Wilson and Alroy's Record Reviews We listen to the lousy records so you won't have to.

 Main page 

 New additions 

 Pop: 00s  90s 80s 70s 60s 50s


 Top 20: DBW JA 


The Beatles

Reviewed on this page:
Please Please Me - With The Beatles - A Hard Day's Night - Beatles For Sale - Help! - Rubber Soul - Revolver - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Magical Mystery Tour - The Beatles - Yellow Submarine - Abbey Road - Let It Be - Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl - Past Masters Vol. I - Past Masters Vol. II - Beatles Live At The BBC - Anthology Vol. 1 - Anthology Vol. 2 - Anthology Vol. 3

Forget it, I won't even try to make some new and profound generalizations about the most famous, influential, talented, and over-analyzed musical performers of the last half-century. Suffice it to say that you won't be able to understand the first thing about 60s rock - or Western pop music in general, really - until you sit down and memorize the half-dozen most important Beatles records. Almost every new LP shattered the previous boundaries of rock 'n' roll, and Lennon and McCartney's songwriting surpassed that of almost all their contemporaries.

There are three more points I just can't restrain myself from making: first, avoid all greatest hits packages, such as 1, as virtually every Beatles record is a greatest hits package unto itself. Second, the ratings here are conservative, spread out to give some guidance to the novice fan. If we were to rate these records relative to everything else being done in the 60s, virtually every disc would get four or five stars. Finally, the Beatles' rhythm section is, if anything, under-rated - brilliant singing, songwriting, and production weren't the only things the Beatles had going for them.

For information on the Beatles' post-breakup records, see our solo Beatles page.

Normally we'd provide a link or two to other sites, but there are literally tens of millions of web pages mentioning the Beatles, so why bother... (JA)

We've reviewed a few books on the Beatles on our widely-admired Book Reviews Page. (DBW)

Lineup: Oh jesus, you know this already. George Harrison (lead guitar, vocals, sitar); John Lennon (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, harmonica, some keyboards, bass); Paul McCartney (lead vocals, bass, some guitar, keyboards, drums, you name it); Ringo Starr (drums, vocals). George Martin (producer, keyboards) appears on multiple early recordings. There are plenty of imported orchestras, string quartets, horn players, Indian musicians, etc., and there are occasional guests - Eric Clapton on one great White Album track, and Billy Preston on Let It Be - but almost everything else you'll hear is the real item.

Run for your life: Cover versions of Beatles songs

Along with Bob Dylan, the Beatles are the most frequently covered 60s songwriters. Here's a list of only the cover versions that are specifically discussed on this web site:

Beatlemania: Records influenced by the Beatles

I'm often asked by Beatles fans where they should head next. Believe me, there is life after the Beatles! Here are some picks, arranged into very broad categories. (JA)

Not a second time: Plagiarism and the Beatles

In the interest of fairness to Led Zeppelin, I want to point out that Zep wasn't the only band to, um, borrow chords, melodies and lyrics from other artists. Here are the Beatles' brushes with suspicious similarity:
  • "Come Together" - the first two lines are adapted from Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me."
  • "Fixing A Hole" - Mal Evans cowrote the song with Paul, but took a one-time payment rather than a songwriting credit. Not plagiarism, because Evans was a willing party to the arrangement, but it sure is weird.
  • "Free As A Bird" - when the Threetles revived this 1977 Lennon demo in 1995, they added a middle section. Unfortunately, they added the middle section from the 1964 Shangri-Las hit "Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)."
  • "Golden Slumbers" - lyrics adapted from a 17th Century poem by Thomas Dekker.
  • "I Feel Fine" - main guitar line borrowed from Bobby Parker's "Watch Your Step."
  • "Run For Your Life" - first line comes from "Baby Let's Play House" as recorded by Elvis Presley.
  • "Something" - first line is the title of a song by then-Apple recording artist James Taylor
  • "The Inner Light" - lyrics were lifted, uncredited, from the Tao Te Ching.
And I think there was some George Harrison solo song that was similar to an early 60s girl group hit, but I can't remember the details. (Just kidding.) (DBW)

