"I've escaped it, a life wasted/And I'm never going back again." - Pearl Jam, "Life Wasted"

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Top 25 Beatles songs

The greatest rock band. Why? Not only did they leave behind a collection of timeless, undisputed, universal classics, but they also expanded rock's musical palette with every album released.

They are a band where the sum is far, far, far greater than its parts. The secret is that they have not one, not two, but three superb songwriters. There's some great songs for every taste, every genre.

I started liking John Lennon's strident songs first, then got into George Harrison's intricate, spiritual musings. Lately, however, it's been Paul McCartney. Think about it: he wrote the best ballads in the band, as well as the toughest rockers like "Helter Skelter". Yeah, some of his songs make me cringe, but others are downright brilliant.

25 The End (Abbey Road)
The final goodbye in their last recorded album. And what a great send-off too. George, Paul and John trade off guitar solos for about a minute, and then comes the final epitaph.... Spine-tingling moment: "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." Sung in their perfect harmonious voices.

24 Yellow Submarine (Revolver)
Wholesome, harmless fun tune? Apparently, some censors believed that a Yellow Submarine is LSD. Wow, what imagination. Spine-tingling moment: Near the end of the third verse, you can hear a gleeful John echoing Ringo Starr in the background: "Sky of blue! Sea of green! In our yellow submarine, AAAHAAA!!!"

23 All My Loving (With The Beatles)
Early Beatles were all about excelling at the traditional form of rock and roll. With their exuberance and energy, it was hard not to fall for their pop star charm. This ditty is mostly Paul, and he wisely keeps the bittersweet quality intact. Spine-tingling moment: George steals the show with his triplet strumming and rockabilly solo.

22 Don't Let Me Down (Let It Be...Naked)
When a throwaway B-side is as good as any of their top hits. John hits a soulful groove as he declares his unbridled love for Yoko Ono. The magical melody, so obvious, captures his fervour. Spine-tingling moment: John tears up the chorus with his inimitable voice, something that is vastly underrated.

21 I Will (The White Album)
The White Album, my favourite Beatles LP. One of its delights is little nuggets such as this jaunty yet incredibly powerful song by Paul. At under two minutes, he weaves his melodic magic into the consciousness so simply and easily. Spine-tingling moment: A simple declaration of love for a simple song: "Who knows how long I've loved you?"

20 Two Of Us (Let It Be)
Dunno why, but this folksy song always reminds me of younger days, hanging out with close friends. Maybe it's the jolly, bouncy beat. Maybe it's the friendship-bonding lyrics. Or maybe it's just hearing Paul and John, who were then becoming more distant from each other, still harmonising as beautifully as ever. Spine-tingling moment: The bittersweet bridge: "You and me have memories/longer than the road that leads us out from here."

19 I Am The Walrus (Magical Mystery Tour)
Quite possibly the strangest pop song. John piles up the nonsensical imagery amid layers of symphonic noise, and somehow it all sticks in your head. Inspired craziness, no doubt after taking loads of LSD. Spine-tingling moment: After the second chorus, in comes radio static, then a Monty Python moment - something completely different. "Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun." Huh?

18 A Day In The Life (Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)
Another first-class mind bender. The Fab Four have the ability to alter the traditional song structures, yet still craft memorable melodies. This experimental take on the mundane, druggy life in Britain builds on John's nonchalant lyrics, Paul's sudden verse which takes a dramatic left turn.... Spine tingling moment: and the sensational orchestra work, first creating a disconcerting din, then ending with a single crashing note to end the song. Trippy indeed.

17 Norwegian Wood (Rubber Soul)
"I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me." Whereby love songs grew up, no longer confined by traditional declarations of love lost and won. Kudos, John. Spine tingling moment: From the east comes George's fascination with the sitar. I would like to learn how to play it too.

16 Hey Jude (1966-1970)
Monumental, all-encompassing ballad. Probably where most music fans now take their first steps into the world of the Beatles. I did, because I heard my dad singing this. So obvious and poignant are the lyrics and melody, everything bad about Paul is instantly forgotten. Spine tingling moment: I kinda dislike the overlong "Na na na" coda, I prefer the hysterical Paul screaming: "Better, better, better, better, YEAHHHHHHH!!!!!!"

