Overrated: All You Need is Love
Beatles fans are always insisting that the group are more than their saccharine boy band roots, and that’s true. However, All You Need is Love definitely isn’t the best argument for The Beatles’ musical growth and evolution. Even disregarding the simple chord structure and almost infantile levels of repetition, there’s just something smug about this countercultural anthem. Even at the time, critics named this one of the Beatles’ “less deserving hits” for the blatant mistruth of its thesis. In 1967, when the civil rights movement was gathering momentum in response to profound racial injustice and American forces were still questioning what they were fighting for in Vietnam, it could be argued that it wasn’t love people needed to inspire change, but rage.
Overrated: Hey Jude
Given how ubiquitous it is, it’s easy to forget that Hey Jude wasn’t released as part of an album. Instead, it was one of four floating singles released by the new record label Apple in order to launch itself into the public eye. Maybe the reason The Beatles were happy for this track to be used in a promotional effort is that it’s been muddled and unfocused from the very beginning. The song wasn’t even addressed to Jude at first. It was originally called “Hey Jules”, and was written by Paul McCartney to comfort John Lennon’s young son in the wake of his parents’ split. So the real question is this: if your father had left your mother for Yoko Ono, would four straight minutes of “nah-nah-nah-nah” have comforted you, or sent you rapidly spiralling into madness and despair?
Overrated: Don’t Let Me Down
It’s fair to say that there is a contingent of Beatles fans who have some uncharitable opinions of Yoko Ono, from claiming that her meddling decreased the quality of the Beatles’ music or broke them up, to even believing that she was instrumental in Lennon’s death. All of that is dubious and unfair at best, or deeply paranoid at worst – but there is one thing fans can blame Ono for. Don’t Let Me Down was written by John Lennon as a direct plea to Yoko Ono, begging her not to disappoint him. It has been called “one of the Beatles’ most powerful love songs”, but let’s be real: when the vocals aren’t cartoonishly sullen they sound like an ambulance siren wailing, and the lyrics leave a lot to be desired. “And from the first time that she really done me / Oh, she done me, she done me good” isn’t really Grammy-worthy, is it?
Overrated: Penny Lane
This isn’t complicated: Penny Lane is just Paul McCartney’s attempt at Strawberry Fields Forever. He was inspired to write it after hearing Lennon’s own nostalgic reflections on Liverpool, and both tracks were even released together as a single and B-side. Critically, it was Penny Lane that was received well, but for all the reasons that make it the inferior product. Strawberry Fields Forever wears its psychedelic influence on its sleeve, slowly warping and unravelling its initially provincial sounds and dipping into joy and mournfulness in equal measure. Penny Lane is twee all the way, and sounds more like the theme tune for a Liverpudlian Postman Pat spin-off than a single from Britain’s most iconic band.
Overrated: Come Together
If you judge the quality of a song by the calibre of the artists that have covered it, then Come Together should be one of The Beatles’ best tracks, given that it has been covered by such wildly differing artists as Tina Turner, Michael Jackson and Aerosmith. In reality though, while sonically brilliant, Come Together is still one of the band’s most overrated offerings. Why? It’s not because of the prescient proto-70s rock rhythms that would be further built on by everyone from Led Zeppelin to Credence Clearwater Revival, or because of the earworm quasi-nonsense lyrics. It’s because, in the stable of anti-Vietnam war songs, Come Together simply isn’t biting enough to stand alongside CCR’s Fortunate Son, The Doors’ Unknown Solider or even (years later) R.E.M.’s Orange Crush.
Overrated: The Long and Winding Road
Released a month after The Beatles announced their break-up, The Long and Winding Road was the band’s 20th and last number-one hit in the US, and so it’s forever cemented in music history. It’s sweeping, epic, tender and never fail’s to bring a tear to a fan’s eye. However, it’s also the most syrupy and overwrought track in the group’s discography. From Paul McCartney’s opening lonely wail, which seems to burst into the silence and struggle to find a foothold, to the trite choral voices to the dizzying angelic harp finale, everything about this song feels like it was written to play over the last episode of Dynasty. In actuality, it was originally written for Ray Charles, which might be why it’s devoid of most of The Beatles’ recognisable charms.