Please Please Me (1963)
- Surprisingly, about half of this is dominated by cover songs - mostly girl group, R & B, and Broadway show tunes. It all was recorded in one marathon session, and although the Beatles were up to the challenge, the material seems thin so many decades later. Nonetheless, there are some well-known rockers ("I Saw Her Standing There"; "Twist And Shout") and Lennon-McCartney pop songs (title track; "Love Me Do"; "P.S. I Love You"), five of which hit the Top Ten at once, but only after the follow-up LP hit like a tidal wave in the U.S. (JA)
- Besides "I Saw Her Standing There" I don't think any of the originals rank with Lennon-McCartney's better work, and as for the covers, well, I agree with John's 70s comment that the originals are better. The covers include mediocre tunes by several influential composers like Carole King & Gerry Goffin ("Chains") and Burt Bacharach & Hal David ("Baby It's You"). (DBW)

With The Beatles (1963)
- The breakthrough American version of this record was retitled Meet The Beatles, cut down, and then beefed up by the addition of "I Want To Hold Your Hand." The original British LP, now tranformed into the universal CD version, is surprisingly tepid. Despite one great Lennon-McCartney number ("All My Loving") and a couple of high-energy 50s rock 'n' rollers ("Roll Over Beethoven"; "Money (That's What I Want)"), it's again stuffed with lame covers of contemporary R & B songs ("Please Mister Postman"; "You Really Got A Hold On Me"). However, the band was always remarkably competent even when covering the most vapid material. (JA)
- I find this a big step up from the previous album: there are still lots of covers, but the originals are well-crafted and tuneful, with great Lennon vocals on "Not A Second Time" and "All I've Got To Do." This is probably the best document of the Beatles as high-energy, three-guitar rock and roll band. (DBW)

A Hard Day's Night (1964)
- A major improvement, thanks to more careful and sophisticated recording methods, and more thoughtful songwriting - this was the only Beatles record that consisted entirely of Lennon-McCartney tunes. Suddenly, the pathetically syrupy pop-song covers are gone, largely replaced by memorable, tightly crafted masterpieces (title track; "I Should Have Known Better"; Paul's melodramatic "And I Love Her"; the thrilling "Can't Buy Me Love"). Even the toss-off "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You," handed over to George to provide him with a lead vocal, is graced with brilliant backup vocals. The second side, thrown together at the last moment to fill out the record, does drag a bit ("When I Get Home," drab outside of its soaring refrain) - but it includes the wonderful rocker "Any Time At All" and two memorable ballads (Paul's "Thing We Said Today" and John's "I'll Be Back," both with clever ascending hooks). (JA)
- Indeed. I'm not a fan of "Any Time At All" and "When I Get Home" is possibly the worst Lennon-McCartney tune the Beatles ever recorded, but John's "You Can't Do That" is a relentless, powerful rocker. (DBW)

Beatles For Sale (1964)
- The Beatles stumbled here despite some experimentation with recording effects and instrumentation, having failed to come up with more than a handful of solid songs by Christmas of 1964 - a de facto deadline imposed by commercial considerations (see title). John did contribute one brilliant, remarkably introspective number ("I'm A Loser"), but the other solid material broke little new ground ("Eight Days A Week"; "What You're Doing"). In desperation, the band fell back on cover versions of 50s rock standards by Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, and Chuck Berry, the most memorable being the latter's frantic "Rock And Roll Music." None of this could salvage the record, however, and some of the tracks ended up being among the most widely disliked by Beatles fans ("Mr. Moonlight"). (JA)
- It's well-performed ("Words of Love") but the covers are redundant and the originals are mostly lackluster ("What You're Doing"). "I'll Follow The Sun" is a pretty ballad Paul had written years before but revived for this project as a last resort. (DBW)

