Thursday, February 24, 2011

Rolling Stone Readers Pick Their Top 10 Beatles Albums


A week ago, Rolling Stone asked their readers to vote for their favorite Beatles' albums.  Most - especially non Beatles nuts - would automatically say "Sgt. Pepper" and walk away.  But...the readers felt differently.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is a wonderful, inspiring, amazing record.  It's brought about so many imitators, and countless artists have been influenced by it.  But among The Beatles catalog, I don't think it's their best work.  Oh don't get me wrong.  It's influential, in the same way that "Citizen Kane" is considered an amazingly influential movie.  The Beatles took everything that they learned, beginning with Rubber Soul and put it into this masterpiece.  It sits - rightly - among the top two or three records ever made.  The Beach Boys Pet Sounds was a response to Rubber Soul, and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band a response to Pet Sounds.  Amazing how The Beatles and The Beach Boys (most specifically, Brian Wilson) were trying to one-up the another.

In the end, Sgt. Pepper wins.  It was named the number one album on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums Ever.  To be sure, Rolling Stone wrote that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band...
is the most important rock & roll album ever made, an unsurpassed adventure in concept, sound, songwriting, cover art and studio technology by the greatest rock & roll group of all time.
"Most important" and "Greatest" are, to me, the key words there.  But what they didn't say was "favorite" and that's what RS wanted readers to pick.  As such, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band landed at number four.

If Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is "Citizen Kane", then Revolver is "The Godfather."  Interestingly, Revolver is third on that Rolling Stone "Greatest" list.  It's number one on the "Favorite" list.  Here is that list:
1) Revolver
2) Abbey Road
3) The Beatles (aka "The White Album")
4) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
5) Rubber Soul
6) Magical Mystery Tour
7) Help!
8) Let It Be
9) A Hard Day's Night
10) With The Beatles

I'm not sure the readers are too wrong.  Here's how I see it:
1) Revolver (when the albums came out on CD, this was the first one I bought.  Brilliant, starting with "Taxman" and heading off to "Eleanor Rigby" down towards "Got to Get You Into My Life" and slamming home with "Tomorrow Never Knows.")
2) "The White Album" (They were a separate group by then, but there's still so much to like on here.  "Back in the USSR", "Helter Skelter", "Dear Prudence", "Glass Onion" and so on.  We'll simply choose to ignore "Revolution 9".)
3) Rubber Soul (Had they simply kept the formula going up through Help! they would be just another teen pop group.  But they dared, and it started here.  "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) broke new ground.  John's most personal tune to that time, "In My Life", is also here.)
4) Help! (The title track alone is enough for me, but I also love things like "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and "I've Just Seen a Face", which is a song that has gathered new life for me.)
5) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (It's tough to drop this to five, but there are a few things that aren't my favorites.  I like "When I'm Sixty-four" and I chuckle at "Lovely Rita", but I find "Within You Without You" to be too long with it's Indian-influenced sitar.  Yet from the start, the album still grabs with the title track.)
6) Abbey Road ("Come Together" with John's "shoot me" is just bloody brilliant.  Paul matches it with "Oh! Darling."  Most fans love it because the band came back together and acted like a band for one last incredible time.  But it's still musically amazing.)
7) Let It Be (Originally called Get Back, it's close to being great.  I love "Two of Us", and Sean and I have used it as a theme song.  We both hold it closely.  "Get Back" is also fun, with Billy Preston's keyboards putting a little funk in.)
8) A Hard Day's Night (A nearly perfect match of music and motion picture.  Surely one will argue for others like "Saturday Night Fever" or "Grease" and I will come back with "Pulp Fiction" and this.  Just as with "I've Just Seen a Face", "I Should Have Known Better" has become a favorite - one I hadn't given as much notice to prior to the last year.)
9) Magical Mystery Tour (A disaster of a movie.  Ugh.  Still "I Am The Walrus" sits right near the top of my list of favorite songs.  I'm also big on "Penny Lane."  The theme song can still rock.)
10) With The Beatles (Honestly, it doesn't matter.  It could be Please Please Me or Beatles For Sale, for all I care.  The first three US releases - and we're going with the CD's for this exercise - are all the same to me.  Each have cover songs and originals.  Hard to ague with "I Saw Her Standing There" from Please Please Me or "Eight Days A Week" from Beatles For Sale.  Yet when they hit the states, the first song they played on the Ed Sullivan Show was "All My Loving" from With the Beatles, and the Revolution began.)

Keep in mind that, especially in the 60's, there were a lot of variations on albums.  What we got on the record here in the US didn't always match the UK version.  Or there were different titles.  For instance, in one of the collections among the Adams' siblings should be a copy of Beatles '65, which when the albums were released on CD, was ostensibly covered on Beatles for Sale.

Then there were the singles, and those made it to compilations, or found their way to separate albums in the US.  For the CD releases, they became known as Past Masters, Vol 1 and 2.  Past Master, Vol. 2 is so great that I'm tempted to place at number 10 on my list, but its inclusion of a different take of "Let it Be" shows that it's not really a true original album.  Still..."Day Tripper", "We Can Work it Out", "Paperback Wrtier", "Rain", "Lady Madonna", "Hey Jude."  Yikes.  That's some album, and I didn't even name all of the tracks.

Yes, "Hey Jude" was meant to be only a single (and spent nine weeks at number one).  Its B-side, by the way, was "Revolution."  Wow.  A "Hey Jude" album was released in the US in 1970 (I believe my brother has that one), comproised of pieces of A Hard Day's Night and more.

There are many places on the web that one can go find the details of The Beatles' discography.  Believe me, it's confusing, and I remember it being so even as a kid.  The Wikipedia page does a solid job, and serves as a great jumping point.  Beyond that, hit your local Googler to see what comes up!

Very extensive, and exhaustive.  I think I'll just go listen to the music now.

1 comment:

Lorin said...

If I was asked to rank these when I was between 13-16 years old, it would have been much different. As I got older, my appreciation of the Beatles shifted to. Today I would rank my favs as follows. 1. Revolver (Tomorrow never knows my all time fav) 2. Sgt. Peppers, 3. Abbey Road (Medley my fav), 4. White Album, 5. Help...