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100 Greatest Beatles Songs

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

100, Greatest, Beatles, Songs

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By Elvis Costello

I first heard of the Beatles when I was nine years old. I spent most of my holidays on Merseyside then, and a local girl gave me a bad publicity shot of them with their names scrawled on the back.

This was 1962 or ’63, before they came to America. The photo was badly lit, and they didn’t quite have their look down; Ringo had his hair slightly swept back, as if he wasn’t quite sold on the Beatles haircut yet.

I didn’t care about that; they were the band for me. The funny thing is that parents and all their friends from Liverpool were also curious and proud about this local group. Prior to that, the people in show business from the north of England had all been comedians. The Beatles even recorded for Parlophone, which was a comedy label, as if they believed they might be a passing novelty act.

I was exactly the right age to be hit by them full-on. My experience — seizing on every picture, saving money for singles and EPs, catching them on a local news show — was repeated over and over again around the world. It wasn’t the first time anything like this had happened, but the Beatles achieved a level of fame and recognition known previously only to Charlie Chaplin, Brigitte Bardot and Elvis Presley, along with a little of the airless exclusivity of astronauts, former presidents and other heavyweight champions.

Every record was a shock. Compared to rabid R&B evangelists like the Rolling Stones, the Beatles arrived sounding like nothing else. They had already absorbed Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers and Chuck Berry, but they were also writing their own songs. They made writing your own material expected, rather than exceptional.

And John Lennon and Paul McCartney were exceptional songwriters; McCartney was, and is, a truly virtuoso musician; George Harrison wasn’t the kind of guitar player who tore off wild, unpredictable solos, but you can sing the melodies of nearly all of his breaks. Most important, they always fit right into the arrangement. Ringo Starr played the drums with an incredibly unique feel that nobody can really copy, although many fine drummers have tried and failed. Most of all, John and Paul were fantastic singers.

Lennon, McCartney and Harrison had stunningly high standards as writers. Imagine releasing a song like “Ask Me Why” or “Things We Said Today” as a B side. They made such fantastic records as “Paperback Writer” b/w “Rain” or “Penny Lane” b/w “Strawberry Fields Forever” and only put them out as singles. These records were events, and not just advance notice of an album. Then they started to really grow up: simple love lyrics to adult stories like “Norwegian Wood,” which spoke of the sour side of love, and on to bigger ideas than you would expect to find in catchy pop lyrics.

They were the first group to mess with the aural perspective of their recordings and have it be more than just a gimmick. Engineers like Geoff Emerick invented techniques that we now take for granted, in response to the group’s imagination. Before the Beatles, you had guys in lab coats doing recording experiments, but you didn’t have rockers deliberately putting things out of balance, like a quiet vocal in front of a loud track on “Strawberry Fields Forever.” You can’t exaggerate the license that this gave to everyone from Motown to Jimi Hendrix.

My absolute favorite albums are Rubber Soul and Revolver. On both records you can hear references to other music — R&B, Dylan, psychedelia — but it’s not done in a way that is obvious or dates the records. When you picked up Revolver, you knew it was something different. Heck, they are wearing sunglasses indoors in the picture on the back of the cover and not even looking at the camera . . . and the music was so strange and yet so vivid. If I had to pick a favorite song from those albums, it would be “And Your Bird Can Sing” . . . no, “Girl” . . . no, “For No One” . . . and so on, and so on. . . .

Their breakup album, Let It Be, contains songs both gorgeous and jagged. I suppose ambition and human frailty creeps into every group, but they delivered some incredible performances. I remember going to Leicester Square and seeing the film of Let It Be in 1970. I left with a melancholy feeling.

Someone recently gave me an assembly of newsreel footage, which illustrates how swiftly the band was drained of the bright and joyful wit presented as a public face.

In one early sequence, McCartney tells reporters that they will soon appear on The Ed Sullivan Show and then points into the camera: “There he is, hi, Ed, and Mrs. Ed” — “and Mr. Ed,” chimes Ringo. It might have been practiced, but it plays entirely off-the-cuff.

Just a year later, they are seen at a press conference in Los Angeles for their final tour. Suits and ties are a thing of the past. Staring down a series of dismal attempts at provocation from the press corps, they look exhausted and disenchanted.

When probed by one blowhard to respond to a Time magazine critique that “Day Tripper” was about a prostitute and “Norwegian Wood” about a lesbian, McCartney responds, “We were just trying to write songs about prostitutes and lesbians.” In the laughter that follows, he mutters, “Cut.” They were giving the impression that the game was up, but in truth, they were just getting started.

The word “Beatlesque” has been in the dictionary for quite a while now. You hear them in Harry Nilsson’s melodies; in Prince’s Around the World in a Day; in the hits of ELO and Crowded House and in Ron Sexsmith’s ballads. You can hear that Kurt Cobain listened to the Beatles and mixed their ideas with punk and metal. They can be heard in all sorts of one-off wonders from the Knickerbockers’ “Lies” and the Flamin’ Groovies’ “Shake Some Action.” The scope and license of the White Album has permitted everyone from OutKast to Radiohead to Green Day to Joanna Newsom to roll their picture out on a broader, bolder canvas.

Now, I’ll admit that I’ve stolen my share of Beatles licks, but around the turn of the Nineties, I got to co-write 12 songs with Paul McCartney and even dared to propose that he too reference some of the Beatles’ harmonic signatures — as, astonishingly, he had made up another musical vocabulary for Wings and during his solo career.

In 1999, a little time after Linda McCartney’s passing, Paul performed at the Concert for Linda, organized by Chrissie Hynde. During the rehearsal, I was singing harmony on a Ricky Nelson song with him, and Paul called out the next tune: “All My Loving.”

I said, “Do you want me to take the harmony line the second time round?” And he said, “Yeah, give it a try.” I’d only had 35 years to learn the part. There was inevitably a poignant feeling to this song, written long before he had even met Linda:

Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you
Tomorrow I’ll miss you
Remember I’ll always be true.

At the show, it was very different. The second Paul sang the opening lines, the crowd’s reaction was so intense that it all but drowned the song out. It was very thrilling, but also disconcerting.

Perhaps I understood in that moment one of the reasons why the Beatles had to stop performing. The songs weren’t theirs anymore. They belonged to everybody.

This is an updated version of an essay that appeared in RS 946.

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50

‘Got to Get You Into My Life’

Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: April 7, 8 and 11, May 18, June 17, 1966
Released: August 8, 1966
Not released as a single

A drug song masquerading as a love song, "Got to Get You Into My Life" was written after McCartney's first experiments with marijuana. "It's actually an ode to pot," he explained, "like someone else might write an ode to chocolate or a good claret."

Lennon described the song as the Beatles "doing our Tamla/Motown bit." But at first, "Got to Get You Into My Life" was an acoustic number. An early take (available on Anthology 2) has McCartney singing in falsetto where the brass eventually shows up in the chorus.

The horns were a remnant of the band's idea to record Revolver in Memphis. They had long emulated the bass and drum sounds found on American soul records, so they recruited guitarist Steve Cropper of Booker T. and the MG's to produce and dispatched Brian Epstein to scout potential recording locations. All the studios wanted an exorbitant fee to host the Beatles, so they ended up back at Abbey Road.

Appears On: Revolver

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49

‘The Night Before’

Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: February 17, 1965
Released: August 13, 1965
Not released as a single

For any other band, a pop gem as magnificent as "The Night Before" would have turned into a career-making hit single, if not the foundation of a legend. But for the Beatles, it was just another great album track, slipping through the cracks as they sped from A Hard Day's Night through Help! on their way to Rubber Soul. The band was writing and cutting masterpieces faster than fans could even absorb them.

The band's love of Motown was never more apparent, resulting in a hard-driving twist number that could have passed for prime Marvin Gaye at his most uptempo. In his double-tracked lead vocal, McCartney yowls about a lover's betrayal, while Lennon plays a rollicking electric-piano riff. "That sound was one of the best [we] had got on record," said McCartney.

In the movie Help!, the Beatles perform the song on England's Salisbury Plain, in the shadow of Stonehenge. Harrison mimes the terse, stabbing guitar solo — but it was McCartney who played it on the record.

Appears On: Help!

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48

‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: April 14, 1969
Released: June 4, 1969
9 weeks; No. 8

On March 16th, 1969, Lennon and Yoko Ono flew to Paris to get married, the first stop on a two-week odyssey that included visits to Gibraltar (where they had the ceremony), Amsterdam (where they held the first "Bed-In" for peace) and Vienna (where they gave a press conference from inside a white bag as a peace protest). Hostile reporters accused the couple of co-opting the peace movement as a publicity stunt. "The press came expecting to see us fucking in bed," Lennon told Rolling Stone. "We were just sitting in our pajamas saying, 'Peace, brother.'" The trip became the heart of "The Ballad of John and Yoko." "We were having a very hard time," said Ono, "but he made [the song] into a comedy rather than a tragedy."

Lennon was in a hurry to release it, so he and McCartney overdubbed all of the instruments on April 14th. (Starr and Harrison were away.) "Paul knew that people were being nasty to John, and he just wanted to make it well for him," said Ono. "Paul has a very brotherly side to him."

Appears On: Past Masters

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47

‘Things We Said Today’

Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: June 2, 1964
Released: July 20, 1964
Not released as a single

In May 1964, McCartney and Jane Asher went yachting in the Virgin Islands along with Starr and his girlfriend, Maureen Cox. One day, McCartney wandered away from the rest of the group and wrote "Things We Said Today" about his relationship with the 18-year-old Asher, whom he had been seeing for a year.

"It was a slightly nostalgic thing already, a future nostalgia," he said of the song, an uptempo track whose moody, minor-key melody sets it apart from other McCartney love songs of the era. "We'll remember the things we said today sometime in the future, so the song projects itself into the future and then is nostalgic about the moment we're living in now, which is quite a good trick."

Though McCartney promises his love that "we'll go on and on," it wasn't to be: McCartney and Asher were engaged in 1967 but broke up the next year. "We see each other, and we love each other, but it hasn't worked out," she told the London Evening Standard in October 1968. "Perhaps we'll be childhood sweethearts and meet and get married when we're about 70."

Appears On: A Hard Day's Night

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46

‘Don’t Let Me Down’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: January 22, 28 and 30, 1969
Released: May 5, 1969
4 weeks; No. 35 (B side)

When the "Get Back"/"Don't Let Me Down" single came out in May 1969, it was advertised as "The Beatles as nature intended . . . the first Beatles record which is as live as can be, in this electronic age. There's no electronic whatchamacallit." Both sides of the single were recorded live at Apple Studios, with the Beatles joined only by keyboardist Billy Preston, who was taking a break from Ray Charles' band.

In 1980, Lennon summed up the inspiration for the song tersely: "That's me, singing about Yoko." McCartney later went into more detail: "It was a very tense period. John was with Yoko and had escalated to heroin and all the accompanying paranoias, and he was putting himself out on a limb. I think that as much as it excited and amused him, at the same time it secretly terrified him. So 'Don't Let Me Down' was a genuine plea."

Summoning the emotional intensity to sing it was also difficult for Lennon, who asked Starr to provide a cymbal crash just before his vocals to "give me the courage to come screaming in."

Appears On: Past Masters

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45

‘No Reply’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: September 30, 1964
Released: December 15, 1964
not released as a single

The second Beatles album of 1964, Beatles for Sale, was a rush job, recorded in seven days scattered between August and October 1964, when the Beatles were also busy touring North America and the U.K. Amid the whirlwind of Beatlemania, somehow Lennon found time to push his songwriting forward. "No Reply" was at first written for Tommy Quickly, who was also managed by Brian Epstein; a demo was made in June 1964. Luckily, the Beatles kept the song for themselves and recorded it the same day they finished "Every Little Thing."

The germ of "No Reply" was a 1957 doo-wop song, "Silhouettes," by the Rays, in which the singer sees a couple shadowed at a window and mistakenly thinks his girl is cheating on him. In "No Reply," the girl is cheating. "I had that image of walking down the street and seeing her silhouetted in the window and not answering the phone," Lennon said. "Although I never called a girl in my life — phones weren't part of an English child's life."

Appears On: Beatles for Sale

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44

‘All My Loving’

Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: July 30, 1963
Released: January 20, 1964
not released as a single

"It was the first song I'd ever written the words first," said McCartney of "All My Loving," one of the Beatles' most irresistible early rockers. He sketched out the lyrics one day on the bus while the band was touring with Roy Orbison. When they reached the venue, he didn't have his guitar, so he found a piano backstage and set the words to music. "I had in my mind a little country & western song," McCartney later said.

The sweet tale of yearning does have a bit of Nashville flair, especially evident in Harrison's twangy, Carl Perkins-flavored guitar solo. Harrison was such a fan of the man who wrote "Blue Suede Shoes" that on one early Beatles tour, he took the stage name "Carl Harrison." The band covered more Perkins songs than those of any other writer.

"All My Loving" became a staple of the Beatles' live set and the first song they performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. "It's a damn good piece of work," Lennon once said in admiration of McCartney's songwriting, "but I play a pretty mean guitar in back."

Appears On: With the Beatles

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43

‘Drive My Car’

Writers: McCartney-Lennon
Recorded: October 13, 1965
Released: June 15, 1966
Not released as a single

On his way to a writing session with Lennon in 1965, McCartney came up with a melody he liked — but lyrics that merely recycled the idea of buying a girl a diamond ring from "Can't Buy Me Love." Lennon suggested a sexual metaphor — "drive my car" — and the two devised a lyric about a fame-hungry wanna-be. "To me it was L.A. chicks — 'You can be my chauffeur,'" said McCartney, who supplied the twist ending, when the girl admits she doesn't have a car.

"Drive My Car" is one of the most overtly R&B-flavored songs in the Beatles' catalog, thanks mostly to Harrison, who based the taut guitar lines and funky bass part on Otis Redding's "Respect."

"Drive My Car" was removed from the U.S. version of Rubber Soul: With the folk-rock craze at its height, Capitol Records tweaked the American album to focus more on acoustic songs. "Drive My Car" would show up six months later on the compilation LP Yesterday and Today, but for a whole generation of Americans, Rubber Soul was missing its most soulful cut.

