It’s hard to put into words just how imposing the figure of The Beatles is over popular music. Largely cited as one of the forefathers of modern music, the strength of records The Beatles put out across their comparatively short time together is truly impressive and is rightly revered by all. Put it simply, you won’t find many serious musicians who discredit the impact the Fab Four had on music as a whole.
However, as with every facet of life, there simply has to be a spectrum of quality laid upon their discography. It means that despite protestations to the contrary, there is a ‘worst’ Beatles album and a ‘best’ Beatles album. Below, we’re taking a look back at the band’s studio albums and ranking them in order of greatness. It should provide any non-Beatles fan with a great jumping off point to get to know the biggest band the world has ever known.
There’s a difficulty with these lists in that trying to place how a singular piece of art has affected—and continues to affect—the world around it. What’s more, how important it can be to both the band and their audience can be wildly different on a mass scale, let alone on an individual listener basis. So while we think the below list is airtight, we’re certain most people with have a giant skewer at the ready to punch a few holes in it. But, we encourage that anyway.
After all, the four members of the band all preferred different albums, why shouldn’t you? For Paul McCartney, it was the psychedelic centrepiece Sgt. Pepper, for Lennon, he loved the band’s return to rock in The White Album, Ringo preferred Abbey Road while Harrison’s pick is more leftfield in Rubber Soul. The fact that the band members can pick four different albums as their best and there could be few complaints with any of the choices, proves how dense and fruitful the band’s catalogue truly is.
So, we’re looking back at The Beatles’ 13 studio albums and placing them in order of greatness as we put 2020 vision on one of the most important discographies of all time.
Ranking The Beatles albums worst to best:
13. Yellow Submarine
Yes, you all expected it and you weren’t wrong. The Beatles’ soundtrack to their film Yellow Submarine was as childish and silly as the animated flick. The band didn’t contribute their voices to the film and the score also lacks the same commitment.
It’s not just because it was a film soundtrack that the Fab Four didn’t jump on the album, they did a fine job of some others, but aside from the few new songs which will make diehard fans happy, the LP lacks any real punch or direction. If you ever needed to point to the ‘worst’ Beatles album, this is surely it.
12. Beatles For Sale
Although, the LP may have a contender. Beatles For Sale has gone down in history as one of The Beatles least adored albums. That’s not to say it doesn’t have any great songs on it, ‘I’m A Loser’ and ‘Eight Days A Week’ but the album catches the band in transition.
It also featured John Lennon providing the first ever feedback on record, “That’s me completely. Including the guitar lick with the first feedback anywhere. I defy anybody to find a record… unless it is some old blues record from 1922… that uses feedback that way. So I claim it for the Beatles. Before Hendrix, before The Who, before anybody. The first feedback on record.”
Caught between their chart-topping teeny-bopping pomp and the new artistic direction they were carving out for themselves, the album falls between the cracks and doesn’t match up to the rest of their output.
11. Magical Mystery Tour
This album isn’t exactly vintage work form The Beatles. Released only as an EP in the UK, it speaks of how little the band were committed to making the record. That said, as with every Beatles release, it does have some classic on it.
The record allowed The Beatles to keep on their psychedelic turn and ‘Blue Jay Way’ and ‘I Am The Walrus’ compounds that point on Magical Mystery Tour. Add to that, the fact it also includes ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and you have a strong contender to be further up the list.
But while the single songs on the album can be loved and revered, there’s a strong sense that the LP was cobbled together, which, when compared to the rest of their releases with such strong composition, feels half-hearted.
Containing one of John Lennon’s favourite songs of The Beatles, the titular track of the album, Help!, the LP comes as a big-hitter. As well as that song it also features songs like ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ and the classic track ‘Yesterday’ (coincidentally one of Lennon’s most hated songs).
The album signified a big change in recording processes for the group, “If you play our early records and the late—even though we haven’t made all that many—there’s a lot of difference. Even recording technique. If you improve that slightly—your sound changes, basically.”