Help! (1965)
- Like almost everything that the Beatles did from this record on, it's not merely good, but groundbreaking. The harmonies are superb ("Tell Me What You See"), the hits are unforgettable (title track; "Ticket To Ride"), John's lyrics are advancing rapidly ("You've Got To Hide Your Love Away"; "It's Only Love"), and Paul contributes a frighteningly modern-sounding semi-acoustic number ("I've Just Seen A Face") and a startling, wildly successful experiment dispensing with the normal four-piece rock band backing track in favor of a string quartet (the widely imitated and covered "Yesterday"). There are a few weak numbers, but they're harmless (the superfluous country number "Act Naturally," an excuse to spotlight Ringo; the rocking cover of "Dizzy Miss Lizzy"). (JA)
- "Miss Lizzy" is one of their best covers, actually. And George is starting to contribute quality compositions ("I Need You"). There's also a great guitar solo by Paul on "Another Girl." (DBW)

Rubber Soul (1965)
- The best 60s rock album produced up to this point, which is saying a lot - there was in fact some stiff competition (e.g., The Beach Boys Today). Although the Beatles were still often sticking to their tried-and-true love song format (the cutesy "Drive My Car"; Paul's "You Won't See Me" and "Michelle"), John is experimenting with anthems ("The Word," which summarizes the whole flower power movement two years before it even happened), as well as highly personal, almost diary-like sketches that rank among his most popular work ("Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," the first prominent rock record to feature a sitar; the devastating "In My Life"). It's all solid; even John's insecurely misogynistic "Run For Your Life" features a great vocal. The simultaneously released single ("We Can Work It Out"/"Day Tripper") was arguably their best to date. (JA)
- This record is a blast. George throws in clever lyrics of his own on "If I Needed Someone," and rocks out on "Think For Yourself," with Paul on fuzz bass. I could make an argument that More Hits by the Supremes, for example, is a stronger album, but what the hell. (DBW)

Revolver (1966)
- Another complete breakthrough by the Beatles - earlier advances were steady and significant but predictable, paralleled by those of other artists like Dylan and the Beach Boys. Revolver isn't as carefully crafted and relentlessly tuneful as Pet Sounds, but it's even more important, pushing the sonic boundaries of rock farther than any other LP in history. The Beatles combine startling studio wizardry ("Tomorrow Never Knows") with inventive lyrical themes (John's "I'm Only Sleeping" and "She Said She Said") and unusual instrumentation (George's "Love You Too" - which kicked open rock's door to Eastern music). Paul is in top form ("Eleanor Rigby"; the brassy "Got To Get You Into My Life"), George contributes the fantastically funky and ominous "Taxman," and, of course, there's everyone's all-time favorite sing-along novelty tune - "Yellow Submarine." The single that immediately preceded Revolver ("Paperback Writer"/"Rain") ranks with anything the Beatles ever did. (JA)
- Sure, this is a classic, but there are plenty of weak moments. John's drug consumption produces mixed results: "Tomorrow Never Knows" is weird all right, but it's not exactly great entertainment. "Love You To" is the first but not the best of George's Indian compositions, while "Doctor Robert" and "And Your Bird Can Sing" are unimaginative filler. Meanwhile, Paul's "For No One" is brilliant songwriting, minimally produced. (DBW)

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
- The most famous rock record in history, and it deserves most of the acclaim. What seems to have been forgotten in all the hoopla is that the songs mostly just expand and consolidate earlier innovations that were played out on Revolver - showcases of complex orchestration ("A Day In The Life"), abrasive, slice-of-life rockers ("Good Morning Good Morning"), giddy 60s anthems ("It's Getting Better"), bizarre studio experiments ("Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite"), George's Indian-influenced pearls of wisdom ("Within You Without You"), and especially the lush psychedelia that John had mastered ("Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds"). Even "She's Leaving Home" is a bathetic rip-off of the more sincere "Eleanor Rigby," and the title track's booming, unstoppable herd- of-elephants sound is mirrored by "Taxman." Say what you might, though, the record did blow open the 60s like a double-strength hit of Purple Haze. (JA)
- There are a few significant things about this album that Alroy hasn't mentioned. It is the first Beatles album conceived as an album, not just a bunch of songs (their first released identically in the US and the UK), and the first rock album where the songs blend into each other with no breaks. Also, while it's not true that there are no love songs here ("Lovely Rita" and "Getting Better" both have romantic aspects) it's lyrically far removed from the boy-girl topics that dominated the Beatles output through Revolver. And Revolver's experimentalism produces consistently musical results here -- in my book that's a major advance. (DBW)

Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
- The Beatles' relentless musical tour ran in place this time. It took them several months more to realize that their carefully crafted fusion of Dylanesque lyrics and Brian Wilson-esque production values was a dead end, and, instead, to move in a million directions at once on their next album. However, they managed to toss off a superb collection of songs while jogging on their treadmill (title track, modelled on its Sgt. Pepper's counterpart; "I Am The Walrus," another elaborately tripped-out Lennon tune). Paul dominates a bit too much, with some of his upbeat pop numbers wearing thin ("Your Mother Should Know"), but others being marvelous ("Hello Goodbye"). Half the record is a newly-recorded double EP, and the other half is singles from the previous 12 months, including some truly classic hits: John's extraordinary acid-rock production "Strawberry Fields Forever," which almost topped the Beach Boys' contemporary "Good Vibrations"; Paul's marvelous, cleverly orchestrated "Penny Lane"; and irresistable, perfectly timed Summer of Love anthem "All You Need Is Love." (JA)
- Let me get this straight: Alroy's arguing that this is more essential than the White Album? It's a collection of single sides (two of which, "Baby You're A Rich Man" and "Hello Goodbye," are far from the Beatles' best work) and failed experiments (Harrison's "Blue Jay Way," the Mellotron mess "Flying"). (DBW)
That's what I'm saying. "Flying" is far more enjoyable than White Album experiments like "Revolution #9" - and the other three "bad" tracks are better than the abundant second-rate material on that record ("Happiness Is A Warm Gun"; "Goodnight"; "Wild Honey Pie"; etc., etc.) or even on Sgt. Pepper's ("Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite"; "She's Leaving Home"). (JA)

The Beatles (a.k.a. "The White Album": 1968)
- Brilliant and amazingly eclectic, but long-winded. You know a record's good when Eric Clapton drops by to deliver a blistering guitar solo ("While My Guitar Gently Weeps") and it's not the only high point of the record - there are many of them, including kick-ass rockers ("Birthday"; "Helter Skelter"), harmonic experiments that put the Byrds to shame ("Dear Prudence"), simple but unforgettable ballads ("Blackbird"; "Julia"), pure, crafted pop songs ("Martha My Dear"), a wild, lengthy sound collage ("Revolution #9"), and then all the clever rip-offs - blues ("Yer Blues"), country-western ("Rocky Racoon"), 20's jazz ("Honey Pie"), the Beach Boys ("Back In The U.S.S.R."), MGM movie soundtracks ("Goodnight"), even the Beatles themselves ("Glass Onion"). Still, there are way too many toss-offs and misfires. (JA)
- George has four songs here, and he's rapidly nearing his peak as a songwriter, with the horn-powered rocker "Savoy Truffle," a mellow number in the style that would dominate his 70s work ("Long Long Long"), and of course "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." The experimentalism gets way out of control, and the fragmentation of the group adds to the confusion. The hilarious "Back In The U.S.S.R." parodies not only the Beach Boys but also Chuck Berry ("Back in the U.S.A.") and Ray Charles ("Georgia On My Mind"). (DBW)

Yellow Submarine (1969)
- A major ripoff. Only six Beatles tracks, two of them are recycled from earlier records (title track; "All You Need Is Love"), and the entire second side consists of assorted George Martin elevator music instead of the pile of additional tunes that appear in the film. And the four new songs, mostly from early 1967, are of variable quality. The child-like, acoustic "All Together Now" and raucous early 1968 heavy rocker "Hey Bulldog" are amusing but silly knock-offs, and Harrison's two tracks are fascinating and clearly serious efforts ("Only A Northern Song," which almost made it on to Sgt. Pepper's; "It's All Too Much"), but weighed down by layers of freaked-out instrumentation. (JA)
- Bleah. (DBW)

