The Beatles Discography

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Note: Just for fun, I rated each song on each album out of 10 and then averaged the overall album score. This is a valid yet flawed way to look at these albums; after all, on my proper scale, most of them get an A+, and simply rating each song and conflating the hard data doesn't account for the spirit an album can have as a cohesive work. Case in point: The White Album is my second favorite album of all-time, and yet it ranks behind several other Beatles albums using this method. The other albums have more consistent song quality, but what makes The White Album so great are the varied and experimental song styles, which is precisely what hinders it on this scale. So like I said, this is just another fun way to look at the greatest body of work any recording artists have ever left behind.

PLEASE PLEASE ME (1963)

I Saw Her Standing There - 10
Misery - 8
Anna (Go to Him) - 8
Chains - 7
Boys - 9
Ask Me Why - 7
Please Please Me - 8
Love Me Do - 10
P.S. I Love You - 9
Baby It's You - 10
Do You Want to Know a Secret? - 10
A Taste of Honey - 8
There's a Place - 8
Twist and Shout - 10
OVERALL = 8.7/10

The songwriting hasn't fully blossomed yet, as should be expected from any band on their debut album. But of course the Beatles weren't just any band, and the compositions are already remarkable. "I Saw Her Standing There" is a raucous opener, matched in ferocity only by the closer, "Twist and Shout," with some of the most orgasmic wails ever recorded. The rest of the classics--"Love Me Do," "Baby It's You," "Do You Want to Know a Secret?"--are all hooky, innocent pop songs whose sound marks them of their time, but whose universality and spirit render timeless. The other tracks are largely in the same mold, with strong originals and covers that the band had been working on and playing for years. In fact, the album was recorded in less than ten hours; if you ever wanted to attend an early Beatles concert, this is as close as you'll get on record. Youthful energy, vitality, and playfulness permeate the entire album, and yet they still don't approach the heights they would ascend in the years to come.

WITH THE BEATLES (1963)

It Won't Be Long - 10
All I've Got to Do - 9
All My Loving - 10
Don't Bother Me - 8
Little Child - 8
Til There Was You - 7
Please Mister Postman - 9
Roll Over Beethoven - 9
Hold Me Tight - 9
You've Really Got a Hold on Me - 8
I Wanna Be Your Man - 8
Devil in Her Heart - 7
Not a Second Time - 8
Money (That's What I Want) - 9
OVERALL = 8.5/10

The lads sound better and more polished on their second outing, but in the process lose a bit of the rawness and excitement of the debut. But only a little bit. This is still a great, fun pop album, even if the songs aren't as good as they were the first time out (which is really what holds this one back). "It Won't Be Long," a rollicking Lennon number, and "All My Loving," a dreamy McCartney love song, are the classics, and perfectly demonstrate the personalities that the two had carved out early on. Outside of those two, George Harrison gets both the strongest and weakest moments on the album: "Roll Over Beethoven," one of the group's finest covers, with George rockin' the Chuck Berry riff; and "Devil in Her Heart," a decent but rather hoary Donays cover. "All I've Got to Do" and "Hold Me Tight" are other stand-outs, though they don't mark new territory so much as expertly recycle the band's already established trademarks.

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (1964)

A Hard Day's Night - 10
I Should Have Known Better - 10
If I Fell - 10
I'm Happy Just to Dance with You - 9
And I Love Her - 10
Tell Me Why - 9
Can't Buy Me Love - 10
Any Time At All - 10
I'll Cry Instead - 9
Things We Said Today - 9
When I Get Home - 9
You Can't Do That - 9
I'll Be Back - 9
OVERALL = 8.8/10

A Hard Day's Night marked the Beatles' first big leap (and was accompanied by an equally brilliant film). They've discarded the tried-and-true covers, and the album is stacked with splendid Lennon/McCartney originals. Literally every single song on the album is amazing; not only is the songwriting better and far more consistent, but you can tell they've grown and improved as a band. The playing is tight and energetic, the vocals emotive, the harmonies obscenely catchy. The early period Beatles don't get much better than the title track, with that unforgettable opening chord, George's excellent double-tracked guitar solo, and the mesmerizing arpeggio that brings it to a fade. But there are contenders, most notably "Can't Buy Me Love," the first song featuring only one singing Beatle, Paul. His voice is strong enough that it doesn't need to be supplemented by the others, including the scream that leads into another great Harrison solo. John gets in a poignant ballad, "If I Fell," as well as another terrific rocker, "Any Time At All." George also gets a turn at the mic on "I'm Happy Just to Dance with You," a blissfully to-the-point ode to just wanting to dance with somebody. Only Ringo doesn't get a chance to shine, though his drumming is already significantly better than it was on the first two albums. This is a perfect pop record, matched in its simplicity and ceaseless energy only by the Ramones' debut.

