In 2000 the Beatles released a greatest hits album known simply as 1. The album's aim was simply to collect in one place all the songs that the Beatles had released that had reached Number 1, either in the UK or in the United States. Released on 13 November, 2000, the album's sales were phenomenal. Reportedly 1 became the second best-selling compilation album of all time1. It swiftly attained top spot in the album charts and was also the best selling album of the year, both in the UK and in the USA. It was the top selling album over Christmas on both sides of the Atlantic, and the most bought album worldwide for the decade between 2000-9. The marketing of 1 even influenced Elvis Presley, who posthumously released a similar compilation album, entitled ELV1S, almost exactly two years later in November 20022.
The Red and Blue Albums and 1
On its release, critics were expecting fans to consider the album to simply be an exercise in merchandising. After all, none of the songs on the 1 album were previously unavailable, and indeed all of the tracks had been released on one or the other of their previous Greatest Hits releases, The Beatles 1962-1966, known as 'The Red Album' and The Beatles 1967-1970, commonly called 'The Blue Album'. In comparison to the Red and Blue albums showing the Beatles in identical poses and locations at the beginning and end of their careers, the 1 album's front cover was simply a yellow '1' on a red background. However, 1 benefited from presenting the Beatles' tracks in a higher quality digitally remastered sound than previously available, most previous Beatles' albums having been packaged and assembled in 1987.
The album's leaflet also compares favourably with the previous Greatest Hits albums. Although, unlike the Red and Blue albums, 1 does not list the Beatles' song lyrics, it does show the original front covers of the Beatles' singles that were released around the world, showing how the Beatles were merchandised in different countries. In the UK at least, the singles were released in Parlophone's standard 45rpm green paper sleeves. The information telling when the singles were released in the UK and USA, and how successful they were, is also welcome. The four photographs of the Beatles in negative images on the back of the album and leaflet are highly stylised, but ultimately bizarre and psychedelic, clashing quaintly with the minimalist approach the front of the album adopts.
The Album's Compilation
The album's foreword by George Martin, in the second paragraph, explains simply how the album's tracks were chosen.
This collection of number ones is taken from the most widely circulated charts in the UK (Record Retailer) and the USA (Billboard).
This approach has had a greatly simplifying effect of defining what a Number 1 hit in both the UK and America actually are. When the Beatles began their recording career, there were six National Charts in the UK, and three in America.
In the UK the six National Charts were:
- The BBC chart
- Disc and Music Echo3
- Melody Maker
- New Musical Express
- Record Mirror
- Record Retailer
By the time the Beatles' last UK Single Let It Be was released, only three independent music charts remained: both the BBC and Record Mirror adopted the Record Retailer chart; the Disc and Music Echo now used the New Musical Express Chart; and Melody Maker continued to use its own chart. It is the Record Retailer chart that is adopted by this album.
The American Chart
The American Chart system at the time was simpler; only three National Charts existed. As well as the Billboard Chart that the album uses, there were two other charts in operation throughout the 1960s — Cashbox and Record World. Both these charts record slight variations in how successful some of the Beatles' records were, and what chart positions they achieved.
This table shows a track listing of the songs on the 1 album, as well as how successful the songs were in both the UK and the US on their release.
