With all of the Beatles catalog becoming available to streaming sites for the first time earlier this year, and all three of the Beatles Anthologies coming to streaming just this past month, we here at Deadshirt decided to rank all of the core Beatles albums. Really, the only way we here at the Deadshirt music staff know how to rank things is to pit them against each other one-by-one, March Madness bracket-style, so that’s what we’re gonna do. Resident Beatle-heads Dylan Roth, Sam Paxton, and David Lebovitz will be deliberating the merits of each album and comparing them with each other album over and over again until finally one is declared the winner. It’s a grueling process for them, but greatly entertaining for us. Print out your own brackets, start an office pool, and enjoy the show.
ROUND TWO, MATCH ONE
A Hard Day’s Night vs. Let it Be
Julian: For round two, the winners from last round will face four albums that had byes last round. These four are generally considered by others to be the best of each of the Beatles’ eras. Let it Be won round one unanimously over Please Please Me. It now goes up against A Hard Day’s Night, the third Beatles album, but first album comprised of original material from start to finish, and soundtrack to the Beatles movie of the same name. Will the Beatles’ final album triumph over another album from the beginning of their run? What do you think, David?
David: A Hard Day’s Night happened when the Beatles were more than the sum of their parts. Let It Be is when the Beatles were exactly the sum of their parts. A Hard Day’s Night is a fine example of the tight, cohesive sound indicative of the era. Let It Be was a bunch of guys who could barely stand each other anymore managing to put together a solid (if overproduced) record. A Hard Day’s Night is (for the most part) light hearted and fun, while Let It Be has a ton variety, almost all with a hint of melancholy. It’s close, and makes for a far more fascinating compare/contrast than I have room for here, but I’m giving an edge to Let It Be, largely on the merit of Let It Be‘s having a stronger side two than A Hard Day’s Night. While A Hard Day’s Night is probably better constructed as an album, Let It Be‘s content is of a higher quality.
Dylan: It’s difficult to separate these two albums from the films with which they were released. A Hard Day’s Night, both the album and the film, are the perfect encapsulation of Beatlemania as a phenomenon, the height of the joyful pop craze that led the British Invasion and lifted the US out of its post-JFK depression. They’re front-to-back joyful, and they feel so great to hear and to watch. Let It Be, on the other hand, is wildly, fiercely emotional and jagged, reflecting the spirit of the band at the time, and you can get a clear picture of this even without watching the accompanying documentary. Let It Be opens with a gorgeous song about John and Paul’s fifteen-year friendship, but for most of the record it’s “here’s what John wants the band to sound like, okay now here’s what George wants the band to sound like…” And all their ideas are great!
But when forced to choose between these two great works of art, I’m inclined to choose the one that makes me feel the best over the one that makes me feel the most. It’s close, but I’ll take A Hard Day’s Night.
Sam: Opening with possibly the most famous chord in rock history, A Hard Day’s Night marks in my mind the moment that the Beatles truly arrived. As Dylan said, the album and film are basically inextricable from each other, and the joy and energy of Beatlemania are so ingrained in their DNA that it’s hard not to grin throughout. Let It Be is a great album, but there’s an artifice to it that pales when placed next to the real thing.
The Most Fab: A Hard Day’s Night
ROUND TWO, MATCH TWO
Rubber Soul vs. Abbey Road
Julian: Rubber Soul defeated Beatles For Sale in round one, now it faces an even tougher challenge in the form of Abbey Road. Although not released last, Abbey Road is The Beatles’ swan song; it’s one of their most popular, going platinum the second most times of any Beatles album, not to mention the, often imitated, iconic cover. So, Dylan, how does Rubber Soul stack up against this powerhouse?
Dylan: This may be the most challenging matchup for me so far—neither of these is my favorite Beatles album, but they’re both close to my heart. I wrote a bit last week about how Rubber Soul is, to me, a watershed album demonstrating The Beatles ascending from pop royalty to musical godhood. Rubber Soul is like the Season Three episode when a good TV show really hits its stride, but Abbey Road is the emotional series finale that helps you say goodbye. What makes The Beatles so enduring and fascinating is more than just the music, it’s the story of the tumultuous friendship between four kids from Liverpool, and Abbey Road is the boys coming back together, after years of in-fighting, to truly collaborate and celebrate each others’ music. And while there are amazing songs on both albums (“In My Life” vs. “Something” is an impossible choice), it’s the story being told on Abbey Road that sets it over the top for me.
Sam: I’ll preface this by saying that not only is Abbey Road my favorite Beatles album, it’s one of my most treasured albums of all time, so there’s not much contest here. It’s the only Beatles LP without a single throwaway track (I will hear no evil about “Octopus’s Garden” or “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” thank you very much), and it showcases every member of the Fab Four at the very top of their game. It’s the goodbye that should have been, instead of Let It Be, and I really believe it’s the goodbye the band intended – ”The End” is a perfect summation of the band’s message and mission. Rubber Soul is great, but it can’t move me to tears the way the cathartic final run of tracks on Abbey Road’s B-side can.
David: In all honesty, these are probably my favorite Beatles albums, so this is tough for me. Without retreading too much, I can’t emphasize how seminal an album Rubber Soul is – it pioneered the concept of a full album. There’s not a dud on that album, for my money. But then there’s Abbey Road, an album close to my heart. (Fun fact: I crossed Abbey Road in real life, and holy SHIT is it terrifying. It’s not some quaint side road, it is a main road with a ton of traffic.) Abbey Road is one of the most tightly constructed albums of all time. Side 1 is a solid collection of songs without a single dud, including “Here Comes The Sun,” one of my favorite songs of all time by anyone ever. Side 2 is legendary for a reason – it’s one, long, piece of perfection. Abbey Road gets my vote, and I’d say it has a good chance of going all the way here.
