Top 10 Beatles Solo Songs
The four Beatles approached their solo singles the same way they approached their solo albums: as a way to declare their independence, as a forum to play around with sounds that were most likely vetoed by the others and as an excuse to exorcise their Fabness. George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr all had their share of hits and flops during the post-Beatles years. At times they embraced their past; other times they steered in the opposite direction. All of which made for four very interesting careers, as you’ll see in our list of the Top 10 Beatles Solo Songs.
‘Plastic Ono Band,’ Lennon’s proper solo debut from 1970 following a couple of experimental-noise LPs with Yoko Ono, was as much a therapy session as it was a declaration of independence. Revealing oodles of scars — dating back all the way to his childhood and extending to the breakup of the Beatles — Lennon had never so sounded so emotionally naked. On the cathartic ‘Mother,’ he tackles his many mommy issues.
‘Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey’
McCartney’s first solo No. 1 is one of the weirdest songs to ever reach the top of the chart. Loaded with sound effects, vaudeville jokes and time/style shifts that make it one of the wildest-ever Top 40 hits, ‘Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey’ is also the centerpiece of McCartney’s second solo album, the first to use outside musicians (he played everything himself on 1970’s ‘McCartney’). A rare combination of playfulness, experimentation and tunefulness that totally works.
Starr’s best solo song (from his best solo album) features an all-star lineup of famous pals, like the Rolling Stones‘ sax player Bobby Keys, pianist Nicky Hopkins, drummer Jim Keltner, ‘Revolver’ cover designer/bassist Klaus Voorman and former bandmate George Harrison, who sings and plays guitar on the cut (which he co-wrote). With that pedigree, no wonder it went to No. 1.
‘What Is Life’
Like Starr’s ‘Photograph’ (see No. 8 on our list of the Top 10 Beatles Solo Songs), Harrison’s ‘What Is Life’ gets a boost from its terrific backing band, which includes Eric Clapton, Derek and the Dominos drummer Jim Gordon, saxophonist Bobby Keys and Badfinger‘s Pete Ham and Tom Evans. The guitar riff that opens ‘What Is Life’ and steers it throughout is killer, but the whole thing falls together effortlessly.
‘Instant Karma (We All Shine On)’
Lennon’s first Top 10 solo hit features stellar backing work by former Beatles cohorts Harrison, Billy Preston and Klaus Voorman, plus production by Phil Spector, who famously made kind of a mess of ‘Let It Be.’ ‘Instant Karma’ was recorded before work started on the ‘Plastic Ono Band’ album, but the similarities are abundant, from the primal outpouring of noise to Lennon’s statement of independence from his old group.
‘Band on the Run’
McCartney’s best solo album yielded a handful of classic songs. The best is the title track, a five-minute tour de force featuring three distinct movements and one of McCartney’s catchiest post-Beatles choruses. Structurally, it may be the tightest cut on our list of the Top 10 Beatles Solo Songs, with all of the pieces seamlessly snapping together.
‘Maybe I’m Amazed’
McCartney’s 1970 debut solo album is spotty, difficult and filled mostly with skeletal frames of songs. The indisputable classic is McCartney’s loving tribute to wife Linda. The studio version was never released as a single, but a live take with Wings (from ‘Wings Over America’) made it to No. 10 in 1977. We prefer the original intimate one.
‘My Sweet Lord’
Following a pair of experimental instrumental albums (1968’s ‘Wonderwall Music,’ was the first solo album released by a Beatle), Harrison unveiled a triple-record assault with 1970’s ‘All Things Must Pass.’ Its first single, ‘My Sweet Lord,’ went straight to No. 1 (also a solo Beatles first). Even though Harrison was later hauled into court, and lost, on charges of copyright infringement because of the song’s similarities to the Chiffons’ ‘He’s So Fine,’ ‘My Sweet Lord’ remains a masterpiece of rock spiritualism.
‘Live and Let Die’
McCartney’s song for the 1973 James Bond movie of the same name rocks like no other 007 theme before it, even with producer George Martin’s orchestral flourishes that dominate a good chunk of the track. ‘Live and Let Die’ spent three weeks at No. 2, sandwiched between the schmaltzy No. 1 hit ‘My Love’ and the tough Top 10 rocker ‘Helen Wheels’ on McCartney’s singles list.
Following abrasive and controversial singles like ‘Cold Turkey,’ ‘Mother’ (see No. 10 on our list of the Top 10 Beatles Solo Songs) and ‘Power to the People,’ Lennon released one of the most quiet and plaintive numbers of his entire career. ‘Imagine’ was a universal call for peace, love and understanding swathed in a billowy piano arrangement provided by producer Phil Spector. Its timeless message still resonates with music fans more than 40 years later.