Appears On: Rubber Soul

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42

‘I Feel Fine’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: October 18, 1964
Released: November 23, 1964
11 weeks; No. 1

"I Feel Fine" opens with a brief, throaty growl from Lennon's amplifier. The clipped distortion sounds polite next to the noise Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix would soon put on record, but the Beatles got there first. "I defy anybody to find a record — unless it's some old blues record in 1922 — that uses feedback that way," said Lennon. "I claim it for the Beatles."

According to George Martin, feedback was a routine nuisance at Beatles sessions. "John always turned the [volume] knob up full," the producer said. "It became kind of a joke. But he realized that he could do this to advantage." The feedback on "I Feel Fine" was very much on purpose, existing on the master tapes from the first take.

"I Feel Fine" also showcased the Beatles' evolving musicianship, with Starr chipping in a calypso-flavored dialogue between cymbal and tom-tom. "Ringo developed from a straight rock drummer into quite a musical thinker," said Martin. "He was always trying out different ideas."

Appears On: Past Masters

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41

‘Get Back’

Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: January 23, 27, 28 and 30, February 5, 1969
Released: May 5, 1969
12 weeks; No. 1

The plan for the Beatles’ January 1969 sessions was that they would get back to their roots as a live rock & roll band, so when McCartney came up with a song called “Get Back,” it was a perfect fit. It was also the last song the Beatles played at their 10-song, 42-minute final gig on the roof of the Apple Records building on January 30th.

The original lyrics to “Get Back” satirized the anti-immigrant sentiments in England at the time: “Don’t dig no Pakistanis taking all the people’s jobs” went one line. McCartney dropped the parodic race-baiting, leaving the tales of wandering Jo Jo and gender-flipping Loretta Martin. Lennon called “Get Back,” which features his bluesy lead guitar as well as a funky keyboard solo from Billy Preston, “a better version of ‘Lady Madonna’ . . . a potboiler rewrite.” But he also suspected that the song was secretly aimed at Yoko Ono: “You know, ‘Get back to where you once belonged.’ Every time [Paul] sang the line in the studio, he’d look at Yoko.”

Appears On: Let It Be and Past Masters

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40

‘For No One’

Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: May 9, 16 and 19, 1966
Released:
August 8, 1966
Not released as a single

McCartney wrote this quiet classic in the second person, as if he were addressing, but not quite comforting, a friend abruptly abandoned by a lover: "You want her, you need her/And yet you don't believe her/When she says her love is dead." He was talking to himself: "For No One," written in March 1966 while he and Jane Asher were on vacation in Switzerland, was about an argument they had. The intimacy of the production and performance — a kind of exhausted acceptance — stand out amid the accelerated experimentation everywhere else on Revolver. McCartney and Starr were the only Beatles present at the session; they cut the backing track — McCartney's piano and Starr's minimalist percussion, plus overdubbed clavichord — in a single night. George Martin later suggested a dash of brass, so they called in Alan Civil of the London Philharmonia, who played the song's brief, moving French-horn interjections. Civil was paid about 50 pounds for his efforts, but got something more valuable: a rare Beatles-album credit on Revolver's original back cover.

Appears On: Revolver

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39

‘Day Tripper’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: October 16, 1965
Released: December 6, 1965
10 weeks; no. 5

"Day Tripper" was "a drug song," Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970. "I've always needed a drug to survive. The [other Beatles], too, but I always had more, I always took more pills and more of everything, 'cause I'm more crazy."

The song was Lennon's indictment of poseurs. "Day trippers are people who go on a day trip, right? Usually on a ferryboat or something," he said. "But [the song] was kind of 'you're just a weekend hippie.'" In contrast, "We saw ourselves as full-time trippers," McCartney said, "fully committed drivers."

The in-jokes didn't stop with that bit of wordplay. The Beatles put in "references that we knew our friends would get but that the Great British Public might not," McCartney said. "So 'she's a big teaser' was 'she's a prick teaser.' . . . We thought that'd be fun to put in."

Lennon and McCartney conceded that "Day Tripper" had been a "forced" song, written on deadline for a scheduled December single. While Lennon's blues-based guitar hook may have been his answer to the Rolling Stones' recent Number One hit, "Satisfaction," "Day Tripper" was more complex, a gleaming combination of muscle and intricate arranging.

Lennon's riff builds to a midsong rave-up that climaxes with soaring harmonies and Harrison climbing a scale behind Lennon's solo, until Starr's tambourine roll brings back the original groove. Lennon's half sister, Julia Baird, was perplexed by the complicated nature of the song when she attended the recording session. "It seemed like bits and pieces were being put together," she said. "I can't understand how they got the final version."

"Day Tripper" was planned as a single, but just a few days later, the Beatles recorded "We Can Work It Out," which was generally thought to be a more commercial song. Lennon objected to losing the spot, though, so the two songs were marketed as the first-ever double-A-side single.

Though "We Can Work It Out" charted higher, "Day Tripper" was the more popular live number. The Beatles played it every night on their final concert tour, up to the last show, at San Francisco's Candlestick Park on August 29th, 1966.

Appears On: Past Masters

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38

‘Blackbird’

Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: June 11, 1968
Released: November 25, 1968
Not released as a single

"Blackbird" was really about the struggle over civil rights: "I had in mind a black woman, rather than a bird," McCartney said. "Those were the days of the civil rights movement, which all of us cared passionately about, so this was really a song from me to a black woman, experiencing these problems in the States: 'Let me encourage you to keep trying, to keep your faith, there is hope.'"

In one sense, the song was an oblique response to Lennon's "Revolution," the other big political song on the White Album. "As is often the case with my things, a veiling took place," said McCartney, "so, rather than say, 'Black woman living in Little Rock,' and be very specific, she became a bird, became symbolic."

McCartney recorded "Blackbird" on his own. Harrison and Starr were in California (where Harrison was being filmed for Ravi Shankar's movie Raga), and Lennon was in a different studio working on "Revolution 9." McCartney has said that the fingerpicked guitar lines of "Blackbird," written at his Scotland farm soon after he returned from India, were loosely based on Bach's "Bourrée in E minor," which he and Harrison used to practice in their early years. The blackbird heard on the track was from a sound-effects collection. "He did a very good job, I thought," McCartney joked. "He sings very well on that."

After he'd run through the song a number of times, McCartney told engineer Geoff Emerick that he wanted the song to sound as if he were singing it outdoors. "Fine," Emerick said, "then let's do it outdoors" — and they relocated to tape "Blackbird" outside Abbey Road Studios' echo chamber.

McCartney gave the first semipublic performance of "Blackbird" to a group of fans outside his Cavendish Avenue home. "Paul opened the window and called out to us, 'Are you still down there?'" one of them recalled. "Then he sat on the windowsill with his acoustic guitar and sang 'Blackbird' to us, standing down there in the dark."

Appears On: The Beatles

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37

‘She Said, She Said’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: June 21, 1966
Released: August 8, 1966
Not released as a single

The last song recorded for Revolver began with bad vibes: Lennon snapping at actor Peter Fonda for spooking him with talk about death during an acid trip. The Beatles were staying at a house in Los Angeles' Benedict Canyon in late August 1965, shuttling between concert dates in Oregon, San Francisco and L.A.'s Hollywood Bowl. One afternoon, Fonda turned up with Roger McGuinn and David Crosby of the Byrds for an LSD party (McCartney abstained). When Harrison said, in the middle of his flight, that he felt like he was dying, Fonda said it was nothing to fear, that he had survived a near-fatal experience on an operating table when he was a boy. Fonda's famous words: "I know what it's like to be dead." Lennon, in his own precarious state, exploded at the actor. "We were all on acid, and John couldn't take it," McGuinn recalled. "John said, 'Get this guy out of here.' It was morbid and bizarre."

Lennon held on to his anger, at first titling the song "He Said He Said" and, after quoting Fonda at the beginning, throwing those words back at him with vicious glee. "I said, 'Who put all that crap in your head?'" Lennon sang at one point in his earliest demo. (The line he settled on — "I said, 'Who put all those things in your head?'" — was softer, funnier, but still on target.) Lennon also realized he had written himself into a corner: He dropped the tune for a few days, returning to it with a bridge that — out of time with the rest of the shuffling rhythm, bright with childhood innocence — shifted the song from pure recrimination to a spirited­argument about ego and immortality, drenched in sighing harmonies and driven by Starr's spirited drumming.

The band's California trip didn't last long, but L.A. and San Francisco would have flashbacks to that psychedelic moment for years. The hippie-chic scene calibrated itself to whatever the Beatles did. From the Beach Boys to Love to the Grateful Dead, the West Coast-pop sound of the next several years sprang directly from Revolver — especially "She Said She Said" and its conjunction of melodic immediacy and acid-fueled mind games.

Appears On: Revolver

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36

‘I Should Have Known Better’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: February 25 and 26, 1964
Released: June 26, 1964
4 weeks; no. 53 (B side)

Lennon didn't think much of "I should have known Better," the B side of "A Hard Day's Night." "Just a song," he said of it. "It doesn't mean a damn thing." But as the first Beatles song to show the direct influence of Bob Dylan, it opened up a musical competition between the two artists that continued for decades.

While the Beatles were in Paris in January 1964, a DJ gave them a copy of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, which had come out in May 1963 but hadn't made much of a splash in Europe. "For the rest of our three weeks in Paris, we didn't stop playing it," Lennon remembered. "We all went potty on Dylan." When the band recorded "I Should Have Known Better" a month later, Lennon kicked the song off with a distinctly Dylan-inflected harmonica solo, much rawer than the ones on earlier Beatles records. Dylan was impressed by the Beatles, too, and hearing their records pushed him to change his musical direction. A year after "I Should Have Known Better," he began using a full electric band, starting with his legendary Newport Folk Festival appearance. "You could only [make that sound] with other musicians," Dylan said in 1971. "Even if you're playing your own chords, you had to have other people playing with you. And it started me thinking about other people."

In early 1965, Dylan recorded "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" — a nod to the British Invasion sound, with a riff that was reminiscent of "I Should Have Known Better." Lennon lobbed the ball back with "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" that fall. (Their friendly songwriting rivalry was still going on shortly before Lennon's death, when Dylan recorded his God-fearing "Gotta Serve Somebody" and Lennon countered with "Serve Yourself.") Starr sat in with Dylan a few times in the Seventies and Eighties. But it was Harrison who ended up having the closest relationship with Dylan, frequently collaborating with him over the years and eventually forming the Traveling Wilburys in 1988. And Harrison might not have been the only one: Tom Petty told Rolling Stone that Harrison once said to him, "Oh, John would [have been] a Wilbury in a second."

Appears On: A Hard Day's Night

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35

‘Paperback Writer’

Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: April 13 and 14, 1966
Released: May 30, 1966
10 weeks; no. 1

'They were great vocalists — they knew instinctively what harmonies to pitch," said George Martin. But in the sumptuous intro to "Paperback Writer," Lennon, McCartney and Harrison went beyond mere formation singing. The trio transformed the title lyric into a medieval chorale that sounded like "She Loves You" dipped in acid. Fastened to a roaring pop song, that sleet of harmonies — combined with the paisley haze of the record's B side, "Rain" — formally announced the Beatles' immersion into psychedelia.

"The way the song itself is shaped and the slow, contrapuntal statements from the backing voices — no one had really done that before," Martin claimed. The producer acknowledged that the Beach Boys were "a great inspiration" to the Beatles, but insisted that his charges had already perfected their vocal craft back when they were playing their club residencies in Hamburg, Germany: "Every night they'd be singing — they'd listen to American R&B records and imitate them," he said.

McCartney came up with the song's unusual structure on the long drive out to Lennon's house, where the duo frequently spent their afternoons writing songs. "I would often start thinking away and writing on my way out, and I developed the whole idea in the car," he said. "I came in, had my bowl of cornflakes and said, 'How's about if we write a letter: "Dear Sir or Madam," next line, next paragraph, etc.?'" (Some have suggested that the lyric about an aspiring hack was a jab at Lennon, who had published two books of cheeky surrealism, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works.) Lennon later described "Paperback Writer" as the "son of 'Day Tripper' — meaning a rock & roll song with a guitar lick on a fuzzy, loud guitar."

To engineer Geoff Emerick, the secret ingredient was the propulsive boom he got out of Starr's bass drum. "No one, as far as I remember on record," said Emerick, "had a bass drum sounding like that. We had the front skin off the bass drum and stuffed it with sweaters." Emerick also placed a microphone within an inch of the drum, for which he was reprimanded by EMI studio executives: "You couldn't go nearer than two feet to the bass drum, because the air pressure would damage the microphone."

The success of "Paperback Writer" forced a revision of that policy. "I got a letter from EMI allowing me to do that," Emerick said, "but only on Beatles sessions."

Appears On: Past Masters

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34

‘Eight Days a Week’

Writers: McCartney-Lennon
Recorded: October 6 and 18, 1964
Released: February 15, 1965
10 weeks; no. 1

The title of "Eight Days a Week" came from a chance remark by a driver chauffeuring McCartney out to Lennon's house. McCartney casually asked the driver if he'd been busy. "Busy?" he replied. "I've been working eight days a week." "Neither of us had heard that expression before," said McCartney. "It was like a little blessing from the gods. I didn't have any idea for it other than the title, and we just knocked it off together, just filling in from the title."

Although McCartney claimed the rest of the song "came quickly," it lacked a beginning, a middle eight and an ending when he and Lennon brought it into the studio. The Beatles tried a variety of approaches, including a wordless harmony for the intro, but stumbled repeatedly getting the melody right. "We struggled to record it and struggled to make it into a song," Lennon recalled. "But it was lousy anyway."

The Beatles were working at least nine days a week in late 1964, which may account for Lennon's sour take on the song. They'd been touring constantly, had just released A Hard Day's Night in June and were rushed back into a recording studio the week after they returned from America to record a new album and single in time for Christmas. "They were rather war-weary," George Martin said. "They'd been battered like mad throughout 1964, and much of 1963. Success is a wonderful thing, but it is very, very tiring." With little time to write original songs, almost half of the Beatles for Sale LP consisted of covers the group had been playing onstage for years. The same day the Beatles finished "Eight Days a Week," they knocked out seven complete tracks.

