Where You Once Belonged
The Beatles' last single, "The Long and Winding Road," topped the Billboard Hot 100 this week in 1970—a month after the band's breakup—giving John, Paul, George and Ringo an unprecedented total of 20 No. 1 songs in the U.S. And that record has never been broken. To understand why, click though for a ranking of the Fab Four's biggest hits.
1. "Yesterday" (No. 1 for four weeks, 1965)
Paul McCartney was three weeks shy of his 23rd birthday when he finished writing what is arguably the greatest, saddest ballad in the history of popular music. The somber reflection on lost love, like Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," will resonate for generations to come.
2. "Help!" No. 1 for three weeks, 1965)
This time, John Lennon really wants to hold your hand. The catchy sing-along masked the troubled Beatle's primal scream for help, with an exclamation point in the title to emphasize his sense of urgency.
3. "Something" (No. 1 for one week, 1969)
George Harrison's ode to wife Pattie Boyd emerged as the undisputed A-side of the Beatles' only double-sided No. 1 single, with "Come Together." Paul McCartney described the ballad as "George's greatest song" and John Lennon hailed "Something" as the best track on the new "Abbey Road" album. But Frank Sinatra may have laid down the law when he proclaimed it "the greatest love song ever written."
4. "She Loves You" (No. 1 for two weeks, 1964)
Beatlemania was built on those three little words that mean so much: "Yeah, yeah, yeah."
5. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (No. 1 for seven weeks, 1963)
Less than three months after JFK's assassination, America needed a hand to hold—and from the moment the Beatles reached out on "The Ed Sullivan Show," there was no letting go. The Fab Four's first No. 1 hit in the U.S. remains their all-time best-selling single worldwide.
6. "All You Need Is Love" (No. 1 for one week, 1967)
The unofficial theme song of the Summer of Love was a non-album single that would appear in late 1967 on the "Magical Mystery Tour" album as well as on 1969's "Yellow Submarine" soundtrack. The Beatles performed the anthem live at the end of the first-ever worldwide satellite broadcast, "Our World," a music special that attracted an estimated 700 million TV viewers in 14 countries.
7. "Let It Be" (No. 1 for two weeks, 1969)
Paul McCartney's reassuring dream about his late mother, Mary, inspired the dirge that has been solemnly interpreted as a rock and roll hymn. "Let It Be" was the second consecutive modern-day spiritual to top the charts, following the six-week run of Simon & Garfunkel's magnum opus, "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
8. "A Hard Day's Night" (No. 1 for two weeks, 1964)
Ringo Starr's impromptu assessment of a grueling studio session prompted the title track of the Beatles' first movie. John Lennon wrote the music and lyrics that night. The next morning, the band cranked out the rollicking recording in less than three hours. The ninth take proved to be the winner.
9. "I Feel Fine" (No. 1 for two weeks, 1964)
Yet another example of the Beatles whipping up a hit that's both obviously derivative and completely original. Ringo Starr copped the drum lick from Ray Charles' "What'd I Say," John Lennon and George Harrison reworked a riff from "Watch Your Step," a 1961 single by R&B guitarist Bobby Parker, and Paul McCartney's initial bass note got hijacked by feedback from Lennon's guitar. Like a fuse, the electric hum served as the ditty's introduction, showcasing the first use of feedback on a record. "It was a found object," said McCartney, "an accident caused by leaning the guitar against the amp."
10. "Paperback Writer" (No. 1 for two nonconsecutive weeks, 1966)
The song that John Lennon once described as "son of 'Day Tripper'" delivered a stream of chatty lyrics over a single thrumming chord and Paul McCartney's prominent, impressively busy bass line. Written as an aspiring author's cover letter to a prospective publisher, "Paperback Writer" was the first Beatles' hit that had nothing to do with their favorite subject: love.
11. "Ticket to Ride" (No. 1 for one week, 1965)
Even better than George Harrison's indelible 12-string guitar riff is Ringo Starr's stagger-step drumbeat, a sophisticated give-and-go that laid waste to the idiotic notion that Ringo wasn't an especially skilled drummer. A similar pattern would be employed again a few months later on John Lennon's reflective ballad "In My Life."
