Ranked! - The Beatles' Original Album Releases
As you can see, Danny Baker posted an interesting comment on Twitter the other day:
He’s opened an interesting can of worms. Is Sgt. Pepper really the best album of all time, or in fact the best Beatles album? From someone who roughly knows his way around a Beatles record, I’d like to think I’d be alright at giving this ranking thing a go, and we're going to do just that.
Just to clarify, it's only studio albums that are being considered. None of those bootlegs or otherwise superior cuts featured on slightly dodgy eighties tapes are going to be mentioned, although that can be arranged. Before we go any further, the soundtrack for the Yellow Submarine film isn't here either - that just doesn't count.
12. Magical Mystery Tour
At this juncture, it's important to remember that this is my own personal opinion and that it's pretty difficult to say that there's a "bad" Beatles record. Yet, Magical Mystery Tour is placed down at the No. 12 position. Why? My real problem is that it doesn't click like other Beatles albums of this era that are up higher in my list. For every Baby You're A Rich Man, there's a Blue Jay Way, and for every Fool On The Hill, there's a Flying. It doesn't flow like Sgt. Pepper and that's my ultimate issue.
The other problem really is its commercial feeling. I know that people will take issue with the fact I'm having a grudge against Hello Goodbye and All You Need Is Love, and whilst they are brilliant songs, they're not as fantastic as the other songs from around this time. Fan-favourites will always been fan-favourites, you can't change that, but since the average Joe likes these sorts of songs, they sound a bit distant compared to some of the proper album tracks.
11. With The Beatles
Some people aren't going to like this decision, but The Beatles' second LP, With The Beatles has narrowly missed out on a Top 10 place.
Compared to their youthful debut that's full of well-placed energy, With The Beatles, like Magical Mystery Tour in some regards, just falls short. It's always been the record for me that I've looked over compared to their other work from pre-1965. It's the album that gave us All My Loving, which is a cracking song, but then again, the rest of the album is a little bit lost.
For instance, Little Child is hardly Lennon's best work, and whilst it's a bit of rock and roll fun, it's not setting the world alight, even with that harmonica solo. It's a pretty similar story on the second side, especially with the McCartney fronted Hold Me Tight featuring simple lyricism and an unimpressive backing. It's alright, but that's really my issue with this album - it's just alright.
10. Let It Be
Just breaking into the Top 10 comes the band's final studio release, Let It Be. Under any other circumstances, this 1970 album would be pushing the Top 5, but there's one key factor holding it back - Phil Spector.
As strange as it may sound, the famed producer ruined what was meant to be a raw and stripped-back record. The addition of strings onto the Long And Winding Road doesn't help the song, nor does the weird distortion on Across The Universe. Moreover, Dig It on this release is only 50 seconds, and on the Glyn Johns original would've been around four minutes. There's just something inherently wrong about messing with what The Beatles wanted to be a throwback to their debut, and that's a cardinal sin personally speaking.
It's not a bad album by any means, and the collection of classics such as Dig A Pony and One After 909 does make for a record with plenty of backbone and substance. It's got some proper Beatles tunes on it, and under the original Get Back moniker with the stripped-back production, it would be higher placed, but Phil Spector just holds it back.
9. Please Please Me
No. 9 brings us to the very beginning of The Beatles studio albums and Please Please Me.
This couldn't be placed outside the Top 10 due to its historical significance, and also because it's got a better selection of songs that the likes of With The Beatles. There's an energy present on the band's debut that wasn't really replicated on any follow-ups and that's its charm. Both covers like Chains and own compositions like Please Please Me portray this perfectly, with their spirit and upbeat sentiments.
It acted as the perfect introduction to one of the world's biggest groups and it's hard to argue with that charm, especially given the famous front cover. The variety of songs that are just written by Lennon & McCartney here are outstanding and the included covers help to beef out a great debut album. What it lacks however is any variety of subject, but that's not something to hold against a debut album like this.
