The Beatles’ 50 best songs

Roll up! The Fab Four's greatest songs chosen by famous fans

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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.

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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.

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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.

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