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The 100 Best Beatles Solo Songs

Five decades of amazing tunes from John, Paul, George, and Ringo

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When the Beatles broke up in 1970, they figured it was the end of the story. But they got that wrong. Over 50 years later, John, Paul, George, and Ringo are more influential, famous, beloved than ever. That means the world is finally catching up with one of the weirdest chapters in the Beatles’ saga: their solo music. All four Fabs kept making music, on their own eccentric terms. All four dropped classic albums. All four released total garbage. The solo Beatles story is a gloriously messy, crazed, chaotic world of its own.

So let’s celebrate that story: the 100 greatest Beatles solo songs, starring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. The hits, the flops, the deep cuts, the fan favorites, the cult classics, the covers. Some of these songs are legendary tunes sung around the world at weddings and parties. Some are buried treasures only the most hardcore Beatlemaniacs know. And one is “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” As a great man said, it don’t come easy.

Every fan would compile a different list—that’s the beauty of it. We love to keep arguing about the Beatles’ solo records. I have spent my life arguing that Ringo’s 1970 country album Beaucoups of Blues is an underrated masterpiece, and I will argue this forever. Hell, I once had this argument with Ringo. (I can’t tell if I persuaded him or not—he was too busy laughing at me.)

Keep in mind: this is NOT a list of their greatest hits. These songs aren’t here because of commercial success, radio airplay, sales or popularity. The only thing that matters is the level of Beatle magic. That means some incredibly famous hits didn’t make the cut. To pick just the most obvious example, the words “say,” “say,” and “say” do not appear consecutively here at all.

These days, fans dig deeper than ever into the solo Beatles’ music. Records that were once impossible to find are now easy to hear with one click. So the arguments keep getting more sophisticated. When Paul released Ram in 1971, the whole world agreed it was an atrocity. Now it’s easily his most famous and acclaimed album. Fans are just now discovering gems like John’s Mind Games or George’s Living in the Material World. The arguments keep changing—that’s what makes it fun.

This list gives all four Beatles room to make noise. Obviously, it’s tricky because Paul has a far bigger songbook than the others combined—he’s still thriving as a songwriter in his 80s, while John and George had their lives cruelly cut short. But the whole point of is list like this is mixing them up as equally as possible, or at least as far as the music demands. So they’re all fighting for space on this list, just as they always were on Beatles albums. (The Top Ten has three songs by each of the main songwriters, plus a Ringo banger.) But all 100 of these songs live up to that Beatles spirit. The dream will never be over.


George Harrison, ‘Dehra Dun’ (1970)

An acoustic meditation that George wrote in the Beatles’ Indian retreat of 1968, with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. (Dhera Dhun is near the Maharishi’s base in Rishikesh.) “Many roads can take you there many different ways,” George sings. “One direction takes you years, another takes you days.” He cut “Dhera Dhun” on the first day of the All Things Must Pass sessions—but incredibly, it didn’t make the cut for the album, though it would have been a standout. A massively sweet moment from Anthology: George strikes up “Dhera Dhun,” lounging on the grass with Paul and Ringo. “Oh yeah, I remember that one!” Ringo says, hearing it for the first time since India nearly 30 years earlier.


Paul McCartney, ‘Fine Line’ (2005)

The past 20 years have been a glorious time to be a McCartney fan—ever since he found a new songwriting mojo with his 2005 classic Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. It’s Paul’s thorniest, bitchiest, least eager-to-please, and most cerebrally caustic solo album, with Radiohead/Pavement producer Nigel Godrich. Chaos and Creation was for the 63-year-old Paul what Time Out Of Mind was for 56-year-old Bob Dylan—a late-game masterpiece kicking off a new golden era. Both albums served notice these shrewd old grifters had finally cracked the code, and would never make a dud album again. (And neither has.) Godrich was the opposite of a yes-man—which might be why he never got invited back for another go, but maybe how he coaxed these songs out of him. “Fine Line” slides on a sharp-cornered piano riff, with Paul singing about two divided friends, urging, “Come home, brother, all is forgiven.” 


