Looking at who sang lead on each Beatles song gives credibility to an oft-told narrative about the power dynamic within the group.

As much as we want to think of the Beatles as a four-headed beast, John Lennon was the clear frontman in their early days, taking the majority of the lead vocals. It makes sense, given their origins as his schoolboy band the Quarrymen, and that he was, until Ringo Starr joined on the eve of their first recording session, the oldest member.

Even though Paul McCartney had his share of lead vocals from 1963-65, he was often sharing the spotlight with Lennon. But then, things began to change, with McCartney becoming a more prolific songwriter and taking greater control in the studio, much to the dismay of the others. Meanwhile, George Harrison was usually left with only one or two songs per LP until he started to blossom as a songwriter. Sometimes Starr didn't even get that.

In compiling the lead-vocal totals of Who Sang the Most Beatles Songs?, we distinguished the tracks where they were shared or split between members; where they were credited equally among members; and where certain members were credited with just background harmonies. For example, Lennon and McCartney singing "I Want to Hold Your Hand" together throughout the song is marked as a shared vocal, and "A Hard Day's Night," where McCartney takes over from Lennon on the bridge, is considered a split. Songs with a clear lead singer but prominent harmonies (think "Twist and Shout" or "Eleanor Rigby") are credited to only one singer.

Below, we break down the results chronologically by album, using the U.K. titles, with the exception of the U.S. version of Magical Mystery Tour, and the Past Masters compilations of non-LP singles and rarities. We've also included the two new tracks recorded for the Anthology series, but left out the vault recordings from those records. We also omitted the two Live at the BBC collections as well as the deluxe reissues of albums, which included some demos and other stray cuts.

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Please Please Me (1963)

John Lennon - 8: "Misery," (with McCartney) "Anna (Go to Him)," "Ask Me Why," "Please Please Me" (with McCartney), "Love Me Do" (with McCartney), "Baby It's You," "There's a Place" (with McCartney), "Twist and Shout"
Paul McCartney - 7: "I Saw Her Standing There," "Misery" (with Lennon), "Please Please Me" (with Lennon), "Love Me Do" (with John), "P.S. I Love You," "A Taste of Honey," "There's a Place" (with Lennon)
George Harrison - 2: "Chains," '"Do You Want to Know a Secret"
Ringo Starr - 1: "Boys"

The Beatles' debut established the pattern that would mark their early recordings, with Lennon getting the bulk of the leads and McCartney boosting his totals by singing the same melody with him, separating only to harmonize ("Misery") or taking a line or two by himself when Lennon played the harmonica ("Love Me Do"). Harrison steps to the front twice, for a cover of the Cookies' "Chains" and Lennon's "Do You Want to Know a Secret," while Starr gets the spotlight on a cover of the Shirelles' "Boys."

 

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With the Beatles (1963)

John Lennon - 7: "It Won't Be Long," "All I've Got to Do," "Little Child," "Please Mister Postman," "You Really Got a Hold on Me," (with Harrison), "Not a Second Time," "Money (That's What I Want)"
Paul McCartney - 3: "All My Loving," "Til There Was You," "Hold Me Tight"
George Harrison - 4: "Don't Bother Me," "Roll Over Beethoven," "You Really Got a Hold on Me" (with Lennon), "Devil in Her Heart"
Ringo Starr - 1: "I Wanna Be Your Man"

If there was any doubt Lennon was the leader in the early days, With the Beatles pushes it aside. He takes the lead on half the material and also sings the bulk of the Past Masters tracks that were recorded at this time (see below). With only three lead vocals, McCartney gives his smallest contribution on any full-length Beatles album - even Harrison had more songs, thanks to his first-ever composition ("Don't Bother Me") and his dual-lead with Lennon on the verses of their take on the Miracles' "You Really Got a Hold on Me." Starr's sole vocal contribution is "I Wanna Be Your Man," which Lennon and McCartney originally wrote for the Rolling Stones.

