This is a part 3 of the short series “My Favorite Albums by The Beatles.” If you haven’t already, you can read part 1 (which also gives a short back story to my love of the band) and part 2 of the series.
5. The Beatles (1968) – Better known as the “White Album,” this record was essentially the beginning of the end of the band, with some of the songs not being recorded by the entire band (Ringo Starr briefly quit the band during the beginning sessions). Being the first full album recorded after Brian Epstein’s death and also the first on the group’s own label, Apple Records, the band was fairly free to do what they wanted and how they wanted. This freedom allowed for the record to be released as a double album and include some interesting some song choices, as well as album artwork. That being said, the record oozes creativity and amazing song writing, and even if the band didn’t function as a complete unit for all of it, there is no denying that they were a musical force, whether they were on good terms or in the process of breaking up. If the album had been sheared down to 12 or 14 songs (instead of 30), this may have been the greatest rock album ever, but it wasn’t, and the sprawling nature of the album pushes this down on my list. Yet, even though the songs go from being serious (“I’m So Tired”) to silly (“Wild Honey Pie”) to experimental (“Revolution 9”) to kick-ass rocker (“Birthday”), it’s a fantastic record. As I alluded to, the highs of the album are the highest on any Beatles album, and there are so many of them. My personal favorites are “Back in the USSR,” “Dear Prudence,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (featuring Eric Clapton), “Yer Blues,” “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey,” “Helter Skelter,” “Savoy Truffle,” and “Cry, Baby, Cry.” If you’ve never listened to the entirety of this album, you need to, because it’s one helluva musical rollercoaster.
4. Revolver (1966) – This was the last album The Beatles recorded before they stopped touring, but it also gave their fans a glimpse into what was soon to come from the group. This album is where the band went from writing songs that could be performed live, to creating art. They did this by maximizing the the power of the technology in the recording studio. The major breakthrough was using a tape effect called backmasking, which is where sound is intentionally recorded backwards as an effect. The use of this technique blew the door wide open on how a song could be recorded. The song that best exemplifies this is the closing track, “Tomorrow Never Knows.” The song includes some of the music tracks played backwards, most evident during George Harrison‘s guitar solo. On top of this, the band added sound effects that were created by having recorded sounds played at various speeds throughout the song, while John Lennon sang quotes from The Tibetan Book of the Dead, creating, not only a masterful song, but true piece of art. (You can read more on the recording of the song.) Yet, it was not only in production where the group took a major leap forward. They also started to write songs that took on much different subjects than most of their previous albums. Opening with Harrison’s “Taxman,” which is a commentary on the British government’s taxing policies of the time, and continuing later with “Doctor Robert,” a song about a dentist that gave Lennon and Harrison LSD, it’s obvious the group is definitely leaving puppy-love love songs behind them for good. But for me, it’s about the music. Not only are most of the tracks so perfectly arranged, but there are just some simply fantastic songs. “Eleanor Rigby,” “I’m Only Sleeping,” “She Said She Said,” “Good Day Sunshine,” and “Got To Get You Into My Life,” along with the three aforementioned tracks, are truly great and show that the band was continuing to set the bar for what it meant to right pop/rock songs. But what really stands out to me is how the vocal harmonies on some of the songs are just amazing. My favorite example is on “I Want To Tell You,” where throughout the song George Harrison’s lead vocal is backed by Lennon and McCartney. It is at these points in the song where it just starts to soar into the atmosphere. Overall, this is just a superb album that is just a pure joy to listen to straight through.
3. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) – This is probably the most influential album in the history of popular music, and definitely my life (as you already read), so you might have assumed that this would be at the top of the list. Well, it’s not, though it definitely could’ve been. This album is very special to me, and though I may enjoy other Beatles albums a little better (though barely), there is no denying that this is truly a masterpiece. Where previous Beatles albums hinted and/or briefly blended genres, Sgt. Pepper truly broke all barriers and rules about what a rock n’ roll album could be. Having totally given up touring, the group was able to put 100% of their focus on the work they did in the studio, enabling them to experiment with sounds (and some drugs) that changed the musical landscape forever. Though the overall idea of The Beatles being a totally different band (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to be exact) was never fully realized, the fact that the album jumps all over the place musically, not sounding like a typical Beatles album (at that point), meant the concept was executed fairly successfully. As mentioned above, the ability to focus on creating music that was never meant to be played live opened the door for the band to pretty much do whatever they wanted to do. Though they were only working with a 4-track machine, they were able overdub and layer instruments, vocals, and other sounds (like barnyard animals) without much hassle (at least for that time period). Yet, the songs aren’t just sonically mind blowing, they are simply superb. There is not one weak song on the album. Not one. Though a few songs may seem out of place (“She’s Leaving Home,” “Within You, Without You,” “When I’m Sixty-Four”) they are so well crafted that it doesn’t matter. Even the truly experimental tracks, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!,” and “A Day In The Life,” could be stripped down and still be amazing. “A Day In The Life,” though groundbreaking in production, is easily one of the best Beatles songs ever. But, for me, the most fun part about the album is that it shows that the guys could still write great rock songs, evident by “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (and its reprise) and “Good Morning, Good Morning.” It’s a true masterpiece, plain an simple.
Look for part 4 of this short series in the next day or so, where I finish my discussion on my favorite albums by The Beatles.