As the soundtrack to their second film, the Help! Album should’ve offered an improvement on the music to A Hard Day’s Night, but, in fact, it can be said that it offers a parallel, not an improvement, being placed at No. 8 on this list.
It’s one of the last full love-song albums that The Beatles made before a change of direction in 1966. With Help!, whilst there’s inklings of that grown-up songwriting, most of the record is littered with similar stories to some of their previous work. What makes this better than those previous efforts though are the variety of melodies and the overall construction of the songs here. It’s Only Love and You Like Me Too Much are standouts on the part of album
tracks, with the more commercial tracks holding this one back, personally speaking.
As beautiful as Yesterday is, it’s become the most-covered song in music history and after several listens does start to wear thin. The same can be said for the likes of Ticket To Ride, which, whilst is a great song on its own, when mixed with Dizzy Miss Lizzy and the title track, just hold this one back. As one reviewer said at the time: “It's typical Beatles material, and offers very few surprises. But then, who wants surprises from the Beatles?”
7. A Hard Day's Night
The band’s first film and third studio record finds itself as No. 7 on this list. A Hard Day’s Night makes up for the lack of variety on With The Beatles immensely, building on their debut in a great way.
There’s not a song over three minutes on the record, but that’s not a bad thing. Considering it’s about quality as opposed to quantity, A Hard Day’s Night is one of the best Beatles albums on that front, as well as one of the best that popular music has ever produced. In addition, the variety present is refreshing, from the emotional tones of And I Love Her to the upbeat and groovy Any Time At All.
For a soundtrack album too, it surpasses any expectations and there’s always something new to find. The second half of A Hard Day’s Night is arguably the better half, featuring some deeper cuts like I’ll Be Back and Things We Said Today, which, whilst are two of the more serious tracks, provide a nice contrast to the lovey-dovey first half and are some of the first inklings of the more serious Lennon.
6. Beatles For Sale
Released in the same year as A Hard Day's Night, Beatles For Sale is the finest pre-1965 Beatles record, narrowly missing out on the Top 5.
Despite the weariness and solemnity on the cover, Beatles For Sale should go down as one of the best collections of Beatles songs of all time. There's some properly good songwriting present on the likes of I'm A Loser and No Reply, marking a more introspective style in John Lennon's compositions. It's a bit darker-sounding on these songs and the whole album than what preceded it on the likes of Please Please Me and it's all the more welcome.
Some of the deeper cuts are where Beatles For Sale really stands out though. The likes of Every Little Thing or I Don't Want To Spoil The Party aren't ones you're going to hear on the radio anytime soon, but in part, that's the beauty of this record. As much as it spawned the non-album single I Feel Fine, Beatles For Sale is the album that gets overlooked when placed alongside the other parts of their discography, and it's that overlooked sentiment that puts it so high up on my list.
5. Rubber Soul
Rubber Soul starts off our Top 5 with the first of the band's properly grown-up records, dating from 1965.
Whilst there are classic pop love songs like Drive My Car, these are undoubtedly overshadowed by the likes of Norwegian Wood and Nowhere Man, marking a shift in the focus of the likes of Lennon and McCartney's songwriting, which is all the more welcome. Norwegian Wood is a standout, and whilst it is one of the more popular songs here, its inclusion of the sitar and relaxed feeling makes it a great track nonetheless. So too is Michelle on the part of McCartney, incorporating tidbits of French into the lyrics, supposedly dreamed up by French teacher and wife of old school friend Ivan Vaughn, Jan Vaughn.
The Beatles took greater control of the creative process on Rubber Soul, with everything from the arrangement to the cover being under their watchful eye. What emerged is one of the best albums in their back catalogue, with something a bit more soulful yet sensible, and a record considered by Beatles fans worldwide to be a major turning point in their career.
4. The Beatles (The White Album)
Narrowly missing out on the Top 3 is The Beatles' eponymous Marmite record, otherwise known as The White Album.