According to pop music folklore, the original scratch lyrics for Yesterday were “Scrambled eggs / Oh my baby how I love your legs / Not as much as I love scrambled eggs / Oh we should eat, some scrambled eggs”. If they had stuck with those, they would have had a mournful tribute to a hilarious subject, resulting in a unique blend of whimsy and melancholy. Instead, they ended up with a flaccid break-up song so uninspired that it’s no wonder that Boyz II Men eventually covered it. Not to mention, Yesterday is partially responsible for the insipid 2019 movie of the same name, which should have been erased from theatres if only for the creepy, clumsy John Lennon wish fulfilment.
Underrated: Getting Better
Getting Better is known as one of The Beatles’ most controversial songs, and for good reason. Its bridge, which is usually removed during covers, contains the infamous lines: “I used to be cruel to my woman / I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved / Man I was mean but I’m changing my scene / And I’m doing the best that I can” which John Lennon said were autobiographical and in reference to his past abuse of his wife Cynthia. In fact, aside from its controversy and the fact that Lennon accidentally took LSD while it was being recorded, Getting Better’s biggest accolade is a dubious one… it was covered by legendary meme-band Smash Mouth for the soundtrack of the live-action Cat in the Hat movie. However, this cover highlights all that is right with the song, from its dreamy harmonies to its stoic, almost unhinged optimism.
Underrated: And Your Bird Can Sing
The silly title of And Your Bird Can Sing doesn’t really do its passion or frenetic energy justice. Written by Lennon, the track was allegedly created to hit out at the Rolling Stones, given that its title seems to reference the Stones’ muse, Marianne Faithfull (pictured above right). With lyrics like: “You tell me that you’ve got everything you want / And your bird can sing / But you don’t get me,” it seems designed to get under Mick Jagger’s skin. However, there’s a lot more to this song than just pettiness. And Your Bird Can Sing’s simplistic lyrics are perfectly matched by the complexity lent to the track by its two guitar parts, which layer over each other to create a riff that has been called “the most baroque that pop music ever came up with” by academic Toby Litt. Plus, it boasts one of George Harrison’s best guitar solos.
Everyone knows that Ringo Starr is the most underrated member of The Beatles, and comically so. Therefore, it makes sense that his best performance would sit on one of the band’s most underrated tracks: Rain. With its slowed-down rhythm section and dreamy, far-off vocals, Starr’s drumming is allowed to come to the fore to beautiful effect. This is definitely a song designed to be listened to during summer, either on a breezy car drive with the top down or while lazing around in a field in August. Nevertheless, its plodding bass and flourishing drums are fit for any season, come shine or (as the title suggests) rain.
Underrated: I Am The Walrus
A merry musical prank, John Lennon penned I Am The Walrus after learning that The Beatles’ lyrics were being studied by academics. Drawing on his experience with psychedelics and the Lewis Carroll poem The Walrus and the Carpenter, Lennon made sure the lyrics were entirely nonsensical. The idea of serious scholars thoughtfully contemplating the meaning of a song that was deliberately written to be meaningless is pure gold, and the record displays an irreverent side to The Beatles that is undeniably fun.
Overrated: Helter Skelter
Upset at being labelled “the soppy one” by the media, Paul McCartney wrote the most aggressive record he could think of and accidentally sowed the idea of a race war in Charles Manson’s head. The instrumentation is notably raucous for The Beatles and the vocal delivery verges on screaming, but the song is about going down a slide – sure, McCartney claimed that it’s actually symbolic of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, but if anyone claims they got that, they’re lying. It’s really not as dark as people seem to remember it being, and most of the song’s mythos comes from its association with the Manson Family murders.
Overrated: I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
Malcolm Gladwell famously used The Beatles as an example of his 10,000 hours to mastery theory, and anyone working their way through Abbey Road could be forgiven for assuming the band racked up most of those hours whilst recording I Want You (She’s So Heavy). At well over seven minutes, the track feels like it goes on forever. The lyrical subject matter also does the track no favours, with a lovestruck Lennon gushing about his infatuation with Yoko Ono – not exactly a favourite topic amongst Beatles fans (or members, for that matter). Tellingly, the mix session for I Want You ended up being the very last time all of the Beatles were in the studio at the same time.
