Saturday, January 16, 2021

BB's Album Rankings - The Beatles Studio Albums

BB’s Album Rankings: The Beatles

The Beatles. Arguably the greatest band of all time. Certainly the most influential, productive, and important group in the development of 20th Century popular music. Their recording career as a band comprised only 7 years (1963-1970), but with an output of more than 225 songs on 13 albums and numerous non-album singles, including some of the most famous, popular, loved, and often-recorded songs of all time. Each of their albums is decidedly different from the previous one, often showing amazing growth and versatility, and exploring ever more interesting musical paths. Their sound grew from a standard ‘60’s pop guitar combo to elaborate instrumentation and arrangements, featuring 3 excellent vocalists and songwriters (each with different styles) and all 4 being almost entirely self-taught but amazing musicians that worked so well together (until they didn’t). Their voices and different styles blended together astonishingly well. Their innovation, diversity, and influence completely changed the direction and sounds of pop and rock music forever, and even now, more than 60 years after they first formed, are possibly even more popular than ever. There never was or never will be another group quite like them.

Here is the sensational discography of The Beatles, all of their original albums. Although all are great in their own way, some are certainly better than others, and here is my personal ranking of these albums, from least favorite to most favorite.  

OK, here we go. First, the usual disclaimers: This list represents my personal opinion and does not reflect any other criteria such as sales, polls, popularity, or critical analyses. The list only includes the original Studio Albums (no live or compilation albums) released by The Beatles (UK versions, as they are the ‘real’ albums, not the chopped-up bastardized Capitol albums originally released in the US). By that criteria, there are 13 total albums, but only 12 can be considered as actual Beatles albums (explained below). The list will be presented numerically from least favorite to most favorite.

Last: Yellow Submarine (1969).

 Companion album to the animated film Yellow Submarine. Although this is typically counted as an official Beatles album, it is not really a Beatles album at all. The album contains only 4 new Beatles songs and 2 older songs (‘Yellow Submarine’ and ‘All You Need is Love’) that had already been included on previous albums. Side 2 of the album consists entirely of instrumental orchestral movie score compositions by George Martin. Thus, as far as Beatles content, this barely qualifies as an EP, let alone an album. Of the ‘new’ Beatles songs included, one (‘Hey Bulldog’) is a genuine underrated masterpiece - a gloriously fun Lennon rocker, a couple of pretty good George Harrison songs, and an atrocious throw-away McCartney ditty (‘All Together Now’) that Paul obviously wrote in about 10 minutes just to have a song for the film, one of the worst songs the Beatles ever recorded. If you are at all interested in getting songs from the film, a much better option is the Yellow Submarine Songtrack (released in 1999) which is a compilation album that contains all of the 15 Beatles songs included in the animated film.

#12.  Please Please Me (1963)

The Beatles debut album. No question, a great album, one of the great debut albums of all time (for its time). Also, notable for most of the album being recorded in a single 10-hr recording session. So, how can it be #12? Well, it’s a testament to The Beatles greatness that this world-changing album was just the beginning and they just got better and better with subsequent albums. The main reason this album comes in here is just that their very early songs were not as strong as later ones, as their songwriting and arrangements got better as they went on, and the early albums also relied heavily on cover songs, whereas later albums were all originals. Best songs – ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, ‘Please Please Me’, ‘Twist and Shout’. Weakest song – ‘A Taste of Honey’

#11. With The Beatles (1963)

Their 2nd album just beats out their first on the basis of some stronger original songs, as well as some good covers (‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘Money’, ‘Till There Was You’) that raise it a bit above the debut.  Best songs – ‘It Won’t be Long’, ‘All My Loving’, ‘All I’ve Got to Do’. Weakest song – ‘Devil in Her Heart’.



#10. Beatles For Sale (1964)

One of the only times a Beatles album was considered a ‘disappointment’, but mainly because it followed the brilliant A Hard Day’s Night. The strain of non-stop touring and recording (4 albums plus numerous singles in less than 2 years) was starting to show here, as after showcasing all original compositions on that last album, they had to revert back to nearly half the album being covers, which is why many rank this album low. However, the original songs are mostly stellar and continue to show their development as songwriters and musicians (with 6 of the 8 originals being great), which raises this album above their first 2. Best songs – ‘I’m a Loser’, ‘Eight Days a Week’, ‘Every Little Thing’, ‘I’ll Follow the Sun’, ‘What You’re Doing’. Weakest song – ‘Mr. Moonlight’.

