It seems like the world just can’t let the Beatles rest. Decades and decades after the band’s initial dissolution, we now have a veritable hodgepodge of Beatles paraphernalia to last a lifetime: Beatles demos, uncovered Beatles footage, the whole Apple TV documentary, and, most recently, the “Super Deluxe” version of Revolver.
I grew up with the Beatles, having been born to parents who were just pretentious enough to make sure I never listened to a drop of Disney music and the top of the pops (for better and for worse). I’ve been through all the phases: initially, I was obsessed to the point of vexation, as little girls are wont to do. Then, realizing it wasn’t cool to be a nerd, I was anti-Beatle all the way. If anyone asked me about the Beatles, I’d tell them to kiss my ass, “The Kinks were so much better,” yada yada.
Now, I’m thankfully over giving a shit, and can assure you that if you’re here and at all curious, it won’t be for naught. Yes, at this point the Beatles are the pulpiest of beaten dead horses, but it’s not without a mixture of reasons. Some are good, like the individual band members’ propensity for musical innovation and experimentation. Some are not so good, like the birth of media fandom, the perpetuation of stolen styles from Black artists, and so on. Ultimately, the Beatles represent a lot about modern music, and even if their records aren’t spotless—as a band and as individuals—I think we’d be remiss to not honor them at least a little bit, if only for what they stand for.
So, here we are, with all these albums to work with, and I’m gonna rank them for you after having grown up with them as my very first Favorite Band. I’m just gonna stick with the straight-up albums, because I think all the post-mortem discoveries get in the way of one’s initial listening; you can, and should, absolutely look them up afterwards, though.
And, look, I already anticipate that this will be a controversial article, so let me leave a massive disclaimer here: I am not saying any of these albums are bad. Some are just easier on the ears than others. But ultimately, it was delightful to listen through these albums all the way through again. Delightful, and also difficult since these albums tend to all have winners with just a few duds.
Well, all of them, except the first on this list.
13. Yellow Submarine
I still can’t believe this was an actual studio album. What a new load of trivia for me: the boys were contractually obligated to record this album for the animated film of the same name, with four new songs and some original soundtrack pieces. Ultimately, though, they’re just kitschy songs to accompany a narrative constructed through pre-existing Beatles songs you can find on all the other albums on this list.
So, more to the point: was the movie good? Sure, I liked it as a kid, and the animation is very fun to look at. It’s worth a watch, if only for “Jeremy The Boob,” who I still think about from time to time. For better or for worse.
12. Beatles For Sale
The album photo here is very cool, and to me, it signals a departure from the more label-constricted image that the boys were subject to prior. However, it’s still a fairly bland album, one that even as a kid, I remember trying to enjoy and just finding boring.
Growing pains are normal, though, and the boys were still figuring out where they wanted to go after pop. They succeed later on down this list, and then really take off from there, which makes listening to Beatles For Sale all the more humorous. It’s like hooking up with a guy at Burning Man and realizing he studied Greek Lit at Brown. Spooky.
11. A Hard Day’s Night
This one might ruffle some feathers, and I’m okay with that. A Hard Day’s Night is a definite favorite among older crowds, as it was the last studio album carrying that “early-Beatles” sound to it to a T. It also reminds some of those crowds of their experiences seeing the movie of the same name, where they finally got to see what those floppy-haired gents looked like in action on the big screen.
It’s not a bad album in the slightest—it’s punchy! Its sound is just somewhat tame, and more of the same of its era, which would be fine if they didn’t have more experimental albums down the line.
Also, as far as movies go, this one was okay. Wilfrid Brambell as Paul’s grandfather was the highlight, for me.
10. Magical Mystery Tour
I’m so torn on this album. On the one hand, some of its songs are some of the band’s absolute coolest. I mean, come on. “Fool on the Hill?” “Strawberry Fields Forever?” Get outta here, those are bangers.
On the other hand, the rest of the album feels like an attempt to sell an image that really only works for certain people. It’s just a lot. The aesthetic of this whole shebang is absurd, and a little sad, which I feel comfortable saying because nobody I know likes this album. In fact, when I was going through my childhood Beatles phase and asked my uncle what he thought of the Beatles, he straight up said, “The only thing I know about them is that I hate Magical Mystery Tour.”
Which is a little intense. But yeah, this album is definitely built for a specific kind of person. It otherwise gets points for trying to expand the band’s vision and try its hand at the whole “concept album” thing again. And it loses points for “All You Need Is Love,” which corporations and churches need to collectively forget about, please and thank you.
9. With The Beatles
Now here’s where my heart breaks and that disclaimer really kicks in. I love this album, I really do. As their sophomore album, it stuck to the fun format of their first that attracted people in the first place, and then some. I mean, my god, it has “All My Loving.” Ugh! My heart!
But the thing is, you could really just meld this album with Please Please Me, and I wouldn’t know they were supposed to be separated. And again, that’s not a bad thing, but when it comes to ranking, it makes it a little hard to be partial just for sentimentality’s sake.
8. Please Please Me
Please Please Me gets the leg up on With The Beatles, since it’s the first, and I can only imagine the impact it had on audiences when it first came out. Imagine how nuclear the introduction of the Boy Band was to newly-globalized world who were only one or two generations into the invention of the television. Suddenly, you go from the slow dancing and the sock-hop to these handsome young men, who are instrumentally brilliant and energetically captivating.
