The true stories behind The Beatles’ best songs

Including the 'shocking' event that inspired Paul McCartney's most haunting Beatles track.

From prosaic philosophising to upbeat dance tracks to whimsical lullabies and gritty punk rock, during their short ten years together The Beatles‘ impressive 229 song catalogue became the most impressive, famous and enduring in music history. For decades, fans poured over Beatles songs in search of deeper meanings, secret codes and the stories that inspired their favourite tunes.

Here’s some of the best and most compelling stories behind your favourite Beatles songs.


By the time The Beatles got around to writing for the White Album, the band had established themselves as outspoken critics of Black segregation in America. Just four years earlier when they were still touring, they had defiantly refused to play to segregated audiences in the United States.

Moreover, as the mid-to-late ’60s rolled around, the world was watching the civil rights movement unfold across America. One person who was paying particularly close attention was Paul McCartney who found himself troubled by the treatment of Black Americans and was especially confronted by the Little Rock Nine incident.

“When I saw the footage on the television in the early ’60s of the black girls being turned away from school, I found it shocking and I can’t believe that still in these days there are places where this kind of thing is happening right now.”

With this in mind, Paul penned the hauntingly moving ballad Blackbird which was recently covered by Beyoncé for her country album Cowboy Carter. Paul took to Instagram to praise Beyoncé’s rendition of his iconic track writing:

“I am so happy with Beyoncé’s version of my song Blackbird. I think she does a magnificent version of it and reinforces the civil rights message that inspired me to write the song in the first place,” Paul writes. “Anything my song and Beyoncé’s version can do to ease racial tension would be a great thing and makes me very proud.”

Hey Jude

In 1968, Paul McCartney drove out to visit John Lennon’s son Julian and his soon-to-be ex wife, Cynthia. John had recently split with Cynthia, who had long been a member of the Beatles’ inner circle, after meeting Japanese artist Yoko Ono. On the drive, Paul composed the song ‘Hey Jules’ to comfort John’s young son who was witnessing the rupture of his family unit.

The song famously became Hey Jude and went on to be one of The Beatles’ most successful singles. However, recently the song’s subject – Julian Lennon – has recently admits that he has “been driven up the wall” by the catchy track.

“It’s a beautiful sentiment, no question about that, and I’m very thankful — but I’ve also been driven up the wall by it,” Julian said in an interview with Esquire. “I love the fact that he wrote a song about me and for Mum, but depending on what side of the bed one woke up on, and where you’re hearing it, it can be a good or a slightly frustrating thing. But in my heart of hearts, there’s not a bad word I could say about it.”

“The lyrics are pertinent even now. They’re about making life better and taking the weight off my shoulders, especially on the path I followed as a musician— following Dad,” he added.

Now and Then

Now and Then, which was released 2 November 2023, is the latest track from the Fab Four and the last ever Beatles song to be released. The tune was originally written and recorded by John Lennon in the late 1970s. 14 years after Lennon’s death, Yoko Ono sent Paul McCartney two cassette tapes featuring three unfinished songs written by the former Beatle.

With the help of ELO front man and former Travelling Wilbury, Jeff Lynne, the three remaining Beatles restored and released two of the three tracks which appeared on The Beatles Anthology in 1995 – Free As a Bird and Real Love.

Because Lennon’s cassettes were home recordings, it was impossible to restore the third track, Now and Then – until now. Using the same AI-backed audio restoration technology commissioned by Peter Jackson for his 2021 documentary The Beatles: Get Back, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have been able to release the last-ever Beatles track over 50 years after the band’s last record.

A Day in the Life

A Day in the Life appears on the seminal 1967 record Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Whilst the iconic track makes a litany of cultural references, perhaps the biggest inspiration and story behind the song is the death of Irish socialite and heir to the Guinness fortune, Tara Browne. Browne was killed in a fiery crash after he failed to see a traffic light and ploughed into a truck.

In a 1980 interview with Playboy, John, who had been a friend of Browne, confirmed that his death inspired the track, “I was reading the paper one day … the Guinness heir who killed himself in a car. That was the main headline story. He died in London in a car crash.”

