Top 5 Beatles Love Songs

by Cara on March 7, 2009

in fun, Gratuitous Beatles Blogging, pop culture

Though I did manage to miss my perfect opportunity to do this list on Valentine’s Day, it’s a list that can nevertheless go ignored.  The Beatles were masters of love songs — and until Revolver threw that model out, a vast majority of the songs the band wrote were indeed about nothing else.  In fact, I often see it noted very importantly that Nowhere Man was the first Beatles song to deal with something other than love and romantic relationships.  This is wrong, of course — Help! was about neither, and though the error is far more forgivable, neither is Yesterday — but I think it still says something about how big a part of the Beatles’ career love songs were.  Love songs were their bread and butter.

Though, of course unlike literal bread and butter, the love songs only improved with time.

They became deeper, more real and easier to relate to. Though the Beatles certainly knew their way around a love song in the early days with All My Loving, This Boy, And I Love Her, Can’t Buy Me Love and so on, the songs on this list tend to come from their mid-to-late periods.  And that’s because as time went on, they not only honed the craft of songwriting, but also matured personally.  They had largely found love in their real lives, and therefore finally knew and understood that of which they were singing — and in crafting a good love song, that makes all the difference.

1. In My Life

There are few more beautiful and impeccable songs in the world, period, than In My Life. It is one of those rare recording that can be accurately described as “perfect,” and the melody and vocals alone are breathtaking enough.

But we’re talking about love songs here. And what more could a person long to hear from their beloved, especially after they finish telling you all about how dearly they’ve loved so many people throughout their life, than “of all these friends and lovers/there is no one who compares with you”? Except perhaps “though I know I”ll never lose affection/for people and things that went before . . . in my life, I love you more.”

I think that most, though certainly not all, of those of us who have truly loved someone in life can relate to those words. Indeed, I just found myself getting quite teary typing them out.

As a side note, my younger brother, a budding musician and much lesser Beatles fan, performed this song for my wedding reception. (Right before he and his asshole friend surprised us by performing Why Don’t We Do It In The Road? No, I’m not kidding. It was a good rendition, though.)

2. Something

What can I say about this song, other than that it would have been number one if George hadn’t possessed enough stupidity to honestly answer the question of whether or not his love would grow?  (And the fact that George Harrison, a prolific adulterer in his first marriage at least, was clearly lying to Pattie with his assertion that he don’t need no other lover; but that’s neither here nor there.)

With the exception of that minor slip up, it’s one of the best songs that George Harrison ever wrote, and one of the most beautiful and memorable love songs out there. It’s a wonderful and vivid lyric, and the vagueness of the imagery, often a hindrance, is actually what makes it perfect. Not only can all of us relate to there being “something” about the one we love, but most of the time we ourselves can’t quite put our finger on what exactly that “something” that makes us so drawn to them is. Love is funny and often mysterious and unknowable like that. This song captures it.

3. Two of Us

Surely, someone is going to have my head for putting this song above the song I placed at #4.  I’m aware of this.  But I don’t care.  And I’ll tell you why.  It’s because that song below, it’s abstract.  “Here’s some totally generic things I love about you — oh, and I want to be with you forever.”  Great.  The thing is, it says all the right things, but while saying very little.

Two of Us is a different creation all together.  It’s more mature, and it sure as hell gets specific.  You and me sending postcards, writing letters, on my wallYou and me burning matches, lifting latches?  Those things don’t apply to a lot of our romantic relationships — but something about the specificity is completely endearing, and it plays tricks with your mind.  It gets you to mentally insert your own romantic narrative in the place of those words.  You know exactly what they mean, and the kinds of mundane yet utterly priceless experiences they’re referring to.  The specific ones mentioned don’t need to be your own, because all of us in happy relationships have our own already.

Some may say that this song should be disqualified from contention, due to the fact that despite Paul’s repeated claims that it was written for Linda, all of us with with any independent thought process on the matter know without a doubt that it’s about John.  I’m not even going to bother spinning it all out here — I mean, just come on now.

