Category Archives: Music

311 – 148 Beatles’ Albums Ranked

The Beatles, together, solo or with other collaborators, have released 148 albums between 1963 and 2017, averaging almost three per year. Here I rank them all, as well as providing some brief background about each album and a score from 1 to 10.

Of the 55 years since The Beatles’ first album, there have only been two years when there was no new Beatles or solo album released: 1985 and 2016. The quality of their first decade of releases was extraordinary; four of their albums (all between 1966 and 1969) are regularly rated amongst the best 10 or so albums of all time. The quality range for their work outside The Beatles is much greater. A few of their solo albums rank with their 1960s work, but most don’t.

I’ve given each album a score on this scale: 1 Excruciating; 2 Extremely bad; 3 Very poor; 4 Poor; 5 Fair; 6 Good; 7 Very good; 8 Excellent; 9 Exceptional; 10 Indispensable (among the best albums of all time). Interestingly, there are examples of each of the possible scores (from 1 to 10) among the albums. Assignment of these scores to the albums is, of course, completely subjective.

I have not included compilations, remixed albums or re-issues as separate albums. I have included major box-set reissues that include CDs of previously unreleased material. The rankings and ratings provided for these are for the bonus material rather than the original albums, which are ranked separately. I have not included any of the early Beatles albums released in the US (from Meet The Beatles through to Revolver (US version)), as they were just messed up versions of the far-superior British albums and are best forgotten.

To access a copy of the list formatted for printing, click here.

1. The Beatles (commonly known as the White Album) by The Beatles, 22 November 1968. Incredibly eclectic double album of incredible songs. They were composing great songs at a speed that is hard to believe. Most of them were written during a meditation course in India in March/April 1968. So many highlights, and only a couple of duds; they’re forgivable given all the riches provided here. Their producer, George Martin, wanted to trim it down to a single album of the best songs, but there are far too many wonderful tracks here for that. The album illustrates the way the Beatles avoided standing still creatively. They stepped back from their trend over 1966-1967 of increasingly elaborate and complex arrangements for a more direct and simple approach, as reflected in the audacious record sleeve. The album also reflects the growing fragmentation of the group after 10 years of extreme closeness. John, Paul and George each focused on recording their own songs, sometimes in different studios at the same time. Score 10.

2. Abbey Road by The Beatles, 26 September 1969. Sounds forever contemporary. After the unhappy experience of recording Let It Be, the Beatles decided to return to something more like their previous approach, using the studio to its utmost, and working as a unified band. The result, if not their best, is very close to it. Perhaps their most consistently brilliant album. Highlights include “Something” and the long medley on side 2, but it is all outstanding. It was their first use on record of a synthesiser, and they demonstrate remarkable restraint and good taste in how they use it. Then, having competed recording the album, at their absolute peak, they broke up. Score 10.

3. Revolver by The Beatles, 5 August 1966. An extraordinary step forward in creativity and originality. The album where they really started to innovate in the studio. Modern artists are still reaping the benefits. Paul’s very best collection of songs on a Beatles album, with three songs of unrivalled genius. John’s “Tomorrow Never Knows” is utterly extraordinary. George also contributes his first great song, “Taxman”, which includes the most blistering guitar solo on any Beatles song, played by Paul! Score 10. These days it seems common to declare that this is one’s favourite Beatles album. Previously it was Sgt. Pepper. They are both incredible albums, but in my view neither is as good as their later albums released in 1968 and 1969.

4. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles, 1 June 1967. Consolidates the recording innovations of Revolver and goes miles further again. An all-out attempt to maximise the innovation – it seemed like they could do absolutely anything – culminating in the spine chiller “A Day in the Life”. It’s hard to believe they did all this on a recorder with only four tracks. Fantastic sleeve art. First album to include the song lyrics on the sleeve. Had a massive impact at the time and has had an ongoing influence ever since, being voted the best album of all times in a number of major polls. Score 10.

5. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band by John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, 11 December 1970. The best Beatles solo album. Perhaps the most relentlessly personal album ever released. John was a damaged individual, resulting from being neglected and abandoned by both of his parents. In this album he unloads his childhood demons, and reflects on his life, his loves, and his current situation. Titles like “Mother”, “Hold on John”, “Isolation” and “I Found Out” give you the flavour. It’s compelling and extremely moving. Following the last two songs, “God” (chills) and “My Mummy’s Dead” (tears) it is pretty well impossible to play anything else for a while until you recover. An absolutely astonishing and unique record. Score 10. The two bonus tracks on some later versions of the album are jarringly out of place and should be skipped or deleted.

6. Rubber Soul by The Beatles, 3 December 1965. A huge step forward in use of the recording studio as an instrument. One of their most consistent albums in terms of quality. John particularly shines, with several highly personal and reflective songs, particularly “In My Life”, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” and “Nowhere Man”. Continuing prominence of acoustic guitars (a trend that started on Help! under the influence of Bob Dylan), and they start to bring in different instruments (sitar) and experiment with sounds. Dylan was also an influence on their lyrics, which were now moving miles beyond the simple love songs of their early songs. In a spirit of creative competition, this album inspired Brian Wilson to create Pet Sounds. Continuing Score 10.

