Considered by many to be the greatest band of all time, the Beatles were prolific in their output throughout the 1960s. From ‘Please Please Me’ to ‘Abbey Road’, the 60s was a decade that belonged to the Beatles – but when did they peak? Their creative summit is oft-contested by fans and critics alike, but the debate has finally been put to bed with The College Tribune’s definitive and entirely accurate evaluation of the Fab Four’s career in the second installment of RANKED.
13) Yellow Submarine
Yellow Submarine is a largely forgettable album with few low points, but even fewer higher points. It is not necessarily a bad album by any means, but it would be generous to call it an impressive album by any means. The only real standout moments are ‘Yellow Submarine’ and ‘All You Need Is Love’ – as good as they are, they’re somewhat outweighed by the 11 other songs which aren’t as impressive. Nevertheless, it speaks to The Beatles’ brilliance that even on their worst album they can still deliver legendary tracks.
12) Beatles for Sale
Their fourth album in the space of one calendar year, Beatles For Sale is an album on which the band’s weariness can be felt. Like any Beatles album, this album has some impressive songs such as ‘No Reply’, ‘I’ll Follow The Sun’ and the standout ‘Eight Days A Week’. However, like Yellow Submarine, Beatles For Sale is somewhat forgettable for the most part. This is an album that many artists at the time would have loved to make, but for The Beatles, this is far from their best.
11) Let It Be
A recurring theme near the bottom of this list appears to be that, even on their worst albums, The Beatles managed to create some incredible songs. On Let It Be, this is once again the case. Their final official release is quite messy, as the band attempted to deliver while managing their strained relationships. However, the band provided hallmark songs such as ‘Let It Be’, ‘Get Back’ and ‘The Long and Winding Road’. Whilst there are other impressive moments on the album such as ‘Two Of Us’ and ‘I Me Mine’, many songs on this album have been forgotten in time.
10) With The Beatles
With The Beatles is one album from their impressive four-album run over the course of 1963-1964 in which the band really established themselves as global stars. The album sees The Beatles draw massive inspiration from blues music and the world-famous Motown Records. The inspiration dominates the album, resulting in some impressive covers and original songs. However, The Beatles were yet to carve out their own sound and identity, despite some truly enjoyable songs on the album.
9) Magical Mystery Tour
Another soundtrack to a made-for-television film, Magical Mystery Tour stands on its own as a pretty impressive album. The album has produced some magical (pardon the pun) moments such as ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Baby You’re A Rich Man’ – songs that have all stood the test of time. Magical Mystery Tour also brings some eyebrow-raising moments, particularly the now infamous ‘I Am The Walrus’. However, the album starts off somewhat slowly, despite its impressive run of songs at the end.
8) Please Please Me
Please Please Me was the world’s introduction to The Beatles, and it took the world by storm. ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ has become a rock ‘n’ roll classic, while ‘Twist and Shout’ has become one of the band’s most popular songs ever – so popular, in fact, that most seem to forget that it is a cover of The Top Notes’ song of the same name. An incredibly fun and enjoyable album, Please Please Me was The Beatles putting their mark on the music scene, whilst also dictating what the future of pop music was to be.
Help! is an album whose position in this list is somewhat buoyed by a handful of brilliant songs. The album brings classic Beatles songs such as ‘Help!’ and ‘Yesterday’. However, they’re accompanied by several other great songs. ‘Ticket To Ride’ is another high point of the album, along with ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face’, while ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’ sees John Lennon bring the much-adored energy of ‘Twist And Shout’ onto yet another project. While there are some forgettable songs, Help! has several of The Beatles’ career highlights, with very few low points, making it their seventh-best album.
6) A Hard Day’s Night
A Hard Day’s Night is the best of The Beatles’ album run of 1963-1964. The opening track of the same name sets a high tempo, and is classic early Beatles in its instrumentation, vocals and drum patterns. Paul McCartney uses this album as an opportunity to show off his songwriting skills, penning the best songs on the album in ‘I Should Have Known Better’ and ‘Things We Said Today’. Again, this is an album that many bands would have considered one of their best were it their own, but The Beatles were operating on a different level to most bands.
5) Rubber Soul
It’s a true testament to the greatness of The Beatles that an album as good as Rubber Soul barely makes it into the top five. This album represented a major improvement in quality for The Beatles, and set them on track for a legendary 4 years which would see them release their best material. Songs such as ‘In My Life’, ‘Drive My Car’ and ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) established The Beatles as true heavyweights in the world of songwriting. Rubber Soul is the first album in which we see George Harrisson come out of his creative shell, and as consequence, the band’s songs become exponentially more creative. The album brings moments of enchantment with songs like ‘Girl’ and ‘Michelle’ – both of which can be listened to over and over again. On Rubber Soul The Beatles take a massive creative leap – while it may not be their best ever album, it might just be their most important.
