April 10th, 1970. Renowned rocker Paul McCartney publicly announces his split from the wildly popular Beatles. After breaking up and getting back together again several times before, fans and the band’s members alike didn’t expect the split to be permanent. In an April 10th interview, McCartney himself noted “temporary or permanent? I don’t really know,” in regards to the split’s longevity.
50 years later, The Beatles still maintain a legendary legacy. While they never released any music past 1970, their fame only skyrocketed post-breakup. Now, The Beatles’ place in modern music history is almost mythic. They’re commonly cited as one of the best bands of all time. So what’s all the fuss about? Why do they still matter if they’ve been broken up for a half-century? With over 10 studio albums released in the span of 7 years, it can be difficult to want to listen to the group. However, The Beatles’ impact on rock (and music) history as a whole is irreplaceable, undeniable and important. Here are some tracks that prove that.
10. Let it Be
An obligatory Beatles classic. The titular track off of 1970’s Let It Be, “Let it Be” is one of The Beatles’ most definitive tracks. Written by Paul McCartney, the track is about his mother, Mary, who died when he was 14. However, there is a religious connotation of the song, often left open to interpretation by fans and implied by the lyrics “when I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me.” McCartney confirmed in a Carpool Karaoke interview that he “had a dream in the 60s” in which his mother comforted him with the words “let it be.”
The slow build-up of the track to its chorus is iconic; McCartney’s powerful vocals and George Harrison’s passionate guitar work make the track. “Let it Be’s” inspirational message only continues to persist today, serving as a beacon for listeners in “times of trouble.”
“That was the thing about The Beatles: they never stuck to one style. They never did just blues, or just rock. We loved all music.” – John pic.twitter.com/52HkgNw8Vr
— The Beatles (@thebeatles) April 10, 2020
9. When I’m Sixty Four
The 9th track off of the acclaimed Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, “When I’m Sixty Four” is one of The Beatles’ sweetest. The 1967 tune was written by a young McCartney—somewhere between ages 14 and 16. “When I’m Sixty Four” is a standout off of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band because of its inclusion of clarinets. The Beatles are no stranger to experimental sound, but the clarinet on this track is particularly endearing and makes for a beautiful example of the, sometimes satiric, sweetness of the band.
8. Hey Jude
Another Beatles favorite, “Hey Jude” was famously written about John Lennon’s son, Julian, in the midst of Lennon’s divorce. Paul McCartney wrote the song in 1968 and the band recorded the song that same summer. It was released as a single, the A-side to “Revolution.” From its original US press release, “Hey Jude” is described as “a long lovely loving love-song offering hope.”
The “long” aspect of the hit single is its four-minute outro. Perhaps the most iconic part of the song, “Hey Jude’s” outro is a rallying cry for lovers of The Beatles young and old. Composed only of the lyrics “Nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah, hey Jude,” the song’s outro is what makes this piece a notable one. You’ll find yourself singing along every time.
7. Hello, Goodbye
“Hello, Goodbye” is a song of opposites. Taken from 1967’s Magical Mystery Tour, this track is another McCartney written one. In his autobiography, co-written by Barry Miles, McCartney cites “Hello, Goodbye” as “a song of duality, with me advocating the more positive.”
The duality McCartney notes is what makes this track so fun to listen to. The chorus is catchy and memorable. “You say, ‘Goodbye,’ and I say, ‘Hello, hello, hello’/I don’t know why you say, ‘Goodbye.’ I say, ‘Hello, hello, hello’/I don’t know why you say, ‘Goodbye,’ I say, ‘Hello,'” it goes. While the words may be simple, the instrumentals are not. Particularly, Ringo Starr’s percussion and drums shine on this track, providing danceable rhythm throughout the song.
6. In My Life
A silky guitar riff leads listeners into “In My Life.” One of the most sentimental tracks written by Lennon, the song is a recounting of his life experiences. The tender lyrics stemmed from a complaint about the impersonality of Lennon’s songs. A 1970 interview with Rolling Stone revealed Lennon believed he “‘had a sort of professional songwriter’s attitude to writing pop songs.'” “In My Life” is the resulting nostalgia trip; Lennon recalls the great loves and experiences of his life.
“In My Life” is a classic listen because of how sweet it is. There’s heart and warmth to Lennon’s lyrics that are impossible to find in other Beatles songs. The Rubber Soul track contains an air of humanity to it that captures Lennon’s experiences beautifully.