I say that anyone who thinks that’s a disqualifying characteristic is entirely short-sighted.  Just because Paul and John’s relationship was platonic doesn’t make it any less loving, intimate or profound.  It was a relationship that did matter, and mattered a great deal for many years.  And this is a love song.  Only written to his friend instead of his lover. The fact that Paul wrote it for is old friend, though he can’t admit it, to me makes it only all that more touching and beautiful.  And it’s already an incredibly beautiful and touching song.

In light of the above, the other potentially disqualifying characteristic (and also the characteristic that let’s us know without a doubt that my interpretation of the song’s meaning is correct), the line “you and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead,” in my view only makes the song that much sweeter. Bittersweet, certainly. But also just sweet. Heartbreakingly sweet, that someone who you know won’t be in your life much longer, and who you still love so dearly, has also still inspired you to write such a lovely song as a record of what you’ve shared.

And while we’re keeping track of songs that featured prominently at my wedding? This is the song that my husband and I walked back down the aisle to after immediately being pronounced officially married.

4. Here, There and Everywhere

Let’s be upfront here and get you being pissed off at me out of the way. I have something of a beef with this song. First of all, I think that Paul can do better.  Seriously, I mean that.  But secondly, and more importantly, this song is just a massive, massive Beach Boys rip off. And though God Only Knows hadn’t yet been released when Here, There and Everywhere was recorded, well. Let’s just say that whenever I hear the former, I invariably think of the latter, even though I wouldn’t exactly call myself a Beach Boys fan.

But! That being said, and getting the hate out of the way. It is a lovely vocal by Paul, even though it’s performed out of his range. And the song is incredibly memorable and sticks in your mind.  Though I disagree with him, I suppose that it was one of John’s favorite Paul songs for a reason.

Most relevantly, on the level of which we are currently judging these songs, it is undeniable in its power as a love song. Yes, it lacks specificity. And yes, I think that makes it not as good as Two of Us. But it is universal. And it’s pretty, adoring and acceptably sappy.  And it’s written by skillful hand of Paul McCartney.  For that, it deserves to be on any list of great love songs.

5. Don’t Let Me Down

Not your standard love song, no. Much more of a rock song, in fact. But the anguished nature of it is what makes it so moving.

Alternating between supreme confidence in the relationship (I’m in love for the first time/don’t you know it’s gonna last), to wonder at the powers of love (nobody every loved me like she does/oh she does/yeah she does) and the desperate and genuine plea being expressed in the title line, John takes us on a roller coaster ride along with him in his assessment of his new found relationship with wife Yoko Ono. John was saying, as Paul McCartney also once noted “I’m really stepping out of line on this one. I’m really just letting my vulnerability be seen, so you must not let me down.”

And he meant it. John was afraid of vulnerability his entire life, and had never before been so vulnerable in a relationship with a woman, by daring to treat her as an equal, not to mention risking his reputation to be with a woman who the public hated.

Haven’t we all felt like this at one time or another? “Oh shit, I’ve really put a lot of faith into this relationship — I really hope that he/she doesn’t let me down”? I know that I have. Of course, sadly, too often the person in question really does let us down, betrays us, and/or turns out to be something other than what we thought. But the desire to not be let down comes from deep emotional investment all the same. It comes from love. And when the loved person in question doesn’t let us down? That’s a beautiful thing indeed.

And the honorable mention goes to . . .

6. I Want to Hold Your Hand

I Want to Hold Your Hand is a great song on many levels. But it’s not quite a song about love, is it? No, I Want to Hold Your Hand is about infatuation, intrigue, and an innocent brand of lust.

But you can’t get to love without going through infatuation, now can you?  I Want to Hold Your Hand is about that scary, exciting stage where you just might be falling in love, but aren’t quite sure yet.  It’s about testing out the waters, and admitting that you want to be with someone without knowing what’s going to happen.  And if that isn’t how all true love starts, well I’ll be damned.

(Intro to the video by George Martin. Love ya, George!)

Okay, your turn!  What’s your top 5?

