The 10 best songs that pay tribute to The Beatles

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There’s no way that any other band could measure up to what The Beatles have already done. Even if there are certain songs that people don’t care for everything the Fab Four has done, chances are they’ve at least listened to a band that has ended up taking a few lessons from what they had already worked on. Sometimes the influence isn’t enough, though, and everyone from Oasis to the former Beatles has had songs referencing the 1960s icons.

Then again, paying tribute doesn’t always have to be in glowing terms. For as many people want to talk about how much they loved their favourite acts, some of these songs do have a certain snideness to them, as if they are sarcastically thanking them for the influence or re-interpolating their songs to suit their own style.

It’s impossible to say anything too nasty about ‘the four-headed monster’, though, and most bands have been incredibly reverent when describing the Fabs. Either by playing bits and pieces of their songs in the middle of their own track or talking about listening to them growing up, you hear these songs and get a glimpse of artists when they were little kids when all that mattered was the next Fab single.

Even though some of the songs ended up being huge hits, it was all done at the service of etching their way into Beatles history, if only for a split second. They may have broken up over half a century ago, but these songs prove that the music of John, Paul, George, and Ringo are still bringing people together years later.

10 songs written in tribute to The Beatles:

10. ‘Mr Whirly’ – The Replacements

Most punk bands in the hardcore scene were usually busy rebelling against The Beatles if they even mentioned them at all. As Joe Strummer said, “Phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust”, so why bother trying to make the same kind of songs that the old farts tried to make? The Replacements were still classic rock snobs throughout their career, and in between their drunken ramblings throughout their career, Paul Westerberg managed to make a pseudo-tribute song on ‘Mr Whirly’.

After croaking his way through the first guitar notes of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, Westerberg sings a song about ‘Monsseuir Whirly’ to the tune of what sounds like ‘Oh Darling’. Even though this may have been meant in good fun, it’s clear that the band at least had a passing interest in the group, considering they covered other Beatles luminaries like Led Zeppelin and Tom Petty whenever they played live. It’s not necessarily the most adept tribute band out there, but it’s definitely enough to get a worthy nod in a pub from the true Fab fans in the crowd. 

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9. ‘Hold My Hand’ – The Rutles

When you get to be as big as The Beatles, there are always going to be people at the ready to parody you. No one gets out of show business that clean, and even though fans were more than happy to shout the band’s praises, Beatle buddy Eric Idle was always waiting for the right moment to strike. Once the true greatest band of all time, The Rutles, crashlanded on the airwaves, ‘Hold My Hand’ was one of the most accurate parodies that the music world had ever seen.

Despite it being meant as a joke, ‘Hold My Hand’ actually describes the early days of The Beatles perfectly, down to the superficial way they would talk about puppy love. Then again, the biggest endorsement the band ever got was from The Beatles themselves, with George Harrison helping the group make the accompanying film and making a cameo in the movie as a reporter. Considering that composer Neil Innes was close to getting sued for how accurately he got the Fab mannerisms, it’s safe to say that he knows the band’s catalogue inside and out.

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8. ‘Beatles and Stones’ – Beady Eye

Did you know that every member of Oasis is a really big fan of The Beatles? If you couldn’t tell by everything they have ever done, Noel and Liam Gallagher are more than happy to flaunt their love for The Fab Four when not talking themselves up as one of the biggest acts in the world. Liam was always a music fanatic, and when he struck out on his own, there was only one thing that he was going to end up talking about.

Fresh out of Oasis with the non-Noel members, ‘Beatles and Stones’ is the kind of song that not only references Liam’s favourite band but sounds like it, as he does his best attempt to sound like John Lennon. As opposed to just doing lip service for the band, Liam says that his name will live on forever, just like his idols from the glory days of the British Invasion. He stays reverent all the way through but leave it to someone like Liam to take one of the biggest bands in the world and somehow make it into a self-empowerment anthem for himself.

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7. ‘Edge of Seventeen’ – Stevie Nicks

There are more than a few Stevie Nicks songs whose characters actually have a real face. Even though she likes to mask her songs in metaphors, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that half of Rumours had to do with the fallout between her and Lindsey Buckingham. Between writing songs about her friends, she found time to pay tribute to one of her idols on the song ‘Edge of Seventeen’.

Despite the first half of the song being about the death of one of her close relatives, Nicks also said that the song comes from her reaction to the death of John Lennon. The song might have more of a disco feel than any proper tribute track should, but you can feel her pain as she eulogizes one of the greatest lyricists of the 20th century, wishing him peace as he flies to the next life. Nicks might not have the same songwriting gifts as any of The Beatles, but the thought of them flying on into eternity is enough for Fab fans to hold back tears.

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6. ‘Heal the Pain’ – George Michael

George Michael never claimed to be a snob about the music he liked. If he liked dance music, R&B or straight-up rock and roll, it didn’t take that long for it to find its way into his music at some point. Sometimes, it’s better to have a clear target in mind when writing a song, and Michael knew that he had captured something recognizably McCartney when he wrote the song ‘Heal the Pain’.

