by Vivienne Forstner
The Beatles are regarded by many as one of the best bands of all time. Despite any individual opinions or criticisms, it can be agreed that they influenced hundreds of artists and practically redefined rock music forever. They led the development of psychedelic rock and are credited with helping create the entire genre of heavy rock. During their ten year span of activity, they released 13 albums (not including live albums, compilation albums, American releases, etc.). This may not seem like a lot in comparison to other rock bands, such as the Rolling Stones with 30 studio albums to their name. Granted, they have remained active since 1962, partially thanks to Keith Richards’ frankly miraculous lifespan. When the world ends, the only living beings left will be Keith Richards and cockroaches. But this is not an article about the Rolling Stones! This is an article about the Beatles! And in this article, I have ranked their thirteen albums from worst to best and included my own personal favorites, not-so favorites, what the album achieved, and what the Rolling Stone (the magazine, not the band) ranked it on their “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list. This was extremely difficult since they’re all so different and I would have given them all first if I could. These rankings are mostly my opinion and taste in music, but they are also based on their achievements and contributions to the music industry.
13. Beatles for Sale (1964)
This album was made during the height of Beatlemania when The Beatles were becoming tired and worn out from performing so many shows, their voices drowned out with the screams of fans. This really shows on their sullen faces on the album’s cover. Even the title gives the listener a sense of their exhaustion. Musically, they started drifting from the upbeat tones of their previous work and gained more influence from country artists and Bob Dylan. Simply put, this album is forgettable. They covered six songs for this album, which to be fair, is the same amount as their first and second albums, Please Please Me and With the Beatles. However, their third album, A Hard Day’s Night, had none. By their fourth release, you wouldn’t expect half the album to be covers. You can really tell that they were starting to get worn out and needed a break., and it especially shows in their songwriting and vocals.
Highs: “No Reply,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “I’m A Loser,” “Words of Love”
Lows: “Mr. Moonlight,” “Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey,” “Honey Don’t”
Achievements: The start of their movement away from the happy-go-lucky pop sound
Ranking on Rolling Stones “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”: Not on the list
12. Yellow Submarine (1969)
The Yellow Submarine album is the soundtrack to their 1968 film of the same name. The album contains thirteen tracks, but seven of them are orchestral pieces by producer George Martin. There are only four new songs introduced, “Only a Northern Song,” “All Together Now,” “Hey Bulldog,” and “It’s All Too Much.” The other two songs that are on previous albums are “Yellow Submarine” from Revolver and “All You Need is Love” from Magical Mystery Tour. The four songs original to the album, two of them by George Harrison, are a little hectic. They have bursts of brass instruments, specifically “Only a Northern Song.” This artistic choice doesn’t make these songs bad necessarily, but it does make them less enjoyable than some of their other more melodic pieces to listen to. Honestly, I feel the second side of the album is stronger than the first side. While they are not necessarily interesting or lyrically proficient (seeing as there aren’t any), the orchestral pieces offer something new and different. They have clear melodies and are great classical compositions. Overall, the album is about as good as a movie soundtrack can be. Without the context of what’s happening, it’s difficult to understand the songs to their full extent.
Highs*: “Yellow Submarine in Pepperland”
Lows: “Only a Northern Song”
Achievements: A smoothly composed instrumental B-side
*Not including “All You Need is Love” or “Yellow Submarine” since they are repeats
Ranking on Rolling Stones “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”: Not on the list
11. Let It Be (1970)
The Let It Be album is kind of funky in terms of chronology. It was recorded before Abbey Road but released almost six months after. It was also released after the band’s breakup on April 10, 1970. It was also produced by Phil Spector (who, by the way, was arrested for second-degree murder in 2003) instead of George Martin. The main difference between these two is that Phil Spector was known for his “Wall of Sound” strategy, which means that he would attempt to overcompensate for any studio mishaps or poor quality with an almost overwhelming amount of orchestral and choral arrangements. The only problem was that the Beatles didn’t need this overcompensation, something George Martin understood, and the end result is an album that sounds nothing like the style they had so meticulously crafted for the past decade. Even Paul McCartney was infuriated over these enhancements, specifically over “The Long and Winding Road.” An alternative album without Phil Spector’s edits was released in 2003 by the name Let It Be… Naked. This album not only contained the original versions, but it also omitted “Dig It” and “Maggie Mae,” replacing them with “Don’t Let Me Down.” I think that Let It Be was a weird way to end their career. It doesn’t give the same sense of closure as Abbey Road, and the quality of the music isn’t nearly as good. There are a few good songs, such as “Across the Universe,” “I Me Mine,” and “The Long and Winding Road.” As much as I enjoy the songs without the edits, I think that some (not many) of the Phil Spector additions were a nice touch, such as the horns on “I Me Mine.” They contribute to the song’s sense of distress without overshadowing the song itself.