Paul McCartney, who penned the middle eight part of the song, also confirmed in his recent book, The Lyrics, that Browne’s fatal crash had indeed inspired the song.

The Beatles pose for the press with their newly completed album, 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', at the press launch for the album, held at manager Brian Epstein's house at 24 Chapel Street, London, 19th May 1967. Clockwise from top left: Ringo Starr, George Harrison (1943 - 2001), John Lennon (1940 - 1980) and Paul McCartney. (Photo by Mark and Colleen Hayward/Getty Images)


By 1964, The Beatles were quickly approaching global success thanks to the release of A Hard Day’s Night and Please Please Me. During this time, Lennon self-admittedly began to grapple with worldwide recognition and in turn penned the track Help! which became the title for The Beatles’ next record and second film.

In John Lennon’s last major interview with David Sheff, he revealed that Help! was one of his favourite Beatles songs because of the lyrics’ perforating honesty.

“When Help! came out, I was actually crying out for help,” Lennon recalled to Sheff. “Most people think it’s just a fast rock ‘n’ roll song. I didn’t realise it at the time. I just wrote the song because I was commissioned to write it for the movie. But later, I knew I really was crying out for help. So it was my fat Elvis period. You see the movie: he – I – is very fat, very insecure, and he’s completely lost himself. And I am singing about when I was so much younger and all the rest, looking back at how easy it was.”

SWITZERLAND - JANUARY 31: John Lennon And His Wife Cynthia Skiing At Saint Moritz In Switzerland On January 31St 1965 (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)


Coinciding with the recording process of The Beatles Revolver record in 1966 was the election of Harold Wilson, who began implementing a number of new tax schemes including a whopping 95 per cent ‘supertax’ rate on Britain’s wealthy elite. George Harrison quickly learned that The Beatles’ earnings put them in a precarious position under Wilson’s new schemes.

Not only were the Fab Four being taxed at a 95 per cent tax rate, but they money from the supertax was funnelled into the manufacturing of military weaponry and machinery. George openly expressed his utter opposition to the Vietnam War in a 1966 interview with the Evening Standard where he said: “Makes me sick. They’re the sort who are leaning on the walking sticks and telling us a few years in the Army would do us good.”

This inspired George to pen the opening track for Revolver, Taxman, which included lyrics such as: ‘Should five percent appear too small / Be thankful I don’t take it all.’

George later recalled the implications of Wilson’s ‘supertax’ in his 1980 autobiography, I, Me, Mine, saying: “Taxman was when I first realised that even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes; it was and still is typical.”

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1966: The Beatles, English music group Pop (1962-1970). Standing : Paul MacCartney and John Lennon (1940-1980). Seat : Ringo Starr and George Harrison (1943-2000). August 1966. (Photo by Roger Viollet Collection/Getty Images)


Yesterday is easily one of the most well-known Beatles songs, and according to Paul McCartney, the entire tune came to him in a dream while staying with his girlfriend at the time, Jane Asher. When Paul awoke from the dream with the melody in his head, he ran to the piano nearby and began quickly composing the dreamy tune. However, the rocker was afraid he may have inadvertently plagiarised someone else’s song, so he held onto the tune for months before he properly recorded it.

“For about a month I went round to people in the music business and asked them whether they had ever heard it before. Eventually it became like handing something in to the police. I thought if no one claimed it after a few weeks then I could have it,” McCartney was quoted saying.

circa 1965: Paul McCartney of The Beatles with his Hohner bass. (Photo by Express/Express/Getty Images)

You Never Give Me Your Money

By the time The Beatles began writing and recording Abbey Road, the band was beginning to unravel. The death of their manager, Brian Epstein, in 1967 as well as a number of poor financial decisions began to divide the group’s members. Allen Klein, an American businessman, stepped in and offered to help resolve The Beatles’ looming financial crisis. Whilst John, George and Ringo supported the idea, Paul was far more wary of Allen which became a major point of contention within the band. In the following months and years, The Beatles would sue one another as well as Allen Klein for mismanagement of funds, contracts and other business deals.

