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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, ‘Run of the Mill’ (1970)

As in so many great moments from All Things Must Pass, you can hear the influence of his Woodstock friends in the Band, but the rustic melody is pure George. “Run of the Mill” gives a disillusioned view of the Beatles’ break-up. “I think there may be what you’d term a little bitchiness,” George described it diplomatically in a New York radio interview in late April 1970. “It’s just being bitchy to each other. Childish. Childish.” Days later, the band was over and he was in the studio cutting “Run of the Mill,” shedding his past and ready to face his future. 


Paul McCartney, ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ (1971)

One of McCartney’s great opening lines: “So I sat in the attic, a piano up my nose.” We’re not in “Good Day Sunshine” territory here. “Monkberry Moon Delight” is a rollicking late-night hallucinatory nightmare from Ram, the hardest rock of his early solo days. He howls over the ominous keyboards, inspired by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (who did his own scarifying 1973 version) as well as artists like Magritte. “People go, ‘Wow—is that cocaine?” Paul told Rolling Stone. “And I go, ‘No. It’s a piano up his nose. Haven’t you ever seen surrealist paintings?’”


John Lennon, ‘Gimme Some Truth’ (1971)

A hard-charging rant against the powers that be, first whipped up with Paul in the Get Back sessions, as seen in the film. He rails against “neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians” and “schizophrenic, egocentric, paranoiac prima donnas,” with George wilding bout on blues guitar. “Gimme Some Truth” has some of his most inventively faux-profane wordplay as he swears, “No short-hair yellow-bellied son of Tricky Dicky’s gonna Mother Hubbard soft-soap me!”


George Harrison, ‘Here Comes The Moon’ (1979)

Ten years after “Here Comes The Sun,” with so much pain in between, George comes up with this beautifully delicate answer song, though it sounds like it’s more about finding Olivia than seeing the moon. He wrote this with her in Maui, watching the sun set over the ocean, with the full moon already visible. It seemed like a great omen, especially since he was admittedly on shrooms. “I was blissed out, then I turned ‘round and saw a big, full moon rising,” George recalled. “I laughed and thought it was about time someone, and it might as well be me, gave the moon its due.” He calls it “the mirror in the sky”—no wonder George and Olivia spent some quality time in Hawaii hanging out with their pal Stevie Nicks.


Paul McCartney, ‘Calico Skies’ (1997)

A heartbreaking ballad from Flaming Pie, with acoustic finger-picking straight from the White Album. “Calico Skies” feels like a love song to Linda under the shadow of mortality, with Paul vowing, “I’ll hold you for the rest of my life.” She passed away from cancer just a year after it came out. “Calico Skies” was played by the Brodsky Quartet at her memorial service. Paul’s string arrangement—a tribute to her—is on his 1999 Working Classical. 


John Lennon, ‘Love’ (1970)

John at his most vulnerable, as the man who wrote “All You Need Is Love” admits that opening his heart is harder (and scarier) work than he realized. “Love” inspired one of the all-time best Lennon moments in any movie: the John Hughes high-school romance Pretty In Pink, as Jon Cryer’s teen misfit Ducky sings “Love” in Molly Ringwald’s bedroom, using her hairbrush as a microphone, trying to summon up the courage to tell her how he feels. It gets better, Ducky.


Ringo Starr, ‘Rory and the Hurricanes’ (2015)

A delightful bop from Ringo’s sleeper Postcards from Paradise (one of his best, if you’re keeping score)—after so many songs about being a Beatle, Ringo devotes a song to his second-most famous band, starring Liverpool rocker Rory Storm. The Hurricanes made him a hometown hero when the other three were still nowhere boys. “Ringo was a star in his own right in Liverpool before we even met,” John said in 1980. “And he would have surfaced with or without the Beatles.” Glad it was with.


