Today is Ash Wednesday and I decided to start something rather special. I’ve been doing a lot of Top5s ever since I started this blog more than a year ago, and I never did one about my favorite albums of all time.
However, doing a Top5 about my favorite albums would be too trivial and I’m not a big fan of triviality. Therefore, I decided to do a series of Top 5 lists with my favorite albums from my favorite bands. And there’s one more rule: live albums are out. There will only be studio albums.
And if you have followed my Top 5 lists you know that when it comes to Rock and Roll I always considered The Beatles beings from another dimension, so they are always hors concours in any dispute. Thus, the only way of The Beatles entering any of my Top 5 is doing a Top 5 only with The Beatles. And that’s why they are my undisputed first choice to start my series of Top 5 albums.
And let’s make one thing clear: this is MY PERSONAL OPPINION. It doesn’t mean these albums are the most important, most influential or most innovative.
Here we go:
#5: Magical Mystery Tour
The first half of MMT was not only the soundtrack to a bizarre, lysergic and crazy movie The Beatles decided to make (almost as if to say: “We are the most important people in the world right now, and this is what we want to do”) but it also has some of the greatest moments in Popular culture (just like everything they did). Paul McCartney, as usual, shines bright with his unforgettable melodies on “Your Mother Should Know” and “The Fool on the Hill” and his groundbreaking innovations on the crazy “Magical Mystery Tour”. John Lennon is also in fine form with the wonderfully lysergic “I Am the Walrus”, George Harrison was still in his “indian-mantra” days with “Blue Jay Way” and there’s “Flying” the only Beatles song EVER to credit the four as writers. The second half also has more McCartney brilliant moments with “Hello Goodbye” and “Penny Lane”, plus John in a very inspiring mood with the acid “Baby You’re a Rich Man”, the peace-asking “All You Need is Love” and with what according to George Martin is “the greatest song The Beatles ever recorded” and probably John’s pinnacle as a songwriter: “Strawberry Fields Forever.” It was the final exclamation point in the Beatles flower-power, make love not war, days.
#4: A Hard Day’s Night
Every time somebody comments with me about how huge the leap from Revolver to Sgt.Pepper’s was in terms of evolution from one album to the other, I always reply: “To me the leap from With the Beatles to A Hard Day’s Night is even more stunning”. First of all AHDN is the first Beatles album to have only their own compositions. Second, it was written so fast that it’s almost inconceivable that two people (at the time) could write so many great tunes in so little time. Besides THAT first chord of the title-track, the album is full of a new kind of Rock and Roll, a kind that no one had heard before. Whereas their own compositions on Please, Please Me and With the Beatles were great but you could see where they were coming from, here the songs seemed to germinate from someplace else; that you couldn’t exactly determine where. It was something new, great and very exciting. What’s more: you could dance to it and sing all its choruses after listening to it just once. And how can you argue with a tracklist that sported: the title-track, “If I Fell”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “Things We Said Today”, “And I Love Her”, “I’ll Be Back” and all the others?
#3: Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
“Most important album in the history of Pop music”, “Most innovative album ever”, “When Pop music became art”, “There’s nothing like Sgt. Pepper’s”. These are just some of the accolades that were made about Sgt. Pepper’s. Born out of the will of the band of not touring anymore and wanting to explore the studio at the max, Sergeant Pepper’s turned the whole music world upside down. The psychedelic cover, lyrics on the booklet and the band wearing martial band costumes with their hairs cut already announced something different was on the way, without a single note played. And when the notes did play the shock was inevitable. What do you mean a song that opens the album and finishes just 11 songs after? What do you mean songs that are glued to each other without intermission? What do you mean a song with a rooster crowing in the beginning? What do you mean lyrics that describe a little girl in world full of impossible things like a sky with diamonds, marmalade skies and newspaper taxis? What do you mean a song that it’s the product of two different songs stitched together and ends with one single chord done by an orchestra? Those are just some of the questions that popped up everybody’s heads the first time they heard the sound of Pop music getting into adulthood. In this case if you say that you could write a book about this album, you’re not overreacting because in fact there is a whole book written about it.
When it comes to The Beatles it’s hard to say something like “one of the most famous songs in Pop music history”. However, this album has not only one but two of those: the title-track and the ubiquitous “Yesterday”. An album that’s not a “best of” collection and showcases two songs of this caliber is automatically one of the best ever, but there’s so much more to Help! than this. In my humble opinion that’s the album where Paul starts to bloom as the most brilliant songwriter in Pop ever. If “Yesterday” wasn’t enough, he also wrote for this album “The Night Before”, “Another Girl”, the wonderful country “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “Tell Me What You See”. Now, about this last song, if you listen carefully, you’ll notice how Paul’s and John’s vocals take turns doing the higher and lower register in the chorus in the most beautiful way. How did they come up with this? I have no idea. John also contributed with not only the outstanding title-track, but also with another huge hit, “Ticket to Ride”, a great Dylan impersonation (and actually better than anything Dylan ever did), “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”, “You’re Going To Lose That Girl” and remembered his Rock and Roll roots screaming his head out on the cover of “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”. George presented us with the beautiful “I Need You” and with one of his most unheralded gems, “You like Me Too Much”. The cherry on the cake is just one little fact: “Yesterday” is “only” the most recorded song ever.
#1: Rubber Soul
As I said before, this rankings reflect MY PERSONAL OPPINION . Therefore, Rubber Soul is indeed my favorite Beatles record. I think that this is the album where you can hear the perfect marriage between the innocence of the early albums and the maturity of the later ones. This is quintessential Beatles. If Revolver is the transition point between the two stages, Rubber Soul is the mixing point. “Drive My Car” is a mid-tempo rocker very much in the vein of those first records. It is followed by “Norwegian Wood” and its brilliant double entender lyric (after all the guy set fire to the apartment of the girl who didn’t wanna fuck him or he just left the fireplace lit?) and wonderful sitar use. “You Won’t See Me” could also have been on those first records, but “Nowhere Man” is rather mature in terms of lyrics and arrangements. “Think for Yourself” and “The Word” also show a maturity that borders on unbelievable for a band recording for only 4 years. “Michelle”, “What Goes On” and “Girl” are again a throwback to yeah-yeah-yeah days. “I’m Looking through You” shows grown up band and “In My Life” is probably the greatest Lennon/McCartney partnership ever. This is one of the very few songs that are very much in partnership and you can’t tell who wrote the bulk of the song. Add to that the speeded up piano solo to sound like a clavinet (courtesy of the genius of George Martin). “Wait” is also shows a developed band and “If I Needed Someone” shows how much George had evolved as a songwriter. The album is finished by another rocker “Run for Your Life”. Rubber Soul is in one word: perfect.
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