BEATLES FOR SALE (1964)

No Reply - 10
I'm a Loser - 9
Baby's in Black - 9
Rock and Roll Music - 9
I'll Follow the Sun - 10
Mr. Moonlight - 7
Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! - 7
Eight Days a Week - 10
Words of Love - 8
Honey Don't - 7
Every Little Thing - 8
I Don't Want to Spoil the Party - 8
What You're Doing - 9
Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby - 8
OVERALL = 8.5/10

After a year-and-a-half of touring, writing, recording, filming, and all the other duties that come with being the biggest band in the land, the Beatles were exhausted. And it shows on Beatles for Sale. I mean, just the title alone points to their weariness with being treated as an object to be consumed. Plus there's the album cover, with each of the boys appearing tired and reserved. Which is not to say that there isn't great stuff on the album. The opening stretch is particularly remarkable, with the depressing Lennon trilogy of "No Reply," "I'm a Loser," and "Baby's in Black" finding John looking inward and reflecting on his dissatisfaction and loneliness. Then there's his great cover of "Rock and Roll Music," followed by Paul's beautiful "I'll Follow the Sun," pretty easily the album's shining moment, breaking through the exhaustion and world-weariness with a bright melody and a tender vocal which nevertheless fail to disguise the fact that it's a song about loss. Despite the stronger moments, the album also contains some of the band's weakest material: the phoned-in covers of "Mr. Moonlight," "Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!," and "Honey Don't" are all enjoyable but rank among the least of the Beatles' work. Another great album, but a tiring one, which is actually what makes it as good as it is. For the first time, under unbelievable pressure and strain, the Beatles actually looked beyond silly love songs to deeper themes and concerns.

HELP! (1965)

Help! - 10
The Night Before - 9
You've Got to Hide Your Love Away - 9
I Need You - 9
Another Girl - 9
You're Gonna Lose That Girl - 9
Ticket to Ride - 10
Act Naturally - 7
It's Only Love - 8
You Like Me Too Much - 8
Tell Me What You See - 8
I've Just Seen a Face - 10
Yesterday - 10
Dizzy Miss Lizzy - 7
OVERALL = 8.8/10

The Beatles' best album to date, Help! comes in between the Beatles' period as mop-topped pop stars and mature, reflective musicians. As such, a straight-up blast like "Ticket to Ride" coexists with the adult emotion of "Yesterday," essentially a Paul solo piece. Most of the songs lie somewhere in between: there's the title track, a real cry for help that John later criticized for being recorded as a fast rocker when it should've been slower, more Dylanesque; "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," which is actually pretty Dylanesque, a catchy downer in the vein of Beatles for Sale's "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party"; the sublime "I've Just Seen a Face," one of the Beatles' best and most assured love songs; or "I Need You," George's first really substantial songwriting credit, a plaintive cry to a loved one with some wonderfully understated guitar work. The two covers, "Act Naturally," Ringo's tribute to his beloved country-and-western music, and John's take on "Dizzy Miss Lizzy," feel out of place amidst the evolution that was seemingly taking place within the band. So it's not their most consistent album, but for what it does and for just how classic its classics are, it's the best album they recorded before they leaped into the stratosphere with Rubber Soul.

RUBBER SOUL (1965)

Drive My Car - 10
Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) - 10
You Won't See Me - 10
Nowhere Man - 10
Think for Yourself - 9
The Word - 9
Michelle - 10
What Goes On - 9
Girl - 10
I'm Looking Through You - 10
In My Life - 10
Wait - 10
If I Needed Someone - 10
Run for Your Life - 8
OVERALL = 9.6/10

The Beatles' second big leap, and the one that solidified them as the greatest band in the world. Gone are the straightforward love songs, in their place contemplative lyrics and strikingly developed musicianship. From the opening moments of "Drive My Car," you can hear how much better they sound. And even though the song ends up being one of the most lightweight on the album, it's still masterful. "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" follows, the definitive statement that the Beatles have grown up. At the time, John was still heavily influenced by Dylan, and this influence shows on the song, though considering the harmony with Paul, and George's use of the sitar (the first such use of the instrument on a rock song), it couldn't be anything but a Beatles number. John again plays the role of cuckold on "Girl," in which his woman humiliates and abandons him. "Nowhere Man" feels like the culmination of everything John had been trying since Beatles for Sale, the ultimate song of loneliness and uselessness.

Paul's songs also show significant maturation. "You Won't See Me" and "I'm Looking Through You" are both about unsatisfying lovers; in the former, his girl refuses to see him, and he "can't go on," while in the latter the woman he's with no longer resembles the one he'd fallen in love with. George continues to show encouraging growth as a songwriter, with "Think for Yourself" urging its subject to do just that, while on "If I Needed Someone" he promises he'd be in love with you if only he wanted to be in love with you. Even Ringo is at odds with the fairer sex, beautifully harmonizing with John and Paul on "What Goes On" to a lying, cheating girl. On the lighter side, Paul's "Michelle" is a dreamy ballad that was perhaps the most omnipresent Beatles song in 1965.

