Although I was born after the Beatles first set foot in America, that never kept me from being a huge fan of the band. Like most fans, I own the entire Beatles catalog. In fact, over the years I’ve bought it twice — once on cassette tape and a second time on compact disc. But don’t feel sorry for me — I’m sure there are more than a few people out there who have bought the entire catalog three or four times over. Talk about Beatles love.
When one thinks about the Beatles, for most fans, the band members that usually first come to mind are John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Then again, asking me to pick my favorite Beatle is like asking me to pick my favorite child; I love them all equally, but each in different ways.
For most fans of the Beatles, the John versus Paul debate is still a passionate one. Although I’ve always been interested in finding a definitive answer, I’ve never really had a decent feel for which of the two Beatles was more popular.
Since the market is probably the purest arbiter of such perplexing and emotional questions, my interest in this topic was piqued again after iTunes recently announced an agreement with the Beatles’ record label, EMI Group Ltd., to sell digital music downloads from the Beatles’ catalog.
Surprise! The Market Speaks.
Naturally, by looking at the sales figures for each of the Beatles’ individual songs downloaded on iTunes, we should finally be able to get a definitive answer as to who the most popular Beatle is once and for all.
(Hey, Paul, who says you can’t buy me love?)
After first going on sale November 17th, iTunes customers downloaded 450,000 Beatles albums and, incredibly, 2 million individual songs from the Fab Four in the first week alone.
As for the most popular song after the first full week of sales? No, it’s not Octopus’s Garden (surprise, surprise). It’s Here Comes the Sun, which is neither a Lennon or McCartney composition, but a tune written by the Quiet Beatle, George Harrison. That’s right, George Harrison.
As late as November 27th Here Comes the Sun was still the most popular Beatles song downloaded on iTunes (ranked #63, five spots ahead of Lennon/McCartney’s In My Life).
Surprised? Maybe you shouldn’t be.
Why The Market May Just Be Right After All
Harrison has always unjustifiably been an underrated member of the Beatles. Consider the following:
- At the height of the Beatles’ popularity, back around the time they were first appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, polls reportedly showed that Harrison was the most popular member of the band.
- The great Frank Sinatra declared another Harrison tune, Something, to be the greatest love song ever written. (Never mind that he also declared Something to be his favorite Lennon/McCartney composition.) For a special treat, listen to Harrisons’ (Take 1) demo version of Something; its genius obvious even in its raw form.
- Something and Here Comes the Sun were arguably the two strongest tracks on the iconic Abbey Road album, the final one recorded by the Beatles.
- Despite being the third Beatle to release a solo album, George was the first Beatle to have a number one single on the US Billboard Hot 100 with My Sweet Lord.
- George was also the first Beatle to log two songs as a solo artist in the Top 10 of the US Billboard Hot 100: My Sweet Lord, and What Is Life (which reached #10).
- Although George was responsible for solely writing only ten percent of the Beatles’ catalog — 21 songs to be exact — he composed a few other gems besides Something and Here Comes the Sun including: While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Taxman, I Want to Tell You, If I Needed Someone and, my personal favorite, Long, Long, Long. (I’ll forgive George for writing Within You Without You, from the Sgt. Pepper’s album.)
- With over six million units sold, George Harrison still has the biggest selling solo album of any of the Beatles, All Things Must Pass.
So is the most popular Beatle really and truly George Harrison? I know the market has spoken, but you’ll still never get a straight answer out of me. Like I said before, I love them all equally. That means you too, Ringo.