Highs: “Across the Universe,” “I Me Mine,” “The Long and Winding Road”
Lows: “Dig a Pony,” “Dig It,” “Maggie Mae”
Achievements: The use of Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound”
Ranking on Rolling Stones “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”: 392
10. Please Please Me (1963)
Please Please Me, the Beatles’ debut album, was a huge hit and a chart topper in the UK, something uncommon for most band’s first albums. The Beatles and George Martin managed to record an album that would remain a pinnacle piece of the music industry in just under 13 hours. Not to mention, John Lennon was sick with a cold the whole day, and practically blew out his vocal chords on “Twist and Shout,” the last song recorded of the day. The first take of the song was used for the final release because there was no way John could have possibly recorded another take. This album marked the beginning of an era, and quite well too. It contains several classic Beatles songs, such as “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Please Please Me,” “Love Me Do,” and “Twist and Shout.” It also has one of the best intros of any album I’ve heard. The way Paul McCartney shouts the ‘four’ in “I Saw Her Standing There” kicks things off with a bang and sets the energetic, upbeat mood for the rest of The only reason this album is ranked as low as it is is the simplicity of the songs and overuse of the harmonica. Don’t get me wrong, harmonicas are great. There’s just a line of how much harmonica you can put into an album before it becomes too much, and John Lennon tiptoed over it just a little too far. For the point I made about simplicity, click this link to listen to “Love Me Do” and this link to read the lyrics. However, for their limited technology and time, this album turned out amazing. The energy is still there even towards the end of the album when they must have been exhausted. Ringo’s song fits his voice very well, and is sung very well especially considering the fact that he is playing drums at the same time. The songs have variety, even though most of them are along the lines of “I love you” or “you don’t love me anymore and I’m sad about it.” Overall, Please Please Me was a crucial album to the Beatles’ career and remains incredibly memorable to this day.
Highs: “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Please Please Me,” “Do You Want To Know A Secret,” “Boys”
Lows: “Misery,” “A Taste Of Honey”
Achievements: The Beatles’ first album, recorded in just under 13 hours
Ranking on Rolling Stones “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”: 39
9. With the Beatles (1963)
With the Beatles, the second album by the Beatles, marked the time period when Beatlemania really started to take off. Instead of being recorded in one day, this album was recorded over the course of three months. With the Beatles is like Please Please Me in the sense of energy and style, but you can really see how they were evolving musically. There is a lot more variety, even in the covers that they recorded. As opposed to Please Please Me, where the covers were mainly 1950’s rock stars, With the Beatles contains “Till There Was You,” a show tune from the musical The Music Man, and “Please Mr. Postman” (yes, like the one from the Vine), a song originally performed by the Marvelettes that the Beatles changed the lyrics to to be about a girlfriend instead of a boyfriend. This album also features George Harrison’s first song, “Don’t Bother Me,” which he wrote while sick in bed. I think this album is wonderfully composed, especially considering that the Beatles were in the midst of Beatlemania during this time and were incredibly busy. Several of the songs from this album hint at their genius musical abilities and potential that would reveal themselves in the future, such as “All My Loving,” my personal favorite song from the album. They gave these songs character, something that was difficult on Please Please Me, where they were mostly focused on time and hitting the right notes. On “Devil in Her Heart,” a cover of “Devil in His Heart” (another gender-bent cover) sung by George Harrison, you can really hear the denial in his voice, something that doesn’t even appear on the original recording. As a whole, With the Beatles is a great album that produced amazing and creative covers and remains an iconic composition.