Twelve days later, they settled on the final arrangement, with its innovative instrumental fade-in that gives the song the warm, jubilant "feel[ing] like you've heard it before," as Ray Davies of the Kinks told Rolling Stone in 2001.

Beatles for Sale was released in the U.K. in December 1964. Beatles '65, its U.S. counterpart, did not include "Eight Days a Week." The song was released as a single in the U.S. two months later, and it went to Number One. But the Beatles continued to disregard it. It was never a single in the U.K., and in their subsequent two years of radio performances and touring, they never played it live. Despite its popularity, Lennon believes it "was never a good song."

Appears On: Beatles for Sale

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33

‘I Am the Walrus’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: September 5, 6, 27, 28 and 29, 1967
Released: November 27, 1967
4 weeks; no. 56 (B side)

After Brian Epstein died on August 27th, 1967, the Beatles were hardly in the mood to be creative. But when the shellshocked band gathered a few days later, McCartney convinced them there was one sure way to handle their grief: by getting back into the studio. When they did, on September 5th, Lennon brought along an eccentric new song inspired by a report that British school kids were studying Beatles lyrics to discern their hidden meanings. Lennon played a solo acoustic version of "I Am the Walrus," and, as engineer Geoff Emerick recalled, "Everyone seemed bewildered. The melody consisted largely of just two notes, and the lyrics were pretty much just nonsense." Taking off from the Lewis Carroll poem "The Walrus and the Carpenter," the words were a series of non sequiturs about "pigs from a gun," Hare Krishna and Edgar Allan Poe, winding up with a head-scratching "goo-goo-g'joob!" hook.

"What the hell do you expect me to do with that?" George Martin said. Nonetheless, everyone went to work on the track. Lennon vamped on a simple electric-piano figure, and McCartney switched to tambourine to make sure Starr kept on the beat. (McCartney's diligence in keeping the band focused, Emerick later said, was "one of Paul's finest moments.")

The track sprung to vivid, woozy life in post-production. Despite his initial revulsion, Martin composed a masterful orchestral arrangement that felt like vertigo. Lennon asked for as much distortion on his voice as possible — he wanted it to sound as if it were coming from the moon.

"The words don't mean a lot," Lennon said. "People draw so many conclusions, and it's ridiculous. What does it really mean, 'I am the Eggman?' It could have been the pudding basin for all I care." The lyrics contained plenty of inside jokes: "Semolina pilchard" referred to Norman Pilcher, the London drug-squad cop who'd busted rock stars like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and "The Eggman" was a reference to both Carroll's Humpty Dumpty and a story Lennon heard from Eric Burdon about the time a girl cracked an egg onto the Animals frontman during sex. On the following year's White Album, Lennon alluded to the song in "Glass Onion" with the line "The walrus was Paul" — his way of thanking McCartney for helping to hold the group together after Epstein's death.

Appears On: Magical Mystery Tour

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32

‘Penny Lane’

Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: December 29 and 30, 1966; January 4-6, 9, 10, 12 and 17, 1967
Released: February 13, 1967
10 weeks; no. 1

"Penny Lane" was Paul McCartney's ode to the Liverpool he knew as a child, but the song also had a hidden inspiration: His white-hot competitive streak. "The song was generated by a kind of 'I can do just as well as you can, John,' because we'd just recorded 'Strawberry Fields,'" said George Martin. "It was such a knockout, I think Paul went back to perfect his idea. And they were both significant. They were both about their childhood." The songs would be released together — opposite sides of the first single from the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band sessions.

Many of the lyrics come straight from McCartney's adolescence. Penny Lane is a Liverpool neighborhood where Lennon lived as a child and also the name of a bus depot McCartney would pass through on the way to Lennon's house. A barbershop in the area, Bioletti's, displayed pictures of different haircuts it offered — hence the lines "There is a barber showing photographs/Of every head he's had the pleasure to know." As McCartney put it, "The song is part fact, part nostalgia for a place which is a great place — blue suburban skies as we remember it."

"Penny Lane" was striking not just for McCartney's gorgeous melody but also for its complex arrangements. The Beatles "were avidly hungry for new sounds," Martin said. With McCartney playing three piano parts, bass, harmonium and tambourine; his bandmates playing more piano, guitar, drums and a hand bell; and several horn sections, "Penny Lane" built a detailed wall of sound that achieved the force of a rock song without sounding anything like one.

The recording's crowning touch was inspired by a televised performance of J.S. Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 2" that McCartney saw after the basic track for "Penny Lane" had been recorded. He arranged for the trumpet player he'd heard on the broadcast, David Mason, to come in and add a piccolo trumpet solo (as well as a brief coda, which appeared only on early promotional copies).

Besides giving the Beatles a chart-topping hit, "Penny Lane" gave Lennon's old neighborhood a boost as well: The Penny Lane area became a significant tourist attraction, and Beatles fans quickly went about pilfering its street signs.

Appears On: Magical Mystery Tour

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31

‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: February 18, 1965
Released: August 13, 1965
Not released as a single

"That's me in my Dylan period," Lennon remarked about "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away." "I am like a chameleon, influenced by whatever is going on. If Elvis can do it, I can do it. If the Everly Brothers can do it, me and Paul can. Same with Dylan."

Just as the Beatles had inspired Bob Dylan to incorporate a tougher rock & roll sound into his music, Dylan's example had pushed the Beatles — and Lennon in particular — to explore a more personal approach to writing songs. McCartney said that Dylan's poetic lyrics "hit a chord in John. It was as if John felt, 'That should have been me.' And to that end, John did a Dylan impression" on "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away." (The song's opening lines are remarkably similar to Dylan's 1964 track "I Don't Believe You [She Acts Like We Have Never Met]," which begins, "I can't understand/She let go of my hand/And left me here facing the wall.")

Serendipity also helped in writing "Hide Your Love Away." Lennon had originally written, "If she's gone, I can't go on/Feeling two foot tall," but when he accidentally sang "two foot small" while showing the song to McCartney, they both realized that was better.

"Hide Your Love Away" was recorded in one day for the Help! soundtrack, and its performance in the film, with the Beatles relaxing in their house built for four, is one of the movie's highlights. It was the first Beatles recording to feature all acoustic instruments, and it also marked one of the few times that Lennon, always painfully self-conscious about his singing, did not double-track his lead vocal, as he often did since discovering this studio trick.

The band brought in an outside musician for only the second time: For a six-pound fee (roughly $17 at the time) and no credit, Johnnie Scott recorded tenor and alto flute parts for the song. The Beatles gave Scott some general direction and let him sketch out the arrangement on his own. Scott did recall that the boys were in a fine mood at the time. "Ringo was full of marital joys," he said. "He'd just got back from his honeymoon."

Though the Beatles didn't release it as a single ("It's not commercial," Lennon said), the English folk group the Silkie, who were signed to Brian Epstein's management company, scored a Top 10 hit with it in the United States, and the Beach Boys covered it on 1965's Beach Boys' Party!album.

Appears On: Help!

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30

‘We Can Work It Out’

Writers: McCartney-Lennon
Recorded: October 20 and 29, 1965
Released: December 6, 1965
12 weeks; no. 1

"We Can Work It Out" plunges the listener into the middle of an argument, a good-cop/bad-cop seesaw between hopeful choruses and verses full of warnings: "Our love may soon be gone." It's a McCartney song that grew out of an argument with girlfriend Jane Asher. Lennon contributed the pessimistic minor-key bridge: "Life is very short, and there's no time for fussing and fighting." ("You've got Paul writing 'we can work it out,'" Lennon said. "Real optimistic, and you know, me, impatient.")

The group stumbled upon an old harmonium in the studio. McCartney remembered thinking, "This'd be a nice color on it." In the verses, with the "suspended chords . . . that wonderful harmonium sound gives it a sort of religious quality," Ray Davies of the Kinks told Rolling Stone in 2001. Harrison suggested switching the rhythm in the bridge from a straight 4/4 rhythm to waltz time. With the signature change, the vintage instrument evoked a circus-carousel feel — a vibe that the Beatles would return to two years later on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" on Sgt. Pepper. The 11 hours they spent on "We Can Work It Out" was by far the longest amount of studio time devoted to a Beatles track up to that point.

The tension in the lyrics between a hopeful McCartney and a saturnine Lennon foreshadows the ways in which they would move apart. "They were going through one of their first periods of disunity, so maybe it's a subtext to where the band was," Davies observed. "This is one of my little theories: Every career has its story, and if you look at the song titles, it sums up what they were doing."

Appears On: Past Masters

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29

‘Can’t Buy Me Love’

Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: January 29 and February 26, 1964
Released: March 16, 1964
10 weeks; no. 1

By the middle of March 1964, the Beatles were the biggest band in the world, responsible for an astonishing 60 percent of the American singles market. With pre-orders of more than 3 million copies, "Can't Buy Me Love" catapulted the Beatles to a new level of fame. Two weeks after the 45 was released, the Beatles claimed all five top positions on Billboard's singles chart: "Can't Buy Me Love," "Twist and Shout," "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Please Please Me." The next week, they set another still-unbroken record, with 14 of the Top 100 U.S. singles. (The previous record holder had been Elvis Presley, with nine in 1956.) "People in England at that time never really understood what great conquering heroes they were," said George Martin, "and that the success was so complete and total."

The Beatles were in prime live form when they recorded "Can't Buy Me Love," charged up from playing up to three shows a day at a 18-day residency at Paris' Olympia Theatre. They only needed four tries to get the basic track; 11 days later, they would have their U.S. television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, and then the single would be released five weeks later in the U.S. With Beatlemania, everything moved at supersonic speed.

McCartney later said "Can't Buy Me Love" was "my attempt to write [in] a bluesy mode." But the song is much closer to the group's primary influences: the bright gallop of uptempo Motown and brisk Fifties rockabilly. Lennon and McCartney had their own deep roots in the latter, but Harrison was the expert: His guitar style, especially in the Beatles' early recording years, was an aggressive updating of the simplicity of Carl Perkins and Scotty Moore's breaks on Elvis Presley's Sun singles. In "Can't Buy Me Love," Harrison's solo — which takes off after one of McCartney's Little Richard-inspired screams — is classic '56 Memphis with jet-age sheen.

The lyrics in "Can't Buy Me Love" were essentially sweet stuff about valuing romance over material things, although some fans somehow missed the point, baffling McCartney. "I think you can put any interpretation you want on anything," he said. "But when someone suggests that 'Can't Buy Me Love' is about a prostitute, I draw the line."

Appears On: A Hard Day's Night

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28

‘Here Comes the Sun’

Main Writer: Harrison
Recorded: July 7, 8 and 16, August 6, 15 and 19, 1969
Released: October 1, 1969
Not released as a single

Harrison wrote one of the Beatles' happiest songs while he was playing hooky. By 1969, Apple Records was disintegrating into an endless squabble over money, with business manager Allen Klein and attorney John Eastman struggling for control of the group. "Apple was getting like school, where we had to go and be businessmen: 'Sign this' and 'sign that,'" recalled Harrison. "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.'"

Harrison's estate, Kinfauns, was about a half-hour's drive away from Clapton's house. The two guitarists had grown close, with Clapton playing the solo on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and Harrison returning the favor by co-writing Cream's hit "Badge." "It was a beautiful spring morning, and we were sitting at the top of a big field at the bottom of the garden," Clapton wrote in his autobiography. "We had our guitars and were just strumming away when he started singing 'de da de de, it's been a long cold lonely winter,' and bit by bit he fleshed it out, until it was time for lunch."

"Here Comes the Sun" opened the second side of Abbey Road with a burst of joy. Along with "Something," it gave notice that the Beatles now had three formidable composers. "George was blossoming as a songwriter," said Starr. "It's interesting that George was coming to the fore and we were just breaking up."

Even the highly competitive Lennon and McCartney had to grant Harrison newfound respect. "I think that until now, until this year, our songs have been better than George's," McCartney said to Lennon during a break in the Abbey Road sessions. "Now, this year his songs are at least as good as ours."

Appears On: Abbey Road

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27

‘You’re Going to Lose That Girl’

Writers: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: February 19, 1965
Released: August 13, 1965
Not released as a single

The last song the Beatles completed for the Help! soundtrack before heading off to the Bahamas to begin filming, "You're Going to Lose That Girl" was knocked out in two takes. The song started with Lennon, and McCartney helped him complete it at Lennon's home in Weybridge.

Like "She Loves You," "You're Going to Lose That Girl" is the rare pop song in which a male singer addresses a wayward boyfriend. But where the earlier hit offered empathy, now Lennon issues a more aggressive warning: "I'll make a point of taking her away from you." Distinguished by Lennon's falsetto and Starr's manic bongo-playing, the song really comes alive through the background vocals. The bright call-and-response parts that comment on the action ("Watch what you do") illustrate the influence that the early-Sixties girl-group records still had on the Beatles. The band recorded a number of girl-group songs ("Chains" by the Cookies, "Baby It's You" and "Boys" by the Shirelles), flipping the genders in the lyrics as necessary.

In the film, the song is done in a smoky studio; McCartney wanted to show the material in a more natural setting than provided by most movie musicals. Ringo does the whole performance with a lit cigarette dangling from his lips.

Appears On: Help!

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26

‘If I Fell’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: February 27, 1964
Released: June 26, 1964
9 weeks; no. 53 (B side)

"If I Fell" was Lennon's first attempt to write a slow, pretty number for a Beatles record. "People forget that John wrote some nice ballads," McCartney said. "People tend to think of him as an acerbic wit and aggressive and abrasive, but he did have a very warm side to him, really, which he didn't like to show too much in case he got rejected."

Lennon said the lyrics — in which he begs a new lover for tenderness after being wounded by the last girl — were "semiautobiographical, but not consciously." On the surface, they had little to do with his life: He had been with his wife, Cynthia, for years, and their son, Julian, was almost a year old.

But musically, it was one of Lennon's cleverest songs to date: The harmonic tricks of its strummy, offbeat opening were miles beyond what other bands were doing at the time, and it was "dripping with chords," as McCartney said. It also showcased some of the Beatles' finest singing. Lennon and McCartney shared a single microphone for their Everly Brothers-like close harmonies.

"['If I Fell'] was the precursor to 'In My Life,'" Lennon pointed out later. "It has the same chord sequences: D and B minor and E minor, those kind of things. It shows that I wrote sentimental love ballads, silly love songs, way back when."