Abbey Road (1969)
- Buy this, now. The first use of synthesizers on a rock record that made any musical sense (in contrast, see the Notorious Byrds Brothers), but that's hardly the reason this record burns itself into your soul. It's simply brilliant, from start to finish. If you haven't heard gems like "Here Comes The Sun," "Something" (both by Harrison!), Lennon's devastating "Come Together" and dreamy, harmonious "Because," and McCartney's infamous "pop symphony," which dominates side 2, you haven't lived. (JA)
- Not a lot of innovation from a recording standpoint (although they do throw in a white noise generator on "I Want You (She's So Heavy)"), but conceptually and production-wise it's their finest work. Harrison's two finest compositions are both here, as is Ringo's ("Octopus's Garden"), and although Lennon's compositions are far from his best there's pretty damn good anyway ("Come Together," "Because"). Paul doesn't contribute any of his immortal ballads, but his impeccable musicianship is on display throughout (soul vocals on "Oh! Darling," bass on "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window," the multi-part "You Never Give Me Your Money"), not to mention his sense of humor ("Maxwell's Silver Hammer," "Her Majesty"). (DBW)

Let It Be (1970)
- Be wary. An album to be entitled Get Back was recorded months before Abbey Road as an experiment in filming the band "live in the studio," and then allowed to languish when no one could agree on a finished product. A year later, with the film's release date nearing and the title now changed to Let It Be, the already-disbanded Beatles talked producer Phil Spector into cobbling together a "soundtrack." Spector, who had never worked with the band before, proceeded to butcher several songs by plastering on a full orchestra and a nauseating female chorus (Paul's formulaic ballads "The Long And Winding Road" and the title track, a rehash of "Hey Jude"; George's mournful, waltzing "I Me Mine"; John's leftover psychedelic anthem "Across The Universe"). The unmutilated selections are either trivial toss-offs (their resurrected early 60s rockabilly number "One After 909"), pleasant but unremarkable pop songs ("Two Of Us"; "Dig A Pony"; Paul's Aretha Franklin-like "I've Got A Feeling"; "For You Blue"), or slightly different versions of songs that you can get on Past Masters Vol. 2 ("Get Back" and its B-side "Don't Let Me Down," which isn't on the album; title track; "Across The Universe"). Billy Preston contributes keyboards throughout, but it hardly helps. (JA)
- No wonder they couldn't agree on a version they liked. The only major compositions are Paul's gentle "Two Of Us" and the title track, the band sounds bored with itself, and Spector's production redefines "heavy-handed." Un-Spectored versions of most of the tracks surfaced on Anthology 3 in 1996, but in 2003 the two surviving Beatles went to the well one more time, issuing the new, remixed, un-overdubbed Let It Be... Naked. There's not much to recommend that release if you already have the other stuff; Preston is mixed louder, but his organ often doesn't suit the mood. Naked does include a version of "Don't Let Me Down," which should have been on the album in the first place, and gets rid of all the studio chatter meant to fool you into thinking the tunes were performed live. (DBW)

Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl (recorded 1964, released 1977)
Spare yourself. George Martin does his best to repair the sound of this early concert, but there's no use: the performances are lousy - the band couldn't hear themselves play over their screaming fans, and you will hardly be able to hear them either. (DBW)
I've heard this too, and although it's terribly recorded and minimally performed, it has some historical interest for those exact reasons - no other band created such fan hysteria with so little effort. (JA)

Past Masters Vol. I (recorded 1962-1965, released 1990)
- Excellent collection of all the non-LP material from the first years - listen to their unparalleled artistic development unfolding. Even the obscure covers are wonderfully exciting ("Slow Down"). (DBW)
- Development is the key word here. Sure, it's a fascinating historical document and a must for collectors, but the Beatles started out a long way from where they ended up, and they hadn't quite peaked at the point where this collection stops. The good things about it are completeness - with the following CD it collects all the band's official non-album releases - and thoughtful presentation, with useful liner notes and a track listing that carefully follows the historical order of release. Such remarkably considerate treatment is a rarity in the music industry. (JA)

