Whilst most would generally agree that the Beatles best albums came in the second half of the sixties, starting with the hugely influential Rubber Soul, this doesn’t mean some incredibly important and great sounding records were not made before then.
The Beatles released some very popular tracks pre-Rubber Soul, some of extreme historical importance and others that chart the development of the band, as well as Lennon and McCartney as songwriters. The following is a list of the best songs from the first five Beatles albums, made during the height of Beatlemania.
Beatlemania hits the UK
Let’s look at some of the most significant songs, commercially and historically, in the rise of Beatlemania, from the bestselling Beatles track in the UK through to a song that was at the high point of the mania.
“She Loves You”
No list of Beatles tracks can miss off ‘She Loves You’, it is the best-selling Beatles song in the UK, the biggest selling single of the 1960s and the song the thrust the Beatles into the spotlight as the pop act of its day.
For many, it symbolises the first half of the decade for the Beatles, the song that holds the phrase used so often when talking about the band, “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”.
For many, it is the track that really started Beatlemania when it was released in August 1963.
The song was not originally a hit in America, coming before the Beatles had made it there, but on being released again in 1964 the song did top the billboard 100 and stayed there for a couple of weeks.
“I Feel Fine”
Apart from being a massive commercial success, the fifth highest-selling single of the 1960s in the UK, musically the song was special for its time and included the use of guitar feedback for the first time on a track.
Artists like The Who had been using the technique in live performances but this is the first time it was deliberately used to go on a record, with Lennon claiming it for the Beatles.
‘I Feel Fine’ became the eighth single for the band, released in both the UK and US at the end of November 1964, becoming the first song released almost concurrently in both countries and reached the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.
It was written and produced at the recording sessions for ‘Eight Days a Week’ and actually ended up being released before it.
“A Hard Days Night”
As Rolling Stone magazine puts it, the song opens with the most famous chord in all of rock & roll, perfectly invoking the madness and energy of Beatlemania, which was very much at its high point when the Beatles released ‘A Hard Days Night’ in June 1964.
It is also the title track to the Beatles first movie, a critical success that took the bands fame to a whole new level.
It is one of those songs that started with the title before the song was written to fit it. The title comes via a phrase from Ringo Starr when he commented that it had been ‘a hard day…’ then realising it was now night, finished his sentence with ‘…’s night’. John Lennon mentioned the remark to Richard Lester, the director of the film and it immediately became the title.
The true global phenomenon of the Beatles and Beatlemania becoming known worldwide was triggered by the band breaking it in America, so here are a couple of tracks critical in that event.
“I Want to Hold Your Hand”
The list of reasons why this is one of the most important songs in Beatles history is long.
- The performance of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show is a pivotal moment, not just in Beatles history, but of pop music in general. This is the track that lifted the entire show and gave The Beatles real momentum in the US.
- It was the bands first ever US number one, paving the way for Beatlemania.
- It is the biggest selling Beatles record of all time, selling over 12 million copies.
Released on 29th November 1963, the song didn’t immediately go to number one due to ‘She Loves You’ being above it, but when it did in February 1964, it stayed there for seven weeks.
To understand the real influence of the song, you only have to hear the thoughts of other influential artists like Bob Dylan and Brian Wilson. Dylan talked about how they were doing things no one else was and Brian Wilson simply said, ‘I immediately knew everything had changed’.
“Can’t Buy Me Love”
The track was recorded during a 19-day residency in Paris, just weeks before going to the US ahead of their era-defining performance on the Ed Sullivan show.
The single had pre-orders of 3 million and within 2 weeks of its release in the US, the band had the top five singles on the Billboard chart, followed a week later by having 14 of the top 100 singles, neither of those feats has ever been challenged since.
Appearing on both the album and film ‘A Hard Days Night’, It was the first of the bands singles to feature just the one singer in Paul McCartney. John was quoted as thinking he had something to do with the chorus but he always considered it Pauls song.
Paul had designed the song to be more bluesy than the average Beatles song up till that point, but by the time it was produced it resembles more Motown and rockabilly.
Whilst the early Beatles strategy was about producing killer, commercial singles, they still produced some great album only tracks that are worthy of note.
“I Saw Her Standing There”
Being the first track on the debut LP from the Beatles is always going to make ‘I saw her standing there’ an important song for fans, but it’s popularity and significance go beyond that. For a start, it’s one of the first songs that John Lennon and Paul McCartney ever wrote together.
Never released as a single in the UK, it was added as a B-side to the US release of ‘I want to hold your hand’ and was one of the five songs played on their history making performance on the Ed Sullivan show.
One other piece of trivia that makes adds to its mystique – whilst Paul wrote most of the song and is the lead vocal on the track, when John Lennon made a surprise appearance at an Elton John concert in 1974, he ended the set with this song, the last live performance he ever gave.
