It’s difficult to have the albums created by the most important band in the history of music ranked from worst to best. After all, it’s unlikely that you’ll find any band or musical artist unwilling to share their admiration for the Fab Four. Their fingerprints are over everything created in popular music.
The Liverpool quartet recorded albums at a significant pace between 1963 and 1970. Many of these are classics that redefined what pop-rock could be. Most of these are tremendously experimental, adventurous affairs. I’m not sure that I can expect to ever hear anything as good as these.
Still, which one’s the best? Is there any one album worth avoiding?
I’ve looked at the evidence and listened to the whole discography once more, and I think that I have an answer or two.
For simplicity’s sake, I have only included official UK releases. That means that the early US-released records aren’t on here. Neither are compilations such as “Anthology,” “Rarities,” or “Hey Jude.” “Yellow Submarine” is included as it included mostly unreleased material and was crafted as a studio album.
With this in mind, here’s a quick initiation into the musical world created by John, Paul, George, and Ringo, The Beatles albums ranked.
13. “Yellow Submarine” (1969)
The Beatles had built an entire world since releasing their debut. It was populated by colorful characters and by exotic philosophies. Best of all, millions of folks in the real world knew everything about it.
“Yellow Submarine” is a soundtrack album by The Beatles. It was released in 1969 to accompany the animated film of the same name. The album features songs from the film, as well as a number of previously released tracks.
The colored submarine had, of course, already been added to the band’s cosmos. Smartly, it serves as the entry point for the story presented in this movie. It would become one of the most beloved animated films of all time.
It’s a good showcase for the band’s catchy melodies and clever lyrics. Standout tracks include the title track, “Yellow Submarine,” and the infectious “All You Need Is Love.” I remember us kids being asked to sing both of these in school, proof of The Beatles’ near mythic status.
This Beatles album also includes a number of instrumental tracks, which add to the playful and lighthearted mood of the album.
The album is a perfect introduction to The Beatles for those unfamiliar with their music and a must-have for any fan of the band. In fact, it acted as the debut Beatles record for many children familiar with the film.
Despite this, it should be noted that while the animated Beatles are characters in the film, their voices are dubbed by actors taking their best stab at a Scouse accent.
With all this being said, it’s not an album constructed with the same level of attention as some of the others in The Beatles’ discography.
12. “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964)
This is the third album from The Beatles. “A Hard Day’s Night” is a classic release featuring a number of memorable tracks and, for the most part, a jangly folk-rock. These include the title track and “Can’t Buy Me Love.”
At this point in their career, Lennon and McCartney were truly hitting their stride as songwriters. This is reflected in the tight, focused nature of the album. However, it would be eclipsed by later releases regarding innovation or originality.
This is the first soundtrack album by The Beatles. It accompanies the Richard Lester-directed comedy of the same name. While not a masterpiece, I enjoy Lennon’s Grouch Marx-like wit, as well as Ringo, Paul, and Ringo’s zest for entertaining.
In a 1980 interview for Playboy, Lennon said that A Hard Day’s Night was “a brilliant film” and that it was “the one film of ours where you can see what we were really like.”
Despite Lennon’s positive assessment of the film, the making of “A Hard Day’s Night” was a demanding and intense experience. Lennon has also spoken about the stresses and challenges that the band members faced during the filming process.
John Lennon contributes several standout tracks, including the title track and “I Should Have Known Better.” “I’ll be back” is another gorgeously sung tune reminiscent of the pop-rock of the 1950s.
Paul McCartney sings on the lively “Can’t Buy Me Love” as well as on “And I Love Her.” “Things We Said Today” is another noteworthy McCartney-penned tune.
11. “Beatles For Sale” (1964)
“Beatles for Sale” is the fourth studio album by The Beatles, and it’s definitely a keeper! This album is chock-full of catchy, upbeat, and highly hummable tracks.
The standout track on the album is “Eight Days a Week,” an upbeat rocker. It features some seriously catchy hooks and infectious energy.
Another highlight on the album is “I’ll Follow the Sun,” a sweet, upbeat ballad that showcases Paul McCartney’s evolving songwriting skills. This song is a perfect example of the band’s ability to write catchy, melodic songs.
It should be mentioned that Lennon and McCartney had decided to add both their names to the credits of songs written by one or the other. This would help quiet potential issues of jealousy between the main songwriters.
It would, however, result in other issues further down the line. One of them was the fact that George Harrison’s writing would rarely benefit from contributions from either John or Paul.
But it’s not all upbeat rockers and sweet ballads on this album. “No Reply” is a moody, introspective track. It shows the band’s interest in writing more serious, emotionally-charged songs. This song is a testament to the band’s versatility and songwriting skills.
