If anyone typified the ‘album age’ it was The Beatles. Throughout their career, they cherished the art form of the album more fervently than any other, doing away with performing live so that they could focus on their studio work. Equally, as part of their tribute to the hallowed ground of the LP, the band also largely refused to include any of their singles as album filler too. It means that the 22 singles the band released throughout their time at the top stand-alone as singular pieces of work.
It’s a refreshing outlook, especially looking back from the 21st century. Nowadays, the inclusion of the band or artist’s biggest hit single on their album is not only essential but required for any chance at a successful launch. Perhaps it was because of the band’s draw at the time or, more likely, because the pop music world was treated so differently then (the idea that you would pay to own the same song twice was perplexing one), but the facts remain that The Beatles, like albums, did singles better than most. Below, we’re putting their 22 singles in order from worst to best.
Ranking The Beatles singles is a particularly difficult task. The band are famed for having transitioned between style and genre throughout their career, often completely changing their sonic structure between records. It means that for every single Beatles fan, the list here will be slightly different, tweaked towards a preference and shaped by one’s own experience of hearing the Fab Four — but isn’t that the beauty of the band?
The Beatles, unlike most other rock acts, are so widely known, so ubiquitous in their dominance of pop music and so heavily ingrained into our collective consciousness, that everybody — devout fan or otherwise — can have a pretty good opinion on their favourite records from the Fab Four.
So, without further ado, let us commence the list and begin the bickering as we rank the 22 singles from The Beatles in order of greatness.
The Beatles singles ranked from worst to best:
22. ‘From Me to You’ (1963)
An early classic, ‘From Me To You’ didn’t quite have the panache of ‘Please, Please Me’. Instead, this somewhat languid pop potboiler — the kind Lennon and McCartney wrote in their sleep — lands a bit flat.
One thing that is certainly different from their early output, however, is Lennon’s vocal performance. Rather than hanging on McCartney’s ethereal and angelic voice, they turned to Lennon’s rasping vocal. It does give the song at least some edge.
21. ‘Love Me Do’ (1962)
We’d imagine that featuring the stonewall classic ‘Love Me Do’ so low on our list puts us at risk of angering a hoard of Fab Four fans but the truth of the matter is that this song is a bit wet.
The band were just beginning their journey and were more than happy to write pop hits for teenagers to spend their pennies on over a weekend, meaning this song was much like the rest of the chart at the time. For our money, The Beatles only really started to excel once they began experimenting. It also speaks highly of the quality in this list.
20. ‘Yellow Submarine’ (1966)
‘Yellow Submarine’ is one of the few singles to have actually featured on a released album. Taken from Revolver, the song is about as close to a pop nursery rhyme as is humanly possible and puts Ringo Starr in the driving seat.
Written by Paul McCartney, the bassist said: “It’s a happy place, that’s all. You know, it was just… We were trying to write a children’s song. That was the basic idea. And there’s nothing more to be read into it than there is in the lyrics of any children’s song.”
19. ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ (1964)
One of the few Beatles songs to please both the younger and older generation upon its release in 1964, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ was fizzing with energy in all the right places. Though it had the passion of rock ‘n’ roll at its heart, it was difficult not to hear the skiffle and jazz influences too.
“‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ is my attempt to write a bluesy mode,” remembered McCartney of the song in 1994. “The idea behind it was that all these material possessions are all very well but they won’t buy me what I really want.”
18. ‘Lady Madonna’ (1968)
Often seen as the moment The Beatles turned their attention to Elvis, with Ringo Starr proclaiming: “It sounds like Elvis, doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t sound like Elvis… it IS Elvis. Even those bits where he goes very high.” The song dealt with the difficulties facing women of the day.
“The original concept was the Virgin Mary, but it quickly became symbolic of every woman — the Madonna image but as applied to ordinary working-class women. ‘Lady Madonna’ was me sitting down at the piano trying to write a bluesy boogie-woogie thing. It reminded me of Fats Domino for some reason, so I started singing a Fats Domino impression. It took my voice to a very odd place.”
17. Hello, Goodbye (1967)
John Lennon was reportedly furious with ‘Hello, Goodbye’ being released as the single at this time, and he was never shy about throwing the track under the bus. There’s certainly enough Paul McCartney whimsy in this single to annoy the bespectacled Beatle but it’s a classic nevertheless.
