Top 10 John Lennon Beatles Songs
With a few exceptions, up until the ‘Help!’ album was released in August 1965, most Beatles songs were true John Lennon–Paul McCartney collaborations. And then everything changed. Lennon and McCartney started writing, and singing, their own songs. George Harrison started contributing more. Even Ringo Starr got in on the action once in a while. More than with any of the other Beatles, though, pulling together a list of the Top 10 John Lennon Beatles Songs isn’t easy. He was the most consistently strong songwriter during the second half of their career, penning some of the group’s greatest songs. These are our favorites.
The opening track on the Beatles’ last recorded album (‘Let It Be’ was made before, but released after ‘Abbey Road’) is one of the group’s most muscular cuts. Part of it is rooted in Lennon’s peace campaign from the era; part of it is rooted in rock ‘n’ roll history (he liberally quotes Chuck Berry). The song — the last one the four Beatles recorded together — also features one of the band’s slinkiest rhythms, a snaky hiss that’s simultaneously playful and menacing.
‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’
Like many rock, pop and folk artists in 1965, the Beatles were paying close to attention to Bob Dylan — especially Lennon, who modeled this acoustic ballad from ‘Help!’ after any number of Dylan’s songs from the period. The folksy sound of the song was a turning point for the band, which pushed aside its natural pop tendencies for more adult tones on its next album, ‘Rubber Soul,’ released just a few months later.
‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun’
This ‘White Album’ track is really three Lennon sketches stitched into one song. The tricky time signatures make it one of the most complex songs in the Beatles catalog and a precursor to Lennon’s occasionally challenging solo records. In less than three minutes, Lennon juggles electric blues, freak-out psych-rock and a doo-wop finale featuring one of Lennon’s most exhilarating vocals. McCartney says it’s his favorite song on ‘The White Album.’
‘I Am the Walrus’
‘Sgt. Pepper’s” sonic tapestry — made up of strung-together words (partly inspired by an acid trip) and various studio overdubs (including some lines from a radio broadcast of ‘King Lear’) –runs wild in Lennon’s abrasive B-side to McCartney’s pop-leaning ‘Hello, Goodbye.’ There’s a lot going on in ‘I Am the Walrus': a group chant, an orchestral arrangement, an instrumental coda that comes out of nowhere. Perhaps the most adventurous tune on this list of the Top 10 John Lennon Beatles songs.
‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’
Known as much for the sitar’s first appearance in a rock song (which was played by Harrison) as for Lennon’s confessional lyrics, ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’ marks a giant step in the Beatles’ evolution. They no longer relied on other peoples’ songs to fill their albums, and they trusted that their fans wanted more out of them than “yeah, yeah, yeah.” The song is basically a letter from Lennon to his wife, admitting an affair. Deep stuff.
The Beatles had tons of great B-sides. This one, on the flip of ‘Paperback Writer,’ is their best. The song, a torrent of studio trickery (including backward vocals and guitar), was recorded during the hyper-experimental ‘Revolver’ sessions. ‘Rain’ is an aural feast, from the ricocheting drums at the start of the song to the swirling dose of psychedelia at the end. Like a few others on this list of the Top 10 John Lennon Songs, the B-side is better than the A.
‘Tomorrow Never Knows’
After cranking out six albums in three short years, the Beatles took their time with ‘Revolver,’ perhaps the most significant milestone in a career stuffed with them. ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ was the first song recorded during the creatively productive sessions. And the sense of wonderment is abundant here. There’s looping, backward tapes, Indian instruments, double-tracked vocals, distortion, and delay crammed into less than three minutes. It’s a psychedelic trip to a sonic playground.
‘In My Life’
Lennon just turned 25 when the Beatles recorded this tender look back on the “people and things that went before.” The song is basically Lennon’s cherished, and somewhat melancholy, memories of his childhood, taking its lyrical cue from the growing cult of singer-songwriters springing up all over the world. Lennon would explore the same topic later in his career (especially on ‘The Beatles’ and with his more committed solo records), but this is one of his first personal songs.
Lennon’s No. 1 song from the peak of Beatlemania has been interpreted several ways by fans. Is it a plea for a little sanity after two years of craziness? Is something more personal going on inside the always emotionally fragile Lennon’s head? Lennon claimed it was a little of both, but either way, the song’s upbeat tempo belies the heaviness of the lyrics, which read like a bleak call for, yes, help.
‘Strawberry Fields Forever’
Lennon’s half of the double A-side about childhood memories was a perfect complement to McCartney’s ‘Penny Lane.’ Like ‘Penny Lane,’ ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was recorded at the start of the ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ sessions. In a way, it represents, and ties together, the many sides of Lennon as a Beatle. It’s kinda sentimental, it’s catchy and it’s an aural wonderland filled with exotic instruments, backward tracks, sped-up and slowed-down passages, a freak-out ending and a lyric that strings together seemingly random phrases that paint one of the most vivid, colorful portraits in Lennon’s entire catalog. Is there any doubt why it tops our list of the Top 10 John Lennon Beatles Songs?