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Rolling Stone Picks the Top Ten Beatles Songs

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If you are like me, when you see the list of top ten Beatles songs as chosen by Rolling Stone magazine, you will probably say, “Hey, what about ________?” Each person will no doubt fill in the blank with a song that is not on this list. While I believe all the songs on the list are wonderful, there are more than a few missing that I think merit being there.

Here is the list of the ten songs:

1. “A Day in the Life”
2. “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
3. “Strawberry Fields Forever”
4. “Yesterday”
5. “In My Life”
6. “Something”
7. “Hey Jude”
8. “Let It Be”

9. “Come Together”
10. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

Interestingly, two songs written by George Harrison are here (numbers 6 and 10). As most Beatles fans know, whoever sang lead vocals on the Lennon-McCartney collaborations was the writer of the song. That means John gets four songs in there (numbers 2, 3, 5, and 9), while McCartney comes in with three (number 4, 7, and 8). The number one song “A Day in the Life” features lead vocals by both Lennon and McCartney, signifying that they did indeed work together on that one.

Of course, the list could be so much longer, but the point of a top ten in anything is to narrow the field to the best of the best. Some would argue that some really excellent songs are missing, and I couldn’t agree more. The group recorded more than two hundred songs, and this covered a period that while relatively short (1962-1969) really spanned the cultural change of the decade, adapting to – and sometimes influencing – the times and bringing fans that loved them along on their “Magical Mystery Tour” of music.

From that first song “Love Me Do” they recorded as a single to the last song “The End” that actually closed out the group’s life as a band with the apropos lyrics – “And in the end/the love you take/Is equal to the love you make” – they spanned the spectrum of pop and rock and roll, and so many fans have favorite songs that it is difficult to ever come down to what would be a list everyone would agree upon.

As I look at the list, it seems that the magazine tried to painstakingly take songs from each era of the band’s history. With “I Want to Hold Your Hand” covering the mop-top years, “A Day in the Life” capturing their creative peak, and “Let it Be” closing out the songbook as it were (“Let It Be” was released after “The End” which is arguably their final song as a band).

I still have problems with the list. How can you include “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and leave out “A Hard Day’s Night” and “She Loves You”? What about “All You Need Is Love” instead of “Yesterday”? Why is “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” there at the expense of “Get Back”?

Well, I could go on and on, and that is the whole point. It is probably impossible for any of us to ever come up with a top ten list of Beatles songs to please everyone; however, Rolling Stone has given us a somewhat definitive list that captures the essence of the Beatles over the course of their time as a band.

Sure, we can all squawk about what is left out, but perhaps we should just sit back, enjoy the music, and just “Let It Be.”

 

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • Beatlefan

    “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was not written by John Lennon, nor is he the lead singer of the song. The song is well-known as a 50/50 collaboration between Lennon and McCartney (both of them have asserted this in interviews). The song is sung by both of them, sometimes in unison and sometimes in harmony but never is one voice alone.

    You’ve grossly oversimplified the Lennon/McCartney songwriting team in this article. The other example is “In My Life,” which althought Lennon is in fact the lead singer, both he AND McCartney credited each other as significant collaborators on teh song. While their recollections differed somewhat, the key point was that each of them said – independently of each other – that the song was co-written.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    Beatlefan, have you ever watched those famous Ed Sullivan performances? Nearly anyone seeing and hearing those would call John the lead singer on “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” with Paul and George providing backup.

    And “In My Life” is absolutely, utterly, completely a Lennon song, and a very personal one at that.

    Are you a McCartney partisan or something? Can you provide sources/quotes for your claims?

  • Beatlefan

    yeah, I’ve seen the Sullivan performances – and Paul sings “I Want To Hold Your Hand” along with John literally the whole way through. That’s how they did it every single time. That song is about as much of a true 50/50 collaboration between them as any Beatles song. This is actually the first time I’ve seen anyone the song attribute solely to Lennon.

    As for “In My Life” – Lennon from the Playboy interview, 1980: “Paul helped with the middle eight.” In another interview, Lennon said, “his contribution was the middle eight itself.” (I don’t have the specific source for that quote handy)

    The song doesn’t actually have a middle eight (a bridge), per se, so it’s not precisely clear what he’s referring to. But Lennon was notorious for claiming songs as entirely his, even if McCartney remembered differently. So him crediting Paul at all says a lot.

    McCartney claimed responsibility for the song’s entire melody.

    What they are in agreement on is that the song was a collaborative effort. My main point here was not to argue over who claimed to have written each single bar of music, just that it’s a wild simplification for the article’s author to say “whoever sang lead vocals on the Lennon-McCartney collaborations was the writer of the song”

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Beatlefan, I did not read these things so I cannot say anything about them, but from all that I have read over the years, it was common knowledge that whoever was the lead singer was the writer. I just listened to “I Want to Hold Your Hand” again today, and it sounds to me like John has the lead most of the way. On the ESS the boys could have tried to even things out a bit. I’d have to see that again to say.