George Harrison, ‘Om Hare Om (Gopala Krishna)’ (1970)

People used to argue whether George should have edited All Things Must Pass down to one or two records, but let’s face facts—it should have been a quadruple album. Case in point: “Om Hare Om (Gopala Krishna),” a killer outtake that would have been one of the highlights. George writes his own hymn, chanting the names of the Lord, yet his acoustic guitar has a strangely Celtic drone. (Not far from what bands like the Velvet Underground or Fairport Convention were trying at the time.) He never released “Om Hare Om (Gopala Krishna),” but it’s a buried treasure worth discovering.


Paul McCartney & Wings, ‘Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five’ (1973)

Paul goes off the deep end in the magnificently splashy capper to Band on the Run, the artiest experiment on the album, yet also the toughest rocker. It’s a spaced-out New Orleans pastiche, mixing Huey Smith-style piano with a touch of sci-fi dystopia set in the near future. (What actually happened in 1985? Paul released “Spies Like Us.”) You can hear a bit of Bowie here, but the Thin White Duke returned the compliment by turning “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five” into his own “TVC15.”


George Harrison, ‘Deep Blue’ (1971)

A little-known 1971 lament, buried on the flip side of the “Bangla Desh” single, but George at his most unguarded. “Deep Blue” mourns his mother Louise, who died of cancer at the same time the Beatles were falling apart. Yet it’s surprisingly buoyant—since Louise was the proudest of Beatle moms, famous for answering fan mail and asking George why he didn’t smile onstage, “Deep Blue” sounds almost like he’s singing to console her, with no echo, no special effects, just his guitar.


John Lennon, ‘#9 Dream’ (1974)

This psychedelic soufflé came to John in his sleep, with a nonsense chorus he couldn’t translate. But he turned it into “#9 Dream,” letting his imagination fly. He explores his sex-mystic side, with his girlfriend and muse May Pang whispering his name as he floats down “a river of sound.” It has the skewed strings of 1967 trips like “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “I Am The Walrus,” but updated into a benign cocoon of bliss. “#9 Dream” even blew up into a pop hit, peaking on the charts at—you guessed it—Number Nine.


Paul McCartney & Wings, ‘Hi, Hi, Hi’ (1972)

Paul McCartney has written so many sensitive love songs. This is not one of them. “Hi, Hi, Hi” is a shameless ode to sex, drugs, and guitars. The single got banned by the BBC, because not even this guy could get away with the chorus, “We’re gonna get hi, hi, hiiii!” Paul didn’t see what the fuss was about, telling Rolling Stone, “I thought the ‘Hi, Hi, Hi’ thing could be easily taken as a natural high.” Riiiight. Then there was “Lie on the bed and get ready for my polygon,” a line inspired by the French Absurdist playwright Albert Jarry, though everybody heard it as “get ready for my body gun.” “It was suggestive,” he admitted, “But abstract suggestive, which I thought I’d get away with.” He also got busted growing pot on his farm—a peak for Paul’s rock-star rebel cred.


Ringo Starr,<strong> </strong>‘You’re Sixteen’ (1973)

Ringo gets back to the Fifties-style rock & roll where he began, revamping a malt-shop oldie by rockabilly cat Johnny Burnette, a sugary tale of two teenagers in love. (Same spirit as Joni Mitchell’s great faux-Fifties interlude in “This Flight Tonight.”) But it rocks out with Nilsson’s “oooh wah wah” vocals, Nicky Hopkins’s New Orleans R&B piano, and a kazoo solo from Paul McCartney. At the end, Ringo throws in a shout-out to Crescent City legend Clarence “Frogman” Henry and the sea shanty “What Do We Do With A Drunken Sailor?” A Number One hit that cemented Ringo’s unbeatable rep for warmth, charm, and all-around belovedness.


George Harrison, ‘Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long’ (1973)

“Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long” is one of George’s most uplifting love songs, whether he’s singing to a god, a woman, or his guitar. George might have been finished with his Phil Spector era by 1973, but this is the most Phil Spector thing he ever did, a classic piece of Sixties girl-group pop worthy of the Crystals or the Ronettes. He lovingly nails every detail: those dramatic drums in the chorus, the harpsichord, even the “Be My Baby” castanets. It’s a tour de force from the Material World band: Jim Keltner, Nicky Hopkins, Klaus Voorman and Gary Wright. They’re a magic circle of trusted friends, and you can hear it—the second-best band George ever had.