As great as the rest of the album is, "In My Life" is in a class all its own, a majestic ode to all the people and places John had loved in his life: "Some are dead and some are living/In my life, I've loved them all." It features possibly the most emotional and moving guitar work in the Beatles catalogue, and peaks with producer George Martin's Bach-influenced piano solo. The album ends on a relatively bum note with "Run for Your Life," in which a viciously jealous Lennon promises, "Catch you with another man, little girl, that's the end." Lennon later called it his least favorite Beatles song, as well as the song he most regretted writing. Well, you know what they say about hindsight. Still, a ridiculously great album with an embarrassment of riches.

REVOLVER (1966)

Taxman - 10
Eleanor Rigby - 10
I'm Only Sleeping - 10
Love You To - 10
Here, There and Everywhere - 10
Yellow Submarine - 10
She Said She Said - 10
Good Day Sunshine - 10
And Your Bird Can Sing - 10
For No One - 10
Doctor Robert - 9
I Want to Tell You - 10
Got to Get You Into My Life - 10
Tomorrow Never Knows - 10
OVERALL = 9.9/10

The Beatles' greatest achievement, Revolver is a crisp sonic marvel populated with sounds rock music had scarcely heard before. Their next album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is often--and wrongly (more on that later)--cited as the first concept album, and though Revolver doesn't have one single unifying concept, the entire thing feels like a dream to me. The Beatles had dabbled with weed before, leading to much of what made Rubber Soul great, but Revolver is drenched in LSD, the band wedding their new state of mind with the melodies and harmonies they had already perfected. As such, it doesn't feel dirty or dangerous like so much acid rock; it's clear, concise, innocent. Album opener "Taxman" is one of George's best songs, with fierce guitar; in fact, any time George picks up the guitar on Revolver, the result is sublime, especially his immortal work on "And Your Bird Can Sing." Both of George's other compositions are brilliant, showing his songwriting in full force for the first time. "Love You To" is an Indian-influenced drone with tabla by Anil Bhagwat, and "I Want to Tell You" is simply a smashing pop song with handclaps, maracas, and a John/Paul harmony which I swear to God sounds like their voices are scaling a mountain.

John and Paul both get five songs each, with John's exploring acid trips and other states of consciousness, while Paul's simply refine his already excellent songwriting to new heights. John's "I'm Only Sleeping" is just what it sounds like, a drugged-up tribute to the virtues of sleep; his "She Said She Said" was inspired by a remark of Peter Fonda's, "I know what it's like to be dead," which made John feel like he'd never been born. Not even "Doctor Robert," a song about a drug dealer who Lennon later said was himself, gets trippier than that. "Doctor Robert" is actually the weakest song on the album, though that's hardly a criticism. It simply isn't transcendent like the others.

Speaking of transcendent, Paul's "Eleanor Rigby" is essentially another solo piece in the vein of "Yesterday," spinning the tragic yarn of a woman who died alone and the priest who officiated her scarcely attended burial as Paul's voice is enveloped by a string octet. "Here, There and Everywhere" is another beautiful McCartney love song, while "For No One" is a painful account of a love gone wrong: "Your day breaks/Your mind aches/You find that all of her words of kindness linger on/When she no longer needs you." "Got to Get You Into My Life" is reminiscent of Memphis soul, with its blaring horns, though I do wonder how many other such songs were really disguised love letters to pot. It can be easy to forget just how great the McCartney-written, Ringo-sung "Yellow Submarine" is, with its childlike chorus and nonsense lyrics. However, it's loaded with the album's pervasive dreamlike themes, of a collective peacefully sailing along on a yellow submarine. The break in the middle, with silly sound effects and the band members yelling orders, is bliss.

However, much like "In My Life" was in a class of its own on Rubber Soul, John's "Tomorrow Never Knows" appears to be on a different plane altogether. John's intent was to sound like a monk chanting from a mountaintop, and damn if he doesn't come close. Ringo's massive drums form the foundation for the track, while tape loops, odd bird-like sounds, and George's sitar swirl around John's otherworldly vocal. There's even a mind-blowing backwards guitar solo. Listening to the song produces an almost out-of-body experience; after the dust settles, George Martin's piano eases your mind back inside your body, and nothing will ever be the same again.

SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (1967)

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - 10
With a Little Help from My Friends -10
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds - 10
Getting Better - 10
Fixing a Hole - 9
She's Leaving Home - 10
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! - 10
Within You Without You - 10
When I'm Sixty-Four - 9
Lovely Rita - 9
Good Morning Good Morning - 10
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) - 10
A Day in the Life - 10
OVERALL = 9.8/10

As I said above, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is often cited as the first concept album. Not only is this untrue--you can find albums where each track corresponds to a certain specific theme as far back as the 30's--but Sgt. Pepper isn't even much of a concept album. By this point, after exhaustion and a disastrous stint in the Philippines, the Beatles had stopped touring. Sgt. Pepper was initially born out of the desire to become a different band, and on the first two tracks (as well as the reprise near the end), they hide behind the veil of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, with Billy Shears as the ringleader. After that, though, the concept is largely abandoned. Concept album or not, when it was released in 1967, Sgt. Pepper was looked upon as nothing less than a pop/rock renaissance. It was hailed as one of the defining works in Western culture and the greatest album ever made...and this was still just in '67! Over the next 40-plus years, its legend has ballooned so much that at times it can be tempting to underrate it or to look past it. But for anyone willing to hear it with fresh ears, it remains an incredible accomplishment and further evidence of the Beatles stretching and experimenting with studio techniques.

