The legendary Beatles catalog is so full of hits, of inspiration, of beauty and of tears that a top ten list is a futile effort as best, an unpleasant one at worst. To preface such a list with a lame disclaimer is, by contrast, easy. All too easy. What you have here didn’t come from a master of music theory or a noted rock journalist. Just a fan with some great memories of his favorite band. It will have to do for now.
(1) Let it Be
Stripped down to the bare essentials of a voice and a piano, it doesn’t take long for this song’s simple words and message to grip the audience and provide something instantly hummable and endlessly comforting. You truly realize the depth of the musical genius when a ‘wrong’ chord at the three-minute mark sounds suspiciously correct. Somehow it all fits.
(2) A Day in the Life
But simplicity only gets you so far. The fusion of two different compositions from John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the full and sumptuous arrangement of this epic, impressionistic piece provides a tour of life both real and imagined, from the mundane to the spectacular. Featuring everything from an improvised orchestral crescendo to an alarm clock to a powerful three-piano final chord, it is a masterpiece of complex composition and revolutionary production.
(3) Hey Jude
The sheer audacity of a seven-minute song comprised largely of “na-na-na-na” is tribute to the musical imagination of the Beatles. Everything, even Ringo’s late entry into the piece, comes together for a listening experience that gets people chanting even today.
(4) Penny Lane
Is it the joyous ascension or the jovial, almost casual downbeats, that make people remember the trumpets? This surrealist ode to English suburban living. Now if people would just stop stealing the street signs in Liverpool.
(5) A Hard Day’s Night
Think back to the vibrant, confident twang that opens this timeless song. Is there any better symbol of a band on the rise, about to take over the world? It seems to say, here come the Beatles, no one-hit wonderÃ¢Â?Â¦ get ready for it! The lyrics of this pop charmer trip off the tongue rather effortlessly, and it all makes for great dancing.
(6) I Am the Walrus
Of course the deliberately nonsensical lyrics of this piece make it a standout, but don’t discount the creepy sound design as well-something about the laughter and chanting makes one’s hair stand on end. With everything from acid-inspired rantings to childlike doggerel to Lewis Carroll allusions on parade, “I am the Walrus” stands as a singular vision of experimental songwriting, if not cohesion.
(7) Eleanor Rigby
With moving, poignant lyrics about loneliness and aging, “Eleanor Rigby” is a striking example of the Beatles’ brilliant transition into serious songwriting. To truly appreciate it, one must listen to the strings-only recording on the Anthology compilation, and immerse oneself in the eight-piece orchestra’s somber dirge. Pop grows up, and it is beautiful.
The most frequently covered and recorded song in all of popular music, its haunting melody is so simple that even Paul McCartney could not believe no one had come up with it before.
(9) Strawberry Fields Forever
Psychedelic rock came into its own with John Lennon’s peaceful musical trip; it’s no wonder Lennon’s final, sweet, (mostly) silent resting place came to bear the name Strawberry Fields. Don’t forget to listen for the famous “Cranberry sauce” murmurs at the end.
(10) I Want to Hold Your Hand
The famous “British invasion” was spearheaded by this infectious hit. The face of American music was changed forever by the influence of this newfangled Fab Four. With every triumphant leap up the scale on “hand!”, a new era in music was reached. Oh, and it’s fun, too. Of course, the British already knew it all along. And listening to the blissful confidence in Lennon and McCartney’s voices, they knew, too.