It’s simply impossible to put into words just how important the figure of The Beatles is within popular music. Largely cited as one of the forefathers of modern music, their structures, sensibility and sound provided the blueprint for many pop acts to follow. Much of their greatness can be found in their larger canon of work. The strength of records The Beatles put out across their comparatively short time together is truly impressive and is rightly revered by all those in the know. To put it rather too directly, you won’t find many serious musicians who discredit the impact the Fab Four had on music as a whole.
Like any artistic outlay, there is always a degree of appreciation attributed to it. Meaning, though the band’s 13 albums make-up one of the more robust discographies in modern times, some duds are still within the catalogue. Equally, within the album’s themselves, there are more than one or two missteps. However, as we’ve all had enough misery for a while, and lockdown is encouraging us to look on the brighter side of life, we thought we’d look at the greatest moments of those albums and pick out our favourite song from each of The Beatles’ incredible LPs.
The Beatles’ career can be pretty neatly split in two. Their ‘boyband’ years, where John Lennon and Paul McCartney furiously wrote song after song “eyeball to eyeball”, providing the pop charts with the kind of foot-stomping “potboilers” that would see Beatlemania sweep the entire globe. But, soon enough, hitting the top of the charts with their singles became only a necessary evil. Instead, the band turned their attention away from the singles and instead focused on making albums — larger bodies of work, within which they could enact their artistic vision more resolutely.
It means that while the band’s single releases may still be some of the most comprehensive singles ever released by one band, it doesn’t always mean they’re the best songs they produced. As such, we’re taking a look back through the band’s 13 studio albums and picking out our favourite songs from each of them. Knowing the high calibre of the content we have to work with ensures that the difficulty in creating this list doesn’t go unnoticed.
As with any list including The Beatles, chances are we won’t please everybody. The band are now so ubiquitous with music as a whole that almost everybody has an opinion on their best songs. We’d be glad to see those suggestions in the comments below.
The best song from every Beatles album:
‘I Saw Her Standing There’ – Please, Please Me (1963)
A Cavern Club classic, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ is arguably one of The Beatles breakthrough tunes. It set girls hearts alight and made the Fab Four the talk of every town. Macca’s count-in may be famous but it was the stinking riff that followed which told every music fan around, this was no boyband. In 2007, Macca recalled the song’s creation: “Those early days were really cool, just sussing each other out, and realising that we were good,” he said. “You just realise from what he was feeding back. Often it was your song or his song, it didn’t always just start from nothing. Someone would always have a little germ of an idea.”
The duo would then sit across from one another and try to write a song, “So I’d start off with [singing] ‘She was just 17, she’d never been a beauty queen’ and he’d be like, ‘Oh no, that’s useless’ and ‘You’re right, that’s bad, we’ve got to change that.’ Then changing it into a really cool line: ‘You know what I mean.’ ‘Yeah, that works.’”
‘It Won’t Be Long’ – With The Beatles (1963)
The 1963 album With The Beatles is one album that many fans could put on and not really care where the needle dropped. Without so much as a second glance, we could probably pick out three or four different songs from the record that could rival one another for the title of “the best”. But for our money, you can’t go too wrong with the album’s opener ‘It Won’t Be Long’.
Written by John Lennon as an attempt at another chart-topping single, he never connected with the track beyond that. But in 1980, he did reveal how this song sparked the band’s intellectual appeal. “That was the one where the guy in the ‘London Times’ wrote about the ‘Aeolian cadences of the chords’ which started the whole intellectual bit about the Beatles.”
‘A Hard Day’s Night’ – A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
“Sometimes maybe he (John) will write a whole song himself, or I will, but we always say that we’ve both written it,” said McCartney of their songwriting sessions. “Sometimes the lyric does come first, sometimes the tune — sometimes both together. Sometimes he’ll do one line, sometimes I’ll do one line. It’s very varied.” In regards to one of The Beatles’ most famous songs and the titular track of their 1964 record, A Hard Day’s Night, Ringo Starr was the spark of creativity.