 #9. Let It Be (1970)

Their final release, but actually recorded before their last album. I’ve gone over the history of this album in a previous post (check here), but even with all the turmoil and drama, this is still a great album. Although the recording style and conditions weren’t the best (rehearsal sessions, recorded live in the studio without overdubs, etc.), this album nonetheless contains some of The Beatles greatest songs. Based on the songs, this album probably would have ranked even higher, but the botched production (Phil Spector’s late addition of strings and over the top production ruined ‘The Long and Winding Road’ and others, and destroyed the intended live-in-the-studio aspect of the album) and the inexplicable decision to leave off ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ renders this album a mixed bag and at the #9 spot. Best songs - ‘Let It Be, ‘Two of Us’, ‘Get Back’, ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’, ‘Across the Universe’, ‘For You Blue’. Weakest song – ‘I Me Mine’ (not fair to list ‘Maggie Mae’ or ‘Dig It’ here, as these are not actual songs just snippets from studio jams).

#8. Rubber Soul (1965)

Yes, that’s right, Rubber Soul is only the 8th best Beatles album. For me, this is their most overrated album. Still a great album with many great songs, but also several just OK or mediocre songs. Although many claim this album demonstrates a huge creative leap from previous albums, I just don’t hear that. It is definitely a transition album toward their more psychedelic and adventurous albums to come, but so is Help!, and this continues along the same creative streak as that album. Sure, there are stellar songs here (see best songs) and more advances in songwriting, but many of the songs here are just not among their very best (songs such as ‘You Won’t See Me’, ‘The Word’, ‘Wait’, ‘Michele’, and ‘What Goes On’ are just OK). The album does boast the best songs so far from George Harrison (‘If I Needed Someone’ and ‘Think For Yourself’), but overall, there are at least 7 Beatles albums I consider better than this one. Very good, just not one of my ‘GO TO’ Beatles albums. Best Songs – ‘Drive My Car’, ‘Norwegian Wood’, ‘I’m Looking Through You’, ‘In My Life’, ‘If I Needed Someone’, ‘Run For Your Life’. Weakest songs – ‘You Won’t See Me’, (see list above).

 #7. Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

 Great collection of songs from the psychedelic era, with one side consisting of songs from the ill-fated TV film Magical Mystery Tour, and the other side collecting their fantastic single releases from 1967, and includes some of their greatest songs from this era. MMT may not have been a great film, but included some great songs, including ‘I Am The Walrus’, ‘Fool on the Hill’, MMT title track, and ‘Your Mother Should Know’, but also included Harrison’s awful creepy dirge ‘Blue Jay Way’. The singles collected are great. Again, just based on the songs included here, this album could be ranked even higher, but because it is relatively short (only includes 10 songs plus the instrumental filler ‘Flying’) and was never really intended to be released as an album (it’s more like a compilation than an original album), this one gets the #7 spot. Best songs ‘Penny Lane’, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, ‘All You Need is Love’, ‘Hello Goodbye’, ‘I Am the Walrus’, ‘Fool on the Hill’, ‘Magical Mystery Tour’. Worst song – ‘Blue Jay Way’.  

#6. Help!

Another great album (and I think generally underrated, better than Rubber Soul). To me this album took a big step forward in songwriting and innovation, and the introduction of new musical styles and sounds, with great songs throughout (with the exception of one weak old RnR cover song). Even Ringo’s foray into country music (and the beginning of country-rock?) works quite well. Best songs ‘Help!’, ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’, ‘Yesterday’, ‘Ticket to Ride’, ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’, ‘You’re Going to Lose That Girl’, ‘It’s Only Love’, ‘I Need You’. Weakest song – ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’.

Now we get to the top 5, and five of the greatest albums in rock history.

#5. A Hard Day’s Night (1964).

