THE ACT YOU'VE KNOW FOR ALL THESE YEARS

Ranking the Beatles Albums,
Just Because We Have a Site Now to Do So
By John Larrabee and John V. Brennan.
Copyright © 2006, John Larrabee and John V. Brennan.
Posted June 4th, 2005

"Their first album was recorded in 20 minutes.  Their second one took even longer." - Eric Idle, The Rutles: All You Need is Cash

Please Please Me

    With four single sides left over from the previous year, and another 10 songs recorded in one day, the Beatles' first album may have been short on production values, but it was long on quality.  There were some ragged moments and a couple of unspectacular cover tunes, but it was a superb debut overall.  And because producer George Martin did virtually nothing to tamper with the group's sound at this early stage (aside from such directives as telling George H. to "turn it down a bit"), PLEASE PLEASE ME presents an aural portrait of what the Beatles must have sounded like in the Liverpool and Hamburg clubs during their formative years.  Surprisingly, despite being their first album, PPM deserves to be heard in stereo, its straightforward, uncompressed sound being as in-your-face and in-your-living-room as it gets.  For the best sonics, seek out an LP pressing on the German Odeon label, entitled "Die Beatles!"  (That's German for "The Beatles!", not a homicidal imperative.) - JL

     Begins and ends with killer rock and roll cuts ("I Saw Her Standing There" and "Twist and Shout") played with an energy and panache that proves that when The Beatles wanted to be, they could be "the world's greatest rock and roll band", a nickname bestowed more often and rightfully on their friendly rivals The Rolling Stones and The Who.  In between these cuts, we get several beautiful examples of primitive Lennon-McCartney songwriting such as "Misery", "Ask Me Why" and "Do You Want to Know a Secret", songs filled with the kind of innocence and joy (even "Misery") that would start to fade sometime after A HARD DAY'S NIGHT.  Add to this the title cut, Ringo pounding the hell out of his drums on the cover song "Boys", and the remarkably mature Lennon-McCartney masterpiece "There's a Place", and you've got one hell of an album.  George Martin did little more than just record the Beatles live in the studio with little sweetening aside from some scattered overdubbed keyboard and doubletracked vocals.  So you get a superb idea of what the Beatles' live sets were like, meaning, yes, you had to sit through Paulie crooning his way through "A Taste of Honey" before getting to hear John rip his larynx to shreds on "Twist and Shout". - JB


With The Beatles

     The Beatles' second album was a more polished effort than the first, but somehow lacks some of the crackling excitement of PLEASE PLEASE ME.  For the life of me, I can't figure out why this is so, since WITH THE BEATLES is a much stronger collection of tunes.  Perhaps it's because it's the one Beatles album that follows the pattern set by its predecessor, leaving something of a been-there-done-that aftertaste.  And because it was recorded in fits and starts over a period of a few months, rather than in one marathon session, it lacks some of the raw energy and urgency of PPM.  In subtle ways, you can also hear the difference between the sound of scruffy young men who had only recently ditched their leathers, vs. the sound of more seasoned pros who had graduated to Pierre Cardin collarless suits.  But these are the sort of nit-picks one has after an intimate association with the album (or its American counterpart, MEET THE BEATLES) for more than 40 years.  For everyone else, it's simply a great Beatles album. - JL

    The essential difference between PLEASE PLEASE ME and WITH THE BEATLES is that PPM is virtually a live album and WTB has a studio polish that makes it, to my ears, one of the group's best sounding albums.  The songwriting is more complex - just try and follow the chord changes of "It Won't Be Long" or "All My Loving".  Even George Harrison's first recorded composition "Don't Bother Me" (a nice one at that) has a chord sequence that showed these boys knew their way around a guitar.  There is some dross, like Paul's "Hold Me Tight", a decent song in desperate need of an arrangement, and John's simplistic "Little Child", but the whole album still hangs together better than some of their later efforts.  Paul does another showtune, "Til There Was You" from THE MUSIC MAN, but don't cringe - it's a huge improvement over PLEASE PLEASE ME's "A Taste of Honey", with acoustic guitars everywhere, a sincere vocal from Sir Paul and an amazing little guitar solo played by George and composed, I suspect, by Paul himself.   If showtunes aren't your thing, there is also pure rock and roll, including "Please Mr. Postman" and "Money".  Call me a heretic, but I really enjoy the way the American-released Capitol mixes sound, especially the reverb on "Roll Over Beethoven", "Please Mr. Postman" and "Devil in Her Heart".  ½ - JB


