Monday, February 11, 2013

The Beatles' album titles, from worst to best

Motivated by nothing so much as the peculiar satisfaction of compiling lists, I ranked The Beatles' album titles.*
13) Yellow Submarine - A soundtrack for the kooky cartoon feature, but still part of the sanctioned canon. The title is, indeed, too cartoony, too late '60s.
12) With The Beatles - It lacks punch and distinction, smacking of a name that Capitol Records would have used for one of their mish-mash Fab releases. The cover is an entirely different story.
11) Please Please Me - For The Beatles' debut, it's understandable that Parlaphone (or George Martin?) played it safe and recycled the name of the album's breakthrough single. Built-in familiarity, though, can be boring. PPM also lacks the self-referential commentary of other titles.
10) Magical Mystery Tour - It's less corny than Yellow Submarine but, similarly, it hasn't aged well. That said, the dual meaning - invoking both a charabanc bus trip and that very different kind of trip - plays out well in the context of the Magical Mystery Tour film.
9) The Beatles - Releasing a self-titled album in 1968 - a late and fractious stage of the band's career - merits some kudos. But it's still just their name. "A Doll's House" was a possibility. Even better in my opinion: "The White Album" as the official title.
8) Let It Be - It's soft and mawkish, but it conveys a sense of finality that was appropriate for the final album The Beatles released.
7) A Hard Day's Night - Legend has it that Ringo coined the phrase, but it may have been John. Whoever the source, it's witty and energetic, accurately pinpointing the boys in their early prime.
6) Help! - Borrowed from the opening track - an urgent plea for support by John - the earnest name reflects the more emotionally mature direction the Fabs were pursuing as songwriters. See the title track, "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," "Yesterday," etc.
5) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - A pre-rock 'n' roll alternate persona for the band, it's full of verve, color and laughs, which is exactly how we should want to remember The Beatles.
4) Beatles for Sale - The light humor of A Hard Day's Night turned memorably mordant here, as The Beatles fell victim to the exhausting rigors of being The Beatles. Notice the change in tone from A Hard Day's Night to Beatles for Sale to Help!. The trajectory speaks volumes.
3) Revolver - Ambiguous, perhaps darkly so, Revolver could mean a gun or the rotation of a record. It's loaded, compelling, forceful imagery - a must for such a landmark album.
2) Abbey Road - The site of one triumph after another. No title captures more of the band's history. Simple, nostalgic, reverent, affectionate.
1) Rubber Soul - Obviously.
* - I'm only concerned here with the core catalog (the canon, if you will), which - with the exception of Magical Mystery Tour - consists entirely of British releases.

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