Past Masters Vol. II (recorded 1965-1969, released 1990)
- Also essential; collects the rest of their non-LP material, although one wishes they'd thrown the four new tracks from Yellow Submarine on as well. Why don't the Stones have a collection like this? (DBW)
- Because Decca/London is even more crass and clueless than Capitol/EMI. This collection is good, but hardly essential. Sure, much of it is unsurpassed - the psychedelic fusion of Motown and the Yardbirds represented by "Rain" was an absolute breakthrough, and "Hey Jude" is arguably the biggest song of the entire 60s. But you can say similar things about a lot of stuff the Beatles did, and the disk is weighed down by relatively poor material like George's tuneful but lightweight "The Inner Light," with ripped-off poetic lyrics and Indian session players handling all the instruments; John's incoherently diary-like "The Ballad Of John And Yoko"; and the crudely recorded Get Back-era singles, including the group's silly multi-part experiment "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)." (JA)

Beatles Live At The BBC (recorded 1962-1965, released 1994)
A few nice surprises here ("Soldier Of Love," "Some Other Guy," the Lennon-McCartney original "I'll Be On My Way"), but it's not exactly the kind of album you'll listen to over and over again. (DBW)
I've heard many of these tracks. The "new" ones are indeed weak, and the knockoffs of more familiar songs closely follow the original arrangements, but I figure the collection must be harmless good fun. My only gripe is that despite the pages of liner notes and precise recording dates, the track listing is in a seemingly chaotic order, making it hard to make sense of the the Beatles' warp-speed musical progression during this early era. Presumably, though, this is a reasonable alternative to dragging out your early Beatles LP's for the ten millionth time. (JA)

Anthology Vol. 1 (1995)
Two discs of early recordings, outtakes and live performances. Besides the obvious historic interest, there's not much to recommend the collection: the unreleased songs aren't very good (besides their rockin' cover of "Leave My Kitten Alone") and the outtakes are without exception inferior to their released cousins. The one "new" song (the three living Beatles completed a 1977 Lennon demo) "Free As A Bird" is fluff, and there are so many backing vocals and guitars piled on top of Lennon's voice you can hardly hear him. You either ran out and bought this the day it came out, or you don't need it at all. (DBW)

Anthology Vol. 2 (1996)
More of the same in the followup to the multiplatinum Vol. I. This covers outtakes, alternate takes and live performances from 1965 to early 1968, with one "new" song: "Real Love," like "Free As A Bird" a Lennon demo with loads of acoustic guitars and backing vocals piled on to cover the thinness of the original performance. "Real Love" is a more substantial tune than "Free As," but it's not something Lennon was considering for release on either Double Fantasy or Milk and Honey... it has a Beatles sound to it, but it's not a classic or anything. There are a couple of fun outtakes ("That Means A Lot" is a decent tune, although the performance is weak and buried in echo), but the live tracks sound terrible, and many of the alternate takes are Frankenstein's monsters, assembled from several different uncompleted masters - the same way Alan Douglas worked on Jimi Hendrix' posthumous releases. Personally I would've rather had more really new material, like the entire track of "12 Bar Original" instead of a three-minute snippet. Once again, fun for the band's millions of fans, but not recommended unless you already have all the original albums. (DBW)

Anthology Vol. 3 (1996)
Third and last in this series of collectors' albums, it's easily the best: there are no poor-quality live tracks, almost no redundant alternate takes, and only a few inconsequential demos (mostly from the White Album period). There's no newly recorded reunion track here, but there are plenty of intriguing alternate versions (the Spector-free "Long And Winding Road," a hilarious take of "Rocky Raccoon," a lovely acoustic version of "While My Guitar"), and a few unreleased songs: John's "What's The New Mary Jane" is experimental and outlandish, but far more listenable than "Revolution #9," George's "Not Guilty" is a fine heavy rocker, Paul's improvised toss-off "Los Paranoias." There are also some nice surprises: Paul's demo of "Come And Get It" is release quality, his brief take on "Step Inside Love" (which he wrote for Cilla Black) makes you wish he'd done a proper version himself, John makes sarcastic off-mike comments throughout, and the band's stripped-down rehearsal of "Hey Jude" with heavy Ringo drumming, beats the released version all to hell. If you're a fan wondering whether these Anthology jammies are worth your money, start with this one. (DBW)

Get back.

 Main page 

 New additions 

 Pop: 00s  90s 80s 70s 60s 50s


 Top 20: DBW JA