The Beatles' 20 greatest songs ever, ranked

6 October 2021, 12:33

The Beatles
The Beatles. Picture: Getty

By Mayer Nissim

Choosing the top 20 Beatles songs is hard. Putting them in order of greatness is probably impossible.

In less than eight years between 1962 and 1970, The Beatles changed the face of music forever.

They recorded over 200 songs, and if we were going to say which ones were brilliant, we'd probably have to say "all of them".

But what are the best of the best? If you asked us tomorrow or this afternoon you may get a different list, but for today, here's the ultimate collection of our top 20 Beatles songs.

  1. All You Need Is Love

    A non-album single from July 1967 (later bundled into Yellow Submarine and the US Magical Mystery Tour LP), 'All You Need Is Love' was made for a TV special linking 26 countries all over the world.

    George Martin's backing is a mashup of musical references ('Greensleeves', Glenn Miller's 'In The Mood', The Beatles' own 'She Loves You', opening with the 'Marseillaise') making it feel like it was publicly-owned from the off.

    Designed especially to have universal appeal, you don't get a more simple (and beautiful) statement than John Lennon's "All You Need Is Love".

  2. Here Comes The Sun

    One of George Harrison's more stripped-back songs, it was written on an acoustic guitar borrowed from his pal Eric Clapton.

    It wasn't a single, but is probably the best-known track from 1969's Abbey Road and has grown in popularity over the years, racking up over 710 million Spotify listens – by far the most popular Beatles song to stream.

  3. Can't Buy Me Love

    An idealistic flip of early Motown hit 'Money (That's What I Want)' that the Beatles had covered on their previous album, 'Can't Buy Me Love' from A Hard Day's Night said the exact opposite – money can buy you a lot of lovely things but it can't get you the most important one.

    "I think you can put any interpretation you want on anything," Paul later said, "but when someone suggests that 'Can't Buy Me Love' is about a prostitute, I draw the line."

  4. The Long And Winding Road

    Paul McCartney was famously not happy about the strings and choir slathered all over 'The Long and Winding Road' by producer Phil Spector, and took them all off for his Let It Be... Naked version in 2003, but there's actually something beautiful about the "official" version.

    And if you were wondering, the road in question is apparently the B842.

  5. While My Guitar Gently Weeps

    One of George Harrison's standouts from The Beatles (aka The White Album), 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' features some lead guitar from Eric Clapton (even though he wasn't officially credited for it).

    George wrote the understated and tender song after The Beatles' visit to India, when he was back at his parents' home reading the I Ching, as you do.

  6. Help!

    A number one single and title track from the band's second film and fifth album in 1965, the title and lyrics were a literal shout for help by John Lennon.

    "The whole Beatles thing was just beyond comprehension. I was subconsciously crying out for help," he said years later. He identified it as one of his most honest songs, despite it being swiftly written-to-order for the film.

  7. Come Together

    The opening track on Abbey Road and a double A-side with 'Something', John Lennon's 'Come Together' showed a totally different side to The Beatles.

    Inspired by LSD advocate Timothy Leary and his campaign slogan "Come Together – Join the Party", Lennon borrowed from Chuck Berry's 1965 single 'You Can't Catch Me' (which sparked a lawsuit).

    It's been covered by everyone from Ike & Tina Turner to Aerosmith, and Ringo Starr says it's his favourite Beatles song.

  8. Tomorrow Never Knows

    The closing track of Revolver was actually the first song recorded for the album, and alongside 'Revolution 9' is maybe their most stunningly experimental moment.

    Inspired by LSD. Lennon wanted the song to sound like it was being chanted by a thousand Tibetan monks, and George Martin performed innovative miracles with tape loops and other techniques in the studio to get something that wasn't far off.

  9. Yesterday

    Amazingly, 'Yesterday' wasn't a single during The Beatles' lifetime, but this Help! album track has gone on to be one of their most-loved songs and is one of the most covered songs in pop history.

    The only member of the Fab Four who appears on it is Paul McCartney, who sings and plays guitar backed by a string quartet.

    Paul had the melody in mind before he started on the words, so used the not-so-heartbreaking lyrics "Scrambled eggs/Oh my baby how I love your legs/Not as much as I love scrambled eggs".

  10. I Am The Walrus

    The B-side to 'Hello, Goodbye', and also the undisputed standout of the Magical Mystery Tour film, EP and album.

    On the face of it, Lennon's lyrics sound like nursery rhyme psychedelia, and he claimed to write it partly to confound people that had been academically deconstructing Beatles lyrics

    But there's a scathing Allen Ginsberg-inspired anti-establishment spirit ("you've let your knickers down") and unsettling violence to the whole thing ("dripping from a dead dog's eye") that make it a much darker record than it first seems.

  11. Revolution

    Not the audience-splitting avant-garde sound collage 'Revolution 9', or the slow jam 'Revolution 1' from The White Album, but the faster and fizzier B-side to 'Hey Jude', written by John Lennon with some help from Yoko Ono.

