With the band’s remastered CDs out tomorrow — along with a little game called “The Beatles: Rock Band” and EW’s Beatles cover story on stands now — we’re ranking the albums, from worst to first. Where do your favorites land?
14. ‘Yellow Submarine’ We cannot tell a lie; this is not the Beatles record to own by any stretch. However, small pleasures can be found in four previously unreleased Beatles songs here, including the chant-along “All Together Now,” the funky piano-stomper “Hey Bulldog,” and the sprawling, keyboard-obsessed “Only a Northern Song.”
13. ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ Conceived as the soundtrack to a one-hour television special. The album has far outlived its original inspiration with classics like “The Fool on the Hill,” “Penny Lane,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” (the latter two, originally intended for “Sgt. Pepper”), and, of course, the words of the immortal “All You Need Is Love.” “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done / Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung / Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game/ It’s easy.”
12. ‘Please Please Me’ The Beatles’ full-length debut features several instant classics (“I Saw Her Standing There,” the title track, “Twist and Shout”), to be sure, and its raw rookie energy is often irresistible. Compared to the solid gold tracklists they’d soon be assembling, though, it can’t help but feel a bit hit-or-miss.
11. ‘Let It Be’The band refused to go out with a whisper, releasing a final album that polarized critics — Phil Spector’s post-production string work still divides them to this day — and revealed a portrait of four men reaching the end of a long and, yes, winding road. Among its best moments? Paul’s stirring gospel ballad “Let It Be,” the supremely jamming “Get Back,” soft-soft-loud “I Me Mine,” and cosmos-bending “Across the Universe.”
10. ‘Past Masters’
First compiled in 1988, this two-volume set rounds up every track the band released outside the confines of a proper album — from essential singles (“She Loves You,” “Hey Jude”) to silly B-sides (“Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand,” “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)”).
9. ‘With the Beatles’
A mere eight months after their debut, the Beatles were back with an even better sophomore album. Lennon-McCartney originals like “All My Loving” and “It Won’t Be Long” represent a leap forward in the songwriting department, but it’s the thunder-stealing covers — “Please Mister Postman,” “Money,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” and more — that proved that these guys were about to obsolesce every rock ‘n’ roller who’d come before them.
8. ‘Help!’ “Yesterday” and the title track alone would make the Beatles’ second big-screen soundtrack a milestone. But don’t ignore the 11 keepers sandwiched between them, which find the band dabbling in increasingly far-flung sounds — Dylan-esque lyricism (“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”), country (“Act Naturally”), even hard rock by 1965 standards (“Ticket to Ride”).
7. ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’
Few albums define psychedelia as thoroughly as the band’s eighth studio album — a fantastically ambitious concept record full to brimming with swirly-twirly trips (“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Within You Without You”), old-fashioned rockers (“With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Getting Better”) and perhaps the most brilliant, complex achievement in Beatles history: the sprawling, dramatically tone-shifting magnum opus “A Day in the Life.”
6. ‘Beatles for Sale’“I’m a loser, and I’m not what I appear to be,” sang Lennon. What kind of rock star sentiment is that? The kind that only someone who’s transcended mere heartthrob-dom can pull off. New notes of conflict crept into nearly every corner of “Beatles for Sale,” from the aforementioned lyrics to the morose expressions worn by the band in the cover photo. After nearly two years spent making the world squeal in delight, the Beatles were ready to move on to a more complicated and ultimately more rewarding kind of art.
5. ‘A Hard Day’s Night’
If “Please Please Me” and “With the Beatles” had marked the band as a talent to watch, their third album — a soundtrack to their movie of the same name — raised the stakes even higher, from that mysterious opening guitar chord onward. Writing a full album by themselves for the first time, Lennon and McCartney reeled off a raft of pitch-perfect ballads (“If I Fell,” “I’ll Be Back”) and infectious up-tempo numbers (“Can’t Buy Me Love”). The resulting hook-fests sounded just like the Beatles that the world already adored, only tighter, stickier, better.
4. ‘Abbey Road’Though recorded last, “Abbey Road” was actually released before “Let It Be,” the band’s “official” coda. It showcases some of the best work of each individual Beatle, from George’s stunning love letter “Something” to John’s far-out state-of-the-union anthem “Come Together,” Paul’s swamp-blues stunner “Oh Darling” and Ringo’s under-the-sea filagree “Octopus’s Garden.” Add the sweet acoustic uplift of “Here Comes the Sun,” John’s groovy, unabashedly sexual ode to Yoko, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” and the otherworldly three-part harmony “Because,” and voila — near perfection.
3. ‘The Beatles’ (aka ‘The White Album’) Where to go after ambitious concept albums like Sgt. Pepper’s and Magical Mystery Tour? First, the Beatles headed to India to seek enlightenment. Then they came back to cut their only double album, a sprawling masterpiece that indulged their every imaginable whim. Within its 30 tracks lurked all manner of exciting new sounds, from the proto-metal rush of “Helter Skelter” to the weary psychedelic balladry of “Julia.” And yes, there’s plenty of filler, some of it downright bizarre — but that itself was a game-changing move from a band whose previous output had been so perfectionist.
2. ‘Rubber Soul’Sandwiched between “Help!” and “Revolver,” 1965’s “Rubber Soul” took American folk-rock influences — the Byrds, Bob Dylan — and imbued them with the band’s growing interest in Indian instrumentation and their own, well, soul. From the strummy lament “Nowhere Man” to the sitar-laden hypnotic “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”; the sweet Francophile ditty “Michelle” and rueful kiss-off “I’m Looking Through You”; the jaunty, carefree beep-beeps of “Drive My Car” and heartrending reflection of “In My Life” — Soul was a study in contrasts, and almost uniformly stunning throughout.
1. ‘Revolver’ Choosing the best from a band whose lesser works were still superlative is tough, but the Fab Four’s 1966 masterpiece earns the platinum prize in an already-golden race. From its pioneering use of double-tracked vocals to the proto-psychedelic revelation of “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and “She Said She Said.” The elegiac beauty of “Eleanor Rigby” is almost reason enough on its own. And yet ... we still have the joyous “Got to Get You Into My Life” and “Good Day Sunshine”; the tender, lovestruck lullaby “Here There and Everywhere”; the poignant, French-horned “For No One.” Heck, even Ringo got his spotlight turn on the immortal goof “Yellow Submarine.” All in all, a work of true art.