One of the most remarkable things about The Beatles is that they remain one of the only groups in history with a complete contemporary UK album discography (of more than one disc) which is wholly indispensable.
That is to say, each record represents some kind of progression, whether it be the song-writing, the musical styles or the production techniques and each one contains era-defining, top-quality material which, to be without, would be to sacrifice something essential.
When the group put out Please Please Me in 1963, LPs were just collections or ‘selections’ of songs.
By 1970 the best albums were art… largely as a result of their influence over seven massive years.
The Beatles also remain probably the only band in music history to have genuinely lived-up to their hype and then surpassed it over and over again.
Yes folks, they really were that good.
No wonder we can’t stop talking about them, 51 years after they split up.
Compiling a top 12 from the 12 UK LPs from the 60s is easy in some ways, though tough in others.
The fact is, The Beatles did not put out a bad album.
In other words, they range from excellent to outstanding and ultimately it comes back to my favourite word when compiling these rundowns – subjectivity.
I have based mine on a totally subjective set of criteria, but mostly on which of the great dozen I have played – and continue to play – the most frequently over the years.
So here it is, therockandrollguy’s entirely subjective top 12 UK Beatles albums:
12. Yellow Submarine (1969)
First up, let me be quite clear about this – I wrestled with the idea of putting this higher, maybe around number seven, because it does meet the criteria of being listened to a lot over the years by me.
Ultimately though, as every Beatle fan knows, this is only really half an album, with side two comprised of George Martin’s instrumental tracks from the film.
What we’re left with is six Beatles numbers, two of which we already know (Yellow Submarine and All You Need Is Love) and one McCartney ditty (All Together Now), leaving three tunes which I really play the record for.
Two of these are by George Harrison – a testament to his developing genius.
Only A Northern Song has grown in my estimation over the years, mainly due to the humour in the words, while It’s All Too Much is about as epic as it gets.
Hey Bulldog would seem to demonstrate The Beatles having fun with a track which could be pretty forgettable in the hands of anyone else – but, as ever, they take a riff and run with it, building a mini-masterpiece in the process and the silly words just don’t matter.
11. With The Beatles (1963)
“What?” You say… Well, look, something has to go here and given the competition what else can I say?
This was the follow-up… the ‘difficult’ second album (which was anything but).
A monster hit, of course, this record stormed to the top of the charts and wore out many a turntable in the process.
Two standout moments for me on this disc are the timeless All My Loving and Harrison’s Don’t Bother Me.
The former is a peerless example of Lennon and McCartney’s craft while the latter is an interesting signpost of Harrison’s style, yet to bloom, but none-the-less fascinating for its more complex and ominously sophisticated lyrical themes.
“I’ve got no time for you right now, don’t bother me…” fast-forward a couple of years and add in more than a sprinkling of Dylan and… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Show me a UK Beatles album which doesn’t feature memorable cover art… this one is no exception.
The band are clearly becoming a brand at this point and LPs would never be the same again…
10. Please Please Me (1963)
Again – I nearly put this higher, given that it’s their first and has such energy and positive novelty value (over say, the morose Beatles For Sale… later), but it comes down to what I like to listen to from their catalogue.
There are obviously some monster moments here, not least the massive opener I Saw Her Standing There and the equally irresistible closer, Twist And Shout.
Introducing Mr John Lennon and his inimitable raw vocal style.
In-between I think I probably like side two’s hat-trick Baby It’s You, Do You Want To Know A Secret and A Taste Of Honey the best.
On the latter… introducing Mr Paul McCartney and his inimitable sweet vocal style…
Tropes – as we would soon become aware.
It’s a blast all told, but the truth is, Lennon and McCartney were just warming up with this one and Harrison hadn’t got out of the blocks yet, so for that reason, it remains one of my least frequently played of theirs… great LP cover though (of course).
9. Beatles For Sale (1964)
Morose? Jaded? Bored, even?
Yes, yes and… yes.
All the better for it?
