was ok- teach your kids how to use guns.
MARK “LARD” RILEY: The sound of John lusting after Yoko? Is the penis a warm gun that shoots you or is this cod psychology? The guitar, the vocals…another example to hold up to the memory of Lennon, a man who inexplicably never rated his own voice.
HOWE GELB: One of the first songs we played in our punk band in ’78…only faster.
DAVE BIELANKO: I’d be surprised if it isn’t a culmination of about four or five different songs that were simultaneously half-way done being brought together. I pretend that I can hear the differences between John and Paul as it moves from section to section. Those two, super talented guys coming together-breaking the rules in a major way. They set the bar so high for people to come after them.
CASEY CHAOS: Growing up, “The White Album” was interpreted as evil in America. I read things into the lyrics that a lot of people did with what the intentions of trying to decipher what Manson’s vision was. I take the gun as a sexual image, but I would say the general population of America would take the literal interpretation. That’s the difference between American and European media.
9 HELTER SKELTER
White Album track, November 1968
JOHNNY GREENWOOD: Because Macca’s really screaming, it’s got some sort of fire about it, which is nice. And because it’s quite dismissively done. I also quite like “Blue Jay Way” and “Rain” and things that have that sound that’s quite fat. That’s what I’m listening to at the moment, anyway.
STEVEN SEVERIN: I’d never, ever heard wall-of-noise guitars like that before, particularly the end of the track. I hadn’t heard things like The Velvet Underground at that point. McCartney had a great screaming voice as well, and “Helter Skelter” is one of the prime examples of that. Good basslines, too. It had a lot going for it, even before the myth that went around it once Manson did his dirty deed.
BUDGIE: This, to me, was…just seeing The Beatles in a different way- the marriage of slabs of noise with the best lyrics. Other bands still couldn’t express emotions this way. What I love about it is the power. You feel every sinew has been stretched and thrust into the performance.
JOE ELLIOTT: Possibly the most outrageous McCartney vocal that he ever did. When he gets to the top of the slide…no, his range!…right at the intro, he’s really going for it. It’s got a great riff, one of the heaviest things they ever did. At two in the morning, when me and a few buddies are playing pool and it’s on a jukebox, the money goes in. It makes you want to play air guitar on your pool cue.
BRETT SPARKS: This is the first punk rock song I ever heard. I played this with a band in high school…I set my guitar on fire and smashed it against a garbage can.
GUY GARVEY: I was stunned when I realised that Paul was responsible for the vocal on this essentially punk crack-up. I’m a terrible guitarist and I flatly refuse to get any better, but there’s nothing more satisfying than hitting one really hard. It’s my favourite tune to walk round town to.
CASEY CHAOS: This is the only reason I ever got The White Album. For me, it was probably their most visceral work. It seems like they were into something that was ahead of its time- this seems to be almost like proper punk rock. As time has progressed, Charles Manson has taken this song from a band in England and created the voice of a generation of murdered. You still get all the Hollywood stars, and mothers and fathers in Beverley Hills shaking in their boots.
Single B-side to “Paperback Writer”, June 1966
ROGER MCGUINN: I love the modal quality of this song, and the drone.
DOUGIE PAYNE: The best B-side they ever did. It’s a sign of their quality control being so high. Some bands have based an entire career on that song. It’s one that I remember from years ago being around the house, from my sister’s record collection. It’s Paul McCartney’s bass playing at its best- bubbling. Those octave leaps are so exciting. The acid influence was starting to come into it. A benevolent feeling towards the world that Lennon was feeling is encapsulated in this song. Obviously, it’s hippy-dippy- “I’m cool and turned on, you squares should get turned on too”- but it’s real beautiful and there’s a naivety to it. The rhythm section is just so on it, and Ringo says that this is his finest drumming on record.
JOHN SIMM: The greatest B-side of all time. The sheer innovation of the sound…McCartney’s bass playing is unbelievable.
