With a band as big as The Beatles you almost need Professor Brian Cox at hand to explain that there was a time when they were, in fact, just starting out like every other act. When they performed for the first time at The Cavern Club in Liverpool on February 9th, 1961, George Harrison was almost turned away from the venue for wearing blue jeans.
It is quite remarkable that only three years later the band were appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, and as Paul McCartney recalls, a floor manager asked him if he was nervous and he said no, to which the manager replied: “You should be, there’s 73 million people watching.” Their rise to the top was meteoric and nothing symbolises this quite like their lives shows.
From Hamburg where the band found their sound, to playing in front of 55,000 fans at the Shea Stadium in Queens, New York, Setlist FM has compiled the data from all their known gigs to provide data on the songs that the Fab Four played the most. Unlike many acts of the era, the numbers are far more slight, not only because they eventually split but because they stopped playing live shows altogether after the 29th of August, 1966, following a disastrous final tour.
This withdrawal from the live stage in of itself renders the setlist data astonishing, owing to the glaring omissions of some of the biggest songs in history. It is, in fact, the band’s formative years that most occupy the list and as a result three of the songs the band played the most weren’t even written by them at all.
‘Twist and Shout’ is the track that occupies the top spot on the list, and it is one that they paradoxically hated playing live. As John Lennon declared in a 1963 interview: “I always hate singing the song, ‘Twist and Shout’ when there’s a coloured artist on the bill with us. It doesn’t seem right, you know. I feel sort of embarrassed… It makes me curl up. I always feel they could do the song much better than me.”
Behind that is yet another roots rock ‘n’ roll cover in the form of Little Richard’s ‘Long Tall Sally’. The rock ‘n’ roll numen was one of the band’s firm early heroes, as John Lennon recalled in the 1975 Anthology, “We used to stand backstage at Hamburg’s Star-Club and watch Little Richard play. Or he used to sit and talk. He used to read from the Bible backstage and just to hear him talk we’d sit round and listen. It was Brian Epstein that brought him to Hamburg. I still love him and he’s one of the greatest.”
The first track on the list from the band actually penned themselves is ‘She Loves You’ which they played live 210 times. The song remains the best-selling single in the United Kingdom as it paved the way into the future for all of pop culture to follow. The band composed the song immediately after a show at the Majestic Ballroom in Newcastle Upon Tyne, finished it off in the hotel, and played it at nearly every live show that followed.
You can check out the full list of the 25 tracks they played live the most below, with the number indicating the number of plays.
The songs that The Beatles played live the most:
- ‘Twist and Shout’ – 374
- ‘Long Tall Sally’ – 248
- ‘She Loves You’ – 210
- ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ – 203
- ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ – 198
- ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ – 180
- ‘From Me to You’ – 172
- ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ – 159
- ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ – 157
- ‘All My Loving’ – 151
- ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ – 146
- ‘Money (That’s What I Want) – 137
- ‘I Feel Fine’ – 126
- ‘Boys’ – 125
- ‘She’s a Woman’ – 124
- ‘Baby’s in Black’ – 120
- ‘Till There Was You’ – 120
- ‘This Boy’ – 112
- ‘Please Please Me’ – 107
- ‘I Fell’ – 89
- ‘Things We Said’ – 89
- ‘Rock and Roll Music’ – 88
- ‘Love Me Do’ – 83
- ‘Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby’ – 73
- ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret’ – 71