Much more, and arguably better work, was just on the horizon. However, in terms of pure, ear-pleasing pop-rock, this is a great album. I find that it’s best appreciated after hearing their latter-day work.
10. “Let It Be” (1970)
The final release from The Beatles, “Let It Be,” serves as a fitting swan song for the band. Of course, while “Abbey Road” was recorded weeks after this project, it was released to the public before it.
It features some of their most introspective and personal tracks. These include “Let It Be” and “Across the Universe.”
I admit that I had a hard time learning to love this album. After all, it’s not as instantly gratifying as the ones that had come immediately before it. Now, I can appreciate it as a document to The Beatles looking to interact with the purity of their earlier sound.
“Let It Be” does a wonderful balancing act. It showcases the band’s growth and evolution as songwriters. It also lets the band members shuffle through influences and even attempt to record some of their earliest songs.
Paul McCartney is, perhaps, the Beatle most present on the record. He provides the uplifting title track and the ballad “The Long and Winding Road.” Furthermore, “Get Back,” another McCartney-driven composition, became the record’s lead single.
In 2021, it would provide the title for Peter Jackson’s sprawling documentary about the making of the album.
John Lennon is not highly present on “Let It Be,” one aspect on which Jackson’s documentary focuses. He does deliver on yet another mantra song, the terrific “Across the Universe.”
George Harrison contributes the 12-bar blues of “For You Blue” and the anti-materialistic, anti-Macca, “I Me Mine.” Jackson’s doc, however, also reveals Harrison’s frustration. Much of this is due to the other group member’s relative disinterest in his own compositions.
“Let It Be” is a good record. However, its greatest importance is as a historical document. It showcases the direction in which The Beatles would go on as solo artists. Still, it lacks the power of some of the other albums that they released around this time.
9. “Please Please Me” (1963)
The debut album from The Beatles, “Please Please Me,” is a classic release. In many ways, this is the moment that the 1960s began in terms of pop music. Songs like “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Twist and Shout” are proof.
Lennon and McCartney were still developing as songwriters at this point. This is reflected in the somewhat raw and unpolished nature of the album. However, it is a promising start for the band and it sets the stage for the great things that were to come.
“Please Please Me” also answers questions about whether The Beatles could transfer their Hamburg sound onto record. They do!
Still, they also add to it. Much of this is the result of George Martin’s mentorship. Another factor is the musicianship that the band members had developed in Hamburg and Liverpool.
The album features a mix of original songs and covers and is notable for its energy and enthusiasm. “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Love Me Do” are extremely catchy pop tunes. “Twist and Shout” brings over some of the rawness of The Beatles’ live shows.
Still, it’s the cover of Burt Bacharach’s “Baby It’s You” that is the finest early Beatles recording. It also showcases Lennon’s excellent, resonant vocal tone. I’m still amazed that such a good singer and would be self-conscious of his singing voice.
The album was a commercial success, reaching number one on the charts in the United Kingdom. The Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964.
This is widely considered to be a turning point in their career and a key moment in the history of rock music.
Some predicted that The Beatles’ sound and its popularity would merely be a passing fad. Listening back objectively to “Please, please me,” it’s clear to see why this was not the case.
8. “With the Beatles” (1963)
The second album from The Beatles, “With the Beatles,” showcases the band’s growing songwriting abilities with tracks like “It Won’t Be Long” and “All My Loving.”
While it is a solid effort, it does not quite reach the level of innovation or originality of their later releases. The soon-to-be-christened Fab Four were still finding their footing at this point, and it is reflected in the somewhat formulaic nature of the album.
Standout tracks include “All I’ve Got To Do” and “Hold Me Tight.” The former features a particularly impressive vocal performance from Lennon.
In fact, these set of songs were the first where I understood how different The Beatles’ individual voices sounded, and how well they mashed together.
George Harrison contributed and sang on the underrated “Don’t Bother Me,” already showing signs of possessing great songwriting abilities. It would, however, take several years before Harrison’s tunes would be considered potential singles by the rest of the band.
“With the Beatles” is a charming record that retains some of the essence of their Hamburg live shows.
At the same time, the band members are being molded into stars. Most importantly, though, they prove that they have something most of their pop-rock rivals do not possess, great original songs.
7. “Help!” (1965)
The fifth album from The Beatles, “Help!” marks a transitional period for the band. It features some great tracks, such as the title track and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.”
The band was still honing their songwriting skills at this point, and it is reflected in the somewhat inconsistent nature of the album. However, it’s for the first time that The Beatles include deeply personal details in their lyrics.