Appears On: A Hard Day's Night

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25

‘Here, There and Everywhere’

Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: June 14, 16 and 17, 1966
Released: August 8, 1966
Not released as a single

One paradox of Revolver: It marks the period when the Beatles began exploring the myriad creative possibilities of the recording studio, yet at the same time, it contains some of the most streamlined, straightforward pieces in the group's catalog — among them McCartney's radiantly soothing love song "Here, There and Everywhere." McCartney wrote it at Lennon's house in Weybridge while waiting for Lennon to wake up. "I sat out by the pool on one of the sun chairs with my guitar and started strumming in E," McCartney recalled. "And soon [I] had a few chords, and I think by the time he'd woken up, I had pretty much written the song, so we took it indoors and finished it up." McCartney has cited the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds as his primary influence for "Here, There and Everywhere." McCartney had heard the album before it was released, at a listening party in London in May 1966, and was blown away.

The tune's chord sequence bears Brian Wilson's influence, ambling through three related keys without ever fully settling into one, and the modulations — particularly the one on the line "changing my life with a wave of her hand" — deftly underscore the lyrics, inspired by McCartney's girlfriend, actress Jane Asher. (The couple, whose careers often led to prolonged separations, would split in July 1968.) When George Martin heard the tune, he persuaded the musicians to hum together, barbershop-quartet style, behind the lead vocal. "The harmonies on that are very simple," Martin recalled. "There's nothing very clever, no counterpoint, just moving block harmonies. Very simple . . . but very effective."

McCartney has repeatedly identified it as one of his best compositions, a sentiment echoed by his songwriting partner: Lennon told Playboy in 1980 that it was "one of my favorite songs of the Beatles."

The group spent three days in the studio working on the song, an unusually long time for a single track during this period. After agreeing on a satisfactory rhythm track, the band did backing vocals, then McCartney recorded his lead vocal — which had a surprising inspiration. "When I sang it in the studio, I remember thinking, 'I'll sing it like Marianne Faithfull' — something no one would ever know," he said. "I used an almost falsetto voice and double-tracked it. My Marianne Faithfull impression."

Appears On: Revolver

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24

‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: September 23-25, 1968
Released: November 25, 1968
Not released as a single

Lennon called this rapid-fire, erotically charged minisuite one of his best songs. "Oh, I love it," he told Rolling Stone in 1970. "I think it's a beautiful song. I like all the different things that are happening in it. . . . It seemed to run through all the different kinds of rock music." The Beatles Anthology book includes a marked-up copy of the lyric sheet, in which Lennon outlines the three different sections that make up "Happiness": "Dirty Old Man," "The Junkie" and "The Gunman (Satire of '50s R&R)."

The title was inspired by a headline in a gun magazine George Martin had showed Lennon that read Happiness is a Warm Gun — a variation on Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz's 1962 bestseller Happiness Is a Warm Puppy. "I thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say," Lennon said. "A warm gun means that you just shot something."

Lennon later claimed that the song "wasn't about 'H' at all," but the drug subtext is everywhere. The "Junkie" sequence from the middle of the song ("I need a fix 'cause I'm going down") was the entirety of his original demo, recorded in May 1968. By the time the song was cut in September, Lennon had begun using heroin — ever since he and Yoko Ono had moved into a London apartment Starr had rented them in July. The "Mother Superior" in the lyrics is a reference to Ono herself, whom Lennon took to calling "Mother."

At this point, "Happiness Is a Warm Gun in Your Hand," as its original title ran, had expanded to its final form. A few of the surreal lines in the opening section, "Dirty Old Man," came from a stoned conversation with Apple press officer Derek Taylor: "Ate and donated to the National Trust," for instance, is a reference to people shitting on public land (a common problem Lennon encountered while walking in and around Liverpool), and the "velvet hand" alludes to a man who had told Taylor that wearing moleskin gloves gave him "a little bit of an unusual sensation when I'm out with my girlfriend." The "Satire of '50s R&R," with its classic doo-wop chord progression, was modified from a similar passage in Lennon's demo of "I'm So Tired."

It took the Beatles 70 takes over two nights to master the tricky tempo shifts of "Happiness." McCartney was particularly fond of the result, calling it one of his favorite tracks on the White Album.

Appears On: The Beatles

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23

‘Abbey Road Medley’

Writers: McCartney-Lennon
Recorded: May 6-August 18, 1969
Released: October 1, 1969
Not released as a single

The original idea was McCartney's, but George Martin claimed that the final triumph of the Beatles' life as a recording band — the eight-song medley dominating Side Two of Abbey Road — was at least partly his. "I wanted to get John and Paul to think more seriously about their music," the producer said. "Paul was all for experimenting like that." McCartney, in fact, led the first session for that extended section of the album — on May 6th, 1969, for "You Never Give Me Your Money," his deceptively sunny indictment of the business nightmares at Apple Corps.

Lennon was a lot less interested in the medley, although he contributed some of its most eccentric parts, like the sneering "Mean Mr. Mustard" and the quick, funky put-down "Polythene Pam." He subsequently dismissed the concept as "junk" in Rolling Stone, saying that "none of the songs had anything to do with each other, no thread at all, only the fact that we stuck them together."

He was right in one sense. The 16-minute sequence — veering from "Money" and the luxuriant sigh of Lennon's "Sun King" to McCartney's heavy-soul shard "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" and the sweet lullaby "Golden Slumbers," and closing with McCartney's famous prescription in "The End" ("The love you take/Is equal to the love you make") — has no narrative connection. But the Abbey Road medley is the matured Beatles at their best: playful, gentle, acerbic, haunting and bonded by the music. Their harmonies are ravishing and complex; the guitars are confident and cutting. "We were holding it together," McCartney said proudly. "Even though this undercurrent was going on" — a reference to the pressures and differences that had been pulling them apart since the White Album — "we still had a strong respect for each other even at the very worst points."

The Beatles recorded the sections of the medley at various times, out of order, during the July and August 1969 sessions for Abbey Road. "Mean Mr. Mustard" dated back to early 1968. The lingering hysteria of Beatlemania cropped up in "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," which was inspired by an overeager fan. But the emotional heart of the suite was the financial woes that were consuming the Beatles' energy and were on the verge of bankrupting them. Lennon was instrumental in the hiring of Allen Klein, the business manager of the Rolling Stones, to straighten out the books and the chaos at Apple Corps; McCartney wanted the band to hire Lee and John Eastman, his future father- and brother-in-law. McCartney admitted that "You Never Give Me Your Money" was "me directly lambasting Allen Klein's attitude to us — all promises, and it never works out."

Later, in "Golden Slumbers" and "Carry That Weight" (the former with lyrics copied from a lullaby published in 1603), McCartney returned to the theme of exhaustion. "I'm generally quite upbeat," he said, "but at certain times things get to me so much that I just can't be upbeat anymore, and that was one of those times. 'Carry that weight a long time' — like forever!"

The swapping of guitar solos in "The End" was a band brainstorm. Harrison thought a guitar break would make a good climax. Lennon suggested he, Harrison and McCartney all trade licks. McCartney said he'd go first. Coming after Starr's first and only drum solo on a Beatles record, the scorching round-robin breaks — with Harrison in the middle and Lennon at the end — were cut live in one take, a last blast of natural brotherhood from a band only months from splitting.

"I didn't know at the time that it was the last Beatles record that we would make," Harrison said of Abbey Road. "But it felt as if we were reaching the end of the line."

"Out of the ashes of all that madness," said Starr, "that last section is one of the finest pieces we put together."

Appears On: Abbey Road

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22

‘Eleanor Rigby’

Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: April 28, 29 and June 6, 1966
Released: August 8, 1966
8 weeks; no. 11

When McCartney first played "Eleanor Rigby" for his neighbor Donovan, the words were "Ola Na Tungee/Blowing his mind in the dark/With a pipe full of clay." McCartney fumbled with the lyrics until he landed on the line "Picks up the rice in a church where a wedding has been." It was then that he realized he was writing about lonely people and transformed the song into the tale of a spinster, a priest and how their lives intersect at her funeral.

There are conflicting stories of how McCartney came up with the name for the title character. According to McCartney, he combined the first name of Eleanor Bron, the lead actress in Help!, with a last name taken from a sign he had seen in Bristol for Rigby & Evans Ltd, Wine & Spirit Shippers. But Lionel Bart, the writer-composer of Oliver!, claimed that on a walk with McCartney in London's Putney Vale Cemetery, they saw the name Eleanor Bygraves, and McCartney said he would use it in a new song.

Most intriguing, in the 1980s, the gravestone of an Eleanor Rigby was discovered in the churchyard of St. Peter's in the Liverpool suburb of Woolton — just yards from the spot where Lennon and McCartney first met in 1957 after a performance by Lennon's group the Quarry Men. "It was either complete coincidence or in my subconscious," McCartney said.

After McCartney wrote the melody on the piano at his girlfriend Jane Asher's flat, he gathered Lennon, Harrison, Starr and Pete Shotton, Lennon's childhood friend, at Lennon's house in Weybridge to help finish the lyrics. The group all agreed on certain details about this session: The priest was originally called "Father McCartney" until they found the name "McKenzie" in a phone book; Starr chipped in the line "darning his socks in the night"; and it was Shotton's idea that the song end with the funeral, bringing all of the principal characters together.

Beyond that, though, Lennon and McCartney offered dramatically different versions of the writing process. "The first verse was his and the rest are basically mine," Lennon told journalist David Sheff in 1980. "It was Paul's baby, and I helped with the education of the child." McCartney, on the other hand, maintained that "John helped me on a few words, but I'd put it down 80-20 to me." (Shotton said, "My recollection is that John's contribution was virtually nil.")

None of the Beatles actually play an instrument on "Eleanor Rigby" — McCartney sings the double-tracked lead vocal, and Lennon and Harrison contribute harmonies, but the music is performed entirely by a pair of string quartets, arranged by George Martin. "Paul wasn't immediately enamored of the concept," said engineer Geoff Emerick. "He was afraid of it sounding too cloying."

When he agreed to the idea, McCartney said he wanted the strings to sound "biting." With that in mind, Emerick was determined to capture the sound of bows striking strings with an immediacy previously unheard on any recording, classical or rock & roll. Instead of recording the octet on a single microphone, he miked each instrument individually. "I was close-mik-ing the strings — really close," he said. "So close that the musicians hated it, because you could see them sort of keep slipping back on their chairs to get away from the mic in case they made any errors."

McCartney saw the finished track — a meditation on solitude and aging that sounded like nothing else on the radio at the time — as a breakthrough moment for him as a songwriter. He later reflected that when he wrote "Eleanor Rigby," he had been musing about what kind of work he might do when he was done being a Beatle.

"This could be a way I could go," he recalled himself thinking. "[I had] a clear vision of myself in a herringbone jacket with leather elbow patches and a pipe. I could become a serious writer, not so much a pop writer. Yes, it wouldn't be bad, actually — at the terrible old age of 30."

Appears On: Revolver

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21

‘All You Need Is Love’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: June 14, 19, 23, 24 and 25, 1967
Released: July 17, 1967
11 weeks; no. 1

Flush with creative energy after finishing Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles went straight back to work. When they were invited to appear on the Our World TV program — a two-hour show of international performers that would be broadcast live in 24 countries on June 25th, 1967 — they decided to create an elaborately orchestrated new track, "All You Need Is Love."

"[Beatles manager Brian Epstein] suddenly whirled in and said that we were to represent Britain in a round-the-world hookup," said George Martin. "We had less than two weeks to get it together." Lennon took the last-minute request in stride: "Oh, God, is it that close?" he said a few days before the telecast. "I suppose we'd better write something." (McCartney also wrote a possible choice for the occasion — most likely the music-hall ditty "Your Mother Should Know," but it was obvious which song was more appropriate.)

The Beatles crafted a rhythm track in the studio beforehand (which included Harrison playing violin for the first time and Lennon on harpsichord) but they sang their vocals live on the show, accompanied by an orchestra and a chorus that included Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marianne Faithfull, Donovan and Keith Moon. Harrison's guitar solo was also live; he hand-painted his Stratocaster in psychedelic colors for the occasion. Martin's arrangement reflected the event's international spirit: The introduction was a snippet of "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem, while the coda included bits of Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 2," "Greensleeves," Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" — and even an improvised chorus of "She Loves You."

The main part of the song was deceptively simple. "John has an amazing thing with his timing," Harrison told Rolling Stone. "'All You Need Is Love' sort of skips beats out and changes from 3/4 to 4/4 all the time, in and out of each other." The lyrics proved a challenge for McCartney. "The chorus is simple, but the verse ["Nothing you can do/But you can learn how to be you in time/It's easy"] is quite complex," he said. "I never really understood it."

"All You Need Is Love" was the first of Lennon's songs with a title that could have been written on Madison Avenue (like the later "Give Peace a Chance" and "Power to the People"). "I like slogans," he said. "I like advertising. I love the telly."

Appears On: Magical Mystery Tour

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20

‘Please Please Me’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: September 11 and November 26, 1962
Released: February 25, 1963
13 weeks; no. 3

“It was a combination of Bing Crosby and Roy Orbison.” That was Lennon’s description of the inspiration for “Please Please Me,” which would become the first Beatles single to reach Number One on the U.K. charts.

Lennon wrote the song at his aunt Mimi’s house. “I remember the day and the pink coverlet on the bed,” he said years later. “And I heard Roy Orbison doing ‘Only the Lonely’ or something. That’s where that came from. And I was always intrigued by the words of ‘Please, lend your little ears to my pleas’ [from Crosby’s 1932 song ‘Please’]. I [loved] the double use of the word ‘please.'”

“If you imagine it much slower, which is how John wrote it, it’s got everything,” said McCartney. “The big high notes, all the hallmarks of a Roy Orbison song.”

“Please Please Me” was one of the songs the Beatles played for George Martin at their second recording session on September 11th, 1962, at EMI Studios. Starr recalled that “while we were recording it, I was playing a bass drum with a maraca in one hand and a tambourine in the other” — which, Starr suspects, is the reason Martin decided to use a session drummer for “Love Me Do,” which they also recorded that day.

