Why can’t there be a simple answer to the question ‘How many number ones do The Beatles have?’ There are, surprisingly, many answers. One is that the official UK Singles chart wasn’t established until February of 1969, at which point John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr were on their collective last legs as a functional working unit. That said, they still managed to sneak in two chart-toppers before calling it a day. Another is that the band favoured double A-sides throughout the second half of their career, which did wonders to satiate egos but confounded the hell out of chart bean counters.
To remedy these discrepancies, when the surviving band members plus producer extraordinaire George Martin put together the 1 compilation, only songs that went to number one on the Record Retailer chart or the Billboard Hot 100 were included. This meant that three songs that otherwise would have been included, ‘Please Please Me’, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, and ‘For You Blue’, were omitted, the two former having missed the top spot on the Record Retailer chart and the latter because Capitol Records considered ‘For You Blue’ a B-side to ‘The Long and Winding Road’ as opposed to a double A-side.
We here at Far Out are a little more forgiving. We’re going to tally up every single song from the Fab Four that ever hit number one on any chart in either the US or the UK. That puts the grand total of number one Beatles songs at 32.
Here they are, in order.
A definitive list of every number one single by The Beatles:
1. ‘Please Please Me’
Legend has it that, upon the completion of the title track to their debut, George Martin congratulated the band on obtaining their first number one single.
It turns out, like a lot of things Martin did and said, that he was mostly right: Melody Maker, NME, and Disc charts all proclaimed it as such, but the Record Retailer charts, which is considered the official precursor to the UK Singles Chart, held it behind Frank Ifield’s ‘Wayward Winds’, of all songs.
2. ‘From Me to You’
The first “official” Beatles chart-topper, ‘From Me to You’ is actually fairly nondescript as far as Beatles number ones go.
It’s a fantastically catchy tune, one performed with the band’s singularly spirited energy, but it’s the band’s shortest number one and the one most indebted to their skiffle roots. Still, if this is the bottom of the barrel, it just goes to show how fantastically deep and rich their barrel is.
3. ‘She Loves You’
Perhaps the most endearing of all The Beatles early hits, ‘She Loves You’ has a ferociously manic energy that no other band was providing in 1963. Frantic and jubilant, ‘She Loves You’ condenses everything exciting, game-changing, and singular about the Fab Four in one two-minute masterpiece.
The falsetto squeals, the galloping drums, the sing-shout choruses: it’s all there. The band would occasionally reference the song deep into their experimental second half, and even for a band with more memorable hooks than any other, ‘She Loves You’ is a once-in-a-lifetime gift from the pop music gods.
4. ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’
February 1964. New York City. A group of four Brits in their early twenties are preparing to perform on American television for the first time. Around the country, 73 million Americans are watching. Although they had broken through in their home country the year before, it took the release of an innocuous teen love song to propel them to heights that no act had reached before.
‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ represents the dam breaking: soon Beatlemania would be completely inescapable, and the public demand for John, Paul, George, and Ringo would be insatiable.
5. ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’
The Beatles had a number of influences: Motown soul, traditional pop, old school music hall. But nothing could trump the towering influence of early rock and roll. Channelling his best Little Richard squeal, Paul McCartney keeps the twelve-bar blues structure in place and layers on top an anti-consumerist ode to true infatuation on ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’.
As far as the band’s best songs go, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ might not measure up to their impossible highs, but as a nod to the music that shaped them, it’s powerful as a light pop song can be.
6. ‘Love Me Do’
It took a while for the world to come around to The Beatles first single, the effortlessly simple ‘Love Me Do’. Originally released in the UK at the tail end of 1962, this harmonica-driven track only reached number one in the US when it got caught up in the heights of Beatlemania in 1964.
The song is also notable for being the band’s only number one not to feature Ringo Starr on drums: George Martin relegated him to tambourine while session musician Andy White played the beat commonly heard on the single version.
7. ‘A Hard Day’s Night’
The Beatles certainly knew how to make an entrance. With just a single chord, the exact composition of which is still in dispute, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ welcomes you into the Fab Four’s distinctive world, one filled with screaming girls, Rickenbacker guitars, bowl haircuts, and endless possibilities.