Highs: “All I’ve Got to Do,” “All My Loving,” “Don’t Bother Me,” “Till There Was You,” “Devil in Her Heart”
Lows: “I Wanna Be Your Man”
Achievements: Songs that progressed the Beatles’ musical ability and covers that demonstrated creativity
Ranking on Rolling Stones “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”: 53
8. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
A Hard Day’s Night is the first and only album where every song is credited to Lennon-Mccartney and all but one song (“I’m Happy Just to Dance With You,” sung by George Harrison) are sung by either John or Paul. The first side is the soundtrack to the 1964 film, also titled A Hard Day’s Night. In my opinion, this is the best album from the three that I think of as the Beatlemania albums (Please Please Me, With the Beatles, and A Hard Day’s Night). There’s so many points in this album that are just downright iconic, such as the striking opening chord in the song “A Hard Day’s Night,” the claves on “And I Love Her,” and of course, the hit “Can’t Buy Me Love.” It’s very clean (haha, a reference to the movie). Even the weakest songs are well put together and neat-sounding. The only issue I have with this album is that the second side is forgettable. Since the first side was used as the movie soundtrack, obviously that’s where all the exciting and best songs are going to be. If the two sides had been dispersed evenly, then it would have been a stronger album as a whole. Listening to A Hard Day’s Night all the way through is like looking at a bodybuilder who always skips leg day. Sure, their legs still work perfectly fine, but they’re just not as strong as the arms. It’s just unbalanced, simply put. Despite this, I still think that this is an amazing album that fits the movie soundtrack perfectly.
Highs: “A Hard Day’s Night,” “If I Fell,” “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You,” “And I Love Her”
Lows: “You Can’t Do That”
Achievements: An amazing and smooth album that didn’t require the support of covers
Ranking on Rolling Stones “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”: 307
7. Revolver (1966)
Revolver marked the evolutionary breakthrough in the Beatles’ musical ability. Under the influence of certain, ehem, hallucinogens, the Beatles managed to introduce an entirely new perspective to the pop scene. George Harrison had used the sitar the year prior in Rubber Soul, but not like he did on this album, especially on “Love You To” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” In fact, George Harrison was so crucial to this album that it would not have been anywhere near as successful or influential had he not been a part of it. His use of sitar and backwards guitar solo on “I’m Only Sleeping” are some of the most groundbreaking techniques in music history. My only criticisms for this album are on the songs “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Good Day Sunshine.” While “Tomorrow Never Knows” is considered one of the most revolutionary songs in history, it’s very hard to listen to. It’s like “Temporary Secretary,” but with purpose (if you have not heard “Temporary Secretary,” I suggest you listen with caution). I have tried to listen to this song many times, but it always just makes me very anxious. However, the lyrics are some of the most genius produced throughout their career. My second criticism is that I hate “Good Day Sunshine.” I have no idea why. It’s a fine song with a nice bassline, but every time I hear it it makes me really mad. It’s just so incredibly disgustingly poppy. It gives me cavities every time I listen to it. The song just throws off the flow of the rest of the album. A criticism that I’ve heard from some is that George Harrison used a bit too much sitar here, but others will disagree. While George Harrison’s contributions were really the foundation of the album, each member had their own offerings. Paul Mccartney had the beautiful “Eleanor Rigby” and “Here, There and Everywhere.” John Lennon had the upbeat but eerie “I’m Only Sleeping.” And Ringo, of course, had the timeless classic “Yellow Submarine.” Revolver is one of the many masterpieces of the Beatles. In the words of Jimmy Fallon, “It’s beautiful, it’s rocky, it’s sad, it’s strings.”
