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This summer at the movies, in the film Yesterday, audiences are asked to imagine a world where the Beatles never existed and yet their songs command the culture anyway. But we don’t have to imagine that world. On the Hot 100, it happened three times. A trio of Lennon-McCartney songs not by the Beatles reached No. 1—one each in the ’60s, the ’70s, and the ’80s. And all three prove not only that it’s hard to cover the Beatles, but that when it comes to the charts, timing is everything.
This month’s Hit Parade tells the stories of these three non–Fab Four Lennon-McCartney No. 1s: A previously unknown British duo lucks into an unrecorded Paul McCartney song and shamelessly replicates the Beatles’ Liverpool sound. An imperial pop god starts palling around with John Lennon and gets Lennon’s help remaking his old drug-trip anthem into a cuddly Captain Fantastic fantasia. And a team of Dutch studio musicians creates a bizarre disco medley of Fabs songs, sung by Beatle impressionists who barely speak English, and punctuated by a relentless clap beat.
Chris Molanphy, a pop-chart analyst and author of Slate’s “Why Is This Song No. 1?” series, tells tales from a half-century of chart history. Through storytelling, trivia, and song snippets, Chris dissects how that song you love—or hate—dominated the airwaves, made its way to the top of the charts, and shaped your memories forever.