7. Past Masters, Volume Two by The Beatles, 7 March 1988. Collects later single A and B sides. Mark Lewisohn, the best Beatles biographer, thinks this is their best album, and it’s a perfectly reasonable position to hold. As well as the most famous singles (“Hey Jude”, “Let It Be”, etc.) it includes fabulous B sides like “Rain”, “Revolution” and “Don’t Let Me Down”, which were better than everybody else’s A sides.  (For Past Masters, Volume One and Past Masters, Volume Two I’m violating my rule of excluding compilations, because they collate tracks that are not included on any of the original albums.) Score 10.

8. Imagine by John Lennon, 9 September 1971. Consistently brilliant, with his best post-Beatles song writing. The first three songs (“Imagine”, Crippled Inside” and “Jealous Guy”) are as good an opening as on any Beatles-related album. John never released anything close to this good again. The only cloud is “How Do You Sleep?” which is such an incredibly bitter, unreasonable and unkind song, directed at Paul. It’s a fantastic song, but a despicable act, which goes miles beyond Paul’s mild prodding of John on Ram. Score 10.

9. Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles, 27 November 1967. This was the Beatles at their peak of creativity and it includes three of the best songs ever released by anyone — “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Penny Lane” and “I Am The Walrus” — which are enough on their own for my rating of 10. The album was collated by their US label Capitol from the British double e.p. of Magical Mystery Tour and three singles, but it worked so brilliantly that it was eventually released worldwide. Capitol meddled a lot with the Beatles’ releases, and this was the only time it had a positive result. Score 10.

10. A Hard Day’s Night by The Beatles, 10 July 1964. The best from their first phase, this is the soundtrack from their first and best movie. It is the only Beatles album consisting solely of Lennon and McCartney songs, and the only one where the song writing was dominated by Lennon. Despite their incredible workload, the tight film-production deadline, and the pressure of following up their initial stellar success in the US, they pulled this off with apparent ease. It is consistently brilliant throughout – many of the album tracks could easily have been huge hit singles. Score 10.

11. Past Masters, Volume One by The Beatles, 7 March 1988. Collects early single A and B sides and an e.p. that were not on the main albums. What an incredible collection. Includes their classic early singles such as “She Loves You”, “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, and “I Feel Fine”, plus fabulous B sides like “I’ll Get You”, “This Boy”, “She’s a Woman” and “I’m Down”. Other acts could only dream of having so many great tracks that they could ‘waste’ songs this good as B sides. Score 10.

 

12. Band on the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings, 5 December 1973. Paul’s most critically acclaimed solo (or at least post-Beatles) album, pulled out of the fire in difficult recording circumstances in Nigeria. (Two band members left just as they were leaving for Nigeria. Paul and Linda got mugged in Lagos and the demo tapes of all the songs were stolen. Local musicians accused them of stealing Nigerian culture, although there is nothing remotely African-sounding on the album.) It has lots of great songs, especially the title track. It has wonderful consistency of quality from start to finish. Score 10.

13. Please Please Me by The Beatles, 22 March 1963. Their first album bursts with youth, energy and great songs. Seems incredible that they could record 10 of these songs in one day, and do it so brilliantly with so little previous studio experience. The fact that George Martin proposed that they make this album at a point where they had only had one moderately successful single is itself remarkable – even successful pop bands in England at the time were usually only allowed to release singles. George’s hopes were realised when the album spent seven months at number 1 in the UK. Score 10.

14. With The Beatles by The Beatles, 22 November 1963. The same energy as Please Please Me and more great songs, both Lennon-McCartney originals and some of their best covers. Showing (even) more confidence in the studio. Bracket this with contemporary singles “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and you have the height of Beatlemania in Britain. When you look at their work schedule for 1963, it is almost unbelievable that they had time to write and record this album. It replaced Please Please Me at number 1 in the UK and stayed there for another five months. The cover photo is terrific. (The Australian release used a much inferior cover design.) Score 10.

15. Ram by Paul and Linda McCartney, 17 May 1971. Despite the artist credit, it’s obviously at least 99% Paul. Ram is a fantastic collection of pop/rock songs, including gems like “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”, “Heart of the Country” and “Eat at Home”. It was under-appreciated when it came out, but now it is recognised as one of the best Beatles-related albums. Paul’s singing on it is fantastic and I love the production – it really sparkles. The opening track “Too Many People” was the start of a highly ill-judged public spat between Paul and John, played out on songs from this era. Score 10.

