“I didn’t leave the Beatles. The Beatles have left the Beatles, but no one wants to be the one to say the party’s over.”— John Lennon.
John Lennon, alongside his Beatles bandmates, released 13 studio albums worldwide between 1962 and 1970 and established a musical legacy like no other. Some six decades after the Fab Four first got together, the world is still endlessly talking about John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr and the legacy they left behind. There’s a good reason for it, too, The Beatles are the foundational stones for pop music as we know it today.
From their debut LP Please Please Me right up until their final effort Let It Be, four friends from Liverpool would achieve monumental fame and success in an astoundingly short period of time. However, while the group enjoyed massive highs, they battled through their fair share of internal tension and touring mishaps along the way too. The truth is, the group were always tightly wound and on the brink of major destruction. The problems would send the band spiralling away from one another soon enough and, once that happened, the gloves came off.
During their meteoric rise to rock and roll fame, the band recorded more than 300 songs, and, predictably, not all of them hold the same weight as bonafide Beatles classics. In the years after the Beatles disbanded, John Lennon was often drawn into a conversation about the group and the inner workings of his and Paul McCartney’s relationship. It would see him enjoy both moments of self-reflection and opportunities to unleash his razor-sharp tongue.
Across a host of meetings and interviews, Lennon named several tracks that he was less fond of. Songs that didn’t breach the high watermark he and the Fab Four had set out.
Primarily written by Lennon himself, ‘Run for Your Life’ has been described as his least favourite Beatles track and has always garnered mixed reviews from critics due to the nature of the lyrics. “‘Run for Your Life’, I always hated, you know,” Lennon told Rolling Stone back in 1970. “I never liked ‘Run For Your Life’ because it was a song I just knocked off”.
Continuing to detail his issues with the song, Lennon added: “It was inspired from—this is a very vague connection—from Baby Let’s Play House. There was a line on it; I used to like specific lines from songs, ‘I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man’—so I wrote it around that, but I didn’t think it was that important”. It was the idea of Lennon writing songs for the sheer sake of it that permeates all his choices.
After having difficulty reconciling with McCartney’s overarching and, perhaps more accurately, overbearing concept for Sgt. Pepper’s, it’s no surprise that there are a few entries from the 1967 album as Lennon’s most disliked LP the band ever made. The main reason was that, at the time, McCartney was heavily pushing the artistic creativity onto the group and was, for all intents and purposes, the band’s leader. It is well recorded now that this factor was something Lennon, the original founder of the band, was none too keen on.
One of those songs, recorded on a four-track, was ‘Lovely Rita’. Written and performed by Paul McCartney, the song details the narrator’s affection for a traffic warden in what is a concept that Lennon thought was silly, at best. “I’m not interested in writing about people like that,” Lennon once said of the song that inspired Pink Floyd. “I like to write about me, because I know me.” It was far removed from Lennon’s classic songwriting style.
Next up is another Sgt. Pepper number, ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’. This iconic track, one of the first songs McCartney wrote when he was just 16, tells the tale of a young man planning to grow old with his lover. Given the slightly more traditional themes in the track (it was written for Frank Sinatra, after all), Lennon once again aimed a subtle dig at his bandmate by describing his writing as “granny music” and, when asked who wrote ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’, he replied: “Paul’s, completely. I would never dream of writing a song like that”.
However, it wasn’t only Macca’s work that Lennon wasn’t happy with on the record, and he was also happy to take shots at himself. His own song, ‘Good Morning Good Morning’, was inspired by a mixture of television commercials for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes breakfast cereal and the 1960s sitcom Meet the Wife. “It’s a throwaway, a piece of garbage, I always thought,” ever the critic, Lennon once said. “I always had the TV on very low in the background when I was writing, and it came over, and then I wrote the song.”
Another inclusion from Sgt. Pepper may stun the most avid of Beatles fans, however. A somewhat surprising addition to this list, ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ was written by Lennon after he was allegedly inspired by a song his son, Julian, sang at nursery. Despite the supposed sentimental value, Lennon didn’t remember the track fondly when he reminisced on his past material: “I heard ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ last night. It’s abysmal, you know?” Lennon said in 1980, though he clarifies it is the production of the track that he hates. “The track is just terrible. I mean, it is a great track, a great song, but it isn’t a great track because it wasn’t made right. You know what I mean?”
Perhaps one of the most beloved songs on Lennon’s most hated list is ‘Hello, Goodbye’. Written by McCartney, Lennon was said to have been particularly unhappy when it was decided that ‘Hello, Goodbye’ was chosen to be the A-side to the Beatles’ experimental song ‘I Am the Walrus‘. “It wasn’t a great piece,” Lennon said in a 1980 interview with Playboy. Detailing further, he said the song was “three minutes of contradictions and meaningless juxtapositions. The best bit was the end, which we all ad-libbed in the studio, where I played the piano.”
Featuring on the band’s final full-length studio record Abbey Road, ‘Mean Mr Mustard’ was also in Lennon’s crosshairs. Written during his time in India, Lennon once said that the track was inspired by a newspaper story about a miser who relentlessly attempted to hide his money hide to stop people trying to make him spend it.
Not happy with the end result, Lennon told David Sheff in his 1980 interview for Playboy that the track was “a bit of crap that I wrote in India” and described it as a “piece of garbage.” Continuing his rant, Lennon added: “I’d read somewhere in the newspaper about this mean guy who hid five-pound notes, not up his nose but somewhere else”.
Although Lennon would regard the record as The Beatles’ greatest record, The White Album doesn’t escape his wrath without at least one song being picked as his least favourite. ‘Birthday’ is the unlucky effort. Chosen as the opening track on the third side of The Beatles’ now-iconic LP, ‘Birthday‘ was an impromptu creation: “We thought, ‘Why not make something up?’ So we got a riff going and arranged it around this riff,” McCartney once said. “So that is 50–50 John and me, made up on the spot and recorded all in the same evening.”
For Lennon though, the feeling wasn’t mutual: “I think Paul wanted a song like ‘Happy Birthday Baby,’ the old ’50s hit,” he once said. “It was a piece of garbage.”
Lennon is again not afraid to poke holes in his own work as he picks the only track from The Beatles’ fifth album Help! as his own, ‘It’s Only Love’. “That’s the one song I really hate of mine. Terrible lyric,” he once said in an interview with Hit Parader Magazine. Lennon was heavily critical of the track whenever it came up in conversation and, when speaking to Sheff, he said: “I always thought it was a lousy song. The lyrics were abysmal. I always hated that song.” The singer was clearly never afraid to aim directly at himself.
10 songs by The Beatles that John Lennon hated:
- ‘Run for Your Life’
- ‘Lovely Rita’
- ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’
- ‘Good Morning Good Morning’
- ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’
- ‘Hello Goodbye’
- ‘Mean Mr. Mustard’
- ‘It’s Only Love’
- ‘Let It Be’
What is perhaps Lennon’s most hated song? Well, as you might expect, it’s Paul McCartney’s creation and sitting at the end of the above list. But what you might not expect is that it is quite possibly one of the band’s most famous pieces of all time. In what was The Beatles’ final single before McCartney announced his departure from the band, ‘Let It Be’ is arguably one of the band’s most famous songs.
While fans often speculated that the song was built around the tense relationships in the band, Lennon disputed it emphatically: “It has nothing to do with The Beatles,” he said in 1980. “It could’ve been Wings. I don’t know what [Paul was] thinking when he writes ‘Let It Be.'” It’s a serious statement that shows the fragile ending of the biggest band on the planet.
Stream a playlist of the songs, below.