Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ranking the 12 Studio Albums of The Beatles

Though my favorite rock band of all time is Queen, and Journey may still rank somewhat higher in my musical tastes than The Beatles, it's hard to deny the influence they've had on me, or on anyone for that matter. There w ill always be bands that did it better, and there may be elements that existed prior to The Beatles, but the fact is no one brought it together quite like they did.

Think about this for a moment: a group so popular, that they gave up touring. Can you imagine that thought crossing any of your favorite music act's mind? And not even that they were bored of it. They had to give it up, because it had become entirely too exhausting and dangerous. There has never been, nor will there be, anything like Beatlemania.

There aren't too many other music acts I can name all the albums (MJ, Green Day, and blink182 come to mind, though) but there's something so endearing about them. The evolution of the sound, the formation of identities both collectively and individually, the maturity of the songwriting and musicianship... It's a fascinating progression.

Here's my ranking of the 12 Studio Albums of The Beatles:

12.) Yellow Submarine (1969)
Much of the 10th album is dedicated to George Martin's fantastic score for the movie accompanying this album.
As much as people like to honor Martin as the "Fifth Beatle" and as fun and lovely as the score is, there's not the same amount of contribution you'd want from a Beatles studio album. (But "Pepperland" is a fantastic track.)
That said, "It's All Too Much" is a fine but forgettable Harrison contribution, "Hey Bulldog" is an obvious Lennon track, and the session is home to two iconic tracks that are both endearing and irritating in their repetitiveness; I am of course speaking of the title track (which almost ruins another album later on), and "All You Need Is Love", which, while the message is one of good cheer, is boringly repetitious.

11.) With The Beatles (1963)
Despite probably being the most iconic album cover of the studio albums, With the Beatles, the 2nd of the group, is mostly forgettable.
Except for "All My Loving", I don't find myself gravitating toward any of the other tracks on this session. All the cover songs (present on the first two albums) aren't as strong as the first album, which brings it down a lot for me. I mean, Chuck Berry? Smokey Robinson? Sorry, Beatles. You lose this round.

10.) Beatles for Sale (1964)
There are better covers on this album, but it's kind of The Beatles' "emo" album. And unfortunately, there are bands better at being emo.
"I'm A Loser" and "Baby's in Black" set the tone, and "What You're Doing" brings it home in the same theme.
The bitter overall tone of the album aside, I actually rather like "I'll Follow the Sun".
The Carl Perkins covers are pretty synonymous to me with the Beatle that sang them, so much so I thought they wrote them for years: Starr sings "Honey Don't", Harrison sings "Everybody's Trying to be My Baby." These also fit the cohesion of the album really well.

9.) Please Please Me (1963)
The debut album of the band features some truly great covers: "Chains", "Anna", "Baby It's You", and of course "Twist and Shout".
It kicks off with "I Saw Her Standing There" and the second side kicks off with "Love Me Do."
It's pure 60s rock fun, with the wild and whimsy of a still-young group, unfettered by the burdens of touring.
Simple, straightforward, and fun. What more is there to say?

8.) A Hard Day's Night (1964)
The Beatles' third album is definitively their own, and you've got Lennon-McCartney at its strongest, with strong Lennon tracks like "You Can't Do That", and strong McCartney tracks like "And I Love Her."
It's still a younger quartet attempting to find their sound, but "Can't Buy Me Love" and the title track are a good set of songs too.

7.) Help! (1965)
Help is a bit like the second draft to Hard Day's, with a lot of the similar structure, but "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" being a stronger Lennon song, and "I've Just Seen a Face" being a much stronger McCartney song. There's also contributions from the other two Beatles, with Harrison writing and singing "You Like Me Too Much", and Starr singing a cover of "Act Naturally."
I frankly think it moves a lot better than Hard Day's, but I feel like most people prefer Hard Day's. I think they forget how good Help is.

