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.)
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 wall? You 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?