“We went to do a job, and we’d worked all day and we happened to work all night,” recalled Ringo in 1964. “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 was a Ringo-ism that had the band rolling around in stitches.
It provided the perfect jumping-off point for McCartney and Lennon to work their magic and boy did they. They created one of pop music’s lasting anthems, one that still shines brightly to this day.
‘No Reply’ – Beatles for Sale (1964)
This album is often regarded as The Beatles kind of phoning it in. Not quite jam-packed with hits like their previous pop incarnations and not well-thought-out and crafted as their later work. Yet, within Beatles for Sale, there are still many gems. While ‘I’m A Loser’ is also brilliant, the best song on the record is the album opener ‘No Reply’.
John Lennon considered this song the first “real” song he ever wrote, meaning it was the first time he looked inward for inspiration. “That’s my song,” he told David Sheff in 1980. “That’s the one where Dick James the publisher said, ‘That’s the first complete song you’ve written that resolves itself,’ you know, with a complete story. It was sort of my version of ‘Silhouettes.’ (sings) ‘Silhouettes, silhouettes, silhouettes…’ I had that image of walking down the street and seeing her silhouetted in the window and not answering the phone, although I never called a girl on the phone in my life. Because phones weren’t part of the English child’s life.”
The track is rich and textured and highlights that, although the Fab Four may not yet have been in their groove, great things were about to unfold.
‘Help!’ – Help! (1965)
“We think it’s one of the best we’ve written,” said John Lennon in 1965 as he contemplated on the band’s recent single, a commissioned track for their new film Help!, taking notes from the film’s title. But behind all the fast games, quick cash and unstoppable fandom, John Lennon was already beginning to long for a time before The Beatles ever happened and took over his life. He was crying out for help. On this track, he goes into his “fat Elvis period” and yet still manages to create one of the band’s most cherished songs—and one of Lennon’s favourites.
The singer and guitarist replied to a Rolling Stone question about why he loved the song so much saying, “Because I meant it, it’s real. The lyric is as good now as it was then, it’s no different, you know. It makes me feel secure to know that I was that sensible or whatever- well, not sensible, but aware of myself. That’s with no acid, no nothing… well pot or whatever.” Lennon clarifies his point, “It was just me singing ‘help’ and I meant it, you know. I don’t like the recording that much, the song I like. We did it too fast to try and be commercial.”
It’s a notion that Lennon later expanded on during his now-iconic interview with David Sheff of Playboy in 1980. “The whole Beatle thing was just beyond comprehension,” recalls Lennon as flashes of the mobs of fans and press flash across his brain, “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.” It was a moment when Lennon’s old personality, his old way of being, was beginning to lose out to the pop star the band had created. So he did whatever he could to expel those demons and put it down in a song. It was the moment the icon John Lennon was born.
‘Norwegian Wood’ – Rubber Soul (1965)
The Rubber Soul track is often considered Lennon’s first real acid-rock tune but the truth is a little way off. Instead, this track is the first time he establishes that sound as part of his own musical vocabulary. Of course, he needed help for the sitar part of the song, luckily he had Harrison on hand. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1971, John Lennon explained why it was decided to use the sitar on this song. He recalled: “I think it was at the studio. George had just got the sitar and I said ‘Could you play this piece?’ We went through many different sort of versions of the song, it was never right and I was getting very angry about it, it wasn’t coming out like I said. They said, ‘Well, just do it how you want to do it’ and I said, ‘Well I just want to do it like this.’”
Adding: “He was not sure whether he could play it yet because he hadn’t done much on the sitar but he was willing to have a go, as is his wont, and he learned the bit and dubbed it on after. I think we did it in sections.” But the real story behind the song is one a little more scandalous. He disclosed: “I was trying to write about an affair without letting my wife know I was having one. I was sort of writing from my experiences – girl’s flats, things like that. I was very careful and paranoid because I didn’t want my wife, Cyn, to know that there really was something going on outside of the household.”