5. Eleanor Rigby
A primarily McCartney composition, “Eleanor Rigby” is another iconic, melancholic Beatles hit. Relying on violins and cellos, “Eleanor Rigby” is a classic track because of its soothing sadness. First premiering as an A-side single in 1966 with “Yellow Submarine” as its double, the track is one of The Beatles’ storytelling pieces. McCartney developed the story of the titular Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie in collaboration with the rest of the band. Ultimately, the song’s lyrics play out a story of “all the lonely people” and the hopelessness of a singular life.
“Eleanor Rigby” surely isn’t one of the most uplifting songs, but it marks a change in The Beatles’ style, musically. Up until that point, The Beatles had utilized standard rock instruments in their songs. Their popular tracks were ones that included guitars and percussion. “Eleanor Rigby” debuted as a single and caught fire, proving that popular music didn’t have to be reliant only on rock ‘n’ roll.
“You can take Eleanor Rigby and you can apply it to today, there’s still lots and lots of lonely people.” – Paul pic.twitter.com/UIMAR9uWef
— The Beatles (@thebeatles) January 9, 2020
4. Twist and Shout
If you’ve seen the John Hughes classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off then you know “Twist and Shout.” Originally written by Bert Russell and Phil Medley and popularized by The Isley Brothers, “Twist and Shout” was performed as a cover and the final track on Please Please Me. “Twist and Shout” is one of The Beatles’ most fun tracks. With Lennon providing raspy, rock ‘n’ roll vocals, and Starr on drums, “Twist and Shout” is an undeniable favorite to dance to. The spunky 60s sound and Starr’s cadence makes for a perfect track to “Twist and Shout” to.
3. Strawberry Fields Forever
Lennon’s masterpiece “Strawberry Fields Forever” is another one of his takes on his personal life, transposed into music. Inspired by the name of a Salvation Army home in Liverpool, Lennon wrote the track as a reflection on his childhood. In 1970, he claimed “the only true songs [he] ever wrote were ‘Help!’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever.'” The song released originally as a single along with “Penny Lane,” and later appeared on the 1967 Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack.
The song later took on a psychedelic, liberating aspect during its recording sessions, and these instrumentals solidified its place in music history. The band did several takes of the track, balancing between a rock and psychedelic track. Ultimately, Lennon asked George Martin, the band’s producer, to mix two versions of the song together by modifying their speeds. The resulting, product is well-loved and ethereal, truly capturing the feeling of knowing “nothing is real” in Strawberry Fields.
“‘Strawberry Fields’ was psychoanalysis set to music, really. (…) Instead of penting up emotion or pain, feel it – rather than putting it away for a rainy day.” – John pic.twitter.com/l5Vtezz1sX
— The Beatles (@thebeatles) February 22, 2020
2. She Loves You
“She Loves You” was the breakout song that triggered “Beatlemania.” Released as a single in the summer of 1963, its catchy refrain of “yeah, yeah, yeah” was mainly responsible for the popularity of the track. The track dominated British charts for weeks at number one, securing The Beatles’ place as a fresh, successful band. Penned by both McCartney and Lennon, the band’s collective instrumental performance inevitably turned “She Loves You” into the chart-topping hit it’s known as today.
Because of its significance as The Beatles’ first hit, this is a necessary track to listen to. It is just as catchy in 2020 as it was in 1963, and it is one of the most iconic and well-known rock songs to date. “She Loves You” is a stunning example of the catchiness of The Beatles and their excellence in infectious songwriting.
1. A Day in the Life
The final track off of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, “A Day in the Life” is one of the most chaotic Beatles tracks. Transitioning from a slower, orchestral segment to a more upbeat one and back again, the 1967 hit features a variety of voices and instruments. “A Day in the Life” is essentially split up into 3 sections. The first and last
sections were written primarily by Lennon as a stream-of-consciousness view into his day, and the second by McCartney. McCartney’s segments stemmed from an unfinished song he wrote, explaining the difference in sound from Lennon’s pieces.
“A Day in the Life” is one of The Beatles’ defining tracks. It required the work of forty musicians and was the product of several takes in the recording studio. The song took over a month to produce, with overdubs and editing tricks turning it into the version we know today. “A Day in the Life” is a necessary Beatles track because of its intricacy. Its a spontaneous and crowded song, but every aspect of it works together seamlessly. Listening to the track is akin to being taken through a day in Lennon’s life, with specific lyrics inspired by actual headlines and events in the band member’s lives. The song is aptly named and expertly produced. Not only is “A Day in the Life” the perfect closer to Sgt. Pepper’s, it’s one of, if not, The Beatles’ finest tracks.