A stellar album, the best of their early period albums, by far. A breakthrough in songwriting, arrangements, and performance from the first two albums. For me, this is the album that established The Beatles as something truly special, and much more than just a very popular pop band. It was their first album featuring all original songs (14!), and not a weak track among them (well, maybe one). Half of the songs come from their first feature film A Hard Day’s Night (which is also a surprising cinematic gem), and from the mysteriously intriguing opening chord and rocking rhythm of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ through each song, showing more substance and innovation, development and maturity, while still maintaining a strong pop-rock sensibility, from the quiet beauty of ‘And I Love Her’ to the joy of ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’. And there was no letdown with second half of the album, with stand-out rockers and acoustic tracks throughout (see best songs). Best songs – ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, ‘I Should’ve Known Better’, ‘And I Love Her’, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, ‘Anytime at All’, ‘Things We Said Today’, ‘You Can’t Do That’, ‘I’ll Cry Instead’. Weakest song – ‘I’m Happy Just to Dance with You’.

#4. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

Another all-time classic, and one of the most iconic and important albums in rock history, changing popular music forever, yet still not even their best all-around album.  Pop psychedelia in its full-blown glory, with elaborate studio effects, arrangements, instrumentation, experimentation, and innovations. Although ostensibly a concept album, not really much of a concept, as the songs themselves have no unifying theme, story, or style, just an unforgettable mix of diverse songs, styles, and studio magic. Best songs – ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’, ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, ‘A Day in the Life’, ‘Lovely Rita’, ‘When I’m 64’, ‘Getting Better’. Weakest song – ‘Good Morning, Good Morning’.

 #3. Revolver (1966)

Another iconic album, filled with new sounds, styles, innovative production, and wonderful songs and performances. From the string ensemble arrangement of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ to the bare piano soliloquy of ‘For No One’, The soaring guitars of ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ to the tape loop eccentricities of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, the staccato guitar and grumblings of ‘Taxman’ to the Indian soundscape of ‘Love You To’, and the child-like fun of Ringo’s anthemic ‘Yellow Submarine’, this album soars from start to finish, in a wonderful assemblage of totally unique songs from this period.  Best songs – ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘For No One’, ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, 'Here There and Everywhere', ‘Got to Get You Into My Life’, ‘Good Day Sunshine’, ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, ‘I Want to Tell You’. Weakest song  - ‘Love You To’.

#2. Abbey Road (1969)

A near-perfect album, with great songs and arrangements and flawless production. All-time classic tracks from Lennon and McCartney, including the sensational long medley on side two, George Harrison’s best songs as a Beatle, and Ringo’s best song as well. The only weakness that keeps this from perfection is the overlong and monotonous ‘I Want You’, which would have been fine as a 3 ½ to 4 min song but is dragged out to 8 minutes here (and which then would have allowed addition of another song). Contains my very favorite Beatle track, the concluding section of the medley (‘Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End’ – this segment goes together as essentially one song). Stunning album from beginning to end. Best songs – ‘Come Together’, ‘Here Comes the Sun’, ‘Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End’, ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’, ‘Something’, ‘Oh Darling’, ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, ‘She Came in Through The Bathroom Window’. Weakest song – ‘I Want You (She’s so Heavy)’.

#1. The Beatles (White Album) (1968)

