21 Songs About the Beatles
Countless artists have been inspired by the visionary genius and awesome haircuts of the Beatles. The stats prove it.
In a 2017 article, Quartz narrowed things down to the 25 most influential pop artists using information culled from the online music database AllMusic. They found that not only did the Beatles come out on top, they were also the top group to be cited as an influence over two generations. (In both cases, Bob Dylan was in second place while the Rolling Stones came in third.)
Plenty of music has been written with the Beatles' sound and style in mind, but what about material that cuts right to the chase — songs written literally about the Fab Four?
Several songs were written by the actual members of the band. After all, no one knew the Beatles better than they knew themselves. The four members didn't always directly admit the songs were about their group or bandmates, but cuts that appeared on solo albums offered some insight into the Beatles’ rise and eventual dissolution. And then there are novelty songs about the band written by adoring up-and-coming '60s artists. The below list of 21 Songs About the Beatles rounds them all up.
1. "All Those Years Ago," George Harrison (1981)
Over the years, George Harrison's relationship with John Lennon went from close-knit — like that of an older and younger brother – to fragmented as Harrison's desire to leave the band grew. Still, years later, he paid tribute to their friendship in 1981's "All Those Years Ago," which was released five months after Lennon's assassination. There are references to "All You Need Is Love" and Lennon's "Imagine." "I always looked up to you, now we're left cold and sad," Harrison sings. "You were the one who imagined it all, all those years ago."
2. "Stand Up and Holler" ("All for the Beatles"), Harry Nilsson, (1964)
Several years before Harry Nilsson became famous, he released "All for the Beatles," which was released under the alternate title "Stand Up and Holler" and credited to a pseudonym, Foto-Fi Four. The song features a prominent Bo Diddley beat and was packaged with a film reel of the Beatles from when they first arrived in the U.S. in February 1964. The song didn't chart, but the film and physical single are now coveted collector's items.
3. "Too Many People," Paul and Linda McCartney (1971)
Paul McCartney didn't necessarily set out to write a song about the stressful inner workings of the Beatles, but it came out anyway on "Too Many People," a track from his 1971 album Ram. "It's nothing, it's so harmless really, just little digs," McCartney told Mojo in 2001. "But the first line is about 'too many people preaching practices.' I felt John and Yoko [Ono] were telling everyone what to do. And I felt we didn't need to be told what to do. The whole tenor of the Beatles thing had been, like, to each his own. Freedom. Suddenly it was 'You should do this.'"
4. "Early 1970," Ringo Starr (1973)
There was no mistaking whom "Early 1970" was about: Ringo Starr addressed each of his bandmates in turn. McCartney, who lives on a farm with "plenty of charm," Lennon who lays in bed with his partner beside him and Harrison, the "long-haired, cross-legged guitar picker." (Harrison can be heard on guitar and piano in the song.) "Early 1970" was released as the B-side to Starr's solo single "It Don't Come Easy." The track was a hit, but the B-side is memorable for its clear-cut depiction of each Beatle from one who knew them well.
5. "When We Was Fab," George Harrison (1988)
As the years went on, nostalgia for the group crept into solo music by the men who were once Beatles. Harrison addressed this in "When We Was Fab," which musically references "I Am the Walrus" and notes how difficult it was for the band to keep everything together given "the microscopes that magnified the tears." Electric Light Orchestra's Jeff Lynne helped write and produce the track; Starr added drums and backing vocals. A handful of Beatles references also appeared in the song's video, such as a copy of Lennon's Imagine and a left-handed bass player in a nod to McCartney.
6. "How Do You Sleep?," John Lennon (1971)
Lennon wasn't known for subtlety, a point made clear on Imagine's "How Do You Sleep?" Among other things, he references the popular "Paul is dead" rumor, implying that McCartney had been creatively extinct for some time. Written at what many consider the height of their feud, Lennon takes things a step further. "The only thing you done was yesterday, and since you've gone you're just another day," a nod to McCartney's "Yesterday" and his solo single "Another Day." Lennon later insisted that he didn't intend for the song to come across so harshly. "I wasn’t really feeling that vicious at the time," he told Playboy in 1980. "But I was using my resentment toward Paul to create a song, let’s put it that way."
