Defining a band or album’s “greatness” quickly become dicey territory in the field of musical journalism. That sort of assessment is subjective at best. That is, of course, with the exception of the Beatles. The Fab Four are undeniably one of, if not the, most important groups in rock and roll history. Each of their records was definitively superb, and outlined the course for all music that followed it. In 1963, John, Paul, Ringo, and George introduced themselves to the world with two exceptional records: ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘With The Beatles.’ This list attempts the impossible – discerning the ‘best’ tracks from those two releases in descending order.
Note that the North American releases of these two albums were entitled ‘Introducing… The Beatles’ and ‘Meet The Beatles.’ They had some different recordings on them. For the sake of purity and coherence, however, the list will only take into account the original two Parlophone releases. Those other two records didn’t hit the west side of the Atlantic until 1964, anyway.)
# 10 -‘Boys’ – Please Please Me
The first two Beatles records had several covers on them, all of which were quite excellent. The band had a remarkable ability to pay homage to their inspirations by reimagining their songs in fantastic ways. The Fab Four would put their own signature spin on the tracks, but they’d also remain respectfully faithful to their original counterparts. Please Please Me, their debut album, was fourteen songs long and contained eight credited to Lennon and McCartney.
Now, this in itself was a revolutionary idea. The Beatles defined the place of a rock band forevermore by having a great deal of the writing happening within the band. It’s very much worth keeping in mind that the vast majority of the Beatles’ influences were performers that had their songs written for them. (Elvis, for example.) The Beatles broke the mold and the standard was never the same.
Regardless, the covers that The Beatles did include on major releases were very much included for a reason. ‘Boys,’ off the first side of ‘Please Please Me,’ is one of them. Several years prior, The Shirelles made an indelible impression on a young Ringo Starr. Thus, he brought one of their tracks, ‘Boys,’ to the table when The Beatles began recording. The result is absolutely infectious. Even with the knowledge of the subsequent catalog of tracks, ‘Boys’ still remains one of Starr’s most exceptional contributions to the group.
Historical sidenote: When listening to The Shirelles’ version of the song, one may notice the saxophone. The Beatles switched it out for a Chuck Berry-esque guitar solo. In a way, this substitution is representative of an overarching musical shift during the early 60s. Also, The Shirelles were one of the leading ‘girl groups.’ The girl groups were of utmost importance to The Beatles, and they derived massive inspiration from them. (Similar to the Rolling Stones and their penchant for Chicago blues.)
# 9 – ‘Love Me Do’ – Please Please Me
‘Love Me Do’ kicked off the second side of Please Please Me with a bluesy harmonica part that John Lennon performed. The harp alone makes the track intensely memorable; it’s instrumental to the song. (No pun intended.) The choruses also exhibit some of the band’s impressive harmonies, a signature sound that The Beatles would grow throughout their career. These early harmonies are akin to the Everly Brothers, a male duo that Lennon and McCartney adored. Girl groups like the Shirelles also played a role in The Beatles’ love for harmonies.
This, of course, means that these songs were perfect sing-along tracks. This would turn into a staple of the early Beatles catalog. Before the band evolved into an experimental rock outfit, they were a pop rock group. (Of course, The Beatles revolutionized that, too. Their ‘pop’ was intelligently written.) Songs like ‘Love Me Do’ were perfect for the crowds that would erupt in hysterics when they’d take the stage.
# 8 – ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ – Single Release
Released in November of 1963, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ landed The Beatles their first number one hit – a track that stayed for over two months in the top Billboard slot. The track is arguably best known for its live interpretation on the Ed Sullivan show the following year in the US, and as such, the track’s legacy is concreted in its transcendent popularity. It brought The Beatles to America with incredible fervor, so much so that the song arguably opened the floodgates for the British Invasion.
There’s a special innocence to ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand.’ It was written for teenagers, and it created an explosive environment when performed live because of that. The Beatles had found their entryway to connect with audiences worldwide. For fans of the track, the ‘1’ film released in 2015 is very much worth delving into it. The video recordings, including the aforementioned Ed Sullivan performance, were painstakingly remastered and restored. It’s the closest you can get to that Ed Sullivan performance fifty two years later.
# 7 – ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ – ‘With The Beatles’
‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ is the final track on ‘With The Beatles,’ making it the last track in The Beatles’ catalog eligible for inclusion on this list. In a certain way, the track is a perfect finale to ‘With The Beatles.’ With each new album, the foursome moved closer toward rock and roll and further experimentation within its pastures. ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ is completely revolutionary in this regard. It’s the ‘hardest’ the band got in 1963. John Lennon is borderline screaming, evoking a young Little Richard or the like.
Alongside Lennon’s mesmerizing yelling and yipping, the track’s instrumentation is equally as sonically intense. The guitars are actually distorted – even crunchy. The piano isn’t soft and complementary; it’s being slammed down hard. (Again, Little Richard is all over this song.) ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ sets up The Beatles perfectly for ‘A Hard Day’s Night.’
# 6 – ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ – ‘Please Please Me’
In contrast to ‘Money,’ ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ is the first song in The Beatles’ catalog eligible for this list. It was the opening to Please Please Me. That means that this song was effectively the first tune that a great many people were introduced to The Beatles with. Thus, let’s set a historical stage to contemplate this musing…
In 1963, you had no Spotify. Teenagers saved up pennies to buy 45s at their local record shop. The ones they bought were often determined by word of mouth from their friends, or by the local area’s radio personality. Hence, music didn’t have a fraction of the accessibility it has today. In any case, youth typically bought 45s because they were cheaper and they were the tracks they heard on the radio. You got two songs, an A side and a B side.