Highs: “Taxman,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Here, There and Everywhere,” “For No One”
Lows: “Good Day Sunshine,” “Got to Get You into My Life”
Achievements: One of the most diverse albums the Beatles ever produced, utilizing sitar, a backwards guitar solo, and (in the words of many) a successful audio representation of a hallucinogenic trip
Ranking on Rolling Stones “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”: 3
6. The Beatles (1968)
The Beatles, more commonly known as The White Album, is the longest out of the Beatles’ chronology, and their only double-album. It covers a vast array of genres, from 1920’s flapper-style music in “Honey Pie” (not to be confused with the utter madness of “Wild Honey Pie”) to what would become the foundations of heavy rock in “Helter Skelter.” This album was recorded at the height of the band’s tensions, becoming so stressful that Ringo temporarily left at one point. The range of genres presented in this composition is nothing short of impressive, even within the bandmates themselves. Paul McCartney managed to manipulate his voice to sing some of the sweetest songs of their career, such as “Blackbird,” “Martha My Dear,” and “Mother Nature’s Son,” then did a full 1800 and screamed out “Helter Skelter” and “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road.” John Lennon experimented with avant-garde styles with “Revolution 9” and beautifully lamented for his dead mother in “Julia.” George Harrison revealed his feelings about the group’s misharmony in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and wrote the surprisingly upbeat commentary “Piggies.” And of course, Ringo got his chance to shine with the sweet lullaby “Goodnight” and “Don’t Pass Me By,” the first out of two Ringo songs ever put out by the group (surprisingly, this song is very similar to what most of his solo career ended up sounding like). With the hour and fifty-five minutes the album provided, there was bound to be some downers. “Wild Honey Pie” is one of the most anxiety inducing songs I have ever heard, and it doesn’t even mean anything. “Birthday” is fine as a song, but it definitely did not need to be included on the rest of this album. It’s just loud and exciting, not very intellectual. “Revolution 9” is eight minutes and twenty-two seconds of headache-inducing noise. Despite these low points, The White Album managed to be appealing and diverse, even as a double album.
Highs: “Back In The U.S.S.R,” “Martha My Dear,” “I’m So Tired,” “Blackbird,” “I Will,” “Julia,” “Mother Nature’s Son,” “Helter Skelter,” “Honey Pie”
Lows: “Wild Honey Pie,” “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road,” “Revolution 9”
Achievements: The Beatles’ first double album, covers a wide array of genres and helped kickstart the genre of heavy rock
Ranking on Rolling Stones “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”: 10
5. Help! (1965)
The general consensus among sites that rank the Beatles albums is that Help! is okay. Not good nor bad, just very neutral and forgettable. For me, however, this is not the case. This album is the soundtrack to their 1965 movie of the same name (and if you’re wondering, the movie is good). When placed among other absolute masterpieces of theirs, Help! seems to be unjustly disregarded. This is probably the most ‘folk’ of their chronology, but you can definitely hear undertones of their movement towards progressive pop, rather than bubblegum love songs. Some great indicators are the lyrics of “Ticket to Ride,” “Yesterday,” and “I’ve Just Seen A Face.” While they are all centered on what the majority of their previous songs are about (women), the lyrics are in-depth and meaningful. Another note on “Yesterday,” it is said to be one of the most nostalgic songs ever, and it currently holds the record for the most covered song ever, with versions done by Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, and many more. This album is definitely overlooked when considering those that helped shape their career.
Highs: “Help!,” “The Night Before,” “I Need You,” “Ticket to Ride,” “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” “Yesterday”
Lows: “Act Naturally,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”
Ranking on Rolling Stones “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”: 331
Achievements: The first album that showed hints of their breakaway from modern pop
4. Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
If I had to choose one word to describe Magical Mystery Tour, it’d be ‘fun’. Another one is ‘drugs,’ but that doesn’t seem as school-appropriate. Magical Mystery Tour is the soundtrack to their self-directed movie, also called Magical Mystery Tour. The movie was a box office flop. Let’s just say the Beatles are better musicians than they are directors. Regardless, the album was a commercial hit. The album opens with the exciting and engaging theme song titled, you guessed it, “Magical Mystery Tour.” The A side, the soundtrack to the movie, consists of wonderfully weird songs that also manage to be melodically and rhythmically consistent, such as “The Fool On The Hill,” (which, by the way, features a fourth-grade quality recorder and still manages to sound good), “Your Mother Should Know,” and “I Am the Walrus.” The B side, on the other hand, contains their singles from 1967 and several of their most well-known songs, such as “Hello, Goodbye,” “Penny Lane,” and “All You Need is Love.” As a whole, this album exudes positivity and warmth in the most appeasing and audibly pleasing way possible.