Overrated: While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Eric Clapton is one of the few contemporaries of The Beatles who came close to rivalling the band’s level of innovation, so a collaborative effort should have yielded transcendent results. Unfortunately, Clapton’s talents aren’t enough to keep While My Guitar Weeps from drowning under the weight of its own hippy sentimentality. George Harrison spends the entire song lamenting all the unrealised love in the world, but the lyrics are so vague that the record just feels like an attempt to cash in on the cultural mood of the day.
Overrated: Tomorrow Never Knows
By the time Revolver came out in 1966, The Beatles had moved past sly allusions to drugs and were flat out trying to recreate psychedelic experiences with their music. Just listening to Tomorrow Never Knows is enough to get a contact high; a droning tambura competes with lyrics lifted from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, overdubbed tape loops, and what for all the world sounds like a squawking chicken. The record’s influence is beyond dispute, with the band’s creative use of sampling paving the way for dance music, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s just not particularly pleasant to listen to.
Underrated: Why Don’t We Do It In The Road
Paul McCartney does his best B.B. King impersonation whilst singing about getting his rocks off in public. What’s not to love? Well, quite a lot to be fair, especially if you’re a fan of The Beatles’ hyper-polished later work – yet it’s a nice call back to the simpler, rowdier sound of their early days. Why Don’t We Do It In The Road is undeniably rough around the edges, but that’s part of its charm, and McCartney’s ode to dogging deserves more love than it gets.
Overrated: Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds
Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds is considered one of the greatest drug songs of all time, an ode to LSD that captures the kaleidoscopic beauty of a trip. Unfortunately for psychonauts everywhere, John Lennon completely refuted the idea that the record had anything to do with drugs, stating that it was instead inspired by his three-year-old son’s drawings. Stripped of its status as a psychedelic anthem, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds reveals its true self: a whimsical but middling Beatles song that doesn’t deserve its place in the pantheon of the band’s greatest hits.
Overrated: Nowhere Man
A song about a man with no direction in life is never going to be a cheerful affair, but the glum vocal delivery of Nowhere Man is as dull as it is depressing. The song deserves some bonus points for marking the start of the bands’ attempts to tackle more abstract philosophical ideas in their lyrics, and it’s almost saved by a catchy chorus, but unfortunately it keeps coming back to the same plaintive, descending melody. The oddly lacklustre guitar solo – which was played by both McCartney and Lennon – doesn’t do enough to inject some much needed energy into the record.
Overrated: Eight Days a Week
Eight Days a Week starts promisingly, displaying the infectious catchiness that made The Beatles the biggest band in the world. Unfortunately, it then rests on its laurels and basically repeats the same hook over and over, never introducing enough variation to keep things fresh. The repetitiveness of the track is highlighted by the percussion, with Ringo hammering the crash cymbal as if the rest of his drum kit has been stolen.
Overrated: Eleanor Rigby
Eleanor Rigby is often regarded as a watershed moment in The Beatles’ transformation from mainstream pop rockers to experimental, genre-defying musical explorers. Gone are the band’s regular instruments (poor Ringo isn’t even on the record), replaced by a cinematic string arrangement that backs up the admittedly compelling vocals. Eleanor Rigby marked the start of the inexorable slide into abstract psychedelia that culminated with the divisive White Album and ultimately led to the fracturing of the band.
The rare example of an instrumental Beatles track, listening to Flying feels like sitting in on a jam session. It’s fascinating to hear the band just grooving away, without the dense vocal harmonies that normally smother their tracks. After a couple of minutes of guitar, drums, bass, and organ, the track ends with a trippy synth section that’s lightyears ahead of its time.
Overrated: Mother Nature’s Son
Paul McCartney once again writes a musical sedative, this time inspired by a lecture given by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. None of the other Beatles even appear on this tune, which was solely recorded by McCartney and arranged by George Martin. Perhaps if some of the other band members had been involved they would have added some much needed energy to the record, but alas, they weren’t, and Mother Nature’s Son is a total snooze fest.
