For those who have chosen rock 'n' roll as their religion, the Top 10 Beatles Lyrics are like Bible quotes – not that anyone would ever compare the band with Jesus. Through their music, the Fab Four parceled out little bits of wisdom: money can’t buy you love, beware of the taxman, think for yourself, be cautious of revolutions and keep your bathroom window closed. In their lyrics, the Beatles observed life in the ’60s and beyond, chronicled love in all its various shades and looked around at their world, all the time striving for a better one. These are their 10 best lines.
‘Yesterday’From: ‘Help!’ (1965)
“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away / Now it looks as though they’re here to stay / Oh, I believe in yesterday”
We all know the story behind ‘Yesterday’'s famous melody: Paul McCartney dreamed the tune, which he initially thought was an old jazz number he had subconsciously remembered. We don’t know a whole lot about the original words, other that that they could have been “Scrambled eggs, oh my baby how I love your legs.” It’s been suggested that McCartney was writing about his mother, who had died when he was 14. Either way, ‘Yesterday’s’ simple, perfectly chosen words speak to something elemental in human nature: When things go bad, we always want to go back, even though we know that’s impossible.
‘Nowhere Man’From: ‘Rubber Soul’ (1965)
“Doesn’t have a point of view / Knows not where he’s going to / Isn’t he a bit like you and me?”
The significance of ‘Nowhere Man’ is that it’s the first Beatles song not written about love. John Lennon penned the lyrics about himself (not 'Yellow Submarine''s Jeremy Hillary Boob, Ph.D), after a frustrating session in which was unable to come up with any good words for a song. ‘Nowhere Man’ is about Lennon’s isolation in his Weybridge home, where he was living a rather depressed existence in an unhappy marriage. Although it's written in the third person, McCartney noted that his bandmate gives a little clue in the line “Isn’t he a bit like you and me?”
‘Let It Be’From: ‘Let It Be’ (1970)
“And when the brokenhearted people / Living in the world agree / There will be an answer, let it be”
Like 'Yesterday' (see No. 10 on our list of the Top 10 Beatles Lyrics), ‘Let It Be’ was inspired by a dream McCartney had -- this time as the Beatles began falling apart during 'The White Album' sessions. He dreamed that his mom (“Mother Mary”) comforted him, saying all would be OK. McCartney then penned the hymn-like 'Let It Be,' expanding it beyond his own circumstances as a sort of wish for the entire world.
‘Across the Universe’From: ‘Let It Be’ (1970)
“Words are flowing out / Like endless rain into a paper cup / They slither while they pass / They slip away across the universe”
While McCartney dreamed some of the Beatles’ best hits, Lennon came up with ‘Across the Universe’ while he was trying to fall asleep. Annoyed with wife Cynthia, he went to the kitchen to write down the song’s first line, which turned his anger into something cosmic. The song's refrain -- “Jai guru deva, om” -- means (roughly) “victory to God divine” in Sanskrit and was likely inspired by the Beatles time in India in 1968. Lennon had a knack for stringing words together, even if they made little sense (see “I Am the Walrus,” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “Come Together,” etc.). But on ‘Across the Universe,’ his poetry paints a larger picture of wonderment -- as if he’s watching the universe unfold in slow motion.
‘Blackbird’From: ‘The Beatles’ (1968)
“Blackbird singing in the dead of night / Take these broken wings and learn to fly / All your life /
You were only waiting for this moment to arise”
The U.S. civil rights movement inspired McCartney to write this acoustic number, found on side two of 'The White Album.' He wrote ‘Blackbird’ at his Scottish farm to express his support for black Americans struggling for equality in the states, particularly women (“bird” is British slang for "woman"). He later explained that he chose a more poetic approach to the song – rather than singing “black woman living in Little Rock” – so that listeners could apply its message to their own lives.
‘In My Life’From: ‘Rubber Soul’ (1965)
“Though I know I'll never lose affection / For people and things that went before / I know I'll often stop and think about them / In my life I love you more”
‘In My Life’ began as a challenge. Lennon had been asked by a journalist why the writing in his book ‘In His Own Write’ was more personal than in his songs. So he started coming up with wistful lyrics about a bus trip through his hometown of Liverpool. But when he became dissatisfied with the song, he removed the specific places and focused on the emotions. The result was a tribute to lovers and friends, the people who care for you and those you care for, the people who leave and the ones who stay. It’s an absolute outpouring of affection.
‘Hey Jude’From: 1968 single
“And any time you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain / Don't carry the world upon your shoulders / For well, you know that it's a fool who plays it cool / By making his world a little colder”
McCartney wrote this epic single for Lennon's son Julian after his parents announced that they were getting divorced (the original lyric was “Hey Jules"). It’s an incredibly uplifting song with more than a few great lines about staying positive in the face of adversity, and having the courage to change the things you can and the patience to accept the things you cannot. Lennon initially thought 'Hey Jude' was about him, taking the line “go out and get her” as a reference to Yoko Ono's growing influence on Lennon, who was being pulled away from his musical partnership with McCartney. The “na na na, na-na na na” singalong makes everyone feel a little better in the end.
‘All You Need Is Love’From: ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ (1967)
“There's nothing you can do that can't be done / Nothing you can sing that can't be sung / Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game / It's easy / All you need is love”
This Summer of Love anthem was written (somewhat hastily) for the live ‘Our World’ satellite broadcast after the Beatles agreed to contribute a new song. With only a couple of weeks before the event, Lennon rose to the occasion and penned this enduring message song. For his plea for love and peace around the world, Lennon used a modicum of flowery language, allowing ‘All You Need Is Love’ to speak for itself. No wonder the chorus is still endlessly quoted. The verses have a zen-like wisdom to them, reinforcing the limitless power of love.
‘Strawberry Fields Forever’From: ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ (1967)
“Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see”
Lennon combined childhood nostalgia (Strawberry Fields was a Salvation Army boys home with a wild garden in the back) and self-analysis of his state of mind for ‘Strawberry Fields Forever.’ He was in a depressed place at the time, filled with doubt (“I think I know, I mean, a-yes, but it’s all wrong”) and an inability to connect with others (“No one, I think, is in my tree”). Lennon felt like he was going crazy but was self-aware enough to write about his feelings. He even decries the old standby alternative of closing your eyes to make it all go away. It’s a fascinating collection of thoughts. That is, we think it’s not too bad.
‘The End’From: ‘Abbey Road’ (1969)
“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make”
Not many bands get to write their own epitaphs, but the Beatles aren’t just any band. For the finale (except for the tacked-on ‘Her Majesty’) of the group’s last recorded album, McCartney wanted to come up with something special. After each member had gotten his turn in the spotlight (drum solo for Ringo, rotating guitar solos for Paul, George and John), McCartney delivered the above couplet, which he said was inspired by Shakespeare. Not only is it a wonderfully simple philosophical moment, it dovetails with the Beatles’ other defining message: All you need is love. The strings swell, the harmonies descend and the result is a perfect moment at the end of a great album and the swan song of a great band.
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