7. "4th Time Around," Bob Dylan (1966)
The Beatles' relationship with Bob Dylan is still shrouded in mystery. They first met in 1964 and then spent time together in 1965 when Dylan toured the U.K. Dylan formed a close bond with Harrison, playing together in the Traveling Wilburys, but it was Lennon Dylan may have taken inspiration from in "4th Time Around." Many interpreted the Blonde on Blonde song as a response to "Norwegian Wood," given the two tracks' musical and lyrical similarities. In 1968, Lennon admitted the song made him "paranoid" when Dylan first played it for him in London. "He said, 'What do you think?' I said, 'I don’t like it.' I didn’t like it," Lennon told Rolling Stone. "I just didn’t like what I felt I was feeling – I thought it was an out-and-out skit, you know, but it wasn’t. It was great. I mean he wasn’t playing any tricks on me. I was just going through the bit."
8. "Glass Onion," the Beatles (1968)
Even before their breakup, the Beatles weren't above poking fun at themselves. "Glass Onion" included a laundry list of Beatles song references: "Strawberry Fields Forever," "I Am the Walrus," "Lady Madonna," "The Fool on the Hill," "Fixing a Hole." Lennon was aiming for perplexity and chaos. “I threw the line in – 'The walrus was Paul’ – just to confuse everybody a bit more,” he told Playboy in 1980. “It could have been ‘the fox terrier is Paul,’ you know. I mean, it’s just a bit of poetry. It was just thrown in like that.”
9. "Beatles Forever," Electric Light Orchestra (c. 1983)
"Beatles Forever" was never officially released but is worth noting in light of Jeff Lynne's admiration for and relationship with the band. Originally intended for ELO's 1983 album Secret Messages, the song didn't make the final cut when the record was trimmed from a double to single LP. Lynne has said he's not sure about bringing the song back around. "It's just one I'd rather keep in the cupboard," he told Rockline in 2001. "It's 'cause it's so fawning, you know. It's so over the top. ... Maybe one day it'll come out. I'd like to sort of redo it or something."
10. "Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)," Elton John (1982)
Elton John was the last person to share a stage with Lennon. On Thanksgiving Day 1974, the pair appeared at New York's Madison Square Garden to perform a few songs, including their hit collaboration "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night." Eight years later, John released "Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)," written in tribute to his late friend. The song's video featured John performing in front of a building standing in for Lennon's apartment, the site of his killing.
11. "Here Today," Paul McCartney (1982)
Two years after Lennon's death, McCartney wrote about their friendship in the form of an imaginary conversation. "Here Today" specifically references one evening when a hurricane in Florida derailed their concert plans while on their debut U.S. tour in 1964. "I remember drinking way too much, and having one of those talking-to-the-toilet bowl evenings," McCartney recalled to The Guardian in 2004. "It was during that night when we'd all stayed up way too late, and we got so pissed that we ended up crying — about, you know, how wonderful we were, and how much we loved each other, even though we'd never said anything."
12. "We Love You Beatles," the Carefrees (1964)
The Carefrees, a co-ed English group, came together in 1964 for a novelty song about how much they loved the Beatles. (Coincidentally, singer Lynn Cornell was married to Andy White, who played drums on the versions of "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You" from the Beatles' debut album, Please Please Me.) "We Love You Beatles" was the only Beatles novelty song to make the Top 40 - it reached No. 39 - but the group broke up the same year they formed.
13. "I Want to Kiss Ringo Goodbye," Penny Valentine (1965)
Penny Valentine was a British music journalist whose novelty song "I Want to Kiss Ringo Goodbye" was all about a disappointed girl discovering that her favorite Beatle is about to get married. (Starr married his first wife, Maureen Cox, in February 1965.) Valentine would go on to write for publications like Melody Maker, Record Mirror, Sounds and Creem. In 1973, she was hired by Elton John to serve as a press officer for his Rocket record label.