“‘Hello Goodbye’ was one of my songs,” recalled McCartney in 1994. “There are Geminian influences here I think– the twins. It’s such a deep theme of the universe, duality — man woman, black white, high low, right wrong, up down, hello goodbye — that it was a very easy song to write. It’s just a song of duality, with me advocating the more positive. You say goodbye, I say hello. You say stop, I say go. I was advocating the more positive side of the duality, and I still do to this day.”
16. ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ (1969)
By 1969, it had become pretty clear to those in the know that The Beatles weren’t going to last much longer. A big chunk of that was because John Lennon had become distracted by a whole new world opened up to him by Yoko Ono.
Perhaps the clearest moment of this happening can be witnessed on ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ which the singer described as: “Well, guess who wrote that? I wrote that in Paris on our honeymoon. It’s a piece of journalism. It’s a folk song. That’s why I called it, ‘The Ballad Of…'”
15. ‘Please Please Me’ (1963)
Arguably the song that launched the group’s career, the song was a lot more robust than its predecessor ‘Love Me Do’ and while there was still certainly heavy influence from the likes of the Everly Brothers, the song was still a marked step toward artistic integrity.
One of the earliest numbers the group released, you can almost hear the excitement fo the recording as they begin to usher in a brand new sound for the kids of tomorrow. It’s a piece of work that will undoubtedly leave smiles on faces for decades more to come.
14. ‘All You Need Is Love’ (1967)
By 1967, The Beatles had found their rhythm and had welcomed their newly awarded title as a mouthpiece for a generation. While drugs and especially acid, were flooding the streets, the Fab Four were shouting loudly about the healing properties of love.
“I think if you get down to basics, whatever the problem is, it’s usually to do with love,” said Lennon when speaking in 1971. “So I think ‘All You Need is Love’ is a true statement. I’m not saying, ‘All you have to do is…’ because ‘All You Need’ came out in the Flower Power Generation time. It doesn’t mean that all you have to do is put on a phoney smile or wear a flower dress and it’s gonna be alright. Love is not just something that you stick on posters or stick on the back of your car, or on the back of your jacket or on a badge. I’m talking about real love, so I still believe that. Love is appreciation of other people and allowing them to be. Love is allowing somebody to be themselves and that’s what we do need.”
13. ‘I Feel Fine’ (1964)
If there is one song which acts as the natural bridge between their pop idol heartthrob days to their musical icon moments, then ‘I Feel Fine’ is as good as any. As a note to their upcoming experimentation, the song also includes the first guitar feedback ever recorded.
Lennon remembered the song’s composition in 1980: “That’s me completely. Including the guitar lick with the first feedback anywhere. I defy anybody to find a record… unless it is some old blues record from 1922… that uses feedback that way. So I claim it for the Beatles. Before Hendrix, before The Who, before anybody. The first feedback on record.”
12. ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ (1963)
There are some seriously good singles on this list, which should give you the indication as to why ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ is so low down on our list. Brimming with the brightness of pop’s gilded future, the song would top many other artist’s lists.
The track was written specifically for US audiences as sees Lennon and McCartney trying to tap into an unchartered market. Aiming squarely for the dances and the pocket-money weary teenagers who frequented them, the Fab Four were hitting their stride.
11. ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (1964)
There’s very little to dislike about The Beatles song ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. Built out of a ‘Ringo-ism’, the drummer recalled: “We went to do a job, and we’d worked all day and we happened to work all night. I came up still thinking it was day I suppose, and I said, ‘It’s been a hard day…’ and I looked around and saw it was dark so I said, ‘…night!’ So we came to ‘A Hard Day’s Night.'”
It’s an anthemic track to this day and can still guarantee a smile or two when the needle drops. Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to the song is that it has quickly become a part of our everyday lexicon. We’d bet if you told anyone you’d hard a hard day’s night, at the very least you’d get a nod. More likely a full-on “And I’ve been working like a dog!”
10. ‘Get Back’ (1969)
The Get Back sessions of 1969 nearly ended The Beatles prematurely. The band were trying to get back to basics when they began recording what would become Let It Be but it never quite materialised aside from this track. On this song, the Fab Four returned to their R&B rock ‘n’ roll ways, if only for a few minutes.