As a double album, The White Album covers a lot of ground and delves into everything from psychedelic rock to suicidal blues. In that regard, it's one of the richer collections in their back catalogue. Most songs present were written on trips to India, although the harmony there was soon forgotten when it came to the recording sessions. The diversity of the songs here can be put down to each member's own personal interests and that's probably The White Album has gone down as one of the best of all time. Its variety is unrivalled.
In addition, the likes of Happiness Is A Warm Gun and Honey Pie hark back to earlier days in music, especially given the three-songs-in-one nature of the former. There's elements of prog rock present here even, juxtaposed by the latter's music hall. It's those contrasts that made The White Album stand out to me, as well as the innovation and variety that it offers.
3. Abbey Road
The Beatles' penultimate release Abbey Road comes in as the first entry into our Top 3, coming in late to the party in 1969.
Unlike some of their previous efforts, it's hard to pick any fault with Abbey Road, so much so that it's a beautiful album. That's not a word that gets thrown around when describing music, and it's only right that it's used to describe this masterpiece. Whilst there's some tensions and atmosphere from The White Album still hanging in the air as Come Together's gritty riff starts, it's all gone by The End. Abbey Road isn't just a great collection of songs; it's a proper
The first side is incredible, with the likes of Come Together and Maxwell's Silver Hammer appearing as standout tracks, throwing caution to the wind with subject matter and letting the music do the talking. Where Abbey Road undoubtedly excels though is its second side medley. It's perhaps the most famous medley in music history. Learning from The White Album, it showcases the band's ability to make songs that as standalone tracks would be discarded as outtakes, but when put together, make something out of this world. There's something charming about the likes of Sun King and Mean Mr. Mustard that only The Beatles could create and the world's all the more welcome for it.
2. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
The aforementioned Sgt. Pepper only comes in at the No. 2 spot, but has become enshrined in history as one of the best albums of all time.
Some may dispute this, but in all honesty, the way that Sgt. Pepper flows from one track into the next and how each one slots in perfectly, it’s hard to argue with its brilliance. From the opening band noises at the start to the final chord on A Day In The Life, you can’t really get much better.
It’s a number of the lesser-recognised songs on this record that make it stand out to me. Fixing A Hole and Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite! are songs that seem overlooked in the wider Beatles back catalogue and even on Sgt. Pepper to an extent. It’s when one delves into this album that they find how brilliant those songs are. They’re simple enough, but also carry with them some incredible musicianship that helps to cement it as one of the best albums in music history.
“Why isn’t it at No. 1 then?”, I hear you ask. As good as Sgt. Pepper is, there’s a watershed moment before it that would send the band down the creative path to psychedelia, and it’s that album that deserves the credit. As Danny Baker said above, it’s the “clever answer” not to put Sgt. Pepper at No. 1 and maybe we’ve just been a bit clever here.
We’ve talked about the brilliance of Revolver on the site before, so it should come as little surprise that it’s come in at No. 1 on this ranking.
It’s the album where The Beatles grow up and become a real creative force. They’re way ahead of their time on the rhythmic and groovy Got To Get You Into My Life and the satire on the likes of Taxman wouldn’t have been heard on previous releases. It’s generally assumed that Revolver is a major turning point for the band’s musical direction, and it’s one of the best in history.
The Indian influences on the likes of Love You To and Tomorrow Never Knows marked a welcome creative shift from the two minute love songs of the early years. Even Yellow Submarine is sweet in its own special way. The likes of And Your Bird Can Sing and She Said She Said will go down in history as some of their best work. What’s particularly marvellous about Revolver is how everything just fits together so well, even with a lot of completely different themes and genres mixed together.
As a band, there will be no one like The Beatles for as long as music lasts. Once a small rock and roll band in the clubs of Liverpool, they'd go on to become a proper creative force, with each new song taking on personality and charm. This list is just my opinion, and those by others will be different. All opinions aside though, the music they've created is timeless and will never be equalled.