16. Help! by The Beatles, 6 August 1965. The time pressures were very slightly eased, and they came back from the disappointment of Beatles For Sale with another collection of fabulous songs, with only two covers (the last they ever recorded, apart from the fragment of “Maggie Mae” on Let It Be). Includes the most covered song in history, “Yesterday”, and two other number 1’s, “Help” and “Ticket to Ride”. This was also the beginning of them doing more in the studio than just banging out songs more-or-less live. More acoustic guitar than previously, to great effect on songs like “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” and “It’s Only Love”. Score 10.

17. Live at the BBC by The Beatles, 30 November 1994. So many fantastic performances of early Beatles classics, plus a whole raft of songs that were otherwise unreleased on official albums. Some of these are better than many of the things they did release officially, especially “Soldier of Love” and “Some Other Guy”. There were also three more BBC tracks on the “Baby It’s You” CD single. “Soldier of Love” was in contention to be released as the single. It’s a shame they didn’t release it, as it’s a better song, I reckon. Score 9. Close to being a 10. This was the start of a boom in new releases of Beatles’ archive material.

18. All Things Must Pass by George Harrison, 27 November 1970. Includes a huge backlog of fantastic songs that George hadn’t been able to get onto a Beatles album. Songs like “My Sweet Lord”, “What is Life”, “Isn’t it a Pity” and “Apple Scruffs” make it a classic. Unfortunately, it was a one-off. George was never able to bring so many great songs to an album again. Score 9. The accompanying bonus album of studio jams called Apple Jam is really boring (scores 3) but is easily ignored. There are also five nice bonus tracks on the 2001 CD re-issue.

19. Let It Be by The Beatles, 8 May 1070. For the Beatles themselves, this was the least enjoyable of their records to make. The tensions that emerged are apparent in the Let It Be film. The album includes several classics, mostly by Paul, but also two or three of their weaker songs, mostly by John, who was having a dry patch following the fecundity of the White Album. It’s understandable, as  recording of Let It Be started only two months after the completion of the White Album. John’s only really great song on Let It Be (“Across the Universe”) was actually recorded two years before the rest of the album, at a time when he was bursting with great songs. Another of his compositions from this album, “One after 909”, was written in 1960! Score 9.

20. Ringo by Ringo Starr, 9 November 1973. This has excellent contributions (songs and playing) from the other three Beatles. It’s a brilliant album – great songs and really well produced. One of the best of all the Beatles solo albums. And who would have thought that Ringo would have two #1 solo hits in the US, “Photograph” and “You’re Sixteen”. My favourites are “I’m the Greatest” (written by John) and “You and Me (Babe)” (written by George and the Beatles’ former personal assistant Mal Evans). Score 9.

21. Anthology 2 by The Beatles, 18 March 1996. After resisting pressure to put out unreleased Beatles material for decades, they went to town with three fantastic Anthology double albums. This one includes the best unreleased songs, and the most interesting alternative versions. Contains new original song, “Real Love”, recorded by The Threetles (Paul, George and Ringo) over the top of a mid-1970s demo by John. Other highlights are take 1 of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and the original version of “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Score 9.

22. Tug of War by Paul McCartney, 26 April 1982. Consistently excellent album – one of his very best, with highlights like “Ballroom dancing”, “Here Today” and the title track. Perhaps he was motivated by John’s death to release a great record. According to my scores, it’s the only Beatles solo album to score 9 in the 30-year stretch from 1973 (Band on the Run) to 2003 (Ringo Rama). Score 9.

 

23. Ringo Rama by Ringo Starr, 25 March 2003. Out of the blue comes the best Beatles solo album for more than 20 years. I think it’s close to being his best album, and it is one of the best solo albums by any of the Beatles. Deserved to sell millions, but didn’t. If it had been released in, say, 1972, when The Beatles were still masters of the universe, it would be recognised as a classic. Guest artists appearing on this one include Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton and Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd. Score 9.

24. New by Paul McCartney, 14 October 2013. Paul’s best album since 1982. Over that 31-year time frame, this is one of only two solo albums that I’ve given a score of 9, the other being Ringo Rama from 2003. He used four fairly young producers to give the album a modern sound, and for me it really works. I love the sound of it, and the songs and arrangements are great. The cover is pretty neat too. Score 9.

 

25. Love by The Beatles, 20 November 2006. Beatles songs, radically remixed and recombined (‘mashed up’), with the Beatles’ approval, to create new-sounding songs. This was done by George Martin’s son, Giles, who has since been the main producer working on all Beatles’ music projects. It’s excellent, and a couple of these tracks are absolutely priceless: the orchestrated acoustic version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (arranged by George Martin) and the mash up of “Tomorrow Never Knows” with “Within You Without You”. There are also two bonus tracks available only on iTunes. Score 9.

26. Anthology 1 by The Beatles, 20 November 1995. The wealth of new versions and even unreleased songs on the Anthology albums was overwhelming. This one includes gems such as the very first recordings of The Quarrymen (John’s high-school band) and most of the Royal Variety Performance from 1963. It also includes their first new original song since 1970, “Free as a Bird”, created by Paul, George and Ringo (The Threetles) playing over John’s demo recording and composing some extra bits. Score 9.

