Re-ranking the Top Ten of Rolling Stone’s The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs
If there’s one often demanding mission some of my fellow Beatles fans undertake, it’s tasking themselves with the supreme labor of ranking their songs. The numbers they wrote themselves. The best as judged by the fan as listener. The choices always fascinate me as I’ve avoided doing it myself. Much too hard. Might as well choose which of my children I love more, while I’m at it. And I’m not about to do that.
Still, to get back to the heart of the matter, even if the 99, 200,821 Beatlemaniacs out there willing to come up with such a grading, no two will match. You are going to have that same number of lists, all different. It’s inevitable. That said, the good folk over at a certain authoritative magazine are at it once again. They’ve come with “…an essential guide to the Beatles best tracks, ranked by the editors of Rolling Stone…” that I’m still scanning through.
100 Greatest Beatle Songs
Perhaps, I am just pre-programmed to react to such things after reading what Rolling Stone had to say. I’m not going to disparage the piece or the selections. To each their own. I especially enjoyed reading Elvis Costello’s splendid essay that served as its introduction (Rubber Soul and Revolver being his favorite albums, incidentally). It mirrored some of my history with the boys from Liverpool and of the time, minus his music talent, of course:
“I was exactly the right age to be hit by them full-on. My experience — seizing on every picture, saving money for singles and EPs, catching them on a local news show — was repeated over and over again around the world. It wasn’t the first time anything like this had happened, but the Beatles achieved a level of fame and recognition known previously only to Charlie Chaplin, Brigitte Bardot and Elvis Presley, along with a little of the airless exclusivity of astronauts, former presidents and other heavyweight champions.”
The only thing I’ll do in this case would be to re-arrange some of their Top Ten to meet my own five decades-old experience with The Lads. Just one fan’s opinion, in other words. Why just ten, you ask? My ranking of the James Bond films only had to cover 24 of them in answer to Rolling Stone’s list, as put together by Peter Travers. I don’t want to think what it’d take to deliver a Top 100 ranking from the output John, Paul, George and Ringo crafted together by 1970.
I’d be here for the rest of 2013 coming up with that, if that was so.
Rolling Stone Editors’ List
- A Day in the Life
- I Want to Hold Your Hand
- Strawberry Fields Forever
- In My Life
- Hey Jude
- Let It Be
- Come Together
- While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Please, feel free to name your own tensome within the comments in response. I shan’t complain or give the slightest protest in any way of your ten collection. Well, as long as someone doesn’t have ‘Revolution#9’ or ‘Run For Your Life’, as their top pick, that is.
Recorded: January 19 and 20, February 3, 10 and 22, 1967
Released: June 2, 1967
Album: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Not released as a single
#1 Day in the Life [Rolling Stone #1] Okay, I’m agreeing completely with the editor’s top pick. How could I not? This was John and Paul working their best at what they were great at. Arriving at a period of supreme creativity, they produced something they hadn’t done before. Totally new sounding for them and the time, yet distinctly a product that was The Beatles. As my friend Corey Wilde once said, “Music that sounded fresh and familiar at the same time.”
“Lennon wrote the basic song, but he felt it needed something different for the middle section. McCartney had a brief song fragment handy, the part that begins “Woke up, fell out of bed.” “He was a bit shy about it because I think he thought, ‘It’s already a good song,'” Lennon said. But McCartney also came up with the idea to have classical musicians deliver what Martin called an “orchestral orgasm.”” ~ Rolling Stone
Recorded: October 18 and 22, 1965
Released: December 6, 1965
Album: Rubber Soul
Not released as a single
#2 In My Life [Rolling Stone #5] I moved this one because the RS editors had it a tad too low for my taste. The song showed the complex strength of this album in particular. Especially with Nowhere Man, Michelle, Norwegian Wood, I’m Looking Through You, and Drive My Car on the same LP. But I settled on this remarkable and touching ballad because its lyrics mean more to me now than when I first heard them.