The title song is an early example of an intro track, with Paul introducing the fictional Billy Shears and his band, then swapping mics with John so that he can lead the chorus. Paul also plays a ripping lead guitar, backed by a group of French horns. This leads into "With a Little Help from My Friends," the ultimate Ringo song. Here Ringo's character of the slightly sad, lovelorn Beatle is in full effect as John, Paul, and George ask him questions about love and he offers his words of wisdom. "Do you believe in a love at first sight?" "Yes, I'm certain that it happens all the time." It's all nicely underscored by Paul's melodic bass. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is another song where John sounds as if he's singing from another state of being; though he always refuted the LSD claims, the song certainly--and beautifully--describes something tantamount to an acid trip, with "rocking horse people [eating] marshmallow pies" while "newspaper taxis appear on the shore."

"Getting Better" is a largely optimistic song propelled by John and George's chiming guitars. It nicely plays off the group dynamic: when Paul sings, "It's getting better all the time," John replies, "It can't get no worse." Then comes "Fixing a Hole," a psychedelic nod to daydreaming and mind-wandering, followed by one of Paul's most exquisite compositions, "She's Leaving Home." It begins with Sheila Bromberg's lovely harp, leading into a string section conducted by George Martin. No Beatle plays instruments on the track, and it's a vocal duet between Paul and John, Paul singing about a girl who left home while John provides the Greek Chorus-style point of view of her parents. Then out come the freaks with "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!," a carnivalesque romp packed with a variety of different instruments: guitar, glockenspiel, harmonica, organ, you name it. George doesn't even play guitar here, instead playing piano and tambourine! At the time, John wasn't proud of the song since he lifted all of its lyrics from an old-time circus poster, but he arranges them beautifully and it's a surreal little slice of genius.

George's only composition on the album is "Within You Without You," the culmination of his fascination with Indian music. It's a Beatle-y take on classical Indian music, with lyrics about universal love, my favorite of which is, "With our love, we can save the world." It's also, I think, one of the more underrated songs on the album. Several times I've had people skip over it while listening to the album. Oh well. It's a little jarring to go from the cosmic grandeur of "Within You Without You" to the vaudevillian whimsy of "When I'm Sixty-Four," but somehow, it works. The song is a little too schmaltzy and cutesy, but Paul wears schmaltz and cuteness well (unlike in later years), and it's charming. "Lovely Rita" is another McCartney charmer with Paul, John, and George playing comb and paper over Paul's song of affection to a local meter maid. The crows of a rooster open "Good Morning Good Morning," which again finds John taking inspiration from the mundane, this time a Corn Flakes commercial. It's a bit of a sad, cold look at the indifference of everyday life, though the guitar sure is lively.

The album winds down with the reprise of the title track, and with alarmingly fresh drumming by Ringo, it sounds like it could've been recorded yesterday. Then, just as Rubber Soul and Revolver had their defining masterpieces, so too does Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band with "A Day in the Life." If the indifference evident in "Good Morning Good Morning" was chilly, the indifference in "A Day in the Life" is stunning, haunting. A politician shoots his brains out at a traffic light and a crowd gathers round, wondering where they've seen him before. John goes to see a war movie, but then the audience has to look away, while he watches on simply because he read the book. After an apocalypitc orchestral swell, there's a delightful McCartney interlude in which he wakes up and drifts off into a drug-induced haze on a bus. Then Lennon returns before another consuming orchestral swell during which everything becomes atonal and crashes down. The final, lingering piano chord ends the album on an eerie note (followed by the odd, jokey final groove which plays again and again endlessly on the vinyl).

MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR (1967)

Magical Mystery Tour - 10
The Fool on the Hill - 9
Flying - 7
Blue Jay Way - 7
Your Mother Should Know - 7
I Am the Walrus - 10
Hello Goodbye - 9
Strawberry Fields Forever - 10
Penny Lane - 10
Baby You're a Rich Man - 9
All You Need Is Love - 10
OVERALL = 8.9/10

Why do I find it so easy to forget Magical Mystery Tour whenever I go through the Beatles catalogue? Maybe it's because as a full-length album, it wasn't originally a canonical Beatles release. In 1967, it was released in the UK as a six-track EP, extended to an LP in America with the inclusion of five songs on the second side. Maybe it's because the movie is genuinely awful, which colored many listeners' perception of the album. Or, more likely, it's just that after a few genre-defining works, and sandwiched in between Sgt. Pepper and The White Album, it can seem a little inconsequential. Yet it's clearly better than their early albums, even with some filler.

