100 Greatest Beatles Songs

From 'Helter Skelter' to 'Sgt. Pepper's,' ranking of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison's output

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'Lady Madonna'
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images86/100

86. 'Lady Madonna'

Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: February 3 and 6, 1968
Released: March 18, 1968
11 weeks; No. 4

Like many of McCartney's finest songs, "Lady Madonna" is a tribute to working-class womanhood, expressed through Irish-Catholic imagery. "'Lady Madonna' started off as the Virgin Mary, then it was a working-class woman, of which obviously there's millions in Liverpool," he later said. "There are a lot of Catholics in Liverpool because of the Irish connection." The Madonna of the song is a long-suffering but indestructible matriarch, as tough as the title character of "Eleanor Rigby," yet as comforting as Mother Mary from "Let It Be."

Musically, "Lady Madonna" has an earthier inspiration: the New Orleans piano boogie of Fats Domino. McCartney called it "a Fats Domino impression," composed while trying to play something bluesy on the piano. The recorded version is a full-on tribute to the New Orleans R&B sound, with tootling saxophones. Domino must have taken it as a compliment. A few months after the song came out, he released his own cover version, which became the last Top 100 hit of his career.

Appears On: Past Masters

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