|'Love Me Do'||#17, Oct 1962||#1, Apr 1964|
|'From Me To You'||#1, May-Jun 1963||Outside top 100, May 1963|
|'She Loves You'4||#1, Sep-Dec 1963||#1, Mar 1964|
|'I Want To Hold Your Hand'||#1, Dec-Jan 19645||#1, Feb-Mar 1964|
|'Can't Buy Me Love'||#1, Apr 1964||#1, Apr-May 1964|
|'A Hard Day's Night'||#1, Jul-Aug 1964||#1, Aug 1964|
|'I Feel Fine'||#1, Dec-Jan 19656||#1, Dec7-Jan 1965|
|'Eight Days A Week'||not a UK Single||#1, Mar 1965|
|'Ticket To Ride'||#1, Apr 1965||#1, May 1965|
|'Help!'||#1, Aug 1965||#1, Sep 1965|
|'Yesterday'||not a UK Single||#1, Oct-Nov 1965|
|'Day Tripper'||#1, Dec 19658||B-side9|
|'We Can Work It Out'||#1, Dec 1965||#1, Jan 1966|
|'Paperback Writer'||#1, Jun 1966||#1, Jun-Jul 1966|
|'Yellow Submarine'10||#1, Aug-Sep 1966||#211|
|'Eleanor Rigby'||#1, Aug-Sep 1966||#2|
|'Penny Lane'12||#213||#1, Mar 1967|
|'All You Need Is Love'||#1, Jul-Aug 1967||#1, Aug 1967|
|'Hello, Goodbye'||#1, Dec-Jan 196814||#1, Jan 1968|
|'Lady Madonna'||#1, Mar-Apr 1968||#415|
|'Hey Jude'||#1, Sep 1968||#1, Sep-Nov 1968|
|'Get Back'||#1, Apr-Jun 1969||#1, May-Jun 1969|
|'The Ballad Of John And Yoko'||#1, Jun-Jul 1969||#8|
|'Something'16||#4||#1, Nov 1969|
|'Come Together'||#4||#1, Nov 1969|
|'Let It Be'||#2||#1, Apr 1970|
|'The Long And Winding Road'||not a UK Single||#1, Jun 1970|
The songs that did significantly poorer in America than the UK after the Beatles had established themselves both had religious references. 'Lady Madonna' referring to the mother of Jesus resulted in poor sales, especially in America's 'Bible Belt'. But this was nothing compared to John's 'The Ballad Of John And Yoko', where the line 'Christ you know it ain't easy, you know how hard it can be, the way things are going they're gonna crucify me' caused outright controversy. Several radio stations in America refused to play the song. This controversy can be glimpsed in John's Imagine film when, at the Lennons' 'Bed In', John was interviewed by American cartoonist Al Capp.
Songs Not On 1
There are three songs that could have appeared on the 1 album, yet do not. The first is 'Please Please Me'. This, the Beatles' second single, is widely quoted as being the Beatles' first UK number one hit. However, although 'Please Please Me' was considered a Number 1 on the BBC, Disc, Melody Maker, New Musical Express and Record Mirror charts, on the Record Retailer chart it was classed as Number 2.
'Twist And Shout' is a song in a similar situation to 'Please Please Me'. In America it was a Number 1 hit in both the Cashbox and Record World Charts. However, it was Number 2 in the Billboard charts. The song was never released as a single in the UK, where the Beatles refused to release their cover versions of other artists' songs as singles. All Beatles' singles released in the UK had been written and composed by the Beatles themselves.
Also missing from the 1 album is 'Strawberry Fields Forever'. Although released as the Double A-side to 'Penny Lane' in the UK (where it got to Number 2 behind Engelbert Humperdinck's 'Release Me'), in America 'Strawberry Fields Forever' was the B-side to 'Penny Lane'.
The Tracks On 1
'Love Me Do'
'Love Me Do' was the Beatles' first single and was written by Paul McCartney back in 1958. It was after the first recording of this song on 4 September, 1962, that the Beatles' first drummer, Pete Best, was asked to leave the Beatles. The Pete Best version of 'Love Me Do' is available on the Anthology 1 album.
On 11 September, 1962, the song was re-recorded, with professional EMI musician Andy White on drums. It was this version, with Andy White and not Ringo Starr on drums, that was released on the Beatles' first album, although Ringo played the drums on the initial release of the single which is available on the Past Masters: Volume 1 album. The way to tell the difference between the two versions is to listen for a tambourine - if a tambourine is present, Andy White is drumming and Ringo simply plays the tambourine.
'Love Me Do' is a very simple song, with most words being only one syllable, and 'Love' repeated 21 times. Although not a national Number 1 hit in the UK, it topped the local Liverpool chart according to Mersey Beat. It is one of only two Beatles' songs whose copyright is owned by MPL17 Communications Ltd, as it and the B-side, 'P.S. I Love You' were released before the Beatles set up Northern Songs in February 1963.
'From Me To You'
'From Me To You' was written by Paul and John in the back of a van as they travelled from York to Shrewsbury on 28 February, 1963. They had been inspired by the letters column in Mersey Beat, entitled 'From You To Us', after discussing a letter claiming that Cliff Richard was more popular than Elvis. John and Paul co-wrote the song by suggesting alternate lines, with John saying:
The first line was mine. And then after that we took it from there... We were just fooling about on the guitar. This went on for a while... Before the journey was over we'd completed the lyric, everything.