Abbey Road was near-perfect, but this is one is far from perfect, a glorious mess of a double album. So how can this be the Beatles Best? It just has more great songs than any other album. It has always been my favorite, but only recently have I been willing to call it The Beatles best album. This album is all over the place, with a little bit of everything, but that is part of its charm. It includes many of their very best songs, but also a few of their worst. Born out of a burst of creativity from their isolation and meditation in India, they just put everything they were working on, together and individually, onto this album. It is their most diverse and outlandish album, a dizzying assortment of songs and styles, from acoustic ditties to heavy rockers, love songs and depression rants, orchestral scorings and sound collages, and everything in between. Much of the appeal of this album is the shear outrageousness of it, the diversity and audacity of the songs, and the incredible sequencing that somehow just works. Starting off with their greatest 4-song opening sequence (‘Back in the USSR, ‘Dear Prudence’, ‘Glass Onion’, ‘Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da’) before being interrupted by the unwelcome nonsense of ‘Wild Honey Pie’ and ‘Bungalow Bill’, then continuing with the magnificent ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and intriguing ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’, and that is just side one, and side 2 is even more impressive (although also intruded by an  annoying distraction).  This album contains my favorite Lennon song (‘Dear Prudence’), My favorite McCartney song (‘Blackbird’), and my 2nd favorite Harrison song (‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ ), but also filled with great songs that would have been left off a single album. George Martin pleaded with the band to just release the best songs on a single album, but there is no assemblage of songs on a single album that could contain the greatness of this set, as there is no consensus on just what constitutes the best songs (again, everyone has their own tastes and preferences on this). Some of my favorite songs on the album are what many might consider ‘lesser’ songs (such as ‘Cry Baby Cry’, ‘Savoy Truffle’, ‘Rocky Racoon’, ‘Honey Pie’, ‘Everybody’s Got Something to Hide…’, etc.) that would not have made the single album. This is the ultimate double album, with room to explore and experiment. Sure, there’s no real justification for John putting on his 8 min sound collage ‘Revolution 9’ on a Beatles album (would have been more appropriate for his experimental John and Yoko albums, but by putting it on this Beatles album, millions more people would hear it than ever possible), but in the context of this album he could get away with it (and for the record, as a sound collage it is very good, very well done, but it is not a song or even music, and doesn’t really belong on a Beatles album, but there it is). Of the 30 tracks included here (although not all are actually songs), I would rate an impressive 20 songs as great to near-great, and no other Beatles album can match that. My #1. Best Songs – ‘Blackbird’, Dear Prudence’, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’, ‘Back in the USSR’, ‘Glass Onion’, ‘Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da’, ‘Martha My Dear’, ‘I’m So Tired’, ‘I Will’, ‘Julia’, ‘Revolution 1’, ‘Mother Nature’s Son’, ‘Cry Baby Cry’, ‘Savoy Truffle’, ‘Rocky Racoon’, ‘Everybody’s Got Something to Hide…’, ‘Honey Pie’, ‘Sexy Sadie’, ‘Yer Blues’. Worst songs- ‘Why Don’t We Do It in the Road’, ‘Helter Skelter’ (’Revolution 9’ and ‘Wild Honey Pie’, although unwelcome on the album, just don’t actually qualify as songs).

 OK, So that's how I see it. Disagree? Please enter your comments and your own ranking list in the comments below. But remember, these are just opinions, there are no definitive right or wrong rankings, as we all hear and enjoy different aspects of music. Let's hear from some of you.



Friday, January 15, 2021

New feature series to start very soon: BB’s Album Rankings

Got a new feature series to start today (tomorrow?): BB’s Album Rankings

As I mentioned in my ‘Wonder of Music’ commentary last month, I’ve been watching a lot of these album ranking videos on Youtube recently (you know the ones, often referred to as ‘worst to best’ lists), where youtubers and music fans present their opinions and mini-reviews on the entire catalog of albums by a particular artist, ranking them from least favorite to most favorite. I find the wide range of opinions, reasons, and justifications people have for their favorite (or despised) albums fascinating. It is just amazing how divergent different people’s views regarding music are, even among enthusiastic fans of the same band or artist. It just shows how everyone hears and looks for different things in the music they listen to and enjoy, as well as can get totally different things out of it. I certainly have my own definite opinions about music I listen to and enjoy, and so far, amazingly, I have never totally agreed with a single one of these lists and reasons I have seen so far. Sure, there are some folks I tend to agree with more than others, but none that I have been in sync with for an entire ranking list. So, anyway, I am going to start my own ranking lists and occasionally post them here. And of course, the granddaddy of these types of lists, the GOAT as these things go, are the rankings of the albums by The Beatles. They are the perfect place to start, as everyone knows these albums, they all are varying degrees of great (no worst to best, only least favorite to most favorite), and everyone has strong opinions about them (and I encourage comments about my list and presentation of your own list). So, coming right up will be the first in a series of Album Rankings. First Up – The Beatles.