Up until the 'Help!' album was released in August 1965, most Lennon-McCartney compositions were indeed collaborations between the Beatles' top two songwriters. But as their music grew more sophisticated, a distinct musical divide surfaced between John Lennon and Paul McCartney as they began writing and singing their own songs. The standard line goes that Lennon was the band's tough rocker, and McCartney was its sweet pop craftsman. But as our list of the Top 10 Paul McCartney Beatles Songs shows, Macca was a master of a number of styles that ranged from sweet to tough, and included everything in between.
'The Fool on the Hill'From 'Magical Mystery Tour' (1967)
The follow-up to 'Sgt. Pepper' is a complicated record, a messy soundtrack to an even messier movie that also happens to include some of the Beatles' best and most adventurous songs. This one features one of McCartney's prettiest melodies, adorned with flutes, acoustic guitars and a penny whistle. The song was most likely informed by the group's maharishi phase, but that doesn't take anything away from the vivid, poignant and pastoral portrait.
'We Can Work It Out'Single (1965)
Recorded during the 'Rubber Soul' sessions (and released the same day, even though it was left off the album), 'We Can Work It Out' is one of the few post-'Help!' McCartney songs that includes some input from Lennon (he wrote the bridge). But this is mostly McCartney, and it's a grand example of his old-fashioned pop smarts injected with his modern-day musical quests. The harmonium is a sign of things to come.
'Helter Skelter'From 'The Beatles' (1968)
There's a reason this popular 'White Album' track sounds so brutal and fierce: McCartney wanted it that way. He set out to write and record a song that would blisteringly assault every instrument in the studio. The lyrics are generally nonsense, but that didn't stop '60s psycho Charles Manson from reading a hidden apocalyptic agenda in them. No matter, this is mostly about the music -- essentially metal before there was such a thing. It's the most ear-shattering moment on our list of the Top 10 Paul McCartney Beatles Songs.
'Yesterday'From 'Help!' (1965)
McCartney was only 22 years old when he wrote this plaintive breakup song, which he performs solo on acoustic guitar with only a string quartet accompanying. It's the first Beatles record to feature only one member of the band, and it's one of the most covered songs on the planet -- everyone from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley to Bob Dylan has recorded 'Yesterday,' which became the 10th Beatles song to hit No. 1 in the U.S.
'I've Just Seen a Face'From 'Help!' (1965)
Even though this springy acoustic number was buried on the original 'Help!' album overseas, most Americans know it as the first song on the U.S. version of 'Rubber Soul.' Either way, it's one of McCartney's breeziest tunes, a folksy two-minute spin and one of the first Beatles songs that signals their move from traditional pop to more challenging playgrounds. It's one of the most restrained tracks on our list of the Top 10 Paul McCartney Beatles Songs, but it's also a crucial link from the early to later years.
'Eleanor Rigby'From 'Revolver' (1966)
One of McCartney's most groundbreaking songs includes no traditional rock or pop instruments, just a string section made up of violins, violas and cellos, expertly arranged by producer George Martin. It's also one of the most despairing songs in McCartney's catalog, offering profiles of characters immobilized by loneliness or on their way to the grave. No wonder it stalled outside the Top 10 -- it's a long, long way from "yeah, yeah, yeah."
At a little more than seven minutes, 'Hey Jude' is one of the longest singles to ever top the charts (even if a group singalong fills the last half of it). McCartney wrote the song for Lennon's son Julian, and the Beatles recorded it during sessions for 'The White Album.' It's one of the group's most popular songs (it stayed at No. 1 for nine weeks), which is no surprise since it features one of McCartney's all-time greatest melodies.
'Let It Be'From 'Let It Be' (1970)
The title tune of the Beatles' last album (which was actually recorded before 'Abbey Road') reached No. 1 around the same time the LP was released. It's one of McCartney's loveliest songs, and like many of his late-period Beatles tracks, it embraces a more traditional form of pop songwriting (it's basically a hymn to his late mother). As Lennon became more abrasive, McCartney turned more tender. This is him at his very best.
'Penny Lane'From 'Magical Mystery Tour' (1967)
Is 'Penny Lane' half of the greatest double A-side ever released? Possibly. Just like 'Strawberry Fields Forever,' the song on the other side, 'Penny Lane' looks back at the Beatles' childhoods -- in this case, it's a Liverpool street where McCartney and Lennon used to meet. But more so than that, the song is a character study of the people found on that street -- a fireman, a barber, a nurse, etc. -- backed by a musically rich tapestry borrowed from 'Sgt. Pepper' (the song was, in fact, one of the first tracks recorded during the sessions for that game-changing album).
'Abbey Road' MedleyFrom 'Abbey Road' (1969)
The 16-minute suite that caps the final album the Beatles recorded ranks as McCartney's most ambitious work, an eight-song medley that shifts from sweet sentimentality ("Golden Slumbers") to gutsy rocker ("The End"). A pair of Lennon songs sneaks into the mix, but they last about only a minute each. Make no mistake: This is McCartney's creation, a stitching together of a wide variety of styles and songs -- some that go back to 'The White Album' -- into a solid summation of his Beatles years. Expanded into full cuts, almost any one of these fragments would have made our list of the Top 10 Paul McCartney Beatles Songs.
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