RICHARD WARREN: “Rain” is the most perfect pop song ever. You can really tell they were enjoying being experimental. Lennon’s backwards verse…nobody had done that before. The playing, the bass line…that’s been nicked by so many people. I’ve nicked it. Everybody’s nicked that bassline.
PAPA CRAZEE: Another blast of Ringo’s brilliance and a high water mark for Lennon’s rebellious lyricism. The idea is timeless, everything that the boring old people told you is bad becomes beautiful with a little help from the LSD. There is no negative judgement. Splash in that mud puddle, you uptight British class-mongers! Great guitar riff, too.
WILLIE CAMPBELL: It sounds like a little bit of A Hard Day’s Night and a little bit of Revolver, just moving into a new direction.
ANDY PARTRIDGE: The apex of what The Beatles could do with two guitars, bass and drums. A crashing bronze nursery rhyme. In fact, everything sounds like it’s made of bronze, from the snare drum to the metallic double tracking of the vocal via the guitars. And what guitars! Boisterous, argumentative, positively grinding together like turns of swarf from two competing lathes. Worth the price of admission just to hear the conversation between McCartney’s gulping, flute-like bass and Starr’s lolling clatter. John’s simple, narrow melody and lyrics are so typical they verge on caricature…My only confusion was about the backwards vocal. As a kid, I couldn’t work out why they would sing in praise of my mum’s hair remover, Nair!
Abbey Road album track, September 1969
JEAN BENOIT DUNCKEL: The harmonies are so beautiful. They’re actually very complex and they fit the words perfectly. George emerged as a songwriter to rival John and Paul with this song.
DAVEY RAY MOOR: The most perfect ballad ever written. It’s such a treasure, cos it’s so well-balanced and concise, such a great description of a man astonished with this love for a woman and quite torn in his ecstasy. It’s so beautifully mastered.
TOMMY SCOTT: Other than it being a great song, I admire it cos of Frank Sinatra. He said it’s the only Beatles song he would have done at the time. It’s the best love song that doesn’t actually say “I love you”. It’s dead dreamy and I just love all the guitars and it was George Harrison. It’s just amazing that they all could write. I don’t know about Ringo, like…
ROD DAVIS: I enjoy deceptively simple lyrics and these are a great example of the art, perfectly matched to a melody which, by all accounts, was picked out on a piano. I especially like the first three lines of the tune, particularly the third line which echoes the theme of the first. Then a surprise when the last line – which you’re waiting for – turns out to have no words at all.
CLIFF JONES: Sometimes songs just fall out. They’re utterly complete. You haven’t thought about them, they bypass the conscious, “Something” is a song to a woman that Harrison loved, and it’s like it bypassed all ego and bravado. Just a man singing about something he really wanted and loved. That’s why it’s the greatest-ever Beatles record. It’s an utterly, utterly, universally, phenomenally beautiful record, it’s the greatest song of that generation.
PETER NOONE: The bass part is brilliant, the harmonies are brilliant…it’s a great little song. George was pushed into the corner a bit, but he did the best post-Beatles stuff, I think, and this was a good swansong from The Beatles.
6 ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
Let It Be album track, May 1970
THOM YORKE: Because of Lennon’s voice on it. It just sounds so joyful, there’s no destruction or anything in there.
COLIN GREENWOOD: He was so uptight as a person, it’s just nice hearing John Lennon let go a bit, in a way that’s both celebratory and resigned at the same time. Beatific and pacific.
SHARLEEN SPITERI: Maybe Lennon’s most underrated song. I chose to sing this on Channel 4’s recent Lennon tribute night. Partly because there’s no one definitive version, so I didn’t feel quite so much like I was tampering with a sacred Beatle artefact. That said, the song’s had a really powerful pull on me since. It’s got under my skin.
EILEEN ROSE: Filled with imagery of ordinary things and the beauty of them. He sings, “like a restless wind inside a letter box”. The lyrics flow so smoothly with the melody: It feels like a truly inspired moment. It’s a really free song, it’s not confined to rhyming or symmetry. I’m sure it was to do with the drugs they were taking, and the social changes they were inspired by and the Eastern philosophy they were exploring. It’s about acceptance and undying love, and it shines all around him “like a million smiles”.