Previous installments:

Top 5 Beatles Rock Band Songs
Top 5 John Lennon Vocals
Top 5 Anti-Feminist Beatles Songs
Top 5 George Harrison Songs
Top 5 Paul McCartney Vocals
Top 5 Lennon/McCartney Collaborations

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{ 21 comments }

1 Isabel March 7, 2009 at 11:11 am

Ah, but one of the things that makes “Something” so great to me is the “I don’t know” line of the bridge! You can call it cynicism if you like, but I’ve never (or at least not for a very long time now) been inclined to associate love & permanence. One of the (many) reasons I’m not planning on getting married (and I understand I’m a little weird this way) is because the idea of someone promising to be with me forever doesn’t strike me as romantic or meaningful – you can’t tell the future, not even your own, & one of my biggest relationship fears is being in a situation where it’s time for us to move on but we stay for no other reason than inertia. To me (maybe because I’m a child of divorce, maybe because my first true love was a high school boyfriend I knew wouldn’t want to try to stick it out in college – and I knew, reluctantly, was right about that – or maybe it’s just because of my inability to believe in the permanence or stability of anything) it’s more true to the way I personally experience love (so far at least) to say, well maybe we won’t be right forever, but that doesn’t impact the way I feel about you now. I love that the song acknowledges the uncertainty & potential transience of love because to me it says love is every bit as worth it when it ends (which I wholeheartedly believe).

plus, George is always & forever my favorite Beatle. ha!

I hadn’t heart Two of Us before – but I love it! & also your interpretation! definitely like it better than Here, There, & Everywhere.

2 Isabel March 7, 2009 at 11:21 am

addendum because apparently my first comment wasn’t long enough, dontcha know – I dunno if I’d call it a love song so much as a boyfriend song, if that makes sense, but I’ve always had a soft spot for “Eight Days a Week.” especially since I wrote a paper partially about it (the topic was gender roles in 60s love songs) and got an A. cute & also super catchy! (go on, try to get it out of your head now. listening to something else is cheating).

3 frau sally benz March 7, 2009 at 11:39 am

I haven’t even gotten past the first paragraph b/c of this:

Help! was about neither, and though the error is far more forgivable, neither is Yesterday

I think the point in using Nowhere Man is that there’s no way to mistake it, that song’s not about love. Yesterday explicitly says “why she had to go…” so it’s easy for people to interpret that it has something to do with love.

Help! isn’t explicitly about love, but I think some people consider it about a relationship. It could be about anyone or anything in general, but most people lean towards a relationship helping them out of it.

So yes, my point is that while the intended meaning of the songs, or the state of mind that led to writing those songs had nothing to do with love or relationships, the interpretation of the listeners is what is being used here, I think.

Nowhere Man, like I said… well just going through the lyrics in my head right now, I don’t see how even the sappiest person (or glummiest person) would consider that a song about love or relationships.

And, with that, I shall keep reading past the first paragraph now!

4 frau sally benz March 7, 2009 at 12:03 pm

I love Two of Us! (I think we’ve discussed this before? can’t remember)

I love the memories/road ahead line. I always take it to mean that we don’t know how much longer we’ve got together, but damn it, have we got some great memories to hold on to no matter how long or short that is. It makes me all teary-eyed.

I may catch some heat myself, but I’m not the biggest fan of Here, There and Everywhere. I mean, it’s a great love song, but I wouldn’t even put it in my top 5 I don’t think. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I don’t think it’s particularly memorable. The rest of the songs on the list, once I hear them one time, I’m humming them the rest of the day. But that one… eh.

Not sure what I’d put in its place though. (Sidenote: just googled “Beatles love songs” to make me choose a replacement & the first link is to a Beatles compilation album called Love Songs… Yesterday is track #1 haha. Oh, and you’re 6th link.)

I’ll be back with my replacement. And probably more commentary, but I’ll try to stop myself from taking over the thread.

5 Cara March 7, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Isabel,

See, I come from the more old school of love, where I at least want it to be forever. Otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten married! And maybe that comes from having two parents who have been married over 25 years.

Not that I have anything wrong with your take on it. In fact, I think that since most people in our world don’t interpret love that way, it takes a lot of self-awareness to be able to recognize that about yourself.