27. Let It Be … Naked by The Beatles, 17 November 2003. Nice new mixes of the Let It Be songs, shorn of their orchestral backing, and including different takes of “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road”. I welcome the inclusion of “Don’t Let Me Down” and the exclusion of the two short songs “Dig It” and “Maggie Mae”. But to be honest, if you have Let It Be, you don’t really need this. The bonus disk provides 22 minutes of song and conversation snippets from rehearsals and sessions for the album. It includes a couple of songs they wrote in the 1950s which are otherwise unreleased. Score 9.

28. Walls and Bridges by John Lennon, 26 September 1974. John’s last completely solo album of original songs – the remaining ones were either not original (Rock ‘n’ Roll) or not solo (Double Fantasy). Thankfully Walls and Bridges is a really good album. He was separated from Yoko, which may have helped. Highlights include “#9 Dream”, “Bless You” and “Scared”. I think those are almost his last great original songs – one more was released posthumously. This album includes his only US #1 single while he was alive, “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night”. (Oddly, the single of “Imagine” had only made it to #3.) John bet with Elton John that “Whatever …” would not make it to #1, and I would have made that bet too because it is nowhere near being one of his best songs, or even one of the better songs on this album. Score 8.

29. Back to the Egg by Wings, 24 May 1979. My second-favourite Wings album, although it included no hit singles and is probably their lowest selling record. It has more edge than any other McCartney post-Beatles album, possibly influenced by punk and new wave. This was the last Wings album. Several factors, including Paul’s arrest in Japan for drug possession, contributed to his decision to go solo after this. Score 8.

 

30.  At the Hollywood Bowl by The Beatles, 4 May 1977. It is magic to hear a fairly well-recorded live album from the height of their US success. The tracks are drawn from two concerts, in 1964 and 1965. They could still play, despite the mania and chaos that surrounded their concerts and the terrible sound systems. The mix is imperfect because of the limitations of the original recording, which was on only three tracks, but it is still thrilling to hear. This album was unavailable for decades until 9 Sept 2016, when it was finally re-issued on CD with a different cover, a different album title (Live At the Hollywood Bowl), an improved mix and four bonus tracks. The re-release was timed to coincide with a new film, the excellent documentary Eight Days A Week, about their touring years. Score 8.

31. Venus and Mars by Wings, 27 May 1975. A great album with wonderful songs and production. The #1 hit was “Listen to What the Man Said”, but it’s consistently good throughout. Great cover too. This was from the era when packaging was getting really elaborate, with bonus posters and stickers thrown in. This album marked the start of Wings’ commercial peak. They started their only world tour to promote this album (I saw them in Perth), continuing right through beyond the next album, Wings At the Speed of Sound. Score 8.

32. Chaos and Creation in the Backyard by Paul McCartney, 13 September 2005. An excellent late-period solo album. Unusually, Paul did not produce or co-produce the album, but instead handed those duties over to Radiohead’s producer, Nigel Godrich, who seems to have improved Paul’s quality control. Paul did, however, play most instruments on the album, like an impure version of the completely solo albums McCartney (1970) and McCartney II (1980), though this one is significantly better than those two. There were seven single B sides or bonus tracks on particular versions of the album. I love the cover – a 1960 photo of Paul taken by his brother Mike, in the back yard of their Liverpool house (which I’ve visited). 8.

33. Living in the Material World  by George Harrison, 30 May 1973. George continues to shine, post Beatles. Great album, including “Give Me Love” (a US #1 hit) and “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long”. In my view this is his second-best solo album. To my ears it has a much better sound than All Things Must Pass, which suffers from being buried under Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’ approach on some songs. George’s interest in Hinduism is still quite prominent on this album, but the songs are good enough that it doesn’t detract much. Score 8.

34. 33 1/3 by George Harrison, 19 November 1976. A consistently excellent collection of songs, nicely produced and recorded at George’s home studio. George’s last hit album for over a decade. Includes “This Song” and “Crackerbox Palace”, both of which had great videos, produced by Eric Idle from Monty Python, before pop videos were all that common. “This Song” was about the plagiarism case against “My Sweet Lord” which George lost just before starting work on this album. I didn’t quite manage to rank it at number 33, but close! Score 8.

35. Beatles For Sale by The Beatles, 4 December 1964. The only time in their career that their incredibly punishing workload affected the quality of their recorded output. Given the lack of time to write original songs, they had to go back to including six covers (unlike A Hard Day’s Night) and none of the 8 original songs included would make it into my list of their best 100 songs. Beatles for Sale was the only Beatles album that didn’t involve a significant development from the previous album. If anything it was a step backwards, more rooted in the 1950s than any of their other albums. Although the music was disappointing by their own exceptional standards, I really love the cover photo. (On the original Australian release they dropped this for a really tasteless design.) Score 8.