“The way we’re writing at the moment, it’s straightforward and there’s nothing weird,” recalled Lennon at the time. “Songs like ‘Get Back,’ things like that. We recorded that one on the Apple roof but I’m not sure if that’s the (single) that went out. We always record about ten versions. You get lost in the end.” This song ended up being a hint of what would never quite come to fruition.
9. ‘Let It Be’ (1970)
Another single from the time, it’s hard not to speak about ‘Let It Be’ without revisiting the song’s miraculous conception. “I had a lot of bad times in the ’60s. We used to lie in bed and wonder what was going on and feel quite paranoid. Probably all the drugs. I had a dream one night about my mother. She died when I was fourteen so I hadn’t really heard from her in quite a while, and it was very good. It gave me some strength.”
Though it may well have a saccharine sentiment and the song, in general, may be looked down upon by Beatles diehards, it is difficult not to note the song’s ubiquitous message.
8. ‘We Can Work It Out’/’Day Tripper’ (1965)
Double-A side single releases are something that The Beatles did very well. This one from 1965 must have landed with their fans like a ten-tonne weight, such was the cultural import of the songs. Though ‘Day Tripper’ focused on the fairweather counter-culture icons of the day, “Acid was coming on the scene, and we’d often do these songs about ‘the girl who thought she was it,” ‘We Can Work It Out’ was brimming with positivity.
“Paul did the first half, I did the middle-eight. But you’ve got Paul writing, ‘We can work it out/ We can work it out’ real optimistic, you know. And me, impatient, ‘Life is very short and there’s no time/ for fussing and fighting, my friend.'”
7. ‘She Loves You’ (1963)
It’s hard to deny the truly immeasurable impact this song had, not only on The Beatles, but pop music as a whole. The band used ‘She Loves You’ to incorporate a third person into their songs for the first time. No long resigned to ‘you and I’, the Fab Four had opened up a new avenue with a simple flick of their pen.
The somewhat sanitised vision of The Beatles prior to Ruber Soul is exemplified in this song. Though it is fraught with effervescent adolescence, the track is still sweeter than most candy. But if there’s one song which showcases just how The Beatles turned the entire globe into fans, then this is the one.
6. ‘Help!’ (1965)
Arguably one of John Lennon’s finest works, the song came before he met with Bob Dylan and began exploring his own self in his songs. Instead, this one came straight from the heart and offers up a delicious hidden meaning. While many people can see this as a simple love song, for Lennon looking back, the track was a real cry for help.
“The whole Beatle thing was just beyond comprehension. When ‘Help’ came out, I was actually crying out for help. Most people think it’s just a fast rock ‘n roll song. I didn’t realise it at the time; I just wrote the song because I was commissioned to write it for the movie. But later, I knew I really was crying out for help,” Lennon confirmed when speaking to David Sheff in 1980.
“I am singing about when I was so much younger and all the rest, looking back at how easy it was. Now I may be very positive… yes, yes… but I also go through deep depressions where I would like to jump out the window, you know. It becomes easier to deal with as I get older; I don’t know whether you learn control or, when you grow up, you calm down a little. Anyway, I was fat and depressed and I was crying out for help.”
5. ‘Something’/’Come Together’ (1969)
Another truly inspiring double-a side release came in 1969 with perhaps the heaviest hitting of the lot. Featuring ‘Something’ the track Frank Sinatra called “the greatest love song written in the last 50 years,” as well as John Lennon’s campaign track for Timothy Leary ‘Come Together’.
“‘Something’ was written on the piano while we were making the White Album,” recalled Harrison of his first Beatles single. “I had a break while Paul was doing some overdubbing so I went into an empty studio and began to write. That’s really all there is to it, except the middle took some time to sort out. It didn’t go on the White Album because we’d already finished all the tracks.”
‘Come Together’ was one song that Lennon had to fight quite fiercely to preserve: “‘Come Together’ changed at the session. We said, ‘Let’s slow it down. Let’s do this to it, let’s do that to it,’ and it ends up however it comes out. I just said, ‘Look, I’ve got no arrangement for you, but you know how I want it.’ I think that’s partly because we’ve played together a long time. So I said, ‘Give me something funky and set up a beat, maybe.’ And they all just joined in.”
4. ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’/’Penny Lane’ (1967)
Our highest-ranking double-A side is quite something. By 1967, The Beatles had gone truly global and their names were as well-known as the Queen’s. It meant their decision to look inward and revisit their hometown of Liverpool for inspiration was a unique one. While most artists would try to open up their audience with universal themes, The Beatles went into an introspective place fo their releases.
‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ is a gentle and glorious ditty that helps to focus on Lennon’s childhood. Capturing not only the pure beauty of childhood innocence that we all experience, it also saw Lennon describe his loneliness as a kid, owing much to his forthright intelligence and rebellious nature.
Meanwhile ‘Penny Lane’ a song from Paul McCartney, was a lot more closely aligned with Liverpool itself. Instead of focusing on McCartney’s childhood, it rather plays into the myriad of stories and people that have intersected it, namely through Penny Lane. It is a perfect diagram of the way the two writers worked.
3. ‘Ticket to Ride’ (1965)
Often seen as the “first heavy metal record” ever made — according to John Lennon at least — ‘Ticket To Ride’ is one of the few truly magnetic singles the band released. Though all of the aforementioned songs are appealing in their own way, this one sounded like nothing else on the radio when it landed.
There are elements of the track, as it begins to wind down, which sees the song flipped from pop ditty into chaotic madness. It may seem like nothing now but this was simply unprecedented 55 years ago.
“It’s a heavy record, and the drums are heavy too. That’s why I like it,” Lennon suggested in 1970, which he would echo once more a decade later to Playboy’s David Sheff in 1980: “That was one of the earliest heavy-metal records made. Paul’s contribution was the way Ringo played the drums.”
‘Ticket To Ride’ was later described as being ‘radical’ by Paul McCartney: “I think the interesting thing is the crazy ending instead of ending like the previous verse, we changed the tempo. We picked up one of the lines, ‘My baby don’t care,’ but completely altered the melody,” Macca said in 1994 before adding: “We almost invented the idea of a new bit of a song on the fade-out with this song… It was quite radical at the time.”
2. ‘Paperback Writer’ (1966)
One song which is credited to the Lennon-McCartney partnership was ‘Paperback Writer’. Lennon would later admit that bar a few words and some inspiration that the song was entirely McCartney’s idea. “I think I might have helped with some of the lyrics. Yes, I did. But it was mainly Paul’s tune,” Lennon told Hit Parade in 1972, later confirming with Playboy that “‘Paperback Writer’ is son of ‘Day Tripper’, but it is Paul’s song.”
While that is certainly true, we’d say a fair chunk of credit should also go to Macca’s Auntie Lil.
“The idea’s a bit different,” McCartney recalled. “Years ago, my Auntie Lil said to me, ‘Why do you always write songs about love all the time? Can’t you ever write about a horse or the summit conference or something interesting?’ So, I thought, ‘All right, Auntie Lil.’ And recently, we’ve not been writing all our songs about love.” One such song was ‘Paperback Writer’.
1. ‘Hey Jude’ (1968)
We needn’t tell you about the power of ‘Hey Jude’, all you need to do that is to listen to this song being sung at a festival or large gathering and hear 90% of people join in.
Lennon said of the song, owing to its huge appeal: “That’s his best song. It started off as a song about my son Julian because Paul was going to see him. Then he turned it into ‘Hey Jude’. I always thought it was about me and Yoko but he said it was about him and his.”
During his famous 1980 Playboy interview, Lennon also offered another theory to the song’s inception: “He said it was written about Julian. He knew I was splitting with Cyn and leaving Julian then. He was driving to see Julian to say hello. He had been like an uncle. And he came up with ‘Hey Jude.’ But I always heard it as a song to me.
“Now I’m sounding like one of those fans reading things into it… Think about it: Yoko had just come into the picture. He is saying. ‘Hey, Jude’—’Hey, John.’ Subconsciously, he was saying, ‘Go ahead, leave me.’ On a conscious level, he didn’t want me to go ahead. The angel in him was saying, ‘Bless you.’ The devil in him didn’t like it at all, because he didn’t want to lose his partner.”
The direct target of McCartney’s anthemic and downright astounding song is likely to be a combination of both of these sentiments. Whether it was for Julian as a moment of friendship, a hand on the shoulder of his friend’s son and a knowing, guiding smile to what life could be like. Or indeed whether it was a letter to John to try and connect with him as they had done before.
The truth is that the song, like any great song does, can be moved and repositioned to fit whatever the audience may need at the time. It is a song bristling with emotion, care, comfort, and love. It’s a song like no other. It’s a letter to a friend.