Martin wasn’t impressed with the slow “Please Please Me,” which he called “a dirge.” He suggested that they play the song faster and try to liven up the arrangement. Not that he was impressed with their original efforts in general, at this point. “To begin with, their songwriting was crap,” Martin once said. “The first songs I heard from them, I thought, ‘Oh, God, where am I going to get a good song for them?’ The first record we issued was ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘P.S. I Love You,’ which are not exactly Cole Porter, are they?”

“Love Me Do” became a hit, though, and the Beatles were summoned back to the studio to work on a follow-up. When they returned to Abbey Road on November 26th, Martin wanted them to release a song by Mitch Murray called “How Do You Do It.” The Beatles tried to persuade him that they should do an original song instead, but the producer didn’t think anything they had written was as good as the Murray song. (Martin was somewhat vindicated when Gerry and the Pacemakers had a Number One hit with “How Do You Do It” the following year.) They suggested “Please Please Me,” adding that they had heeded Martin’s advice, speeding up the tempo and adding a harmonica part that mimicked Harrison’s opening guitar riff.

The Beatles knew they had broken new ground. “We lifted the tempo, and suddenly there was that fast Beatles spirit,” said McCartney. Lennon later said that “by the time the session came around, we were so happy we couldn’t get it recorded fast enough.” Starr’s steady, propulsive backbeat led Martin to concede he had been wrong about the drummer’s skills.

The new version of “Please Please Me” had an irresistible energy and an aggressive sexuality. (Perhaps too aggressive — Capitol Records wouldn’t put the single out in America because some who heard the song had interpreted the lyrics as an ode to oral sex, and Chicago’s Vee-Jay label ended up releasing “Please Please Me.”) When the band had finished laying down the track, Martin announced over the studio’s intercom, “Gentlemen, I think you’ve got your first Number One.”

He was right: “Please Please Me” was the band’s first of four consecutive Number Ones, launching Beatlemania in Britain. The single sold so well that Brian Epstein pulled the Beatles off the road to make their debut album — which they did in three three-hour sessions on February 11th, 1963, returning to their tour the following day — titled Please Please Me, after their current smash hit.

But the song’s greatest endorsement may have come from Lennon’s aunt Mimi, who hadn’t been convinced by “Love Me Do” that her nephew’s band had much of a future. Then she heard “Please Please Me.” “That’s more like it,” she told Lennon. “That should do well.”

Appears On: Please Please Me

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19

‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: February 28-March 2, 1967
Released: June 2, 1967
Not released as a single

Lennon always insisted that "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" was not a drug song. As he told Rolling Stone in 1970, "I swear to God or swear to Mao or to anybody you like, I had no idea it spelled LSD." The inspiration was a picture that his four-year-old son, Julian, painted of Lucy O'Donnell, the girl who sat next to him at school. "He had sketched in some stars in the sky and called it 'Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,'" Lennon said. "Simple."

Lennon showed McCartney the painting one morning over tea, and they decided it was too great a title to pass up. The song is dominated by Lennon's love of childish whimsy like Through the Looking-Glass. Lennon came up with the image of "kaleidoscope eyes," McCartney with "cellophane flowers" and "newspaper taxis," and before long, they had a psychedelic nursery rhyme with wordplay worthy of Lewis Carroll. "The images were from Alice in Wonderland," Lennon said in 1980. "It was Alice in the boat. She is buying an egg, and it turns into Humpty Dumpty. The woman serving in the shop turns into a sheep, and the next minute they are rowing in a rowing boat somewhere, and I was visualizing that."

In the Weybridge mansion where he wrote the song, Lennon spent most of his days alone, feeling numb in a collapsing marriage, watching TV and doing drugs. "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" was an image of hope. As he explained in 1980, "There was also the image of the female who would someday come save me — a 'girl with kaleidoscope eyes' who would come out of the sky. It turned out to be Yoko, though I hadn't met Yoko yet. So maybe it should be 'Yoko in the Sky With Diamonds.'"

Sadly, Lucy herself died in September 2009 of lupus, at the age of 46. Julian Lennon paid tribute to his former classmate by releasing a benefit single, "Lucy," a few weeks later. (Julian's original "Lucy" drawing is currently owned by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour.) When she first heard "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" as a teenager, she told her friends she was the Lucy who had inspired it. But they didn't believe her, informing her the song was about LSD. Lucy didn't argue because, as she admitted, "I was too embarrassed to tell them I didn't know what LSD was."

Appears On: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

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18

‘Tomorrow Never Knows’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: April 6, 7 and 22, 1966
Released: August 8, 1966
Not released as a single

The last and most aggressively experimental track on Revolver was the first to be recorded: Lennon's rapid, excited response to the great escape of LSD. In acid, Lennon found his first true relief from the real world and the band's celebrity — an alternate space of rapture and self-examination that he re-created, with the energized collaboration of the other Beatles, in "Tomorrow Never Knows." All of a sudden, the poetic advance and rustic modernism of Rubber Soul — issued only five months before these sessions, in December 1965 — was very old news. Compared to the rolling drone, tape-loop effects and out-of-body vocals that dominate Lennon's trip here, even the rest of Revolver sounds like mutation in process: the Beatles pursuing their liberated impulses as players and writers, via acid, in pop-song form. There was no other place for this track on the album but the end. "Eleanor Rigby," "I'm Only Sleeping," "Love You To" and "She Said She Said" were all bold steps toward the unknown — "Tomorrow Never Knows" was the jump from the cliff.

The art of sampling in popular music may, in fact, start here. In January 1966, while tripping, Lennon took the precaution of consulting The Psychedelic Experience, a handbook written by LSD preacher Timothy Leary (with Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner). The book itself was an extended paraphrase of Buddhist concepts, including reincarnation and ego death, in The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Lennon ran a tape recorder and read passages from The Psychedelic Experience as he was flying. He was soon writing a song using some of the actual lines from Leary, including his description of the state of grace beyond reality. Lennon even used it as a working title: "The Void."

The Beatles got him there with extraordinary speed. It took them only three tries to come up with a master take of the rhythm track, driven by Starr's relentless drumming. McCartney suggested the tumbling pattern Starr uses.) Most of the otherworldly overdubs were created and recorded on the night of April 6th and the afternoon of the 7th — a total of about 10 hours. There is nothing on "Tomorrow Never Knows" — the backwards guitar solo, the hovering buzz of Harrison on sitar, Lennon's vocal drifting on what feels like the other side of consciousness — that was not dosed beyond plain recognition. The spacey, tabla-like quality of Starr's drumming was just him playing on two slackly tuned tom-toms, compressed and doused in echo. Loops were created using a Mellotron imitating flute and string tones; the cackling seagull sounds were either an altered recording of McCartney laughing or a treated slice of guitar.

Lennon hoped to sound nothing like his usual self. "I want my voice to sound like the Dalai Lama chanting from a mountaintop, miles away," he proclaimed in the studio. Engineer Geoff Emerick achieved that effect by running Lennon's voice through the rotating speaker of a Leslie cabinet, which had been hooked up to the Hammond organ at Abbey Road. The result was heaven and earth combined: a luxuriant and rippling prayer, delivered in Lennon's nasal Liverpool-hard-boy tone. "That is bloody marvelous!" Lennon exclaimed repeatedly after hearing his effect. McCartney's reaction was equally joyful: "It's the Dalai Lennon!"

Ironically, all the way to the last overdub on April 22nd, the song was listed on Abbey Road recording sheets with another working title, "Mark 1." Starr came up with something much better. Like "A Hard Day's Night," "Tomorrow Never Knows" was one of the drummer's malapropisms. The line does not appear in Lennon's lyrics. What Starr meant, of course, was "tomorrow never comes." He was wrong: It arrived, in reverb and technicolor, with ecstatic promise, at the end of Revolver.

Appears On: Revolver

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17

‘Ticket to Ride’

Writers: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: February 15, 1965
Released: April 19, 1965
11 weeks; no. 1

Lennon once claimed that "Ticket to Ride" — the first track the Beatles recorded for the soundtrack to their second feature film, Help!, on February 15th, 1965 — was "one of the earliest heavy-metal records."

"It was [a] slightly new sound at the time, because it was pretty fuckin' heavy for then," Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970. "If you go and look in the charts for what other music people were making, and you hear it now, it doesn't sound too bad. It's all happening, it's a heavy record. And the drums are heavy, too. That's why I like it."

After playing mostly acoustic guitar on A Hard Day's Night and Beatles for Sale, Lennon had picked up his electric guitar for "Ticket to Ride." A chiming 12-string riff kicks off the song with a jangly psychedelic flourish, and the guitars strut and crunch through the verses over Starr's grinding groove. The sound was probably inspired by bands such as the Rolling Stones, the Who and the Kinks, who were all exploding out of Great Britain at the time. But the Beatles were still ahead of the competition.

"Ticket to Ride" was the first Beatles recording to break the three-minute mark, and Lennon packed the track with wild mood swings. His singing and lyrics teeter between ambivalence and despair in the verses. The bridge is a powerful double-time burst of indignation ("She oughta think right/She oughta do right/By me"). Another surprise came in the fade, an entirely different melody and rhythm with the repeated line "My baby don't care," sung by Lennon at the upper, stressed top of his range. "We almost invented the idea of a new bit of a song on the fade-out," said McCartney, who also played the spiraling lead-guitar part in the coda. "It was quite radical at the time."

The Beatles now saw making records as a goal in itself — rather than just a document of a song — and were changing their approach to recording as they got more comfortable with the possibilities of the studio. Instead of taping songs as they would play them live, picking the best take and then overdubbing harmonies or solos, the band now usually began with a rhythm track and slowly built an arrangement around it. Considering that, "Ticket to Ride" took almost no time to record: The entire track, including the overdubs, was finished in just over three hours. "It was pretty much a work job that turned out quite well," said McCartney. "Ticket to Ride" effectively became their new theme song: The title of their final BBC radio special was changed to "The Beatles (Invite You to Take a Ticket to Ride)."

Lennon always maintained that McCartney's role in writing the song was minimal — "Paul's contribution was the way Ringo played the drums" — while McCartney contended that "we sat down and wrote it together" in a three-hour session at Lennon's Weybridge home. That might account for the different stories on where the title came from: An obvious explanation is that it refers to a train ticket. (When the Beatles belatedly filmed a promotional clip for the song in November 1965, they lip-synced the song against a backdrop of gigantic transportation passes). But Don Short, a British newspaper journalist who traveled with the Beatles, claimed that it dated back to the band's days in the red-light district of Hamburg, Germany. "The girls who worked the streets in Hamburg had to have a clean bill of health, and so the medical authorities would give them a card saying that they didn't have a dose of anything," he said. "John told me he coined the phrase 'a ticket to ride' to describe those cards." McCartney had a more innocent explanation: He said that it was a play on the name of the town of Ryde on the Isle of Wight. One other possibility: On the day the Beatles recorded "Ticket to Ride," Lennon passed his driver's test.

Appears On: Help!

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16

‘I Saw Her Standing There’

Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: February 11, 1963
Released: December 26, 1963
11 weeks; no. 14 (B side)

When McCartney began hashing out the song that became "I Saw Her Standing There" on a drive to his Liverpool home one night in 1962, the first couplet he came up with was "She was just 17/She'd never been a beauty queen." But when he played the song for Lennon the next day, "We stopped there and both of us cringed at that and said, 'No, no, no, "beauty queen" is out,'" McCartney recalled. "We went through the alphabet: between, clean, lean, mean. . . ." Eventually, they settled on "you know what I mean," which was good, he said, "because you don't know what I mean."

Though Lennon's exact contribution is unclear ("I helped with a couple of the lyrics," he said), "I Saw Her Standing There" is one of the songs that further cemented the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership. A September 1962 photo by McCartney's brother Mike shows the pair in the front room of Paul's house, working face to face with acoustic guitars, Lennon wearing the glasses he hated, scratching out lyrics in a Liverpool Institute notebook. McCartney wrote the song on his Zenith acoustic guitar, the first guitar he ever owned.

The original inspiration for the song was a girlfriend of McCartney's at the time, dancer Iris Caldwell, who was in fact 17 when he first saw her doing the Twist — in fishnet stockings — at the Tower Ballroom in New Brighton in December 1961. "Paul and I dated for a couple of years," said Caldwell. "It was never that serious. We never pretended to be true to each other. I went out with lots of people. I was working away in different theaters at the time, but if I was back home we would go out. There were never any promises made or love declared." Caldwell's brother was Liverpool rocker Rory Storm, leader of the Hurricanes — whose drummer, Ringo Starr, would leave them to join the Beatles in August 1962. Caldwell said that McCartney intended to give "I Saw Her Standing There" to Storm, but Brian Epstein talked him out of it.

Under the title "Seventeen," the song became part of the Beatles' live act in 1962. Onstage, the tune would sometimes run for 10 minutes, with multiple guitar solos. McCartney borrowed the hard-charging bass line from Chuck Berry's 1961 single "I'm Talking About You," a staple of the band's concerts. "I played the exact same notes as he did, and it fitted our number perfectly," McCartney said.

When it came time for the Beatles to record their first album, Please Please Me, George Martin considered taping them live, possibly in front of the group's home audience at the Cavern Club. Though he decided instead to set them up at EMI's studios on Abbey Road, they chose a song list representative of the band's live show. To set the mood, the album begins with McCartney's blazing "one-two-three-faw!" count-off on "I Saw Her Standing There." The Beatles outfitted the song, a veritable celebration of youth itself, with hand claps and the buoyant ooohs that would later show up on singles like "She Loves You." The song, which also features Harrison's first guitar solo on a Beatles record, was chosen as the B side for the "I Want to Hold Your Hand" single that topped the charts in America. It would also be one of the five songs that the Beatles performed on February 9th, 1964, on The Ed Sullivan Show before a television audience of 73 million people.

Lennon described "I Saw Her Standing There" as "Paul doing his usual good job of producing what George Martin would call a 'potboiler,'" but the song would assume a greater meaning in his later life. In 1974, Lennon and Elton John made a bet that if Lennon's "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night," which featured John on harmony vocals and piano, made it to Number One, Lennon would join him onstage. When the song became Lennon's first solo song to top the charts, he made good and appeared with John at his November 28th show at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Before the final song, Lennon said, "We thought we'd do a number of an old estranged fiance of mine called Paul," and they closed the night with a rollicking version of "I Saw Her Standing There." "I just wanted to have some fun and play some rock & roll," Lennon said afterward. It would be the last song John Lennon ever performed in concert.

