In less than a decade, the Beatles recorded more than 200 songs. More than 50 years after their first single “Love Me Do” was released in the U.S. in 1962, the music of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr is as powerful and influential as ever. After “What is the meaning of life?” the toughest question might be “What is your favorite Beatles song?”
Rock Cellar asked artists of different eras and musical genres to reveal their favorite Beatles tune and explain why it stands out for them. And we ask you to do the same in the Comments section below.
Peter Asher (Peter and Gordon): It would be “I Want to Hold Your Hand” because I think of the exciting moment – I got to hear the song the instant it was written. This was the period when Paul was living in our family home in London and there was a little music room downstairs that my mother used to give private oboe lessons from time to time but she was using it less and less because she was an oboe professor at Royal Academy.
She had told Paul that if ever he needed the piano, he could use that room. And it was quite shortly after he’d moved in, in fact, that John Lennon came over. The two of them were down there in that room for a couple of hours with just the piano, interestingly, no guitars, and Paul stuck his head out of the door and called up the stairs to my bedroom and I was ordered to come down and hear this song they had just finished. And I came down and sat on the little sofa and they sat side by side on the piano and he played me “I Want to Hold Your Hand” for the first anywhere to anyone.
And the song, alone in that room with the two of them, hammering away at the piano, it sounded incredibly good. They asked me what I thought and I said, “It’s amazing, it’s the best sound I ever heard in my life. Please play it again” and they did. So that song’s stuck in my head for understandable reasons.
Brian Wilson (Beach Boys): “She’s Leaving Home.” Because I love the chord pattern.
Rick Wakeman (Yes featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman):
My favorite Beatles song is “I Am the Walrus.” It’s a brilliantly constructed piece of music, wacky lyrics, spaced-out tune, wonderful orchestration from George Martin and a production way ahead of its time. The Beatles did record quite a lot in the psychedelic era but nothing came close to “Walrus.”
“Help!” by Rick Wakeman
Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad): “Taxman.” Harrison wrote it. And I got to jam that, when we did the “Walk Down Abbey Road” tour in 2002. Jack Bruce was the bass player on that lineup, Steve Murphy was the drummer and we did a three-piece power trio on “Taxman.” And of course we gave the Beatles their due but we tore it up. It’s good, it’s what rock and roll is supposed to be doing. And it’s in the face of the Man, it really is.
I was always a Beatles fan because I saw the impact that those lads had on the world and I viewed it as an anointing, like what Elvis enjoyed, that very few people will get – that kind of flash and energy.
Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge): On Revolver, “I’m Only Sleeping.” I just love the fact that they took that Middle Eastern stuff, they took all that backwards stuff and associated it with rock music – it was awesome, it was really awesome stuff.
The Beatles’ Revolver album is what we were listening to when we did our first Vanilla Fudge album. We were definitely inspired by them. And then when our album came out, George Harrison walked around with it. We were blown away, we heard that rumor and never really had it confirmed until I played with Rod Stewart. That was amazing for us. By far the Beatles were the best rock band there ever was. And they got so many songs. When you listen to the radio and they play eight Beatles songs, you know every song, it’s very rare that a Beatles song comes on and you go, “I never heard this one.”
“Eleanor Rigby” by Vanilla Fudge
Don McLean: The Beatles influenced me with the variety of the music they made and the chances they took. They really never repeated themselves musically and that is something I have tried to do. All my songs are different. My favorite song of theirs is “No Reply.”
Glenn Mercer (The Feelies): “And Your Bird Can Sing.” I must confess, this isn’t my favorite Beatles song. I really can’t pick any single track from their formidable catalog. I like it a lot, but I can also say that about so many of their songs. It would be far easier to pick a least favorite song.
I picked this because I think it contains many of the elements that represent what attracts me to the Beatles music – melody, harmony, counterpoint and, most of all, some pretty cool guitar playing. And it’s delivered with a joyous energy that seems to leap out from the speakers. The lyrics also have a nice blend between an obvious message and the more obscure references.
It seems clear that John, at times, is singing about the trappings of the material world, and it also hints at raised awareness. But, beyond that, I’m not sure I know what it’s about. Also, it’s very succinct – just under two minutes.
“She Said She Said” by the Feelies
Gary Wright: There are so many great Beatles songs, that’s such a hard question to answer. One of my favorites is “Eleanor Rigby.” The melody’s great, the idea of what the song is about. It’s just a cool song. The cello parts that George Martin did the arrangements to I think were great too. That choice, the combination of the cello tracks and the idea for the lyrics of the song was great.
