Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Worst to Best: The Beatles Albums

Hello and welcome to a brand new regular series here on the ole blog. In this inaugural episode of this new regular series, I take a look at all thirteen officially cataloged Beatles albums, from the worst to the best. So here we go. Have at 'em!

13. Yellow Submarine (1969) - Since I like all thirteen of the albums on this list, it is difficult to call one of them the worst, but alas, one of them must indeed come in last place, so why not this one. This album was actually rushed onto the market, and was seen as nothing more than a contractual obligation by the band. They had to provide four new songs for the animated film, so they did. Out of these four new songs, only the two George songs, "Only a Northern Song" and "It's All Too Much" are worth noting. The former was a leftover from the cutting room floor of the Sgt. Pepper sessions and the latter was slated for Magical Mystery Tour but used here instead. "Hey Bulldog" and "All Together Now" are not exactly The Beatles at their best. Side One is bookmarked by the title track and "All You Need is Love," both of which had already been on previous albums and released as singles. Side Two is George Martin's orchestral film score, which being George Martin, is actually quite lovely. Overall, not a terrible album by any means, but certainly the least of the band's discography. Like I said, something had to come in last place, so why not this one?.

12. With the Beatles (1963) - This was The Beatles second studio album, and to be honest, both this one and their debut album (listed next) could easily flip flop spots over and over again. I can never truly decide which is better. For the sake of the list, I'll place this one slightly below their debut, but more on that one in a bit. As for this album, it was the first one to be released in the States, and is what really started the ball rolling on the whole Beatlemania thing leading up to the Fab Four's appearances on Ed Sullivan a few months later. The album has "All My Loving" and "I Wanna Be Your Man," as well as covers such as "Money," "Roll Over Beethoven," and the beautiful "Til There Was You." It was also during these sessions that the band recorded "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "This Boy," which were released as a single only.

11. Please Please Me (1963) - Again, this debut album or their second one (the one listed just before this one - are you not reading along?) could easily flip flop, but right here and right now, I choose this one to be slightly above the other. With tracks such as "I Saw Her Standing There," "Love Me Do," and "Do You Want To Know A Secret?," and covers like "Baby It's You," and their phenomenal take on "Twist and Shout," this debut album is a visceral beast of an album, recorded in just 13 hours (some songs done in one take actually! and all while John had a cold!), started it all.

10. Beatles For Sale (1964) - This was the fourth studio release by the band, and it was the first to showcase a more mature Beatles sound. This album would open the way for the albums like Rubber Soul and Revolver to come about. With songs like "No Reply" and "I'm a Loser," John Lennon, who had recently come under the influence of a certain Mr. Dylan, began stretching as a songwriter. The big hit from the album (and the only single to be released) was "Eight Days A Week," a track that shows just how far the band had come musically. This album also features little-known gems like "Baby's in Black" and "What You're Doing," that only true Beatles fans know and love. We also get several covers, including a pair of great Carl Perkins renditions, with George doing "Everybody's Trying to be my Baby" and Ringo singing "Honey Don't." It was definitely the start of something.

9. Help! (1965) - The album that came between Beatles For Sale and Rubber Soul, this soundtrack had bits and pieces that seemed to be from both the band's earlier pop stuff and the new direction they began with the aforementioned Beatles For Sale. Tracks like "Ticket To Ride" and "You're Going To Lose That Girl," as well as the title track all have that early pop feel, but with a more mature musical sound. "Yesterday" marks a turning point in the band's way of doing things, as McCartney had recorded the song without any of the other three present. Hey, and the album also has Ringo's fun cover of the Johnny Russell tune, "Act Naturally," originally recorded by Buck Owens and his Buckaroos.

8. A Hard Day's Night (1964) - The third studio album by The Beatles, A Hard Day's Night was also the soundtrack to the band's first foray into cinema. The film is one of the best rock and roll films ever made, maybe even THE best, and the soundtrack ain't half bad either. With the band's signature sound coming to a head, this album is the best of their early stuff. This is also the first album to feature all original material, and the only Beatles album to feature nothing but Lennon/McCartney compositions, although George Harrison's guitar work was instrumental in making many of these songs work as well as they did. Sorry Ringo, maybe next time. Granted, this album is probably more pop sounding than the band's previous two more rock & roll sounding albums, but this would eventually lead in many new and interesting directions over the next few game changing albums.

7. Let It Be (1970) - Technically, due to its release date, this is the band's final album, but all these songs were recorded prior to the Abbey Road sessions, and compiled after the band broke up, so we should probably call it their penultimate album instead. Originally the album was meant to be released in 1969 under the title of Get Back, but the band was unhappy with the results and instead moved onto Abbey Road. But happy or not, this album has a lot going for it. It's not a traditional album in the sense of coherence (slapped together perhaps) but it has songs like "Across the Universe," "Get Back", "The Long and Winding Road," "Two of Us," and the title track, so there's that. It also has "Dig A pony" and "Dig It," two songs only true Beatles fans know and love.

