Think you’re a Beatles fan after listening to “1” and/or the soundtrack to “Across the Universe”? Think again, my friend. If you really want to get acquainted with the Fab Four’s most significant material, I suggest that you check out at least a couple of the following albums as soon as possible.
“Rubber Soul” (1965)
After several relatively homogenous albums of upbeat pop-rock love songs (which are the main reason why some of my peers dismiss The Beatles, claiming “all their songs sound the same”) , The Beatles came out with the folk-infused “Rubber Soul”. While this album still features many songs about love, they tend to focus on less-than-perfect romantic situations. In fact, many of the songs on the album were inspired by the real-life relationship issues Paul McCartney was going through with his then-girlfriend, actress Jane Asher. The most positive love songs on “Rubber Soul” are about a different kind of love entirely: “The Word” deals with universal love, a subject which The Beatles would later expand upon with “All You Need is Love”; “In My Life” is about love for every person who’s had an impact on one’s life. This album also marks the first time a sitar was ever used in a pop song, on “Norwegian Wood” (the sitar would figure prominently in popular music for the rest of the 1960s). And then there’s the album’s closer, “Run for Your Life”, which is so catchy that it might take several listens before you realize how horribly misogynistic it is.
“Revolver” came out right after “Rubber Soul” and right before “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, and the transistion between the band’s folksy rock sound on the former and the psychedelic and orchestral sounds they adopted for the latter can be plainly heard on this album. “Revolver” has The Beatles experimenting with instruments not typical to rock music (“Eleanor Rigby” features a string quartet; several Indian instruments are used in “Love You To”), backwards tracking (“I’m Only Sleeping” features a backwards guitar solo), social commentary (“Taxman” is told from the point of view of a ruthless tax collector, who asserts “You’re working for no one but me.”), and just altogether weird sounds (i.e. “Tomorrow Never Knows”). Love songs are even fewer on “Revolver” than on “Rubber Soul”, although it does feature the tender “Here, There, and Everywhere”, and the joyous “Got to Get You Into My Life” (which is for all intents and purposes a love song, even though I’ve heard that it’s actually written not for a woman, but for a certain mind-altering herb. But you’d never know that just from listening to it). And of course there’s everybody’s favorite (NOT!), “Yellow Submarine”, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard countless times before (I know I have. And if you ever meet a hardcore Beatles fan, my best advice is to NOT sing “Yellow Submarine” to them. I shudder to think of the possible consequences), as well as one of my own personal favorites, “And Your Bird Can Sing”, which the typical Beatles novice has never heard of.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967)
What can I say about this album that hasn’t been said already? Honestly, this isn’t one of my favorite Beatles albums, and I have serious doubts regarding the claim that it’s “the first concept album ever”, but the fact is that “Sgt. Pepper” is an important album and therefore is essential for anyone who claims to be a Beatles fan to hear. Highlights on this album include the trippy “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, the heartbreaking “She’s Leaving Home” (try not to cry the first couple of times you hear this one. I dare you), the bawdy “Lovely Rita”, and the epic “A Day in the Life”, which I consider to be one of the greatest songs The Beatles ever did. I’d advise you not to doze off around the end of this album, or you might be startled out of your skin by some weird noises that come up after “A Day in the Life” fades out. Fear not: it’s just the boys messing around in the studio.
“The Beatles”, a.k.a. “The White Album” (1968)
Remember those people I was talking about before, the ones who complain that “all The Beatles’ songs sound the same”? They’ve obviously never heard “The White Album”, which is by far the most ecclectic album The Beatles ever recorded. There’s thirty tracks on this double album, and not a single one sounds like any of the others. On “The White Album”, The Beatles dabble in genres such as the blues (“Yer Blues” and “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?”), country (“Rocky Raccoon” and “Don’t Pass Me By”), ragtime (“Honey Pie”), folk (“Mother Nature’s Son” and “Blackbird”), and doo-wop (“Revolution 1”). The album also includes some harbingers of future rock genres, most notably with the shockingly proto-metal “Helter Skelter”. And then there’s “Revolution 9”, a creepy, 8-minute montage of noise that defies explanation. This album has something for everyone.
“Abbey Road” (1969)
“Abbey Road” was the last album The Beatles ever recorded (“Let it Be” was released after “Abbey Road”, but was recorded before it), and one of their best. The fact that the band’s members could hardly stand to be in the same room at that point clearly had no bearing on their ability to sound more amazing together than they ever had. The first half of the album includes gems like “Something”, “Oh! Darling”, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” (a delightful little ditty about a homicidal maniac which, for some reason, even my most Beatles-resistant friends seem to love), “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, and “Here Comes the Sun”; the second half of the album is made up of a couple of medleys, plus “Her Majesty”, the brief and charming “extra track” tacked on a few seconds after “The End” ends. I don’t think The Beatles could have ended any better.