Well, yes… largely.
The LP’s cover shows four tired Beatles frankly looking like the insanity surrounding them was starting to take its toll.
Put the record on and we get the sonic representation of the album sleeve… but with a twist.
Something is different in these songs.
No Reply and I’m A Loser sound like they’re tapping into new emotions for pop.
Or least, new emotions for The Beatles, who by now are guiding pop and who’ve clearly been listening to Bob Dylan and the result is something altogether more interesting than Love Me Do or P.S I Love You.
The signs are there for all to hear, The Beatles are evolving sonically and maturing lyrically.
It’s not quite full-on Rubber Soul-land yet and there’s still the ridiculously catchy I’ll Follow The Sun (an old tune of Paul’s I believe) and Eight Days A Week to fall back on.
The album also contains the divisive Mr Moonlight, which I’ve seen described as ‘gross’ in the past in reference to Lennon’s borderline manic delivery coupled with Reggie Dixon style organ, which strays into filler territory.
Huge advances in some ways here then and possibly some cul-de-sacs too.
Overall however, I like this album and do play it quite a bit, despite the arguable bumpy ride in terms of quality (and this is major nit-picking, let’s be honest).
8. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Most acts would be satisfied with an album as good as this.
Lennon and McCartney dispense with peddling versions of other people’s songs for this LP and instead show us what they can do as song-writers, essentially wiping the floor with the competition in the process.
The Beatles really arrive with this album and 1964 is basically dominated by it.
A master-class in self-sufficient pop, the bench-mark is set with this and no one’s going to catch them for the rest of the decade.
Only Dylan is capable of matching or out-matching them pound for pound on song-writing from this point, but he is one artist against the creative force of The Beatles, who would prove for the rest of the 1960s that they were the group to measure all groups by.
Other geniuses would come close, some driving themselves to the edge of sanity in the process, but this album shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that The Beatles were the real deal.
There simply isn’t a bad track on this record and for me at least, seven monster stand outs – the title track, I Should Have Known Better, If I Fell, And I Love Her, Can’t Buy Me Love, Things We Said Today and I’ll Be Back.
Lennon and McCartney 100,000,000 Rest of the universe 0.
7. Let It Be (1970)
Another potentially controversial placing here and my reason is fairly simple.
This album, undeniably great as it is, is a bit tatty by the high standards of The Beatles.
There – I said it.
My issues with Let It Be are all production based, as indeed were the band’s.
The most tinkered with and mucked about Beatles project ever – and still being reworked to this day, the group couldn’t quite get it together for this record – whatever the reason(s) – and we’ve heard many, resulting in an album that could have been so much better if the band behind it had more enthusiasm (or had even existed) when it came out.
The songs are great, but there is filler here (Maggie Mae, Dig It) but the album is rescued by the title track (though in my opinion a less well-presented version than the one which was issued as a single – many disagree, I know) and McCartney’s other monster song on the record, The Long And Winding Road.
The latter tune, known to most of us as simply a Beatles masterpiece, was in fact another nail in the coffin of the group because of squabbles over its production/producer/arrangement etc…
Pretty tedious stuff to be honest.
Knowing what we know… or have been told about the fraught nature of this album’s recording and production does mar the listening experience for me, while I imagine how good it could have been.
It’s also got Across The Universe on it, which as we all know, is one of Lennon’s best ever songs, even if it isn’t entirely unique to this album.
6. Help! (1965)
Some may argue that this should be lower than Let It Be as it contains material which even Lennon himself dismissed as rubbish – but then he did enjoy criticising his own material more than most.
The title track is a classic of course, but there is much more here to soak up.
Granted, with the exception of the behemoth Yesterday, this album is all about side one.
And yes, they really did just put Yesterday out as an album track to begin with – that’s how massive this group was.