The Beatles were apparently initially unsure of this song. John has admitted: 'we nearly didn't record it because we thought it was too bluesey'.
The Beatles recorded it a week later on 5 March, released it on 11 April, and it was Number 1 in the UK for six weeks.
'She Loves You'
'She Loves You' was written in their room in Newcastle's Turks Hotel on 26 June, 1963. Paul suggested that instead of writing a love song about two people - me and you - they remove themselves and write about two others - She loves You.
In the UK it was the best selling single of the 1960s18, getting to Number 1 twice, between September and early October 1963, and again at the end of November to early December. In America it reached Number 1 following on 'I Want To Hold Your Hand''s success. John described the song by saying, 'the woo woo was taken from the Isley Brother's 'Twist And Shout' which we stuck into everything - 'From Me To You', 'She Loves You', everything'.
'I Want To Hold Your Hand'
'I Want To Hold Your Hand' was the song which finally brought them success in America. In John's words:
We wrote a lot of stuff together, one on one, eyeball to eyeball. Like in 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand'[sic], I remember when we got the chord that made the song. We were in Jane Asher's house, downstairs in the cellar playing on the piano at the same time. I turned to him and said: 'That's it! Do that again!'
'Eyeball to eyeball' is a very good description of it. That's exactly how it was. 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' was very co-written.
'Can't Buy Me Love'
Paul wrote 'Can't Buy Me Love' in a hotel room in the George V Hotel, Paris. Wanting to quickly follow up their success in America, they recorded it in the Pathé Marconi Studios in Paris. It was also included in the A Hard Day's Night film, replacing 'I'll Cry Instead' at the last minute, in a delightful sequence where the Beatles escape from a press conference into the outside world. On its release, it leapt straight to Number 1.
'A Hard Day's Night'
I came up with the phrase 'A Hard Day's Night'. It just came out. We went to do a job and we worked all day and then we happened to work all night. I came out, still thinking it was day, and said: 'It's been a hard day...' looked around and saw that it was dark, and added '...'s night'.
The John Lennon song was written, arranged, rehearsed and recorded all within 24 hours on 16 April, 1964. John commented:
I was going home in the car and Dick Lester19 suggested the title... from something Ringo'd said. I had used it in In His Own Write, but it was an off-the-cuff remark by Ringo... A Ringoism, where he said it not to be funny, just said it. So Dick Lester said: 'We are going to use that title' and the next morning I brought in the song.
'I Feel Fine'
The tune of this song was inspired by a guitar riff from Bobby Parker's song 'Watch Your Step'. On 6 October, 1964, John composed a similar riff that was the basis for the song, and has described it as:
I actually wrote 'I Feel Fine' around the riff which is going on in the background. I tried to get that effect into every song on the [Beatles for Sale] LP, but the others wouldn't have it. I told them I'd write a song specifically for the riff so they said: 'Yes, you go ahead and do that', knowing we'd almost finished the album. Anyway, going into the studio one morning I said to Ringo: 'I've got this song but it's lousy', but we tried it, complete with riff, and it sounded like an A-side.
It was so 'lousy' it became a Number 1 hit both sides of the Atlantic and was the UK's 1964 Christmas Number 1. The song is also famous for its revolutionary use of feedback to create a 'catching' sound. John has challenged:
I defy anybody to find a record... that used feedback that way. I claim it for the Beatles. Before Hendrix, before The Who, before anybody. The first feedback on any record.
'Eight Days A Week'
The phrase 'Eight Days A Week' was coined by Paul McCartney's chauffeur20. Paul decided to incorporate this phrase into a song, just as John had adopted Ringo's 'A Hard Day's Night' phrase. Paul has described the process by saying:
Neither [John nor I] had heard that expression before so we had that chauffeur to credit for that. It was like a little blessing from the gods.
'Eight Days A Week' was never released as a single in the UK as it was considered considerably weaker than John's 'I Feel Fine'.
'Ticket To Ride'
One of the highlights of the Help! film is the 'Ticket To Ride' sequence set in the Austrian mountains. John described this song, the first Beatles song to break the three minute barrier, as 'one of the earliest Heavy Metal records made'.
