It was 50 years ago today …
Actually, no. In the United States, Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on June 2, 1967. It was instantly one of rock’s greatest and most progressive albums, and another sign that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr had officially put their mop-top Fab Four days behind them.
In celebration of the seminal album’s 50th anniversary, I took on a challenge: To rank every Beatles song written by the band from worst to first. What qualifies me to do such a thing? I know, I’m not a music critic. What I am is a die-hard Beatles fan who grew up obsessed with the band, reading anything and everything I could find about the band while listening to the albums over and over.
Here are the rules for this exercise, which we’ve done before with Bob Dylan’s songbook: No bootlegs, no live cuts, nothing from the Anthology collections and — this was tough — no covers of songs written by non-Beatles. It felt a little unfair to rank the Beatles singing other people’s songs, even if they were iconic. Anything that was released as a single, B-side or on an album is on this list.
I spent the last few weeks re-listening to every cut and I tried my best to get rid of personal bias, but it was tough. I also tried to comment on my bottom 10 and top 20, with some thoughts in between.
Ready? Step right this way …
188. You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)
It’s like Lennon and McCartney slapped together four different songs and repeated the same words over and over and over and over again. Is it supposed to be funny? Artsy? Whatever it is, it’s the worst thing the Beatles released.
187. Good Night
I know, harsh — it’s a lullaby. But it’s corny.
Magical Mystery Tour always felt all over the place as an album, and this instrumental track is just sort of blah.
185. Blue Jay Way
Don’t worry, Harrison’s songs will get some love later.
184. Octopus’s Garden
And zero offense to Starr, who wrote some good songs as a solo artist.
183. Real Love
I had mixed feelings about the remaining Beatles reuniting to record with audio from the late Lennon, but the other single produced by the group was much, much better than this tune.
182. Revolution 9
It would be so easy to rank this mishmash of sounds dead last, but I remember listening to this when I was younger and having the hair on the back of my neck stand up. That response is worth something.
181. Wild Honey Pie
It counts, and it’s a jarring little interlude on the otherwise sparkling White album.
180. All Together Now
Yes, it’s a kids’ song. I once heard it being sung by a bunch of kindergartners, and that was about the only time I enjoyed it.
179. Only a Northern Song
178. The Inner Light
Again: I am not anti-Harrison. But these two aren’t among his best.
177. Dig It
175. You Like Me Too Much
174. Thank You Girl
173. Love You To
172. What Goes On
171. Ask Me Why
170. Little Child
169. Not a Second Time
168. Hold Me Tight
167. There’s a Place
166. All I’ve Got to Do
165. P.S. I Love You
Seems blasphemous, but the Beatles wrote so many better songs than this early B-side.
164. It’s All Too Much
163. What You’re Doing
162. I’ll Get You
161. Baby, You’re a Rich Man
An earworm of a chorus, at least.
160. I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party
159. When I Get Home
158. Every Little Thing
157. Honey Pie
156. Think for Yourself
155. I Wanna Be Your Man
The Rolling Stones recorded it, but Ringo sang the heck out of the Beatles’ version and it’s so much better than what their British counterparts did with it.
154. Old Brown Shoe
153. Don’t Bother Me
152. Free as a Bird
The video was pretty cool — it’s chock full of references to Beatles song titles and lyrics.
151. Don’t Pass Me By
150. Your Mother Should Know
149. From Me to You
148. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
147. Glass Onion
146. Tell Me What You See
The start of a run on good, not great songs.
145. Any Time at All
144. Hey Bulldog
143. Things We Said Today
142. Yellow Submarine
I’ve heard it one too many times.
141. Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
140. Within You Without You
139. I Need You
138. I’m Happy Just to Dance with You
137. Yes It Is
135. Run for Your Life
134. One After 909
133. The Night Before
132. If I Needed Someone
131. Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
There are some songs that aren’t lyrically that great but that are undeniably great tunes. This is one of them.
130. She’s a Woman
129. I Want to Tell You
128. You Won’t See Me
127. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
126. Dig a Pony
125. Her Majesty
I know, it’s a tiny little fragment stuck on to the end of Abbey Road. But there’s something cool about this coming after The End, like a little encore, with a chord that never resolves, leaving us eternally wanting more. That’s the English major in me talking.
124. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
123. I Me Mine
122. I’ve Just Seen a Face
121. Rocky Raccoon
120. This Boy
I’m a sucker for songs when John, Paul and George do three-part harmony together.
119. Sun King
Like in this one. Also, one additional challenge for this list: I decided to rank the songs on the Abbey Road medley separately.
117. The Fool on the Hill
116. Savoy Truffle
115. Mother Nature’s Son
114. For You Blue
113. The Word
112. Another Girl
111. Tell Me Why
110. Martha My Dear
Yeah, about that whole “getting rid of personal bias” thing … I will stand by the fact that this song is vastly underrated. I don’t care that the name Martha belonged to McCartney’s sheepdog.
109. It’s Only Love
108. You Can’t Do That
107. I Should Have Known Better
106. And I Love Her
105. I Call Your Name
Shoutout to the Mamas and the Papas, who did a solid take on this Lennon song.
104. I’m Down
103. Mean Mr. Mustard
102. Polythene Pam
So hard not to rank all the Abbey Road medley songs together … sorry.
101. Two of Us
100. Cry Baby Cry
99. And Your Bird Can Sing
98. Golden Slumbers
97. You’re Going to Lose That Girl
96. I’m Looking Through You
95. Good Morning, Good Morning
94. I’ll Cry Instead
93. I’ll Be Back
92. Sexy Sadie
91. Long, Long, Long
90. The Ballad of John and Yoko
89. Back in the USSR
88. Do You Want to Know a Secret?
An underrated number in the Beatles catalog.
87. Oh! Darling
86. Love Me Do
I had so much trouble figuring out how I felt about this song, it moved up and down the list before settling here. On one hand, it’s proof of how much the group grew as songwriters after this. On the other, it’s catchy.
85. Yer Blues
84. I’ve Got a Feeling
83. No Reply
There was a point where I didn’t listen to Beatles for Sale for a decade because it was my least favorite album. After listening to it again recently, I realized the trio of songs that lead off the LP (including this one, I’m a Loser and Baby’s in Black) are absolute gold.
82. I’m So Tired
81. It Won’t Be Long
80. Eight Days a Week
A song that I think is overrated but still lands in the top 100.
79. I Will
78. Lovely Rita
77. Doctor Robert
Remember: Some songs don’t have great lyrics, but the tunes make you want to get up and dance.
74. Good Day Sunshine
73. Got to Get You Into My Life
72. I’m a Loser
The second of the Beatles For Sale trio — Lennon gets really dark: “I’m a loser and I’m not what I appear to be.”
71. Don’t Let Me Down
70. Magical Mystery Tour
69. She Came in Through the Bathroom Window
68. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
67. The Long and Winding Road
Could have been so much better without Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” overwhelming it.
66. Getting Better
65. Carry That Weight
64. Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
A song inspired by a real circus poster.
63. I Am the Walrus
62. Hello, Goodbye
61. She’s Leaving Home
When you realize the Beatles were in their mid-20s and wrote/recorded a song like this that had so much depth to it, it’s pretty mind-blowing.
60. She Loves You
I know how ground-breaking this song was, but again: There are better Beatles songs.
59. Baby’s in Black
58. If I Fell
57. Lady Madonna
56. You Never Give Me Your Money
55. When I’m Sixty-Four
McCartney wrote it when he was 16!
54. Here, There and Everywhere
53. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
52. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
The album opener is great, but I think the reprise is juuust slightly better.
50. Dear Prudence
49. Fixing a Hole
48. I’m Only Sleeping
47. Come Together
46. I Feel Fine
44. She Said She Said
Only one word for it: Haunting.
42. Paperback Writer
41. Happiness is a Warm Gun
40. We Can Work it Out
Stevie Wonder’s version made it an entirely different song.
39. Drive My Car
37. You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
I do love it when Lennon goes Dylan, as you’ll see.
36. Nowhere Man
35. Revolution 1
The “White Album” version of its harder-rocking counterpart that will make its appearance later. It’s a different recording and title. So it must be ranked separately, and the slower take is nearly as good as the single.