A Hard Day's Night

     Not usually ranked among the Beatles' best works, which I'll never understand.  The songwriting may be less sophisticated than what they would achieve some 18 months down the road, but this is as good as early '60s pop songwriting gets.  Track-for-track, AHDN might be their strongest album, and it captures and embodies the spirit of the summer of '64 every bit as well as SGT. PEPPER did with the summer of '67.  It's also the Beatle album most dominated by John Lennon, who was the main songwriter for 10 of the album's 13 tracks.  We tend to think of Lennon as the "serious" songwriter in the band, yet AHDN proves that no one could match him when it came to catchy pop tunes. - JL

     Along with "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand", A HARD DAY'S NIGHT represents the essence of Beatlemania.  Just try to listen to the title cut, "I Should Have Known Better", "Can't Buy Me Love" or even "I'm Happy Just to Dance With You" without getting the urge to jump up, dance and be happy.  Aside from jolly dance tunes, The Beatles wrote some of the most beautiful love songs in history, and "If I Fell" is one of the few that can actually get me teary-eyed if I think about it too long. That melody, those chords, that harmony.  A tremendous album despite Paul's "And I Love Her", a standard to be sure, but one I am not terribly fond of, and John's "When I Get Home", which sounds like it was written in about three minutes and should have been donated to Ringo.  Then again, everything else John (and Paul) wrote for this album is pure gold, so why quibble about these two songs?  ½ - JB


Beatles for Sale

     That BEATLES FOR SALE is regarded as the Beatles' most mediocre album is yet another testament to their genius.  It's been said before, but an album of such quality would be considered a career highlight for most any other band; yet for the Fabs, it was a disappointment following the previous summer's masterpiece, A HARD DAY'S NIGHT.  It's been called their "tired" album, with its somewhat listless performances and numerous cover tunes.  It was recorded at the end of the most hectic year of the Beatles' existence, and you can detect a lack of energy in such otherwise fine tunes as "Every Little Thing" and Buddy Holly's "Words of Love."  It's also a very pessimistic album, especially in terms of Lennon's contributions, and the opening three numbers --- "No Reply" (about a guy humiliated and rejected by his lover), "I'm a Loser" (a self-pitying confessional), and "Baby's in Black" (about a girl mourning her dead boyfriend, fer cryin' out loud!) --- establish a depressing tone from which the album never really recovers, despite such upbeat moments as "Eight Days a Week" and Carl Perkins' "Honey Don't."  And though "Blue Jay Way" may get my vote for worst Beatles recording, BFS's "Mr. Moonlight" would be most fans' pick for the same title.  BEATLES FOR SALE is by no means a total bust--it's a highly recommended addition to any Beatles collection, in fact--but you might want to stock up on the anti-depressants before listening.. ½ - JL

    The very things you mention about BEATLES FOR SALE are what make me love it.  Then again, one of my favorite Bob Dylan albums is PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID and my favorite Beatles movie is LET IT BE, so what the hell do I know?  Although I loathe "Baby's in Black" as much as anybody, I love the sad undertone of this album so much, I actually resent "Eight Days a Week", which is just waaaay too Beatley to be on this album.  Even Paul's pretty "I'll Follow the Sun" is about a guy who's breaking up with his girl.  As for "Mr. Moonlight", I wouldn't want to be without it, and its cheesy organ solo, so desperately trying to inject a note of ridiculous humor into the proceedings.  And "Words of Love" along with the BBC cut "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" makes me wish that the Beatles had recorded an entire Buddy Holly tribute album.  Their most country and rockabilly-influenced work, BEATLES FOR SALE has a mostly consistent sound throughout, with acoustic guitars playing the rhythm and George's chimy electric leads adding character on top.   Each of the Beatles gets to perform his own rock and roll cover, which helps break up the countrified misery into little chunks: "Rock and Roll Music" (John), "Kansas City" (Paul), "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" (George) and "Honey Don't" (Ringo), and they're all splendid, with "Rock and Roll Music" being the standout. - JB


Help!

