How do you choose the Top 5 best songs by the Beatles?
With difficulty it seems, and no matter how many times you run the question through an internet search engine, you’ll never find a definitive answer. In this article, we look at the hits that make it onto some of the most popular lists, so read on and see if you agree with the choices made.
Rolling Stone Magazine
In the book The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs published by Rolling Stone, the Top 5 looks like this:
5 “In My Life”
3 “Strawberry Fields Forever”
2 “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
1 “A Day in the Life”
Official Charts Company
The Official Charts Company tells a different story with its figures based on record sales. The Top 5 best-selling singles are:
5 “Day Tripper / We Can Work It Out”
4 “I Feel Fine”
3 “Can’t Buy Me Love”
2 “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
1 “She Loves You”
So, we’ve already got two very different opinions on the best song by the Beatles: one perhaps based on artistic merit, the other purely on popularity.
But, according to a list compiled by iTunes, the favourite Beatles’ hits around the world are:
4 “In My Life”
3 “Let It Be”
2 “Come Together”
1 “Here Comes the Sun”
So, which list do you agree with? The chances are, your own “Top 5 best songs by the Beatles” list is entirely different again… and that’s because we all have our own memories associated with each song.
In an article written by Elvis Costello for Rolling Stone magazine, he recalls listening to Paul McCartney perform at the Concert for Linda, held after Linda McCartney’s death. Paul sang some oldies from yesteryear and Elvis says, “The second Paul sang the opening lines, the crowd’s reaction was so intense that it all but drowned the song out. It was very thrilling, but also disconcerting. Perhaps I understood in that moment one of the reasons why the Beatles had to stop performing. The songs weren’t theirs anymore. They belonged to everybody.”
The Songs Belong to Everybody
Elvis Costello is right in that everyone knows at least a line or two of a Beatles hit, whether they are fans of the Fab Four or not. Back in the day, much was made of the rivalry between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones with fans supposedly in one camp or the other, but we know today that it was largely media hype. According to John McMillian, author of Beatles Vs. Stones, the bands were friends and rivals. He says, “They clearly struck up a rapport, but that never stopped them from trying to outperform each other whenever and however they could.”
There were one or two nasty things said over the years; Mick Jagger made some disparaging remarks at the time of the Beatles’ split, and John Lennon retaliated with a comment or two about Mick’s “fag dancing”, but in 1988, it was Mick who inducted the Beatles into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, saying, “We went through some pretty strange times. We had a sort of — a lot of rivalry in those early years, and a little bit of friction; but we always ended up friends. And I like to think we still are, ’cause they were some of the greatest times of our lives, and I’m — I’m really proud to be the one that leads them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
Battle of the Bands
The media-fuelled rivalry between the Beatles and the Stones was mirrored in the 70s with the fan split between the Bay City Rollers and the Osmonds, and then again in the 90s with Blur and Oasis. The question of which band was better, Beatles v Stones, will never be answered, just as the definitive Top 5 best songs by the Beatles will never be agreed, but one thing is for sure, the Rolling Stones win in terms of longevity.
Back in the late-80s, in one of the last interviews John Lennon ever gave, he let it be known that he was tired of the on-going comparison between the Beatles and the Stones, and the continued call for a Beatles reunion. He said, “You know, they’re congratulating the Stones on being together [so long]. Whoooopee!… It’s all right when you’re 16, 17, 18 to have male companions and idols, OK? It’s tribal and a gang and it’s fine. But when it continues and you’re still doing it when you’re 40, that means you’re still 16 in the head.”
I wonder what John Lennon would say today as the Stones keep on rockin’ into their 70s!