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by Gary Wright with Lyle Workman
Vinny Martell (Vanilla Fudge): I don’t really have a favorite. I like a whole bunch of their stuff but what comes to mind is before I was in the Fudge and the Pigeons before that, I was playing in a group in Florida, the Bondsmen. I had just come out of the Navy and my folks wanted to move down to Florida. I attended Broward Junior College down there for a couple of semesters. There was a little bar that we all went. I remember the early Beatles songs, “I Saw Her Standing There,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” all that stuff was just coming out. And it was a magical time, being in Florida, and it was just a really beautiful time.
The Beatles had a nice impact on me because they have beautiful harmonies, beautiful arrangements, it was very upbeat, very lively and it was just a breath of fresh air to hear the English accents. It took the U.S. by storm and I totally got into it.
Glenn Mercer: The Beatles had a huge impact on my life and, without a doubt, inspired me to become a musician and ultimately a songwriter and recording artist. Like so many of the kids who witnessed their television debut on the Ed Sullivan Show, they made me want to be in a band. Although it would take a few years, since I was only nine years old at the time. I was also quite heavily influenced by the sound and production on their recordings, and I incorporated that “experimental” approach when I finally got the chance to work in the studio. They, along with George Martin, were certainly pioneers in the art of song presentation.
Laurence Juber (Wings): My favorite Beatles song is the one I’m listening to at the time. It’s impossible to listen to the Beatles and not hear something that you didn’t hear before on a Beatle record. It’s just so vast, the scope, the span of what the Beatles did.
From the pre-Beatlemania perspective, they’re probably the greatest cover band that ever was and ever will be. And what incredible studio players they were. You listen to Let It Be… Naked, and all these interweaving guitar lines, it’s just such musical stuff. They had this incredible ability to be great entertainers and supremely accomplished songwriters and musicians and artists. It covered so much ground. Experimenting with world music, George with his Indian music and avant-garde classical music as far as using tape loops and just a ravenous appetite for music technology.
I really like playing “I Saw Her Standing There” because combining the bass line and the melody is just something that really makes an audience pay attention. But it’s not necessarily my favorite Beatles song, it’s fun to play because it’s good entertainment. I like getting into “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “I Am the Walrus” where they don’t subscribe to the normal kinds of chord sequences or the normal kind of texture. That’s stuff that really appeals to me.
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by Laurence Juber
Greg Kihn (Greg Kihn Band): It’s damn near impossible to pick out one great Beatles song. But I think I’ve got a pair. It’s the first two songs recorded for Sgt. Pepper although neither song made the album – “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane.” Probably the greatest double-sided single of all time. Can you imagine how strong an album that would have been with “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane”? Unbelievable.
Pretty much everything about those two songs was groundbreaking. I really loved the piccolo trumpet in “Penny Lane,” played by David Mason of the London Philharmonic. It was really super high. “Strawberry Fields Forever” – not only was it musically revolutionary, they were using the Mellotron and stuff like that, but it was also lyrically revolutionary. I think that John was starting to branch out into the psychedelic world. I remember listening to those early Sgt. Pepper songs and thinking “Whoa, what are these guys smokin’?”
Paul Nelson (Johnny Winter Band): The first song I ever learned from the Beatles because I’m a guitar player was “Yesterday.” That’s the ultimate guitar-by-yourself song, “Yesterday.” All those intricate parts and voicings and cool song structure is what I really like. For a guitar player, you have to know that song.
As for the Beatles themselves, the vocal harmonies. The song structure. The chord changes. Techniques like starting off with the chorus of a song instead of going right to a verse, doing a musical intro and then going to a verse, where you actually sing and introduce the song with the chorus.
I also liked the way they went heavy and they experimented. And even when they experimented, it didn’t lose any of its appeal. It was still all about the song. And hit after hit after hit.
Their earlier songs were like short blues tunes, some of them were under three minutes. But still catchy. Then later on they wrote longer stuff because they experimented with everything under the sun. Verses, choruses, solo sections. Musicians, singers, songwriters, arrangers still go to that as the go-to for the foundation of the formula to structure a song.
Martin Barre (Jethro Tull): That is an almost impossible question. It has to be off Sgt. Pepper. I’d play the whole album. To me the album in its entirety is a piece of music and it all fits together and flows from one song to the other. When you play that album and the song finishes, you know the next one to come up even before it started. The sequence is just so perfect. Sgt. Pepper, it’s just a great album.
The Beatles had a huge impact I think on everybody because they were always amazing. Every album they did had great songs. They never did anything that was less than incredible. And the consistency, no other band I can think of has ever done that. Rock music sort of became unfashionable and people started listening to people like Clapton and John Mayall and the blues bands in the U.K. and the Beatles went into the background musically. But then when Sgt. Pepper came out, they were back, right on top, because that was such an incredible album. Everybody raved about it, everybody played it all the time. It was a sort of historic moment in music, I think, and they were back on top until they finished. You play any track and it’s pretty well perfect.