     As with its predecessor, BEATLES FOR SALE, HELP! represents the Beatles in their treading-water period, though the songwriting is a bit more inspired this time around, and there are promising hints of things to come half a year down the road.  Side one of the original LP is the stronger side, with the title track, "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" (Lennon's two most personal songs to date), and "Ticket to Ride" being particular standouts.  Side two teetered on the brink of disposability, but McCartney's "Yesterday" (arguably the most famous Beatle song of all time) and the great "I've Just Seen a Face" are rather substantial saving graces.  Not one of the Beatles' great albums, but one of their most interesting ones, and certainly the only one that has "transitional effort" written all over it.  - JL

     Possibly the only Beatles albums where the outtakes and b-sides are more interesting than what wound up on the album.  Yes, there are the requisite classic cuts that we know and love, John's "You're Going to Lose That Girl" sounds like a leftover from the HARD DAY'S NIGHT album (meaning it's pretty good)  and Paul's "I've Just Seen a Face" deserved a better fate than to be hidden on this album (it really worked as the opening cut to the bastardized American version of RUBBER SOUL!).  But so much of what makes up the bulk of HELP! is craft without much inspiration.  George Harrison's "I Need You" and "You Like Me Too Much" are passable efforts for a novice composer, but really, Paul's "Another Girl" and "The Night Before" are not all that much more sophisticated, verging on throwaways.  And John must have realized "It's Only Love" was not terribly good, because he stopped writing it after only two verses of clichés (as opposed to the two verses of mature, poetic lyrics of the Dylanesque "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away"). 

     Meanwhile, on the cutting room floor were "I'm Down" and "Bad Boy", great pieces of rock and roll that could have taken the place of "Dizzie Miss Lizzie" (both songs were released outside the album); "Yes It Is", a superb sequel to the three-part harmony glories of "This Boy", which wound up as the b-side of "Ticket to Ride"; and "That Means a Lot", a heavily-reverbed experiment that was shelved until ANTHOLOGY but was at least sonically more intriguing than half the stuff on HELP!  Finally, there was the Ringo-sung Lennon and McCartney rocker "If You've Got Troubles", which.... ummm....  well.... hey look, RUBBER SOUL is next!  - JB


Rubber Soul

     Not as daring as REVOLVER or SGT. PEPPER, but equally groundbreaking in its own way, RUBBER SOUL is the Beatles' most consistent album in terms of songwriting.  McCartney's contributions ("Drive My Car," "You Won't See Me," "Michelle," "I'm Looking Through You") take the established Beatles Formula to a new level of sophistication, whereas Lennon's songs became more introspective and confessional ("Norwegian Wood," "Nowhere Man," "Girl," "In My Life").  The album also featured two notable contributions from George Harrison ("Think For Yourself," "If I Needed Someone"), signaling his emergence as an important, if less prolific, contributor to the Beatles' songbook.  With the possible exception of Bob Dylan's two albums from 1965, RUBBER SOUL was the strongest album released during rock music's first 10 years.  It still boggles my mind that the recording sessions for RUBBER SOUL began with less than half the songs written, yet the album was completed and on the store shelves in a month's time.  - JL

     Right up there with Dylan's HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED, Dave Brubeck's TIME OUT, The Velvet Underground's self-titled third album and any random Patsy Cline collection in my list of favorite albums of all time.  The Beatles most mature work, featuring magnificent songwriting from all three songwriting Beatles, but especially from John, whose admiration for Dylan now went officially beyond imitation.  None of his songs sound Dylanesque, in the way that the earlier "I'm a Loser" or "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" did; instead, the influence is heard in the introspective, intelligent lyrics. (Dylan would parody John's "Norwegian Wood" in 1966 with BLONDE ON BLONDE'S "Fourth Time Around").  The entire album shows the influence of Dylan and the folk-rock movement, though "Drive My Car" is clearly inspired by Motown and soul.  Almost all of the instrumental breaks - on "Michelle", "Nowhere Man", "Girl", "In My Life", and even "Drive My Car" - are composed rather than improvised, a sign of the group's  increasing musical sophistication.  "Run for Your Life" aside, all of John's contributions are major works, Paul's are almost as good, and even George's two songs show he was developing a distinct "Harrisonesque" songwriting style  that was not quite Lennon-McCartney but still perfect for the trademarked Beatle three-part harmony. This would be the most perfect album of all time if John's album-ending "Run For Your Life" and the Lennon-McCartney-Starkey song "What Goes On" were replaced by the contemporary single of "Day Tripper" and "We Can Work It Out". - JB