John Lennon, ‘New York City’ (1972)

Que pasa, New York? John and Yoko spent most of their butt-ugly Sometime In New York City trying to fill the world with dippy protest songs. (“We’re all water in one big ocean”—and that’s one of the high points.) But for “New York City,” John just blew off the concept and went for trashy high-speed Chuck Berry guitar kicks. That’s how he accidentally ended up with the album’s most politically credible moment—an ode to the multi-culti NYC immigrant dream, complete with a chorus hook en español, raving about why outcasts and misfits flock to this bad-ass city, from the Village to the Apollo to the Statue of Liberty. A great line that slipped past most heads: “Long Tall Sally’s a man!”


Paul McCartney, ‘Another Day’ (1971)

Paul’s first post-Beatles single is weirdly underrated these days, but that will change. “Another Day” is the kind of song nobody else would have written in 1971: a day in the life of a lonely, ordinary woman, with work to do. He was always the male songwriter whose female heroines had inner lives, from “Eleanor Rigby” to “Jennie Wren.” “I suppose, basically, it’s because I’m a voyeur,” Paul told me in 2021. “Observing a woman rather than just being with her, thinking, ‘Oh, I love that.’ Drinking a cup of coffee, going to the office with her papers, all that—following her through her day.” Hardly any other male songwriter of his generation would have even noticed the office clerk in “Another Day.” Paul gave her this classic song, turning her hopes and dreams into a heroic stand against the world. 


John Lennon, ‘Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)’ (1980)

One of John’s most-quoted modern proverbs: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” “Beautiful Boy” is his lullaby for his young son Sean Ono Lennon, sung by the John who found his adult groove raising his child, only to have his life cut short. There’s something bittersweet in the way he quotes a Paul song (“it’s getting better”), as in the way Paul paid tribute to “Beautiful Boy” on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs in 1984, choosing it as his favorite song of all time. (For an equally touching tribute, check out Sean’s interview with Paul for John’s 80th birthday.)


George Harrison, ‘Wah Wah (Concert for Bangla Desh Version)’ (1971)

Great as “Wah Wah” sounds on All Things Must Pass, the killer version is George kicking out the jams in the Concert for Bangla Desh movie.That jangly guitar intro. Ringo pounding the drums. The cream of the Seventies pros—Eric Clapton, Bobby Keys, Jim Keltner. You can hear everyone onstage get swept up in the delirious excitement—but nobody more so than George himself, having more fun onstage than ever before or since. And he knows how to rock a white leisure suit. He wrote “Wah Wah” the day he quit the Beatles, storming out of the Get Back sessions. “I got up and I thought, ‘I’m not doing this any more,’” he recalled in the Anthology book. “‘I’m out of here.’ So I got my guitar and went home and that afternoon wrote ‘Wah-Wah.’”


Paul McCartney, ‘Dominoes’ (2018)

“Dominoes” is one of those Paul gems he keeps hiding all over his records, so we can stumble across them years from now and get our minds blown. So why wait? “Dominoes” is an eccentric guitar ramble from 2018, about letting go of your past and starting over: “In time we’ll know, it’s all a show, it’s been a blast.” In a blindfold test, you might guess it’s indie legends Big Star, until that voice comes in. Imagine being so in love with music you could write a song as great as “Dominoes” with the same fingers you used to write “Blackbird” 50 years earlier. Maybe even on the same guitar? An inspiration to us all.


Traveling Wilburys, ‘Handle With Care’ (1988)

There is no music story anything like the Traveling Wilburys: five rock & roll lifers stumble into an accidentally perfect supergroup, with George Harrison at the center. He brings so much adult soul to “Handle with Care,” along with his mates: Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison. All George—sorry, I mean Nelson Wilbury—planned to do was crank out a quickie 1988 B-side, with Jeff Lynne producing. But then he had lunch with Roy Orbison. And then he needed his guitar back from Tom Petty’s house, on the way to Bob Dylan’s garage studio in Malibu…and this song just happened. It’s just that George magic. 