6. Magical Mystery Tour (1967) - Released as a six song double EP in the UK and as a full album in the US, this is the oddball non-studio album listed on The Beatles official catalog of albums. Side one are the songs from the Beatles self=produced TV film, while side two is made up of new singles the band had recently recorded. Like Let It Be, this isn't an album in the conventional sense, but more of a compilation. Many music critics would probably put this one a bit lower on their lists, but I like it dammit! Hey, it was one of just five Beatles albums (along with Help!, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, and Abby Road) to be up for Album of the year. The album is in the more psychedelic vein that came about with Sgt. Pepper, released just a few months prior, and features a slew of great psychedelic rock songs like "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Baby You're A Rich Man," "The Fool On The Hill," and a fave of mine "Your Mother Should Know."

5. Abbey Road (1969) - The unofficial, official final Beatles album. This is The Beatles at the zenith of their power, and it is also The Beatles at the end of their road as a band. All four were already releasing solo work by the time they came together for this one final studio session. The bickering and sniping was at an all-time high, but what a damn fine album to come out of all that. With "Come Together," "Something" (George's only number one single), "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," "Oh Darling," Ringo's "Octopus's Garden," and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" comprising side one, and that groundbreaking medley on side two, how can this not be one of the best Beatles albums of all time...and one of the best albums period.

4. Rubber Soul (1965) - Although Beatles For Sale and Help! both began the transition, it was Rubber Soul that changed The Beatles from pop stars to true blue rock & roll legends. Yup. This is the album that changed it all. This is the album that led to Revolver and Sgt. Pepper and The White Album and so on and so on. And it all came from Bob Dylan turning the Fab Four onto the wonders of marijuana. From their new found maturity in songwriting (from boy/girl pop songs to more nostalgic and/or nuanced kind of relationship songs) to their growing experimentation with new musical styles and instruments ("Norwegian Wood" is considered the song that gave rise to the sitar craze of the late 1960's), Rubber Soul was indeed what one would call a real game-changer. This true turning point of an album took the former pop sensibilities of the Fab Four, and spewed forth a mature, deeply resonating (both literally and figuratively) work of art. And hey, it has "Run For Your Life," which Lennon later denounced, but I love.

3. The White Album (1968) - This one is my wife's favourite Beatles album. Technically a self-titled release, the nickname White Album, coming from the barren look of the cover, in purposeful contradiction with the overly busy look of Sgt. Pepper the previous year, has stuck, and will forever be known as just that. An epic double album that was spawned from the band's trip to India, and their discovery of all the wonders that came with hallucinogenics. From the Beach Boys parody opening track of "Back in the USSR," to the melodic brilliance of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," to the unique creatures like "Savoy Truffle" and "Glass Onion," to the rock & roll beats of "Helter Skelter" and "Revolution," to the fun of "Rocky Raccoon" and "Bungalow Bill," to the sweetness of "Blackbird" and the tenderness of "Julia," this album just keeps on giving and giving and giving. This album, along with the next two (obviously), are albums that belong in anybody's greatest albums of all-time lists.

2. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band (1967) - Many lists have this album in the top spot. And not just Beatles lists, but lists of the greatest albums of all-time. Obviously I do not have this at the top of my list, but damn is it ever close. Sgt. Pepper, released on June 1st, 1967, just a month and a day before I shuffled into this mortal coil, was what many would call a game changer. Seriously, this album changed the face of music for years to come. With songs like "Getting Better," "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," and "A Day in the Life," possibly the best Beatles song ever, how could this not be a game changer!? An older friend of mine, who was actually around when these albums were first being released, told me something interesting once. He said "We weren't ready for Rubber Soul, but it got us ready for Revolver. We weren't ready for Revolver either, but that got us ready for Sgt. Pepper, and we really weren't ready for that." But alas, this one is only number two on my countdown from worst to best, which means the number one spot belongs to...

1. Revolver (1966) - After the critical success of Rubber Soul the year before, The Beatles knew they were going in a whole new direction in their music, and Revolver was the natural progression from that. I know I have used the term game changer a lot in this list, but how can I not. The Beatles were changing everything in music with every album they made, so with that in mind, here is yet another game changer in the Beatles oeuvre. Author and music critic Robert Rodriguez wrote in his book that revolver is "crackling with potent immediacy." That is exactly it! Some of my favourite Beatles tunes are on this album. "Eleanor Rigby," "And Your Bird Can Sing," "I'm Only Sleeping," "Tomorrow Never Knows," and 'Got to Get You Into My Life," are some of these favourite crackling tracks. I think what makes Revolver a greater work than Sgt. Pepper is that with Pepper, the band did many of the recordings separate from the others. With Revolver, it was a collaborative effort, and probably the last time the band would so closely collaborate on an album. As Please Please Me had ushered in a brand new sound in pop music, Revolver did the same, almost canceling out anything that had come before it. Brilliance in abundance. And I think it may be my favourite album cover as well.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

2 comments:

  1. I was looking forward to this list just to see how you could rate them since there are a few that could all be #1. Great homage to the Fab Four who changed musical history

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    1. Yeah, the top three are relatively interchangeable, depending on my current mood. Maybe even the top five.

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