“What happened next is a dispute that will never be resolved. “In My Life” is one of only a handful of Lennon-McCartney songs where the two strongly disagreed over who wrote what: According to Lennon, “The whole lyrics were already written before Paul even heard it. His contribution melodically was the harmony and the middle eight.” According to McCartney, Lennon basically had the first verse done. At one of their writing sessions at Lennon’s Weybridge estate, the two painstakingly rewrote the lyrics, making them less specific and more universal.” ~ Rolling Stone
Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: July 29-August 1, 1968
Released: August 26, 1968
Album: Hey Jude, The Beatles Past Masters
19 weeks; no. 1
#3 Hey Jude [Rolling Stone #7] How could I not move this song here, higher than RS? It is simply that great — and was the first song under the Apple Records label. There’s a valid reason it is the most popular song (9 weeks at #1 in the U.S.), and second on Billboard’s chart only to The Twist for the entire 60s. A span of time the group virtually owned. I’ve sung its praises ever since witnessing its promo rebroadcast from British TV on The Smothers Brothers show in ’68.
“When Lennon first heard “Hey Jude,” he loved it — he thought McCartney was singing to him, about his relationship with Ono and the strains on the Lennon-McCartney partnership. (Lennon’s contribution to the song came when McCartney pointed out a place-holder line in the fifth verse: “The movement you need is on your shoulder.” Lennon insisted he leave it as is. “That’s the best line in it!” he said.) Calling “Hey Jude” one of McCartney’s “masterpieces,” Lennon said in 1980, “I always heard it as a song to me…” ~ Rolling Stone
Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: April 16, 1964
Released: June 26, 1964
Album: A Hard Day’s Night
13 weeks; no. 1
#4 A Hard Day’s Night [Rolling Stone #11] – Some will say this is a sentimental selection. That’s okay. It is, and it isn’t. That brilliant opening chord, a triumphant strum of guitar, bass, and piano grand, not only heralded the start of the song, an album, a movie of the same name, and a pop era, but my 10-year old eyes and ears to the possibilities of what film and music could bring. This cemented my admiration of The Lads in ’64, and it’s lasted through to this day.
“The title came from a throwaway crack from Starr. “We were working all day and then into the night,” he recalled, “[and] I came out thinking it was still day and said, ‘It’s been a hard day,’ and noticing it was dark, ‘ . . . ‘s night!'” When Lennon passed the remark on to director Richard Lester, it instantly became the film’s title. All they had to do was write a song to go with it. “John and I were always looking for titles,” said McCartney. “Once you’ve got a good title, you are halfway there. With ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’ you’ve almost captured them.”” ~ Rolling Stone
Recorded: October 17, 1963
Released: December 26, 1963
Album: Meet The Beatles!, The Beatles Past Masters
15 weeks; no. 1
#5 I Want To Hold Your Hand [Rolling Stone #2] Rolling Stone is correct. This song changed everything. The tide that had built with Love Me Do, Please Please Me, and all the way up to She Loves You, overtook everything at this point — uniquely, both hit #1 in the U.S. and UK charts in opposite order. Its fine guitar intro led into John and Paul’s wonderfully cohesive lead harmonies, and beautifully backed by one of the all-time great catchy refrains. Few are better.
“I Want to Hold Your Hand” changed everything. “Luckily, we didn’t know what America was — we just knew our dream of it — or we probably would have been too intimidated,” Paul McCartney told Rolling Stone in 1987. The single was most Americans’ first exposure to the songwriting magic of Lennon and McCartney, who composed the song sitting side by side at the piano in the London home of the parents of McCartney’s girlfriend, Jane Asher.” ~ Rolling Stone
Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: November 24, 28 and 29, December 8, 9, 15, 21 and 22, 1966
Released: February 13, 1967
Album: Magical Mystery Tour
9 weeks; no. 8
#6 Strawberry Fields Forever [Rolling Stone #3] – A song that was supposed to make Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but didn’t. The first not to top the U.K. charts, reached only #8 in the US. Like Tomorrow Never Knows, it broke new ground, produced imaginative sounds, and captured minds with its innovative music promo. One of the most influential songs of the 60s, psychedelic rock, and the fledging music video medium. John Lennon again at his most brilliant.