Underrated: I’ll Cry Instead
The Beatles’ early records are often criticised for their overly schmaltzy tone, with the lyrics mostly coming off like they were written by a lovelorn teenager. However, I’ll Cry Instead offered a glimpse into the darker side of John Lennon that would be fully explored in the band’s later work. The lyrics are surprisingly ominous with Lennon, reeling from a heartbreak, threatening to break the hearts of girls all around the world.
Overrated: She Loves You
The Beatles’ highest-selling UK record and the song that’s credited with kickstarting Beatlemania, She Loves You might have sounded fresh at the time of its release, but compared to what the band would go on to produce it sounds amateur. The lyrics are almost childish in their simplicity, and the instrumentation doesn’t give any hint of the creativity that was to come. Even though the track earned The Beatles such a loyal following that they were later able to indulge their more experimental urges without alienating their fanbase, She Loves You sadly belongs in the ‘overrated’ pile.
Overrated: Here, There and Everywhere
Paul McCartney might have taken umbrage at being labelled “the soppy one” in The Beatles, but if you’re going to write cloying ballads like Here, There And Everywhere, such nicknames are unfortunately unavoidable. At the start of their career The Beatles seemed incapable of writing anything other than sentimental love songs, and it feels like McCartney was intent on dragging the band back to those days with this sickly sweet track on 1966 album Revolver.
Overrated: She’s Leaving Home
As their career progressed, The Beatles began to tackle more socially conscious themes in their music. Whilst the intentions were undeniably admirable, sadly the music got a lot less fun. She’s Leaving Home tells the real life story of Melanie Coe, a girl who ran away with her boyfriend, got pregnant, and had an abortion. The end result – which alternates between the perspective of Coe and her heartbroken parents – is about as cheerful as you’d expect. George Martin was also deeply offended that Paul McCartney hired another arranger for the track.
Underrated: Got to Get You Into My life
Described by McCartney as “an ode to pot,” Got To Get You Into My Life proves that The Beatles were capable of pushing sonic boundaries whilst still retaining the simple magic that made their earlier work so irresistible. The song is carried by a bass line and drum groove that tightly mirror each other, providing a solid foundation that the band builds on with a horn section – the first time The Beatles’ had made use of brass. Fortunately, the band realised they were onto a winning formula with the simple instrumentation and catchy vocals and resisted the temptation to reach for the more experimental techniques they were growing fond of.
Although they come from completely different eras, it’s hard not to compare Loser to Radiohead’s Creep. Unfortunately for Lennon and co, Loser comes up short. While Creep leans into its subject matter, enlisting haunting melodies and dissonant harmonies to craft a palpable atmosphere of angst, Loser tries to keep things musically cheerful. The result is tonal whiplash and a missed opportunity for The Beatles to explore darker sonic territory.
Underrated: You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)
As The Beatles became more formally experimental, they began fusing different genres into new, interesting combinations. In the case of You Know My Name (Look Up The Number), blues, samba, and music hall are enthusiastically smashed together into a delightfully bizarre, laid back toe-tapper. It doesn’t completely work, and the vocals are weirdly shouty, but it’s unique even amongst The Beatles’ eclectic catalogue and the effort deserves praise, even if the execution falls short of perfect.
Overrated: Martha My Dear
Martha My Dear could have been great, if only it had managed to stay focussed. The track opens with a catchy piano section, with some beautifully harmonised vocals and strings soon entering the mix. Unfortunately, the catchy simplicity doesn’t last long, and the band – who by this point had stopped caring if their music worked live – can’t resist throwing in a horn section that transforms the track’s breakdown into something you’d expect to hear in a military parade. Kind of antithetical to the hippy ideals that the band had come to epitomise.
Overrated: You Won’t See Me
It might come from The Beatles’ golden era, but You Won’t See Me doesn’t stack up against the other tracks on Rubber Soul. The record – by Paul McCartney’s own admission – draws heavily on the music of Motown bass player James Jamerson, and compared to the more innovative tracks on Rubber Soul it feels uninventive. The track chronicles the turbulent relationship between McCartney and Jane Asher, pulling the band back into love song territory at a time when they were starting to explore loftier ideas in their lyrics.