    I’m not saying the other guy didn’t help in some way with songs either (there was a collaboration, especially in the beginning), but for the most part it was the lead vocalist who wrote the songs. In the case on “A Day in the Life,” John wrote the first and third part, and Paul wrote the middle section: a true collaboration.

    As we know a lot was said and done after the Beatles were done, and there was a lot of this “he said” and “he said.” Do you remember John’s “How Do you Sleep?” and all the other back and forth stuff that went on?

    What matters most is that they were a great band and the music is forever. Whoever sang the song matters not so much as how great the song was. Even Ringo’s leads were fantastic songs, though he only got a few.

  • Beatlefan

    The fact is that “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is, by both Lennon and McCartney’s accounts, a true 50/50 writing collaboration. You will not find one source to dispute that, including this new Rolling Stone issue that your article is based on.

    Two people singing a song from start to finish is a duet. There is not one word of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” that is sung by only one voice. (The Sullivan performances are not a good comparison to the studio versions, as the mix was imperfect much of the time)

    Yes, generally whoever sang lead was the primary author of the song. But on early songs like “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “She Loves You,” “From Me To You,” “Misery,” and numerous others there IS no “lead singer” but rather a combination of Lennon and McCartney’s voices together — the reason being, they wrote the songs together.

  • Liz

    BeatleFan is correct about both I Want to Hold Your Hand (they both sang it and they both wrote it) and about In My Life (one of the few songs they disagreed about who did what.)

    Check Revolution in the Head (the best book about Beatles music, though the author is highly opinionated, he’s got his facts straight). But in every Beatle book I’ve ever read, I Want to Hold Your Hand is a duet that was a 50/50 collaboration.

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Well, all my life I thought John sang lead on IWTHYH, but this video seems to confirm that they both did vocals throughout; therefore, I would assume they collaborated on it.

  • dharma55

    Not to be too picky, but the song is “The End” not “In the End”.

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Right you are, Dharma.

  • http://jeanniedanna.wordpress.com/ jeannie danna

    Victor,

    IMO,they shouldn’t have numbered them or left any out. How did they arrive at this, a contest?

    I personally am very disappointed that “Let it Be” is not at the top.

    : ) That was my very first album you have pictured here.

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Yeah, Jeannie, that’s the problem with “best” of anything lists. All of us has a favorite that’s not going to be on there.

    My first album was Meet the Beatles that I inherited from an older friend. I still enjoy listening to it, scratches and all.

  • John Gibney

    I know it’s subjective, but here’s my list, in no particular order:

    Yesterday
    Lady Madonna
    Eleanor Rigby
    Get Back
    Let It Be
    Michelle
    The Fool On The Hill
    Something
    Revolution
    The Ballad Of John And Yoko

    It was hard to leave “while My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Back In The USSR”, and “Hey Bulldog (UK Release)” off the list.

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    John, I love every one of those songs. Great choices! Thanks for sharing them.

  • OldCreaky

    I would delete Yesterday and Let it Be and replace with Dear Prudence and Elenor Rigby.

    BTW, great to see G. Harrison get his props with two top ten selections; I couldn’t agree more.
    RIP George and John

  • Tommy

    Author Victor Lana, you are wrong on this one. John and Paul wrote “I Want to Hold Your Hand” 50/50. John and Paul both said the song was written “eyeball to eyeball”. Watch the Ed Sullivan performance. You can hear both of them singing the entire time. Making an article without any actual knowledge of the subject seems odd to me. However, I agree that the most important part is their music, which is very good.

  • beatle outsider

    You guys are missing something crucial. There are no 2 lead vocals in any song, really. There is only one that sings the main melody. Paul gets all the creit he deserves for writing, as well as the same amount of singing time as John in “I wannna hold your hand”. But it does not matter. Sing IWHYH yourself and listen to the Beatles. Who is singing what you would sing or hum? It would be John’s melody, not Paul’s. This makes John Lennon the clear and undisputed lead vocalist of the song.

  • Avi

    John and Paul wrote I Want To Hold Your Hand and She Loves You together. They sang in unison on both with George joining sometimes on She Loves You. John did the melody line. If you listen carefully to the records, however, it sounds like certain portions of both songs that John is singing alone but double-tracked. You can detect these slight differences between the record and live performances. Obviously, live John could not do 2 voices simultaenously. Usually, the main writer was the lead singer but not always so. John wrote most of Day Tripper but Paul sang the lead. Paul wrote most of Eight Days A Week but John sang the lead. They were both great talents especially when they worked together so let’s not quibble over these little differences of opinion.