“After finishing the song on a Spanish beach, Lennon returned to England and played it for the rest of the band. As engineer Geoff Emerick recalled, “There was a moment of stunned silence, broken by Paul, who in a quiet, respectful tone said simply, ‘That is absolutely brilliant.'” At that point, it was an acoustic-guitar ballad, reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” But in the studio, it became a whole new thing, as the Beatles experimented with it for days.” ~ Rolling Stone
Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: April 6, 7 and 22, 1966
Released: August 8, 1966
Not released as a single
#7 Tomorrow Never Knows [Rolling Stone #18] Listening to this song and album, like four years prior, shifted my entire world and perspective towards music. Andrew Manning nailed it in his tempo analysis, “This was the end of the beginning of contemporary rock music. I am sure this has been written somewhere, but ‘Revolution‘ could have been called ‘Evolution.’ Track by track you can literally hear the forefront switch from rhythm & blues to rock & roll.”
“All of a sudden, the poetic advance and rustic modernism of Rubber Soul — issued only five months before these sessions, in December 1965 — was very old news. Compared to the rolling drone, tape-loop effects and out-of-body vocals that dominate Lennon’s trip here, even the rest of Revolver sounds like mutation in process: the Beatles pursuing their liberated impulses as players and writers, via acid, in pop-song form.” ~ Rolling Stone
Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: June 14 and 17, 1965
Released: September 13, 1965
11 weeks; no. 1
#8 Yesterday [Rolling Stone #4] – I know, many will think I have this ballad way too low. It remains one of their all-time greats, and probably covered the most by a world of artists. But is that pronoun correct? I say this melancholy piece was likely Paul’s first foray into his future solo career. It’s him, and him alone as the other Beatles were not in on the recording, or much of its development. Distinctly separate as it rings more of ‘Paul’ than that of the Beatles, I surmise.
“The recording captures the Beatles’ inventive spirit, opening the door to a willingness to experiment with new sounds. “Yesterday” signaled to the world that the Beatles — and rock & roll — had made a sudden leap from brash adolescence to literate maturity.” ~ Rolling Stone
Recorded: September 5 and 6, 1968
Released: November 25, 1968
Album: The Beatles (White Album)
Not released as a single
#9 While My Guitar Gently Weeps [Rolling Stone #10] – It seems for Harrison fans during his last months with The Beatles you’re either having Something or this under-appreciated song topping your George music list. Rolling Stone went the former and I the latter. I think Gently Weeps was the quiet one’s best vocal of the era. It certainly showcased his guitar skills, and with Eric Clapton’s accompaniment, the number proved to be an all-star event.
“With the famous guest in the studio, the other Beatles got down to business — McCartney’s harmonies sound particularly inspired. As Harrison put it, “It’s interesting to see how nicely people behave when you bring a guest in, because they don’t really want everybody to know that they’re so bitchy.” Clapton’s flickering filigrees and spectacular, lyrical solo brought the whole thing together, and it was finished that night. “It’s lovely, plaintive,” Mick Jagger told Rolling Stone in 2002. “Only a guitar player could write that. I love that song.””
Recorded: May 6-August 18, 1969
Released: October 1, 1969
Album: Really…you’re asking?
Not released as a single
#10 Abbey Road Medley [Rolling Stone #23] – Okay, I said I wasn’t going to criticize RS on their selections, but come on. This selection was way too low for one of music’s best song miscellany ever melded. The climatic side two of this album (no slight of anything on side one, by the way) forever set The End culmination as the greatest farewell for this my favorite band. They put whatever bad feelings behind them to finish with their best effort, and to end on a high note.
“The 16-minute sequence — veering from “Money” and the luxuriant sigh of Lennon’s “Sun King” to McCartney’s heavy-soul shard “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” and the sweet lullaby “Golden Slumbers,” and closing with McCartney’s famous prescription in “The End” (“The love you take/Is equal to the love you make”) — has no narrative connection. But the Abbey Road medley is the matured Beatles at their best: playful, gentle, acerbic, haunting and bonded by the music.” ~ Rolling Stone
The Numbers (for my Top Ten)
Songs written by:
- 4, Lennon-McCartney
- 3, Lennon
- 2, McCartney
- 1, Harrison
- 5 – four reached #1, one only as high as #8, and the rest were album cuts never released officially
Longest Stay at Number One
- 9 weeks, Hey Jude (1968)
- 7 weeks, I Want to Hold Your Hand (1964)
- 4 weeks, Yesterday (1965)
40 Responses to “Re-ranking the Top Ten of Rolling Stone’s The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs”
Did you watch 60 Minutes last night? A great story featuring photojournalist Henry Grossman? His relationship/pictures of The Beatles was cool.