And as a Bonus… 5 Underrated Must-Listens
5. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
One of The Beatles’ most bizarre tracks, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is an underrated pick off of Abbey Road. The 1969 tune, written by McCartney, is considered one of The Beatles’ worst songs by the band members themselves. Lennon noted, in a 1980 interview, “’That’s Paul. I hate it,’” when asked about the production of the song. The band spent three days working on this track as McCartney wanted to perfect it.
“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is macabre. McCartney cites it as a song about when life goes wrong, and it was intended to be a children’s tune. Despite the sing-songy instrumentals, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is about a murderous medicine student, Maxwell. The fun in this track stems from its absurdity and the fact that there aren’t many other Beatles songs like it. It’s worth a listen when you’re in the mood for a happy-sounding song with scary-sounding lyrics.
“A lot of my songs are based on personal experience, but my style is to veil it. A lot of them are made up, like ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ which is the kind of song I like to write (…) It’s just like writing a play. You don’t have to know the people, you just make them up”- Paul pic.twitter.com/ErQiHB7bl7
— The Beatles (@thebeatles) March 5, 2020
4. Do You Want to Know a Secret
A sure product of its time, “Do You Want to Know a Secret” is a swinging song. The 1963 pick off of Please Please Me, The Beatles’ debut album, is a sweet 60s track about being in love. Clocking in at just under 2-minutes, George Harrison is the one to sing this track. Lennon wrote the tune after marrying his first wife, Cynthia, and his inspiration stemmed from a memory of his mother singing to him as a child.
“Do You Want to Know a Secret” is a simple track, but so sweet. It’s a puppy love-type song, with bubbly and bright instrumentals that are guaranteed to inspire a smile. It’s easy to listen to a song like this one, and with its catchy melody and feel-good lyrics, you’ll find yourself wanting to know the secret again and again.
3. Hey Bulldog
My first exposure to this track was the 1968 film Yellow Submarine. In it, “Hey Bulldog” is used during a fight sequence at the film’s climax. Beyond Yellow Submarine, however, “Hey Bulldog” is one of The Beatles’ most underrated tracks. The track, released in 1968, was written during a promotional filming segment for another song, “Lady Madonna.” Ultimately, “Hey Bulldog” only ever made the film’s soundtrack. It’s overlooked by many casual Beatles fans because of that.
The bluesy piano riffs are what make “Hey Bulldog” a memorable track. While the lyrics may be nonsense, the erratic instrumentals and hook of “you can talk to me” are enough to encourage multiple listens.
2. Anna (Go to Him)
Another pick from Please Please Me, “Anna (Go to Him)” is a track seldom talked about by The Beatles. Another cover off of the 1963 debut album, “Anna (Go to Him)” was originally sung by Arthur Alexander in 1962. This track is particularly notable and deserves greater recognition because of Lennon’s passionate vocals. The original Alexander version is a soul track and Lennon mimicks this, adding a twinge of rock to The Beatles’ version. The song’s bridge is sung above Lennon’s range, layering emotion on top of the serpentine guitar riffs.
“Anna (Go to Him)” may not be the most upbeat or popular track off of Please Please Me, but it is a beautiful, emotional rock ballad that deserves more listens.
1. She’s Leaving Home
“She’s Leaving Home” is one of The Beatles’ most melancholy. A hauntingly beautiful track off of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, “She’s Leaving Home” doesn’t even sound like a song that should’ve been included on the album. For that reason, it’s often overlooked. The rest of Sgt. Pepper is whimsical and upbeat, “She’s Leaving Home” is a quiet ballad featuring a harp and violin quartet.
The song was based off a true runaway story; A 1967 headline inspired the lyrics: “‘A-Level Girl Dumps Car And Vanishes.'” The story of 17-year-old Melanie Coe went missing from her home for ten days in 1967 and McCartney and Lennon found a song within the details of the story. “She’s Leaving Home” is poignant and touching. Lyrics like “Quietly turning the backdoor key/Stepping outside, she is free,” and “‘She breaks down and cries to her husband/’Daddy, our baby’s gone.’/’Why would she treat us so thoughtlessly?/How could she do this to me?'” are stunning examples of the emotional depth of McCartney/Lennon’s songwriting. The cohesiveness of the song’s storyline is the reason why “She’s Leaving Home” is an unsung favorite of The Beatles.
The Beatles’ popularity is still as fervent as ever. Culturally, they’re one of those bands that everyone knows and can enjoy. It’s difficult not to, with their catchy riffs and memorable lyrics. Even though they may have broken up 50 years ago, their timeless tunes have only grown fonder.
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