Only 2 Lennon-McCartney Songs Ever Hit No. 1 Without The Beatles Performing Them
You’d have a hard tracking down all the covers of Beatles songs. Just looking at “Yesterday,” you’d count into the thousands. Everyone from Frank Sinatra to Joan Baez took a stab at that classic, penned by Paul McCartney and attributed to Paul and John Lennon (i.e., Lennon-McCartney).
But if you want to look at the number of successful Beatles covers, the list is shorter. Obviously, Lennon and McCartney wrote their music with themselves in mind as the vocalists, so you needed guts to cover a track like “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “Come Together.”
In fact, for all the thousands of interpretations of Lennon-McCartney songs, only two ever made it to No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts. And of those two, only one was a track the Fab Four recorded for one of the group’s studio albums.
Peter and Gordon had the first Lennon-McCartney No. 1
Imagine starting a band and having Paul McCartney give you a song to record as your first single. That was the situation Peter Asher found himself in back in 1964. At the time, McCartney was dating Peter’s sister Jane and living in the Asher family home.
During that period, Asher heard McCartney sing “World Without Love” and asked if he could record it since The Beatles had no plans to do so. (Lennon laughed at the opening line and said it wasn’t right for the Fab Four.) So Peter and Gordon laid the track down in January ’64.
When Beatlemania began in earnest the following month, Peter and Gordon rode the British wave and took McCartney’s song to No. 1 on the Billboard charts. (The following year, with Paul growing tired of the assumption that any Lennon-McCartney would be a hit, he used a fake name on “Woman.”)
While that was a promising start for performers who planned to record Lennon-McCartney tracks, it was an unusual case because The Beatles hadn’t recorded it. And only one artist would ever hit No. 1 with a track they put on one of their records.
Elton John hit No. 1 with ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’
If you cover a song performed by John Lennon, you’d better bring your best vocal. That’s what Elton John did when he recorded “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” the legendary track from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
In this case, John brought a secret weapon to the recording: Lennon himself on guitar and backing vocals. (Lennon used a pseudonym for the affair.) But John’s own lead vocal and piano propelled the track to No. 1 in January ’75.
That would be the end of Lennon-McCartney tracks going to No. 1 on the Billboard charts. But in the John Lennon-John Lennon files, another chart-topper came out of their brief sessions together.
After hearing Lennon work on “Whatever Get You Thru the Night,” John asked if he could try a little piano (and maybe a vocal) on it. Lennon agreed, and that track also went to No. 1. It was Lennon’s first since his Beatles days — and it would be the last in his lifetime.