Nice tribute here, Michael. ‘A Day in a Life’ is my favorite, too.
I missed it that. Damnit! I would have loved to see that. Thank you very much, Cindy.
I don’t know if I’m brave enough to tackle a full 10 best, but I do know that my number one would be ‘Hey Jude,’ because it has been since the first time I heard it. And my number two would be ‘All My Loving,’ because that was the song they did on Ed Sullivan than knocked my 8-year-old socks off. After that the race gets too close to call.
Love those two songs, Naomi. As usual, you have splendid taste. And I understand completely. Thank you very much, my friend.
Great post! It must have been very difficult to come up with that list and I wouldn’t try it myself!
I was born on the same day that “Abbey Road” was released in the UK and so I had no chance of being a part of them while they were around. I didn’t start enjoying the Beatles until my mid-20s when I started to play guitar but spent the next few years catching up on everything and have plenty of opinions on almost all of their songs. I couldn’t possibly pick 10 favorites or rank them but with a gun to my head I would have to put “A Day In The Life” at #1. I would also try to include “Blackbird” and “She Said”, if only because I rarely ever hear them mentioned and I love both of them, as well as the “Medley” or “Suite” at the end of “Abbey Road” that you included, only I might put it at #2…ok, I’m starting to rank them now, I need to stop!
Do you know anything about “Hey Jude” beign written as a message to John’s son Julian and starting off as “Hey Jules”? That’s one of the stories I remember about that song and I always think about it when I hear it.
Enjoyed the post and looking forward to the many comments that I’m sure will follow!
Hey, Chris! Welcome :-). I think you’re doing a wonderful job with your ranking within your comment. I’d be interested in whatever more you’d have to say about The Lads and your experience growing up with them. Thank you very much for your thoughts on the subject. Hope you see you back.
Don’t encourage me! I’m starting to think about writing a post on the Beatles now that you have asked about my experience with them and I’m realizing that they did (and still do) have a big effect on me.
I only discovered them as I was just learning to play guitar and trying to write songs for myself and appreciated them as amazing songwriters. I had very little exposure to them until then and “binged” on Beatles material for the next few years.
I could go on, but I’ll just say that I don’t put much value in Rolling Stone ratings on anything (another topic altogether) and don’t like trying to rank things in general but it can start a good discussion and I hope to see some more comments here.
If I do write a post on my experience of the Beatles I’ll be sure to let you know! Thanks!
You write it, and I’ll read and promote, Chris. Always interested in other Beatles fans thoughts. BTW, I’ll be publishing more about The Lads soon. Thanks a lot, my friend.
SoundEagle agrees with Chris about the dubious Rolling Stone ratings, not to mention that such ratings are not (sufficiently) bolstered or justified with proper criteria and/or sufficiently grounded in musicology as well as media and cultural studies.
SoundEagle would like to have “The Long and Winding Road” in the list of the top ten songs of the Beatles.
SoundEagle sounds very wise 🙂
I would also consider “All You Need Is Love” somewhere on my list…maybe…
You can’t go wrong with that number. Great pick, Chris.
Welcome, SoundEagle! Great to have you join in on the discussion. Excellent song selection, too. Tell me, would it be the Phil Spector version or the less orchestrated Paul and others preferred?
Thank you very much and hope to hear more from you, SE. 🙂
SoundEagle tends to prefer well-orchestrated versions of the Beatles’ songs.
Even better are their songs arranged into piano concertos (in the style of Rachmaninov) and played by either the Liverpool or London Symphony Orchestra.
Nice rankings. That’s a fine list and I can’t disagree with any of your re-rankings.
Thank you so much, ckckred. This was hard to do — no wonder I held off on this ;-).
I cannot even think of my own list as I enjoy every song. I only started my beatles phase 6 or so years ago so I am not an expert. I appreciate your lists though!
I certainly understand, mummbles. Thank you very much :-).
Great list. While My Guitar Gently Weeps is my personal favorite.
Welcome and thank you very kindly :-). I think it fair to say, you’ve great taste.