34. Day Tripper
33. All You Need is Love
32. Across the Universe
31. Helter Skelter
That’s right, Paul McCartney invented heavy metal!
30. Get Back
29. All My Loving
One of their most polished early songs, and I wonder if that’s why they led with it on The Ed Sullivan Show.
28. Please Please Me
27. I’ll Follow the Sun
26. With a Little Help from My Friends
Starr’s vocals are charming, but this is one of the rare times that they wrote a song that was recorded better by someone else: Joe Cocker. Am I biased because I grew up with this as the theme to The Wonder Years? Maybe.
Revolver is mind-blowing, and it kicks off with Harrison at his most biting.
24. For No One
“Your day breaks, your mind aches. You find that all the words of kindness linger on when she no longer needs you.” Brilliance from McCartney.
23. Penny Lane
22. Strawberry Fields Forever
21. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
20. The End
What band ends their final recorded album (Abbey Road was released before Let It Be, even though most of the latter was recorded first) with the group trading guitar solos and Ringo’s only drum solo, along with an epitaph? “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
19. Ticket to Ride
The bridge could be its own song.
18. I Want to Hold Your Hand
If you wanted to explain to aliens who the Beatles were, this would be the first tune you’d play for them.
17. I Saw Her Standing There
The best “One, two, three, four!!!” count-off ever followed by this raw, scream-filled number with a lyric that’s been much-cited (“Well she was just seventeen, you know what I mean”) for being just enough of a wink to listeners, who get it without quite completely understanding what McCartney means.
Simple, gorgeous, and with a message to “take these broken wings and learn to fly.”
15. A Hard Day’s Night
Can’t hear this title track from their film debut without seeing the Beatles running from their screaming fans, which opens up the movie.
14. Can’t Buy Me Love
A bluesy, joyful tune with one of the best guitar solos Harrison ever recorded.
13. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Harrison and guest star Eric Clapton wail.
12. Eleanor Rigby
“All the lonely people, where do they all come from?” Deep.
11. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
Lennon does his best Dylan. It starts as a pleasant song about an encounter with a woman and turns into something much more complex.
10. Let It Be
Of course there are religious overtones, but I also interpreted this as McCartney knowing the Beatles were on their way to splitting and telling himself to “let it be.”
9. Here Comes the Sun
The first of two Harrison-penned songs in the top 10.
A superior pop tune on its own, but when you find out that Lennon wrote it as a literal cry for help, it takes on a different meaning. Here’s what McCartney told People in 2015:
“Lennon later said, ‘I was fat and depressed, and I was crying out for help,’” McCartney said of his former band mate. “But looking back on it, John was always looking for help. He had [a paranoia] that people died when he was around I think John’s whole life was a cry for help.”
7. Tomorrow Never Knows
Too high, you say? No way. It sounds like a sample a DJ might put together today, which means it was 50 years ahead of its time. Also, it’s a part of one of the best scenes in Mad Men, in which the song is used to show just how much old fashioned Don Draper is completely out of his element in the mid-1960s. I can’t imagine how revolutionary this song must have sounded in 1966.
I don’t know what more there is to say about a song that’s been written about so much. The ranking speaks for itself.
An absolute searing political message (although, don’t you know it’s gonna be all right?) surrounded by the group rocking out. A fiery combo.
4. Hey Jude
If you’re ever feeling down about something, just listen to this.
The best love song the Beatles ever wrote … and it was written by Harrison. Frank Sinatra famously loved it and for good reason.
2. In My Life
A catchy riff, plus introspective, poignant lyrics, great harmonies and a funky beat, not to mention a sped up piano solo from producer George Martin (side note: Anyone who tells you the “fifth Beatle” is anyone but Martin is wrong). What more could you want?
1. A Day in the Life
I tried. I really did. I tried to see if I could think of a Beatles song that was better, mostly because if you polled 1,000 fans, I’d bet this song would come out on top. But there’s a reason for that, isn’t it? It’s not so much a song as it is a symphony. And this is the apex of the Lennon-McCartney partnership that produced so many amazing songs — John on the verse, Paul on the bridge, leading up to that thunderous piano chord that gives me chills nearly every time I hear it.