Paul’s inherent distrust of Klein directly inspired the track You Never Give Me Your Money. The rocker would later clarify the song to be about having “no faith in a person”.

Years later, in Anthology, George Harrison reflected on the Beatles song saying:

“‘Funny paper’ – that’s what we get. We get bits of paper saying how much is earned and what this is and that is, but we never actually get it in pounds, shilling and pence. We’ve all got a big house and a car and an office, but to actually get the money we’ve earned seems impossible.”

American businessman Allen Klein (1931 - 2009, left) with John Lennon (1940 - 1980) of The Beatles, and Lennon's wife, Yoko Ono, 29th April 1969. Klein is representing Lennon in negotiations over control of shares in the Beatles' Northern Songs company. (Photo by C. Maher/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

You Won’t See Me

Paul McCartney’s long-term girlfriend, Jane Asher, inspired a number of the best Beatles songs including And I Love Her, All My Loving and Every Little Thing. However, when their relationship began to hit a rough patch around the writing and recording of Rubber Soul, Jane also inspired some of Paul’s more melancholy tracks including You Won’t See Me.

Much to Paul’s disapproval, Jane accepted a role in a theatre production during the recording of Rubber Soul. According to a biography written by Howard Sounes, the couple briefly split over the disagreement and Jane stopped picking up Paul’s calls which resulted in the singer penning the track You Won’t See Me.

Paul later recalled that it was “shattering to be without her” during the couple’s brief split.

(Original Caption) 1/4/1968-London, England- Beatle Paul McCartney, and actress-girlfriend Jane Asher, arriving at the London Pavillion for the world premiere of "Here We Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush."

Only A Northern Song

Though George was often thought of as the ‘Quiet Beatle’, he often used his music to express political sentiments, pointed opinions, and most of all, his dissatisfaction with his treatment as a songwriter within the band.

By 1967, Harrison had become disillusioned and unmotivated to write music – particularly after he was relegated to ‘junior songwriter’ under the newly-formed Northern Songs publishing. Northern Songs to publish Beatles songs in an effort to reduce the band’s tax burden. However, under this scheme, John and Paul each retained 15 per cent of the shares whilst George and Ringo shared a measly 1.6 per cent.

In protest of this, George penned the track Only a Northern Song, a tune that used musical dissonance and sardonic lyrics to protest the company.

In Anthology, George recalled: “Only A Northern Song was a joke relating to Liverpool, the Holy City in the North of England,” he said. “In addition, the song was copyrighted Northern Songs Ltd, which I don’t own, so: ‘It doesn’t really matter what chords I play… as it’s only a Northern Song’”.

When his contract expired with Northern Songs in 2018, George would later go on to form his own publishing company for the songs he wrote called Harrisongs.

LONDON - 16th JUNE: Ringo Starr (left) and George Harrison (1943-2001) from The Beatles perform 'Rain' and 'Paperback Writer' on BBC TV show 'Top Of The Pops' in London on 16th June 1966. (Photo by Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns)

I Me Mine

By the Get Back sessions, the band was well and truly dysfunctional. Watching his bandmates, particularly John and Paul, fight incessantly became a source of inspiration for one of George’s most scathing tracks – I Me Mine. Author Jonathan Gould describes the song as a “commentary on the selfishness” of John and Paul during the Get Back sessions which ultimately resulted in George walking out and quitting the band temporarily.

Whilst George’s song-writing talents were overlooked during the recording of Let It Be, music critics heralded the song as one of the better tracks on what was labelled a “substandard” record. In Anthology, Harrison reflected on the track saying:

I Me Mine is the ego problem. There are two ‘I’s: the little ‘i’ when people say, ‘I am this, and the big ‘I” – i.e. ‘Om,’ the complete, whole, universal consciousness that is void of duality and ego. There is nothing that isn’t part of the complete whole. When the little ‘i’ merges into the big ‘I’ then you are really smiling!”

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