JOEY BURNS: It’s a great John tune with a cosmic soul feel, and I love the simplicity and the sentiment of it. He was breaking up with Cynthia, she was talking, the words were streaming, and his heart was breaking. I used to perform that song at high school during lunch break.
TJINDER SINGH: It was first done for the World Wildlife Fund album, which was arranged by Spike Milligan, and the backing’s supposed to have some female fans on it. It’s just a great song. It does have a great Asian sentiment in the lyrics as well, although that’s not particularly why I like it.
GENE SIMMONS: You rediscover the things you grew up with as children. It struck me how brilliant the structure of the song is. There isn’t a chorus as such and yet there are slight key changes that move up a half-step. It’s very bizarre cos half-step, snake-like melodies that go back and forth are usually associated with either Oriental or Arabic melodies, and yet it sounds perfectly Western. I still don’t know what that’s about.
5 IN MY LIFE
Rubber Soul album track, December 1965
ASTRID KIRCHHERR: It’s something which I think is quite autobiographical of John’s life. He wrote that after Stuart died. I think it’s abut the bad things he’s been through- his mummy, and the death of his best friend- and it’s a very, very sad song for such a young man. It’s very beautifully written. That song speaks to me in John’s voice with his heart, and it’s his inner sadness that I can feel. Of course, I knew about his inner sadness- he was my friend- but I’m always glad that shortly before he died, he found happiness and peace with the world.
IAN McCULLOCH: It was almost like his memoirs. It sounded like he’d already moved on somewhere. At that time, McCartney was known as the kind of gently “Here, There and Everywhere” of the two songwriters, and then Lennon came out with that. The lyrics are great, and his vocal’s one of the best voices of all time. It just rings true.
IAN HART: It’s dead simple- I love the melody. It’s a very sentimental song, not like Lennon’s big ideas about politics or whatever. It’s neither that total documentary style thing they sometimes did of “I got on a bus in Southampton” , nor is it the early innocence of “I love you, love you, tomorrow, tomorrow…” They’d sussed how to write a great song, but they hadn’t yet wondered what’d happen if they left a door open too long. Cos you never know who or what might come in when you leave a bleedin’ door open…
MARTIN ROSSITER: It’s one of those things that I’m loathe to try and analyse. It breaks my heart and makes me cry. It’s a very tender John Lennon. It seems to puncture a hole through his innate cynicism, which is always healthy in everybody, I think. It just is and somehow that’s all you need to know about a record.
SHAUN WILLIAMSON: All their early tunes are incredibly optimistic, about young love and all the rest of it. Then it changed…”In My Life” is a bit more thoughtful. It’s a poignant song. It can make you feel nostalgic, especially as you start getting older and having children.
GLENN TILBROOK: A lot of the hack songwriters are after this universal thing, something that everyone can relate to, and very often they write to the lowest common denominator. But this is a universal song that’s very personal.
JOHN SIMM: Poetry missed with heartbreaking melody.
FRANK ALLEN: It is as if the writer has tapped into the thoughts of almost every person. The tune is beautiful. The performance is sensitive. And the harmonies are perfect.
ROD DAVIS: It reveals a softer side of Lennon, which I never suspected when I knew him. Having shared so many of th4 places in John’s early life, the words always held a deep meaning for me. I understand that John one said that he had Pete Shotton and Stu Sutcliffe in mind when writing this. Pete- the link with the past who would try to hold John to Earth when the whole Beatle thing got out of hand.
MARK “LARD” RILEY: (referring to Paul’s contention that he co-authored it): Who wrote it? Who cared! The sound of a young man watching his life change radically, and accepting it. Pathos a go-go. Irresistible guitar hook, unforgettable George Martin keyboard solo. The perfect pop song was written in 1965, by John. Oh, no, it was Paul, wasn’t it? Oh, don’t start that again!
