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Why You Can't Pick a Favorite Beatles Song

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

Picking the best song from any artist’s catalog can often be a contentious task, as is one that is subjective in nature. Is it their most commercially successful or the most recognizable? These are often the least liked by the most obsessive fans. Is it the song that truly captures the essence of the band? Songs which may be technically the best but might be a little over produced. Is it a song that is simply your favorite for reason you can even understand yourself? The kind of song you love that others typically loath and is most definitely not the answer if you ask anyone else. The reality is that the answer to the question is: it’s all a matter of opinion. So even though a critique may rank “Stairway to Heaven” as one of the best songs of all time, you might prefer “Tangerine” because it seems more personal and hasn’t been ruined by classic rock radio. Maybe you think “Tiny Dancer” is the best Elton John song because you’ve seen Almost Famous but then get older and find “Mona Lisa’s and Mad Hatter” later on in the movie and you change your opinion. At least in this scenario you can move from favorite to favorite. The problem I always find (and maybe you do too) is when I try to settle on a favorite Beatles song, even for just a moment, it is completely bombarded by 20 different arguments for other songs by my brain. So here is my best attempt at explaining the conundrum of picking the best Beatles song.

It may be a generalization but the Beatles music could basically be split into three era’s, Beatlemania, their psychedelic phase and the final three albums that were a return to a more classical style of music. In these three eras they were essentially different bands and, for that reason, (and for the sake of this argument) it’s necessary to have a favorite song from each era. Now, surely these eras blend together and, though it may be difficult to discern between the start of one and the end of another, I find that they can each be defined by a song so there should justifiably be a best song for each era. For Beatlemania it was “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, a cheesy pop anthem but if you think of those young mop-top Beatles, that is the song that always comes with them but this can’t be it. The argument against this one is simplified (yet fair) in saying “Yesterday” is a better song from this era, and I can’t remember the last time anyone put on “I Want To Hold Your Hand”. The psychedelic phase, though one of the most transformative of any band, is captured in “All You Need Is Love” because it’s practically an anthem for Flower Power. Once again, there are countless other songs I prefer from this era, even from bands other than the Beatles, but this song is practically like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is to Grunge. The final three albums that the Beatles made may have been littered with more classic songs than can even be comprehended but, due to the nature of the band at this time, I think it is most clearly defined by “Let it Be”. Marred by stories of fighting and separate recording sessions, these final albums may also be the most telling of the Beatles as individuals and maybe this song just defines them best for this time, all-the-while carrying a timeless tune.

In another sense the Beatles could all be viewed as solo artists, maybe not in the early days, and I don’t mean to disregard the Lennon-McCartney song writing duo but even as early as Help you can hear certain songs that belong to John and Paul separately. To take the argument in that direction, you could basically say that each has their own best song, but even that is tough to say because even if you want to pick “Hey Jude” for Paul and “A Day In The Life” for John, those could easily be countered by “Blackbird” and “I Am The Walrus” for justifiable reason. At the same time, George cannot be dismissed but I really don’t even feel like making the case for which is better out of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Here Comes The Sun” and “Something” because all are special in a significant way. It even comes down to the fact that collaborative efforts should probably be judged in a certain sense and for that I have an argument. I think the Beatles, at their best, are “Ticket To Ride”. It’s got the band in full force, harmonizing and blending guitars, every artist is really holding their own, not just playing a part but, still, I wouldn’t consider this in my top twenty-five Beatles songs. I think it should also be said that Ringo sang “Yellow Submarine”.

Here I’ve named a dozen songs and really you could consider any of them the best Beatles song and I think the whole point of this is that they were so diverse and complete that it’s impossible. The other argument could be that any serious fan of any artist gets so ingrained in their music that they come to appreciate the lesser known tracks and form a more personal relationship with these songs. I think it’s a little bit of both because I’m clearly nerd-ing out about the Beatles but they also may be the most complex group of all the time both musically and culturally so I enjoy over-analyzing them. The reality is comprehensive in that every song we find to be a new favorite adds to our overall understanding of them as an artist.

Oh, and by the way, “Hey Jude” is my favorite Beatles song, I think.

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