5 “Let It Be”
This is another one that people tend to confuse the origins of. The chords that mimic church organs and the reference to Mother Mary leads many to assume that this song is using Christian references when in fact Paul McCartney’s mother was named Mary. She had died of cancer when McCartney was fourteen but he had a peaceful dream about her when the Beatles were in the middle of recording the White Album and was inspired to write about it. This song includes Linda McCartney’s only known contribution to a Beatles album and was sung at her funeral service. The song also gives its name to an album that wasn’t released until years later. The pressure of filming a documentary added to the band’s in-fighting and finally break-up prevented the album’s immediate release. So much for peaceful dreams.
4 “Strawberry Fields Forever”
This is probably John Lennon’s signature song from his time as a Beatle. Although Strawberry Fields was the name of a real garden where Lennon used to play as a kid, he described most of the song as “Psycho-Analysis put to music” although to be fair he was also taking a lot of drugs at the time. Most of the song sounds like an almost dream-like state but it uses dissonant notes heavily and right after it fades out, returns for an almost violent instrumental moment. According to Brian Wilson, it is partially the fault of Strawberry Fields that work was dropped on the Beach Boys album Smile. After hearing it, he just gave up on reaching that level. What a shame.
3 “Eleanor Rigby”
Eleanor Rigby was a scullery maid buried in St. Peters Parish Church in Woolton, Liverpool and this song is not about her at all. Paul McCartney says that he got the name from other places, but perhaps he was subconsciously influenced by seeing the gravestone there. Unusually for a time before the infamous era of boy bands, none of the Beatles played any instruments on the recording of it. Instead, they brought in a classical string ensemble, which we’ve never seen the Backstreet Boys do. To highlight the gritty and wistfully realistic nature of the story the song tells, it was released as a single along with “Yellow Submarine,” which is probably the least contemplative song we know.
2 “A Day In The Life”
“A Day In The Life” takes second place to “Hey Jude” because it is nearly impossible to sing the whole way through in the shower. On the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, most of the music is framed within two songs that are meant to present the album as a concert by the fictitious band. This is the one song left out of the frame. Its lyrics are seemingly arbitrary stories taken out of everything from newspaper articles to McCartney’s memories of high school. And when we say “seemingly” we’re not implying that there is actually some subtle motif. We really just don’t get what they have in common. The song was recorded with a forty piece classical orchestra who were given a rough score and told to improvise along with the instruction to wear costume pieces during recordings. People say that this was to help them join the Beatles usual creative flow but we’re pretty sure it was just because it was funny.
1 “Hey Jude”
If you think this song is good, try to hear it sung live at a packed stadium Paul McCartney concert and then you will truly appreciate it. It is widely thought that McCartney wrote it for John Lennon’s son to comfort him during his parents’ divorce but it is unclear if that’s accurate. In fact, a lot of people seem to think the song was written for them. At the end of the day, only Paul knows and even he has given conflicting reports. What’s really amazing about this song is that it manages to be such high-quality music while still having four minutes worth of the lyrics “naa na na na na.”