Revolver

      Not as consistent as RUBBER SOUL, REVOLVER nevertheless attains loftier heights.  This time, it's McCartney who offers up the more interesting compositions, delving into social commentary ("Eleanor Rigby"), Lennonesque introspection ("For No One"), Memphis/Stax-based soul ("Got to Get You Into My Life"), and one of his best-ever ballads ("Here, There and Everywhere").  Lennon dismissed some of his REVOLVER contributions as throwaways, but "Dr. Robert" and "She Said, She Said" were enjoyable, while "And Your Bird Can Sing" was a great showcase for those Soaring Beatle Harmonies.  He also contributed one masterpiece ("I'm Only Sleeping"), as well as the album's most-discussed track, "Tomorrow Never Knows," although he was to write much stronger songs in the same vein ("Strawberry Fields Forever," "I Am the Walrus") in the months to come.  Of Harrison's three songs (his most on a Beatle album to date), only "Taxman" ranks with his best work.  In all, RUBBER SOUL and REVOLVER rank about equally in terms of greatness, with RUBBER SOUL coming a bit closer to perfection. - JL

     REVOLVER, their first real studio-created album, is my favorite Beatle release to listen to for the sound of it alone.  "Tomorrow Never Knows" is not a song that you are going to play around a campfire with a guitar (unless you only know one chord) but it is one of the most fun Beatles tracks just to enjoy for its sounds.  Ringo's drums, George's droning tamboura, the weird "seagull" tape loops, the backwards guitar solos, Paul's booming bass, John's voice pumped through the speaker of a Leslie organ... in the words of George Harrison, it's all too much!  SGT. PEPPER gets more press, but REVOLVER is, for me, their masterpiece, unless I am in a RUBBER SOUL mood.  Even the weakest track, Harrison's "Love You To", is still worth listening to for the timbre of the Indian instruments, especially on the YELLOW SUBMARINE SONGTRACK where it has been remixed from the original tapes.

     Some of Paul's best greatest songs are found here, including what I consider his most perfect composition, "Here, There and Everywhere".  George's "Taxman" kicks off with a bang as explosive as "I Saw Her Standing There" or "A Hard Day's Night".  "Yellow Submarine" may be a silly children's song, but the production and sound effects make it one of the Beatles most interesting sonic experiments.  Guitars were never more stinging than on John's "She Said, She Said" and "And Your Bird Can Sing". "For No One" is the most touching Beatles song since "In My Life" from RUBBER SOUL.   George's "Taxman" is his best song yet, but the oft-overlooked "I Want to Tell You" is one of the greatest songs about how hard it is sometimes just to communicate ("Sometimes I wish I knew you well/ then I could speak me mind and tell you").  In short, almost every song is a classic, and even those that are not are worth listening to.  "Paperback Writer" and "Rain", the two songs released as a single during the recording of REVOLVER, share all the same qualities. - JB


Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

     SGT. PEPPER is often cited as the greatest album in the history of rock music, even by those writers and critics who acknowledge that it isn't the best Beatles album. Though it boasts a strong collection of songs, SGT. PEPPER was as much about the production and "the moment" as it was about the music. An aural kaleidoscope of swirly, jangly psychedelia (the album even sounded like Technicolor), it became the most notable touchstone of the flower-power generation. It was peace, love, pot, acid, incense, beads, Carnaby Street, Haight-Ashbury, and paisley Rolls-Royces all rolled into one package. By the time of the Chicago Democratic Convention in the summer of 1968, it seemed hopelessly dated. By 1978, it seemed endearingly retro.  - JL