12. "Eight Days a Week" (No. 1 for two weeks, 1965)
Another Beatles' hit, another studio innovation. The slow fade-in of John Lennon and George Harrison's jangling acoustic and electric guitars marked the first time the technique was ever used to launch a pop song. "Eight Days a Week" went on to become the quartet's seventh No. 1 single in 12 months, a record that has yet to be broken.
13. "Can't Buy Me Love" (No. 1 for five weeks, 1964)
The Beatles' third consecutive No. 1 single in 1964 extended their stay in the pop chart penthouse to a fourth month. Following in the tracks of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You," the band reigned over the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 consecutive weeks in the winter and spring of 1964.
14. "Penny Lane" (No. 1 for one week, 1967)
Paul McCartney's trippy stroll down memory lane paid homage to the sights and sounds on the Liverpool street near his childhood home. Backed on the B-side by Lennon's even trippier "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Penny Lane" was the Beatles' first No. 1 single since their TV alter egos, the Monkees, exploded on the music scene with their first two chart-topping hits, "Last Train to Clarksville" in late 1966 and "I'm a Believer" in January 1967.
15. "Get Back" (No. 1 for five weeks, 1969)
Billy Preston became the first artist to earn co-star status on a Beatles record when he played piano on the freewheeling tune that John Lennon characterized as a revamped "Lady Madonna." "Get Back" and its B-side, "Don't Let Me Down"—officially credited to "The Beatles with Billy Preston"—was the first Beatles single to be released in "true stereo" in the U.S., with Ringo Starr's drums mixed across the left and right channels.
16. "We Can Work It Out" (No. 1 for three nonconsecutive weeks, 1966)
The dichotomy between Paul McCartney and John Lennon was more obvious than ever in this harmonium-infused collaboration inspired by McCartney's shaky relationship with British actress Jane Asher. "You've got Paul writing, 'We can work it out/We can work it out'—real optimistic, y'know," Lennon observed, "and me, impatient: 'Life is very short, and there's no time/For fussing and fighting, my friend.'" Recorded during the "Rubber Soul" sessions, "We Can Work It Out" was paired with Lennon's "Day Tripper" on the Beatles' first-ever double-sided single. Not surprisingly, Lennon and McCartney disagreed over which song should be promoted as the A-side. Radio stations sided with McCartney.
17. "Hey Jude" (No. 1 for nine weeks, 1968)
The Beatles' debut single on their Apple Records label was their lengthiest hit, clocking in at a lucky 7:11, the longest song to ever top the Billboard Hot 100. (Three years later, Don McLean's "American Pie" would extend the mark to 8:33.) "Hey Jude"—written by Paul McCartney to John Lennon's son Julian during his parents divorce—was also the band's most dominant chart-topper, reigning at No. 1 for a then record-tying nine weeks. As the years roll on, however, it seems clear that the single's B-side is the song destined to remembered as an indisputable classic: "Revolution."
18. "The Long and Winding Road" (No. 1 for two weeks, 1970)
The Beatles' final single and No. 1 hit was released a month after the band broke up. Paul McCartney wrote it as a melancholy piano number in the style of Ray Charles—and was outraged when producer Phil Spector repaved "The Long and Winding Road" with a 22-piece orchestra and a choir of 14 women, supposedly to cover up John Lennon's "crude" bass playing. McCartney's stripped-down version would eventually surface on the 2003 alternative mix, "Let It Be…Naked."
19. "Hello Goodbye" (No. 1 for three weeks, 1967-1968)
A solid year of Monkeemania may have sparked the silliness of Paul McCartney's exercise in word association and its slapstick coda. If so, the move paid off in more ways than one. "Hello Goodbye" dislodged the Monkees' "Daydream Believer" from No. 1 after a four-week run. Hello goodbye, Prefab Four.
20. "Love Me Do" (No. 1 for one week, 1964)
The Beatles' debut single in England took two years to make its way across the pond, where it became the fourth of their six No. 1 hits in 1964. Lennon's campfire harmonica set up the two-part lead vocal he shared with Paul McCartney, an homage to the harmonies of the Everly Brothers. What was once "Bye Bye Love" was now "Love, love me do."
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