“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”
One of the best examples of John Lennon’s songwriting from the early days of the Beatles, ‘You’ve got to hide your love away’ was never released as a single because John felt it wasn’t commercial enough. It appears on the ‘Help!’ album, as well as appearing in the film.
An good example of the influence of Bob Dylan on John’s writing style at this point. It’s well known that the Beatles inspired a tougher rock & roll style into Dylan’s music, but also Dylan inspired Lennon to introduce a more personal style into his lyrics, something that became such a strong part of his writing in the years ahead. As Paul says, ‘basically John doing Dylan’.
The meaning behind the song has always caused intrigued, some claiming it was about Brian Epstein’s homosexuality, others believing it was about an affair John was having at the time.
“All My Loving”
A slightly left-field choice, it’s a great little album song from the days when the Beatles mainly focused on singles and for Paul, it was an example of the first time he wrote the words before the music on a song.
Musically Paul was thinking country & western and it does have a flavour of this, in part because of the Carl Perkins inspired guitar solo played by George Harrison, a hero of Harrison’s.
John Lennon, who didn’t often praise Paul’s songs, was a big fan, calling it a ‘damn fine piece of work’, then proceeded to remind people he played a pretty mean guitar on the track! It was one of the moments when Paul began to stand out from the shadow of John for the first time.
The most famous fact about the song? It was the first one played by the Beatles on that first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.
Help! – The Transitional Album
Coming before ‘Rubber Soul’, when the Beatles had moved from a focus on singles to producing overall albums of pure quality (before this point, popular music was all about the single), ‘Help!’ is the moment that the Beatles were maturing their sound and preparing for the most creative period in the band’s history and it produced a couple of significant records.
As the most covered song in the history of music, ‘Yesterday’ holds a special place of importance in Beatles history. It’s also the first time that a track was written and sung by just one member of the band, Paul McCartney, certainly changing the dynamic of the group for the final five years of them working together.
Despite appearing on the ‘Help!’ album in 1965, the song itself was not released until 1976 because it was seen as a solo project for Paul. It reached number eight in the UK charts, but in the US it was released in 1965 and made it to number one the same year.
Musically it is important to the Beatles development as it included strings for the first time and was considered more of a ‘baroque’ style, as the Beatles sound was evolving.
“Ticket To Ride”
For many, the standout track from the ‘Help!’ album, it was a much harder song than most of the pop style singles that the Beatles had become famous for and was a sign of the musical development that we would see so much of in the second half of the decade.
As John Lennon said, it was a new sound at the time, it was pretty heavy, in many ways he was claiming an influence on the early days of heavy metal!
The song was released as a single in November of 1964, entering the charts at number one, remaining at the top of the charts for 6 weeks and selling over one million records within two weeks of its release.
John Lennon tells the story that the phrase itself comes from their time in Hamburg, where a ‘Ticket to Ride’ means a prostitute has a clean bill of health.
End at the Beginning
To end our list, let’s go back to where it all began and the first songs that the Beatles produced, the ones that set in motion what was to come, the most influential artists of all time.
“Please Please Me”
The title track from the first-ever Beatles album, it ended up becoming their second single, but more importantly their first ever UK number one, sort of. It was number one on NME and Melody Maker charts, although technically number two on Record Retailer, the pre-runner to the UK singles chart. It was also the group’s first US release.
What is most significant about the song and makes it such a worthy song for any list of Beatles tracks, it really was the point the Beatles found their sound. ‘Please Please Me’ was originally a much slower song, with inspiration taken from Roy Orbison, but when they got into the studio George Martin was not impressed, suggesting it needed to be more up-tempo.
Heeding the advice from Martin, when the band went to make the follow up single to ‘Love Me Do’, they convinced him that the new version would work. They had lifted the tempo and the Beatles sound had arrived. As Paul McCartney put it, there was that fast Beatles spirit. There was an energy and aggression that would become the heartbeat of the Beatles sound throughout Beatlemania.
“Love Me Do”
Whilst it took ‘Please Please Me’ for the Beatles to crack the top of the charts and arguably ‘She Loves You’ for them to become the phenomenon that was Beatlemania, ‘Love me do’ was still a decent success, reaching number seventeen in the UK in late 1962. Not released in the US until 1964, it was another chart-topper stateside.
The song was one of the first that Lennon and McCartney ever wrote together and was conceived before the Beatles were even put together, back in 1958.
Interestingly, the Beatles recorded the track on three different occasions, with three completely different drummers. In their audition for George Martin at EMI, Pete Best was still the drummer, by the time they recorded the song in September 1962 it was Ringo on drums.
A week later a second recording was made with session drummer Andy White. The version with Ringo was released as the single, whilst the version on the ‘Please Please Me’ album is the one featuring Andy White, with Ringo on tambourine.
For the band themselves, it was the point they knew they had arrived. Paul talks about how they clicked in Hamburg and clicked at the Cavern, but it was with ‘Love me do’ entering the charts that they knew they had arrived. As Ringo would say, “It’s all about that first piece of plastic”.