Magpie recommends: the essential Beatles songs
June 25 marks Global Beatles Day; a day founded in 2009 to commemorate everything John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison have done for music and culture. The Beatles were formed in 1960, changing the face of music forever over the course of a decade.
The four piece have influenced countless artists over the years including (but absolutely not limited to) Billy Joel, Dave Grohl, Brian Wilson and Joni Mitchell. Even though the Beatles haven’t released music for over 40 years, they’re as important today as they ever were.
To mark Global Beatles Day, we’ve compiled a list of songs that we deem utterly essential from The Beatles!
Paul McCartney primarily wrote Penny Lane back, referencing a street in Liverpool that was familiar to him. Penny Lane is where Paul would have to change buses on his way to see John Lennon – and vice versa – so he wrote about all the things he would see when he was there. Producer George Martin felt Penny Lane was one of the best songs by the Beatles up to that point. A promotional film was made for Penny Lane (along with Strawberry Fields Forever), which would be some of the first examples of a ‘music video’.
All You Need Is Love
Arguably one of the most instantly recognisable Beatles tracks, All You Need Is Love was masterminded by John Lennon, capturing the best parts of the Summer of Love era. The band were asked to contribute to Our World – the first live, international, satellite television production – portraying a message that could be understood globally. What better global message than All You Need is Love? It cannot be misinterpreted. The song has been covered a number of times by the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen, Tom Jones and Noel Gallagher.
Eleanor Rigby took the Beatles into a new territory – covering the topic of death and isolation, with a more sombre musical set up. The song was originally going to share the experience of a woman named Daisy Hawkins but ‘Eleanor Rigby’ sounded much more natural to Paul McCartney. It was supposedly inspired by actress Eleanor Bron who starred in Help! and Rigby & Evens Ltd, Wine & Spirit Shippers in Bristol. A statue of Eleanor Rigby sits on Stanley Street in Liverpool, dedicated to All the Lonely People.
I Am the Walrus
Many of the greatest Beatles songs are easy to decipher, but I Am the Walrus cannot truly be explained. This was intended by John Lennon, who received a letter from a pupil of Quarry Bank High School that he had attended. The student had been analysing Beatles lyrics in their English class so John decided to write a track that would confuse the masses. It’s safe to say he succeeded. The walrus was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s poem The Walrus and The Carpenter with Lennon finding out too late that the walrus was actually the villain!
Strawberry Fields Forever
Another psychedelic track that is heaped in nostalgia is John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields Forever. Like Penny Lane, it is referencing a real place in Liverpool that held dear memories for John. When he was little, John Lennon would play in the garden of Strawberry Field, a Salvation Army children’s home near where he lived. His aunt Mimi recalled John’s fascination with Strawberry Field, especially in the summer when a garden party would be held, complete with the Salvation Army brass band playing. The song took 26 takes to perfect; but John Lennon was not fully satisfied with the end product.
I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
Lennon also wrote I Want You (She’s So Heavy) with She’s So Heavy being added later. Utterly unsurprisingly, the song is about his famed other half, Yoko Ono. Lennon told Rolling Stone, “When you’re drowning, you don’t say, ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me.’ You just scream.” In terms of lyrical content, it’s pretty bare – much of the lyrics feature in the title. In spite of that, the song really is heavy; it’s bluesy, elongated and it overwhelms its listener. The song clocks in at almost eight minutes long and was covered by The Last Shadow Puppets in The Beatles’ hometown of Liverpool in 2008.
Whilst John Lennon thought Hey Jude was written about him, Paul McCartney wrote the song about John’s young son Julian. In 1968, John Lennon and his wife Cynthia separated following his infidelity with Yoko Ono, and Paul penned the track on his way to visit Julian. Julian was only five at the time of the separation and Paul had the idea for a track to console the child during the hardship. ‘Hey Jules’ developed into Hey Jude which McCartney felt sounded better. The song is 7:11, making it the longest song to top the UK charts at the time.
Let It Be
If you were to look up the definition of iconic, you’d probably find this song. Let It Be came to fruition after Paul McCartney saw his mother in a dream – she is the Mother Mary as opposed to a biblical reference. Paul’s mum died of cancer when he was only 14 years old; her appearance in his dreams came during a tense time for the band. She told Paul “it will be all right, just let it be.” Let It Be would be the last single the band would release before Paul McCartney announced his departure from The Beatles.
The riff in Something is instantly recognisable and for the first time in this list, it’s a song that wasn’t penned by McCartney or Lennon! It was George Harrison that wrote this beautiful ballad about his wife Pattie Boyd. When working on the track, Harrison found that the tune was coming to him so easily that it may already be in use for another track. Both Paul McCartney and John Lennon had nothing but love for the song – John thought it was the best song from the Abbey Road album. It’s been covered by more than 150 artists such as Smokey Robinson, Engelbert Humperdinck and Peggy Lee, making it the second-most covered Beatles song after Yesterday.
Released in 1965, this song was originally called Scrambled Eggs. No, really. Paul McCartney had composed the melody in a dream but was concerned that he had subconsciously plagiarised it. After a few weeks of asking around some people in the music business, it was established it was Paul’s original creation. The lyrics were much tougher to pull together. Scrambled Eggs was a placeholder for the melody, and Lennon had suggested the song had been around for months before they could get it just right. They needed just one word for the title – Yesterday.
The Long and Winding Road
Paul McCartney penned The Long and Winding Road in 1968 and the single would go on to be the last one released by the quartet. The title was inspired by Paul’s property in Scotland; he was at High Peak Farm when the song was written, inspired by the growing tension among the band. It’s also believed the track was influenced by the break up of McCartney’s relationship with Jane Asher. The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in America, becoming their 20th number one single. They scored 20 number ones in the space of just 74 months.
Here Comes the Sun
George Harrison certainly knew how to write a great song. He penned Here Comes the Sun whilst at his friend Eric Clapton’s house when he should have been in a meeting with Apple Corps. The relief he felt from avoiding the meeting is felt in the springtime-focussed lyrics. Here Comes the Sun helped to bring focus on what a great songwriter George Harrison was – although often overshadowed by the brilliance of Lennon and McCartney, the songs Harrison penned were instant classics.
From Me to You
Only the third single released by The Beatles, From Me to You had little impact in the US but topped the charts in the UK. The single came to be on a coach to Shrewsbury whilst the band were on tour with Helen Shapiro. There was a recurring theme of direct and personal lyrics in the early days of the Beatles; From Me to You being no exception. Producer George Martin is the one who suggested the opening ‘da da da da da dum dum da’.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The album cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band raised the bar for cover art. The track introduces the fictional band behind the album which sees The Beatles taking on alter-egos. Paul McCartney conceived the idea on a flight back to England of doing a whole album entirely role-played including a concert in front of an audience. The interesting theory certainly worked for the band – the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band spent 27 weeks at number one in the UK and 15 week at number one in the US.
She Loves You
She Loves You changed the game for the Beatles in a major way. It is their best selling single, and best selling single of the 1960s in the UK. Even though it’s only 2:18 long, it’s infectious. The track sees the narrator trying to facilitate a relationship between two other people rather than talking of his own love for someone. Paul McCartney came up with this idea to avoid stating “I love you” again, a third party was used. John Lennon said this was indicative of Paul’s work – Paul would be more inclined to write about someone else whereas John would tend to write about himself.
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