Whenever someone makes a list of the Top 10 albums of all time, it usually includes at least one or two Beatles albums. And for good reason: They've influenced, in one way or another, pretty much any artist who's mattered over the past 50 years. Their albums have aged very little; the music still sounds great, whether it's "Twist and Shout" from the debut or "Get Back" from the final LP. The Beatles released 13 albums during their seven-year reign (we're counting 'Yellow Submarine,' but not 'Past Masters'). From there, we pared those down to the Top 10 Beatles Albums.
'Please Please Me' (1963)
The Beatles' debut album features almost an even mix of covers and originals. The covers range from sappy ("A Taste of Honey") to terrific ("Twist and Shout"); the originals, all written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney are spotty but mostly excellent, especially "I Saw Her Standing There" and the title track.
'Magical Mystery Tour' (1967)
'Magical Mystery Tour' isn't so much an album as it is a collection of cuts from the messy TV movie, recent singles and leftover song ideas. Some of it is disposable ("Flying," "Blue Jay Way'); but most of it is indispensable ("I Am the Walrus," 'All You Need Is Love"). Plus, it includes the first two songs recorded during the 'Sgt. Pepper' sessions, which are two of the Beatles' all-time greatest tracks: "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane."
The Beatles' final album, which was actually recorded before 'Abbey Road' but released after, was mired in confusion. After the sprawling and tension-filled sessions for 'The White Album,' in which the four members basically became each other's backing bands, the Beatles secluded themselves in the studio, hoping to rekindle their passion for music and each other. It didn't work out that way. The album sat on the shelves for more than a year, until producer Phil Spector tried assembling a record from the aborted sessions. It's not perfect, but it's a valuable historical document filled with some great songs.
'A Hard Day's Night' (1964)
The Beatles' third album doubles as the soundtrack to their first movie. But more importantly, it's the first Beatles album to include all original songs by Lennon and McCartney. Not all of the songs ended up in the film, but 'A Hard Day's Night' is the group's first LP that flows with some consistency, since there are no covers (or cuts sung by Ringo) to disrupt the pace. This is where they first started to sound like legends.
The Beatles' second movie and fifth album in two years marks a turning point for the band. Most of the songs on 'Help!' include more sophisticated arrangements and songwriting -- some influenced by Bob Dylan ("You've Got to Hide Your Love Away"), some wise beyond their years ("Yesterday"). It wasn't just "love, love, love"; 'Help!' opened up a world of possibilities (see the next five records on our list of the Top 10 Beatles Albums).
The final album the Beatles recorded, but not the last one they released (see No. 8 on our list of the Top 10 Beatles Albums), comes together like no other Beatles record. In a way, it's rooted as much in the '50s rock 'n' roll that first inspired them ("Come Together" and "Oh! Darling") as it is in the studio luxuries they were afforded thanks to their fame and influence (see side two's eight-song medley). It doesn't sound at all like a last breath; it's full of life and hope.
After reinventing pop music with 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' (found later on on our list of the Top 10 Beatles Albums), the Fab Four burrowed even deeper into their studio's playground of sounds. Their self-titled double LP (commonly called 'The White Album') was each member's declaration of independence: Lennon got personal and weird, McCartney indulged his old-school obsessions, George Harrison was finally allowed to step outside of the shadows and Ringo wrote his best song. It's a mess at times, but it's a totally brilliant mess.
If 'Help!' hinted at the Beatles' creative growth (see No. 6 on our list of the Top 10 Beatles Albums), 'Rubber Soul' made it clear: They were no longer just a pop group. From the deeply confessional ("Norwegian Wood [This Bird Has Flown]") to the poignantly nostalgic ("In My Life"), the band's sixth album is one of rock's most important and influential works, the moment where the music, and its most significant group, grew up.
No band has ever achieved, or will ever achieve, what the Beatles accomplished between June 1965 and April 1967, when they recorded the songs that would make up their three greatest albums, which also happen to rank among the best LPs ever made. From McCartney's string-guided lament "Eleanor Rigby" to the bubbling playfulness of "Yellow Submarine" to Lennon's closing mind-screwing freak-out "Tomorrow Never Knows," 'Revolver' is a thrilling and revolutionary piece of music-making that turned pop music on its head with its innovative uses of loops, backward tapes and overdubs.
'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' (1967)
'Sgt. Pepper' is significant in so many ways. It's one of the first albums that truly sounds like an album and not just a collection of songs: There's a thematic tie to the record's 13 songs that pulls them all together. The intricate production buries so much so deeply that each listen reveals new details. And it's structured like a work of art, its musical canvas a kaleidoscopic explosion of sounds that paint a portrait of late-'60s idealism rooted in nostalgia. No other album has had the influence of 'Sgt. Pepper' over the years. Traces of it can be found in everything from indie rockers Animal Collective's art-pop to rapper Kanye West's densely layered productions. It's a truly revelatory work that shaped '60s music and everything that followed.
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