I promised Dr. Rock’s list of 25 favorite Beatles songs today, but I lied.
After starting it, I realized containing the Fab Four’s best to just 25 songs is more impossible than stuffing the moon inside a duffel bag.
The list grew to 30, then 35.
I gave up and figured we’re celebrating their 50th appearance on “Ed Sullivan” on Sunday night, right? So 50 songs seems fitting. A lot, yes, but fitting. And this is just further confirmation of their brilliance, that 50 great songs could come to mind so readily, without even straining. I couldn’t do that with any other group, except, perhaps, the Stones and Led Zeppelin.
Anyhow, here they are, and the order is really kind of random because I love all 50 songs (and so many more that didn’t make the list, including some stunners.) I aimed for not just hits but album cuts that I love for whatever reason…perhaps where I was when I heard them, or what they mean to me, personally. Your list of 50 would probably be entirely different and that’s entirely fair.
Away we go.
50. “Taxman.” Glorious George, satiric bite, and it rocks.
49. “Yer Blues.” Precursor to John’s raw, ravaged first solo album.
48. “Two of Us.” “Let It Be” gets a bad rap; it has some killer songs like this harmony, acoustic-powered gem.
47. “I Am the Walrus.” So many psychedelic songs of the era don’t hold up all that well, but I never tired of this one.
46. “Cry Baby Cry.” One of Paul’s best on “The Beatles” is hidden away on Side Four. Wish he’d revive this one, live.
45. “I’m Down.” Early, raw, Little Richard-styled rocker that whips up a storm.
44. “I Want You.” Love the contrast here from hushed to savage, brain-bending riff that just keeps going until it’s abrupt end.
43. “Good Day Sunshine.” Melodic brilliance from Paul; like most of his stuff, to hear it once means it’s imbedded in your head.
42. “I’m So Tired.” Curse Sir Walter Raleigh; he’s such a stupid get..captured a state of mind, and the pauses are perfect.
41. “Baby, You’re a Rich Man.” I crank this one; always one of my favorites of their “lesser-played” songs that you never hear on the radio. I’m also a sucker for their trippy phase.
40. “Tomorrow Never Knows.” A game-changer, one that showed they had no qualms about experimenting.
39. “Hello, Goodbye.” Lush, brilliantly constructed gem that takes me back to 1967 when I was still discovering them, at age 10, and just so over the moon when a new Beatles song hit the radio.
38. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” “Picture yourself on a boat on a river”—the songwriting again takes a major leap.
37. “Penny Lane.” They started recording “Sgt. Pepper” with “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields,” then put them out as a double-sided single instead, leaving them off the album entirely. Crazy. Just a gorgeous reverie.
36. “She Loves You.” Infectious, essential slice of Beatlemania.
35. “Drive My Car.” Paul’s bass, the harmonies, George’s guitar: Stefon would say this song has everything, and it does. It’s also one of countless Beatles songs that I thought should have been a single.
34. “Lady Madonna.” Short but oh-so-perfect, not a second wasted. I remember when this and the Monkees’ “Valleri” battled it out for No. 1 in 1968.
33. “Don’t Let Me Down.” Another personal favorite, punchy, urgent, desperate and rocking.
32. “Back in the USSR.” Opening “The Beatles” with a song about the USSR was wildly subversive at the time, but that they did it in a way which referenced the Beach Boys and early pop just showcased their brilliant wit all the more.
31. “Helter Skelter.” Did they invent heavy metal?
30. “Can’t Buy Me Love.” At the height of Beatlemania, they could do no wrong, releasing urgent, perfectly crafted pop-rockers like they write them in their sleep. Like this one.
29. “A Hard Days Night.” And this one.
28. “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.” There’s something vulnerable, revealing, intimate and infinitely sad about this song that I related to in a major major way.
27. “Norwegian Wood.” The sitar, of course, makes it noteworthy but the enigmatic, wistful tone hits me just as much.
26. “Daytripper.” Mid-period Beatles, those ringing, chiming rockers they rolled out in 65-66…my Lord, they perfected them before moving onto other constructs and experiments that, of course, were equally thrilling.
25. “We Can Work It Out.” This was one of the first Beatles songs I remember hearing on the radio as a kid, when it was brand new, and I instantly had to have it. HAD TO HAVE IT. And, after they broke up, you don’t know how often I’d tell people, they can work it out. Except they didn’t.