15 Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)
Just for thumping opening riff, probably the heaviest guitar part served up by the band. Bonus points: my favourite band U2 jamming this song with Paul during the Live8 concerts. Spine tingling moment: Like I said, that riff.

14 Tomorrow Never Knows (Revolver)
The band's wildest experimental track, with backwards guitars, weird noises and druggy psychedelic vibe. Head rush alert as John intones teachings from the Tibetian Book of the Dead. Insane. Spine tingling moment: That strange seagull sound, absolutely a "WTF????" moment.

13 All You Need Is Love (Magical Mystery Tour)
"All you need is love, love is all you need" John has a wondrous way of saying the most glorious things in the simplest way. This song is all about that. Spine tingling moment: My friends who heard this song keep telling me there's something weird about the beat. Of course, pals, the verses are in 7/4 time. That's what's so wacky about this song.

12 Across The Universe (Let It Be)
Where John lays bare his soul and sets his agenda for his solo career. Tremendously moving existential ballad. Spine tingling moment: "Nothing's gonna change my world." Another simple yet shattering declaration.

11 With A Little Help From My Friends (Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)
Mid-era Beatles can still churn out charming ditties with ease. This is by far their best friendship song. Ringo adds a bit of moroseness with his vocals, but it's a great singalong ride with pals: "What would you do if I sang out of tune?" Spine tingling moment: Paul is a vastly underrated bassist. Listen to his flourishes to this song. Simple, yet memorable.

10 Here Comes The Sun (Abbey Road)
Long under the shadow of John and Paul, George finally came into his own as a songwriter in the final recorded album. This is easily the album's best track, a pastoral declaration of peacefulness. Amid the band's constant bickering, it's a comforting track to say the least. Spine tingling moment: The guitar turnaround that links the chorus back to the verses. Genius at work.

9 Revolution (1966-1970)
The Beatles' most political single, and one of their most stirring. John, of course, wrote the lyrics, which preaches change but not through force. Uplifting. Spine tingling moment: The fiery guitars spew out Chuck Berry riffs with aplomb as John sneers: "But if you are talking about destruction/Don't you know that you can count me out?" Peace.

8 Penny Lane (Magical Mystery Tour)
Supreme whimsical journey through Paul's hometown of Liverpool. The characters are probably fictitious, but he paints them with such vivid strokes and compelling melodies that they become our figments of imagination. It's like an aural Alice In Wonderland. Spine tingling moment: The very English phrase "Very strange!" seems so appropriate here.

7 Help! (Help!)
A dark, depressing song - but you'll never know from the exuberant arrangement. Chiming guitars, excellent harmonies and bouncy beat, until you listen carefully to the lyrics. Genius John at work here, do not disturb, just admire and try to copy. Spine tingling moment: John leaps into falsetto: "Won't you please please help me?"

6 Let It Be (Let It Be)
Gorgeous, haunting ballad that signals the imminent end of the band. Paul's hymnal melody urges all his mates to lay their arguments to rest, and his poignant vocals pleads of understanding. His bandmates ably support him - John lends an understated vocal counterpoint and wordless harmonies, Ringo remains steady with his beat... Spine tingling moment: and George comes up with a heck of a soulful guitar solo. Vastly overlooked.

5 Happiness Is A Warm Gun (The White Album)
My perverse mind's favourite. This sums up their adventurous rock spirit - marrying three weird song snippets into one unforgettably trippy song. On their own, the snippets are mediocre. Together, they sound totally mind-bending. Is the song about masturbation? Or the delights of holding a gun? Either way, it's gloriously weird. Spine tingling moment: When John's gleeful vocals sing the song title. Why is happiness a warm gun? We'll never know, but the Scouser sure sounds happy.

4 Ticket To Ride (Help!)
Riff alert, vocal harmonies alert and kick-ass drums alert. This is their best pure rock song. Not augmented by anything studio trickery, just simple guitars, bass and drums. Not surprisingly, it's far ahead of any songs churned out by their peers. Spine tingling moment: John gives another set of morose lyrics added to unforgettable melodies. "I think I'm gonna be sad, I think it's today.....YEAH!!!"