The big debate with this hit song is whether the lyrics are about buying a train ticket21 to the town Ryde on the Isle of Wight. This is exactly the sort of word play that John was fond of at the time between the publication of his books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works.
Both Paul and John knew Ryde on the Isle of Wight very well. In 1960 they spent a holiday hitchhiking to, and staying around, Ryde22. Paul's cousin Elizabeth 'Bett' Robbins and her husband Mike Robbins were the publicans of the Bow Bars in Union Street. Paul's brother Michael McCartney, who later found fame with Scaffold as Mike McGear, had a summer job in 1961 there as a cook.
Paul described it as:
John and I used to hitchhike places together, it was something we did together quite a lot; cementing our friendship... I particularly remember... I'd ask, 'Mike, what was it like when you were on with the Jones Boys?' - a group I knew he'd appeared with... and he'd tell stories of showbiz. He was the only person we had to give us any information. I think for John and I, our show business dreams were formed by this guy and his wife. Mike Robbins has an awful lot to answer for!
Paul and John also spent Monday 8 April, 1963, in Ryde, the day after their performance in the Savoy Ballroom, Southsea - directly across the Solent and five miles north of Ryde, enjoying a much deserved day off. When Paul was asked directly whether the song was about Ryde on the Isle of Wight, Paul replied:
We sat down and wrote it together. I remember talking about Ryde but it was John's [song]. We wrote the melody together.
'Help!' was written by John and Paul in John's house in Kenwood in April 1965. In John's words the song really was a cry for help. 'The song was about me', he admitted. 'I was fat and depressed and I was crying out for help.' He later stated: 'the only true songs I wrote were 'Help!' and 'Strawberry Fields'. They were the ones I really wrote from experience.'
In the film of the same name, the Beatles singing 'Help!' is projected onto a screen while the head of a religious cult throws darts at the Beatles — a wonderful example of the Beatles not taking themselves too seriously.
'Yesterday' was a lyric that Paul McCartney dreamed: 'it was just all there. I couldn't believe it'. Paul was initially worried that he had unconsciously remembered an already existing song, but after interrogating everyone he knew, he finally sat down and recorded a version. On the record, of the Beatles only Paul McCartney performs — the first song released with only one Beatle.
Paul has said: 'in fact, we didn't release 'Yesterday' as a single in England at all, because we were a little embarrassed about it — we were a rock'n'roll band'. Although never released by the Beatles23 as a single in the UK it was released elsewhere, and became a Number 1 in America, Belgium, Finland, Hong Kong and Norway. 'Yesterday' went on to win the Ivor Novello Award for 'Outstanding Song of 1965'.
'Day Tripper' was a song John wrote in the summer of 1965 when the Beatles were beginning to be influenced by LSD24. John described it as 'just a rock'n'roll song' criticising those not fully committed to taking drugs who were, in his words, 'weekend hippies'.
'We Can Work It Out'
Paul wrote 'We Can Work It Out' at his father's house 'Rembrandt' in Heswell, when he hit a difficult patch in his relationship with Jane Asher. She had decided to join the Bristol Old Vic Company to pursue her acting career, moving away from Paul and London. John summarised the song with:
You've got Paul writing 'We Can Work It Out', real optimistic, and me impatient, 'life is very short and there's no time for fussing and fighting my friend'.
Paul's 'Paperback Writer' was the first Beatles single not to be about love. George Harrison has described the song by saying:
The idea of 'Paperback Writer' is Paul's. I think John gave him some of the chords, but it was originally Paul who came up with the storyline.
The song is in the form of a letter from a prospective paperback writer. As the song was written in John's house, John's belongings influenced and became part of the song. John regularly read the newspaper the Daily Mail which the son in the story works for. The mention of 'a novel by a man named Lear' is a reference to Edward Lear, writer of nonsense limericks, who was a source of inspiration to John when John wrote his own nonsense stories for In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works25.
Paul thought of the idea of writing a children's song late at night while lying in bed. He deliberately chose short words so it would be easy for children to pick up and sing along to. Paul described the process:
There's a nice twilight zone just as you're drifting into sleep... I remember thinking that a children's song would be quite a good idea and I thought of images, and the colour yellow came to me, and a submarine came to me...