Even in a song about being dog tired, the band can’t help but fill the proceedings with an excitable energy that never felt manufactured or stale. It was fantasy and reality moulded into one: a brand new land ready for the taking.
8. ‘Twist and Shout’
A tricky one, this is. Missing out on the Billboard Hot 100, ‘Twist and Shout’ only topped the Cash Box chart for a brief spell in early 1964. That might not be good enough to put it on the 1 album, but it’s good enough for us.
Talking about The Beatles early years would feel incomplete without ‘Twist and Shout’, the rip-roaring, throat-shredding capper to Please Please Me, the most efficient 13 hours of recording ever made.
9. ‘I Feel Fine’
It still hits like a breath of fresh air: one fuzzy muffled note, followed by a loud buzz that rattles your eardrums and kicks open the door to your mind.
Feedback was considered an obtrusive nuisance, something that would cause entire songs to be redone if it appeared on a track. But where others would find mistakes, The Beatles found inspiration. It might seem slight, but the feedback on ‘I Feel Fine’ represents the group beginning to use the studio as an instrument, expanding their sonic horizons through new and exciting experimentation.
10. ‘Eight Days A Week’
The Beatles were rolling as 1965 became their busiest year yet as a band. Constant touring, an incredible demand for their music, and a strict recording contract meant the band were cranking out tunes at the rate of at least two albums a year.
‘Eight Days A Week‘ is the band at their most effortless, finding the group simply riding their own wave of catchy earworms and head over heels love to the latest inevitable number one single.
11. ‘Ticket to Ride’
Riff-rock was The Beatles bread and butter during their mop-top years, with an endless supply of top-shelf guitar licks courtesy of Harrison, Lennon, and occasionally McCartney. Lennon’s assertion that ‘Ticket to Ride’ invented heavy metal is absurd, if only because ‘Ticket to Ride’ invented a different genre: power pop.
In time, a number of bands would show off the influence that ‘Ticket to Ride’ imprinted on young, impressionable minds hooked into the song’s pitch-perfect harmonies and jangly melodicism.
It stands to reason that no matter how great your job is, eventually you’ll need a break. John Lennon, the unflappable, witty co-leader of the group, was starting feel the strain around the time of their second film. ‘Help!’ is the result of an artist willing to share their innermost turmoil on a public stage.
McCartney’s countermelody is the perfect balance to Lennon’s vulnerable cries, and the song has enough propulsive energy to give it fascinating polarity of pep and profundity.
Ballads were always part of The Beatles experience, but usually they were love songs, like ‘And I Love Her’ or ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret’. ‘Yesterday’ was something else: mournful, confused, and focusing on the darker side of love and infatuation.
McCartney agonised over the song’s originality, but only because he knew he had an absolute classic on his hands. ‘Yesterday’ represents the group’s first steps away from teenage Beatlemania and the first steps towards maturity.
14. ‘Nowhere Man’
‘Nowhere Man’ is canonically an album cut in the Mop Tops’ reshaped and reshuffled history. Only released as a single in the US and Canada, the song came up just short on the more reputable charts, but did reach number one on the Record World 100 Top Pops chart. Technicality? Sure.
Worth mentioning because ‘Nowhere Man’ contains so much sunny psychedelic joy that nevertheless found the band leaning away from their over-reliance on love songs? Absolutely.
15. ‘Day Tripper’
A cheeky nod to the band’s increasingly illicit mindset, ‘Day Tripper’ finds Lennon and McCartney trading vocal lines with ferocious intensity and spirited mischievousness. If you knew, you knew. But if you didn’t, the band didn’t leave you on the outside looking in, still providing yet another killer riff and a catchy chorus to bring in even the most ignorant of all listeners.
You didn’t have to be tripping yourself, but the band made it clear that it would no longer hurt.
16. ‘We Can Work It Out’
As the preferred A-side of the first double A-side the band ever released, ‘We Can Work It Out’ established an unfair misconception that McCartney provided the lighter, less challenging material contrasting Lennon’s harder-hitting, more experimental work.