 

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A Hard Day's Night (1964)

John Lennon - 9: "A Hard Day's Night" (with McCartney), "I Should Have Known Better," "If I Fell" (with McCartney), "Tell Me Why" (with McCartney and Harrison), "Any Time at All," "I'll Cry Instead," "When I Get Home," "You Can't Do That" "I'll Be Back"
Paul McCartney - 7: "A Hard Day's Night" (with Lennon), "If I Fell" (with Lennon), "And I Love Her," "Tell Me Why" (with Lennon and Harrison), "Can't Buy Me Love," "Things We Said Today," "I'll Be Back" (with Lennon)
George Harrison - 2: "I'm Happy Just to Dance With You," "Tell Me Why" (with Lennon and McCartney)

With A Hard Day's Night as the only Beatles album comprised entirely of Lennon-McCartney compositions, it makes sense that Harrison and Starr would be virtually shut out of the proceedings; Harrison sang lead on only "I'm Happy Just to Dance With You" and shared vocals with the two main songwriters on "Tell Me Why." McCartney rebounds from With the Beatles by singing lead on half of A Hard Day's Night's 14 songs, though two of them were in close harmony with Lennon ("If I Fell," "I'll Be Back"), and another was the bridge on the title track, because it was out of Lennon's range.

 

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Beatles for Sale (1964)

John Lennon - 9: "No Reply," "I'm a Loser," "Baby's in Black" (with McCartney), "Rock and Roll Music," "Mr. Moonlight," "Eight Days a Week," "Words of Love" (with McCartney), "Every Little Thing," "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party"
Paul McCartney - 5: "Baby's in Black" (with Lennon), "I'll Follow the Sun," "Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey," "Words of Love" (with Lennon), "What You're Doing"
George Harrison - 1: "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby"
Ringo Starr - 1: "Honey Don't"

Lennon's growth as a writer started to show on Beatles for Sale and again he dominates the proceedings, even though he sings two of the tracks -- "Baby's in Black" and a cover of Buddy Holly's "Words of Love" -- in close harmony with McCartney. Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head suggests Harrison sang co-lead on the verse of "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party," but it's widely believed Lennon overdubbed a second part. Harrison and Starr get one lead each, both on songs written by Carl Perkins.

 

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Help! (1965)

John Lennon - 7: "Help!" "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," "You're Going to Lose That Girl" (with McCartney and Harrison), "Ticket to Ride," "It's Only Love," "Tell Me What You See," (with McCartney), "Dizzy Miss Lizzy"
Paul McCartney - 6: "The Night Before," "Another Girl," "You're Going to Lose That Girl" (with Lennon and Harrison), "Tell Me What You See," (with Lennon), "I've Just Seen a Face," "Yesterday"
George Harrison - 3: "I Need You," "You're Going to Lose That Girl" (with Lennon and McCartney), "You Like Me Too Much"
Ringo Starr - 1: "Act Naturally"

The record released in conjunction with the Beatles' second movie sees Harrison, for the first time, singing two of his own compositions. Meanwhile, the growing contrast in writing styles between Lennon and McCartney is reflected in the fact that they sing in tandem only once, on the slight "Tell Me What You See," though the trio of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison resurfaces on "You're Going to Lose That Girl." Starr gets to cover Buck Owens' "Act Naturally."

 

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Rubber Soul (1965)

John Lennon - 8: "Drive My Car" (with McCartney), "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," "Nowhere Man," "The Word," "Girl," "In My Life," "Wait" (with McCartney), "Run for Your Life"
Paul McCartney - 5: "Drive My Car" (with Lennon), "You Won't See Me," "Michelle," "I'm Looking Through You," "Wait" (with Lennon)
George Harrison - 2: "Think for Yourself," "If I Needed Someone"
Ringo Starr - 1: "What Goes On"

Rubber Soul was where Lennon's maturing songwriting began to get experimental, with Harrison's sitar being added to his "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" and the introspective lyrics of "In My Life." Harrison's emergence as a writer continues with his two lead vocals, and Starr helped out with some of the lyrics to "What Goes On" and was given a co-writing credit - his first - on his only lead vocal on the album. McCartney was a little behind Lennon's pace, but he would soon make up for it.

 

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Revolver (1966)

John Lennon - 5: "I'm Only Sleeping," "She Said She Said," "And Your Bird Can Sing," Doctor Robert," "Tomorrow Never Knows"
Paul McCartney - 5: "Eleanor Rigby," "Here, There and Everywhere," "Good Day Sunshine," "For No One," "Got to Get You Into My Life"
George Harrison - 3: "Taxman," "Love You To," "I Want to Tell You"
Ringo Starr - 1: "Yellow Submarine"

The only full-length Beatles album with no co-lead vocals is also the first time Lennon and McCartney sing the same number of songs, five. With Harrison getting three with his compositions - the most he'd ever have on a one-disc Beatles LP - the Beatles were as close to a democracy, at least on record, as they would ever get.