I knew 'Yellow Submarine' would get connotations, but it really was a children's song".
'Yellow Submarine' was later used as the title and inspiration for a psychedelic cartoon.
The song about an lonely old woman who died is one whose inspiration remains a matter of debate. Paul has stated he got the name from Eleanor Bron, with whom he had acted in the Help! film, and the shop opposite the Theatre Royal, home of the Bristol Old Vic Company that Jane Asher was performing at, which was 'Rigby & Evans Ltd'. However, in the 1980s it was discovered that there was a grave for an 'Eleanor Rigby' in St Peter's Parish Church in Woolton. This was where Paul and John first met, and the gravestone has become a desolate tourist attraction. When asked about this, Paul has replied:
I'm told that there's a gravestone with Eleanor Rigby on it in the graveyard in Woolton where John and I used to hang out, but there could be 3,000 gravestones in the UK with Eleanor Rigby on. It is possible that I saw it and subconsciously remembered it, but my conscious memory was of being stuck for a name and liking the name Eleanor, probably because of Eleanor Bron... and I was in Bristol on a visit to see Jane Asher at the Old Vic, and just walking around... I saw an old shop called 'Rigby'... I had Father McCartney as the priest just because I knew that was right for the syllables, but I didn't want it... John wanted it to stay 'McCartney', but I said, No, it's my dad! Father McCartney.
Penny Lane is a road and district in Liverpool where both Paul and John grew up. Paul has described the song as: 'it's part fact, it's part nostalgia'. There was indeed a barber's shop in Penny Lane. Paul revealed his inspiration: 'I wrote that the barber had photographs he'd had the pleasure of knowing. Actually he just had photos of different hairstyles'. There were two banks, a fire station nearby in Allerton Road, and indeed a shelter in the middle of the Smithdown Place roundabout.
'Penny Lane' is a song that is full of contradictions — the weather is described as both 'blue suburban skies' and 'pouring rain'. The time of year as both summer, yet the pretty nurse is selling poppies, an activity associated with November. Yet the song's strength is that these contradictions convey a remarkably clear image of Penny Lane.
'All You Need Is Love'
In 1967 the Beatles were asked by the BBC to represent Great Britain for the Our World television spectacular, a live two hour link up of 26 countries all around the world via satellite, with an audience of 400 million watching the programme. The Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, summarised the song with:
It is a wonderful, beautiful, spine-chilling record. It cannot be misinterpreted. It is a clear message saying that love is everything.
The song's close wonderfully reprises the Beatles' previous hit 'She Loves You', anticipating the techniques used on the Love album of 2006.
'Hello, Goodbye' was one of my songs... it was a very easy song to write. It's just a song of duality, with me advocating the more positive. You say goodbye, I say hello. You say stop, I say go. I was advocating the more positive side of the duality, and I still do to this day.
It was also the Beatles' most successful song in the UK since 'She Loves You', being Christmas Number 1 and staying top of the charts for seven weeks.
'Lady Madonna' is a song that, in Paul's words:
The original concept was the Virgin Mary but it quickly became symbolic of every woman, the Madonna image but as applied to ordinary working-class women. It's really a tribute to the mother figure, it's a tribute to women.
Perhaps the most famous song about divorce, Paul initially wrote 'Hey Jude' as 'Hey Jules', a song aimed to give John's son Julian advice in how to cope with the divorce between John and Cynthia Lennon. Julian described what Paul had told him about the song's origins by stating:
[Paul] told me that he'd been thinking about my circumstances all those years ago, about what I was going through and what I would have to go through in the future. Paul and I used to hang out quite a bit.
I started with the idea 'Hey Jules', which was Julian, don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better. Here, try and deal with this terrible thing. I knew it was not going to be easy for him. I always feel sorry for kids in divorces.
John's interpretation of the song was somewhat different.
I always heard it as a song to me. If you think about it, Yoko's just come into the picture. He's saying, 'Hey Jude - Hey John'. I know I'm sounding like one of those fans who reads things into it, but ...The words 'go out and get her' — subconsciously he was saying, 'go ahead, leave me'.
The song was a revolutionary seven minutes long at a time when the average song length was still around the three minute mark. It was the Beatles' best selling hit in America.