36. On Air: Live At The BBC, Volume 2 by The Beatles, 11 November 2013. Another huge collection of great performances from BBC radio, all from 1963 and 1964. 12 of these songs were included in different versions on Live at the BBC. Most of the rest are new versions of well-known Beatles songs. The only previously unreleased songs are “Beautiful Dreamer” and “I’m Talking About You”. “Lend Me Your Comb” has a strange history. It was omitted from Live At The BBC (probably by mistake), but was mopped up on Anthology 1. Clearly it belongs on a BBC album, so its inclusion here is appropriate. Score 8.

37. Rock ‘n’ Roll by John Lennon, 17 February 1975. Excellent album of old rock ‘n’ roll covers. Highlights include “Stand by me” and “Slipping and sliding”. This album’s existence was due to a court case claiming that “Come Together” was too similar to a Chuck Berry song, “You Can’t Catch Me”. As part of the settlement, John agreed to record several songs published by Chuck Berry’s publisher. But then the recording process was fraught, with co-producer Phil Spector kidnapping the master tapes from the first lot of sessions. John put the project on ice while he went and did Walls and Bridges, but then came back and finished it without Spector. Then Spector released a version of the album based on the original tapes, before John could get his version out. Given all that, the album worked out remarkably well. The cover is fantastic – a beautiful shot of John as a 20-year-old in Hamburg. Score 8.

38. Driving Rain by Paul McCartney, 12 November 2001. One of my favourite Paul solo albums, even though it is one of his lowest-selling ones. It was recorded very quickly and has a distinctive feel – a bit rawer than most of his albums, and it works well. Many of the songs were written about or for his new partner Heather Mills, although that relationship soon fell apart quite spectacularly. Score 8.

 

39. Anthology 3 by The Beatles, 28 October 1996. Another huge stash of previously unreleased material. Not quite up to the quality or interest of the other two Anthology sets, but still excellent. The acoustic demos for the White Album are terrific, as are Paul’s versions of a couple of great songs he gave away: “Step Inside Love” (given to Cilla Black) and “Come And Get It” (given to Badfinger). The tracks from Let It Be are shorn of their orchestration, similar to how they would later appear on Let It Be … Naked. Score 8.

40. Wings Over America by Wings, 10 December 1976. The first of Paul’s many live albums. Not as well recorded as some later ones, and some of Paul’s later backing bands were more polished, but this album captures the excitement of Paul’s first big tour since 1966. This came out at the commercial peak of Wings, and it became one of the very few triple albums to make #1 in the US. (All Things Must Pass was another one.) The versions of “Call me back again” and “Maybe I’m amazed” on here are stunning. I saw this version of Wings in Perth in 1975. Score 8.

41. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Deluxe Edition) by The Beatles, 26 May 2017. Fifty years after its initial release, one of The Beatles’ albums finally gets the deluxe-box-set treatment with lots of bonus tracks from the recording sessions. This was the first time one of their original albums had been remixed in a modern style. Includes two CDs with 33 takes from the recording sessions, 28 of which had never been officially released before. Then there is the mono album, which matters because it is the only version The Beatles themselves were involved in mixing. Includes several music videos and a documentary on DVD and Blueray. My score for the 28 new tracks is 8. They are all fascinating, but some of them only to an obsessive fan.

42. Choose Love by Ringo Starr, 7 June 2005. Ringo used the same producer and backing band as on his previous outstanding album Ringo Rama, and came up with another excellent collection. His singing is particularly good on this one, notably better than on his early records. Maybe he had been having singing coaching. Includes guests Billy Preston and Chrissie Hynde. Commercially it was a complete failure – there’s no justice. Score 8.

 

43. Liverpool 8 by Ringo Starr, 14 January 2008. Mark Hudson produced all of Ringo’s albums from Vertical Man (1998) to this one, and he’d done a great job, salvaging Ringo’s musical reputation from the depths. While recording of this album they had a big falling out. They haven’t worked together since. This album was finished with another producer, Dave Stewart from The Eurythmics. Whoever is responsible, it’s another excellent solo album. Starting with this album, Ringo has included one song about his early days on each album (the title track in this case). Score 8.

44. Brainwashed by George Harrison, 18 November 2002. Posthumously released final studio album from George. It’s excellent. Highlights what a shame it was that he had not released any other solo albums for the previous 15 years. To some degree it is understandable as a lot happened to George in the intervening years: work with The Travelling Wilburys, business problems, lots of work on The Beatles’ Anthology albums and TV series, his battle with throat cancer, and his lucky escape when attacked in his home by a knife-wielding maniac. Score 8.

45. Flowers in the Dirt by Paul McCartney, 5 June 1989. The heart of this album is a set of 4 songs Paul co-wrote with Elvis Costello. This collaboration was not as earth-shattering as I hoped, but there are some excellent songs, and the production is really nice. This album spawned a US top 30 hit single, “My Brave Face” but after this, hits for Paul were non-existent until his 2015 collaborations with Kayne West. Other outstanding songs on the album include “That Day is Done”, “Distractions” and “This One”. If not for a few weak songs, this would have been one of his best albums. Score 8.

