Neither Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band nor Abbey Road made this list and for good reason. Though the experimental recording techniques used to create Sgt. Pepper were mind blowing at the time, and aside from a few gems like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “A Day in the Life” (arguably the best Beatles song ever with the misfortune of being placed on this album), Sgt. Pepper is chock-full of nonsense and half-baked songs.
Likewise, Abbey Road, which is overall comprised of great songs, only provided two or three defining moments in rock ‘n’ roll history—“I Want You (She’s so Heavy),” “Something” and “Come Together,” if you’re willing to make that stretch. Yes, the whole second-half medley is undeniably awesome, but it pales in comparison to the best work on the albums below.
Well into the wave of Beatlemania, Help! is the soundtrack of the ridiculous, yet completely endearing movie of the same name. Surprisingly unstocked with much filler (like some of their earlier releases), essential listening includes the rockin’ title track, the acoustic ballad “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” the sage advice of “You’re Going to Lose That Girl” and the liberating anthem “Ticket to Ride.” (Not to mention “Yesterday,” the second most played song in the history of radio.)
5. Rubber Soul
The album that officially brought the Beatles’ pop-focused era to a grand finale consisted of so many amazing songs that it was inconceivable to omit it from this list. Though the album doesn’t start as strong as it could have, “Norwegian Wood” expresses confusion while self-realizations are understood through the words of “You Won’t See Me” and “Nowhere Man.” The second half is as pensive as the Beatles had gotten to date with the remorseful “Girl” and the timeless “In My Life,” which only hinted at what was to come in the follow up to Rubber Soul.
4. A Hard Day’s Night
Previous to this release, the Beatles had been knocking out multiple albums each year, creating many early classic hits along the way. But it wasn’t until A Hard Day’s Night that things really coalesced for the band to pull off their deepest, yet still-fluffy-pop-enough-for-the fans album yet. “And I Love Her” is still considered one of the most romantic songs of all time, having been covered by countless artists, while “Things We Said Today” established Paul’s unquestionable talent for melodic maneuvering between major and minor keys (music nerd term for knowing what he’s actually doing) and John’s spiteful, yet deterministic “I’ll Be Back” ends the album with an unsettling feeling that will likely urge the listener to skip back to the first, more whimsical track.
3. The White Album
Certainly their wackiest (and longest) release, The White Album solidified that silly and serious can cohesively coexist in one piece of musical output. Songs like “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” “Piggies” and “Rocky Raccoon,” let the boys have some much deserved fun, while tensions during the sessions were high. But perhaps their feuds were eased by actually getting high, because there’s no other explanation for releasing those songs alongside indispensable classics like John’s tensive and orgasmic song “Happiness in a Warm Gun,” George’s sorrowful “While My Guitar Gentle Weeps,” Paul’s invention of what’s considered by most to be the first edgy, modern rock song in “Helter Skelter,” and last but not least, the reflective yet sadly underappreciated, “Cry Baby Cry.”
This album is typically considered to have marked the end of the Beatles’ previously pop-focused repertoire and segued into their more experimental, second half. Barring the banal “Taxman” and a couple other skippable tracks (*ahem* “Dr. Robert”), with Revolver, the Beatles evolved into an new sphere where they embraced experimentation by exploring sounds laden with psychedelic overtones. The album’s closer, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” a track so unlike any of their previous songs, may have actually scared some fans. Had the exhilarating sonic achievements of “Tomorrow Never Knows” produced enough influence to determine the direction of their next release, then the likelihood of Sgt. Pepper making this list could have been much higher.
1. Magical Mystery Tour
Six words, two songs: “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Blue Jay Way.” It’s understandable that the latter might not be one of your personal favorites, though you should give it another listen, preferably wearing headphones with a stereo copy… It’s about as transcendental as George ever got on tape. And the former? Well, that just about defines the entirety of the Beatles’ artistic achievements. Additionally, the album is peppered with so many other greats like “I Am the Walrus,” “The Fool on the Hill” and “All You Need is Love,” that it unquestionably settles Magical Mystery Tour as their best album (regardless of how much the movie sucked). If you were to ever find yourself on a deserted island and had only one album to tide you over for a lifetime, you’d soon realize that all you need is this LP.