The Beatles’ 50 best songs

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

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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.

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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.
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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.
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32 I’M ONLY SLEEPING
Revolver album track, August 1966

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXvVhUhTLis

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.

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