John Lennon, ‘Mother’ (1970)

John begins Plastic Ono Band by laying his childhood bare with “Mother,” opening with the toll of funeral bells. He confesses how the feeling of parental abandonment has followed him around his whole life, leading to his primal screams of “Mama don’t go/Daddy come home.” But make no mistake, only the most canny and clever of singers could make these screams so convincing. 


Paul McCartney & Wings, ‘Live and Let Die’ (1973)

One of the coolest James Bond themes ever—but more importantly, one of McCartney’s loudest full-blast rock headbangers. “Live and Let Die” goes so hard, it was metal enough for Guns N Roses to cover. Paul goes into 007 mode, as a licensed-to-kill spy-like-us who isn’t giving peace a chance, in this ever-changing world in which we live in. Weird Al Yankovic turned “Live and Let Die” into “Chicken Pot Pie,” but left it unreleased out of respect for Paul’s vegetarian beliefs. (Paul suggested he change it to “Tofu Pot Pie.”)


George Harrison, ‘Blow Away’ (1979)

The end of the Seventies: George finds true love with Olivia Arias Harrison, who brings the light and life back into his music, after so many fans had given up. “Blow Away” is his open-hearted love song to Olivia and their newborn son Dhani, a Top 40 comeback hit with George sounding surprised at how easy it is, all of a sudden, to let go of the sour times and greet the brand new day. “It rained for years and it dampened my heart,” he admits. It’s not the first time George has sung about the sun coming out after a long, cold, lonely winter, but you can hear in his voice and guitar how long he’s waited for this day. He wasn’t the only one. 


Plastic Ono Band, ‘Give Peace a Chance’ (1969)

John and Yoko recorded this rabble-rousing hand-clap sing-along live in a Montreal hotel bed, on their honeymoon, in the summer of 1969. It became an instantly iconic folk song, chanted at anti-war rallies ever since. It sold, too, always a plus for protest songs—“Give Peace A Chance” reached #2 in the U.K. and #14 in the U.S., just as Richard Nixon was escalating the Vietnam War. (Plus it had the word “masturbation,” a first for Top 40 radio.) Paul and Ringo still play it live as a tribute.


Ringo Starr, ‘Early 1970’ (1971)

All the Fabs sang about their pain over the break-up, but Ringo handled it in the friendliest, funniest way with the country shuffle “Early 1970,” the B-side to his hit “It Don’t Come Easy.” He devotes a verse to each of his mates, living their now-separate lives: Paul (“He lives on a farm, got plenty of charm”), John (“Lying in bed, watching TV, ‘Cookieeee!’”), and George (“a long-haired cross-legged guitar picker” who’s playing on this song). He throws in a few gags about his musical kills—“I play guitar, A-D-E / I don’t play bass ‘cause that’s too hard for me.” But he hopes he still gets to see then, and he hopes he’ll play with all three. He would. 


Paul McCartney, ‘Jenny Wren’ (2005)

A poignant acoustic tale, with finger-picking in the mode of “Mother Nature’s Son” or “Blackbird.” Paul sings about his favorite kind of person—a strong woman ignored by the world around her, but with a head full of ideas nobody can change and a spirit nobody can crush, waiting for her moment to arise. Jennie could be the Charles Dickens heroine from Our Mutual Shop, or she could be an actual wren. “They’re very shy,” Paul said. “It’s a favorite bird for me, and then instead of making it a bird again, like ‘Blackbird,’ only more definitely this time, I made it a woman, you know, a girl.” But despite her broken heart, he vows, “The day will come when Jennie Wren will sing.” What a song. It epitomizes the new songwriting voice he found on his breakthrough Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, setting him off on the most glorious creative roll of his post-Beatle life.


George Harrison, ‘What Is Life’ (1970)

George steps into the Seventies with guitars ablaze, proving he can rock out while pondering the fundamental questions of the cosmos. But “What Is Life” also sounds perfect as a soundtrack to a coke deal in a motel parking lot—at least in Goodfellas.