Appears On: Please Please Me

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15

‘Help!’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: April 13, 1965
Released: July 19, 1965
13 weeks; no. 1

"Help!" was written to be the title track to the Fab Four's second movie — a madcap action comedy originally conceived for Peter Sellers. But the note of desperation in the song was real. "I meant it," Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970 (particularly lines like "And now my life has changed in oh-so-many ways/My independence seems to vanish in the haze"). "The whole Beatle thing was just beyond comprehension."

By 1965, Lennon was exhausted from the Beatles' nonstop touring, recording and filming schedule. Off the road, Lennon felt trapped at his estate outside London with his wife, Cynthia, and young son, Julian. "Cynthia wanted to settle John down, pipe and slippers," said McCartney. "The minute she said that to me, I thought, 'Kiss of death.' I know my mate, and that is not what he wants." Lennon also was feeling "paranoid," according to Harrison, about how he looked. "It was my Fat Elvis period," Lennon said. "I was eating and drinking like a pig. I was depressed, and I was crying out for help."

McCartney, in contrast, was taking full advantage of Swinging London, dating Jane Asher — a beautiful young actress from a prominent family who introduced him to high society — and seeing other girls on the side. John "was well jealous of [me] because he couldn't do that," said McCartney years later. "There were cracks appearing [in Lennon's life with Cynthia], but he could only paste them over by staying at home and getting wrecked."

Lennon wrote most of "Help!" by himself at his estate and then summoned McCartney to help him complete it, which they did in a couple of hours at one of their regular songwriting sessions in Lennon's upstairs music room. Lennon originally wrote "Help!" as a midtempo ballad, but the Beatles decided to amp up the arrangement in the studio, with Harrison's surf-guitar licks, Starr's thundering tom-toms and the reverse call-and-response vocals that would become the song's trademark. "I don't like the recording that much," Lennon confessed. "We did it too fast trying to be commercial."

Making movies wasn't as fun as it used to be either. "The movie was out of our control," Lennon told Playboy. "With A Hard Day's Night, we had a lot of input, and it was semirealistic. But with Help! [director] Dick Lester didn't tell us what it was all about."

The Beatles all admitted that it probably wasn't the director's fault that the band had so little input. "A hell of a lot of pot was being smoked while we were making the film," Starr said. "If you look at pictures of us, you can see a lot of red-eyed shots; they were red from the dope we were smoking."

"We were smoking marijuana for breakfast during that period," Lennon said. "Nobody could communicate with us. It was all glazed eyes and giggling all the time. In our own world."

Appears On: Help!

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14

‘She Loves You’

Writers: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: July 1, 1963
Released: September 16, 1963
15 weeks; no. 1

On the afternoon of July 1st, 1963, the Beatles were about to record "She Loves You" at EMI studios when all hell broke loose. As Geoff Emerick — then an assistant at Abbey Road, later the Beatles' engineer — recalled, "The huge crowd of girls that had gathered outside broke through the front door. . . . Scores of hysterical, screaming girls [were] racing down the corridors, being chased by a handful of out-of-breath, beleaguered London bobbies." The disruption may have been a blessing in disguise for the Beatles, who promptly banged out one of the most exuberant pop singles of all time. "[The chaos] helped spark a new level of energy in the group's playing," Emerick wrote.

Lennon and McCartney began writing "She Loves You" in a tour van, then did the bulk of the work in the Turk's Hotel in Newcastle, sitting on twin beds with acoustic guitars. The breakthrough in the lyrics was the introduction of a third person, shaking up the typical I-love-you formula. The variation was inspired by Bobby Rydell's "Forget Him," a hit in the U.K. "It was someone bringing a message," said McCartney. "It wasn't us anymore. There's a little distance we managed to put in it, which was quite interesting."

Still, something was missing. "We'd written the song and we needed more," Lennon said, "so we had 'yeah, yeah, yeah' and it caught on. I don't exactly know where we got it — Lonnie Donegan always did it. Elvis did that in 'All Shook Up.'"

They completed "She Loves You" in McCartney's house back in Liverpool. When his father heard the song, he said, "Son, there's enough Americanisms around. Couldn't you sing, 'Yes, yes, yes,' just for once?" McCartney said, "You don't understand, Dad. It wouldn't work."

For all the raw immediacy of its sound, the song also signaled a new level of sophistication for the band as songwriters and arrangers. "She Loves You" opens with the chorus instead of the first verse for extra punch — a George Martin suggestion. The final touch was the distinctive chord that ends the chorus — Harrison's idea — which sounded "corny" to Martin. "He thought we were joking," said McCartney. "But it didn't work without it, so we kept it in and eventually [he] was convinced."

The appearance by the Beatles on ITV's Sunday Night at the London Palladium on October 13th, 1963, culminating in the band's performance of "She Loves You," is often considered the tipping point of Beatlemania. The Beatles would go on to triumph after triumph as the 1960s went on, but in Great Britain, "She Loves You" remained the bestselling single of the decade.

Appears On: Past Masters

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13

‘Revolution’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: July 10 and 11, 1968
Released: August 26, 1968
11 weeks; no. 12 (B side)

In the spring of 1968, the Vietnam War raged on, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and strikes and student protests in Paris brought the French government to its knees. When the Beatles — who had long been outspoken critics of the Vietnam War — hit Abbey Road Studios to make the White Album at the end of May, the first thing they recorded was "Revolution," which was also the first explicitly political song the band ever released. "I wanted to put out what I felt about revolution," Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970. "I thought it was time we fuckin' spoke about it. The same as we stopped not answering about the Vietnamese War [when we were] on tour with Brian [Epstein]. We had to tell him, 'We're going to talk about the war this time, and we're not going to just waffle.'"

The first version of "Revolution" the Beatles recorded was a slow, bluesy shuffle that eventually became "Revolution 1." (The last six minutes of the master take were a menacing jam that was sheared off and eventually became "Revolution 9.") On July 10th, they returned to "Revolution" for a charged-up electric take — the best-known version of the song, which ended up as the B side of "Hey Jude." It was the hardest-rocking performance the Beatles ever caught on tape, from Lennon's scalding guitar introduction (a reference to Pee Wee Crayton's 1954 blues single "Do Unto Others") to the final howl. "John wanted a really distorted sound," engineer Phil McDonald said. "The guitars were put through the recording console, which was technically not the thing to do. It completely overloaded the channel. Fortunately the technical people didn't find out. They didn't approve of 'abuse of equipment.'"

The crucial lyric difference between the two versions was a single word. "Revolution 1" included the line "When you talk about destruction/Don't you know that you can count me out . . . in." (As McCartney noted, "John was just hedging his bets, covering all eventualities.") But by the time the Beatles cut the single version, it was an unambiguous "count me out." While the mainstream media praised Lennon's stance — Time approved of the song's criticism of "radical activists the world over" — the hard left was unimpressed. Ramparts magazine called its ambivalence a "betrayal."

"The lyrics stand today," Lennon said in 1980. "They're still my feeling about politics: I want to see the plan. . . . I want to know what you're going to do after you've knocked it all down. I mean, can't we use some of it? What's the point of bombing Wall Street? If you want to change the system, change the system. It's no good shooting people."

Appears On: Past Masters

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12

‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’

Writers: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: October 12 and 21, 1965
Released: December 6, 1965
Not released as a single

"Norwegian Wood" had a timeless rock & roll inspiration: sex. As Lennon put it bluntly, "I was trying to write about an affair without letting me wife know I was writing about an affair. I was writing from my experiences, girls' flats, things like that." Graced by Harrison's sitar, "Norwegian Wood" was a huge step forward for the Beatles, continuing their move into more introspective songwriting influenced by Bob Dylan.

Lennon begins with a couplet that flips the usual rock & roll bravado: "I once had a girl/Or should I say, she once had me." He recounts a late-night fling with a worldly urban woman, one who lives in her own pad, has her own career and invites gentlemen up for wine. She is very different from the love interests in early Beatles' songs.

As McCartney later explained, it was popular for Swinging London girls to decorate their homes with Norwegian pine. "So it was a little parody really on those kinds of girls who when you'd go to their flat there would be a lot of Norwegian wood," he told biographer Barry Miles. "It was pine really, cheap pine. But it's not as good a title, 'Cheap Pine,' baby."

Even if it's a tale of a fling with a mod groupie, it's a strikingly adult one, from the London milieu to the way Lennon spends the night at her place (and wakes up in the bathtub). Lennon is the one who gets pursued and seduced, sitting nervously on her rug until she announces, "It's time for bed." Given all the oblique wordplay, Cynthia Lennon was hardly the only listener puzzled. When he wakes up alone the next morning, he lights a fire — does that mean he burns the girl's house down? Lennon never revealed the solution to this mystery; McCartney has endorsed the arson theory.

Although Lennon claimed in 1980 that "Norwegian Wood" was "my song completely," he told Rolling Stone a decade earlier that "Paul helped with the middle eight, to give credit where it's due." According to McCartney, Lennon came to him with just a first verse: "That was all he had, no title, no nothing."

Harrison's sitar debut was the song's most distinctive feature — yet it came from a moment of spontaneous studio experimentation. As Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970, "George had just got the sitar, and I said, 'Could you play this piece?' . . . 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."

Harrison first spotted the sitar on the set of the band's second movie, Help!, where Indian musicians were playing Beatles covers in a restaurant scene. Intrigued, he bought a sitar and "messed around" with it, eventually studying with sitar master Ravi Shankar. Harrison also became interested in Eastern religion and philosophy, which would become a lifelong pursuit.

Looking back in the 1990s, Harrison described the sitar on "Norwegian Wood" as "very rudimentary. I didn't know how to tune it properly, and it was a very cheap sitar to begin with." But "that was the environment in the band," he pointed out, "everybody was very open to bringing in new ideas. We were listening to all sorts of things — Stockhausen, avant-garde — and most of it made its way onto our records."

"Norwegian Wood" was swiftly recognized as a creative breakthrough. Brian Jones paid tribute with his sitar riff in the Rolling Stones' "Paint It, Black," and Dylan did a sly parody on Blonde on Blonde, "4th Time Around," which he played for Lennon in person. "I was very paranoid about that," Lennon confessed to Rolling Stone in 1968. He was already sensitive because the other Beatles were "taking the mickey out of him" for copying Dylan, and he was afraid Dylan was ridiculing him with "4th Time Around." "He said, 'What do you think?' I said I didn't like it." Although Lennon said he later appreciated the song, he did stop wearing his peaked "Dylan cap."

Appears On: Rubber Soul

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11

‘A Hard Day’s Night’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: April 16, 1964
Released: June 26, 1964
13 weeks; no. 1

"A Hard Day's Night" opens with the most famous chord in all of rock & roll: a radiant burst of 12-string guitar evoking the chaos and euphoria of Beatlemania at its height. The sunlight in that chord, the exhilaration of the Beatles' performance and the title's sigh of exhaustion make "A Hard Day's Night" a movie in itself, a compact documentary of the Beatles' meteoric rise.

"In those days, the beginnings and endings of songs were things I tended to organize," said George Martin. "We needed something striking, to be a sudden jerk into the song." At the session, Lennon played around with some fingerings for the opening chord. "It was by chance that he struck the right one," said Martin. "We knew it when we heard it." (In a February 2001 interview, Harrison said the chord is an "F with a G on top, but you'll have to ask Paul about the bass note to get the proper story." McCartney played a high D.)

The title came from a throwaway crack from Starr. "We were working all day and then into the night," he recalled, "[and] I came out thinking it was still day and said, 'It's been a hard day,' and noticing it was dark, ' . . . 's night!'" When Lennon passed the remark on to director Richard Lester, it instantly became the film's title. All they had to do was write a song to go with it. "John and I were always looking for titles," said McCartney. "Once you've got a good title, you are halfway there. With 'A Hard Day's Night,' you've almost captured them."

Lennon wrote the song the night before the session — he scrawled the lyrics on the back of a birthday card for his son, Julian, who had just turned one — and the group cut it in a breakneck three hours. The biggest issue was Harrison's solo: A take that surfaced on a bootleg in the 1980s features him fumbling over his strings, losing his timing and missing notes. But by the time the session wrapped at 10 that night, he had sculpted one of his most memorable solos — a sterling upward run played twice and capped with a circular flourish, with the church-bell chime of his guitar echoed on piano by Martin. "George would spend a lot of time working out solos," said Geoff Emerick. "Everything was a little bit harder for him, nothing quite came easily."

Harrison also played the striking fade-out, a ringing guitar arpeggio that was also a Martin inspiration. "Again, that's film writing," Martin said. "I was stressing to them the importance of making the song fit, not actually finishing it but dangling on so that you're into the next mood."

Appears On: A Hard Day's Night

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10

‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’

Writer: Harrison
Recorded: September 5 and 6, 1968
Released: November 25, 1968
Not released as a single

The lyrics for "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," George Harrison's first truly great Beatles song, began as an accident — but a deliberate one. Harrison composed most of the music during the Beatles' February-April 1968 trip to Rishikesh, India, but wrote its words after the band returned to England. Inspired by the relativism principle of the I Ching, Harrison pulled a book off a shelf in his parents' house, opened it to an arbitrary page and wrote a lyric around the first words he saw, which turned out to be the phrase "gently weeps." (Its source might have been Coates Kinney's much-anthologized 1849 poem "Rain on the Roof," which includes the lines "And the melancholy darkness/Gently weeps in rainy tears.")

Even though the band had recorded Harrison songs on six previous albums, the guitarist still had trouble getting John Lennon and Paul McCartney to take his contributions seriously. Lennon, for his part, later noted that "there was an embarrassing period where [George's] songs weren't that good and nobody wanted to say anything, but we all worked on them."

The initial studio recording of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," from July 25th, 1968 (later included on Anthology 3), was a subdued, nearly solo acoustic piece with an extra verse at the end, very much along the lines of Harrison's original demo. A second version, with the full band (Lennon playing organ), was recorded on August 16th and September 3rd and 5th; it eventually incorporated tape-speed trickery, maracas and a backward guitar solo that never quite yielded the "weeping" sound Harrison was looking for.