46. Flaming Pie by Paul McCartney, 5 May 1997. Paul was on a high in the wake of the huge success of the Beatles’ Anthology TV series and albums. This excellent album was deservedly a US and UK number 2. Very good production and mostly excellent songs, although there is a bit of filler. Guest stars include Ringo, Jeff Lynne, Steve Miller and Paul’s son James – almost as many guests as on a Ringo album. Score 8.

 

47. Y Not by Ringo Starr, 12 January 2010. Ringo never recovered his audience after his run of really dismal albums between 1977 and 1981, even though his later releases have been vastly better. This is the fourth studio album in a row from Ringo that sold almost no copies but are excellent. It is the first one that he produced himself, and he does a surprisingly good job. The album includes another early-memory song, this time called “The Other Side of Liverpool”. Guests include Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh and Ben Harper. Score 8.

48. Wonderwall Music by George Harrison, 1 November 1968. Arguably, the first proper solo album by a Beatle (that is, one might reasonably consider that The Family Way by Paul is not a proper solo album) but it’s an unusual one. A film soundtrack, all instrumental, with strong Indian influences and lots of Indian musicians. His son Dhani (himself a musician) rates this as George’s best album. I wouldn’t go that far, but it is excellent. Score 8.

 

49. Cloud 9 by George Harrison, 2 November 1987. George’s first album for five years, and his last solo studio album released while he was alive. It’s one of his better ones. Consistently very good or better. Includes his last #1 single, “Got My Mind Set On You”. Through the 1990s, there were persistent rumours that a new album by George would be released soon, but nothing was released until 2002, after his death. Score 8.

 

50. Tripping the Live Fantastic by Paul McCartney, 5 November 1990. Triple live album from the Flowers in the Dirt tour. Much better sound quality than Wings Over America. Fantastic performances and a wonderful mix of Beatles and solo songs. The big ending of “Golden Slumbers”-“Carry That Weight”-“The End” is especially powerful, and Paul still used it in 2017 to wrap up shows. Score 8. This was the last Beatles-related album I bought on Vinyl. The cover art and packaging are wonderful. After this I bought CDs, and soon that was the only option.

51. Unplugged by Paul McCartney, 20 May 1991. A nice live album to a studio audience. Interesting stories and good interaction with the audience. Includes his first public performance of the first song he ever wrote, “I Lost My Little Girl”. Great playing (on acoustic instruments) and song selections. Score 8.

 

 

52. From Then to You (collected Christmas singles) by The Beatles, 18 December 1970. A great distillation of their humour, captured in seven Christmas flexi-disk singles released only to their fan club each year from 1963 to 1969. These singles chart their evolution beautifully from cheeky mop-tops to witty but more serious adults. In 1970 there was no new Christmas single available so they gave members this compilation. It was then unavailable for 47 years, except as a bootleg. It was re-released in December 2017 as a box set of colourful singles. Score 8.

53. Volume 1 by The Travelling Wilburys, 18 October 1988. George having fun with his mates (Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison) and coming up with an excellent album, which won a Grammy. The band was formed to record one of George’s songs, “Handle With Care” and it went so well that they decided to stay together and eventually recorded two albums (see also Volume 3). Score 8.

 

54. Live in Japan by George Harrison, 13 July 1992. George only toured as a solo artist once, in 1974. That was a stressful experience, not least because of serious problems with his voice, so as part of his withdrawal from being a rock star George gave up concerts entirely. Finally, in 1991 Eric Clapton convinced George to play some live shows in Japan. The results were excellent. Very slick band (basically Eric’s usual backing band), and George was in terrific form. Too bad he didn’t play anywhere else. These were almost his last concerts – he did one final show in England in 1992. Score 8.

55. Give My Regards to Broad Street by Paul McCartney, 22 October 1984. Soundtrack to what was apparently a dreadful movie (I chose not to watch it), but this record is very good. Mainly re-recorded Beatles and solo classics, which are really well done. Ringo appears in the movie and on some tracks. Score 8.

 

 

56. George Harrison by George Harrison, 20 February 1979. A rather gentle album from George, and it’s really good. Includes minor hit “If You Believe” and his version of “Not Guilty”, a song of his that was recorded by The Beatles in 1968 but dropped from the White Album. The original was quite rocky, but this one is quiet and acoustic. Score 8.

 

 

57. Back in the US by Paul McCartney, 11 November 2002. Another really good live album from Paul. He manages to keep introducing new Beatles songs to his set that he hasn’t previously played live. There was a very similar album sold outside the US, called Back in the World. It included four tracks excluded from the US version. Score 8.

 

 

58. Wings at the Speed of Sound by Wings, 26 March 1976. Paul’s best-selling post-Beatles album, thanks to the massive Wings Over America tour and the “Silly Love Songs” single, which was the biggest hit of the year in the US. The album is a bit more patchy than Venus and Mars, partly because it is the only Wings album where all band members got to sing a song. While that is not exactly what fans wanted, the album is still very good. Score 7.

