This list of the top 3 must have Beatles albums are chosen not for records sales or how often they appear on “best of” lists. These albums are chosen because they best represent specific points in the evolution of the band and its sound.
I’m not a music critic. I’m just a huge Beatles fan, and this is my list.
Top 3 Must Have Beatles Albums
Rubber Soul represents the band at a nexus of what it was and what it would become. Here, The Beatles are still operating very much like a live band, but are beginning to take liberties available only to studio recording.
New instrumentation and recording methods were being used, and the Beatles began experimenting more with the recording process as well as the song writing process.
For example, George Martin played a very nice piano solo in the song In My Life but that wasn’t enough for the Beatles. They decided to speed the tape up as it was played back and mixed into the rest of the recording. The result is what sounds very much like a harpsichord, but is clearly not a harpsichord. A truly unique sounding solo.
Altering the tape speeds of recorded passages when played back would become a often used technique in later albums like Revolver and The White Album.
Norwegian Wood is probably the most well known and famous example of new instrumentation. I believe it is officially known as the first use of a Sitar in a rock/folk recording.
In many ways, Rubber Soul marks the end of the unified Beatles sound. They were clearly still engaged and playing as a band here. The albums that follow Soul begin to show more of the individual personalities breaking through.
Revolver is a prime example of this. In fact, in many ways Revolver is the clearest example as McCartney’s songs are heavily melodic while Lennon’s favor more biting rock elements. A definite sign of things to come.
All of which leads nicely into our next must have Beatles album…
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is sometimes called the first “concept album”, but that’s a very loose interpretation of the phrase.
It all stems from the Beatles decision to stop touring and focus instead on recording, and Paul’s uneasy feelings about that. McCartney is a performer at heart. It’s why he went back to basics after the Beatles broke up and began touring small venues with a new band. It’s in his blood.
So faced with this drive to perform, but being a part of a band no longer performing live he decided to stage a performance on record as an imaginary band. Thus the concept for Pepper was born.
It’s inclusion on this list is really a no brainer, but here are some main reasons:
- It’s the pinnacle of the Beatles psychedelic phase
- It’s a truly revolutionary recording from the way it was recorded down to the songwriting
- It established the Beatles as artists
- It inspired countless other bands to step up their game
The recording innovation on Pepper are legendary and too extensive to go into here, but suffice it to say that every assumption was questioned and new ideas were tried with a luxury not allowed on previous efforts.
Songs were inspired by everything from transcendental meditation to newspaper headlines and children’s drawings. This is the Beatles at their most creative and inspired.
Abbey Road is The Beatles’ swan song and what a song! It’s a real tribute to everything The Beatles were that they were able to end their time together on such a high note.
After all the acrimonious disintegration through The White Album and Let it Be, these “four strangers” came together once again as friends in what they instinctively knew would be their last effort together. They put aside much of their differences and focused on breaking new ground yet again.
Working with their magic team of George Martin, and Geoff Emerick, this is easily one of the best Beatles albums as well as a perennial entry on “Best rock albums of all time” lists.
Abbey Road sounds different from the albums that proceed it because it has a greater sense of unity and is in many ways a return to form of who the Beatles were.
In short, Abbey Road is the culmination of the evolution the Beatles experienced beginning in the early days at the Cavern Club, becoming the first mega-band in history, re-inventing the genre and the business and eventually falling apart. They went through a tremendous amount of growth in just 7 years, and it shows.
Musically speaking, there are new innovations (yet again) and it is a remarkable cohesive album when compared with The White Album and Let It Be.
The Beatles are, for the most part, much more mature in their approach and very restrained in many cases. This is not overindulgence for the sake of it. Where earlier albums experimented with ideas and took them to their logical conclusion sometimes at the expense of the song, Abbey Road employs many of those ideas where they can best help the song and no more.
I think the best example of this is the medley on the second half of the album. If this was Let It Be, those song fragments would have been left as just that, and then Phil Specter would have fleshed out and watered them down to full tracks amounting to little less than filler. Instead, the Beatles masterfully stitched these fragments together in one of the best medleys of all recorded history. And then wrap up the whole affair with yet another medley culminating with The End
Could there be a better ending to the last Beatles album?
The End sees each of the four members take a solo before the final bow, and in classic Beatles style, they leave us with Her Majesty – a 23 second long snippet of a song not listed on the track listing or liner notes. This could be the first hidden track on a rock album.
In all, much of the success that was The Beatles is the result of an unbeatable combination of the lads from Liverpool, George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick.
Together, these men (and many others behind the scenes) changed musically history not just forever, but for the better.