By most accounts, the title track is something of a distress signal from Lennon. Meanwhile, “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” likely references manager and close friend Brian Epstein.
The inconsistency is also due to what had become a manic schedule for the band. This included touring, working on movies, and of course, having to release music at a steady pace.
The record is really a soundtrack to the film of the same name. “Help!” is a classic comedy-adventure film. It was directed by Richard Lester and released in the same year as the album. This was the second film made by the Beatles and features the band in their roles as themselves.
The film’s plot centers around Ringo Starr, who is pursued by a cult that wants to sacrifice him because he wears a sacrificial ring that he can’t remove from his finger. The other Beatles, as well as a number of other characters, try to help Ringo and protect him from the cult.
Fans of the Marx Brothers films and John Lennon could be counted as one and will find similarities between the comedy of the two groups.
“Help!” was a commercial and critical success upon its release and is now considered a classic of British cinema.
John Lennon contributed many of the most important songs to the album. These include the title track, “Ticket to Ride,” and the aforementioned, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” There was a growing air of dissent about Lennon’s writing at this stage.
Paul McCartney provides one of the most famous pop-rock songs of all time, “Yesterday.” It is arguably one of the most famous pop songs of all time. It’s an enduring classic, but not everyone in the band was impressed with it.
In a 1980 interview with David Sheff for Playboy, Lennon said that “Yesterday” was “one of the few songs that I can’t stand to listen to” and that he felt it was “a lousy song, but it was successful.”
George Harrison contributed, “I need you.” He even exceeds the usual quota of one song per album with a second number, “You Like Me Too Much.”
Ringo Starr sang the easygoing “Act Naturally,” something of a prescient song considering Starr’s future work as an actor. I have a soft spot for his films and even hope for a late-career comeback.
“Help!” is a record that has rightfully earned respect with time. However, considering the quasi-revolutionary releases that came before and after it, “Help!” is not one of The Beatles’ best albums.
6. “Rubber Soul” (1965)
“Rubber Soul” was The Beatles’ sixth album. Like Revolver, it’s a record that practically rewrites the pop-music rulebook. It’s surely a massive departure from the band’s earlier, more straightforward rock and pop songs.
Suddenly, number 1 singles could be written about profound personal experiences and could simply include phantasmagoric elements. As always, The Beatles were setting the pace for everyone else.
The album was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London. As with almost all released by the band, the record was produced by George Martin.
Martin and the band experimented with new recording technologies and techniques, such as multitrack recording and the use of non-traditional instruments. The goal was to create a truly unique and distinctive sound for the album.
“Rubber Soul” is a cultural landmark. The album was released in 1965, at a time when The Beatles were at the height of their popularity and cultural influence.
Also, “Rubber Soul” reached number one on the Billboard 200 chart and stayed there for six weeks. It was also a commercial success in the United Kingdom, where it reached number one on the charts and became the band’s sixth consecutive number-one album.
Highlights include “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” which was written for the most part by John Lennon. It was inspired by an affair he was having at the time. The song is notable for being one of the first to use the sitar in a rock context.
“In My Life” is one of the most heavily covered songs by The Beatles. “Nowhere Man” might be one of Lennon’s best songs about his ambivalence toward fame.
Meanwhile, “Michelle” and “Drive My Car” prove that McCartney had well and truly become the premier pop songwriter of the era. My delight in hearing those hooks has, at least, never diminished.
The Beatles would revolutionize the pop-rock landscape a few times over. This was, however, the first time that they’d manage to bring commercial tendencies with serious art together in a perfect union.
5. “Revolver” (1966)
The seventh album from The Beatles, “Revolver,” is the moment that pop music began being reckoned as art by the status quo. Similarly to “Rubber Soul,” it’s a record that proves that the Beatles could write in any style that they chose. Arguably, it’s also a more grown-up record.
Songs such as “Eleanor Rigby” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” must be judged as some of the most inventive pop tunes of all time. I particularly remember hearing the former. I wasn’t used to hearing such sadness captured in a pop song. I find the result still striking to this day.
The band was at a creative peak at this point. It is reflected in their insistence to experiment outside of the pop-rock format.
The band was willing to take risks and push boundaries with their music, and it paid off with a release that is both thought-provoking and timeless. There’s an everything-goes air about this. Considering The Beatles’ status, this is tremendously courageous and exciting.
John Lennon’s desire to push boundaries can be observed on “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Paul McCartney’s pop instincts are razor sharp on “Got to Get You into My Life” and “Good Day Sunshine.”
George Harrison offers one of the best songs on the record, the cheeky “Taxman.” “I Want to Tell You” is also a good indication of Harrison’s vision as a writer.
