This is a part 4 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) part 2, and part 3 of the series.
2. Abbey Road (1969) – The last album The Beatles ever recorded (though released before Let It Be), Abbey Road is a beautiful and appropriate swan song for a group the changed music and popular culture in less than a decade, especially after the debacle that was the sessions for Let It Be. I surprised myself when I put this above Sgt. Pepper, but after thinking hard and deliberating whether “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is worth moving this album down a slot, I decided against it. Before I get into why this album is so damn good, let’s talk about “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” The song is a Paul McCartney penned song that almost diminishes the product of the entire album because it’s simply kind of hokey. It’s not a bad song by any means, but it just doesn’t fit on the album. Sure there’s also the playful “Octopus’s Garden,” but that was written by Ringo Starr, and it’s probably one of the best ones he’s ever written, and that in itself makes the song fantastic. It’s just a damn good thing that McCartney knows how to write fantastic hooks, because it’s the only saving grace of the song. Thankfully, the rest of the album is just fantastic. The opening track, “Come Together,” starts the album off on an incredibly bluesy foot, something that was very rare for most of the band’s career, but the group pulls it off like they’ve been doing it for years. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s one of John Lennon’s best songs (at least in my opinion). McCartney gets in on the bluesy feel with “Oh! Darling,” which not only shows off his vocal prowess, but also shows off Ringo’s ability to be one of the most tasteful and thoughtful drummers in rock history. “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” shows the ability of the band to change feel mid-song, going back and forth between a plodding waltz and a Santana-esque latin blues. Yet, while these songs only solidify the fact that Lennon and McCartney are amazing songwriters, it is George Harrison’s songs that are the true gems of this record. “Something” is the best song on the album, and maybe the best Harrison ever wrote. It’s a beautifully written and arranged love song for his then wife, Patti Boyd, that I feel is near perfect. Though not on the same level, his other song on the album, “Here Comes The Sun,” is amazing as well. It’s one of those songs that reaches into your soul and warms it, and you can’t be anything but happy while listening. The song also begins the second half of the album, and is followed by the dark and arpeggio filled “Because.” This is followed by “You Never Give Me Your Money,” which is classic Paul McCartney, and also leads into, what is sometimes known as the “Sun King” Medley. Beginning with “Sun King” and ending with “The End,” the medley encompasses a total of seven songs, most of which are just parts of unfinished songs, but are beautifully blended together, in a masterful way that only The Beatles could do. And though the songs were never fully realized, they are still brilliant. The best part, however, is “The End,” which not only closes the album (though there is “Her Majesty” tacked on at the very, initially as a hidden track) but also is an appropriate close to the band’s career together. The song, a straight-up rocker, has solos by every member of the group, beginning with the only recorded drum solo by Ringo Starr during the group’s tenure. This is followed by a three-way guitar “battle” by McCartney, Harrison, and Lennon (in that order). After the “battle,” the song abruptly changes feel, ending on an absolutely beautiful note, with the words, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” The perfect swan song.
1. Rubber Soul (1965) – Maybe a little surprising, but yes, this is my favorite album by The Beatles. Though this album lacks studio wizardry that was present, and prominent, in all of the group’s albums that followed, it is, in my mind, the essence of what The Beatles were about: writing amazing songs that are performed at an elite level. While this was done on every Beatles album, on Rubber Soul it was done without the aforementioned studio tricks, so all you are getting is four guys playing the amazing songs they wrote. And yes, the songs are amazing. I should also remind you, that while A Hard Day’s Night was the band’s first album with all originals, this album is when the band left the idea of doing songs written by others totally behind them, something that very few pop/rock artists were successfully doing at the time. Rubber Soul showed that a band could write their own material and be successful. The record opens with “Drive My Car,” which is one of Paul McCartney’s best ever. The up-tempo rocker is powered by Ringo Starr’s driving drums and colored with the vocal harmonies of the other three. This is followed by the rustically beautiful “Norwegian Wood,” which is not only showcases the groups vocal harmonies, but is one of, if not, the first pop/rock song to have a sitar (played by George Harrison) on it. I need to say, that I really can’t put into words how gorgeous this song is, you just have to hear it. Then comes the hook-laden “You Won’t See Me,” which is a template for the power-pop genre that the group would inadvertently begin. This is followed by “Nowhere Man,” which is my favorite song on the album. Not only does this song lyrically venture deeply into the topic of depression, but this song is possibly the best example of how amazing the group was at creating vocal harmonies. Even though it’s likely that each vocalist is on more than one track, the way they blend together is mind-blowing, rivaling the best work of The Beach Boys (who were the masters of vocal harmonies). In reality, the vocals on this album are just plain superb, and this not just on a few tracks. This is on every single one. Besides “Nowhere Man,” the other premier example of the group’s vocal skill is “If I Needed Someone,” the second of two George Harrison songs. Here, the harmonies show up during the verses, and not the choruses, a brilliant and extremely effective move, and soar to incredible heights through the song’s duration. As I alluded to when discussing “Nowhere Man,” this album is filled with mature, thoughtful, and emotional lyrics, showing that the group was effectively shedding their “boy band” status, even if their fans didn’t get the message at the time (though McCartney’s “Michelle” could be the exception). I mean, the album ends with the song, “Run For Your Life,” which is an incredibly dark, twisted song, written from the position of a jealous, vengeful man who is willing to kill his girlfriend if she cheats on him. A big change from what the band was writing just a year prior. I mentioned earlier that the record is void of studio trickery. This is true except for one instance. On “In My Life,” the band’s longtime producer, George Martin, plays a classical piano lick, but the track was sped up to sound like a harpsichord. Though it’s not too hard to miss, the trick was effective, blending in perfectly with the song, to the point where if you weren’t paying attention, you may not even know it was done. But, as I previously stated, the lack of these type of tricks makes this album so amazing, because in reality, this was the last album by The Beatles that was a true performance of the group’s musical talents. Every song on the album is fantastic, and I could post links to every song, but I won’t, because the album deserves to be listened to in full, from start to finish without taking a break. This record is the pure essence of what The Beatles were: four guys from Liverpool, England, that wrote amazing songs and performed the hell out of them. That is why Rubber Soul is my favorite album by The Beatles.
Now before I end this four part series for good, I just want to make something clear: None of these albums are bad, not even close. They are literally ordered by my preference for them. Like I said at the beginning, this was not easy, especially ranking the top 5 albums, which could have looked totally different at some other point in time. Also, I’d like to reiterate that all of this music was recorded in about 6 years (the albums were released over the course of 7 years). Not only is that incredible by today’s standards, but back in the 1960s bands would likely only put out one record a year, not two. On top of this, if you ever take the time comparing the music of The Beatles to other music of the same time (especially from 1964-1966), you’ll hear how much ahead of their time the group was. There is a reason that they are so highly revered, it’s because they not only dominated the music scene, but they changed the entire landscape of popular music and have influenced most pop/rock from the time they hit the scene to this day.
I’d like to thank you for reading all four parts (for those that did), because it took a long time to write and I put a lot of thought into what I wrote, even if it sounds like I’m rambling at times. The Beatles have been extremely important and influential in my life, and I hope that you have come away with a new appreciation for these records, even if you already love them all.