Lennon then honestly stated: “I’d always had some kind of affairs going on, so I was trying to be sophisticated in writing about an affair, but in such a smoke-screen way that you couldn’t tell. But I can’t remember any specific woman it had to do with.”
‘Here There and Everywhere’ – Revolver (1966)
The Revolver album may have been their LSD LP, but this anthem, ‘Here There and Everywhere’ is a song that has ubiquitous appeal even for the cantankerous John Lennon, who said of the song: “This was a great one of his,” before adding: “That’s Paul’s song completely, I believe. And one of my favourite songs of the Beatles.”
McCartney himself later remarked that it “was the only song that John ever complimented me on.” And he deserved the compliment too. Inspired by ‘God Only Knows’, McCartney’s favourite song of all time, the song is achingly beautiful. “It’s actually just the introduction that’s influenced. John and I used to be interested in what the old fashioned writers used to call the verse, which we nowadays would call the intro – this whole preamble to a song, and I wanted to have one of those on the front of ‘Here, There and Everywhere.’ John and I were quite into those from the old-fashioned songs that used to have them, and in putting that [sings ‘To lead a better life’] on the front of ‘Here, There and Everywhere,’ we were doing harmonies, and the inspiration for that was the Beach Boys.”
Adding: “We had that in our minds during the introduction to ‘Here, There and Everywhere.’ I don’t think anyone, unless I told them, would even notice, but we’d often do that, get something off an artist or artists that you really liked and have them in your mind while you were recording things, to give you the inspiration and give you the direction – nearly always, it ended up sounding more like us than them anyway.”
‘A Day in the Life – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
We were blessed with options when considering the best song from Sgt. Pepper. Largely considered one of the greatest albums ever made, the LP did provide one difficult task, however; how do you pick a single song form a concept album? Well, you pick the song that contains it’s own story, in this case, you pick ‘A Day in the Life’.
One of the band’s most widely adored songs, it not only features a complete and complex narrative but also sees both Lennon and McCartney hitting their stride. The band took most of their inspiration for the track from the newspapers. It may sound flippant to create work this way. To go to the papers find some stories and, in essence, read them back to you in rhyme over the music. However, Lennon is instead trying to tell us something with this process. He is not only trying to attach himself to us as the audience, as being just like us. But also for us to engage with the world as he is. To not let stories or actions pass us through inactivity. It’s a sensational piece of writing that continues to impress us even today.
As the verse ends and returns us back to our “musical orgasm” via the 40 piece orchestra there is one last nugget of genius left to find. The climbing notes of the orchestra were meant to finish with John, Paul, George, and Ringo providing a “cosmic hum” in E-major. The band though thought this to be a little bit flimsy so instead, John, Paul, George Martin and the best roadie the world has ever known, Mal Evans sat at their respective keys and brought an end to one of the best songs ever written on one of the best albums ever produced.
‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ – Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
Featuring on the band’s 1967 album Magical Mystery Tour, Lennon drew on his life in Liverpool to add a certain sentimentality to this otherwise trippy number, “Strawberry Fields is a real place. After I stopped living at Penny Lane, I moved in with my auntie who lived in the suburbs in a nice semi-detached place with a small garden and doctors and lawyers and that ilk living around… not the poor slummy kind of image that was projected in all the Beatles stories.”
For Lennon the time spent around those houses and fields, losing marbles and having fun was all the symbolism he ever really cared for: “We always had fun at Strawberry Fields. So that’s where I got the name. But I used it as an image. Strawberry Fields forever.”
While ‘Penny Lane’ is a similar song in tone and sentiment, Lennon takes this track into a brand new realm and rather than reminiscing about his home as an unattainable place, Lennon pictures it as his own personal heaven, his safe place.
‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ – The White Album (1968)
“The Eastern concept is that whatever happens is all meant to be,” Harrison once commented if this classic Beatles number. “Every little item that’s going down has a purpose. ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ was a simple study based on that theory… I picked up a book at random, opened it, saw ‘gently weeps’, then laid the book down again and started the song.” The track would end up on the band’s ‘rocker album’ and provide all who doubted Harrison as a songwriter with a seriously crimson face.