Underrated: The Word
Whilst it doesn’t show off the level of harmonic virtuosity that The Beatles would become famous for, the syncopated rhythms in The Word make the record an undeniable head bopper. Ringo shines here, delivering a tight kick drum and rimshot groove that perfectly compliments George Harrison’s offbeat guitar stabs. The uplifting lyrics add the finishing touches, making The Word one of The Beatle’s most infectiously exuberant records.
Overrated: I’m Down
As their careers progressed, The Beatles distanced themselves musically from the more driving rock’n’roll that influenced them in their youth. However, it took a couple of albums for the band to find their sound, and a lot of their early work sounds undeniably derivative when compared to their later material. I’m Down is a quintessential example of this, lacking the sonic creativity that would come to define the band and featuring abrasive vocals that sound more like Chucky Berry than The Beatles.
Overrated: Yellow Submarine
Yellow Submarine, the animated film that The Beatles released in 1968, has been credited by Pixar cofounder John Lasseter with proving that animation could be a serious art form. However, when listened to on its own, the film’s theme song is arguably amongst The Beatles’ worst records. It’s about as musically interesting and repetitive as a nursery rhyme, and childish in a way that lacks charm. The song is almost made interesting by the theory that the lyrics are a sly reference to pentobarbital – an oft abused sedative that comes in yellow capsules – but this has been thoroughly refuted by the band.
Overrated: Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!
After a few bars of weird folksy organ melodies, Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite! immediately launches into a stilted groove layered with uncomfortable amounts of dissonance, making it hard to listen to from the off. However, it’s the middle section of the track where things get truly unpleasant. In their attempts to recreate the vibe of a carnival, the band randomly spliced together recordings of fairground organs and calliopes, and it’s… a lot. Whilst the record deserves some points for its ambitious creativity, the the resultant sensory assault is redolent of a haunted house at a children’s amusement park.
Overrated: She Said She Said
With its refusal to commit to a time signature, rapidly cycling melodies, and maddeningly nonsensical lyrics, She Said She Said feels contrarian for the sake of it. The song is heralded as the forefather of acid rock, but it doesn’t even sound particularly psychedelic. Rather, it feels as though the band were trying to show off how far they’d come musically.
Underrated: Norwegian Wood
George Harrison’s interest in Eastern spiritual traditions inspired him to incorporate elements from Indian music – most notably the sitar – into The Beatles’ sound. The band’s first track to feature the stringed instrument was Norwegian Wood, the second track on their 1965 album Rubber Soul, and it proved that Harrison was on to something. The sitar weaves gracefully around the acoustic guitars, cutting through the rich harmonies that the band had by that point perfected, and making Norwegian Wood one of the most sonically interesting records on the entire album.
Birthday was apparently written and recorded during a single studio session after Lennon came up with a catchy riff. Whilst the riff is undeniably catchy, it simply isn’t enough to save the record from the worst chorus in The Beatles’ entire discography. The lyrics are a particular low point: “you say it’s your birthday, it’s my birthday too, I’m glad it’s your birthday, happy birthday to you.” Definitely not The Beatles at their most inspired.
Overrated: Let It Be
Let It Be is like that insufferable guy who brings his guitar on camping trips and sits playing by the fire, eyes closed, making sure everyone can see how moved he is by his own music. In other words it’s smug, self indulgent, and nowhere near as interesting as it thinks it is. Despite being one of The Beatles’ most iconic records, Let It Be is actually a pretty poor representation of the band’s true capabilities, and definitely needs to be bumped from the top of every Best of The Beatles playlist.
Overrated: Hello, Goodbye
By 1967, The Beatles’ were in uncharted musical territory, with every release seemingly reinventing what was sonically possible. Then they released Hello, Goodbye. Compared to the other music that the band was making at that time, Hello, Goodbye is pedestrian, dreary, and lacking in creativity. John Lennon apparently shared this assessment, labelling it “inconsequential,” but Paul McCartney – who wrote the record – insisted that it be released.
Underrated: I Saw Her Standing There
Whilst The Beatles aren’t particularly known for guitar licks, I Saw Her Standing There proved that George Harrison could shred with the best of them. The song was written by Paul McCartney, who wanted it to resonate with the band’s fan base, which at that time was largely comprised of teenage girls. I Saw Her Standing There draws heavily on the rock’n’roll that influenced The Beatles at the start of their career, whilst also featuring some of the unique vocal harmonisation that would become the band’s signature.