Paul McCartney wrote 'Get Back' as a political song criticising the passage of the Commonwealth Immigration Act that intended to satirise those who felt immigrants should 'Get back to where they once belonged'. Although he has confirmed his intention, and said 'The words were not racist at all, they were anti-racist', he realised that his original aim was not working out and his song would be open to serious misinterpretation. The verses were rewritten with ambiguous nonsense, although he retained the original chorus.
'The Ballad Of John And Yoko'
John wrote 'The Ballad of John and Yoko' — a song that only Paul and John perform on. The song summarises John's wedding to and honeymoon with Yoko Ono.
The first verse, which states: 'standing at the dock at Southampton, trying to get to Holland or France, the man in the Mac said, 'You've got to go back', you know they didn't even give us a chance' has been taken to imply that there was a policy of preventing John and Yoko from entering Europe, when the truth was that they had forgotten to take their passports with them.
In America the song was criticised for its chorus, in particular the use of the word 'Christ'. However, it got to Number 1 not only in the UK but also in West Germany, Denmark, Austria, Norway, Spain, Belgium, The Netherlands and Malaysia.
Later, in 1978, John began writing a musical entitled The Ballad Of John And Yoko, which would have included such songs as 'Real Love' and 'Free As A Bird'.
'Something', the only George Harrison song released as an A-side, was also the first Beatles' single in the UK to have been released first as an album track. The single was released on 31 October, 1969, over a month after its release as part of the Abbey Road album on 26 September. This was the main reason why it did not reach Number 1 in the UK. Paul and John initially largely ignored 'Something', and it was only the insistence of their second manager Allen Klein that made them agree to release it as an A-side. George describes the writing of the song in his I Me Mine autobiography as:
['Something'] was written on a piano while we were making The White Album. I had a break... so I went into an empty studio and began to write. That's really all there is to it.
'Something' received the Ivor Novello award for 'Best Song Musically and Lyrically'. It is the second most covered Beatles song after 'Yesterday'. Notable versions have been recorded by Frank Sinatra, Joe Cocker, James Brown, Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson and Shirley Bassey, who equalled the Beatles' Number 4 success in 1976.
'Come Together', the last Beatles track recorded for Abbey Road, was one of John's favourite Beatles songs. It had been inspired by Harvard Professor Timothy Leary26, who planned to run for Governor of California against Ronald Reagan.
Leary's slogan would have been 'Come Together And Join The Party' had he not been imprisoned for drug offences during the closing stages of the election. The line 'here come old flat top', inspired by and an affectionate nod to Chuck Berry's song 'You Can't Catch Me', resulted in John being sued for plagiarism — which was finally resolved in an out of court settlement when John agreed to cover two Chuck Berry songs27. The BBC, which had not censored 'The Ballad Of John And Yoko' for the use of the word 'Christ', completely banned 'Come Together' for containing a different C-word: 'Coca-Cola'.
'Let It Be'
'Let It Be' was a song written at a time when the Beatles were beginning to fall apart — the hour of darkness — and was inspired by a dream Paul had about his mother Mary, who had died when Paul was 14. The hymn-like style suits the song perfectly, with 'Mother Mary' evoking thoughts of the Virgin Mary.
'The Long And Winding Road'
Phil Spector28's remix of 'The Long And Winding Road' was a major factor in the Beatles' disbandment. Indeed, in the court case that officially ended the Beatles, one of Paul's three reasons for the break up was that Allen Klein's company ABKCO had employed Spector to alter 'The Long And Winding Road' without consulting him. Paul's song was overdubbed with a full orchestra, violins, harp and female choir. Paul reacted by saying: 'I couldn't believe it. I would never have female voices on a Beatles record'.
George Martin agreed:
It was a very good McCartney song, but when it came back from being handled by Phil Spector, it was laden down with treacle and choirs and the scoring and so on. Neither he nor I knew about it till it had been done.
This song, written the same day as 'Let It Be', was finally released on Let It Be ...Naked as originally conceived. Paul described it with the words: 'It's a sad song because it's all about the unattainable; the door you never quite reach. This is the road you never get to the end of'.
Yet 'The Long And Winding Road' was to prove the end of the road for the Beatles.