4 TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS
Revolver album track, August 1966
PHIL MANZANERA: I was brought up in South America, and I was the first person in Caracas to have a Beatle jacket and a Beatle wig- at 13. Can you imagine in a climate like that, wearing a wig? I can see in retrospect how the whole concept of the song informed my thinking. Embodied within it are a whole bunch of ideas about music and approachability in music using weirdness. It’s not saying, “I’m going to be avant-garde and never sell anything”, but bringing in all these elements and being popular, which was the premise with Roxy as well.
We did a version of this, me and Eno, with the band 801 in ’76. We did about six gigs and we recorded an album at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London- the most successful critical album I’ve ever done. He (Lennon) was quite an extraordinary artist. Some of his life skills were dubious, but, artistically, he was true to himself. The honesty is actually quite painful, just frightening at times.
DOUGIE PAYNE: There’s an incredible excitement about the whole recording, considering it’s all just one chord. The rhythm tracks are just extraordinary. They basically invented dance music. It was the birth of a lot of things. It’s an incredibly influential track.
JIM REID: It’s fantastic the way their music was changing so quickly. The way that record sounds, and the lyrics…I don’t know how the hell they managed to do that. I don’t think that music as an art form has really progressed. We’re still doing what The Beatles were doing then, in ’66. Revolutionary as Elvis was, they took it to a completely different dimension.
ARTHUR BAKER: I remember loving the groove of it but not appreciating it as much, until more recent years, for Ringo’s drumming, and a certain soulfulness and funkiness that The Beatles weren’t particularly known for. But they were able to do so many different types of things. Later on, The Chemical Brothers have used that song as a bit of their anthem. It’s incredible contemporary now, when you hear it.
GUY GARVEY: It’s a fucking juggernaut of a tune. George Martin is one of my heroes and the way he creates the sense of heady urgency is at a total tangent to the sentiment of words. If it wasn’t so well-known I’d sample the arse out of this beat. Ringo’s finest hour.
MARK COLWILL: You just literally lie there with your eyes shut and drift away. Looking back, their “drug” songs are all quite naïve… John had tried it (LSD) by then, I suppose. You get that sense of a perverse sort of fun.
GREG GRIFFIN: I like the intro, just kicking in. then that vocal of Lennon comes in really strong and knocks your head off. The message of the song is “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream”.
EUROS CHILD: It got to me when I was 13 or 14, in bed in hospital and heavily medicated, and I had the Walkman with me…Revolver under medication!
3 I AM THE WALRUS
Single B-side to ‘Hello Goodbye’, November 1967
COLIN GREENWOOD: When we made OKComputer, my favourite song was “I Am The Walrus”, because Eddie played it when we were at Jane Seymour’s house on the first night, bursting out of the speakers in Colonel William Strutt’s library…
ED O’BRIEN: It’s dense, and it’s got so much in it. It’s, like, 100 hours’ worth of work and it sounds amazing.
JEFF BRIDGES: I’m a huge fan of The Beatles, and it changes every day, but “Walrus” sticks in my mind. I just dug that tune when it came out.
DAVID BYRNE: The problem with a lot of Beatles songs is that they get so heard that you can’t hear them. I tend to go for the more psychedelic ones, I guess, like “I Am The Walrus” or “Strawberry Fields Forever”.
WILL SERGEANT: I watched Magical Mystery Tour on our black and white telly when it came out in 1968. I still love it now. It got slagged by the press who were after some sort of plot when The Beatles had given up on the plot a long way back.
BUDGIE: Magical Mystery Tour was a bit overlooked. When I went on my stag night, I had Magical Mystery Tour playing. We got on a coach and nobody knew where we were going, so nobody could get any strip-o-grams up there. “I Am The Walrus”…god! Lennon was digging out snippets of schoolboy limerick and verse and probably a lot of Milligan. And he always seemed to get in a line about his own emotions- “I’m crying”- a man who wasn’t scared to say he cried. I used to love listening to the final fade of “oompah, oompah, stick it up your jumper”, waiting for Ringo to sing the last line.