John Lennon, ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’ (1974)

John was the last ex-Beatle to score his own solo Number One hit, but he finally got there with a little help from a friend named Elton John. “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” is a frozen-daiquiri pop homily with both Johns cooing, “Whatever gets you to the light/‘Salright, ‘alright.” Elton proposed a bet that John would sing it live with him—but only if the song made it to Number One. To John’s shock, it did. So on Thanksgiving weekend, November 1974, shaking from stage fright, he was a surprise guest at Elton’s Madison Square Garden show—the final concert appearance of John’s life. They sang “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and “I Saw Her Standing There,” which he introduced as “a number of an old estranged fiancee of mine called Paul.”


George Harrison, ‘All Things Must Pass’ (1970)

George went into the Get Back sessions hoping to get his old friends to play this song with the spirit of Dylan and The Band at Big Pink. He’d been hanging out with them in Woodstock just a few weeks earlier. But strange as it seems, the Beatles couldn’t rustle up the communal warmth to do the song justice. So “All Things Must Pass” became the theme song of his solo album, a not-entirely-regretful farewell to the past and a reminder (to himself as well as the audience) that there was still a future to live.


John Lennon, ‘I’m Stepping Out’ (1984)

John is in his stay-at-home dad era, but willing to admit sometimes he just wants to cap a hard day’s night of fatherhood by hitting the town for a temporary lost weekend. As he splutters in the intro, “This here is the story about a house-husband who just HAS to get out of the house! He’s been looking at the kids for days and days! He’s been watching the kitchen and screwing around watching Sesame Street till he’s going craaaazy!” He’s at his warmest and funniest, zooming up into his falsetto to remind us all, “If it don’t feel right, you don’t have to do it /Just leave a note on the door, tell them to screw it.” But he’ll be home by one. Or two. Or three.


Paul McCartney, ‘Put It There’ (1989)

Paul’s realest fatherhood song, inspired by both his dad and his son. (Both named James—as is James Paul McCartney.) “Put it there’ is an expression my dad Jim often used,” he recalled. “When he was shaking your hand he would say, ‘Put it there if it weighs a ton.’” The father tells his son, “As long as you and I are here, put it there.” But it’s also connected to his Beatles brotherhood. “I wonder whether I wanted to direct this song in John,” he says in The Lyrics. “Whether it’s not, in its own way, a peace offering to a man who died way too early.”


John Lennon, ‘I Found Out’ (1970)

John tears down a few of the false idols he sees getting worshipped around him, like drugs, religion, and masculinity. He snarls, “I seen through junkies, I been through it all, I seen religion from Jesus to Paul.” He’s got tough words for his parents’ generation—“They didn’t want me so they made me a star”—but also his own, scoffing, “The freaks on the phone won’t leave me alone/So don’t give me that ‘brother-brother-brother-brother.’” But his guitar never lets up—so bristly, so wary, coiled to lash out at any target in sight. 


Paul McCartney, ‘Little Willow’ (1997)

A beautiful elegy for Ringo’s first wife Maureen “Mo” Cox Starkey Tigrett, after she died from leukemia in 1994—the first Beatles spouse to pass away. Paul visited her in the hospital; Ringo was at her side when she died. Mo was one of the original Beatlemaniac fangirls who used to scream for them at the Cavern Club. (She kissed Paul before she got to Ringo.) As you can see in the Get Back rooftop concert, she’s cheering louder than anyone, still the most passionate fan around. Paul’s last words on the roof: “Thanks, Mo.” He dedicated “Little Willow” to her children.


John & Yoko, ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ (1971)

Strange as it seems, this holiday classic flopped in the U.S. when it came out in 1971, and vanished for the rest of John’s life. The public didn’t discover “Happy Xmas (War Is Over”) until December 1980, while reeling in shock and grief after his murder. That was the first Christmas the radio played it, and that’s when it became the beloved seasonal standard we’ve known ever since, with Yoko and the Harlem Community Choir kids chanting, “War is over if you want it.” Honorable mistletoe to Ringo’s “I Wanna Be Santa Claus,” George’s “Ding Dong, Ding Dong,” and the Paul song you were hoping we wouldn’t mention at all.