John Lennon, ‘Working Class Hero’ (1970)

John in angry Dylan folkie mode, strumming his Martin D-28 and singing about the ways a blue-collar child gets beaten down by the world, so the Man can make sure you grow up scared and defeated. There’s so much bite in his voice as he sneers, “Keep you doped with religion, sex and TV / And you think you’re so clever and classless and free / But you’re still fucking peasants far as I can see.” 


George Harrison, ‘Be Here Now’ (1973)

The centerpiece of Living in the Material World, and one of the most powerful things George ever did. In “Be Here Now,” he goes straight for the heart, mourning the loss of his mother Louise with the simple mantra, “It’s not like it was before.” He returns to the sitar, an instrument he hadn’t played in years, for that haunting Indian drone effect. But it’s also a very Southern California folk-rock guitar song, written in the Hollywood Hills while working on the Ravi Shankar documentary Raga. George keeps the lyrics minimal, but he makes some of his most soulful music out of grief, in his hour of darkness. Bizarro footnote: Oasis used “Be Here Now” as the title of their cosmic coke flop, one of the Nineties’ least spiritual albums, the second time Noel Gallagher nicked a great title from George, after “Wonderwall.”


John Lennon, ‘Oh My Love’ (1971)

John’s most serene love ballad, co-written with Yoko, featuring George on guitar. The whole song has a hushed, intimate feel, even as his voice cracks when he gets to the line, “I see the clouds.” The power of “Oh My Love” comes down to the late-night calm in John’s voice, the meditative resolve he had while singing Beatle ballads from “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” to “Julia.” Amid all the tumult of Imagine, it’s a moment of emotional sobriety.


Paul McCartney, ‘Here Today’ (1982)

“A love letter to John, written very shortly after he died,” Paul describes this ballad. He easily could have turned “Here Today” into a guaranteed Number One hit tearjerker, but he deliberately makes it feel private, quiet, not even a chorus. He recalls their friendship, including the night in a Key West motel room when they got drunk and cried about how much they loved each other. But he also grieves for the honest talks they never got to have. As he told Q, “It’s one of those ‘Come out from behind yer glasses, John, and look at me’ kind of things.” But 40 years later, the Paul/John call-and-response keeps going, with Paul finishing his friend’s song “Now and Then”—proof that nobody will ever hear these two boys like they heard each other.


George Harrison, ‘Apple Scruffs’ (1970)

A simple tune—yet it’s George at his most jubilant, honking out a blast of Dylan-style harmonica. It’s his affectionate ode to the “Apple Scruffs,” the loyal Beatle fans who camped outside the office and studio for a glimpse of their heroes. “It was just the idea that there were those people on the step all the time,” George said. “And they had this little fan club and so I was just thinking about them.” In the 108 minutes of All Things Must Pass, these girls are the only human beings who can get 3 minutes of good cheer out of George. The fans camped outside Abbey Road were shocked one day when George invited them in. “George said, ‘Sit down, I’ve got something to play you,’” one of the Scruffs, Gill Pritchard recalled in Mojo. “He was very nervous, pacing up and down. He put this track on and we just went gooey.”


John Lennon, ‘Jealous Guy’ (1971)

One of John’s most powerful love songs. He wrote it as “Child of Nature” in Rishikesh, India, inspired by his meditation retreat with the Maharishi. As he recalled, “We just sat in the mountains eating bad vegetarian food and writing all these songs.” He demoed it for the White Album, with the chorus “I’m just a child of nature” and the opening line, “On the road to Rishikesh/I was dreaming more or less.” But when he changed the lyrics, it became a pained tribute to Yoko on Imagine, with Nicky Hopkins’ piano and John’s heartfelt whistling. It also inspired great covers from Donnie Hathaway, Bryan Ferry, and Pusha T.