There’s even room for Ringo Starr, possibly the most beloved Beatle, to sing the colorful “Yellow Submarine.”
In terms of balancing pop hooks and a sophisticated worldview, few other bands, perhaps The Beach Boys or Queen, ever came close to a record that is as fulfilling as “Revolver.”
Is that enough to make us forgive the awful title? Just about.
4. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967)
This was The Beatles’ eighth album and the pinnacle of 60s psychedelia. Depending on who you’d ask, it was also the first quasi-concept album with the title tune’s music also helping bookend the record.
Songs like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “A Day in the Life” are some of the best numbers that the decade had to offer. Still, it’s the lesser-known tunes that give a better indication of where The Beatles were heading.
“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” and “Fixing a Hole” show John Lennon taking acid-induced visions directly into his writing. The former also quotes the words written on a 19th Century poster advertising a Circus performance.
“Within You Without You” shows George Harrison taking on his new-found spiritual beliefs in his writing.
Meanwhile, Paul McCartney, as always, balances the band’s experimental tendencies with sweet, old-fashioned pop tunes. “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” are lovely little pop contraptions.
However, everything else about the record is just as iconic as the songs. This was rock n’ roll presented as high-brow pop art.
The album’s artwork, in particular, would symbolize its age. The album cover was designed by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth and is considered a masterpiece of Pop Art.
I remember being transfixed with the artwork. I had a poster of it on my wall and got enjoyment out of learning about the figures on the cover and wondering about those that weren’t allowed to make the cut. From mystics to pop stars, it’s a complete look at The Beatles’ influences.
The Sgt. Pepper’s album cover features a collage of life-sized cardboard cutouts of famous figures from history and popular culture. It also shows The Beatles themselves. They are all arranged in a tableau around a central figure of a military band leader.
Can you figure out which Beatle chose which personality?
This is not the Beatles’ greatest album. However, it showed what a rock album could be.
3. “Magical Mystery Tour” (1967)
It’s hard to find an underrated album by The Beatles. If such a thing does exist, it is “Magical Mystery Tour.” If “Sgt. Pepper’s” was one of the very first concept albums, this is its untidy follow-up.
The record’s release was accompanied by mistrust from the public. This was largely due to the accompanying movie, a charming if slightly unguided, project. Paul McCartney has called it a “Beatles student film.”
Still, just try getting the scene of Lennon shoveling pasta down the throat of a woman out of your mind!
“Magical Mystery Tour” contains some truly memorable tracks, such as “I Am the Walrus” and “All You Need Is Love.” On no other record, perhaps, was the band working more freely with colorful, psychedelic elements.
The Beatles were at a creative crossroads at this time, and it shows in the somewhat disjointed nature of the album. While there are clear highlights when compared to their more successful releases, it is not relatively as cohesive.
This is no small part due to what was going on in the band members’ personal lives. 1967 was a significant year for The Beatles. Of course, they released their landmark album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which was a major critical and commercial success. It is considered one of their greatest works.
Famously, the band also took a trip to Rishikesh, India, in order to study with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Even more importantly, the band’s manager Brian Epstein tragically died of a drug overdose in August of the same year. This had a significant impact on their music and their worldview.
“Magical Mystery Tour” was released later in the year and was accompanied by a television film of the same name, which was a departure from the band’s previous work and featured more experimental and avant-garde elements.
Some reviewers felt that the film was overly experimental and confusing and that it failed to capture the magic of the Beatles’ music. Others thought that the film was an ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful attempt at creating something new and different.
John Lennon provided many of the more important tracks, including the Lewis Carroll-inspired “I Am the Walrus” and the childhood playground-inspired “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
Paul McCartney offered the adventure-theme title track, the lighthearted “Your Mother Should Know,” “The Fool on the Hill,” as well as “Hello, Goodbye,” and “Penny Lane.”
McCartney was also the creative force leading the production of the movie for which these songs were to serve as a psych-rock soundtrack.
George Harrison contributed the trippy “Blue Jay Way.” It’s a tune begging to be played on a loop while sitting in a quiet room.
The Beatles released “Magical Mystery Tour” in 1967. This was, of course, a time of great social and cultural upheaval. The late 1960s were marked by significant events such as the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the counterculture movement.
I’ve found this album to be extremely rewarding on repeated listens. There’s great depth to the writing but also an ease that must come with making a strange, little soundtrack record.
I also appreciate its status as a lesser-known Beatles release. This, I find, has helped it to retain its flavor and even surprise the listener at times.
These events had a major influence on the music and culture of the time. Still, few things were quite as relevant as the rock music made by four lads from Liverpool.