Help! came at a significant moment for the band and once again highlighted their desire to push forward creatively, still keeping the chart-topping chops they had accrued.
9. With The Beatles
If you wanted a reason as to why The Beatles became worldwide sensations then you need only look at this 1963 release With The Beatles. The album contains some of the group’s earliest smash hits including ‘All My Loving’, ‘Please Mr. Postman’ and George Harrison’s first foray into songwriting ‘Don’t Bother Me’.
The album featured some classic covers too, as was customary for sixties band of the time. As well as paying homage to Chuck Berry with their cover of ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ and to Smokey Robinson with ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’.
Looking back in 2020 and it’s hard to not view this album with a heavy dose of nostalgia. It is full of the charm and charisma that made The Beatles one of the biggest bands of the moment and began Beatlemania.
8. Let It Be
Arguably one of the most controversial albums of all time, it’s been 50 years since the release of The Beatles’ final studio album, Let It Be. Released one month after the band had officially split, Lennon had been out of the band for some time, the album divides critics when it was first released.
Let It Be will always be more famous for being the final release from the most famous band in the world rather than the songs on it. However, to overlook the record as the embers of a once roaring fire is a serious mistake.
The record has several songs that are worthy of ultimate Beatles pantheon including the rocky ‘Get Back’, ‘I, Me, Mine’, ‘Across the Universe’ and of course the titular song ‘Let It Be’. It means the LP should certainly be considered one of their best.
7. Please, Please Me
The Beatles recorded their debut album in just 13 hours but the frenetic pace didn’t diminish from the impact the album had. It, in many ways, redefined rock ‘n’ roll and defined it as the new popular music.
The band have effervescent energy unlike any other band prior and deliver a sensational ream of songs that feature both original compositions like ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and fearsome covers like ‘Twist and Shout’. This was the album that launched millions of fans and set Beatlemania on sail.
Speaking in 1976, Lennon remembered of the record: “That record tried to capture us live, and was the nearest thing to what we might have sounded like to the audiences in Hamburg and Liverpool. You don’t get that live atmosphere of the crowd stomping on the beat with you, but it’s the nearest you can get to knowing what we sounded like before we became the ‘clever’ Beatles.”
6. A Hard Day’s Night
This is pure Beatlemania at its finest. The album is comprised of original compositions pushed by the incredibly hooky titular song. Released in 1964, it is perhaps the ultimate distillation of the Fab Four in their pop pomp, before they turned their attention to the art of it all.
That’s not to say the songs on the soundtrack for the film aren’t expertly composed, they certainly are. The album is bursting with huge songs including ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, ‘Tell Me Why’, and ‘If I Fell’ and it harnessed the songwriting partnership of Lennon and McCartney in full force for the first time.
As McCartney revealed to the press at the time, “Sometimes maybe he (John) will write a whole song himself, or I will, but we always say that we’ve both written it. Sometimes the lyric does come first, sometimes the tune—sometimes both together. Sometimes he’ll do one line, sometimes I’ll do one line. It’s very varied.”
5. Rubber Soul
Meeting Bob Dylan is a big deal for anyone and The Beatles were just the same. After the Fab Four met up with the freewheelin’ troubadour they were inspired to pursue songwriting as a finer art than they ever had before.
Now, instead of making songs to top the charts, they wanted to make music to express themselves and they responded by putting their own lives into the music. It was a moment that would change the band forever. Featuring tracks like ‘Norwegian Wood’ and ‘Nowhere Man’, the LP is seen as a breakout moment and happens to be George Harrison’s favourite to boot.
“Rubber Soul was my favourite album,” he once revealed. “Even at that time, I think that it was the best one we made,” he added when reflecting on the iconic record in the ’90s. “The most important thing about it was that we were suddenly hearing sounds we weren’t able to hear before. Also, we were being more influenced by other people’s music and everything was blossoming at that time—including us.”