Both the film and the album were chiefly McCartney projects, as he tried to steer the band after manager Brian Epstein's death. Therefore, he has more songs than any other Beatle. "Magical Mystery Tour" is a sprightly intro track in the vein of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," and I've always thought of "The Fool on the Hill" as Paul's version of "Nowhere Man." The lyrics thoughtfully describe a similar character, though the flutes don't fully work. "Your Mother Should Know" is another vaudeville take-off, only considerably less charming than "When I'm Sixty-Four," sounding square where the latter seemed refreshing. Coming after the pleasant but uinspired instrumental "Flying"--the first song to be credited to all four Beatles--and one of George's lesser songs, "Blue Jay Way," it puts the album in a bit of a dry spell. But then the original EP, and the first side of the LP, comes to a terrific finish with "I Am the Walrus," John's mockery of those who attempt to analyze and interpret Beatles lyrics. It is absolute nonsense, but there is some brilliant imagery, and one of Lennon's best vocals. It might even be my favorite song of his, who knows.

The second side of the LP comprises several recent non-album singles, including some of the group's most famous work. The stand-out is obviously the elegiac "Strawberry Fields Forever," with amazing drumming and fabulous dreamlike instrumenation. In short, abstract verses, John yearns for his childhood haunt Strawberry Field. It's hard to discern exactly what he's saying, but it's profoundly moving nonetheless. "Penny Lane" is Paul's turn to reminisce about a favorite childhood haunt, and he describes it in winning, anecdotal, surreal phrases punctuated by trumpets. "All You Need Is Love" is one of the Beatles' most enduring anthems, a simple yet rousing call to peace, love, and understanding. The other two tracks, "Hello Goodbye" and "Baby You're a Rich Man," aren't heavyweight masterpieces, but they are loads of fun. With Magical Mystery Tour, the Beatles weren't trying to make some grand statement; instead, they were just playing around and having fun. It's a light, highly enjoyable album.

THE BEATLES (1968)

Back in the U.S.S.R. - 10
Dear Prudence - 10
Glass Onion - 9
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da - 10
Wild Honey Pie - 6
The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill - 7
While My Guitar Gently Weeps - 10
Happiness Is a Warm Gun - 10
Martha My Dear - 9
I'm So Tired - 10
Blackbird - 10
Piggies - 9
Rocky Racoon - 10
Don't Pass Me By - 10
Why Don't We Do It in the Road? - 9
I Will - 10
Julia - 10
Birthday - 10
Yer Blues - 10
Mother Nature's Son - 10
Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey - 10
Sexy Sadie - 10
Helter Skelter - 10
Long, Long, Long - 10
Revolution 1 - 10
Honey Pie - 10
Savoy Truffle - 9
Cry Baby Cry - 10
Revolution 9 -10
Good Night - 8
OVERALL = 9.5/10

Popularly known as The White Album, the Beatles' self-titled 1968 release is a portrait of the Fab Four both exploding with creativity and imploding as a band. The title is a bit of an ironic misnomer; amid clashing egos and personal discord, oftentimes one of the Beatles would hole away in a studio working on a song. "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" was entirely recorded by Paul in this way. Sometimes, the other members merely functioned as a backing band for the lead Beatle. The album is sprawling, eclectic, and messy; if any other band had done it, it would have been seen as the height of self-indulgence. And if you ask some, the album is still indulgent. But what makes it imperfect for some is what makes it so wonderful for the rest of us: just seeing each of the Beatles let loose and reach for the sky is a joy.

Where do I even begin describing the album's 30 tracks? Perhaps it's best to get the weaker ones out of the way first. "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" is a fun number, though it hasn't entirely held up; and "Wild Honey Pie" was the first of only three Beatles songs that I would call less than good. It's average, which is the best you could hope for considering it's just Paul in a room with guitar and drums shouting, "HONEY PIEEEE!" The rest of the album, though, finds each Beatle working in top form on some of the best material of their careers. I guess the most fitting way to go through the album is to list the achievements of each individual member.

John's contributions range from gentle, touching numbers such as "Dear Prudence," written in India as a way to urge Mia Farrow's sister out of her room, and "Julia," a love song which seems to conflate both his mother Julia and future wife Yoko Ono, and might be the best, most emotionally complex song on the album; to bitter, biting tunes like "Yer Blues," a take-off on English blues where he yells, "Feel so suicidal/Even hate my rock and roll!," and "I'm So Tired," which is the cynical cousin to Revolver's "I'm Only Sleeping." There's also the dark doo-wop "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," the mythology-summarizing "Green Onion" (with a very raw vocal), the chaotic barn burner "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey," the thinly veiled Maharishi Mahesh Yogi criticism "Sexy Sadie," and "Cry Baby Cry," an ominous, obscure song with a haunting coda by Paul. Plus we can't forget two of the three sides of Lennon's revolution: "Revolution 1," the original, slower, more laid-back version of the rip-roaring single "Revolution," and "Revolution 9," perhaps the most reviled track in the Beatles discography but one which I think is a brilliant realization of a total anarchist nightmare. It technically belongs to John, George, Ringo, and even Yoko, but it's clearly John and Yoko's avant garde tendencies at the forefront. A week after the release of The White Album, they would release their frequently maligned experimental piece Two Virgins.