3 Yesterday (Help!)
The transcendent classic. Covered endlessly, heard all over the world, and it still sounds heartbreaking. It could have been a simple ditty, tagged at the end of the album. But Paul lets producer George Martin add the most appropriate, heart-tugging orchestral work. The result is there for all to hear. Spine tingling moment: How many songs can you memorise the lyrics on first listen?

2 In My Life (Rubber Soul)
Perhaps no other band writes more poignant, bittersweet songs than the Fab Four. This song works as both a love song and a kiss-off of all the hangers-on that are plaguing John. Add that lovely guitar riff at the beginning, and it's my favourite Beatles ballad. Spine tingling moment: "Though I know I'll never lose affection/of people and things that went before/I know I'll often stop and think about them/In my life, I love you more."

1 Strawberry Fields Forever (Magical Mystery Tour)
A ballad, a rocker, a psychedelic experiment, a first-class weird trip -- all rolled into one. The song that is Beatles through and through. I remember thinking: "What the heck is this?" on first listen. Then it reveals its heart with repeated listening. John's yearning for his hometown messes with his mind, and he transforms his ballad to a druggy masterpiece gradually. Its like listening to a slight mental breakdown, surprisingly soothing though. Spine tingling moment: So many - there's John's nonsensical "That is, you can't, you know, tune in but it's all wrong", George's clarion-like guitar that announces the coda, and the fade-out, fade-in mind-bender at the end.


Blogger Ian Tan said...

Personally, I like Eleanor Rigby and The Ballad of John and Yoko. Great arrangements not matched to this day.

1:19 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh wow i love the beatles too! they are pretty cool! my favourite song i think today is day tripper... or..... she loves you or..... idk i love all of them th fab four were upmost schikadeleic*cant spell*

7:05 AM

Blogger Kevin said...

Would you mind if I posted your Top 25 picks on BeatlesRadio.com? I'd like to put a link to it from our News section?

11:36 PM

Blogger Big Fuzz said...

Sure, go ahead, Kevin.

1:11 AM

Blogger L.Cass said...

Absolutely love the Beatles!

So hard to pick just the one song as a fave. Though their earlier work is sweet... I love everything after Rubber Soul with 'Revolver' and the 'White album' being my best ones.

'Tomorrow never knows' is amazing... Though according to my Lastfm charts, 'Sexy Sadie' and 'I'm so tired' are the ones I play the most :P

4:22 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree mostly, But the fact you left out Something is quite odd, Honestly my favourite song, well after Day in the Life

12:45 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, I love the Stones. No better stage band ever. And the top 25 Stones songs stand up against the top 25 Beatle songs. But go beyond that and it's no competition. Here are 25 songs that didn't make your list, and I could come up with 25 more Beatle songs that are almost as good. And the Beatles didn't need 40 years to put this together. That's the difference.

Hard Day’s Night
I feel fine
The Long and winding road
Not a Second Time
Penny Lane
I Want to Hold Your Hand
This Boy
The Fool on the Hill
Nowhere Man
I’m Only Sleeping
For No One
I’ve Just Seen a Face
I’m a Loser
She’s Leaving Home
Back in the USSR
Sexy Sadie
I Saw Her Standing There
Tell Me Why
I’ll Be Back
I’m Down

9:45 AM

Blogger Dave said...

The song rain needs to be included as well as some other that i'm too lazy to rattle off. Yellow submarin is not a good song no matter how you look at it

3:24 AM

Blogger Dave said...

Although tied to two other songs, she came in through the bathroom window is incredible.

3:33 AM

Anonymous Jeremy said...

Great list! I just posted my Top 25 a couple days ago...

1:46 PM

Anonymous Orion Marshall said...

Good list, but Lucy in the Sky with diamonds/nowhere man/octopus garden should have made the list.

1:38 AM

Blogger Mike said...

"A Day in the Life" is one of my favorites.

60s Music

7:06 AM


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