John and Paul wrote virtually all of The Beatles’ songs, but George (and Ringo) had some key contributions as well.
This list was tough to put together. I mean, it was easier than trying to do a list of the 11 Best Movies By Daniel or Billy Baldwin… but it was still tough.
For those less familiar with The Beatles, John Lennon and/or Paul McCartney wrote pretty much every single one of the songs you’ve heard. Every album they’d give George Harrison one, maybe two songs; Ringo Starr wrote only two songs in the band’s entire run.
So I decided to give those two some attention. Here are the 11 best Beatles songs written by either George Harrison or Ringo Starr.
A few quick notes before I get into it. One, it has to be a song they wrote, not necessarily did vocals on. (So With a Little Help From My Friends doesn’t count, because John and Paul wrote that for Ringo to sing.) It also has to be a song that made a Beatles album (meaning songs like Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, which the band toyed around with but never released, are out).
Now… on to the list.
11 | Piggies by George Harrison
This song is fairly divisive; it is invariably compared to the other, more successful animal-themed songs from The White Album (“Blackbird, Rocky Raccoon)… and it can’t really compete. Oh… and it was one of the songs that Charles Manson used as inspiration, so that’s a pretty solid black mark against it as well.
While I don’t think it’s a legendary Beatles song by any means, I think it strikes a solid anti-establishment chord — effective, if not too obvious, satire. And it has such an enjoyably-recognizable and catchy Beatles sound that even if you don’t love it, you find yourself singing along to it.
10 | Don’t Pass Me By by Ringo Starr
This was the first of the two Ringo songs that made a Beatles album. This appeared on The White Album and while, like Piggies, it isn’t a classic (or even particularly well-known)… it’s actually pretty good. It’s not going to set the world on fire, but it’s a fine fit into the anthology of the Beatles.
To draw a comparison that no one’s ever made before — between the Beatles and Paris Hilton — I want to go back to the list I did last December of the 11 Most Embarrassing Songs of the 2000s. In describing Paris Hilton’s minor hit song Stars Are Blind, I wrote:
It’s not bad. In fact… it’s alright. If you heard it and didn’t know it was Paris Hilton — thereby giving you an instant, insurmountable bias — you would chalk it up as another pretty decent but somewhat forgettable Top 40 song.
I think that same effect is at play here. I think this song gets knocked down a few notches in people’s eyes because it’s by Ringo… the only Beatle who’s not regularly referred to as a genius. (Although he IS the one that a young Marge Bouvier painted dozens of portraits of, so he’s got that.)
9 | Think For Yourself by George Harrison
This song is off the Rubber Soul album and is from the sweet spot after George Harrison started feeling Bob Dylan’s influence… but before he completely bought in to Ravi Shankar. (More on my sitar views forthcoming. Let’s just say the powerful pro-sitar lobby is going to want to have some words with me.)
Anyway, the product of Harrison’s Dylan-influenced songwriting is a mature, evolved sound that people pointed to as one of the signs that the Beatles were growing as musicians. It’s also one of the many, many Harrison songs that people look at and say, “Oh man, was he trying to send Paul and John a message with that title or what?!”
8 | I Me Mine by George Harrison
This song was written during the Beatles’ I-me-mine phase… Lennon had quit before they even recorded it, so it’s just Paul, George and Ringo. Sure, George Harrison gave a Hindu philosophy explanation of what the title and intention of the song are… but come on. It’s abundantly clear what was going on here.
In other words — oh man, was he trying to send Paul and John a message with that title or what?!
7 | Love You To by George Harrison
I don’t like the sitar era. I know it’s a polarizing thing to say, but there it is. To me, having the sitar dominate a Beatles song would be like a Top Chef challenge where they’re all required to use Cheez Whiz. Still, on a list of George and Ringo songs, it would be incomplete not to include a single psychedelic sitar song, and, if given the choice, I prefer Love You To to the next best candidate, Within You Without You.
(I sure hope this doesn’t lead to years of pro-sitar fury in the comments. Two years ago I wrote that Mario Kart: Double Dash was the worst Mario game ever and I still get passionate hate mail on almost a daily basis because of it. I’d probably get even more, but I have an automatic spam filter on e-mails containing the phrase “your made out of fail.” [SIC])
6 | Taxman by George Harrison
One of George Harrison’s most well-known songs… it’s the upbeat, poppy sound of social unrest! I think this one has been drilled into everyone’s heads by its annual mid-April radio play.
Now, sure, I’ve wailed on the rich before for similar sentiments — in this case, the Beatles complaining about being in Britain’s highest tax bracket and, thus, having to pay a ton of money to the government — but the song’s just so damn catchy, all is forgiven!
(See Latrell Sprewell — when you rejected that $21 million contract because you said you had to feed your family, you should’ve done it to the tune of Never Gonna Give You Up — and no one could’ve stayed mad at you.)
5 | Octopus’s Garden by Ringo Starr
Ahh, Ringo’s Ninth Symphony. His sculpture of David. His War and Peace. His Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.
4 | I Need You by George Harrison
Great in its simplicity… and really helps balance the Help! soundtrack A-side, which goes wild with Help!, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away and Ticket To Ride.
Mostly, I like the restraint here. It had been two albums since George had a songwriting credit and, by going more minimalist, he avoided the pinch hitter trap where you swing as hard as you can — either hitting a home run or, more likely, striking out.
By the way — oh man, did his subconscious send Paul and John a message with that title or what?!
3 | Here Comes the Sun by George Harrison
And now, in the top three, we venture squarely into all-time classic territory. Harrison wrote it with Eric Clapton (who falls on to the “good influence on George Harrison” side of the continuum… ya know, at least until Clapton stole Harrison’s wife) as a sign of optimism when things in his life were a mess.
Definitely my favorite “sun”-related song of all time, by the way — miles ahead of Soak Up the Sun, Walkin’ On the Sun and The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow… significantly ahead of Island in the Sun and The House of the Rising Sun… definitively ahead of Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me and You Are the Sun, You Are the Rain… and just past Black Hole Sun and Sunny Days (Sesame Street Theme). (I didn’t factor in Phil Collins with No Son Of Mine because I thought that’d be cheating.)
2 | While My Guitar Gently Weeps by George Harrison
Numbers one and two on this list are separated by almost no margin — if I’d picked this as George Harrison’s best song I doubt I would’ve gotten much of an argument. I think the lyrics are strong, but it’s a guitar song, first and foremost — and Clapton, uncredited, did the guitar solo on the studio version.
It’s also WAY hardcore to play this one a harder level of Beatles: Rock Band. The time I finally nailed all of the notes as the guitar player ranks up there among my most satisfying video game moments (although once I did beat Mario 1 using the NES Advantage joystick with my feet). And, I’ll tell you, the two elementary school kids at Best Buy who witnessed me nailing the guitar part seemed damn impressed, too.
1 | Something by George Harrison
This edged out While My Guitar Gently Weeps because it seems to me to be the apex of George’s time in the Beatles — arguably his best lyrics, melody and vocal performance all coming together on one track.
It was his only number one single in the U.S. as a Beatle… it’s been covered more than 140 times, by everyone from Elvis to Ray Charles to Radiohead… and one of the few songs where he completely refused to let Paul and John do their “traditional Paul and John harmonizing” move, as George sang the harmonies with himself.
Now THAT sends a message.