I think the fact remains though that even if the bulk of people were like you and experience love as a transitional thing, most people don’t think of it that way. Which makes the Something line honest, yes, but still a poor choice for a love song. In all seriousness, I think that most people who really love that song as a love song just don’t even really hear that line, or ignore it.

Frau Sally Benz,

As I said above, I agree that Yesterday is easy to interpret as a love song, even if it is unimaginative. The fact is, most pop songs are about love, so I’ll give people that. But Help! . . . I’ve just never understood. I mean, I’d argue that if you see a romantic relationship as what’s going to really save you, that’s a rather dangerous thing. And I’d also say that people who do immediately interpret it as a love song are definitely short-sighted and might also be a bit dense. But that’s cause I’m really mean and snobbish like that. Hehe.

As for Here, There and Everywhere . . . I’m glad that I’m not the only person drinking haterade! In fact, I’m shocked. Though I still know that when the Paul posse gets here, they will indeed be very upset.

And #6 already? Yessss.

6 frau sally benz March 7, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Okay… after much deliberation (please don’t hate me or kick me off haha)…

I’m choosing The Long and Winding Road. I just love that song and will never be convinced otherwise.

Also, your Help! analysis made me LOL. I try not to be so harsh. I mean, it’s a nice thought that now you’ve realized you’re not alone in this world and actually need some help. But that help can’t come from just any old person, but from the one person who you love. Or something?? I guess I don’t quite get it either, I just try to stay positive and introduce those people to nicer songs haha

7 Cara March 7, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Haha, yeah, like I said . . . I’m mean and snobbish. And I haven’t even been drinking, geez!

I don’t hate the Long and Winding Road as a song . . . I just hate on Phil Spector for ruining the version that appeared on the original Let It Be album! Though I probably would put the song more in the column of break up songs than love songs . . . which is a whole other list :)

8 Emma March 7, 2009 at 8:21 pm

I adore all your choices. Not necessarily in that order.

I would have had You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
as it’s a personal favourite
also I Need You though it is a bit generic.
I’ve Just Seen a Face too..

I am glad you included I Want to Hold Your Hand
It definetely belongs in the list

Random thing I noticed; none of your Top 5′s had the word “love” in them.

9 Cara March 7, 2009 at 9:04 pm

I *love* I Need You! For real.

And you’re right, none of them do have the word “love” in them! But I’m not sure that a whole lot of Beatles love songs do? Let’s see . . . She Loves You, And I Love Her . . . All My Loving, I guess. I’m unconvinced that You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away is a love song, actually. But hey.

Can I also just say that I am seriously shocked that no one has yet mentioned I Will or Julia? Because I Will was *this close* to making it on the list. I didn’t want to mention them myself and was waiting for other people to bring them up, but apparently that’s not going to work!

10 Emma March 8, 2009 at 2:06 am

I was going to say Julia
but I don’t know if I would class it as a love song exactly..
Since it was written for his mother, it’s a different kind of love song.

11 Elayne Riggs March 8, 2009 at 5:09 am

I’ll echo Sally in her choice of Long and Winding Road, and also add that my personal favorite Beatles love song is probably I Will. The wistfulness of “And if I ever find you / our song will fill the air” gets me every time.

12 Cara March 8, 2009 at 10:41 am

Well Julia was written for his mother and Yoko (who he was just starting to form a relationship with, and whose name means “child of the sea”). Which is what makes it weird, and what disqualified it from my contention. Ha.

13 frau sally benz March 8, 2009 at 2:43 pm

I considered choosing I Will instead of The Long and Winding Road and now I’m back on the fence… hmm…

I suppose if I do dump it into the break-up song category, then that makes my decision easier hehehe. Okay, yes, I’m all about making things easier, so please ignore my earlier comment and plug in I Will instead.

*phew* I know you were all losing sleep about my decision and all. Rest easy, little ones.