14. "A Letter to the Beatles," the Four Preps (1964)
The Four Preps' "A Letter to the Beatles" appeared at the height of Beatlemania and summed up the feelings of lots of guys back then: "My girl fell in love with a singing group from England far away / She lost her heart, she lost her mind when they began to play." In the song, the girl sends letters to the Beatles and receives a reply requesting a quarter for signed autographs and a dollar more for a fan-club card. "A Letter to the Beatles" made it to No. 85 on the Billboard Hot 100.
15. "Sue Me, Sue You Blues," George Harrison (1973)
"Bring your lawyer and I'll bring mine, get together, and we could have a bad time," Harrison threatened on "Sue Me, Sue You Blues," a reference to the financial problems spurred by the Beatles' breakup. He was specifically talking about McCartney's 1971 lawsuit regarding the handling of the group's Apple Corps. The song was, ironically, recorded at the Apple headquarters in London, and included several guest performers: bassist Klaus Voormann, pianist Nicky Hopkins, drummer Jim Keltner and singer Gary Wright.
16. "Bigger Than the Beatles," Joe Diffie (1995)
Lennon once famously claimed the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, but country singer Joe Diffie took a new approach and wrote a song that noted the Beatles' popularity as he worked in some other big-name bands: "They got a love bigger than the Beatles / Wild and free like a Rolling Stone / They got a love takes 'em higher than the Eagles." Diffie also incorporated a reimagined version of "Hey Jude"'s "na na na na" coda during "Bigger Than the Beatles"' chorus.
17. "Ringo, I Love You," Cher (1964)
Cher's first single, released under the name Bonnie Jo Mason when she was 18, was all about how much she loved the Beatles drummer. Phil Spector co-produced the track during the peak of his success. Still, the song never hit anywhere. It didn't help that some listeners mistook the singer to be a man due to Cher's lower vocal register, and few radio stations picked up on the song.
18. "Ringo for President," the Young World Singers (1964)
In 1964's "Ringo for President," the Young World Singers note the drummer is a model candidate for the position because "his platform will be fair" and "he doesn't talk about war." The song was released during that year's election season, and some dedicated fans went so far as to write in Starr's name as a third-party candidate, never mind his birthright British citizenship that would rule out any chance of election.
19. "Ringo Beat," Ella Fitzgerald (1965)
It wasn't just young kids who took an interest in the Beatles; artists from previous eras were also listening. Once again Starr takes the spotlight in jazz great Ella Fitzgerald's tribute to the drummer's performance style. While "Ringo Beat" wasn't a hit, it showed just how important Starr was to the Beatles' success and his influence on modern pop drumming: "He beat a kind of rhythm, and they clamored for more."
20. "Living in the Material World," George Harrison (1973)
It's no surprise Harrison wrote so many songs following the Beatles' breakup. He was often pushed in the background as Lennon and McCartney got more record time. In the title track to 1973's Living in the Material World, Harrison name-checks his former bandmates, meeting "John and Paul here in the material world," while lamenting the "material world" isn't all it's cracked up to be: "Though we started out quite poor, we got Richie on a tour, got caught up in the material world." Harrison poured more of these feelings into songs like "Run of the Mill," "Wah-Wah" and "Not Guilty."
21. “Randy Scouse Git,” the Monkees (1967)
Sometime in the latter half of the '60s, the Beatles, referred to as "the four kings of EMI" here, threw a party for the Monkees when the American group was in London. Micky Dolenz even met his future wife, Samantha Juste, "the girl in the yellow dress" and "the being known as Wonder Girl." "Randy Scouse Git" recalls the time and reached No. 2 in the U.K. But the song had to be renamed "Alternate Title" in the States, because its U.K. title, borrowed from an episode of British sitcom Till Death Us Do Part, roughly translated to "sex-crazed Liverpudlian jerk."