One set of naysayers was, in fact, his band. Instead of looking to the help of his bandmates Paul McCartney and John Lennon to finish the track, Harrison instead turned to Eric Clapton once more. “Nobody ever plays on the Beatles’ records,” Clapton is thought to have said to Harrison with a moment of trepidation. “So what?” Harrison replied. “It’s my song.”
In a 1987 interview with Guitar Player Magazine, Harrison was asked whether it had bruised his ego to ask Clapton to play on the song. “No, my ego would rather have Eric play on it. I’ll tell you, I worked on that song with John, Paul, and Ringo one day, and they were not interested in it at all,” he said. “And I knew inside of me that it was a nice song.”
Harrison added: “The next day I was with Eric, and I was going into the session, and I said, ‘We’re going to do this song. Come on and play on it’. He said, ‘Oh, no. I can’t do that. Nobody ever plays on the Beatles records’. I said, ‘Look, it’s my song, and I want you to play on it’. So Eric came in, and the other guys were as good as gold because he was there. It left me free to just play the rhythm and do the vocal.”
‘All You Need Is Love’ – Yellow Submarine (1968)
If there’s one thing we should all be concerned about leaving behind in our ‘legacy’ is that the world needs a little more love. Always. It’s one that Lennon could be proud of as his song, ‘All You Need Is Love’ continues to work as an anthemic call for peace, kindness and understanding. Written as the starring piece of the Magical Mystery Tour, Lennon saw it as a continuation of the sentiments he had set out on earlier track ‘The Word’.
“I think if you get down to basics, whatever the problem is, it’s usually to do with love,” Lennon told Rolling Stone 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,” the singer continued. “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.”
‘Here Comes The Sun’ – Abbey Road (1969)
Arguably the most famous of George Harrison’s compositions, ‘Here Comes The Sun’ is one of the most beautiful songs The Beatles ever produced. Recorded as part of Abbey Road, the song is a transcendent moment for anyone who hears those first iconic notes.
The track was written alongside Eric Clapton during a difficult moment for Harrison: “‘Here Comes the Sun’ was written at the time when Apple was getting like school, where we had to go and be businessmen: ‘Sign this’ and ‘sign that.’ Anyway, it seems as if winter in England goes on forever, by the time spring comes you really deserve it. So one day I decided I was going to sag off Apple and I went over to Eric Clapton’s house. The relief of not having to go see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden with one of Eric’s acoustic guitars and wrote ‘Here Comes the Sun’.”
Not bad for a casual jaunt around the garden, to come up with one of the most widely adored songs of all time. We’ll bet that if you played his song at any cafe, restaurant or park, upon hearing Harrison’s first sunshining notes, you will see a sea of smiles.
Really, that’s what music is all about.
‘Let It Be’ – Let It Be (1970)
Possibly one of the most notorious song compositions of all time, Macca came up with the song after the image of his passed mother appeared to him in a dream and told him to ‘Let It Be’. “I had a lot of bad times in the ’60s,” recalled McCartney in 1986. “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.”
Perhaps because of this origin story or more likely because of the song’s choral undertones but there’s something definitively spiritual about this song. Speaking of the event in 1994, Macca continued: “It was great to see her because that’s a wonderful thing about dreams, you actually are reunited with that person for a second… In the dream she said, ‘It’ll be alright.’ I’m not sure if she used the words ‘Let it be’ but that was the gist of her advice, it was ‘Don’t worry too much, it will turn out okay.’ It was such a sweet dream I woke up thinking, ‘Oh, it was really great to visit with her again.’ I felt very blessed to have that dream.”
There’s no doubt it’s one of the most widely-known Beatles songs of all time and that can often have a dramatic effect on Fab Four purists picking it as their favourite. After all, there’s thousands of cover of the track. But we’d argue there’s a good reason for it — it’s one of The Beatles’ best.