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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.


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.