The Beatles were at the forefront of the counterculture movement, and their music reflected the themes of rebellion, social change, and personal freedom that were prevalent during this time.
2. “The White Album” (1968)
This was The Beatles’ ninth album. It’s the record on which The Beatles’ confidence reached its peak.
They could tackle any style, present themselves in any way they wanted, and… often record songs separately from the other band members.
Most importantly, this zig-zagging through musical interests is happening while they are undoubtedly the biggest band on the planet. Many of the songs on the album were written during The Beatles’ visit to Rishikesh, India. Here, in 1968, they studied meditation and yoga at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram.
The album features a diverse mix of genres, including rock, pop, folk, country, blues, and experimental music. This diversity is reflected in the album’s songwriting, which features contributions from all four members.
Ringo Starr sings on the carefree “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Good Night.” He also gets a rare songwriting credit on the former.
George Harrison contributes the marvelous “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the silly “Piggies,” and “Long, Long, Long.”
John Lennon is finding ways to balance his interest in politics, Oriental philosophy, and modern artist and future love interest, Yoko Ono.
On “Revolution 1,” the song’s lyrics express Lennon’s ambivalence about political revolution and call for people to find their own personal revolutions. On “Revolution 9” plays with Musique concrète. And, on “Julia,” he provides one of the most beautiful, earnest testimonies of love and loss.
Paul McCartney contributes a number of songs to The Beatles’ self-titled album. “Martha My Dear” and “I Will” are as tender as you’d expect. Meanwhile, however, “Helter Skelter” and “Honey Pie” are bizarre proto-hard-rockers.
There’s a lot to choose from here. So many songs came during these writing sessions that, for example, McCartney’s “Hey Jude” ended up being released as a non-album single.
“Blackbird” is a gentle, acoustic guitar-based song inspired by the civil rights movement in the United States. “Mother Nature’s Son” is a folk-influenced song inspired by Donovan’s hippiesque fantasies.
Overall, McCartney matches Lennon every step of the way. In fact, many of the records’ songs could be interpreted as scenes of a friendly rivalry between pop-rock’s best writers of that period.
I’ve listened to this album consistently throughout my life. Since the very beginning, I’ve thought of the same two things. First, it’s amazing that such a sprawling work could sound so cohesive. Blame that on George Martin. And secondly, if made into a single LP, this would be the best of all time.
Could this album have been edited down to a single record? Sure! Still, the public would’ve lost a lot if that had happened.
1. “Abbey Road” (1969)
This was The Beatles’ final studio album, although it was released after “Let It Be.” As far as farewells go, few are better than this one.
This is also a lush-sounding record, filled with humor and with throwaway songs that are better than most singles released by bands of the same era.
The album’s innovative production and song structures are particularly noteworthy. This could have easily been a record of treading water. After all, many of the shorter songs that are used for the Side B Suite were number lying around unused.
Instead, it’s a joyous affair. Even more, perhaps than “The White Album,” this is The Beatles’ record that is the most far-reaching in terms of styles being used.
The album is notable for its emotional depth and power. The band delivers some of their most moving and heartfelt performances to date. It’s a fitting swan song for the band, and it’s a testament to their enduring legacy as one of the greatest bands in rock history.
John Lennon explores minimalist guitar riffs on the excellent “Come Together” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” These almost foreshadow the hard-rock direction of hard-rock bands like Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin.
Still, he also helms the gorgeous three-part harmonies of “Because.” Little of this optimism could be felt months later when speaking to Rolling Stone Magazine or writing the songs for his first solo album.
“Abbey Road” is also likely, George Harrison’s greatest album as a Beatle. “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun” may just be the album’s most successful songs. After taking second billing for a long time, this must have felt like tremendous retribution.
Ringo Starr sings the beautiful and silly “Octopus’s Garden.”
Meanwhile, Paul McCartney takes the wheel once more. While his direction on “Let It Be” yielded mixed results, it’s his excellent, sophisticated songwriting that really propels this album.
His contribution to the Side B Suite is exceptional. “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,” “You Never Give Me Your Money,” “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” and “The End” act as a mini concept opera about The Beatles’ crumbling marriage.
It had taken The Beatles a double record to make room for all of their wide-reaching influences on “The White Album.” Here, they do the same in much less time.
There’s even room for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” It’s a rare instance where McCartney’s usually flawless pop sense fails him.
“Abbey Road” is a marvelous record. It sounds like a finale, although it wasn’t intended as one. In a few months’ time, with relationships between the Fab Four souring further, it would become the full stop in The Beatles’ discography, the final album that the recorded.