     Although it is hard to knock an album with songs as great as "With a Little Help from My Friends", "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "A Day in the Life", SGT. PEPPER has grown into one of my least favorite Beatles albums over the years.  I appreciate all the sounds, the production, the time and effort, the album's place in history, but still... most of the songs pale compared to what can be found on RUBBER SOUL and REVOLVER.  It's fun to listen to, but you will rarely find me jauntily whistling "Good Morning, Good Morning", "Getting Better" or "Within You, Without You" as I walk the streets.  However, "A Day in the Life" is the high point of the Beatles recording history, and the greatest Lennon-McCartney collaboration.  ½ - JB


Magical Mystery Tour

     A unique, 6-track double-EP in its original UK release, MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR was expanded to album length in America by including all of the band's 1967 singles on side 2.  The expanded LP version has long since become the worldwide standard -- and a good thing, too, because it's the singles that are the classics more so than the soundtrack tunes.  True, side 1 does boast two great songs--McCartney's "The Fool on the Hill" and Lennon's "I Am the Walrus" --- and the title track is fun stuff, but "Flying" is pure filler, "Your Mother Should Know" is the weakest of McCartney's music-hall ditties, and Harrison's "Blue Jay Way" gets my vote for the Beatles' worst-ever recording.  But, cor the blimey, heave the mo', side 2!  You get both sides of the greatest single in rock history ("Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields Forever"), the anthem of the Summer of Love ("All You Need is Love"), and a b-side ("Baby, You're a Rich Man") that seems to fall into the "I like it a lot more than I used to" category for most fans.  Only "Hello, Goodbye," is substandard Beatles, the closest the band came to issuing a throwaway as an A-side.  But it's undeniably catchy and it was a huge hit, so what do I know?  In all, MMT is an album with some serious flaws, rendered essential by the inclusion of some of the Beatles' greatest recordings.  - JB

     The production tricks were now old hat, the songwriting weaker, the musicianship less inspired.  MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR was PEPPER without the pepper.  As noted, "I Am The Walrus" and "Fool on the Hill" deserve to be on any Beatles greatest hits package, but most of the rest of the songs written for this project are either pure fluff or deadly dull.  I'd give it a higher ranking, but all of side two's songs, plus the best of side one, are easily available elsewhere, and I never really considered MMT an album proper.  Probably the only case where if you have some of the hits collections (SONGTRACK and the Red Album), you don't really need the original album. - JB


The Beatles

("The White Album")

     I don't know if the Beatles made a conscious decision to make an "anti-SGT. PEPPER" album with THE BEATLES (better known as "The White Album"), but that's how it comes across in many respects.  Whereas PEPPER abounds with layers of sound and effects, the White Album has a more live-in-the-studio sound, complete with snippets of chit-chat and ad-libs from the lads.  PEPPER's album cover is one of the most iconic --- and costly --- in rock history, while the White Album's cover attained nearly as much fame for being...well, a plain White Album.  Some have carped over the years that the 30-song, double-LP was too sprawling and ambitious an undertaking, and that its contents should have been pruned down to a single disc, while other contend that the album's schizy diversity is one of its main strengths.  I'm in the latter camp.  With the possible exception of "Revolution 9," I defy any Beatle fan to choose a single track on the album they'd rather live without. ½ - JL

     There is only one real way to listen to the White Album: on vinyl, from Side 1 through Side 4 in one sitting.  When each side is over, you must walk over to the record player and manuallychange sides.  Only by doing this does the White Album truly reveal itself to be the greatest album ever recorded (except for RUBBER SOUL, REVOLVER, Dylan's HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED, The Kinks SOMETHING ELSE, et. al...).  Those pauses, after "Happiness is a Warm Gun", "Julia" and "Long Long Long", are extremely important to separate each side.  On CD, the White Album is no longer four separate song suites, or four movements in a fractured Beatles symphony.  Recording artists used to spend much time sequencing each side of an album, and the Beatles themselves took 24 hours to figure out the running order of the White Album.  And compact discs lay all that planning to waste.  Unfortunately I haven't been able to listen to the album on vinyl for several years, ever since my turntable died one morning in the middle of Roy Orbison's "Leah".  Damn you and your diving for pearls, Roy!