24. “I Saw Her Standing There.” B-side! A song this good, released as a b-side. When I bought their 45s, I quickly learned to play both sides because they were always just as good. (Another example, not on this list, that I also loved was “You Can’t Do That.”)
23. “Ticket to Ride.” Love the chiming riff, harmonies and outro…pure pop perfection.
22. “Eleanor Rigby.” The strings and dark themes revealed more of their depth and songwriting ambition.
21. “Paperback Writer.” So dense, complex, compacted and perfectly constructed. I don’t think any cover band can ever do this justice.
20. “Thank You, Girl.” Another early gem that would have hit No. 1, if it was a single. Showcases their fabulous harmonies.
19. “Magical Mystery Tour.” The horns, immaculate production, crescendo and payoff… It’s dazzling, and a song I never tire of.
18. “Dear Prudence.” One of my favorites from “The White Album.” So easy to get lost in the sonic swirl of this, and I even love the soft fadeout. Per usual, they thought through every note, every second.
17. “Nowhere Man.” Early plaintive message song I again related to.
16. “Yesterday.” Overplayed, yes, but genius and this is the song that, at the time, made many “adults” sit back and think, “Um, maybe there IS something to these guys.”
15. “She Said She Said.” One of my favorite Lennon tracks, I love Harrison’s riffs and the fever-mind-trip dreaminess of it all.
14. “Here Comes The Sun.” George’s best? It’s my absolute favorite of his. You’ll note this list doesn’t include “While My Guitar Gently Weeps…” Always found that one a tad boring.
13. “Help!” Lennon said the sentiment here was real; the world and its demands on them had become all consuming. And he found a way to write about it that was so impossible to resist it only made them more popular than ever.
12. “Rain.” There’s a reason a certain tribute band took this name; it’s one of the Beatles’ most perfect, psychedelic rockers ever.
11. “Revolution.” Both versions, dreamy, lush acoustic from the White Album and stinging, killer rocker that was the flip side (imagine that) of “Hey Jude” are worthy. But the electric version is the one that I blast more often.
10. “Get Back.” This one, to me, just feels utterly timeless, a hit in any year, even now, if it was unearthed for the first time and released.
9. “Strawberry Fields Forever.” This was so radical at the time, it was confusing but the adventurousness of it, and its fresh, original sonic template astonished me. Another one I never, ever tire of.
8. “In My Life.” Does songcraft get more gorgeous than this beautifully reflective side of Lennon that still gives me chills when I hear it?
7. “Sgt. Pepper/With a Little Help From My Friends.” Another game-changer from the album that shifted the world on its axis back in 1967. You have to hear these two together.
6. “Come Together.” George Martin says this is his favorite Beatles song, and maybe that’s because he produced the hell out of it but also, like “Get Back,” it’s utterly, perfectly timeless.
5. “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” The tune that started it all. With its handclaps and boyish urgency and breakneck energy, it retains a freshness and buoyancy that makes me delirious. It’s why millions fell in love with them.
4. “Let It Be.” A prayer, hope and a piano. Another one that gives me chills.
3. “Hey Jude.” They broke all the rules: 7 minute single, that sing-a-long fade out. It was meant for Julian Lennon but it’s really a universal pat on the shoulder, a shout of encouragement to all of us to just hang in there and to realize everything will be all right.
2. Side 2 suite, “Abbey Road.” Bit of a cheat? I don’t think so. The flow of this, how the songs fit together and are interwoven, is so masterfully executed that you can’t pull one apart from another. Paul performs the whole thing live; he can’t even take them apart. The whole thing is art, magical and pop perfection. And I really love “Mean Mr. Mustard.” Know how “Breaking Bad” ended at a high point, it only got better as it went along? Same with the Beatles. They closed out with “Abbey Road.
1. “A Day in the Life.” Everything about their genius is encapsulated in the final, crowning moment on “Sgt. Pepper” and it also, for me, signals the best of the McCartney/Lennon partnership, how they elevated each other’s game. It’s a showcase for their ambition, their craft and their view — at the time — that pop could be a transcendent force.
So, those are my favorites.
What are yours? It’s ridiculous, I know, to leave out “Eight Days A Week” and “I Feel Fine” and “Yellow Submarine” and “All You Need Is Love” and, well, the longer the list swells, the more proof piles up on the table for reasons why the world will remember their grand entrance again on Sunday night on CBS.
Now, watch this.
Just in: Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band will play First Niagara Pavilion near Pittsburgh on July 23. Tickets will go on sale Feb. 17 at Ticketmaster.