This record has tremendous highlights from the gorgeous You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away (thanks Bob, again) to Harrison’s wonderful I Need You, the hypnotic Ticket To Ride and I’ve Just Seen A Face, this is the uphill side of the 1960s in a bottle, just before we get to the really good stuff, which The Beatles were saving for the second half of 1965.
As the mop-tops entered a twilight period, pop music was about to get serious and The Beatles were about to get seriously good…
5. Rubber Soul (1965)
The top five Beatles albums on this list are astonishingly good.
Rubber Soul is a masterpiece.
I considered putting it even higher.
In the end it comes down to the individual tracks and if I had to criticise this album in any way, I’d probably say that two of the 14 are below par.
For the avoidance of doubt, I’m talking about the skippable What Goes On and Run For Your Life.
The fact that these are predominantly Lennon-penned numbers says nothing since the quality of his other songs on the album is top-notch.
What Goes On is just a bit too annoying alongside the masterpieces In My Life and Nowhere Man and Run For Your Life is lyrically immature to the point of being embarrassingly bad compared with Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) or Girl.
McCartney contributes the storming opener Drive My Car and the all-time classic Michelle, as well as others besides, while Harrison gives us the strong Think For Yourself and If I Needed Someone – the clearest indication yet that he could start to rival the two main writers.
Their slightly elongated faces on the autumnal cover coupled with the grown-up acoustic texture of the music inside screams the swinging 60s like no other LP of the era.
This is The Beatles cranking up to overdrive… though still, amazingly, not quite at their peak.
4. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Possibly the most controversial of all placings on this list, but I stick by it.
If this were a list of the most important LPs by The Beatles, then it would probably have to go at the top.
I’ve always felt that this is largely a McCartney driven audio experience, with contributions from the others.
Sgt Pepper was his idea, as was the title track and much of the rest of the album and all of this is to his credit, since we’re talking about a cultural milestone, not just a record.
My contention though and therefore reason why I haven’t placed this higher, is that much of what Sgt Pepper was and continues to be lauded for, The Beatles had already done on Revolver.
Nevertheless, this is the one with the glorious colour sleeve, with all it’s hidden meanings (if you believe that angle) and Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, With A Little Help From My Friends, Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite! and A Day In The Life.
You could write whole books on any one of these songs (people have!) and yes, the latter track in particular is an example of The Beatles transcending pop or rock or whatever you want to call it, producing genuine art and surpassing anything by any of their peers by a country mile.
It’s also, I would argue, a strong contender for the greatest combination of a Lennon tune with a McCartney one that we have and a massive album closer.
While marvelling at the work of McCartney and Lennon on this record it is all to easy to overlook Harrison’s one song, which is actually so much more than a song.
Within You, Without You is a superb piece of work, too often dismissed by people with closed ears, just because the instrumentation is not guitar-based.
This is a great piece of music with thought-provoking lyrics.
Harrison’s interest in Indian sounds and the sitar can be heard two albums back, but here it takes centre-stage, providing us with what I’ve heard described as “the conscience of the album”.
I think that’s true and I wish we’d had more of this kind of thing from George really.
Harrison would record three songs entirely with Indian instruments and musicians for The Beatles and each one is a masterpiece, with the group’s discography infinitely enhanced by their presence.
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band needs no further endorsement from me or anyone else, it simply stands as one of the greatest musical achievements in history and undeniably one of the most influential.
3. Revolver (1966)
Arguably the most coherent group effort by The Beatles and all the better for it.
This record features no low points or below-par songs – every one is a 10/10 smash.
Unusually, it features three songs by George Harrison, all of which are outstanding.
Taxman, Love You To, and I Want To Tell You sit more than comfortably alongside Lennon and McCartney’s efforts, all of which are sublime.
McCartney turns in Eleanor Rigby, Here There And Everywhere, Yellow Submarine, Good Day Sunshine, For No One and Got To Get You Into My Life, any of which any song-writer would dream of having in their catalogue.
Lennon’s songs carry equal weight here too, but special reference has to go to his masterpiece Tomorrow Never Knows, the album’s astonishing closer, which elevates the record on to another plain of sophistication.