‘We Can Work It Out’ actually plays into this dichotomy: McCartney’s pleas for reconciliation in the verses are contrasted with Lennon’s impatience during the middle eight. What’s revealed is how two top-tier songwriters with occasionally opposing views balanced each other out and complemented one another in brilliant ways.
17. ‘Paperback Writer’
Never before did The Beatles allow themselves to sound so raw. Their prior reputation as a pop group, and McCartney’s own reputation for silly love songs, would be challenged by the sprawling, snarling, erudite rocker ‘Paperback Writer’.
The greatest asset of the Fab Four in their early days was their infectious energy, and ‘Paperback Writer’ cranks that energy all the way up to its absolute zenith. As the lovely opening harmonies start to fade, the jagged riff and busy bass line take hold, taking you on a playful, spritely, and engrossing trip into the technicolour world that The Beatles were beginning to embrace.
18. ‘Yellow Submarine’
A staggeringly experimental left turn, Revolver showcased The Beatles in full transition mode away from simplistic pop and into brand new sonic worlds. To take that trip, though, the public at large would require a gentle introduction rather than a headfirst dive into Indian music, soul, and psychedelia.
‘Yellow Submarine’, a children’s singalong featuring Ringo’s solo lead vocal on a number one single, was just the song to shepherd listeners into the strange, sublime world of Revolver.
19. ‘Eleanor Rigby’
Always looking to challenge the conventions of what a rock band or pop group could do, the Fab Four pulled an ambition play on ‘Eleanor Rigby‘: a Beatles record with no Beatles. Instrumentally, anyway.
The string quartet the drives the song shows the foursome charting a brave new course for the future, one where the very foundations of a traditional band weren’t going to get in the way of a great piece of music.
20. ‘Penny Lane’
It was in The Beatles best interest to be competitive. Every time either McCartney or Lennon brought in a groundbreaking tune, the other had to try and one up him. So when Lennon showed the band an ambitiously-structured ode to his Liverpool upbringing, McCartney countered with one of his own: the whimsical baroque-indebted ‘Penny Lane’.
With frequent key changes and a cast of offbeat characters hanging around the titular street, ‘Penny Lane’ proved that McCartney was no slouch when it came to pairing innovation with pure pop delights.
21. ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’
The Beatles could not have been on a hotter streak in the lead up to ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. With twenty chart-toppers prior to its release, and with expectations high once the band announced they were ceasing their relentless tour schedule, the entire music world were clamouring for the band’s next move.
Funny, then, that the song mostly stalled out a number two, only reaching the number one spot on the Melody Maker chart. Why the public at large gravitated towards Engelbert Humperdinck’s ‘Release Me’ over this fantastically wistful slice of nostalgic psychedelia is a question lost to time.
22. ‘All You Need Is Love’
As hippie-dippie as The Beatles ever got, the simplicity of ‘All You Need Is Love’ can all too easily be viewed with a sceptical eye. And while the song can occasionally lapse into naive preaching, the earnest directness of ‘All You Need Is Love’ has the power to convert even the most pessimistic of listeners.
Highlighted by a busy string and brass sections, ‘All You Need Is Love‘ soars when its gentle sentiments are paired with an increasingly chaotic arrangement, specifically in the coda that gives a callback to one of the band’s first number ones: ‘She Loves You’.
23. ‘Hello, Goodbye’
Certainly the lightest of all The Beatles number ones, ‘Hello, Goodbye’ is everything that detractors hate about Paul McCartney: light, fluffy nonsense that has the ability to irritate as much as it does to please.
If you’re not on board with a little saccharine soft rock, I can understand, but I always saw the song as proof of McCartney’s gift to conjure magical melodies from even the most menial of inspirations.
24. ‘Lady Madonna’
A rollicking juke joint stomper, ‘Lady Madonna’ found McCartney synthesizing all his music hall proclivities and boogie-woogie influences into a barnburner of a chart-topper.
