If we’d known we were going to be The Beatles, we’d have tried harder – George Harrison
When Napoleon Bonaparte suggested that glory was fleeting, but obscurity is forever, he obviously didn’t forsee the impact The Beatles songs would have on the music industry, and the wider world. He couldn’t have imagined that in less than a century and a half, a truck driver from Tupelo and four shaggy-haired young men from Liverpool would change the idea of glory, and what it means to be famous, forever.
Rock and roll might have given them the means to alter the mainstream perception of fame, but Elvis and The Beatles had that indefinable “wow factor” that enabled them to seize their chosen musical baton and carry it to every corner of the globe.
While it’s an undisputed, with more than a billion record sales to his name almost certainly inarguable, fact that Elvis will always be the King of Rock and Roll, the band who were solely responsible for transforming the sixties and causing generations of teenagers to fall hopelessly in love with rock and roll, was The Beatles.
With their furious blend of instantly memorable and catchy songs, dry wit, and youthful charm, they reached the kids that Elvis couldn’t and turned the cultural phenomena that began with Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley into a global movement.
By nineteen sixty-five, it was hard to argue with John Lennon’s throwaway quip that The Beatles were more famous than Jesus. Everywhere they played their shows sold out in record time, every record that they released climbed to the top of the charts, and their every waking moment and action was recorded in minute detail by the press who were just as obsessed with the band as their devoted legions of fans were.
Beatlemania had reached its pinnacle, and the only place left for the band to go was down. At least, that was what was supposed to happen, because that was what had always happened before. What went up, had to come down. And fate might have happily followed its accepted merry course if the Beatles hadn’t released Help!, Rubber Soul, and Revolver in quick succession, three albums that ensured that Beatlemania would live on long after the band finally called it a day.
Critics and fans agree that the apex of The Beatles’ creativity began with the release of Help! in August nineteen sixty-five and culminated a year later when they unleashed Revolver on an unsuspecting world. That doesn’t mean that the other ten albums that make up their recorded legacy don’t have the same raw, visceral punching power as the trio that we just mentioned do, they absolutely do and arguably some of those records are actually better than the triumvirate.
But taken as a whole, that twelve-month period, from August nineteen sixty-five to August nineteen sixty-six is the quintessential period of the band and the one in which they established their rightful place at the head of the table in the pantheon of rock and roll.
It’s also the reason why our Beatles top ten is drawn exclusively from those records, as they contain the band’s best, and most well-known and beloved songs. So come with us as we take a trip back to the middle of the swinging sixties and attempt to choose ten of the best songs from three of the greatest records in the history of rock and roll. This is the top ten best Beatles songs from nineteen sixty-five to nineteen sixty-six…
Help! was, and is the title track to the Beatles album that was recorded as the soundtrack for the nineteen sixty-five movie, also called Help! which starred the band and has become widely recognized as the original blueprint for the music video.
Written by Lennon as a reaction to the band’s dizzying success, its infectious chorus stands in stark contrast to the dark lyrical content of the song which charts the hopelessness of a man caught in a situation that he can’t escape from, no matter how hard he tries. It’s one of Lennon’s greatest triumphs and one of his initial forays into exploring the more destructive impact and effects of fame.
Both Lennon and Paul McCartney are on record as stating that You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away was the former embracing his love of Bob Dylan and self-reflection. It was an unusual, at the time at least, departure for the band as it was built around an almost folk arrangement that saw the band broaden their inspirational horizons.
While it appears, on the surface, to be a traditional lament to the usual lyrical themes of love lost and heartache found, You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, is a much deeper, achingly sad ode to an individual forced to mask their true feelings in order to be able to deal with the hand that they’ve been dealt by fate.
The third and final song from Help! on our list, Ticket To Ride, while being created as a joint Lennon and McCartney collaboration was actually a bone of contention among the two men. While McCartney has said that it was a sixty forty effort, with the majority of the credit going to Lennon, his songwriting partner was much less gracious and once said that McCartney’s contribution to the song mainly revolved around the way Ringo played it.
Lyrically, it’s another subjective tune with Paul saying it was about a train journey to Ryde on the Isle Of Wight, and Lennon claiming that it was an ode to the health cards that sex workers in Hamburg had to carry in order to be able to do business. The truth undoubtedly lies somewhere in the middle.
The opening song on Rubber Soul, Drive My Car is a (pardon the pun) driving, and surprisingly hard-edged rocker from The Beatles that’s also a biting social commentary on the nature of fame and the desire of those who haven’t experienced to, get a taste of the celebrity, power, and wealth that their hearts yearn for.
A number of critics have commented that the mainly Lennon penned lyrics are rife with sexual innuendo, an issue that Paul McCartney is often loath to discuss, answer or elaborate on. Whether or not Lennon did pepper the song with entendre is one of those questions that will, unfortunately, always remain a mystery.
Written by Lennon, Norwegian Wood is widely thought to be about an affair that the songwriter had and wrote the song about in order to disguise the fact from his wife. Whether or not he actually burned down the home of the women who spurned him, as the central character in the song does, is another of those eternally perplexing riddles that only Lennon could have answered.
Whatever the answer to the question might have been, it doesn’t belie the fact that Rolling Stone declared Norwegian Wood to be the eighty-third greatest song of all time. Which isn’t too shabby for a tune about a night of illicit passion.
One of the songs that Lennon attributes to what he called his “fat Elvis” period, Nowhere Man which originally appeared on Rubber Soul was about the existential dread and self-realization that haunts everyone who has ever thought too deeply about their place in the universal whole. Even though it revolves around a terrifying Lovecraftian theme, its haunting melody lingers long in the memory and just compounds Lennon’s incredible gift for songwriting.
John also later admitted that he wrote the song, or at least had the idea for it, while under the influence of LSD, which helps to explain the slightly disturbing lyrical subject.
The last song on the first side of Rubber Soul, Michelle is a ballad about the lingering memory of what might have been if two potential star-crossed lovers hadn’t been separated by the only barrier, that neither of them was able to overcome, language.
Often regarded as a “comedy” song, Michelle uses its fatalistic humor to disguise the heartache and pain of the writer, who loses himself in a dream of what might have been had he been able to understand the object of his affection.
Revolver was a marked departure for The Beatles, as it was written after a three-month break that the members took from each other, which was the longest period of time that they’d spent apart since their formative days in Hamburg, and Got To Get You Into My Life is one of the most stylistic departures in songwriting style that the band had ever embarked on.
More Motown than Merseybeat, McCartney freely admits that the song is about his love affair with weed, which was something that he, at least partially, discovered during the time that he spent away from his bandmates before they recorded Revolver.
Ostensibly a children’s song written to accommodate Ringo Starr’s desire to sing on Revolver, Yellow Submarine is actually a satirical swipe at the bubble that the Beatles were forced to live in by the trappings of fame and fortune. So, if you ever sang the song in school, you were actually rallying against the “worst” effects of capitalistic enterprise.
Personally, we’ve always preferred to take the song at face value, and prefer the idea that it’s just about living in a submarine.
Possibly the most powerful musical testament to the overwhelming power and sorrow of loneliness ever written, Eleanor Rigby, the second song on Revolver is one of The Beatles defining moments and highlights the fact that there was more to the band than just John and Paul, as it was a collaborative effort written by all four members. And if you can listen to it, and we mean really listen to it without shedding a tear, then you’re made of far sterner stuff than we are.
That’s it folks, our list of the best Beatles songs written and recorded between nineteen sixty-five and nineteen sixty-six. Maybe you think we got it wrong, and if you did, drop us a line and let us know why you think we’re mistaken, we are always up for a good old rock n roll debate…