As you would expect from the band that famously sang ‘All You Need Is Love,” the Beatles wrote their share of love songs. In fact, over their brief but prolific career, they wrote pretty much every type of love song imaginable.
You name the stage of a relationship, chances are there’s a great Beatles song to go with it. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we thought we’d list the Beatles’ ten best love songs. Nothing about breakups or jealousy or unrequited love here. We’ll leave that to the ironic hipsters. We’re dealing with the act of being in love, with all its joy, beauty and yes, sometimes doubt and fear.
10) I've Just Seen a Face, from 'Help!', 1965
It may have been buried deep on the ‘Help!’ album when it was first released, but this song has become such a favorite that it was one of only five Beatles songs Paul McCartney played during his ‘Wings Over America’ tour in 1976.
In just 2:05, it perfectly captures the rush and excitement of love at first sight, when you just want to share your joy with every passing stranger on the street. This country-tinged number features John, Paul and George on acoustic guitars, with George’s lean 12-string solo reflecting his growing confidence as a lead player. But what’s most amazing about ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face’ is that it was recorded on June 14, 1965 during the same session that they cut ‘Yesterday’ and ‘I’m Down,” giving further proof of McCartney’s increasing versatility.
9) When I'm Sixty-Four, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967
According to the story, McCartney wrote this song when was 16 and forgot about until his father turned 64, which happened to be as the Beatles were recording ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’
Paul often gets mocked (sometimes justifiably so) for his nostalgic side, but here’s one occasion where it works to his advantage. Beneath the vaudeville music lies a deceptively innovative lyric. He’s trying to convince his new girlfriend of his worthiness by painting a scenario of what their life will be like in the future. It won’t always be easy (“we shall scrimp and save”) but spending your last years working in the garden and playing with our grandchildren make it all worthwhile.
8) If I Fell, A Hard Day's Night, 1964
Particularly in their early days, the Beatles were first and foremost a vocal band. Their seemingly innate ability to harmonize as one was evident from their first album, with songs like ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘There’s A Place.’
But on ‘If I Fell,’ the first of three songs on this list from ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’ we see how Lennon and McCartney’s differing melodic sensibilities work together to create something beautiful. John’s low part moves in simple intervals, steps and half-steps, while Paul’s high part is more complex, rising and falling to find the right note to match John. And yet, neither part stands on its own, but combined they perfectly complement Lennon’s lyric about the fears of falling in love again.
7) It's Only Love, Help!, 1965
Had he been born in Georgia or Mississippi, John Lennon could have been one of the all-time greatest singers and songwriters of soul music. Instead, the Liverpool native had to settle for merely being a Beatle.
Although Lennon would later admit to hating the lyric, ‘It’s Only Love’ is a perfect distillation of everything he learned about conflicting emotions from those southern soul records he loved: You’re breathtakingly beautiful, but we’re always fighting. I know I should break up with you, but my love for you makes me want to change. And his vocals, light in the verse and tormented in the chorus, is straight out of Soul Singing 101.
6) Things We Said Today, A Hard Day's Night, 1964
Few things can break apart a relationship more than distance, but not here, where the memories of the declarations of love between Paul and his girl are enough to get him through the long nights that they’re apart.
We also see how, as early as 1964, McCartney was turning into a masterful songwriter. The minor key of the verse (driven by an acoustic rhythm part so infectious that the Hollies stole it for ‘Bus Stop’) reflects his sadness at their being apart, while the bridge switches to a major key to convey his joy with being in love. And George’s low harmony is icing on the cake.
5) Any Time At All, A Hard Day's Night, 1964
How do you best prove your worth to the one you love? According to John, it’s by being there to help her through the bad times. ‘Any Time At All,’ the last of the three songs on this list from ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’ spells this out in terms that are unambiguous and, at times, borderline poetic.
This point is brought home by Ringo’s emphatic drum fills that announce the chorus, and reinforced by George’s 12-string Rickenbacker riffs. The verse also features one of John’s earliest uses of the descending bass line, which would become one of his favorite harmonic devices throughout his songwriting career.
4) I Will, the White Album, 1968
There’s so much going on in ‘I Will’ that, it’s hard to believe that, at 1:45, it’s one of the shortest songs in the Beatles’ entire catalog. The lyric isn’t quite cohesive — one moment Paul is unsure of her name, the next he’s declaring his eternal love — but it doesn’t really matter too much. Between the beautiful melody, the acoustic guitar riff between the verses, and its immediacy, this has been a favorite since its release on ‘The Beatles’ in 1968. And the way McCartney effortlessly introduces new musical ideas into the coda is the mark of a songwriter at the very top of his game.
3) Here, There, and Everywhere, Revolver, 1966
Much has been written over the years of the story about how the Beatles and the Beach Boys were engaged in a friendly rivalry throughout the mid-60s. But Brian Wilson’s influence on McCartney was never more apparent than on ‘Revolver’s’ standout ballad, the equal of anything found on ‘Pet Sounds’ that isn’t ‘God Only Knows.’
Like so many of Wilson’s most celebrated songs, Paul takes chords that shouldn’t belong together and makes them sound perfectly natural, while the lush harmonies underneath the verse echo Wilson’s ‘Surfer Girl’ and “The Warmth Of The Sun.’ It also helps that McCartney’s lyric is so perfectly realized and sung in such hushed tones that you almost feel like you’re intruding on an intimate moment.
2) In My Life, Rubber Soul, 1965
John Lennon may not have showed his sentimental side often, but when he did, the results could be extraordinary. That was never more evident than on ‘In My Life.” Originally conceived as a poem about his childhood, Lennon threw most of it away and fashioned his most beautiful love song around the lines he liked.
So many Beatles songs have lasted because they appeal to our sense of optimism, and ‘In My Life’ is the perfect example of that. Yes, I have many wonderful memories, John is saying, but the future we’re building together will be even better. As brilliant as the lyric is, the arrangement, including Ringo’s inventive part, Paul’s harmony and producer George Martin’s Baroque piano part, is every bit its equal.
1) Something, Abbey Road, 1969
Was there really any doubt as to what No. 1 would be? Upon the release of ‘Abbey Road,’ the Beatles’ last recorded album, both John Lennon and Paul McCartney put aside their arguments and were able to agree that George’s masterpiece was the best song on the album.
‘Something’ became a standard almost immediately, and has been covered by artists as diverse as James Brown, Julio Iglesias and Frank Sinatra, who mistakenly credited it to Lennon and McCartney onstage. And if you want to hear ‘Something’ on a new level, next time you’re listening to this song on your iPod, remove the left earbud and focus entirely on the right side, which allows you to better hear McCartney’s astonishingly brilliant bass line.
Do you agree with the list? What do you think about the song that earned the number one spot?
In no particular order:
This Boy, (released as a single) 1963
Ask Me Why, Please, Please Me, 1963
All I've Got to Do, With the Beatles, 1963
All My Loving, With the Beatles, 1963
And I Lover Her, A Hard Day's Night, 1964
(I can't believe this didn't make the list!)
I'll Be Back, A Hard Day's Night, 1964
I Need You, Help!, 1965
Michelle, Rubber Soul, 1965
I Want You (She's So Heavy), Abbey Road, 1969
For You Blue