GOLDIE: It was so far ahead of the game, and also, musically, it was a very heavy record, for me. The end of it- it’s operatic. It’s got that mixed-up feeling on it that I really, really like. It never had been done. The techniques were pretty outrageous.
IAN MacDONALD: “I Am The Walrus” is a fierce, surrealistic, protest song- musically astounding, unlike anything else of its kind.
TJINDER SINGH: It’s a totally different stab at a song, even by today’s standards, even by people who are ripping it off. It’s out there. It’s still linear, in Lennon’s style, but it changes quite a lot. It’s got about three choruses.
DAVID GEDGE: I like all that surrealness. As a kid, I was always very taken with that line, “You’ve been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down.” I thought it was really shocking, thrilling in a way. It’s obviously a successful partnership with Sir George Martin. He understood what they wanted.
BRETT SPARKS: It’s hard to top this one for sheer strangeness. Fucked up lyrics, production, etc, but it still works on a purely musical level. I first heard it when I was 13 on a road trip to Lubbock, Texas. In was in my dad’s white Chevrolet, parked outside the Sizzlin’ Steakhouse, listening to the eight-track we has just bought. My little brother, Darrell was with me. I remember the striking sound of the cellos and the Rhodes piano. It’s so fucking raw. The lyrics feature Lennon’s manipulation of language at its most compulsive. The chorus plays with the idea of a rock song chorus and with the identity of the band itself.
GARY NUMAN: Brilliant melody, bizarre lyric, quite different to anything I’d heard up to that point.
JOE ELLIOT: When I first heard that (hums intro), it blew my mind. All these cellos and all that “chunk chunk chunk” stuff going on. I didn’t know at the age of nine it was probably some hallucinogenic enhancement that did it, but the fact that he had the audacity to recreate children’s nursery rhymes and stick them in the lyrics. That sound and the way it metres is as important as the actual lyrical content. They kind of wrote almost an opera in three minutes and it’s got everything. It sounds heavy by having not many guitars on it- they used heaviness in its true form. It’s almost classical.
ARTHUR BAKER: In terms of just production, they were amazing. My first recordings were done on 16-track and now people are so spoilt by unlimited tracks and time…sometimes having to many choices is bad, not good. With The Beatles, they didn’t have unlimited choices and technology, but they made the best of what they had, and the production is still unmatched, even now.
2 STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER
Double A-side single, February 1967
PHIL MANZANERA: I love the guitar, being a guitarist, obviously, and a George Harrison fan, and the way that George Martin used it and put it all together. The textural, purely instrumental thing, I love. Then the words double the whole thing. It just shows you that they were so strong in lots of different ways. At times they reached, just, heaven.
PAUL WELLER: It was the first record I heard as a kid that really did my head in…just that colourful feeling it’s got, and the openness about the sound as well, like being in the middle of a huge field. And that bit (sings) “Let me take you down cos I’m going to…” That sort of fall. Their influence on me is just kind of constant but, I suppose, the bigger influence was for bands to start writing their own material.
DAVID BYRNE: My favourite is probably “Strawberry Fields Forever”. They really pushed what a pop song could be, but it’s still a pop song. You can put that up as a model.
ED HAMELL: Of course, if you want arty, this is the best. I just like the image of Lennon, very Warhol-like, saying to George Martin, or Sir George Martin – he’s knighted now and he has seen more battles-“Uh…fix it!”
TOM McRAE: The pitched down vocal, the Mellotron, the twisted brass, “Living is easy with eyes closed”… What more do you want?
LOUIS ELIOT: It still sounds modern, completely original, like something that’s from a different handbook. You can’t even see references from other music in it. I like that sort of skewed, semi-nonsense lyric. It has a totally wonderful atmosphere. It’s quite brooding sometimes, but then it’s still really light and colourful. In the space of a few bars, they can take you on a ride, emotionally, from something quite pretty to almost slightly sinister.