“Eleanor Rigby” / “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” by the Martin Barre Band
Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket): Today my favorite Beatles song is “I’m Only Sleeping.” The bridge on that song, “Keeping an eye on the world going by my window,” is such a perfect five seconds of music and it only happens twice in the song. I love that they exercised such restraint with such a powerful moment. If I could write a hook like that I would repeat it endlessly. Tomorrow I will have a different favorite Beatles song, but that’s how it goes.
“Hey Bulldog” by Toad the Wet Sprocket
Greg Kihn: You’ve got to have a song from the first era and the second era. Because in the first era, my favorite Beatles song was always “A Hard Day’s Night.” It was because I loved that G-suspended opening chord that George plays. It’s from Mars!
And it’s such a cool chord that anything that happens after that is anticlimactic. Think about the entire generation that that movie influenced. When I was a young man, I’d pick up a Beatles album and I’d immediately start working out the songs. Oh, this is in G, that’s in C. When you realized that many of the Beatles songs were the same three chords you were using for the Kingston Trio songs you played last year, it was perfect!
It was the gold standard so you were always trying to match your lyrics against the Beatles’ when you heard what they were doing musically and lyrically and instrumentally. Every time you thought you were getting closer they’d zoom up another mile ahead. The gold standard of the Beatles is what everybody put their songs against.
Don Brewer (Grand Funk Railroad): “Taxman.” When it came out on the Revolver album, to me, it kind of marked the change from being a ’60s pop band to being something a little more cool. I loved the direction of that record and that’s where the Beatles were going. I loved that song, “Taxman.”
At first I was not a Beatles fan. I was looking at the hair and the girls screaming and going, “What’s up with that?” We were more into the Motown stuff and R&B and all that kind of stuff and here was this poppy band out of England the girls were screaming about. And then all of a sudden you realized that you started playing their music at a sock hop or a dance and everybody would go crazy. So immediately you started playing their stuff just to stay with the trend and then you realized, my God, this is great music.
Peter Asher: If you mean favorite Lennon/McCartney song, I would change slightly because I would have to say “World Without Love” because, of course, it’s the song that was my first record and changed my life forever. It was the beginning of my long and fortunately continuing career in the music business.
They didn’t want it. During this time Paul and I were living next door to each other and Paul had explained to me that it was an unfinished song that he’d abandoned because John didn’t like it. Or at least didn’t think it was right for the Beatles. And I’ve read since then that apparently when Paul was singing it, John would even stop him after the first line, which was “Please lock me away.” John would go, “OK, stop, I will. The song’s over.”
So Paul had abandoned it and then later when Gordon [Waller] and I had a record deal in play, signed and done and ready, we had a date set for our first session, that’s when it occurred to me that maybe that song was still unwanted. And it was. It was still an orphan song. So I asked Paul if we could have it and he said fine. And then he finished it, added the bridge and the missing lyrics and so on in time for the session. But we basically got it because it was lying on the cutting room floor as it were. It was a reject and Paul graciously said that we could do it.
“World Without Love” Home Demo by Paul McCartney
Laurence Juber: I think it’s part of my musical DNA. I’ve done three albums of Beatles arrangements and it’s great music to arrange. It really is fabulous stuff. Because my career, and my life to a large extent, ended up intertwined with Beatles and post-Beatles. The fact that I got plucked out of the studio world to work with Paul and then worked with Paul and Ringo and later worked with George.
I’ve not been able to get away from the Beatles orbit. And the music is just such a gift because it’s so satisfying and it’s so musical. It’s become part of the rock music canon. The Beatles are central to that, as Bach and Mozart and Beethoven are to the classical canon.
In Paul’s case. his job was to make music and when he did a song, he’d write one over the weekend. He’d sit down at the piano and play something and tweak it and was just basically living the music. If you’re that dedicated to it, if you’re that immersed in that creative stream, then what you get comes out with your own particular style.
Martin Barre: When I played with Paul McCartney I was terrified. Definitely terrified. But he was incredibly nice, really friendly and every time we ran a track in the studio he sang. And he doesn’t just sing, it’s like one hundred percent. He didn’t do just a token vocal. And we were just running through songs, every time he sang it was unbelievable. And in between takes he’d go into “Good Golly Miss Molly,” just played and sang the whole thing. Pretty amazing.
He was always very chatty and he related that when he worked with Michael Jackson on that single “The Girl Is Mine,” he was saying how awestruck and intimidated he was about Michael Jackson [laughs]. And I just wanted to say, “Paul, how do you think we feel with you?”
Obviously I didn’t but even he had that same thing. It was a pretty incredible experience.