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Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

John Lennon - 5: "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," "She's Leaving Home" (with McCartney), "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" (all four), "A Day in the Life" (with McCartney)
Paul McCartney - 8: "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "Getting Better," "Fixing a Hole," "She's Leaving Home" (with Lennon), "When I'm Sixty-Four," "Lovely Rita," "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" (all four), "A Day in the Life" (with Lennon)
George Harrison - 2: "Within You Without You," "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" (all four)
Ringo Starr - 2: "With a Little Help From My Friends," "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" (all four)

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band serves as the moment when the balance of power within the Beatles changed. In a reverse of what occurred only four years earlier on Please Please Me,  Lennon's totals are inflated through his contributions to two McCartney songs. While Harrison is relegated to one solo lead vocal ("Within You Without You"), Starr's spotlight, "With a Little Help From My Friends," is his most prominent on a Beatles album.

 

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Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

John Lennon - 5: "Flying" (all four), "I Am the Walrus," "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Baby, You're a Rich Man," "All You Need Is Love"
Paul McCartney - 6: "Magical Mystery Tour," "The Fool on the Hill," "Flying" (all four), "Your Mother Should Know," "Hello, Goodbye," "Penny Lane"
George Harrison - 2: "Flying" (all four), "Blue Jay Way"
Ringo Starr - 1: "Flying" (all four)

Even though Magical Mystery Tour is technically a compilation of songs from the made-for-TV movie and some recent non-LP singles created for the U.S. market, it nonetheless continues the shift in the band from Lennon's leadership to McCartney's. The latter gets a slight lead over his onetime songwriting partner, even though three of the singles and B-sides ("Strawberry Fields Forever," "Baby, You're a Rich Man" and "All You Need Is Love") belong to Lennon. Harrison's sole solo lead comes in his psychedelic "Blue Jay Way"; Starr is heard in unison with the other three in the wordless "Flying."

 

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The Beatles (1968)

John Lennon - 12: "Dear Prudence," "Glass Onion," "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill," "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," "I'm So Tired," "Julia," "Birthday" (with McCartney), "Yer Blues," "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey," "Sexy Sadie," "Cry Baby Cry," "Revolution 9"
Paul McCartney - 12: "Back in the U.S.S.R.," "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," "Wild Honey Pie," "Martha My Dear," "Blackbird," "Rocky Raccoon," "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" "I Will," "Birthday" (with Lennon), "Mother Nature's Son," "Helter Skelter," "Honey Pie"
George Harrison - 4: "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Piggies," "Long, Long, Long," "Savoy Truffle"
Ringo Starr - 2: "Don't Pass Me By," "Good Night"

The most sprawling Beatles album is also the one that's the easiest to figure out who who sings lead. With the exception of Lennon and McCartney sharing the spotlight on "Birthday," every song features lead vocals by the person who wrote it. But The Beatles still posed a few challenges. We counted "Revolution 9" as a Lennon song, even though there's no melody and few words, and we didn't give McCartney a co-credit for the "Can you take me back" coda tacked on to the end of "Cry Baby Cry." We also left "Revolution 1" off the list because it was released after the "Revolution" single included on Past Masters.

 

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Yellow Submarine (1968)

John Lennon - 2: "All Together Now," (with McCartney), "Hey Bulldog"
Paul McCartney - 1: "All Together Now" (with Lennon)
George Harrison - 2: "Only a Northern Song," "It's All Too Much"

With seven George Martin-written instrumentals and two previously released tracks, the Yellow Submarine soundtrack contains only four new Beatles songs, and half of those were written by Harrison. McCartney's sole contribution, the nursery rhyme-like "All Together Now," also features Lennon's lead vocals in the middle.