SIMON FOWLER: Probably one of my most distinct Beatles memories is “Strawberry Fields”, the first time I remember listening to it, I’d just walked home with my mum- I was four- in 1969, and I was sitting in front of what was then called the gramophone- it had Bakelite buttons- pretending it was a piano and playing along with “Strawberry Fields”. It’s hard to describe it without getting a bit biblical. It’s like they achieved everything.
IAN MacDONALD: “Strawberry Fields” is a troubled venture in childhood memory like no one had ever heard before, if only Lennon had been asked to do the music for a film of Alice in Wonderland!
KYLE COOK: Just musical genius, so incredibly atmospheric. You don’t necessarily derive any one meaning out of it, but it’s very colourful, lyrically and musically, and I think that that was something that hadn’t been done up to that point in pop culture.
SHAUN WILLIAMSON: It just blows me away. It really predicts that Sgt Pepper era they went into afterwards. It has this effect of making you feel quite floaty. It was about 20 years before its time. Even now, 35 years later, it’s an unusual sound.
EDWYN COLLINS: I suppose Lennon’s riposte to Dylan was just to come up with gobbledygook and nonsense lyrics. It’s interesting the commitment he brings to these things that are absolute nonsense. I don’t know why he does that. Probably the drugs.
GARY MOORE: I love the Mellotron in it, the lovely melody and the way it slides into “Let me take you down,” and the guitar at the end where George is playing that lovely, clear Indian scale…it’s just a beautiful song. They seemed to be so full of fresh ideas all the time. Every single they did was completely different from the one before, and sounded exactly like The Beatles at the same time. I don’t know anybody else who’s ever achieved that.
NODDY HOLDER: I saw it as the trailer for the Pepper album that was to come- the big turning point in the actual sound of The Beatles. We were recording in Abbey Road next door to their studio when they were in the throes of making Pepper. We could hear snatches of these weird sounds coming out, all these backward tape sounds- “What the hell are they playing at?” People didn’t know what to make of Pepper when it came out. I don’t think a lot of people got it right away.
ANDY BELL: A beautiful, slow motion rocket trip into John’s memory and the imagination away from the responsibilities of the adult world, back towards childhood. The music is saturated and strange, the vocal delivery lazy but deliberate. George Martin did a great job of making the production match the overall feel of the words and music.
1 A DAY IN THE LIFE
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album track, June 1967
BRYAN FERRY: I like “A Day In The Life” very much. It has a variety of movements, has a bit of breadth and vision to it. I like that silly, “Woke up got out of bed”, and then it’s got gravity as well, when it goes, “I read the news today, oh boy…” There’s that bit about Tara Brown, the young playboy, who crashed his car. One of my sons is called Tara. Sometimes, The Beatles get a bit sentimental. I’m not a fan of the ballads like “Let It Be” and “The Long And Winding Road” so much, no. I did like Lennon’s voice, but McCartney’s a very good musician, so… it worked as a group, they all brought a bit to it.
THOM YORKE: I used to be really, really into “A Day In The Life”, but I’ve heard it too much now. The string rise- how many times have I heard people copying that on adverts?
NICOLAS GODIN: Everybody has been trying to copy it for 30 years. I don’t understand what makes it so special, but that’s why nobody’s been able to emulate it.
BUDGIE: “It’s a sprawling classic. By stealing my brother’s copy of Sgt Pepper, I knew it from start to finish. I think it was all waiting for that big cacophony at the end. It’s full of imagery from my growing up days…going up in a double-decker bus, and the smell of wet ashtrays and the smoke. Lyrically, with the newspaper stories- 4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire! – it sounds like a lot of cut-up technology going on. I wonder who was the biggest practitioner of it? John and Paul shared the lyrical duties on it. It’s nice when it switches over and the whole “She’s Leaving Home” approach comes in, very down to earth. You know exactly where he is. “Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head”…going downstairs, grabbing a cup of tea.
