“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” remains the official soundtrack to the ’60s. The album undoubtedly drew a new blueprint for the rock ‘n’ roll LP: No longer simply a slapdash collection of hit singles, the record album would forever more have the potential for true artistry. The conceptual feel of “Sgt. Pepper,” those wonderfully wide-ranging arrangements, the mind-blowing album cover and the fact that the band saw fit to print the lyrics on the sleeve all attested to the fact of the album’s impact.
THERE’S JUST ONE catch: As a collection of songs, “Sgt. Pepper” is a bit of a dud.
Relatively speaking, of course. Granted, the spirited title tack and its reprise are exuberant stuff, and “A Day in the Life” is an undisputed masterpiece. But — and we’re well aware of the sacrilege involved in making such a statement — the album also contains more than its share of filler, from Paul McCartney’s dreary “She’s Leaving Home” to the cornball carnival of John Lennon’s “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.”
So it won’t make this list. The records that do:
1. “Rubber Soul” (1965): Along with “Revolver,” the bridge between the boyish vigor of the group’s early years and the creative exploration of its later ones. Stuffed with tours de force, from “Norwegian Wood,” “Michelle” and “Girl” to Lennon’s timeless “In My Life.”
2. “Magical Mystery Tour” (1967): The U.S. release of the soundtrack to an ill-fated British TV special featured “The Fool on the Hill” and “I Am the Walrus” and added several astounding singles, including “Penny Lane,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “All You Need Is Love.” The fruition of “Sgt. Pepper”’s vast ambition.
3. “Abbey Road” (1969): Actually the Beatles’ last album, recorded after the “Let It Be” sessions. Graced with “Come Together,” two of George Harrison’s finest moments (“Something,” “Here Comes the Sun”) and the ingenious song cycle of side 2 (remember vinyl?).
4. “The Beatles (The White Album)” (1968): The band was clearly headed in four seprate directions on this double album, but what directions they are, from Paul’s “Back in the USSR” to John’s “Yer Blues” and George’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Even Ringo’s “Don’t Pass Me By” is irresistible.
5. “A Hard Day’s Night” soundtrack (1964): Seven songs (including “Can’t Buy Me Love”) from the wonderful, madcap movie augmented with “padding” such as “You Can’t Do That.” Sheer atomic energy.
James Sullivan covers pop culture for the San Francisco Chronicle.