    His desire for Revolution without violence ("If you talk about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out") infuriated some, but that pureness and positivity has something to be said for it,

    It's worth noting though that Lennon himself was more ambivalent when The Beatles' recorded the later 'Revolution 1', being more open to some destruction to get a bit of change going.

  12. Something

    Despite writing loads of good songs across their albums, 'Something' was George Harrison's first A-side single for The Beatles (a double A-side with 'Come Together'), and one of Abbey Road's best moments.

    He wrote this love song to his wife Pattie Boyd during the White Album sessions, but didn't manage to finish it in time.

    It won and Ivor Novello in 1969, and has been covered by everyone from Shirley Bassey and Frank Sinatra to James Brown and Elvis Presley.

  13. A Hard Day’s Night

    The title song for the Beatles first film (and third album), 'A Hard Day's Night' opens with one of the most-discussed chords in rock 'n' roll history.

    That combination of George Harrison on a Rickenbacker 12-string electric, John Lennon on a Gibson acoustic, Paul on his Hofner bass, George Martin on a Steinway Grand Piano and Ringo adding more tones with his snare and ride has everyone scratching their heads.

    The title was a Ringo-ism, which was yoinked as the title for the film, and Lennon quickly wrote the song in one night.

  14. Eleanor Rigby

    Paul's melancholy 'Eleanor Rigby' was originally about Daisy Hawkins and Father McCartney, before a few tweaks gave us the version we all know and love today.

    The song went to number one in the UK (it stalled just outside the top ten in the US), and appeared on the band's groundbreaking Revolver album.

    It was one of Paul McCartney's songs, though he took it over to John's house and "we sat around, laughing, got stoned and finished it off", with a bit of help from everyone.

  15. Twist and Shout

    The Beatles were pop gamechangers in that they wrote most of their own material, but they also knocked out a few covers, especially in their early days.

    Their very best was 'Twist and Shout' on their first album Please Please Me, originally recorded by The Top Notes and made famous by The Isley Brothers.

    The band saved the recording for the end of a 12-hour session, and with Lennon having calmed his voice with some warm milk they absolutely belted it out, with The Beatles making the song their own.

    A second take was attempted, but abandoned when it was obvious John had nothing left to give.

  16. We Can Work It Out

    While most Beatles songs were clearly "one of Paul's" or "one of John's", 'We Can Work It Out' was one of those rare collaborations where both of the main songwriting Beatle played a major role.

    It's Paul's verse and chorus, and John's darker middle-eight (with George's advice to make that bit a waltz) that all combine to make a twisting, turning classic.

    Recorded during the Rubber Soul sessions, it was released as a standalone double A-side with 'Day Tripper'.

  17. Hey Jude

    A seven-minute EPIC, 'Hey Jude' was the first-ever release on the band's own Apple label was a suitably massive hit when it was released as a standalone single in 1968, topping the US and UK charts and selling millions and millions of copies.

    "I started with the idea 'Hey Jules', which was Julian, don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better. Hey, try and deal with this terrible thing," Paul explained about writing the song for John Lennon's son Julian, as his dad was breaking up with his mum Cynthia after meeting Yoko Ono.

    "I knew it was not going to be easy for him. I always feel sorry for kids in divorces."

    It was the first Beatles song to use then-state-of-the-art eight-track recording equipment and is often a massive singalong moment during McCartney's solo shows.

  18. A Day In The Life

    Like 'We Can Work It Out', the closer from Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band was an equal collaboration between John Lennon and Paul McCartney, with Lennon doing the verse this time and Paul stretching his music hall muscles for the "got out of bed" middle-eight.

    The druggy line "I'd love to turn you on" earned a BBC ban, while the ending chord is almost as much-discussed as the opening one from 'A Hard Day's Night'.

    The Byrds David Crosby was one of the first people to hear the finished song when he visited the band at the studio. "Man, I was a dish-rag," he said. "I was floored. It took me several minutes to be able to talk after that." Us too, David.

  19. She Loves You

    While Beatles reissues come out every year or so now, littered with demos and outtakes, 'She Loves You' will remain a perfect pop moment with almost no explanation.

    It was recorded on July 1, 1963 and mixed on July 4, a week after it was written. Not only aren't there any tapes of the sessions, or the original two-track stereo recording which was unbelievably binned after it was mixed down, there aren't even any proper records of the sessions. The unbridled joy and power of 'She Loves You' just is.

    Released as a standalone single at the end of summer of 1963, It topped the charts in the UK and US and maybe marked the moment Beatlemania became a phenomenon.

  20. In My Life

    It's maybe impossible to say that any one Beatles song is their best, but it's hard to give any sort of argument against 'In My Life'.

    Helped along by George Martin's sped-up piano, it's a gorgeous, wonderful, heartbreaking and nostalgic study of life and loss. Paul and John bickered later about who wrote which bit of the music, but the words are all John.

    What's so incredible is that Lennon was only 24 when he wrote 'In My Life', which grew out of a long poem about riding a bus through Liverpool, clocking all the places and people he knew growing up.

    "It was the first song I wrote that was consciously about my life," John said. "I think this was my first major piece of work."

    While that's probably harsh on his songs before then, it's so perfectly realised, you can just hear why he thinks that. A masterpiece.