This feature was originally published in April 2009.
When my editor asked me to list the top 10 songs recorded by John, Paul, George, and Ringo following their world-changing stint as The Beatles, I knew I was in for a daunting task. Actually, it proved to be downright overwhelming. The Fab Four have put out over 70 albums of material and recorded over 1,000 songs since parting ways. And let me tell you, it hasn’t all been Strawberry Fields and Sgt. Pepper. Cases in point: McCartney’s unfortunate foray into the world of dance music, Ringo’s attempt at a country-western album, and pretty much any song pairing John and Yoko — sorry, just never got hip to it.
It’s kind of interesting, though, to reflect upon the ups and downs of these four post-Beatles careers. As the Beatles, these guys could virtually do no wrong. As solo artists, well, let’s just say they’re fallible. That’s not to suggest that they didn’t produce some exceptional music on their own and as members of other bands. This list is full of songs I wouldn’t want to live without, and there were many others (dozens, really) that nearly snuck into the top 10. It’s just sort of comforting for us mere mortals to know that a song written by a Beatle could be junk rather than genius.
Anyway, here they are…
10. “Handle With Care”
The Traveling Wilburys
Album: Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (1988)
Even a Beatle needs a hand sometimes, and a hand from Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynne (Electric Light Orchestra) helps more than most. The supergroup known as The Traveling Wilburys came together quite serendipitously in the late ’80s to record two albums, which featured George Harrison (Nelson Wilbury) at his absolute best since his solo work in the early ’70s. “Handle with Care” was originally to be a B-side for Harrison’s “This Is Love”. The resulting recording, however, was deemed too good to be a B-side throwaway and prompted the group to record a full album of material. The rest is supergroup history.
09. “Mind Games”
Album: Mind Games (1973)
“Mind Games” is the title song from Lennon’s fourth solo album, released in 1973. Originally known as “Make Love Not War”, this song had been in Lennon’s back pocket since 1969 and can be heard in some of the later Beatles recording sessions. Its strange lyrics, featuring “mind guerillas” and “karmic wheels,” combined Lennon’s interests in mysticism and mind alteration, as well as hippie culture. The real genius of the song, however, are the dense layers of instrumentation, a production technique known as “Wall of Sound.” The posthumous music video made for “Mind Games” has become almost inseparable from the song itself and features rare footage of Lennon in New York’s Central Park.
08. “It Don’t Come Easy”
Album: Ringo (1973)
Starr has probably had the least impressive career as a solo artist among the four former Beatles, but his “It Don’t Come Easy” stands tall among the other classics on this list. The song was co-written by Harrison, though — in fact, rumors insist that Harrison wrote the song in its entirety — and featured Harrison on guitar, as well as Stephen Stills on piano. Regardless of who was truly the mastermind behind this song, it’s Ringo’s voice that gives “It Don’t Come Easy” its identity and made it a classic rock staple.
07. “Jealous Guy”
Album: Imagine (1971)
“Jealous Guy” provides as much insight into Lennon’s relationship and behavioral problems as any song he ever recorded. And it’s a classic that almost wasn’t. The song was originally titled “Child of Nature”, inspired by Lennon’s trip to India, and three different versions of this song have surfaced from various recording sessions. Eventually, Lennon reworked the piece as an apology and explanation to Yoko for his jealous nature and well-documented destructive behavior. As personal as this song is, lyrics like “I was feeling insecure/ You might not love me anymore” have struck a chord with millions of listeners. Apparently, there are more jealous guys out there besides Lennon.