Paul gets the energetic openers for both discs, "Back in the USSR" and "Birthday." They're both divine pop songs, and even though the band was rife with tension, they sound like harmonious full-band showcases. This isn't even factually true: Ringo quit the band for two weeks, and so Paul played drums on "Back in the USSR." "Birthday" has almost been trivialized by how often it's been overplayed, but don't let that stop you from remembering what a great song it truly is. "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" is fanciful imitation reggae, "Martha My Dear" is a slightly disapproving music hall-like tune, "Blackbird" is one of Paul's most touching ballads with beautiful acoustic guitar, "Rocky Raccoon" is a refreshingly lighthearted McCartney story song, "I Will" is an alluring love song, "Mother Nature's Son" finds Paul delivering his mission statement as being "All day long I'm sitting singing songs for everyone," and "Honey Pie" is another old-timey music hall piece with great charisma. Then there's "Helter Skelter," an enormous, intense rocker with driving riffs that could be considered proto-metal. Paul set out to record the most raucous rocker up to that time, and I do believe he succeeded.

George's growth as a songwriter continues to be extremely impressive. He gets one song on each of the album's four sides: "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," his magnum opus with epic guitar work by the godly Eric Clapton (Clapton's appearance is, amazingly, the only way Harrison could convince his bandmates to record the song); "Piggies," a snarky bourgeois satire, one of the few Beatles songs that is so openly mocking; "Long, Long, Long" is a painful song of longing with a ghostly, absolutely chilling vocal; and "Savoy Truffle," which isn't in the same league as his other songs on The Beatles, but which is still an amusing admonition--reportedly to Clapton--not to eat too many sweets. Even Ringo gets in a composition, the unjustly overlooked "Don't Pass Me By," a country song which is almost as good as his later "Octopus's Garden"; plus he sings John's "Good Night," a sugary trifle that closes it all out. So there you have it. An epically diverse album that refuses to be defined, and one which belongs in every music lover's collection.

YELLOW SUBMARINE (1969)

Only a Northern Song - 8
All Together Now - 8
Hey Bulldog - 10
It's All Too Much - 10
OVERALL (only four new songs) = 9/10

Yellow Submarine is a great movie, but an average album. There are two recycled songs, the title track and "All You Need Is Love," and an entire side of film score which is useless when divorced from its context. But the four new songs are a blast. The first two are very good: "It's Only a Northern Song" is a sarcastic George song inspired by his bitterness that all of his songs were owned by Northern Songs Ltd.; "All Together Now" is a cheery sing-along which will put a smile on your face no matter how slight it is. The second two might be the most undervalued songs in the Beatles canon: "Hey Bulldog" is a boisterous piano-driven rocker with more of Lennon's lovely nonsense lyrics, plus lots of great group screams and yelps; and "It's All Too Much" is a sunny spot of psychedelia, with one of George's best pure vocals, superb trumpets, and subtle use of feedback. Not bad for a bunch of leftovers.

LET IT BE (1970)

Two of Us - 10
Dig a Pony - 9
Across the Universe - 10
I Me Mine - 10
Dig It - 4
Let It Be - 10
Maggie Mae - 7
I've Got a Feeling - 10
One After 909 - 10
The Long and Winding Road - 6
For You Blue - 9
Get Back - 10
OVERALL = 8.8/10

Yes, yes, Let It Be was released after Abbey Road. But Let It Be was recorded first and was never really intended to be released, and who wants to end on Let It Be anyway? The album contributed two important pieces of the Beatles story: the lengthy, uncomfortable, distracted sessions when the album was still titled Get Back; and the rooftop concert, the one result of those sessions which undeniably kicks ass. Paul was intent for the Beatles to perform live again, and so they set about cooking up ideas for where to perform, how to perform; some ridiculous shit like performing on a cruise ship or going to the Middle East or something. Clearly none of this was ever going to come to fruition, and the cold, uninviting lights and cameras for the sad documentary of the same name certainly didn't help. If The White Album was the wild, drunken night out, then Let It Be is the hangover.

That said, some wonderful songs certainly emerged from those sessions, all of them stripped down to simple four-piece (or five-piece, with the terrific addition of organist Billy Preston) arrangements, a radical departure from the direction the band had been heading since Revolver. "Two of Us" is reportedly about Paul's relationship with future wife Linda Eastman, but if you ask me, I've always thought it was his attempt to reignite the relationship between himself and Lennon; "Across the Universe" features some of John's most poetic lyrics; "I Me Mine" is another sarcastic Harrison number addressing his selfish bandmates; "Let It Be" is Paul's great hymn, with beautiful piano as well as some of George's best guitar work; "I've Got a Feeling" is an awesome rocker with a palpable sense of excitement; "One After 909" finds the band ravishing one of their old live standards; and "Get Back" is the classic it is, punchy and exuberant.

