The Beatles' fabbest four riffs

The Beatles At The 1966 NME Awards
The Beatles performing at the 1966 NME Awards (Image credit: Icon and Image/Getty)

Okay, okay, it's impossible - stupid, even - to boil down the Beatles' 200+ songs to just four key riffs, but we've done it anyway. We think the below licks are the cream of this creamiest of crops. What do you think? 

1. I Want To Hold Your Hand

(Single, 1963)


Girl with guitar

(Image credit: Rick Gomez / Getty Images )

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I Want To Hold Your Hand kicked the door open to America for The Beatles. The song’s intro riff is a simple but thrilling slice of rock ’n’ roll.

Add to it the hand claps, harmony vocals on the chorus and George’s cool little guitar licks, and it’s really no wonder the US teens went mental for it. 

The song was recorded in October 1963. John played his Hamburg era Rickenbacker 325 while George plucked his big Gretsch 6122 Country Gentleman. And, as with all the early Beatles records, Paul used his Höfner 500/1 violin bass.

For laughs, check out The Beatles singing the song in German on the Past Masters, below – Volume One. Here’s the main line if you like a singalong: “Komm, gib mir deine Hand...” Das Beatles rock, ja!

2. Day Tripper

(Single, 1965)

"That’s mine,” said Lennon. “The guitar lick, the guitar break, and the whole bit.” He didn’t play Day Tripper’s solo though; George did.

Lennon played his parts on his ’64 Rickenbacker 325 – the guitar presented to him in Miami on the band’s first US tour. George apparently used a Gibson ES-345 on the song.

‘Day tripper’ was a reference to people who took drugs, dressed hip and raised hell at the weekend, then went back to respectable 9 to 5 jobs on Monday morning. Lennon was basically taking the mickey out of part-time hippies.

3. She Said She Said

(Revolver, 1966)

Like that other mid 60s Beatles classic Rain, She Said She Said opens with an infectious fuzz riff played by George Harrison, probably on his Gibson SG.

Harrison also played bass on the song after Lennon and McCartney had a fall-out. The inspiration for the song stems from an encounter John had with the actor Peter Fonda in Los Angeles.

Hanging out with The Byrds, on some mind-altering substance, John freaked out when Fonda kept saying he knew what it was like to be dead. “Listen mate, shut up about that stuff!” Lennon growled. Still, he got a brilliant song out of it.

4. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

(Abbey Road, 1969)

In contrast to The Beatles nailing their first album in under 10 hours, the heavy soul of I Want You (She’s So Heavy) took six months to perfect before Lennon was happy.

Considering it was assembled from three takes, the track sounds organic – you can even hear Harrison flick his guitar’s pickup selector switch. Compared with the contrived power of the earlier Helter Skelter (The White Album, 1968), I Want You sounds genuinely ominous.

Incidentally, Mötley Crüe referenced the song at the end of their tender ode to baked goods, Slice Of Your Pie (Dr Feelgood, 1989). At least we think that’s what it was about.


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