    Oh, well, the White Album is still good on CD, if not perfect.  Casual fans know several songs from this album like "Back in the USSR", "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and one of George's best ever songs, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps".  But there is so much more to this album than just the hits.  Amongst my favorites are Paul's quick and painless acoustic ditty "I Will", John's "I'm So Tired" (a quasi-sequel to REVOLVER'S "I'm Only Sleeping"), George's horn-section happy rocker "Savoy Truffle", Ringo's first  self-penned Beatles tune "Don't Pass Me By", and more: "Birthday", "Sexy Sadie", "Revolution 1", "Rocky Raccoon", "Helter Skelter", "Piggies", "Honey Pie", "Julia"... need I go on?  Good stuff, all essential.  A single album from these sessions?  Blasphemy!  I wouldn't even want to skip over John's aural cacophony "Revolution 9", because it leads to the perfect album closer, John's tender lullabye "Goodnight", sung in inimitable style by Richard Starkey, MBE.  By the fadeout of "Goodnight", you've listened to the Beatles work their way through more musical styles and genres on this one double album than most bands of similar talent visit in an entire career.  It is easy to believe that a band bickering and falling apart made an album this fractured, but harder to believe that such a band made an album this good. - JB


Yellow Submarine

     I wouldn't call this the Beatles' worst album because I don't consider it an album, merely an EP's worth of tunes stretched to LP length with the inclusion of two previously released tracks and George Martin's soundtrack suites.  Of the four originals, only "Hey Bulldog" approaches greatness, although Harrison's "It's All Too Much" has steadily grown in stature over time.  Buy the YELLOW SUBMARINE SOUNDTRACK version instead, which, despite several controversial remixes, at least gives you all the soundtrack songs plus 11 other Beatles classics to boot. - JL

     The original soundtrack album was the first case of The Beatles taking the money and running.  George's "It's Only a Northern Song", recorded for PEPPER and tarted up for the film soundtrack, is only marginally better than his "Blue Jay Way".  Paul's "All Together Now" is one of those insubstantial singalongs he would later perfect in his solo career ("Let 'Em In", "Listen to What the Man Said"), the kind of song that will make you scream "Get out of my brain!" like Captain Kirk trapped on a hostile planet somewhere.  "It's All Too Much" is fun to listen to because it sounds like the entire psychadelic era exploding into a million tiny pieces and contains his best lyric ever ("show me that I'm everywhere and get me home for tea.").  And "Hey Bulldog" is a superb Lennon riff stretched out to a great, but not classic, rocker.  The updated YELLOW SUBMARINE SONGTRACK would get four stars because, aside from the four YELLOW SUBMARINE songs, you get a lovely little selection from RUBBER SOUL, REVOLVER and their various 1967 projects. ½ - JB


Let It Be

"In the midst of all this public bickering, 'Let it Rot' was released as a film, an album, and a lawsuit. In 1970, Dirk sued Stig, Nasty, and Barry; Barry sued Dirk, Nasty, and Stig; Nasty sued Barry, Dirk, and Stig; and Stig sued himself accidentally." - Eric Idle,The Rutles: All You Need is Cash

     The tragic saga of LET IT BE is one of the better-known Beatle legends and I won't bother to chronicle it here, but I find it a bit ironic that the band's weakest album is also one of their most storied.  ABBEY ROAD may have been the last album they recorded, but this one sounds like a last album, its walk-through performances and half-finished song ideas reeking of contractual obligation.  There's some good stuff, to be sure (it is the Beatles, after all), especially McCartney's classic "Get Back," the very underrated "I've Got a Feeling," and Lennon's return to psychedelia, "Across the Universe" (which had actually been recorded much earlier).  The original Phil Spector version of the album, strings and choirs and all, has been derided through the years by fans and Fabs alike, but Spector probably made more sense out of the mess than any producer could.  The 2003 release LET IT BE...NAKED (or the "revamped to indulge Paul" version, if you will) was, as Jeff Goldblum said in JURRASIC PARK, "one of the worst ideas in the long history of bad ideas."  In trying to get back to the rawness of the original sessions, they created a product that was more slick and sterile than the Spector original, and drained the album of much of its character in the process.  Stick with the original, where Lennon's jokey mutterings help make things more palatable. ½ - JL

     The bickering, joyless atmosphere of the White Album sessions continues, only this time in front of movie cameras, and with very little good material to record.  The best song, "Get Back", seems to have come together from a series of studio jams.  Otherwise, Paul brought in two of his more overblown compositions, "Let It Be" and "The Long and Winding Road", both of which sound too much like big, important songs to really be that important.  John, on the other hand,  brought next to nothing to the sessions, his biggest new tune to make the album being "I Dig a Pony", one of his crappiest compositions ever.  According to a day by day account of the sessions, George, aware of the void, kept bringing in new songs to work on, yet the only one they bothered to record at the original sessions was the fun but dismissable "For You Blue".  With so little to work with, half-hearted jams on whatever came to mind were the order of the day.