 

59. McCartney by Paul McCartney, 17 April 1970. Home-made at his farm in Scotland, this was the first Beatles solo album of original songs – the previous eight solo albums were instrumental, live, not original or not music. Includes one of his best ever songs, “Maybe I’m Amazed”. Some of the others are a bit disposable. Intriguing cover. The other Beatles were upset with Paul for releasing this just before Let It Be, but apparently not upset with Ringo who released Sentimental Journey only a few weeks earlier! It just reflects how badly they were getting on. Score 7.

60. Yellow Submarine by The Beatles, 13 January 1969. Only contains four previously-unreleased Beatles tracks, of which the highlight is “Hey Bulldog”. Side 2 consists of orchestrated music from the movie score, which is OK but it’s not The Beatles. The Yellow Submarine Songtrack compilation album from 1999 is a better investment because it is all Beatles. Score 7.

 

 

61. Extra Texture (Read All About It) by George Harrison, 22 September 1975. Has a really nice coherent feel, though rather downbeat. Wasn’t a commercial success, but it’s a record whose relatively gentle, soulful approach suits me at times. By this stage George was starting to tire of the music industry. In retrospect this feels like the beginning of his withdrawal from being a pop star. Score 7.

 

62. Memory Almost Full by Paul McCartney, 4 June 2007. A very good solo album by Paul. Lots of reminiscing about early days on this one, reflecting that he’s getting old. The album was started prior to his previously-released album Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard, but put on hold while he did that one. Chaos was largely a solo album, but on this one the backing is by his touring band. It was commercially quite successful. Score 7.

 

63. London Town by Wings, 31 March 1978. I enjoyed this a lot when it came out, but in retrospect it lacks great songs. The single “With a Little Luck” was about as far from the spirit of the times in 1978 as possible – gentle synth keyboards, no guitars. Still, it is catchy and was a big hit. Also recorded at this time, but not included here except on later re-issues, was Paul’s biggest post-Beatles UK hit, “Mull of Kintyre”. His US label, Capitol, failed to see its hit potential and made it the B side of the single, which ranks with some of their mishandling of the early Beatles catalogue in terms of incompetence. Score 7.

64. Sentimental Journey by Ringo Starr, 24 March 1970. Orchestrated oldies from Ringo’s childhood (in the 1940s), learnt in pubs (including the one on the cover) during family singalongs. It’s very well done, and streets ahead of the previous five solo albums by John and George. Each song on this one is produced by a different celebrity guest, including one by Paul. Score 7.

 

 

65. Vertical Man by Ringo Starr, 16 June 1998. Similar in feel and quality to Time Takes Time. Ringo worked hard over many months to make this album. It has really good production, good songs, very good singing. Lots of interesting guest performers as well, including Paul, George, Tom Petty, Brian Wilson and Steven Tyler. It’s also mixed by Beatles sidekick Geoff Emerick. Despite all this, the album reaches only the bottom end of the charts and sold very few copies. It deserved better. Score 7.

 

66. Double Fantasy by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 17 November 1980. John’s best-selling solo album, because he died soon after its release, but it’s far from his best. Half the album is by Yoko, which isn’t as bad as one might have feared. But the big problem is that John’s half is disappointing. His song writing seems to have lost its magic. I was hoping that it might improve on his next album, but we never got to find out properly. Score 7. In 2010, Yoko released Double Fantasy Stripped Down, a remixed version that is no better and no worse than the original. Just a bit sparser, which is interesting but not revelatory. It does seem to highlight John’s great vocals a bit better.

67. Postcards from Paradise by Ringo Starr, 31 March 2015. Another very good studio album from Ringo. His consistency since 1992 has been remarkable, especially considering the rubbish he released from 1977 to 1981 and his decade of silence after that. The reminiscing song this time is about his time with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, the band he left to join The Beatles. Score 7. Around this time, I saw Ringo play a terrific All-Star Band concert in Perth.

 

68. Dark Horse by George Harrison, 9 December 1974. One excellent song (the title track), some very good ones and a few relatively weak ones. Some of the songs deal with his separation from wife Pattie Boyd, who left him to go to George’s close friend Eric Clapton. George did his only solo concert tour in support of this record (45 shows in the US and Canada), but it went badly, partly because he lost his voice. Score 7.

 

69. Ringo’s Rotogravure by Ringo Starr, 17 September 1976. The last of Ringo’s initial set of good solo albums. It’s also the last album to which all four Beatles made contributions. All four contributed songs, and three of the four played on it (not George). After this very good album, Ringo released a number of absolute stinkers. The best song on this one is “You Don’t Know Me”. Score 7.

 

 

70. Volume 3 by The Travelling Wilburys, 29 October 1990. The quality of songs doesn’t quite match Volume 1, and they missed Roy Orbison’s voice (he had died), but it’s another very nice album. Score 7.