The Most Fab: Abbey Road
ROUND ONE, MATCH THREE
Julian: Magical Mystery Tour eked out a win in it’s round one matchup over With The Beatles. This round, it has the unenviable position to go against Revolver, which saw The Beatles first start to step up their games in the fields of production and experimentation. Will the half-soundtrack album continue its good fortune, or will it fall to its critically acclaimed superior? Sam?
Sam: Surprisingly, I don’t have super-strong feelings about Revolver, probably because I have absolutely no nostalgia attached to it. It’s a very solid album, one I enjoy going back and listening to from time to time, but I wouldn’t rank it among my favorite Beatles records. I wouldn’t say there’s a better song anywhere on Revolver than “Penny Lane,” or maybe “Strawberry Fields Forever.” But do I think it’s a better album, on the whole, than Magical Mystery Tour? Yeah, definitely.
David: I’m not as big a fan of Revolver as the average Beatle fan. It’s a fine album, but it always had an edge to it than I felt was unnecessary. I find the cynicism fascinating, and the experimentation is interesting, but the album as a whole has never connected with me. The Indian influence was applied with no delicacy whatsoever, so there’s a lot twang and SURPRISE SITAR in places that just feel gratuitous. I think it’s influence supercedes its actual quality. That said, it’s a hell of a lot more coherent than MMT, and does seem to be connected by an actual themes beyond “I’M HIGH AND WEIRD,” and on a song-by-song basis, it’s much better. Revolver gets my vote.
Dylan: I don’t think I’ll get much pushback in calling Revolver The Beatles’ best rock album—between “Taxman,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “Got To Get You Into My Life,” each of the three principal songwriters delivers a pitch-perfect rocker on this album. But (and you already know how I feel about Sgt. Pepper’s) I also feel Revolver is The Beatles’ best experimental album, and the one in which each of the lads’ individual voices show through best without fighting each other. “Eleanor Rigby” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” do not, at face value, belong on an album together. Why do they work? I don’t know. Whatever magic makes The Beatles, The Beatles. Mystery Tour is weird, but Revolver is the perfect blend of approachable head-boppers and groundbreaking moments in pop.
The Most Fab: Revolver
ROUND TWO, MATCH FOUR
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band vs. The Beatles (“The White Album”)
Julian: This is the biggest matchup of this round; Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which beat Help! last round, faces The Beatles (“The White Album”). These are widely regarded as two of the best albums, not just of The Beatles, but ever. They are certainly some of the most popular: “The White Album” has gone platinum, that’s 1 million copies sold, 19 times over – Sgt. Pepper 11 times. With those numbers, this is bound to be a big match, the winner might be likely to end up on top of the bracket. So which one is it going to be, Dylan?
Dylan: Remember last week, when I made zero friends by saying I thought Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was overrated? Well, that goes double for “The White Album,” which I honestly don’t even like that much. Even under the best circumstances, double-LPs tend to be bloated and uneven, but in the case of The Beatles the problem is amplified by the band being more segmented than ever. There are some great songs on The White Album, like George’s masterful “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and Paul’s “Blackbird,” but at 93 minutes (8 ½ of them being “Revolution 9”) there’s so much waste that the album as a whole makes for unpleasant listening. Sgt. Pepper’s may not be perfect, but it still wins by a mile.
David: The White Album contains some of the highest highs and the lowest lows of the Beatles’ catalogue. (It’s also a double sided jigsaw puzzle, if you feel the need to punish yourself.) There’s examples of early hard rock/proto-metal (“Helter Skelter”), Flapper music (“Honey Pie”), blues (“Yer Blues”), and just about every other kind of genre. It also has some of the Beatles’ best uses of Indian influence. It also has “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” one of my favorite Beatles cuts of all time and emphasizes why George is my favorite Beatle. That said, it also has, as Dylan mentioned, the dreaded “Revolution 9″ and – what I’d argue is even more unpleasant but in a much smaller dose – “Wild Honey Pie.” There’s no way I’m letting an album with those two songs advance. Nope. Sgt. Pepper’s, you have my vote. I don’t even need to defend or explain Sgt. Pepper’s. Not having “Wild Honey Pie” is enough.
Sam: Well, it looks like Sgt. Pepper’s victory in this round is a foregone conclusion, so I’ll use my space to defend The Beatles, an adventurous if inconsistent album. Sure, a lot of the material seems like it doesn’t belong to the same band, let alone the same record, but I’d argue that that’s when a double-LP works best – since the three primary songwriters were moving in different directions, the freedom of that much space to work with led to some of the Beatles’ coolest experimentation. Many of the songs were written while the Beatles were in India, and the band’s tense experiences with the Maharishi (and each other) informed much of the subject matter and mood of the music. It’s weird stuff, but after several listens the album really clicked for me, and where I once would have skipped half the tracks, I now think it’s all indispensable in the context of the album as a singular work. Even the tension of “Revolution 9,” though really unpleasant to listen to on its own (that being the point), resolves in the majestic “Good Night” in a really interesting way. There’s an intense melancholy that pervades the album, giving it a solemn beauty that stands in stark contrast against the rest of the Beatles catalog. All that being said, it’s up against Sgt. Pepper’s, so it easily gets the old heave-ho.
The Most Fab: Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band