 

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Abbey Road (1969)

John Lennon - 7: "Come Together," "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," "Because" (with McCartney and Harrison), "Sun King" (with McCartney and Harrison), "Mean Mr. Mustard," "Polythene Pam," "Carry That Weight" (all four)
Paul McCartney - 10: "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," "Oh! Darling," "Because" (with Lennon and Harrison), "You Never Give Me Your Money," "Sun King" (with Lennon and Harrison), "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window," "Golden Slumbers," "Carry That Weight" (all four), "The End," "Her Majesty"
George Harrison - 5: "Something," "Here Comes the Sun," "Because" (with Lennon and McCartney), "Sun King" (with Lennon and McCartney), "Carry That Weight" (all four)
Ringo Starr - 2: "Octopus's Garden," "Carry That Weight" (all four)

As on Sgt. Pepper, the lean toward McCartney on Abbey Road shows that it was mostly his project, particularly the medley that takes up much of its second side. No other Beatles single album features a member of the group taking as many lead vocals as he does here (10), though three of those -- "Because," "Sun King" and "Carry That Weight" -- are in unison with at least two of his bandmates. Harrison's five leads, including two of his most beloved compositions, is the most he would ever get.

 

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Let It Be (1970)

John Lennon - 7: "Two of Us" (with McCartney), "Dig a Pony," "Across the Universe," "Dig It," "Maggie Mae" (with McCartney), "I've Got a Feeling" (with McCartney), "One After 909" (with McCartney)
Paul McCartney - 7: "Two of Us" (with Lennon), "Let It Be," "Maggie Mae" (with Lennon), "I've Got a Feeling" (with Lennon), "One After 909" (with Lennon), "The Long and Winding Road," "Get Back"
George Harrison - 2: "I Me Mine," "For You Blue"

For all the discord among the group at the time of Let It Be, particularly between its two most prolific vocalists, it's not reflected in the totals. Lennon and McCartney share lead four times, including one last trade-off on "I've Got a Feeling" and an aborted run-through of the Liverpudlian folk song "Maggie Mae." Harrison again gets to sing on the tracks he wrote; Starr gets shut out for the second time (not including Yellow Submarine).

 

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Past Masters (1988, consolidated as one set in 2009)

John Lennon - 16: "From Me to You" (with McCartney), "Thank You Girl" (with McCartney), "She Loves You," "I'll Get You" (with McCartney), "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (with McCartney), "This Boy" (with McCartney and Harrison), "I Call Your Name," "Slow Down," "I Feel Fine," "Bad Boy," "Yes It Is" (with McCartney and Harrison), "Rain," "Revolution," "Don't Let Me Down," "The Ballad of John and Yoko," "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)" (with McCartney)
Paul McCartney - 15: "From Me to You" (with Lennon), "Thank You Girl" (with Lennon), "I'll Get You" (with Lennon), "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (with Lennon), "This Boy" (with Lennon and Harrison), "Long Tall Sally," "She's a Woman," "Yes It Is" (with Lennon and Harrison), "I'm Down," "Day Tripper," "We Can Work It Out," "Paperback Writer," "Lady Madonna," "Hey Jude," "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)" (with Lennon)
George Harrison - 4: "This Boy" (with Lennon and McCartney), "Yes It Is" (with Lennon and McCartney), "The Inner Light," "Old Brown Shoe"
Ringo Starr - 1: "Matchbox"

For the two-disc Past Masters compilation, we've included only the songs that don't appear on any Beatles album (different versions of "Love Me Do," "Get Back," "Across the Universe" and "Let It Be" appear here). We also omit the German-language versions of "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" because they're mostly redundant. The rest of the set serves as a microcosm of everything that came earlier: Lennon sings lead on most of the early songs, either by himself or in tandem with McCartney, who takes greater control in the last few years. Harrison's contributions are four B-sides, two of which were in three-part harmony, and Starr gets to sing a Carl Perkins number from the Long Tall Sally EP.

 

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Anthology 1 (1995)
John Lennon - 1: "Free as a Bird" (with McCartney and Harrison)
Paul McCartney - 1: "Free as a Bird" (with Lennon and Harrison)
George Harrison - 1: "Free as a Bird" (with Lennon and McCartney)

Anthology 2 (1996)
John Lennon - 1: "Real Love"

The three surviving Beatles reunited to record new music for their Anthology documentary in the mid-'90s, building songs around a pair of demos recorded by Lennon. The first of those, "Free as a Bird," includes a b-section written by McCartney, with him singing it on the first go-round and Harrison during the second. "Real Love" is entirely Lennon's.

Beatles Solo Albums Ranked Worst to Best