RICHARD LESTER: It has personal connotations in that How I Won The War- a film that I worked on and one of the film’s of which I was proudest- features in the song: “I saw a film today, oh boy/The English Army had just won the war,” and all that. Those times in my life and in The Beatles’ lives were so inextricably linked.
DAVID GEDGE: It must have sounded completely way-out when it first came out, all that orchestration…it’s all about alienation and stuff, and about the media. If you said “Right. I’m going to sit down and write a song based on newspaper articles,” it would sound pretty naff, but it’s done in such a clever way that it works really well.
BRETT SPARKS: The pinnacle of the mult-episodic Lennon/McCartney song form. Unreal production. This starts out as a simple ballad. The lyric tells a straight forward story which gradually gets weirder, oh boy. And when the opening melody recaps, it has a totally new meaning on account of its magnificent new context. Those two huge, atonal string crescendos are like big Penderecki clusters. They dramatically delineate the movements of this little symphony. The first time I heard it, I was in high school driving around in my Camaro looking for a parking space. After the song ended, I rewound the cassette and listened to it again.
IAN MacDONALD: “A Day In The Life” is epochal: a sad anthem of alienation and transcendence, reflecting on consumer materialism and the lifelessness that goes with it. I once heard it in a supermarket, which was a bit near the knuckle. Had to get out for some air. That’s powerful, subversive art.
GARY MOORE: I remember going to the youth club when Sgt Pepper came out. There was a record player in the corner, and everyone had been waiting to hear the album. That track completely blew me away. There’s an ominous thing going on all the way through, a feeling that something’s going to happen. You’re just anticipating this big explosion and, of course, it all happens at the end. I love the lyrics. They were from newspaper articles. Everybody thought they were really trippy, acid lyrics, but they were just taking their sources from everyday things. Not that they weren’t taking drugs.
FRANK ALLEN: For me this had everything. The best of McCartney. The best of Lennon. All mixed into one extravaganza of surreality, going through various tempos and moods and ending with the most stunning crescendo of noise ever heard in a pop song.
TOM McRAE: The ambition, the middle eight, the opening line- surely the most poignant, world-weary beginning to any song ever.
JAMES WALSH: It’s the song which shows the two differing personalities of Lennon and McCartney best. The dark, yet humorous lyrics of the first part of the song are among Lennon’s finest, and the fact that Blackburn, Lancashire, is mentioned in the song adds to its appeal because it is local to me.
LOUIS ELIOT: It’s just a really beautiful song, but it’s about how insignificant each of our lives are in the scheme of things…as unimportant as a little grain of sand getting blown across a beach. On acid you sometimes get that feeling. That loss of ego can be humbling and even frightening, but this is when you lie back and go with the flow and enjoy the meaninglessness of existence. The song is quite black, but it’s life affirming, humbling, quite warm at the same time.
SIMON FOWLER: It was one of the first tracks that really, really got to me. It just allows you to stop thinking- and feel. My older brother and I used to pretend to be The Beatles. The stupid thing was that he was George and I was Ringo. I knew that was easily the best gang in the world, and then, of course, you get the music as well. When I was about 16, I realised just why they were so highly thought of. They were almost impossibly brilliant.
CLIFF JONES: It’s as good a concept as rock ever got, over the space of three and a half, four minutes. Honestly, I was in that room with McCartney when he got up, combed his hair. I imagined him going downstairs in this mews house in London, having a smoke on the bus…everything from upbeat poppiness, scene-setting, its surreal stream of consciousness, that Lennon “I’d love to turn you on”. It’s super-sexy. The climbing strings at the end just leave me breathless and blown away and in tears.
RICH ROBINSON: It’s so beautiful. When I was 12, I put that on, and I just thought, “Holy Shit, what is this?” What I like about it now as a musician is how brilliantly the two songs are put together and come together at the close. It’s literally mind blowing.
ANDY BELL: A fantastic song, brought to life by musicians who were totally tuned into each other. When I hear it, I feel like I’m seeing right into their world. It’s pure Beatles magic, conjuring up mid-Sixties hipster London and John Lennon’s detached view of it.