Producer George Martin had left for a monthlong vacation before the band began working on a third, electric version on September 5th, with Lennon on lead guitar and Ringo Starr contributing a heavy, lurching rhythm. That arrangement didn't quite come together, either. "They weren't taking it seriously," Harrison later remembered. "I went home that night thinking, 'Well, that's a shame,' because I knew the song was pretty good."

The next day, Harrison was giving Eric Clapton a ride from Surrey into London, when Harrison figured out how to make his bandmates focus on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps": He asked the Cream guitarist to play on it. Clapton initially declined. "'Nobody [else] ever plays on Beatles records,'" Harrison recalled Clapton arguing. But Harrison replied, "Look, it's my song. I want you to play on it." (A few months earlier, Clapton had joined Harrison, McCartney and Starr to record Jackie Lomax's version of the Harrison composition "Sour Milk Sea.")

With the famous guest in the studio, the other Beatles got down to business — McCartney's harmonies sound particularly inspired. As Harrison put it, "It's interesting to see how nicely people behave when you bring a guest in, because they don't really want everybody to know that they're so bitchy." Clapton's flickering filigrees and spectacular, lyrical solo brought the whole thing together, and it was finished that night. "It's lovely, plaintive," Mick Jagger told Rolling Stone in 2002. "Only a guitar player could write that. I love that song."

Clapton became one of Harrison's closest friends — as well as his potential replacement. When Harrison briefly quit the Beatles during the Let It Be sessions, Lennon's response was to snap, "If he doesn't come back by Tuesday, we'll just get Clapton."

Appears On: The Beatles

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9

‘Come Together’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: July 21-23, 25, 29 and 30, 1969
Released: October 1, 1969
16 weeks; no. 1

"Come Together" originated as a campaign slogan for Timothy Leary, who was running for governor of California against Ronald Reagan in the 1970 election. The LSD guru and his wife, Rosemary, were invited to Montreal for John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Bed-In" in June 1969, and they sang along on the recording of "Give Peace a Chance" (and were given a shout-out in the lyrics). Lennon asked Leary if there was anything he could do to help his candidacy.

"The Learys wanted me to write them a campaign song," Lennon told Rolling Stone, "and their slogan was 'Come together.'" He knocked out what he called "a chant-along thing," and Leary took the demo tape home and aired it on some radio stations.

But Lennon decided that he wanted to do something else with the lyric he had started, rather than finish the Leary campaign song. "I never got around to it, and I ended up writing 'Come Together' instead," he said. When he brought his new song in for the Abbey Road sessions, it was much faster than the final version and more obviously modeled on Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me" — the opening line, "Here come old flat-top," is a direct lift from Berry's 1956 recording. (Shortly after the release of Abbey Road, Berry's publisher charged the Beatles with copyright infringement; the case was settled in 1973, with Lennon agreeing to record three songs owned by the company — two Berry songs on the Rock 'n' Roll album and Lee Dorsey's "Ya Ya" on Walls and Bridges.)

Paul McCartney had a few suggestions for how to improve the song, as he recalled in The Beatles Anthology: "I said, 'Let's slow it down with a swampy bass-and-drums vibe.' I came up with a bass line, and it all flowed from there." Lennon said that the "over me" break at the end of the chorus began as an Elvis parody. The lyrics are a rapid-fire pileup of puns, in-jokes and what he called "gobbledygook" that he made up in the studio. The message was clear when he cried out at the end of the second verse, "One thing I can tell you is you got to be free." But for Lennon, the hypnotic rhythm was the most important thing: "It was a funky record — it's one of my favorite Beatles tracks. It's funky, it's bluesy, and I'm singing it pretty well."

After the antagonism of Let It Be, it was almost impossible to imagine the band returning to this sort of creative collaboration. "If I had to pick one song that showed the four disparate talents of the boys and the ways they combined to make a great sound, I would choose 'Come Together,'" George Martin said. "The original song is good, and with John's voice it's better. Then Paul has this idea for this great little riff. And Ringo hears that and does a drum thing that fits in, and that establishes a pattern that John leapt upon and did the ["shoot me"] part. And then there's George's guitar at the end. The four of them became much, much better than the individual components."

"Come Together" was the final flicker of this rejuvenated spirit: It was the last song all four Beatles cut together.

Appears On: Abbey Road

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8

‘Let It Be’

Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: January 25, 26 and 31, April 30, 1969; January 4, 1970
Released: March 11, 1970
14 weeks; no. 1

Channeling the church-born soul of Aretha Franklin, Paul McCartney started writing “Let It Be” in 1968, during the White Album sessions. (Aretha’s cover of the song was released before the Beatles’ version.) McCartney’s opening lines — “When I find myself in times of trouble/Mother Mary comes to me” — were based on a dream in which his own late mother, Mary, offered solace, assuring him that everything would turn out fine. “I’m not sure if she used the words ‘Let it be,'” McCartney said, “but that was the gist of her advice.”

At that point, the Beatles were in their own time of trouble. A month of on-camera rehearsal and live recording had been intended to energize the bandmates and return them to their beat-combo roots. (They had pushed George Martin into the background: “I don’t want any of your production shit,” John Lennon told him. “We want this to be an honest album.”) Instead, it was a miserable experience, during which the petty arguments of previous albums turned into open hostility. Lennon wasn’t crazy about “Let It Be”; he poked fun at the song’s earnestness in the studio, asking, “Are we supposed to giggle in the solo?” But the band worked for days on the song, recording the basic track at Apple Studios on January 31st, 1969.

After wrapping up the filmed sessions that day, the Beatles turned a mountain of tapes over to engineer Glyn Johns to assemble into an album, tentatively titled Get Back. George Harrison didn’t like his solo on the version of “Let It Be” that Johns picked, so he replaced his part with a new take, in which his guitar was run through a rotating Leslie organ speaker. That solo, with its distinctive warbling tone, ended up on the single.

At the beginning of 1970 — almost a year after the initial recording — McCartney, Harrison and Starr convened to do touch-up work on a few songs from a year earlier, including “Let It Be.” (Lennon, who had effectively quit the Beatles after the recording of Abbey Road, was in Denmark with Yoko Ono.) McCartney replaced John’s bass part with his own, Harrison recorded another guitar solo (the one used on the album mix), a brass section scored by Martin was added, and Harrison and Paul and Linda McCartney sang backup vocals.

Lennon had been impressed with producer Phil Spector’s work on his “Instant Karma!” single, and in March 1970, he and Beatles manager Allen Klein called in Spector to work on the January 1969 tapes. “He was given the shittiest load of badly recorded shit with a lousy feeling to it ever, and he made something out of it,” said Lennon. Spector did the LP mix of the title track (after the single had already been released) and is credited with producing it, although it’s mixed from the same tape as the single. McCartney later declared that Spector’s version “sounded terrible.”

Johns said he preferred his spare mix of the song, the one done before “Spector puked all over it.” Spector called the atmosphere between band members a “war zone” and felt he’d done the best he could under the circumstances. “If it’s shitty, I’m going to get blamed for it,” he said. “If it’s a success, it’s the Beatles.”

“Let It Be” was released on March 11th, 1970. A month later, on April 10th, McCartney took the occasion of the release of his first solo album to announce that the Beatles had broken up.

Appears On: Let It Be and Past Masters

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7

‘Hey Jude’

Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: July 29-August 1, 1968
Released: August 26, 1968
19 weeks; no. 1

"Hey Jude" was inspired by John and Cynthia Lennon's five-year-old son, Julian. "Paul and I used to hang out quite a bit — more than Dad and I did," Julian said. "Maybe Paul was into kids a bit more at the time."

McCartney was visiting Cynthia after she and Lennon had broken up, and he was thinking of Julian on the drive over there. "I was going out in my car, just vaguely singing this song," McCartney said, "and it was like, 'Hey, Jules. . . .' And then I just thought a better name was Jude. A bit more country & western for me." The opening lines were "a hopeful message for Julian: 'Come on, man, your parents got divorced. I know you're not happy, but you'll be OK.'"

"Hey Jude" can also be heard as McCartney's song of consolation to himself as his relationship with Jane Asher was ending and as the Beatles' future was growing more uncertain. The song was recorded in the middle of the White Album sessions, which were plagued by fighting within the band and increasing alienation as the individual songwriters started treating the other Beatles as sidemen on their songs — if they used them at all. McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr resented the constant presence of John's new girlfriend, Yoko Ono, in the studio. Engineer Geoff Emerick found the squabbling so unpleasant that he quit. George Martin, also exhausted from the bickering and from running between the individual Beatles recording simultaneously in separate studios, abandoned the sessions to take a vacation, leaving production of the album for several weeks to his assistant Chris Thomas. Fed up himself, Starr left the band for two weeks (the first band member to quit the Beatles).

When Lennon first heard "Hey Jude," he loved it — he thought McCartney was singing to him, about his relationship with Ono and the strains on the Lennon-McCartney partnership. (Lennon's contribution to the song came when McCartney pointed out a place-holder line in the fifth verse: "The movement you need is on your shoulder." Lennon insisted he leave it as is. "That's the best line in it!" he said.) Calling "Hey Jude" one of McCartney's "masterpieces," Lennon said in 1980, "I always heard it as a song to me. . . . Yoko's just come into the picture. He's saying, 'Hey, Jude — hey, John.' Subconsciously he was saying, 'Go ahead, leave me.'"

The band hired a 36-piece orchestra for the session; the classical musicians were encouraged to sing and clap along to the song, for double their usual rate. One musician would not go along. "'I'm not going to clap my hands and sing Paul McCartney's bloody song,'" Martin remembered him saying. "He said his union card said he was a violinist, and he walked out of the studio. Much to everyone's amazement." There were other problems too: McCartney had to tell Harrison to tone down his guitar-playing, which was cluttering up the verses. (Harrison "wasn't into what I was saying," said McCartney. "It was bossy, but it was also ballsy of me, because I could have bowed to the pressure.") And when it came time to record the master take, McCartney hadn't noticed that Starr was in the bathroom. Fortunately, the drums come in so late in "Hey Jude" that Starr was able to sprint back behind his kit and come in right on time.

The ending refrain goes on for a full four minutes, even longer than the verses, which clock in at just over three minutes. The band hadn't planned it that way, but McCartney was having too much fun ad-libbing to quit. "I just wouldn't stop doing all that 'Judy Judy Judy — wooow!" he said. "Cary Grant on heat!"

"Hey Jude" was the first release on the group's Apple Records label. It spent nine weeks at Number One, holding the top spot longer than any other Beatles song. It was also the longest Beatles song up to that point, clocking in at seven minutes and 11 seconds. Martin objected to its length, claiming radio wouldn't play the tune. "They will if it's us," Lennon shot back.

Appears On: Past Masters

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6

‘Something’

Writer: Harrison
Recorded: April 16, May 2 and 5, July 11 and 16, August 15, 1969
Released: October 1, 1969
16 weeks; no. 3

On February 25th, 1969, his 26th birthday, George Harrison recorded three demos at EMI studios. He did two takes each of "Old Brown Shoe," which would end up as the B side of "Let It Be," and "All Things Must Pass," the title song of his 1970 solo album. He also took a pass at a winsome ballad that he had written on piano during a break in the White Album sessions in 1968: "Something." "George's material wasn't really paid all that much attention to — to such an extent that he asked me to stay behind after [everyone else had gone]," says engineer Glyn Johns, who recorded the demos. "He was terribly nice, as if he was imposing on me. And then he plays this song that just completely blows me away."

Harrison initially believed the song was so catchy he must have heard it before: "I just put it on ice for six months because I thought, 'That's too easy!'" The opening lyric — "Something in the way she moves" — was a James Taylor song from his 1968 Apple Records debut. (Harrison had attended sessions for Taylor's record and sang backup vocals on another song.) "In my mind," Harrison said, "I heard Ray Charles singing 'Something.'" Still, he didn't necessarily think it was good enough for the Beatles.

He even gave the song to Joe Cocker, who recorded it first. When Harrison finally presented "Something" to the other Beatles, they loved it. John Lennon said "Something" was "the best track on the album." Paul McCartney called it the best song [Harrison has] written." "It took my breath away," producer George Martin later said, "mainly because I never thought that George could do it. It was tough for him because he didn't have any springboard against which he could work, like the other two did. And so he was a loner."

The other Beatles worked on "Something" for several months, editing, arranging and rerecording it to perfection. In a reversal, Harrison became musical director, telling McCartney how to play the bass line. "It was a first," engineer Geoff Emerick said. "George had never dared tell Paul what to do." At the final session, Harrison shared the conductor's podium with Martin during the string overdubs and recut his guitar solo, a sparkling combination of dirty-blues-like slide and soaring romanticism, live with the orchestra.

"Something" went to Number Three and eventually became the second-most-covered Beatles song, behind "Yesterday." Charles would in fact sing it, on his 1971 album, Volcanic Action of My Soul. Frank Sinatra would describe it as "the greatest love song of the past 50 years" (although he often introduced it as a Lennon-McCartney composition).

"He was nervous about his songs," Martin said of Harrison, "because he knew that he wasn't the number-one [songwriter] in the group. He always had to try harder." But with "Something," the guitarist proved himself to his peers, and to the world.

Appears On: Abbey Road

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5

‘In My Life’

Writers: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: October 18 and 22, 1965
Released: December 6, 1965
Not released as a single

'In My Life" represented a crucial breakthrough for John Lennon — as well as a creative struggle. The song began with a question: During a March 1964 interview with Lennon, journalist Kenneth Allsop asked why he hadn't written more lyrics about his life and experiences. "I had a sort of professional songwriter's attitude to writing pop songs," Lennon said to Rolling Stone in 1970. "I would write [books like] In His Own Write, to express my personal emotions. I'd have a separate songwriting John Lennon who wrote songs for the meat market. I didn't consider them to have any depth at all. They were just a joke."

Taking Allsop's critique to heart, Lennon wrote a long poem about people and places from his past, touching on Liverpool landmarks like Penny Lane, Strawberry Field and Menlove Avenue. "I had a complete set of lyrics after struggling with a journalistic version of a trip downtown on a bus, naming every sight," he said. When he read the poem later, though, "it was the most boring 'What I Did on My Holidays' song, and it wasn't working. But then I laid back, and these lyrics started coming to me about the places I remember."