Paul McCartney & Wings, ‘Let Me Roll It’ (1973)

A rock-star strut from Band on the Run, with that slashing guitar riff and the “Elvis echo” on his voice. As he says in The Lyrics, “I remember first singing ‘Let Me Roll It’ and thinking, ‘Yeah, this is very like a John song.” (And the chorus—“let me roll it to you”—is a line George sings 39 seconds into All Thing Must Pass, in “I’d Have You Anytime.”) Yet it’s all unmistakably Paul—and lighters up for Linda, who absolutely kills it on the organ. He still loves to play “Let Me Roll It” live, jamming into Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady.”  “I think it’s fair to say that to ‘roll it’ has to do with rolling a joint,” Paul admits in The Lyrics. “I don’t think that’s going to come as a surprise to anyone.”


Ringo Starr, ‘Photograph’ (1973)

Ringo’s second Number One hit, from his reign as the people’s choice. “Photograph” is a gift from George, but nobody except Ringo could have sung it with this kind of heart. “Photograph” sums up everything that makes him Ringo: his earnest heart, his self-deprecating humor, his unshowy working-class toughness, his stoic sense of resignation. And oh yeah, his drumming—the R&B grooves he’s had in his bones since his Liverpool bar-band days.


John Lennon, ‘Instant Karma’ (1970)

John kicks out the jams on “Instant Karma!” It’s a raw quickie he banged out with Phil Spector—as he boasted, “I wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch and we’re putting it out for dinner.” But it rocks hard, with a huge assist from Alan White, his second-toughest drummer. John wails in the fiery voice of “Money” or “You Can’t Do That” or “Help!,” leading the chant of “We all shine on!” George pitches in on guitar, along with friends like Klaus Voorman, Billy Preston, even roadie Mal Evans. In the delightful Top of the Pops performance, Yoko sits on her stool knitting while blindfolded.


George Harrison, ‘My Sweet Lord’ (1970)

The Quiet Beatle clears his throat for his first solo hit, and makes everyone shut up to listen. “My Sweet Lord” is an ecstatic devotional chant that soars with the spirit of girl-group pop, calling on Krishna and the Chiffons. It became a massive Number One hit. “Every time I put the radio on, it’s ‘Oh my Lord’,” John Lennon told Rolling Stone. “I’m beginning to think there must be a God!” But for George, there was a mystic power in the chant. “It’s really a method of becoming one with God,” he told the BBC in 1969. “It’s really the same sort of thing as meditation. But this is a thing that has more effect, I think, or quicker effect, because music is such a powerful force. God likes me when I work, but loves me when I sing.” So do we all. So many singers have covered “My Sweet Lord,” but only one got right to the heart of this song: Brian Wilson, who’s always shared George’s devout faith that a pop song can be a spiritual experience.


Paul McCartney & Wings, ‘Jet’ (1973)

Paul goes for a ride in the sky, with glam-rock guitar, Linda’s grooviest synth solo, and that one-word window-rattler of a chorus. He wrote “Jet” one day in Scotland, on a solitary walk in the countryside. “I had my guitar, surprise surprise,” he recalls in The Lyrics. He lay in the sun and composed a tune named for his daughters’ Shetland pony, with lyrics loosely inspired by his feminist wife and her strict “sergeant major” of a dad. “I made it all up, played it on the guitar, came back to the farmhouse and played it for Linda.” For Macca, creating a classic was that damn simple. Years later, he and Linda took Jet the Pony to a recording session at Abbey Road, because of course they did.


John Lennon, ‘Oh Yoko!’ (1971)

Who was the Fifth Beatle? That’s easy: George Martin. But who was the Fifth Solo Beatle? Nicky Hopkins, the legendary piano man who played with all four of them, turning so many of their good songs into great ones. Hopkins really elevates “Oh Yoko!,” playing his famous “diamond necklaces,” as Mick Jagger called them. John makes this song his most irresistibly loony pledge of devotion, calling Yoko’s name over elemental rock & roll. He chants “oh Yoko” like it’s the only mantra he’ll ever truly believe in. “My love will turn you on” is a perfect way to flip “I’d love to turn you on.” And he walks it home with his wildest harmonica solo.