4. White Album
“What we’re trying to do is rock ‘n roll, ‘with less of your philosorock,’ is what we’re saying to ourselves. And get on with rocking because rockers is what we really are,” said John Lennon in 1968 while recording The White Album, the mammoth double LP can certainly be seen as that.
Across a myriad of tracks, the group had returned from the conceptual piece of Sgt. Pepper and were now getting back to their roots. The album also allowed each member of the band more room to add their own songs, meaning George Harrison got his opportunity to shine.
It means the album is full of big-hitting Beatles numbers such as ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’, ‘Savoy Truffle’, ‘Dear Prudence’ and countless other masterpieces. Across a plethora of songs, The Beatles once again proved to be on top of the world despite their inner turmoil.
3. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
If there was one album which signified the breadth of talent The Beatles had at their disposal it was Sgt. Pepper. Released in 1967 as part of the band’s new move away from being the Fab Four and heading towards a more conceptualised piece the album is widely, and quite rightly, seen as Paul McCartney’s best work.
Macca became the artistic drive of the band during this time as Lennon became distracted by fame and the band’s manager Brian Epstein sadly passed away. With the new impetus to create, Macca constructed one of the most resolute pieces of art the band ever composed.
It seems as though, over time, that concept has hampered its viewing. Nowadays the album’s uniqueness and idiosyncrasies are chalked off as indulgent but that hasn’t stopped it still being McCartney’s favourite. “I’d pick Sgt. Pepper’s, meself, because I had a lot to do with it,” he responded when asked.
Released in 1966, Revolver is often seen as one of the moments of crystal clear creativity for the Fab Four. Buoyed by the success of their previous studio album Rubber Soul, and the departure from their previous ‘pop group’ moniker, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr delivered one of the most highly influential albums of their careers.
The seventh album from the Fab Four sees the group take a huge leap into the unknown and push forward with their desire for musical experimentation. It saw George Harrison once again begin to establish his own songwriting career while Lennon and McCartney were arguably nearing their creative peak. It’s arguably one of the band’s greatest albums of all time.
Not only was the album a serious attempt for artistic purity, but it was also highlighted with the humour and distinct candour The Beatles had brought to all their work. Songs ranging from the hilarious (‘Doctor Robert’) and nostalgic (‘Here, There and Everywhere’) to the hallucinatory (‘Tomorrow Never Knows’) and nihilistic (‘I’m Only Sleeping’) marked The Beatles out as more than just a band, they were now icons.
1. Abbey Road
The Beatles’ 1969 album Abbey Road has gone on to become a defining moment in the illustrious career of one of the greatest bands to have ever walked the planet and, to this day, continues to be regarded as one of the finest records ever made. It is one of the band’s rockiest records but across seventeen individual tracks, (yes, we’re counting ‘The Medley’ as their individual songs) we get to see a distillation of everything that made The Beatles great.
It was the band’s eleventh studio album and saw the Fab Four incorporating genres such as blues, rock and pop, a record which also makes prominent use of Moog synthesizer, sounds filtered through a Leslie speaker, and tom-tom drums. It showed a band still desperate to innovate and create, never happy to sit on their creative hands and let them rot idly by. At the time, the group were well aware that this was likely to be their final album and they arguably saved the best until last.
One thing that The Beatles have that most other bands could only hope for is a group of quality musicians as well as expert songwriters and wonderful singers. An iconic record on The Beatles’ roadmap, least of all because of its album artwork, it was another moment of creative evolution as all four members took the wheel of the ‘Yellow Submarine; for a turn or two and rallied against the awful recording sessions for Let It Be.
Of late, the clamour to remark Abbey Road as a sub-standard LP has grown but, for our money, it is the best single piece the group ever made. With songs like ‘I Want You’, ‘Something’, ‘Come Together’ and ‘Here Comes The Sun’ on the album it’s hard to argue with us.