500 Greatest Songs of All Time

16

The Beatles, 'I Want to Hold Your Hand'

Writers: John Lennon, Paul McCartney
Producer: George Martin
Released: Dec. '63, Capitol
15 weeks; no. 1

As a young, struggling beat group, playing grueling gigs at grubby bars, the Beatles had an in-joke to cheer themselves up: declaring that they were going "to the toppermost of the poppermost." By 1963, they meant it enough to issue an ultimatum. "We said to [manager] Brian Epstein, 'We're not going to America till we've got a Number One record,'" Paul McCartney said. So he and John Lennon went to the home of the parents of Jane Asher, McCartney's girlfriend, where — "one on one, eyeball to eyeball," as Lennon put it — they wrote "I Want to Hold Your Hand," an irresistibly erotic come-on framed as a chaste, bashful request. The lightning-bolt energy of their collaboration ran through the band's performance, taped October 17th, 1963. It lunges out of the speakers with a rhythm so tricky that the first wave of bands to cover the song often couldn't figure it out; Lennon and McCartney constantly switch between unison and harmonies, both of them snapping and whooping like they own the melody. Every element of the song is a hook, from Lennon's Chuck Berry riffing to George Harrison's string-snapping guitar fills to the quartet's syncopated hand claps. With advance orders at a million copies, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was released in the U.K. in late November, and promptly bumped the band's own "She Loves You" from the top of the charts.

After 15-year-old Marsha Albert convinced a Washington, D.C., DJ to seek out an imported copy of the single, it quickly became a hit on the few American stations that managed to score a copy. Rush-released in America the day after Christmas, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" hit Number One in the States on February 1st, 1964. When the bandmates got the news in Paris, during a three-week stand there, they partied all night. The single was certified gold two days later, and four days after that, the Beatles landed in New York the way they'd wanted: toppermost of the poppermost.

Appears on: Meet the Beatles! (Capitol/Apple) 

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