14 layla March 10, 2009 at 11:27 am

Julia, definitely. I don’t care who he wrote that about. It’s too beautiful – the lyrics and the music. And John’s singing of course. Because is on the same vein. Both are about love – but also love of nature. And it’s too beautiful, it’s etheral. Cara, Maybe you should do a 5 top beatle nature songs?
“Long Long Long” – ha! I am the first to mention this darkly beautiful love song. I love the longing in that. Plus – it’s a George song.
I agree about “Two Of Us”. In a way, this is Paul’s In My Life. He can write meaningful lyrics when he wants to. This song also makes you cherish and miss your youth, no matter what age you are. “Hear there and Everywhere” – I liked it more before. It has a nice melody, but I prefer other compositions by Paul. The one part that I like is “running my hand through her hair , both of us thinking how good it can be , someone is speaking but she doesn’t know he’s there”. It’s like a capsule or a photograph of this particular moment and feeling. “I will” didn’t leave much impact on me.
Something – when I was younger, so much younger than today I also found the “will my love grow – I don’t know, I don’t know” a bit weird. He actually doesn’t know twice! And stick around and it may show? Maybe not? But now , I don’t think it’s awkward or disrespectful – this is exactly what I would like to hear or say. How can you tell? It’s blissfully honest, I like and respect it. In fact, I would freak out if somebody told me that he would love me forever. I prefer todays, this moment, over tomorrows. Besides, all things must pass. I am with Isabel on that.
And how about “If I fell”? It’s like the follow-up to “I want to hold your hand”
On a personal note, this is my first post. I’ve been enjoying your posts for a while. A beatle-crazed feminist, yey!

15 Meowser March 11, 2009 at 3:11 am

In the mid-1960s, the Beatles and Beach Boys (and the Beatles and Dylan too) goaded each other to greater and greater artistic heights. (Dylan was probably an influence on Brian Wilson’s work from Pet Sounds onward, too, maybe even before that in songs like “In My Room,” although I didn’t see the influence working in reverse.)

The trigger for Brian Wilson stopping the production of Smile was his hearing Sgt. Pepper and feeling like he could never top it, so why bother. (Although once he resurrected it almost 30 years later, it’s easy to see that Smile would have been perfectly mindblowing in 1967. And you could argue that Sgt. Pepper wouldn’t have been Sgt. Pepper without Wilson’s innovations in the studio.)

Anyway, I can’t much argue with your song choices. Although the German version of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (on Something New, which I think they’re finally putting out on CD) is a special kind of gas for me. And if there was a #7, I’d pick “We Can Work It Out,” although I suppose you could pick thirty “best love songs” from this group if you tried.

16 hlynn April 9, 2009 at 11:25 pm

I think there just needs to be a post about how In My Life is one of the best songs ever written. And Something is so completely honest about what it means to actually be in a relationship.

17 Julia May 5, 2009 at 12:27 pm

I am the Walrus!

18 Amanda December 5, 2009 at 2:05 am

I Wanna Hold Your Hand is about so much more than just infatuation or intrigue. it’s about loving someone so much more than just for sex its being able to be with someone and feel happy holding hands. “And when I touch you i feel happy, inside. It’s such a feeling
That my love, I can’t hide” It’s not about sex or money or secrity. It’s the thrill of the most innocent of touches. It’s something that noone understands but the two people who know that they’re in love just by holding hands. This is one of the greatest love songs ever written. to say it’s just a song about infatuation is not giving the song an ounce of respect.

19 dawnie February 8, 2010 at 1:01 am

as a longtime Beatles fan I felt compelled to let you know that the song “The Two of Us’ is written for Linda, Paul’s wife, not John. Paul has not written many, if any, songs for John, just unreal collaberaters, the Beach Boys ripout Here There and Everywhere, well Paul and Linda considered the song “God Only Knows” their ultimate love song, it was “their song” just fyi. Thank you for the awesome collection you put together…………..

20 dawnie February 8, 2010 at 1:13 am

Paulie himself said “I am so happy our songs were about peace, love and understanding”. cool. and so true. I love the beatles where do ya’all talk about them.

21 dawnie February 8, 2010 at 1:16 am

“in my life” was our wedding song.

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