During this time, not a lot of artists produced ‘albums,’ either. Record labels would release ‘best of’ collections, and often just release 45 after 45. It was profitable, and the notion of creating a whole entity across an entire LP wasn’t popular. ‘Please Please Me,’ however, was an album that you didn’t want individual singles of; you wanted the whole record. Each of the songs were ‘single’ material, and all fourteen felt fresh, different, and exciting.
So, imagine you’ve bought ‘Please Please Me,’ a larger, bulkier record than your typical 45. You place it on the family phonograph and switch the speed from “45” to “33.” Then, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ comes on. Lennon is screaming, Harrison is effortlessly maneuvering slick, timeless guitar riffs, and McCartney is singing some of the most spectacular lead vocals you’ve ever heard in your life.
The importance of that moment for the whole world’s music community cannot be understated.
# 5 – ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’ – ‘With The Beatles’
‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’ is another excursion through The Beatles’ unmatchable harmonies. The whole track, which is found on the latter half of ‘With The Beatles,’ is sung by the band with such perfect grace and finesse. There isn’t a missed note. More importantly, the song is just over three minutes long – longer than any other song on either of these two albums. That extra length allowed The Beatles to further explore compositional ideas, like the intriguing instrumental bridge in the middle of the song.
At this point, it’s also worth mentioning one of the most important elements of The Beatles’ sound: Ringo Starr. Yes, he sang ‘Boys’ at the top of this list. More vitally, though, he’s the backbone of each and every one of these tracks. Listen to drums on ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me.’ They’re impeccable. Ringo has never been a flashy drummer. He’s no Keith Moon of The Who. He can keep time unlike any other, though, and even during these early years he was showing off his world class ability to do so.
# 4 – ‘Do You Want To Know A Secret’ – Please Please Me
Despite the aural notion that some of The Beatles’ early records were simple, they were often anything but. ‘Do You Want To Know A Secret’ is a gorgeous example of this. The introduction that Harrison sings is sung and performed in a minor key, reminiscent of perhaps Del Shannon’s sound. After that, the next two stanzas are blurred together, effectively acting as verses and choruses simultaneously. They’re in a major key.
Once the bridge arrives, where Harrison sings “I’ve known the secret for a week or two,” the major key is lifted higher and incorporated with a mixture of minor key chords. Then, it effortlessly sweeps back down to the same key as the first two stanzas. Now, sure, this is all technical jargon for anyone who doesn’t care about the structure of music. It was revolutionary, however, and helped concrete a basis for even more complex compositions in the popular music scene.
# 3 – ‘Twist And Shout’ – Please Please Me
‘Twist And Shout’ is the final song on Please Please Me and it’s another cover. This time, The Fab Four were covering a cover. The song had origins with The Top Notes, but it found its way to the masses with the Isley Brothers. The Beatles rendition more closely resembles the latter’s, and they took the Isley Brother’s arrangement to the next tier.
Similar to ‘Boys,’ The Beatles stripped ‘Twist And Shout’ of its brass instruments. The band approached it as a four piece rock outfit. There’s an argument to be made that this transition was a changing of the guard in popular music. The song makes a powerful statement: The Beatles were here to stay, and they were going to change the way we listened to music forever. (Also, John Lennon’s performance on this song may be his best across both these albums.)
# 2 – ‘All I’ve Got To Do’ – ‘With The Beatles’
‘All I’ve Got To Do,’ like many of these songs, is a journey through Lennon and McCartney penning love songs that aren’t just catchy and fun – they’re poetic and stunningly well written. Throughout the track, the four create a ‘wall of sound.’ (Which of course, was Phil Spector’s signature – a producer the band enjoyed, and ultimately contended with over the production of ‘Let It Be.’) The harmonies fill the sound like an orchestra, which is then accented further by tight performances on behalf of Starr and George Harrison.
The track is also only two minutes long, which made it an ideal radio single at the time. ‘All I’ve Got To Do’ is one of those Beatles songs that a listener can put on loop for a long time and be completely satisfied. It’s such an extraordinary track – one that transcends its short runtime in every way.
# 1 – ‘All My Loving’ – With The Beatles
‘All My Loving’ is, quite simply, quintessential Beatles. It’s not just catchy, it’s the kind of song that embeds itself permanently in your soul. You remember the first time you heard ‘All My Loving.’ It’s a long song for all generations, all ethnicity, all religions – everyone. It exemplifies longing in a way a song has never done since, and Paul McCartney’s performance on the song is one of his finest in The Beatles.
In 2002, Paul McCartney went on a tour that he dubbed the ‘Back In The U.S.’ tour. He released a live album of many of its recordings, and an especially excellent concert film. In that film, he’s performing ‘All My Loving’ thirty nine years after its release. At one point, a camera focuses on a middle-aged man on the verge of tears. He was young when he first heard ‘All My Loving.’ In that moment, in that film, you realize how important this music is. Who knows what that man was thinking of? Maybe it doesn’t matter to any of us because it was a personal moment for him. ‘All My Loving’ brought back those emotions, though, and brought them back nearly four decades later. That’s magic.
Top 10 Beatles Songs 1963 – Staff Picks
Brian Kachejian’s Top 10 picks
# 10 – “Please Please Me” – Please Please Me
# 9 – ” I Wanna Be Your Man” – With the Beatles
# 8 – “There’s A Place” – Please Please Me
# 7 – “All My Loving” – With The Beatles
# 6 – “I’ll Get You” – With The Beatles
# 5 – “She Love’s You” – Non Lp Single
# 4 – “From Me To You” – Non Lp Single
# 3 – “I Saw Her Standing There” – Please Please Me
# 2 – “I Want To Hold Your Hand” – Non Lp Single
# 1 – “It Won’t Be Long” – With The Beatles
Check out our other great Beatles articles:
We have covered every year……
A great article that takes a look at the musical solos performed on the Beatles solos albums.