Underrated: Don’t Bother Me
George Harrison didn’t have many kind words for the first track he ever wrote for The Beatles, stating “I don’t think it’s a very good song,” followed by “actually, it might not even be a song at all.” Whilst Don’t Bother Me isn’t necessarily a Beatles classic, it’s still a slice of surf rock delight that sounds like Californian sunshine. All the more impressive considering it was recorded in decidedly un-sunny London.
Underrated: One After 909
As The Beatles began eschewing simple rock instrumentation in favour of orchestras and synth lines, the tempo of their music began to fall, with many of their later records feelings more meditative than exhilarating. However, One After 909, which was released on Let It Be, the band’s final album, proved that The Beatles’ were still capable of laying down some good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. Sounding like a throwback to simpler times, the record is catchy, fun, and undeniably enjoyable.
Overrated: With A Little Help From My Friends
With A Little Help From My Friends is, quite simply, sad. One of the few tracks with Ringo singing lead vocals, the song is essentially a thank you note from the beleaguered drummer to his bandmates for bringing him along with them. What makes this all the more painful is that John Lennon and Paul McCartney actually wrote the song for Ringo. The whole ordeal just feels cruel, and not at all in keeping with The Beatles’ message of love and acceptance.
Underrated: You Never Give Me Your Money
Much like Only A Northern Song, You Never Give Me Your Money showcases The Beatles’ dissatisfaction with the state of their business arrangements. Faced with the prospect of the band losing their shares in their own songs, Paul McCartney aimed this record at Allen Klein, The Beatles’ manager. It’s delightfully confrontational, and musically exhilarating too, showcasing some of Lennon’s finest guitar playing.
Overrated: For No One
Paul McCartney allegedly penned For No One while he was in the toilet and, frankly, that’s where the record belongs. Lamenting the imminent collapse of his relationship with Jane Asher, McCartney whines for a solid two minutes over a tediously repetitive clavichord line. The bizarre French horn solo at the end of the track comes out of nowhere and doesn’t work at all with the dismal content of the lyrics.
Underrated: Good Day Sunshine
Often regarded as a low point on Revolver, Good Day Sunshine gets more hate than it deserves. Inspired by The Lovin’ Spoonful, some of the record’s cheesier melodic sections might elicit a few eye rolls, but it’s also a burst of much needed optimism amongst Lennon’s meditations on loneliness and existential angst. The track delights in its simplicity, eschewing the grandiose experimental techniques that sometimes overshadowed the catchiness at the heart of The Beatles’ music.
Overrated – Rocky Racoon
The White Album might be The Beatles at their most ambitious, but it still contains some questionable tracks. Rocky Racoon sees the band make the baffling decision to try their hands at country music, with McCartney affecting a cringeworthy cowboy accent and Harrison doing his best to deliver a honky-tonk piano performance whilst Lennon turns in a shrill harmonica performance. The band later claimed that the song was a pastiche, but it doesn’t feel intentionally silly enough to deserve that title, making the claim seem more like damage control.
Underrated: Long, Long, Long
Paul may have been the most celebrated balladeer of The Beatles, but George Harrison proved himself a dab hand at love songs too – and his tended to come off a lot more heartfelt, and a lot less sentimental. While Harrison’s most celebrated ballad is undoubtedly Something, his White Album track Long, Long, Long is also a belter. A simple yet hauntingly poignant declaration of love (although as with many Harrison songs, it’s really about God rather than a woman), it was performed as a Lennon-free trio with George on guitar, Ringo on drums and Paul on organ.
Underrated: You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
As the soundtrack to perhaps the silliest film The Beatles made, 1965’s Help! is sometimes dismissed as one of the least interesting and personal effort from the band’s back catalogue. However, Lennon’s You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away is one of the most moving songs the band ever recorded. The lyrics, in particular the refrain of the title, are very much open to interpretation (some say John was talking about being told to keep his marriage to Cynthia a secret, others say it was about their manager Brian Epstein being forced to hide his homosexuality), but this is part of what makes it one of the band’s more compelling recordings, and there’s no mistaking the raw emotion on show.