[…] my Revolver rediscovery, the breakthrough Tomorrow Never Knows, an album number I rated highly in a recent post, again transfixed like as a kid in 1966. The most unique of the Lennon tracks up to that point in […]
What a tough question. I’ve never considered doing a top 10 Beatles list as there’s so many to choose from. A quick look at my iTunes and my most-listened tracks provides this list:
1. Ticket To Ride
2. Let It Be
3. Across The Universe
4. In My Life
5. She Said She Said
6. You Never Give Me Your Money
7. Oh Darling
8. Mean Mr Mustard
9. Mr Moonlight
10. You Won’t See Me
Marvelous, Dan! I’m honored to have your Top Ten here. Love it. Many thanks.
Excellent list here, Michael. I would have to think long and hard about my personal top ten, but my favorite Beatles song is “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Glad that made your list as well.
That remains a great song by George Harrison. When you’re talking about The Lads, it can be quite a chore for coming up with a favorite top ten. Many thanks, Eric. 🙂
[…] was inspired to write about The Beatles after reading Re-ranking the Top Ten of Rolling Stone’s The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs and couldn’t help myself from leaving a few comments. I found that I had a lot more to say […]
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This is a loose quick down and dirty list that could change at any moment (LOL). A couple of things. HELP was sang as a pop song, so it would be a hit, but it really should have been done as a slow almost bluesy type thing. Tina Turner does just this and you really hear the pain in the song that Lennon was writing about. I SAW HER STANDING THERE I always felt was one of their great early rockers. Lennon did a great version of when he sang it with Elton John back in the early 70’s at Madison Square Garden. Anyway, here is my list:
A Day in the Life
In My Life
Strawberry Fields Forever
Let it Be
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
I Saw Her Standing There
Welcome, John! Great to see a list that includes ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. A great early rocker by The Lads, for sure. Many thanks for contributing a fine list and comment.
[…] 10-year old eyes and ears all the possibilities of what film and music could bring. Little wonder it’s in my Top Ten. This one cemented my admiration of the lads in ’64, and it’s lasted through to this […]
[…] because its lyrics mean more to me now than when I first heard them. It is my close second in my personal Top Ten of Beatles songs, […]
[…] to include the works of songwriters from the U.S. and UK, it would be this Lennon-McCartney song I selected late last year, with each of those Pop icons contributing their verse and vocals to, Day in the […]
[…] One: Tomorrow Never Knows. At one time I selected Got To Get You Into My Life for the one, but I’ve changed (in more ways than one). The most unique of John Lennon tracks up to that point in the group’s […]
[…] Only: A Day In The Life. If I picked it last week as the top song of the 60s, or my all-time top selection for The Lads, I sure as heck wasn’t going to leave it off as my Only pick, now was I? Along with the […]
[…] A Rich Man. Just about the whole B-side of the album was released as a hit single. Hello, Goodbye, Strawberry Fields Forever, an All You Need Is Love. And I daresay Penny Lane is heard more now on Oldies radio than back […]
[…] This is not a slight of tune on the A side. In my opinion, and there are many that back me up, this was among their greatest in the Fab Four’s discography. Arguably, Abbey Road was their best album, period. I don’t know if they knew what they were […]
All great lists but if the “Abbey Road” medley counts as one it would be at or near the top of my list. You lucked out by not attracting any of the terminal hipsters who insist that “You Know My Name (Look up the Number)” is the only good song they ever did. I’ve heard that one a few times.
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Great to have you chime in on this, Rick. Yeah, that medley was somethin’. If I hear it playing somewhere, I just have to stop and listen all the way through. Luckily, haven’t experienced the “You Know My Name (Look up the Number)” reaction. Let’s hope that spectre doesn’t raise its head 😉
Tell me, did you read Stephen King’s sequel to ‘The Shining’ out last year? If you did, what did you think of SK’s referencing this song by The Lads in the novel:
Thanks so much, my friend 🙂
I did not read that S. King novel, what was the title? Sounds interesting, esp. as a sequel to The Shining.
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Not a Second Time, from their second British album, With the Beatles, and the American album Meet the Beatles! Thanks, Rick. 🙂
Phenomenal post. My top 3 would be Hey Jude, Across the Universe and Tomorrow Never Knows. The last one was once described as what music would sound like if made by aliens.
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Great to meet up with another Beatles fan, Alex. Can’t go wrong with a top 3 like that. Marvelous description for ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. It certainly blew my mind back when ‘Revolver’ debuted. Thanks, my friend 🙂