This is pure art.
The psychedelic experience was informing his work strongly.
Using the studio as an instrument, The Beatles, free from the hassle of touring, come together and produce what for many remains the definitive album.
Sgt Pepper may have been the one which caught the attention of the music ‘establishment’, but if they had been listening properly, they’d have known that The Beatles had actually already done it on Revolver.
Klaus Voormann’s beautiful sleeve wraps up the whole project and encapsulates the mood of arguably the strongest straight collection of individual songs The Beatles ever produced.
As with Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, I envy anyone hearing this for the first time.
2. The Beatles aka The White Album (1968)
I love this album precisely because it is not perfect, contains some of the weirdest music released by the group and is arguably too long.
The point is, when this record is good, it is magnificent.
Consider, if you will, the double whammy opening tracks Back In The USSR and Dear Prudence.
Two songs in and we’re already at an impossibly high bar.
Harrison’s numbers are all wonderful – While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Piggies, Long, Long, Long and Savoy Truffle all more than hold their own here.
Then we’ve got Happiness Is A Warm Gun, I’m So Tired, Julia, Sexy Sadie, Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey, Yer Blues – all from Lennon, contrasted with McCartney’s Blackbird, Rocky Racoon, Martha My Dear, I Will, Mother Nature’s Son, Helter Skelter… such a varied collection of memorable tunes… and there’s more.
Yes, there’s filler, but welcome filler I’d say.
I actually don’t mind Wild Honey Pie or Revolution 9.
I hear these tracks derided frequently but I reiterate that there is a place for the unconventional and to be honest, if you can’t put these songs on The White Album, where can you put them?
Just look at the sleeve.
And at number one, my favourite album by The Beatles and probably my favourite album full-stop is:
Abbey Road (1969)
By the time this record came out the band was no more.
But the public didn’t know that.
Thank goodness they did reconvene to record this one or else the relative mess of Let It Be would have (actually) been the last we heard of The Beatles (even though it was, kind of – you know what I mean).
Abbey Road was largely recorded after Let It Be, but released first.
Again, it’s an album I tend to think largely as being McCartney’s, but closer inspection reveals I’m probably wrong about that.
I think it’s his influence on side two which makes me think of it that way – and let’s be honest here, Paul McCartney is literally ON FIRE on this record.
However, Lennon’s contributions are not to be sneered at.
Come Together, I Want You (She’s So Heavy) and Because shine through the wizardry.
Ringo’s Octopus’s Garden is a charming number, which stands up well on the record.
However, against all the odds, it’s George Harrison’s two songs which fly the highest.
Something and Here Comes The Sun are standouts and rightly so.
Harrison finally demonstrates beyond argument that he can write as well, if not better, than the other two.
The bulk of side two has songs running into other songs, which has the hallmarks of McCartney but the whole thing works so well that the joins are seamless.
Both Lennon and McCartney’s vocals are notably powerful on this album, with Oh! Darling showcasing Paul’s power and the proto-doom rock spellbinder I Want You (She’s So Heavy) featuring some fine Lennon screams.
McCartney’s strengths as a tunesmith shine throughout, with You Never Give Me Your Money and Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End being particular highlights.
The album’s sleeve is instantly recognisable, with the Abbey Road zebra-crossing becoming an epicentre for rock pilgrimages for ever more after the record’s release.
“And in the end/The love you take/Is equal to the love/You make” is a truly fitting epitaph for the overall theme of Beatles music, even if the members of the group themselves were not at their most ‘loving’ towards each other at the time of recording (the extent to which this is true is debatable… certainly they started suing each other not long afterwards, but as Ringo Starr has always said, a lot of that was “bullshit” and the music was what really bound them together).
At any rate, Abbey Road is a towering achievement by the group which had already done so much and it remains a testament to their genius that they were able to produce their greatest art right at the very end and literally go out on a high.
The world’s most famous group was no more… but their music never dies.