What happened next is a dispute that will never be resolved. "In My Life" is one of only a handful of Lennon-McCartney songs where the two strongly disagreed over who wrote what: According to Lennon, "The whole lyrics were already written before Paul even heard it. His contribution melodically was the harmony and the middle eight." According to McCartney, Lennon basically had the first verse done. At one of their writing sessions at Lennon's Weybridge estate, the two painstakingly rewrote the lyrics, making them less specific and more universal. (Some of Lennon's lines, like his reference to the late Stu Sutcliffe, the Beatles' former bassist, in "some are dead and some are living," remained.) McCartney also says he wrote the melody on Lennon's Mellotron, inspired by Smokey Robinson, as well as the gentle opening guitar figure.

Regardless of its true authorship, "In My Life" represented Lennon's evolution as an artist. "I started being me about the songs, not writing them objectively, but subjectively," Lennon said. "I think it was Dylan who helped me realize that — not by any discussion or anything, but by hearing his work." The Beatles were huge Dylan fans by early 1964, playing The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan nonstop in between gigs. When Dylan visited the Beatles in New York that August, he famously introduced them to marijuana. (He thought the Beatles were already pot smokers, having misheard the lyrics "I can't hide" in "I Want to Hold Your Hand" as "I get high.") Dylan and pot would be the great twin influences that led the Beatles out of their moptop period and on to their first masterpiece, Rubber Soul.

Before that album, "We were just writing songs à la the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly," Lennon said, "pop songs with no more thought to them than that." He rightly called "In My Life" "my first real, major piece of work. Up until then, it had all been glib and throwaway."

Appears On: Rubber Soul

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4

‘Yesterday’

Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: June 14 and 17, 1965
Released: September 13, 1965
11 weeks; no. 1

The tune that would go on to become the most covered song in history began as something called "Scrambled Eggs." It also began in a dream.

"It fell out of bed," Paul McCartney once said about the origins of "Yesterday." "I had a piano by my bedside, and I must have dreamed it, because I tumbled out of bed and put my hands on the piano keys and I had a tune in my head. It was just all there, a complete thing. I couldn't believe it. It came too easy."

In fact, it was so fully formed that he was sure he must have unconsciously plagiarized a melody he'd heard somewhere else. So for months he allowed the unpolished song to sit on the shelf, occasionally strumming a few bars for George Martin or Ringo Starr and asking, "Is this like something?"

Martin recalled McCartney playing him the song as far back as January 1964, before the Beatles even landed in America. McCartney's own recollection has him writing the tune later, but regardless, John Lennon confirmed that the song "was around for months and months before we finally completed it."

For a long time, McCartney couldn't get past the placeholder words "Scrambled eggs/Oh, my baby, how I love your legs." He finished the actual lyrics on a holiday with his girlfriend, actress Jane Asher, creating a frank poem of regret that he has called "the most complete song I have ever written."

Recording the track was more challenging. As Martin explained, "It wasn't a three-guitars-and-drums kind of song. I said, 'Put down guitar and voice just to begin with, Paul, and then we'll see what we can do with it.'" After trying several different approaches, including one with Lennon on the organ, Martin made an unorthodox suggestion. "I said, 'What about having a string accompaniment, you know, fairly tastefully done?' Paul said, 'Yuk! I don't want any of that Mantovani rubbish. I don't want any of that syrupy stuff.' Then I thought back to my classical days, and I said, 'Well, what about a string quartet, then?'"

McCartney still wasn't convinced. "I said, 'Are you kidding?'" he recalled. "'This is a rock group!' I hated the idea. [Martin] said, 'Well, let's just try it, and if you hate it, we can just wipe it and go back to you and the guitar.' So I sat at the piano and worked out the arrangements with him, and we did it, and, of course, we liked it."

The recording captures the Beatles' inventive spirit, opening the door to a willingness to experiment with new sounds. "Yesterday" signaled to the world that the Beatles — and rock & roll — had made a sudden leap from brash adolescence to literate maturity.

After the session, Martin took manager Brian Epstein aside and quietly suggested that since none of the other Beatles contributed to the track, perhaps the song should be issued as a Paul McCartney solo record. Epstein's response, according to Martin, was, "This is the Beatles — we don't differentiate." Meanwhile, the group was still unsure about "Yesterday" and didn't release it as a single in the U.K. "We were a little embarrassed by it," McCartney said. "We were a rock & roll band."

"Yesterday" quickly went to Number One in the U.S. (It was one of a half-dozen tracks Capitol left off the American version of the Help! soundtrack and was released as a single instead.) It is the most popular song in the Beatles' catalog, recorded more than 2,500 times — by everyone from Ray Charles and Elvis Presley to Frank Sinatra and Daffy Duck — a fact that did not necessarily sit well with Lennon, who had nothing to do with it. Lennon once joked, "I go to restaurants and the groups always play 'Yesterday.' I even signed a guy's violin in Spain after he played us 'Yesterday.' He couldn't understand that I didn't write the song. But I guess he couldn't have gone from table to table playing 'I Am the Walrus.'"

Appears On: Help!

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the beatles 100 greatest songs

David Redfern/Redferns

3

‘Strawberry Fields Forever’

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: November 24, 28 and 29, December 8, 9, 15, 21 and 22, 1966
Released: February 13, 1967
9 weeks; no. 8

John Lennon wrote "Strawberry Fields Forever" in September 1966 in Spain, where he was making the film How I Won the War. Alone, with no Beatles business for the first time in years, he found himself free to reach deep for inspiration, going back to childhood memories. As Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1968, "We were trying to write about Liverpool, and I just listed all the nice-sounding names arbitrarily. But I have visions of Strawberry Fields. . . . Because Strawberry Fields is just anywhere you want to go." Strawberry Field (Lennon added the "s") was a Liverpool children's home near where Lennon grew up with his Aunt Mimi. When he was young, Lennon, who had been abandoned by both his parents, would climb over the wall of the orphanage and play in its wild gardens.

"I was hip in kindergarten," Lennon explained in 1980. "I was different all my life. The second verse goes, 'No one I think is in my tree.' Well, I was too shy and self-doubting. Nobody seems to be as hip as me is what I was saying. Therefore, I must be crazy or a genius — 'I mean it must be high or low,' the next line. There was something wrong with me, I thought, because I seemed to see things other people didn't see."

After finishing the song on a Spanish beach, Lennon returned to England and played it for the rest of the band. As engineer Geoff Emerick recalled, "There was a moment of stunned silence, broken by Paul, who in a quiet, respectful tone said simply, 'That is absolutely brilliant.'" At that point, it was an acoustic-guitar ballad, reminiscent of Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." But in the studio, it became a whole new thing, as the Beatles experimented with it for days. Having retired from touring earlier that year, they were free to record at their leisure, cutting dozens of takes in the next two weeks. McCartney composed the intro on a Mellotron, a primitive synthesizer.

Lennon wanted to keep the first part from one take (Take 26) and the second part from another, recorded the previous week (Take 7) — despite the fact that they were in different keys and tempos. Producer George Martin accomplished this by slightly speeding up one take and slowing down the other. The manipulation of time and key only added to the brooding, ghostly feeling of Lennon's vocals, giving the entire song an aura of surreal timelessness. The finished take ends with a fragment of a long jam session, in which Lennon says "cranberry sauce": Paul Is Dead freaks believed he was saying, "I buried Paul."

"Strawberry Fields" was the first track cut during the Sgt. Pepper sessions. The innovative studio techniques the Beatles employed recording it and McCartney's "Penny Lane," another childhood memory of a Liverpool landmark, heralded the band's new direction — as did the acid-inspired reverie in the lyrics of both songs. The tracks were to be centerpieces of the Beatles' greatest album, but under pressure by EMI to produce a new single (it had been six months since their last 45), they released both songs in February 1967 as a double A side. Martin later regretted the decision to remove the tracks from Sgt. Pepper as "the biggest mistake of my career."

Growing up "was scary because there was nobody to relate to," Lennon once said. Strawberry Field the place (which closed in 2005) represented those haunting childhood visions. With "Strawberry Fields" the song, he conquered them forever.

Appears On: Magical Mystery Tour

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the beatles 100 greatest songs

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

2

‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’

Writers: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: October 17, 1963
Released: December 26, 1963
15 weeks; no. 1

When the joyous, high-end racket of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" first blasted across the airwaves, America was still reeling from the November 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Beatles songs had drifted across the Atlantic in a desultory way before, but no British rock & roll act had ever made the slightest impact on these shores. The Beatles and their manager, Brian Epstein, were determined to be the first, vowing that they wouldn't come to the U.S. until they had a Number One record.

"I Want to Hold Your Hand" changed everything. "Luckily, we didn't know what America was — we just knew our dream of it — or we probably would have been too intimidated," Paul McCartney told Rolling Stone in 1987. The single was most Americans' first exposure to the songwriting magic of Lennon and McCartney, who composed the song sitting side by side at the piano in the London home of the parents of McCartney's girlfriend, Jane Asher.

"I remember when we got the chord that made the song," John Lennon later said. "We had, 'Oh, you-u-u/Got that something,' and Paul hits this chord, and I turn to him and say, 'That's it! Do that again!' In those days, we really used to write like that — both playing into each other's noses."

The song "was the apex of Phase One of the Beatles' development," said producer George Martin. "When they started out, in the 'Love Me Do' days, they weren't good writers. They stole unashamedly from existing records. It wasn't until they tasted blood that they realized they could do this, and that set them on the road to writing better songs."

The lightning-bolt energy lunges out of the speakers with a rhythm so tricky that many bands who covered the song couldn't figure it out. Lennon's and McCartney's voices constantly switch between unison and harmony. Every element of the song is a hook, from Lennon's riffing to George Harrison's string-snapping guitar fills to the group'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 "She Loves You" from the top of the charts. After a teenager in Washington, D.C., persuaded a local DJ to seek out an import of the single, it quickly became a hit on the few American stations that managed to score a copy. Rush-released in the U.S. the day after Christmas, the song hit Number One on February 1st, 1964.

Having accomplished their goal, the Beatles' appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9th, drawing 70 million viewers, the most in the history of TV to that time. "It was like a dam bursting," Martin said.

Teens weren't the only ones swept up in Beatlemania. Some of America's greatest artists fell under their spell. Poet Allen Ginsberg leapt up to dance the first time he heard "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in a New York club. Composer Leonard Bernstein rhapsodized about the Sullivan appearance, "I fell in love with the Beatles' music — the ineluctable beat, the Schubert-like flow of musical invention and the Fuck-You coolness of the Four Horsemen of Our Apocalypse." Bob Dylan, who had just released The Times They Are A-Changin', saw the future. "They were doing things nobody was doing," Dylan said in 1971. "Their chords were outrageous. It was obvious to me they had staying power. I knew they were pointing in the direction of where music had to go. In my head, the Beatles were it."

Appears On: Past Masters

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the beatles 100 greatest songs

Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

1

‘A Day in the Life’

Writers: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: January 19 and 20, February 3, 10 and 22, 1967
Released: June 2, 1967
Not released as a single

"A Day in the Life" is the sound of the Beatles on a historic roll. "It was a peak," John Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970, recalling the Sgt. Pepper period. It's also the ultimate Lennon-McCartney collaboration: "Paul and I were definitely working together, especially on 'A Day in the Life,'" said Lennon.

After their August 29th, 1966, concert in San Francisco, the Beatles left live performing for good. Rumors of tension within the group spread as the Beatles released no new music for months. "People in the media sensed that there was too much of a lull," Paul McCartney said later, "which created a vacuum, so they could bitch about us now. They'd say, 'Oh, they've dried up,' but we knew we hadn't."

With Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles created an album of psychedelic visions; coming at the end, "A Day in the Life" sounds like the whole world falling apart. Lennon sings about death and dread in his most spectral vocal, treated with what he called his "Elvis echo" — a voice, as producer George Martin said in 1992, "which sends shivers down the spine."

Lennon took his lyrical inspiration from the newspapers and his own life: The "lucky man who made the grade" was supposedly Tara Browne, a 21-year-old London aristocrat killed in a December 1966 car wreck, and the film in which "the English army had just won the war" probably referred to Lennon's own recent acting role in How I Won the War. Lennon really did find a Daily Mail story about 4,000 potholes in the roads of Blackburn, Lancashire.

Lennon wrote the basic song, but he felt it needed something different for the middle section. McCartney had a brief song fragment handy, the part that begins "Woke up, fell out of bed." "He was a bit shy about it because I think he thought, 'It's already a good song,'" Lennon said. But McCartney also came up with the idea to have classical musicians deliver what Martin called an "orchestral orgasm." The February 10th session became a festive occasion, with guests like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marianne Faithfull and Donovan. The studio was full of balloons; the formally attired orchestra members were given party hats, rubber noses and gorilla paws to wear. Martin and McCartney both conducted the musicians, having them play from the lowest note on their instruments to the highest.

Two weeks later, the Beatles added the last touch: the piano crash that hangs in the air for 53 seconds. Martin had every spare piano in the building hauled down to the Beatles' studio, where Lennon, McCartney, Ringo Starr, Martin and roadie Mal Evans played the same E-major chord, as engineer Geoff Emerick turned up the faders to catch every last trace. By the end, the levels were up so high that you can hear Starr's shoe squeak.

In April, two months before Sgt. Pepper came out, McCartney visited San Francisco, carrying a tape with an unfinished version of "A Day in the Life." He gave it to members of the Jefferson Airplane, and the tape ended up at a local free-form rock station, KMPX, which put it into rotation, blowing minds all over the Haight-Ashbury community. The BBC banned the song for the druggy line "I'd love to turn you on." They weren't so far off base: "When [Martin] was doing his TV program on Pepper," McCartney recalled later, "he asked me, 'Do you know what caused Pepper?' I said, 'In one word, George, drugs. Pot.' And George said, 'No, no. But you weren't on it all the time.' 'Yes, we were.' Sgt. Pepper was a drug album."

In truth, the song was far too intense musically and emotionally for regular radio play. It wasn't really until the Eighties, after Lennon's murder, that "A Day in the Life" became recognized as the band's masterwork. In this song, as in so many other ways, the Beatles were way ahead of everyone else.

Appears On: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

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