In 1965, the Beatles not only managed to reach even greater heights of stardom, they also improved vastly as a group. They completed yet another film, this one in color, released 3 #1 singles in the U.K. (with 5 in the U.S.!), and also managed to record two full albums, each one arguably better than anything else they had released up to that point. As a part of those projects, Paul McCartney recorded Yesterday, the first Beatles song to feature only one Beatle, and it went on to become the most recorded song in history. To top it all off, the group received MBEs from the Queen, an honor that sparked protests from many who felt the Beatles weren’t worthy.
On a personal level, the Beatles were going through many changes. Their introduction to marijuana, and tendency to smoke lots and lots of it, had an effect on their attitudes, creativity, and musical style. Less and less content to be cuddly mop tops, the Beatles also began to let their own personalities shine, from John writing more introspective, Dylan-inspired material, to George showing his first inklings of interest in Indian music, to the band’s creeping preference for bright and less formal clothing. As a year, 1965 was not just their best yet — it was one of their most brilliant and inspired, period.
1. We Can Work It Out
For the second week in a row, the list starts out with a bona fide McCartney pop classic. It’s simply one of the catchiest songs the Beatles ever managed to produce. The contrast between the jubilant tempo of Paul’s optimistic verses and John’s slower, reflective middle eight is one of the most ingenious moves the Lennon/McCartney team ever made. All vocals are note perfect and could not be improved if you tried. And the harmonium is a beautiful touch.
2. Ticket to Ride
Gorgeous lead vocal and harmony, legendary drums, brilliant guitar work, and expert writing. When it comes to Ticket to Ride, there’s so much to compliment that what is there really to say? John always called this track the “first heavy metal song” — I’m going to have to say that I’m incredibly skeptical of that on numerous counts, but there is no doubt in my mind that it was a great turning point for the Beatles as writers and musicians.
I normally choose the videos I post based on the best sound quality. But while I could have found better audio, I just absolutely adore this Top of the Pops appearance, their “being a Beatle is so boring” demeanor, and bad lip syncing. Also, John’s haircut is epically hot.
3. Day Tripper
Released as a double A-side with We Can Work It Out, in a pairing that was inconceivable to see topped until Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane knocked the world flat, this drug inspired track couldn’t get any cooler. The double lead vocal and three-part harmony of the chorus are as sweet as it gets. And who cares that the the guitar and bass lines are repetitive when they’re that good? Ringo sure as hell isn’t phoning his part in, either. The Beatles were astounding when they got ambitious, but frequently just as genius when they kept it simple. Day Tripper most certainly lives on as proof.
Be sure to check out this rarely seen video — I thought I’d seen them all, but just came across this one for the first time today.
4. In My Life
Through to the end of his life, despite disputes with Paul about the authorship, John felt In My Life to be one of his greatest songwriting achievements. He wasn’t wrong. In My Life is one of the most beautiful, most touching, most immortal Beatles songs out there. And it comes from one of the Beatles’ finest overall efforts, Rubber Soul. From the lyrics to the harmonies, to George Martin’s sped-up solo, it’s a masterpiece.
5. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
It’s likely clear by now that I think of 1965 as a John year. The man was on fire, and at one of his many creative peaks. As for Norwegian Wood, the song is an absolute milestone. A sly, somewhat surreal, and yet disturbing narrative about an affair, the song features the Beatles’ first use of sitar on any one of their tracks. And for someone who hardly knew what he was doing with the instrument, the way that George’s playing perfectly compliments and just about makes the song is astounding. Paul’s backing vocals are also as rich and sweet as honey.
Bonus Track: Help!
John famously referred to this song as the first “real” song he ever wrote. He felt that way because it was a song about something that actually mattered to him — his own feelings. 1965 was a magnificent year for John musically, but not so much personally, as the fame and pressure of being a Beatle got to him.
As for the song itself, it’s far more than the simple movie title pop song it began life as. The track is deceptive in its complexity, with Ringo’s drum fills and George’s guitar work being particularly notable. But the song’s true highlight is the gorgeous, clever, and perfectly executed harmony structure.
And now it’s your turn. Go ahead and yell at me for leaving off Yesterday (my husband already did), or any other song you feel was inexcusably slighted — hell, after limiting myself to a mere 5 songs for a year as stellar as 1965, I’m having a hard time not yelling at me. Also missing from my picks are classics like Drive My Car, I’m Down, Nowhere Man, and You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away. View a full list of Beatles songs by year here, and let me know which ones you would have included.