Even the biggest Beatles fans might get surprised by numbers the Fab Four put up over the years. Start with the group’s 183 million record sales that dwarf that of every other recording artist. That number tops all the album sales of the mighty Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones combined.
Of course, The Beatles didn’t just sell LP records; the band also had an uncanny knack for cranking out hit singles. Over the years, the band topped the charts with no fewer than 20 songs. Not even Elvis put up that many.
Most Beatles fans know John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote the lion’s share of those songs. However, George Harrison got on the board late in the group’s career as well. In fact, despite the band’s phenomenal early success, The Beatles scored their biggest hits just before the band split up in 1970.
As far as albums go, The White Album (1968) sold more copies than any other Beatles record. In the singles department, Paul’s soaring anthem from that same year ended up as the band’s biggest hit.
‘Hey Jude’ turned out to be the most successful Beatles single.
By 1968, the tastes of the music-buying public had clearly changed since the days The Beatles broke onto the scene. Back in February 1964, just before the band arrived in America for its first tour, the fab four topped the charts with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
That tune clocked in at a brisk 2 minutes, 24 seconds. The band made it back to the top of the charts five more times that year with tunes like “Love Me Do” and “I Feel Fine.” You didn’t need an explanation to understand what these songs were about.
In brief, they were short and sweet (not to mention easy to remember). “Hey Jude” was a different story. Clocking in at over 7 minutes long, it gave fans slightly more to ponder, even if the message was simple and positive. (“Don’t make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better.”)
Radio stations once wary of long singles watched “Hey Jude” glide to No. 1. It landed there in September of ’68 and stayed on top of the charts for an incredible nine weeks. Paul’s song, conceived of as a way of cheering up Julian Lennon during his parents’ divorce, couldn’t be stopped.
By the end of its run, “Hey Jude” stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 for a total of 19 weeks. No other Beatles song lasted longer than 16 weeks.
‘Come Together’/’Something’ came closest to the performance of ‘Hey Jude.’
The double-A side single “Come Together”/”Something” (1969) was the only other Beatles track that broke 15 weeks on the Hot 100 charts. Yet when it landed at No. 1 in November of ’69, it only stayed atop the charts for one week.
Still, it meant that George scored a No. 1 before The Beatles disbanded. With Lennon behind “Come Together” and Paul behind “Hey Jude,” it allowed all three songwriters a spot on the band’s leaderboard. (We doubt any of them cared much about this.)
Yet even if most of these facts amount to bookkeeping for such a successful band, at least one member of The Beatles lorded the group’s dominance over its rivals. Just look at how Lennon spoke of that success when discussing Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones a few years later.
“[Jagger] is obviously so upset by how big the Beatles are compared with him,” Lennon said. “He never got over it.”
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