“Rolling Stone” magazine recently published a “Special Collectors Edition of The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs.” Tapping into that spirit, it might be fun to come up with the Top 10 songs by the former Fab Four members during their very productive post-Beatles years. Here is my list.
10. “What Is Life” – Taken from the number one “All Things Must Pass” album, “What Is Life” became a Top 10 hit for George Harrison in 1971. The track had lush instrumentation, as Harrison expanded beyond the limits of his Beatles days.
9. “Photograph” – It was difficult for Baby Boomers who grew up listening to the Beatles to suddenly hear lyrics like, “As the years go by and we grow old and grey,” as were part of “Photograph,” a number one “Billboard” song from the fall of 1973. But the former Beatles, as solo artists, were now appealing to adult audiences who were seeing their first grey hairs when they looked in the mirror. “Photograph” was Ringo Starr’s first number one hit as a solo artist, and it was co-written by George Harrison, who played guitar on the track and sang harmony vocals.
8. “#9 Dream” – If John Lennon wasn’t a great songwriter, he could have still been an outstanding poet, and this is one of his better efforts when it comes to lyrics. Lines like “Thru the heat whispered trees” stand out. Although this song appropriately made it to number nine on the chart, it wasn’t a radio-friendly record lyrically or musically. If Lennon was trying to prove he was a serious and non-commercial artist, this song probably was one of his prime exhibits.
7. “Maybe I’m Amazed” – This song first appeared on the 1970 album “McCartney.” Not released as a single at that time, a live version of the song was released in 1976 and reached the Top 10 in 1977. Of all of McCartney’s post-Beatles songs, this one has probably gained the most stature over the years. It has become a staple on classic rock stations and it even made the “Rolling Stone” magazine list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
6. “Instant Karma!” – Even before the Beatles formally split up, Lennon released “Instant Karma!” and the song competed with the Beatles “Let It Be” on the chart in early 1970, settling in at number three while “Let It Be” reached number one.
5. “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” – Although John Lennon was the first Beatle to release a solo single, he was the last to hit number one. John generally penned more intellectual and less accessible tunes than his old band mates. But with “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” he returned to the simplicity of early rock and roll with straightforward lyrics, and he was rewarded by topping the charts in 1974. Elton John helped out by playing piano and organ on the record and singing backing vocals.
4. “Silly Love Songs” – “Time” magazine, as stated in “The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits,” described “Silly Love Songs” as “a refined disco tune made for dancing and casual listening.” The song was Paul’s answer to critics, including John Lennon, who thought his music was becoming too “muzak.” “Silly Love Songs” spent five weeks at the chart’s summit and was the number one single for 1976, according to “Billboard.”
3. “My Sweet Lord” – The very first number one song by a former Beatle didn’t come from John Lennon or Paul McCartney, but by George Harrison, the quiet and often overshadowed Beatle. The spiritual song spent four weeks atop the chart at the end of 1970 and the beginning of 1971. A judge later ruled Harrison was guilty of copyright infringement because the song sounded too much like “He’s So Fine” by the Chiffons. However, it was determined Harrison didn’t deliberately plagiarize the song. The ruling didn’t take away from Harrison’s accomplishment because, as he explained in his book, “I Me Mine,” “I still don’t understand how the courts aren’t filled with similar cases, as 99 percent of popular music that can be heard is reminiscent of something or other.”
2. “My Love” – This sentimental and romantic ballad by Paul McCartney was the “song of the summer” for 1973, spending almost the whole month of June at number one before being displaced by Harrison’s “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).” Melodically and lyrically it probably best reminds listeners of “And I Love Her” from the “Hard Day’s Night” movie and soundtrack. Of all the former Beatles, McCartney probably retained the Beatlesque sound more than the other three. By the time “My Love” was released, McCartney wasn’t working on a solo career but had teamed up with his wife and other musicians to form Paul McCartney and Wings.
1. “Imagine” – We don’t live in an idealistic age today and the lyrics to “Imagine” would now be dismissed as corny and unrealistic. But it is precisely these lyrics that make “Imagine” the best song any of the ex-Beatles ever recorded as solo artists. Released in 1971, it is really an extension of the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” and it probably better fits with the “peace and love” vibes of the 1960s. Great artists create alternative worlds and universes, and they pose the difficult questions that defy easy answers. “Imagine there’s no heaven.” “Imagine theres’ no countries.” “Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can. No need for greed or hunger. A brotherhood of man.” This is a vision that can never be attained, but it can be dreamt about. The dreamers of the world should always have a prominent place because they are the ones who lift us up from all the mayhem and madness all around us.
Related article: “A Compilation of Hits from the Beatles Solo Years Would Be a Sure Chart Topper”
“The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, Fifth Edition,” Fred Bronson, Billboard Books, 2003
“The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits,” Joel Whitburn, Billboard Books, 2010
“I Me Mine,” George Harrison, Chronicle Books, 2007
“Imagine,” lyrics taken from “Shaved Fish” LP sleeve, EMI Records, 1975