I mean, goddamn, this album still slaps as far as debuts go. You hear that, college radio bros? Your noise project could never.
7. Rubber Soul
Speaking of college radio bros, my understanding is this is the album that hipsters are “willing to admit” they like. And I get it, it has departures from the more mainstream sounds the band put out at the time. It’s got “Norwegian Wood,” “Michelle,” and one of my personal favorites, “In My Life.” Pro-tip, babes: play this on guitar and you’ll get bros eating out the palm of your hand.
But while it’s a solid album and perfect for a casual afternoon listening, it has the same problem as Beatles For Sale: it’s still figuring itself out. And that raw, fluid sound certainly has its appeal, but when compared to some other albums here that have a more defined thing going on, it just doesn’t stack up.
6. The Beatles (The White Album)
I always saw this album as the Beatles’ “screw you” to the industry and to the whole pop-culture effect surrounding them. The White Album fluctuates between stark irony and earnest feeling, and I think it’s emblematic of the beginning of their end. On the one hand, they’re frustrated and just want to do their own thing. On the other hand, now that they are doing their own thing, they can put out songs like “Julia,” which still makes me teary to listen to.
Of course, just like going through a grocery list and finding an angry little note written to yourself, you just have to be in the mood for this sort of album. It’s all over the place, and that’s not a bad thing, but it can make it a difficult album to listen to just casually.
As an aside: growing up, I used to think of Animal Crossing whenever I’d listen to “Wild Honey Pie.” Does that combo work, or was I a weird kid? If you make a music video of Wild World paired with “Wild Honey Pie,” I might just fall in love with you.
This is probably my favorite album personally, but don’t worry, I didn’t let that bias my placement. Help! is a gorgeous album that reminds me of road trips and autumnal/winter weather. As well as this, the movie that accompanies the movie is my absolute favorite of theirs, even if it’s aged somewhat poorly.
This album has some of my favorite songs: “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” “I Need You,” “Another Girl,” and oh my god, “Ticket To Ride.” This album kicks ass. Alas, its bangers are held back by some dullards on the album, which makes it feel less like a winner and more like a strugglebug. Ah, well. It did ask for help, after all.
4. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club
Since my memory of Magical Mystery Tour was so poor, I’d forgotten how good Sgt. Pepper was. But guys, as far as concept albums go, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club is fantastic. It combines such a rich array of sounds and styles that all work to create an album aesthetic that’s easy to sink into. As a kid, I used to put this album on just to daydream to. Which might sound weird, but hey, I didn’t have access to the internet until I was ten.
It’s a special album that is only ever a pleasure to listen to, with only a couple skips on my end. Really, I can’t think of anything else I could say that encapsulates the experience of listening to this album all the way through. You should just, you know, do that.
3. Let It Be
I feel like I ought to just put it out there that I hate the actual song “Let It Be.” It’s too saccharine for me, and just like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” it’s been beaten to death for all the wrong reasons. The album as a whole, however, is the most beautiful, yet bittersweet goodbye from the band, as its final studio project. In fact, I’d say it’s my second favorite, personally. “Two Of Us,” “Dig A Pony,” “Across The Universe,” even “Dig It” … wow, wow, wow.
Let It Be, appropriately, has the most mature sound of all their albums, and was therefore the perfect prelude into their individual careers. I mean, god, playing Ram (by McCartney) right after this album feels like a match made in heaven. It’s not a downer album, it’s not bombastic, it’s perfectly emblematic of a group of musicians closing up a beloved project and getting ready for the next thing.
2. Abbey Road
Choosing between Abbey Road and Revolver for #1 is like having an actual revolver against my head. Ultimately, what puts Abbey Road a notch below is how frenetic it feels. It’s a sick album, and it probably has the coolest “style” out of all the others on this list. I mean, what absolute madmen, starting with “Come Together” and immediately transitioning into one of the greatest love songs of all time. Holy shit, chills.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t have as much of an identity as Revolver. It has the darkest sound to it, to be sure, and it’s really attractive to listen to. Honestly, I’d probably listen to Abbey Road over Revolver on any given day. But it definitely sounds like it was written by a bunch of different people who were starting to get sick of each other … which, sadly, is what was happening at the time.
God. Revolver … you know, not every song on this album is good. But as an overall album, it’s widely recognized as the best, and I have to share that opinion myself. For a band that experimented so wildly and frequently, it only makes sense that its most cohesive album is its best. This album encapsulated everything about the band, right in the middle of its career: it was a perfect blend of old and new, and as a result, it sounds utterly timeless.
In one corner, you have Paul’s musical theater inclinations with “Eleanor Rigby.” In another, you have sleepy ol’ George in “I’m Only Sleeping.” On the top end of this shape, there’s “She Said She Said,” with Lennon letting loose a little. And you’ve even got some Ringo action with “Yellow Submarine”—I mean, he didn’t write it, but it stands out because of his voice, much like how “After Hours” by The Velvet Underground is so notable because of their drummer’s unconventional voice.
If you’ve skipped ahead to the end because you weren’t about to read this long-ass article, well, then you’ve ended on a good spot. Listen to Revolver, go from there.
(featured image: Apple Records)
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