4) The Beatles
Colloquially known as ‘The White Album’, The Beatles is oft-pointed to as the band’s most genre-bending and experimental moment. Safe to say, in the throes of dissolving relationships, The Beatles delivered a one-of-a-kind album that pulls in several different directions, yet remains identifiable as one body of work.
The most interesting aspect of the album has to be the legendary ‘Helter Skelter’, a song that influenced many things, from the bustling punk scene to the Manson Family murders. ‘Helter Skelter’ has been named as the first real trace of punk rock in the musical forefront by many critics, an accolade that few would have anticipated upon hearing their earlier material. With ‘Helter Skelter’ and ‘Back In The U.S.S.R’ The Beatles are at their most abrasive – however, on ballads such as ‘Blackbird’, ‘I Will’ and ‘Julia’, the band are more introspective than ever. George Harrison once again proves how deserving he is of greater songwriting space, penning ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and ‘Long Long Long’, two beautiful high points on the album. ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ is one of Lennon’s greatest ever contributions to The Beatles, continuing an impressive run of songs on the album from ‘Wild Honey Pie’ to ‘Blackbird’.
However, standing at 30 songs over a 93 minute runtime, The Beatles is too inconsistent and too long to enjoy all at once. Many argue that, with a reduced tracklist, this could have been the band’s magnum opus, and they might be right.
On Revolver, The Beatles are arguably at their most ambitious, and as a result, things get weird (in the best possible way). The album is eclectic, experimental, and most importantly, brilliant. After retiring from touring, The Beatles made the studio a place to let out their creative urges, and the Fab Four let their imaginations run wild. The Beatles lean into their psychedelic experiences, crafting some of their most mind-bending moments such as ‘She Said She Said’ and ‘Love You To’. However, the band still stays true to their creative roots on ballads such as ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ and ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’. The album also brings ‘Yellow Submarine’ – a song that has become a classic that almost anyone you ask will have heard of in some capacity. Nevertheless, the album isn’t all one intense psychedelic experience. ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is not just the most emotional point on the album, but it has become one of the most beautifully sombre points of the band’s entire discography.
Revolver is a world of fun, but it is also one of the band’s most well conceived and put together albums.
2) Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Often touted as the greatest album of all time, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is one of the most impressive efforts in musical history. In an attempt to one-up The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr took on the concept album, introducing the now-famous ‘band within a band’. Some of the band’s most beloved songs, such ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ are found on the album, and The Beatles find themselves at the peak of their songwriting talents on ‘She’s Leaving Home’ and ‘A Day In The Life’. The album at times feels melancholic, while at other times it feels ethereal. All the different emotions and sounds of the album make perfect sense in the context of the album.
Simply put, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is greater than the sum of its parts, even when you consider how impressive the parts of it are, making it the ultimate album experience.
1) Abbey Road
The last album ever recorded by the Beatles, Abbey Road feels like a perfect and natural end to the story. ‘Abbey Road’ feels like closure in a multitude of ways. Songwriting credits are shared more evenly, and all members of the band are given space to flex their creative muscles. The album is not as conceptual as Sgt. Pepper, or remotely as experimental as The Beatles, but Abbey Road finds the Fab Four doing what they do best: writing brilliant songs. George Harrison, the archetypal ‘quiet member’ of the group is finally given space to shine, penning songs such as ‘Something’ and ‘Here Comes The Sun’, which have gone on to become classics within the band’s discography. John Lennon is as good as ever on ‘Come Together’ and Ringo also brings his usual upbeat tempo to the project with ‘Octopus’ Garden’. Meanwhile, Side B, pieced together by Paul McCartney, blends together in a 16-minute medley of songs, beginning with ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’, and ending with the aptly-titled closer ‘The End’. Side B is a fitting end to the album, and the Beatles as a whole.
However, the Beatles continue to push the envelope on Abbey Road with the seven minute all-killer-no-filler hit ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy). Even when finding resolution, The Beatles manage to upstage their more experimental counterparts.The songs on Abbey Road are consistent, creative and beautiful, and there has been no better final album since it. With no concept or binding creative direction, what makes the album so special is the feeling it brings – a feeling brought by no other Beatles album.
Nicolas Murphy, Entertainment & Lifestyle Editor