     The eventual album, released after ABBEY ROAD, was a lie.  George's "I Me Mine" was a post-ABBEY ROAD recording, "Across the Universe" was from the sessions that brought forth "Lady Madonna" and "The Inner Light" as year before, and Phil Spector's heavy-handed production on some tunes rode roughshod over the intended "warts and all" nature of the project.  In addition, the song "Let it Be' contained several post-ABBEY ROAD overdubs by Paul and George. The updated album, LET IT BE... NAKED, was yet another lie, prettying things up by cutting out the between-song chatter and making things sound as polished and worked over as any Beatles album.  Only Glyn Johns' original take on this project, known as GET BACK, was worth a damn and that was never released.  I'd add a full extra star if "I Dig a Pony" and "Dig It" were gone (and all tapes burned) and John's tremendous "Don't Let Me Down" were incuded.  In any case, after listening to many, many outtakes and jams from the sessions, I am convinced that it would be diificult to make anything but a mediocre album from this whole "Masochist Misery Tour" period. ½ - JB


Abbey Road

     Listening to ABBEY ROAD, you'd never guess that it was the product of a weary and bickering band on the verge of breaking up.  In terms of songwriting and sonics, it was as much of a breakthrough as SGT. PEPPER and could have heralded the next phase of the Beatles' development, but, alas, it was not to be.  For such a highly regarded album, however, I find side one of its original LP configuration to be the weakest single side of music the Beatles ever recorded, save for the first two tracks ("Come Together" and "Something").  What makes the album a classic is that side two is perhaps the greatest side of music the Beatles ever recorded.  The two extended medleys were not only highly effective, they were a brilliant device to cover up the fact that the band lacked new material at the time.  As Lennon said, "We always had tons of bits and pieces lying around.  I've got stuff I wrote around PEPPER, because you lose interest after you've had it for years.  It was a good way of getting rid of bits of songs."  Even when the Beatle Well was drained down to the last few drops, it was still great stuff.  ½

     To a lesser extent than The White Album, ABBEY ROAD needs to be listened to on vinyl.  To my ears, there must be a pause between the sharp, unexpected cutoff of John's apocalyptic "I Want You (She's So Heavy") that originally ended side one and George's lovely "Here Comes the Sun" that opened side two like the sun coming out of the dark clouds.  Nevertheless, I'll live with ABBEY ROAD on CD.  There are some weak songs here and there, especially side one, but it is still the Beatles best-sounding album since REVOLVER, and features superb musicianship by all four members of the band.  "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" notwithstanding, it ranks with REVOLVER, RUBBER SOUL and The White Album as my favorite Beatles album.  - JB


Past Masters Volumes 1 and 2

     I might be cheating by classifying the PAST MASTERS collections as an album, and I'm cheating even more by counting the two volumes as a single entity, but they were released as a double-LP in 1987, so I'm not cheating too much.  I had to include PAST MASTERS at some point because both volumes contain so much essential Beatle music.  From "She Loves You" through "Hey Jude," some of the band's best work was released on singles.  For a compilation album of non-album tracks, there's very little "for completists only" filler here (aside from the German singles and a few others), another testament to the consistently high quality of the Beatles' work. ½ - JL


     Perhaps no other band in history could put together a collection of songs that were released only as singles or giveaway cuts and still have it be this good.  Certainly many of these songs have been on greatest hits collections over the years, but PAST MASTERS are still essential.   It's a mini-history of the band itself and the only place to hear such curiousities as the early Lennon-McCartney dittie "I'll Get You" (with botched lyrics in the middle eight), George's most painless Indian tune "The Inner Light", and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You" sung in German, if that's your idea of a good time. - JB

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