Now, you may remember that I said these were all four-piece arrangements. Yet there are strings added to some songs by producer Phil Spector, who was hired to make something out of the mess of tape left over from the Get Back sessions. Paul has been furious for decades over what Spector, usually a genius, did to "The Long and Winding Road." But let's not kid ourselves; it's a fine song, but certainly not a masterwork, too close to Wings on a bad day. Spector also added random snippets of dialogue, as well as the lamentable jam "Dig It," easily the worst Beatles song. "Maggie Mae," another quick-and-dirty jam, fares much better for actually sounding like a song, incomplete though it may be. As for the tracks I haven't mentioned, "Dig a Pony" and "For You Blue" are great John and George songs, respectively. Let It Be is messier than The White Album, but even so, it's filled with the triumphant moments one expects from a Beatles record.

ABBEY ROAD (1969)

Come Together - 10
Something - 10
Maxwell's Silver Hammer - 7
Oh! Darling - 10
Octopus's Garden - 10
I Want You (She's So Heavy) - 10
Here Comes the Sun - 10
Because - 10
You Never Give Me Your Money - 9
Sun King - 9
Mean Mr. Mustard - 9
Polythene Pam - 10
She Came in Through the Bathroom Window - 10
Golden Slumbers - 10
Carry That Weight - 10
The End - 10
Her Majesty - 10
OVERALL = 9.6/10

After the disastrous, largely unproductive Get Back sessions, the Beatles knew that their time was coming to a close. So, back under George Martin's wing, they reunited one last time for an album that would honor their reputation. And what an album it is. Some say it's the most perfectly sequenced album ever put together, and I certainly wouldn't argue that. Like Sgt. Pepper, I can't think of another way to write about the album besides discussing the tracks in their proper order. It opens with "Come Together," one of rock's all-time classics. John prophetically whispers, "Shoot me!" over Paul's heavy bassline, then devotes one verse apiece to abstract descriptions of each Beatle. (Of himself he says, in part, "He got feet/Down below his knee/Hold you in his armchair/You can feel his disease.") Next is "Something," and I don't think it would be unfair to say it's George's most popular song. It's a beauty of a love song, with sensual guitar work and indelible lyrics like, "Something in the way she moves/Attracts me like no other lover." It was the first of George's songs to be used as a single, a double A-side with "Come Together."

"Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is the one song on the album I could do without, but it's fine, really. There's just something about it which doesn't entirely work for me; it's a mite too cheesy. Ironically, before I knew much about the Beatles, it was my favorite Beatles track, probably because it was about killing girls and teachers and judges and stuff. I have problems. Anyway. Luckily, McCartney returns to form with "Oh! Darling," a song he was so nervous about getting just right that he would only try it once each day, and if he didn't feel right, he would wait until the next day. He even practiced it in the bathtub. The result is a raw, soulful vocal, one of his more impressive moments on an album where he contributes numerous impressive moments. "Octopus's Garden" follows, Ringo's adorable crowning achievement as a songwriter. Harrison helped Starr with the song, and as such, its peaceful, amiable atmosphere is highlighted by his lovely lead guitar. The underwater sound effects and Paul's gurgling noises are the perfect finishing touches.

Closing out side one is "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," unlike any other Beatles song. It is nearly eight minutes long, the lyrics consisting of only fourteen different words, and the majority of the song is instrumental (though John's vocal is highly emotional, foretelling the primal screams on his solo debut, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band)). After the groovy guitar and Billy Preston's whirling Hammond organ, the song grows into an arpeggio that becomes utterly hypnotic by its end. Overwhelmed by white noise, the song cuts to an abrupt finish. That leaves George to bring us back in, opening side two with "Here Comes the Sun," another of his strongest compositions which is simply beautiful in every way. There is nothing about that song which isn't calm and relaxing. "Because" begins with an arpeggio similar to that of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," continuing as John, Paul, and George each contribute triple-tracked vocals, resulting in a nine-part harmony. It is perhaps their best, purest use of harmony, and it's staggering to behold. It's a song of almost cosmic significance.

Then the 16-minute, nine-song medley begins. Primarily a McCartney construct, it is perhaps the greatest piece of continuous music ever recorded. It begins with "You Never Give Me Your Money," a poignant tale of a cash-strapped young man or woman trying to escape their impoverished lifestyle. Paul's vocal switches from a traditional style to a mock baritone that is both at odds with the lyrics and incredibly funky. As the Beatles chant, "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7/All good children go to heaven," wind chimes ring out and crickets begin to chirp, segueing into "Sun King." It's another triple harmony between John, Paul, and George, a very laid-back, soothing song which ends with the boys singing in nonsense Romance languages. The medley kicks into high gear with "Mean Mr. Mustard," a little ditty about a mean, obscene old man which sounds more like a McCartney composition than one of Lennon's; it's immediately followed by "Polythene Pam," about his perverted drag-dressing sister, a lively number with increasingly frantic guitars and drums.