George Harrison, ‘Pure Smokey’ (1976)

“Pure Smokey” might be the most obscure song on this whole list—a George deep cut from 1976, never a hit or even a single, buried on Side Two of a ragged album nobody ever heard, Thirty Three and a Third. But it’s the most beautiful, generous, sincere of spiritual statements, with George humbly thanking the Lord for blessing the world with his hero Smokey Robinson. (Who loved this song.) It’s full of in-jokes for Motown devotees and George fans, but it flows with jazzy horns, Fender Rhodes, and two sparkling guitar solos. Give “Pure Smokey” a couple minutes of your life, and it’ll fill you with gratitude for any world with room for both Smokey and George.


John Lennon, ‘Imagine’ (1971)

John’s peace-on-earth hymn is rightly his most famous, beloved and universal song, with his unique mix of tough talk and pop warmth. His “ah-haaa” and “yoo-hooo” asides are as powerful as the way he slips in a bombshell like “and no religion too” between the lines. “The idea came like a child’s song, you know, and I wanted to keep it that way so a child could understand it,” he said. “I sort of think of it as ‘Working Class Hero,’ only in child language.” The lyrics take off from a 1964 poem by Yoko. “‘Imagine’ was inspired by Yoko’s Grapefruit,” John admitted. “I know she helped on a lot of the lyrics but I wasn’t man enough to let her have credit for it. So that song was actually wrtitten by John and Yoko. But I was still selfish enough and unaware enough to take her contribution without acknowledging her.”


Paul McCartney, ‘Too Many People’ (1971)

Paul lets his imagination run wild in the opening song of Ram, cramming in so many playful ideas and diabolically clever details, it took decades for “Too Many People”—and the rest of Ram—to get recognized as genius. But you can hear his mischievous grin all over this song. Paul flaunts his bitchy side, tweaking John and Yoko as “too many people preaching practices.” As he says in his book The Lyrics, “It was the 1970s equivalent of what we today might call a ‘diss track.’” But that’s just the surface, and “Too Many People” never slows down, from that otherworldly hook (“That was your firrrrst mis-taaaake”) to the wild guitar flights, one by Paul and one by Hugh McCracken. It sounds like he’s cutting loose, finally shaking off his post-Beatles malaise.


George Harrison, ‘Isn’t It A Pity’ (1970)

The 7-minute triumph of his triple album All Things Must Pass, building from sparse guitar and piano to a massive hymn. “Isn’t It A Pity” sounds like there’s a half-dozen acoustic guitars strumming away, strings, organ, God knows how many tambourines, George’s slide guitar, a cathedral’s worth of Phil Spector echo, and a sing-along choir that aims to out-na-na-na “Hey Jude.” If you listen close, you can probably also hear howls of pain from his fellow Beatles, realizing they let this classic slip away. (It’s crazy they passed on this as far back as 1966, when they rejected it for Revolver.) He did a shorter, stripped-down version later in the album, as well as a demo where he sings, “Isn’t it so shitty? Isn’t it a pain?” Nina Simone felt this song deep—her 11-minute version matches George for bleak power.


Paul McCartney & Wings, ‘Band on the Run’ (1973)

Paul McCartney’s most gangsta moment? No question. Who else could hit Number One with a rock & roll prison-break epic starring the Jailer Man and Sailor Sam? Believe it or not, “Band on the Run” came at a time when people doubted whether Paul could still hack it. But he settled that question with his most ambitiously daft suite. It could be an allegory of Paul breaking free from his Beatle past. (“If we ever get out of here” was a George joke about Apple business meetings.) Or it could be a fantasy where the Fabs break free from their corporate prison and stay together forevermore. But even when Paul is singing about conflict, he gets swept up, hollering in delight. After “Band on the Run,” nobody again ever doubted he could rock. A moment of silence, please, for the Jailer Man and Sailor Sam, the most incompetent jailer-and-sailor duo in history. (If your name is “Sailor Sam” and you live in the desert, you sank a LOT of boats.)