Highs: “Magical Mystery Tour,” “The Fool On The Hill,” “I Am The Walrus,” “Penny Lane,” “All You Need is Love”
Ranking on Rolling Stones “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”: Not on the list (surprisingly)
Achievements: Good vibes
3. Abbey Road (1969)
Abbey Road is one of the most iconic albums of all time. As the last album the Beatles ever recorded, this is the peak of their musical genius. There isn’t one second that isn’t an absolute masterpiece. From George Harrison’s beautiful “Something” that has been regarded as one of the best love songs of all time by Frank Sinatra, John Lennon’s almost eerie “Come Together,” Paul McCartney’s powerful “Oh! Darling,” and Ringo’s second ever song, “Octopus’s Garden.” The best part of the album, in my opinion, is the medley on the second side (sometimes called “The Long One”). The medley is composed of several unfinished songs that flow together seamlessly to form one legendary close to the band’s career. It even features the first ever hidden track in music history, “Her Majesty.” A hidden track is one that is not listed on the packaging. “Her Majesty” originally fell between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam,” but Paul didn’t like the way it sounded. Thanks to tape operator John Kurlander, who was instructed by EMI policy to never throw away a Beatles song, “Her Majesty” made it on the end album. Abbey Road also contains quite possibly their most recognizable piece of work, “Here Comes the Sun.” At 442,738,636 plays, it is their most streamed song on Spotify (and this is only since 2015, when the Beatles’ songs were released on streaming services). The end product of Abbey Road is an iconic piece of pop culture that truly marks the end of an era.
Highs: “Come Together,” “Here Comes The Sun,” “Because,” “Sun King,” “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,” “The End,” “Her Majesty”
Lows: “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”
Ranking on Rolling Stones “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”: 14
Achievements: The masterpiece that is the second-side medley, use of the Moog Synthesizer on “Here Comes The Sun,” one of the first hidden tracks
2. Rubber Soul (1965)
If you asked me to pinpoint which album separated the “early” Beatles and the “late” Beatles, I wouldn’t hesitate one second to choose this one. My absolute favorite album, Rubber Soul is the absolute breakthrough of the Beatles. Every song contributes to it as a whole, while remaining consistent and exploring new paths in each note. This is the first album of theirs that features a sitar (in “Norweigan Wood”), a type of Indian lute that George Harrison integrated into many of their songs later on. Rubber Soul has many gems, such as the insanely clever and bilingual “Michelle,” the reminiscent “In My Life,” and the in-depth and heartfelt “Nowhere Man.” The lyrics in these songs are so drastically different from their previous album, Help!, released only four months prior. They were really able to experiment in the studio, which had fantastic outcomes. Every song on this album is just so listenable; something that is rare for any band.
Highs: “You Won’t See Me,” “Nowhere Man,” “Michelle,” “Girl,” “In My Life”
Lows: “Drive My Car”
Ranking on Rolling Stones “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”: 5
Achievements: The breakthrough of the Beatles’ abilities
1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1966)
Sgt. Pepper’s is usually regarded as the Beatles’ best album, and understandably. It revolutionized the idea of what an album can be, and it completely changed album art forever. Rather than just being a vessel for songs, they took Sgt. Pepper’s to a whole new level, inventing the idea of a concept album. The Beatles were tired of being international superstars, so they decided that it would be fun and beneficial to take on an alter-ego. The album was made to sound almost like a concert, complete with laugh tracks and smooth transitions between songs. This really draws the listener in and makes it feel like you’re a part of the experience. The album goes through like any other album would, until it comes to the second to last song. The reprise of the “band’s” theme. As Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band thanks you for coming to their show, the set closes out with what might just be a true masterpiece. “A Day In The Life” is not just a song, but an experience. It takes you through the minds of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, mixing their expertise and styles into one beautiful creation. It really completes the album, making it one of the major staples in music history.
Highs: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise),” “A Day In The Life”
Lows: “She’s Leaving Home”
Ranking on Rolling Stones “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”: 1Achievements: One of the first ever concept albums to exist
This was a great article! I love the Beatles but haven’t listened to them in a while. Now I want to!