Guest post: Treadmarkz is my brother-in-law, a Human Beatles Encyclopedia and the author of the weblog Treadmarkz.wordpress.com.
I am sure you have heard all the hubbub, but maybe you never quite knew what it was all about, this thing, this MANIA called the Beatles. If you have been thinking of getting into the Beatles (and I mean really into the Beatles, not just buying their latest Greatest hits compilation) this is not the Beatles' Top 12 Best Albums, and I am not reviewing each album. This is just the order you need to buy them in, in order to feel the full effect of what they did.
The chronological order in which they were originally released seems like the most sensible way to do it. But this isn't sensible. If you get into the Beatles you have to be prepared for a little disjointedness and things that come out of left field. You don't have to follow this guide exactly, and as you will see, I give you opportunities to make your own choice. Also, this is just the original Beatles Music we are talking about here, not Let It Be…Naked, or the Love Album. Having said that, I give you…The List:
1. Rubber Soul, 1965: This is the album that really showed the progression starting to happen. The two previous albums showed a little bit of experimentation, but it was more superficial, whereas the progress the Beatles made on Rubber Soul had some substance. Better lyrics and more interesting innovations musically. But the main reason why this is the first Beatles album you need to get is that this shows where they had been and where they were going, musically.
NOTE: If you are going to get the Beatles Past Masters I & II albums (compilations of songs that are not on their albums), and I recommend you do, I think you should get them at this point. They will help guide you through.
2./3. A Hard Day's Night, 1964/Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, 1967: Okay here is where you get to make a decision on your own. No matter which of these two you choose first, these are the next two albums you need. You will find out quickly from Rubber Soul what you like about the Beatles. So if you liked the poppy, peppy, happy songs from Rubber Soul (mostly Paul's) then your next move would have to be A Hard Day's Night. It is the first Beatles album which was composed entirely by the Beatles themselves. No cover tunes. A big step for the Beatles and mankind.
If you found that in Rubber Soul you got more from the down-tempo, more thoughtful songs (mostly John's) then I would move forward and make your second pick Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band. This is where the progress they were making on Rubber Soul completely came into fruition. Though John did not do as much on Pepper's as on Rubber Soul, it was his infusion of Bob Dylan-like lyrics into the Beatles repertoire which strongly affected the music on Pepper's.
4. Revolver, 1966: If your last pick was Pepper's, you will want to know how they got from Rubber Soul to Pepper's. It was a hell of a jump, musically, but with Revolver you get to fill in the blank, while still getting a taste of pre-Rubber Soul moptop from Paul. However, if A Hard Day's Night was your last pick, then Revolver will serve the purpose of blowing your mind. Get ready.
5. Abbey Road, 1969: Simply the Beatles final recorded album giving generations of rockers something to strive for. This is the benchmark.
It was important that you get a taste of every era of the Beatles music before we move on. Now that you have, with the core of the band's progressive era covered, you need an album that can show you everything that the Beatles were capable of. And I think from country, to reggae to hard rock to classical, we can only find the answer in….
6. The Beatles, aka The White Album, 1968: The Beatles was an album that, like Rubber Soul, gives listeners a chance to decide what they really like about the Beatles. Did you like the straight up rock songs, or did you like it when they tried something unusual for pop/rock? Well the White Album gives you a little bit of both with a splash of something new…Heavy Metal! This is the album that brought us “Helter Skelter” but it also has a few other head-bangers like “Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey”, “Birthday” and “Yer Blues” which is really metal-blues. So if you are hooked on the Beatles, and at this point you should be, then you are probably ready for a double album. Go for it. You will not be disappointed.
7. Help!, 1965: Time to cool it down again. Time for something a little more predictable yet captivating. Help! came out just months before Rubber Soul, where we started. This one is just full of great songs, and I think that is what we need right now. “Yesterday”, “You've Got To Hide Your Love Away” “Help!” and “Ticket To Ride” are all essentials and they are all here. This album will prove that song after song about love can still be interesting! And if you like it, then…
8. Beatles For Sale, 1964: Now we are really getting back to the moptop days. But this one is interesting because, just like Help!, it shows of the Beatles country/folk chops, without losing that pop flair. There are a lot of cover songs on here as there will be for the remainder. But the Beatles self-penned songs are introspective, and you are able to put yourself in the story. For the first time the Beatles really “take you there” on Beatles For Sale.
9. Let It Be, 1969: We don't want you to delve too far back into the catalogue. You should probably now pick up Let It Be. Though it is often considered the Beatles most disappointing album, that is only because of what they had done in the few years leading up to Let It Be. They had changed the entire definition of rock music with Revolver and Sgt. Pepper!! So of course it was disappointing for fans to hear them going back to their roots, which is exactly what this is. But you will still get a little taste of psychedelia from “Across the Universe” and “I Me Mine”.
And if that is what you liked…
10. Magical Mystery Tour, 1967: It is kind of like the Beatles trying to expand on the concept of Sgt. Pepper's but not quite getting there, but it is chock full of great singles, much like the Help! album, but much weirder. “All You Need Is Love” and “I am The Walrus” are on this one, and it is the only place you will get “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “Penny Lane” unless you've already got the “1” album. And if you do, I hope this list has helped you take your Beatles listening further.
11./12. Please Please Me/With the Beatles, both from 1963: The beginning of the Fab Four. These albums show you where the Beatles came from. On these two albums, which really could be considered Vol. 1 and 2 of the same album, they bring you covers of the music that they loved when they were a struggling bar band, and they bring you their hand-written songs in which they use what they learned from the music they loved. To me, it really doesn't matter which of these two you get first.
13. Yellow Submarine Songtrack, 1999 or the Yellow Submarine Soundtrack: It is up to you which one you get, but there is a huge difference. Either way you are only getting four songs that you haven't already heard before. But the difference is this: The Soundtrack has the four songs you have never heard before, along with the song “Yellow Submarine” and “All You Need Is Love”, and rest is instrumentals by the George Martin Orchestra, if you are into that. The Songtrack on the other hand, has the aforementioned four “new” songs, and 11 other random songs taken from Rubber Soul to Magical Mystery Tour which appear in the film. It is a nice mix and you can get your fix of a couple of different eras in Beatles music without having to switch CDs.
Welcome to Beatledom, my friends. Enjoy!