The rough-edged guitar licks and horn lines contrast the sweetly childish backing vocals that bray like the petulant children causing this woman so much grief. Incessantly catchy, ‘Lady Madonna’ plays like a throwaway lark, but make no mistake: larks by The Beatles are still top-shelf entertainment.
25. ‘Hey Jude’
The Beatles singalong to end all Beatles singalongs, ‘Hey Jude’ couldn’t possibly be more tailor-made for gigantic stadiums reverberating endless lines of “na na na”. A little indulgent at seven minutes long? Maybe, but how glorious it is to hear Paul McCartney mine fresh gold with each new repetition of the coda.
Heartwarming, explosive, and goosebump-inducing, ‘Hey Jude’ very well be the one Beatles song every human being in the world knows, and for good reason. It stayed at number one for a then-record nine weeks in the US, making it The Beatles most successful single.
26. ‘Get Back’
With a concept that involved simplifying their working methods and returning to their earlier rock and roll roots, the Get Back was all about making things as uncomplicated as possible. That… didn’t work.
The band was well past the days of group unity, and although they could still work together to make classics, the fissures were starting to become irreparable. ‘Get Back’ is a rollicking good time rocker, the peak of their “back to basics” concept.
27. ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’
When inspiration hits, you have to strike while the iron is hot. After having returned from his peace-centred honeymoon activities, Lennon was eager to get his roundup of the events put on tape. The only problem: Harrison and Starr were indisposed.
As a result, ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ is one of the last major hits that showed off the peerless dynamic between Lennon and McCartney, as they sang, wrote, and recorded the song with only each other, illustrating one last show of solidarity before falling apart.
Throughout his tenure, George Harrison never quite got the respect he deserved. Eternally the younger brother, Harrison would be patronised by McCartney and ignored by Lennon, even as his songwriting took a formidable place among the legendary Lennon/McCartney songbook.
‘Something’, however, was just too good to ignore. The most wholesome and romantic love song the band ever had, ‘Something’ is infatuation personified. Abbey Road only had two Harrison cuts, but they turned out to be two of the greatest, and most popular, Beatles songs of all time. Harrison had a bright future ahead of him.
29. ‘Come Together’
McCartney had a reputation for nonsense, but John Lennon was the true master of ridiculous gibberish. ‘I Am the Walrus’ was vetoed as an A-side due to its challengingly genius amount of gobbledygook, so Lennon paired it down to a concise rocker the next time he wanted to let loose with some blithe hogwash.
Sure, ‘Come Together’ has a powerful political message about unity and freedom, and its backing track is the smoothest bit of soul ever made by four pasty white Brits, but it’s also completely silly in its presentation of said message. Which makes it incredibly fun to enjoy over and over.
30. ‘Let It Be’
You know the story: Paul McCartney, feeling low in the throws of The Beatles imminent break-up, has a dream where his mother Mary visits him and gives him a simple piece of advice: let it be. A phrase that contains multitudes, ‘Let It Be’, both the song and the phrase, are elegant in their defiance of complexity or complication.
Instead, we are treated to McCartney at his most vulnerable and optimistic, open to the trials, tribulations and opportunities that will come even when the world around him is crumbling.
31. ‘The Long and Winding Road’
A wonderfully constructed emotional piano ballad, ‘The Long and Winding Road’ is perhaps best remembered for the unsubtle orchestrations producer Phil Spector added without Paul McCartney’s explicit permission. His reaction, one of pointed displeasure, is understandable, but I’m not sure he’s entirely right.
A song as dramatic as ‘The Long and Winding Road’ isn’t exactly primed for understated accompaniment, and the over-the-top additions give a nice Old Hollywood touch to what would be the band’s final chart-topper, sending them off in grand fashion.
32. ‘For You Blue’
A strange final note to go out on, ‘For You Blue’ rose to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 as a double A-side to ‘The Long and Winding Road’, despite Capitol Records insisting it was a B-side.
Not exactly Harrison’s best tune, the blues pastiche is still a highly enjoyable slice of honky-tonk fun, speaking truth to power that The Beatles could take any recognisable form or genre and make it sound completely singular to themselves.