John Lennon, ‘Mind Games’ (1973)

John brings all his cosmic benevolence to “Mind Games,” his peace-and-love anthem. “Mind Games” is John at his most unfiltered: his boyish excitement, his slide guitar, his madcap humor, his spiritual yearning, his walrus-adjacent poetry. Like everyone else in the early 1970s, including his ex-bandmates, he’s clearly under the spell of David Bowie and Marc Bolan—he even calls himself “some kind of druid dude.” But he’s in his own beatific zone, making every line hit like a heart-punch even when he gets awesomely incoherent. (“Absolute elsewhere in the stones of your mind”? Good to know!) If you ever doubt John’s genius as a singer, hear the way he stretches the word “mind” out to ten syllables without letting it slip. He pushes it all way too far on “Mind Games.” But that’s what makes him John Lennon.


Ringo Starr, ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ (1971)

Ringo’s greatest hit. “A song George helped me write,” he said a few years ago, on his 80th birthday special. “I can write it all, but I can’t end it, so he’d end my songs for me.” His whole story is in that line really—for Ringo, music is all about camaraderie, making magic with friends and strangers. The warmth and grit of “It Don’t Come Easy” is the essence of Ringo, facing up to his doubts and fears as he watches his band of brothers disintegrate. But you can hear all his resilence—as a sickly kid who wasn’t expected to live to the age of 16, he’s sure not giving up now. You can also hear he’s a soul man at heart—this is the Liverpool lad who still brags about seeing Sister Rosetta Tharpe at the Cavern Club. “It Don’t Come Easy” is the song of a lifetime.


George Harrison, ‘Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth),’ (1973)

One of the most beautiful songs any of the Beatles ever wrote—before or after the break-up. “Give Me Love” is the song that distills all George Harrison’s genius, all his torment, all his profound yearning and disenchantment and hope, into a few sparkling minutes. Did any guitar ever sound so happy to be in George’s hands? And he elevates everyone in the room. Did Nicky Hopkins ever sound so blissed-out on piano? Did Klaus Voorman ever sound so transported on bass? “Give Me Love” hit Number One in 1973; as he said, “This song is a prayer and personal statement between me, the Lord, and whoever likes it.” That turned out to be everyone.


John Lennon, ‘God’ (1970)

If you’re making the case for John Lennon as the greatest of rock & roll singers, “God” is the most ferocious performance of his lifetime, or practically anyone’s. It’s his spiritual exorcism from the end of Plastic Ono Band. John never howled so fiercely, raging against things he refuses to believe in anymore—magic, religion, politicians, yoga, Elvis, Dylan, The Beatles. But his voice is full of doo-wop tenderness at the end, as he confesses, “I was the Walrus, but now I’m John.” “God” is a song for anyone who’s ever had to start over as an adult, after the death of a dream they believed in. Something else you hear in “God”: Ringo on drums. He provides the crucial support he always gave his Beatle brothers—as John put it, “the courage to come screaming in.” Everybody did their bravest singing when they had Ringo behind them—and “God” is John at his bravest.


Paul McCartney, ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ (1970)

Paul McCartney wrote his most soulful, passionate, unforgettable love song for Linda, in the aftermath of the Beatles break-up. He felt lost and confused in all the turmoil, isolated on their Scottish farm, getting wasted and sleeping late and wondering what to do with his life now. But something even more terrifying: he was in love. As he confesses in this song, “Maybe I’m a lonely man who’s in the middle of something/That he really doesn’t understand.” Linda Eastman was a tough-as-nails New York woman who had her own life, her own career—not your typical consort for a Sixties rock star. But “Maybe I’m Amazed” captures the moment when their romance was just beginning. Paul and Linda were inseperable for the next 29 years, until her death; they never spent a single night apart until the week he went to a Tokyo jail in 1981. The music world had no idea what to make of this, so they just decided the McCartneys were weird. There are no other rock & roll love stories like this one. “Maybe I’m Amazed” tells that story in gloriously vivid detail. You can hear it in Paul’s ragged voice—he already knows that life as he knows it has changed. He has no idea what to expect from his future with Linda. He’s scared out of his wits. But neither one of them is backing away.