6.) Let It Be (1970)
I really wish I could rank the final studio album much, much higher, but there's just so much sadness to the album that I can't. I can't listen to the album without getting really disappointed that the band ended flickering out rather than with a bang. The album as originally presented lacks cohesion with its sound and production offset by its lyrical maturity.
The cover shows they're not the four "mop-top kids from Liverpool" anymore. They're four different personalities, and they hadn't been The Beatles for years. Even the title track implies a group leaving the past behind.
That said, it's hard to find a weak track here, although "For You Blue" is a weak Harrison track, and I've never been much of a fan of "One After 909". To offset that, Lennon's "Across the Universe" is probably his most hauntingly beautiful track,

5.) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
It's the equivalent of a concept album, like Yoshimi Battles the Pink the Robots was for The Flaming Lips, or American Idiot was for Green Day, it started here.
I read once that the original theme behind Sgt. Pepper was to be growing up, childhood, that sort of thing. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" would be the biggest standout of this album if not for "A Day in the Life," a mash-up of two disparate elements that somehow work together. But you've also got "With a Little Help from My Friends", "When I'm Sixty-Four", "Getting Better"...
I mean, there's really not a bad track on here. It moves well, it's youthful, fun, "Within You Without You" is a fantastic George Harrison contribution, it's just a solid album. I sometimes like to say that a young Beatles fan will gravitate toward Sgt. Pepper. When they get older, they'll go to The White Album, or Revolver, but there's a soft spot in every fan for the Magnum Opus that is Sgt. Pepper's.

4.) The Beatles (aka, The White Album) (1968)
I think The White Album is The Beatles at their most transitory. There's a lot of unfinished ideas, a lot of emerging directions. No song is ever offensively too long, but no feeling ever lingers for long either. With Sgt. Pepper's, the feeling may be frivolous, but at least it's consistent.
I think after showing so much maturity, this album doesn't quite deliver the next step, it flounders the group a bit, but the parts to love are pretty great.
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is my favorite Beatles composition ever. I used to have an iPod playlist of just covers of it.
Lennon and McCartney both throwback to their rock roots: Lennon on "Revolution 1", McCartney on "Helter Skelter." You've also got "Blackbird", you've got Bungalow Bill or Rocky Raccoon for more storied songs, you've got "Martha My Dear" for lighter fare, "Happiness is a Warm Gun" and the aforementioned Revolution, if you want to see where Lennon's political leanings were headed, the slightly more psychedelic "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"... There's something for everyone here. But like I said, it's only a little something.

3.) Abbey Road (1969)
For years, Road probably would've topped my list.
"Come Together", "Here Comes the Sun", and "Something" are three excellent Beatles tracks, and then of course you have the whole B-Side Suite, ending with the McCartney couple that brings it all home.
I'm still not a fan of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and most likely never will be, but the rest of the album is just absolutely solid. It's The Beatles at their most centered, their most mature, their most realized.

2.) Rubber Soul (1965)
I love folk music, and Soul consists almost exclusively of folk-inspired songs.
I love "Norwegian Wood" and "Nowhere Man".
"I'm Looking Through You" is haunting, as is "If I Needed Someone", and of course the album contains "In My Life", which was penned by Lennon, decades before he would've even grasped the gravity of his poetry.
Despite the increasing mellowness and withdrawn personality starting to come through, this album is a little more youthful, a little more raw, and only really works in conjunction with...

1.) Revolver (1966) number 1 pick. Revolver is fantastic on its own, but really starts to make sense in the context of being sandwiched between Soul and Sgt. Pepper.
With Revolver, I feel like The Beatles understood what they wanted to be. And if they'd remained together, I think the album also represents the music center of where they would've stayed. Road would've been somewhat of their return to roots, and every band experiments, and The Beatles certainly did. But if we had The Beatles still, like we do the Stones, I think Revolver is most indicative of what they would've sounded like for a while, especially if they'd gone back on tour.

"Eleanor Rigby", "Tomorrow Never Knows", "Love You To", and "I'm Only Sleeping." Every Beatle gets on this album, and even "Yellow Submarine" I think fits in better here.
What else can I say about this album? It's the thesis statement of the Beatles sound.