To mark the release of the Beatles’ remasters this week, Time Out argues over which record was their finest
Time Out Bahrain staff
With the Beatles’ back catalogue re-released this month, the Time Out team discuss their favourite albums
Please, Please Me Originally released: March 22, 1963
It took the mercurial foursome four months to complete Sgt Pepper – preposterous dithering when compared to the nine hours and 45 minutes they needed to knock out their debut four years earlier. It shows too. In terms of energy, few albums come close to the sense of mad abandon that powers Please, Please Me. Lennon’s singing is already gruff and mature, notable on ‘There’s A Place’, and their take-no-prisoners cover of ‘Twist And Shout’, which he reserved for the end of the session, knowing he’d be unable to follow it. A second take was aborted immediately, his vocal chords in tatters. Rock ’n’ roll legend!
A Hard Day’s Night Originally released: July 10, 1964
A Hard Day’s Night was the first Beatles album of all-original material, and the first to feature George Harrison playing his Rickenbacker electric 12-string guitar – a distinctive instrument that inspired countless guitarists, including Roger McGuinn of The Byrds. The tunes flow beautifully from one to another, from the rousing rock ’n’ roll of the title track and the hit single ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, to the beautiful ballads ‘If I Fell’ and ‘And I Love Her’. The most incredible thing about this album is that it was written on the run while Beatlemania raged around them and they were pressured to get a soundtrack out for the movie. A Hard Day’s Night is a timeless classic that sounds as fresh and energetic today as it did 35 years ago.
Help! Originally released: August 6, 1965
Lennon stated that Help!’s title song was ‘one of the best [Beatles songs] ever written’, and who are we to argue with the second (after McCartney, ouch) most successful songwriter in UK singles chart history? Indeed, Help! (or ‘Nujv!’ as the foursome’s arms spell out in flag semaphore on the album cover) is packed with corkers, not least McCartney’s legendary and gorgeous ‘Yesterday’. The album almost feels like a ‘Best Of…’ thanks to its mix of slow-tempo ballads (‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’, ‘I Need You’), brilliant pop/rock foot-tappers (‘Another Girl’, ‘Act Naturally’) and rock ’n’ roll (‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’). OK, so it’s not the most interesting collection in so far as it feels Lennon and McCartney’s heads were unusually grounded when writing the songs, but for commercial Beatles pop, Help! is undoubtedly the best.
Revolver Originally released: August 5, 1966
Revolver is the album where they finally decided to listen to George Harrison. Long resigned to the corner with his sitar and Hindu mysticism, Harrison gets ample space in their sixth studio album, kicking off with ‘Taxman’ and coercing McCartney into that wonderfully twanging guitar solo. What follows is an imaginatively restrained fusion of previous efforts with forward-thinking experimentalism, seen in the mournful ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and the sitar-driven ‘Love You To’, before ‘Good Day Sunshine’ brings things back to Earth. But this is all a build-up to ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, ending on the ecstatic, experimental note that would see them through until Abbey Road. Overlook the absurdity of ‘Yellow Submarine’ and Revolver really is the best they put out.
Magical Mystery Tour Originally released: November 27, 1967
Ringo Starr is an ugly man. What better to rectify the issue of his unfortunate mug than a rubber chicken mask? Magical Mystery Tour was a very bad film (note to surviving Beatles: next time, shoot with a script; crossing your fingers and hoping magic appears on celluloid isn’t a solid game plan), but a great EP, high on psychedelia and whimsy. The slighty unhinged ‘I Am The Walrus’ still perplexes listeners four decades later, with John Lennon singing about ‘yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye’. If you can’t discern the song’s meaning, relax, listen to ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, and remember ‘there’s nothing to get hung about’.
The White Album
Abbey Road Originally released: September 26, 1969
Recorded at a time when the sheer weight of the Lennon/McCartney (sorry, Macca – we mean McCartney/Lennon) ego monster was shaking the previously unstoppable Beatles juggernaut to pieces, Abbey Road is not so much an album as a gaggle of musical scraps and half-written bits ’n’ bobs, brought together for one last hurrah. And it’s a testament to the band’s talent that these scraps fuse together into so much more – a stirringly melancholy marvel that manages to be more than the sum of its parts. ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ is a steaming pile of bum nuggets, of course, but you can’t have everything.
Why I hate the Beatles…
In an age when any pretty face can make it as some kind of musical superhero, it’s easy to look back on ye olde days and think, ‘Things certainly ain’t what they used to be.’ But mega-stars were being cynically manufactured long before Simon Cowell first hitched his trousers over his bellybutton. With lyrics as risky as a tranquillised sloth, the Beatles seemed to be in the business solely to make money with dull music, silly haircuts and an irritatingly samey, jangly sound. Even with ‘expanded minds’, they just sounded weird. Besides, if the Clash said they’re rubbish, it must be true.