Tucked away at the back of Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, this tribute to ‘The Cute Beatle’ has the same kind of chord progression that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Beatles song, with the chorus having the exact same chords as the song ‘Eight Days a Week’ split into half time. That wasn’t even the last classic rock send-up on that album, either, with Michael dropping in a few bars of The Rolling Stones’ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ into ‘I’m Waiting For The Day’. Michael has always written love letters to his past, but ‘Heal the Pain’ feels like a student of McCartney’s passing on his tricks to the next wave of pop fans.

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5. ‘Scenes From an Italian Restaurant’ – Billy Joel

When talking about the biggest artists that influenced Billy Joel, nine times out of ten, people turn to classical music. There is definitely rock sprinkled throughout his greatest hits, but there are also hints of everyone from Bach to Beethoven if you know where to look for it. Joel was still a pop writer at the end of the day, and ‘Scenes From an Italian Restaurant’ had a very specific Fab song it was trying to replicate.

Stretching out over seven minutes, Joel said he wanted to create the kind of song that would blend together different pieces in the same way The Beatles did on the back half of Abbey Road. Instead of putting different unrelated songs together, Joel tells one cohesive story, following the tale of Brenda and Eddie as they make their way through life together before moving away for someplace better. Looking at the subject matter combined with the musical adventure going on down below, this is practically a Beatles song with a Bruce Springsteen-style lyric sheet.

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4. ‘4th Time Around’ – Bob Dylan

By the time The Beatles first started hitting it big in 1963, there wasn’t a bigger artist in the world than Bob Dylan. Others had tried to make protest songs after the Vietnam War started, but no one spoke to the people about the everyday struggle quite like Mr Zimmerman, who was always there telling his audience about the plagues of the common man whenever he could. The Beatles couldn’t get enough of him, but Dylan was listening right back when he made the song ‘4th Time Around’ on Blonde on Blonde. 

While Dylan always had a great relationship with the band, he thought their songs started sounding a little suspicious when he heard John Lennon ape his style. Almost to one-up him, Dylan went the extra mile by writing this song with the exact same guitar lick as ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’, which started a gradual song dialogue between him and Lennon, which would continue into their solo careers. Dylan wasn’t being malicious about it, though. If anything, he was just testing the waters to make sure the Fab Four knew who they were dealing with.

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3. ‘Beatles Forever’ – ELO

Now, we go from one of The Beatles’ biggest inspirations to one of their biggest fans in the world. As much as Jeff Lynne may have had a few original ideas in ELO, the common consensus is that they broke up because they ran out of Beatles licks to steal. Fair play. Lynne loves The Beatles, and given the title of this song, it’s not like he’s exactly shy about why they’re his favourite band.

While Lynne doesn’t have the same touch for production as George Martin did, it feels like he is trying to put as much concentrated whimsy as he can into one song to make the ultimate Fab experience. Outside of being a love letter to his favourite outfit, there are even a few lyrics that are less on the nose and more of a slap in the face, with every other line being the title of a Beatles track. Lynne just wanted an opportunity to share his love with his favourite band, and a few years later, he ended up getting his wish.

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2. ‘When We Was Fab’ – George Harrison

After getting back into music, George Harrison knew that he needed to come back strong. Since the last few records sounded like they were being made at gunpoint, Harrison knew that he needed someone who understood his music intimately and could get the same sounds that he heard in his head from the glory days of his style. Enter Jeff Lynne, who proceeded to drench his Fab worship across every second of ‘When We Was Fab’.

Including Ringo Starr on drums and a walrus miming the bass in the video, this is about as loving a tribute Harrison could have made, almost like an old soul looking through a photo album of when he was young. Considering Harrison was the one who was usually the most cynical when it came to the band’s time in the sun, there’s no room to be bitter anymore in this song. He’s happy where he is, and after years of being in one of the biggest bands in the world, he’s happy to have conquered the world and jam from time to time with a little help from his friends.

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1. ‘Now and Then’ – The Beatles

Wait…hold on…I hear some of you saying? How can a Beatles song be written in tribute to The Beatles? The band is all together, after all, so there’s no point in making a song that pays homage to themselves. That’s what many would think at first glance, but if there was anyone who was going to capture what The Beatles meant to so many people, it was going to be the surviving members of the band.

Although ‘Now and Then’ was seen as a fond farewell to the band that changed the world, Paul McCartney’s additions to the Lennon cassette are the kind of message written across generations and plains of existence, as McCartney talks about missing his old writing partner and hoping that he will be able to make music with him again later down the line. After putting the final ribbon on their career, both McCartney and Starr came up with the kind of song that makes the most of what their bandmates left them with, as well as lovingly showing their gratitude for them being in their lives.

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