Well. What am I supposed to write that hasn’t been written before? After 50 years of books and articles and scholarly papers, the pickings are slim. Like them or not (and why wouldn’t you?), The Beatles are the most important and influential band of the 20th century.
John, Paul, George, and Ringo (say it soft and it’s almost like praying). Three working class guys and one middle class guy (that would be John Lennon, despite his fervent desire to be thought of otherwise) from the English equivalent of BFE, through a combination of talent, luck, and nearly incomprehensible hard work, managed to change the course of music and culture. It’s a great story, and it’s a story every music geek needs to know—references to their lives inside and outside the studio abound in rock culture—from Ed Sullivan, to the Maharishi, to their rooftop concert, to their very ugly breakup. Read up! But first, the music. . .
Someone once said, in effect, if you want to know about a tree, go to the forest. So lace up your hiking boots and spray on the bug repellent—it’s about to get woody. Here’s the least you need to know:
I want to say all of it. Well, maybe not all of it, but their basic canon—12 1/2 albums and another 2 discs of singles—clocks in at about 8 hours. If you like what you hear, you’ve got a massive amount of official and unofficial albums to look forward to (for instance, I have an 80-disc set which covers only January of 1969). Even knowing my choices could lead to arguments, I’m still going to attempt whittling.
1962-1966 (The Red Album) / 1967-1970 (The Blue Album) Still the best mix of album tracks and singles. A fine introduction.
A Hard Day’s Night The apogee of their high-energy early years. Soundtrack to their classic first movie—known as “the Citizen Kane of jukebox movies.” The film captures the humor of The Fab Four while showing a bit of Beatlemania: the boys are chased, patronized, applauded, and find themselves constantly in “a train and a room, and a car and a room, and a room and a room.”
Rubber Soul The apogee of their marijuana years. One of the first cohesive pop/rock albums. Prior to this, albums contained a couple singles with a bunch of filler. On Rubber Soul, nearly every song could have been a single.
Revolver Considered by many fans and critics to be their finest album (of course, this can be said in regards to at least half of their albums). A massive leap forward, especially in terms of sonics, George Harrison’s songwriting, and the band’s drug intake.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band The apogee of their LSD years, and, until revisionist history took over, considered the greatest album of the rock era. Still one of the defining records of psychedelia and The Summer of Love 1967. Prior to this album, musicians were just that—‘musicians’; after this album, they became known as ‘artists.’ Led to a lot of creativity but also caused a lot of bands to go overboard (sometimes with hilarious and cringe-worthy results). Necessary so you know what people are talking about when they say “this album is Band X’s Sgt. Pepper.”
The Beatles More commonly referred to as The White Album. A double album showing everything the band could do. It’s almost a history of 20th century pop music. Wacky and weird and wonderful. Says Paul McCartney, “It’s great, it sold, it’s the bloody Beatles‘ White Album — shut up!” So there you have it.
Go, listen, learn. Fall in love for the first time, or all over again. And it couldn’t hurt to follow The Beatles’ overriding philosophy:
. . .in the end, the love you take,
is equal to the love you make.