This explodes into "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," about a groupie who climbed into Paul's window. It's filled with cracking drums, elegant guitar, and John and George's alluring "ooh's" and "aah's." The album's closing stages commence with "Golden Slumbers," as Paul tenderly sings that "once, there was a way to get back homeward." On "Carry That Weight," all four Beatles join in the chorus, effectively telling each other that once this is all over, they'll each have to carry their own weight for what they've done. In the middle, Paul reprises the beginning of "You Never Give Me Your Money" with different lyrics, and it's a fitting transition. Then there's "The End," a massive closing track featuring Ringo's only drum solo (he refused to record a solo, so they played guitar and tambourine parts over it in the studio before removing them after the fact). Let's pause to reflect on just how amazing Ringo's drumming is throughout the entirety of Abbey Road. Comparing Please Please Me and Abbey Road, recorded only six years apart, it's hard to believe it's the same guy. It's hard to believe any of these guys are the same, especially considering the incredible rotating guitar solos. Paul's is melodic and stuttering; George plays soaring slide; and John's is grungy, crunchy, and distorted. It's a beautiful moment, immediately followed by Paul's words of universal wisdom, "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

Of course, there's a hidden track, "Her Majesty," a fragmentary jingle which was accidentally left on the pressing. And I'm glad it was. It's one final piece of the Beatles legend on an album that is all about finalizing and solidifying their mythos. Not many bands get to call it quits like this, making an album that sums up their best qualities and sends them off at the top of their game. But the Beatles did, and we should be forever thankful.

Rounding up the rest...

PAST MASTERS: VOLUME ONE (1988)

Love Me Do - 9
From Me to You - 9
Thank You Girl - 9
She Loves You - 10
I'll Get You - 9
I Want to Hold Your Hand - 10
This Boy - 9
Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand - 7
Sie Lieb Dich - 7
Long Tall Sally - 9
I Call Your Name - 9
Slow Down - 9
Matchbox - 9
I Feel Fine - 10
She's a Woman - 9
Bad Boy - 8
Yes It Is - 9
I'm Down - 10
OVERALL = 8.9/10

After the Beatles catalogue was released on CD in 1987, two Past Masters discs were released to round up all of the non-album singles and other rarities. Volume One is a nice crash course in the early period Beatles, from their first singles to those released at the height of Beatlemania. The best offerings are "She Loves You," the first sign of the band's pop genius; "I Want to Hold Your Hand," the fresh-faced song of yearning which soundtracked the British Invasion; "I Feel Fine," with its early use of feedback; and "I'm Down," an overlooked rocker with a wild McCartney vocal. The rest are all great selections, with the possible exceptions of "Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand" and "Sie Lieb Dich," bizarre German-language versions of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You." At the time, it was thought that the Beatles couldn't conquer foreign lands without singing in their tongues. What folly. The version of "Love Me Do" here is a different version than the one on Please Please Me, with session drummer Andy White instead of Ringo. This is the version that was originally released as a single, and while it's still a mighty fine song, it doesn't sound as tight or complete without Ringo.

PAST MASTERS: VOLUME TWO (1988)

Day Tripper - 10
We Can Work It Out - 10
Paperback Writer - 10
Rain - 10
Lady Madonna - 10
The Inner Light - 10
Hey Jude - 10
Revolution - 10
Get Back - 10
Don't Let Me Down - 10
The Ballad of John and Yoko - 10
Old Brown Shoe - 9
Across the Universe - 10
Let It Be - 10
You Know My Name (Look Up the Number) - 8
OVERALL = 9.8/10

Volume Two is light years beyond its predecessor, and might be the single greatest compilation I've ever heard. Almost every track is a masterpiece of some kind, including "Hey Jude," my personal choice for best song of all time, with its beautiful group unity and heavenly chanting; "Revolution," the most rocking, intense, and best iteration of the song; the riff-a-licious "Day Tripper"; the rooftop concert excerpt "Don't Let Me Down," one of John's finest pieces with the great Billy Preston on organ and one hell of an emotional vocal; the trippy, backwards-masking "Rain"; like I said, every track's a winner. Some of the rarities: "The Inner Light," another of George's Indian-type compositions, a unique marriage of Beatle pop with Indian mysticism; the original single versions of "Get Back" and "Let It Be," the former of which sounds more fully-formed than the album version, the latter of which is slightly less powerful than the album version but still fantastic; bouncy George B-side "Old Brown Shoe"; the original "wildlife" version of "Across the Universe" from a charity album, which tops the album version; and my pick for the weirdest Beatles song, "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)." Lennon described it as a "comedy record," and it's got maracas, bongoes, peculiar groans and shouts, and a sax solo by the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones. It's hilarious. If you ever need a reminder of everything that makes the Beatles great, Past Masters: Volume Two is the disc to turn to.