 

 

 

71. Concert for Bangladesh by various artists, 20 December 1971. The first large-scale charity concert, complete with triple album and movie, initiated and organised by George. Includes George and Ringo performing Beatles and solo songs with a long list of special guests, most notably Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton. Seems like it should be incredible, but is just very good. It won a Grammy for album of the year, but I think that way over-states its merits. It’s not even close to being the best Beatles-related album of the year – Ram and Imagine are both miles better. Score 7.

72. Thrillington by Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington (Paul McCartney), 29 April 1977. An instrumental version of the Ram album. Orchestral arrangements by an outside arranger, commissioned by Paul and with Paul as producer. It was recorded in 1971 but not released until 1977, and not widely available until released on CD in 1995. It’s actually a really good album, in an easy-listening sort of way. Score 7.

 

73. Working Classical by Paul McCartney, 1 November 1999. Paul’s third classical album, and his second album within a month (following Run Devil Run). My favourite of Paul’s various classical outputs. The most enjoyable parts are classical orchestrations of previously released McCartney songs, but there are also some nice new tracks. These pieces are mostly arranged for string quartet, which I think is part of the appeal. They are like the classical equivalent of a band. Score 7.

 

74. Give More Love by Ringo Starr, 15 September 2017. A pretty standard 21st century Ringo solo album, with a wide range of genres and a bunch of famous guest stars (Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Jeff Lynne, Peter Frampton, Dave Stewart). Unusually, the backing is by current members of the All Starr Band. There are four bonus tracks, which are re-recordings of old Ringo and Beatles songs. Ringo must love recording these original albums because they surely lose him money (they never chart) but he keeps putting one out every couple of years. Score 7.

75. Flowers in the Dirt (Deluxe Edition) by Paul McCartney, 24 March 2017. One of the Paul McCartney Archive Series reissues, featuring the original album remastered plus a heap of extras. This one has two bonus disks with 19 previously unreleased demos performed with Elvis Costello, an album’s worth of downloadable bonus tracks (18 of them!), plus a DVD of videos. The demos with Elvis Costello are probably the most interesting of the bonus CDs in the series so far. Highlights are demos of three really good McCartney/Costello songs that had never previously been released in any form. The download-only tracks are a mixed bags: some excellent (“Back on My Feet”), some dreadful (four remixed versions of “Ou Est Le Soleil?”). Score 7 (for the bonus tracks).

76. Live at Soundstage by Ringo Starr, 23 October 2007. Recorded for a TV show in 2005, this one features The Roundheads, the excellent band he used to record his studio albums, rather than the All Starr Band, who do most of his concerts. The focus is all on Ringo, and the playing is great. Overall, I think this is better than all eight of his live albums with the All Starr Band. Score 7.

 

 

77. Pipes of Peace by Paul McCartney, 28 October 1983. Includes a number of leftovers from the Tug of War sessions, so you’d expect it to not be as good, and it isn’t. It’s still pretty good though. The single “Say Say Say” from this album is the last of Paul’s incredible run of solo/duo/Wings #1 singles in the US: nine of them, plus six other top five hits. After this, he had a #6 with “No More Lonely Nights” in 1984, a #7 with “Spies Like Us” in 1985 and then nothing else in the top 20 until 2015 (out of 60 attempts!), when he had two hits with Kayne West. Score 7.

78. VH1 Storytellers by Ringo Starr, 20 October 1998. Good quality live-in-the-TV-studio album with members of his studio band. As implied by the name, Ringo tells stories to the studio audience about some of the songs. There is a great selection of solo and Beatles songs. Score 7.

 

 

79. Live at the Greek Theatre 2008 by Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, July 2010. In most of his concerts since 1989, Ringo has been backed by a version of the All Starr Band – an evolving collection of his musician friends and admirers. For many versions of the All Starr Band, he has released a live album. This is the eighth such live album, and probably the best one. The guests on this one only get one song each this time (which isn’t always the case on other All Starr Band albums), leaving plenty of room for Ringo, who does a great job. The only new All Starr is Gary Wright, the others being recycled from previous versions: Colin Hay, Edgar Winter, Hamish Stewart, and Billy Squier. A huge advantage compared to the previous three All Starr Band albums is that the accursed Sheila E is not included in the band.  Score 7.

80. Electric Arguments by The Fireman (Paul McCartney and Youth), 24 November 2008. This is the third album by The Fireman, an anonymous duo consisting of Paul McCartney and producer Youth. It is very different to the two previous Fireman albums, which were highly ‘ambient’. The tracks on this one are more like proper songs, so it is much more interesting and engaging. A lot of the music was improvised in the studio. This approach doesn’t always work out well for Paul (e.g. parts of McCartney II), but it mostly did this time. The cover was painted by Paul. Score 7.

81. Time Takes Time by Ringo Starr, 22 May 1992. A remarkable return to form after a run of albums that ranged from fair to awful. This is Ringo’s best album since 1976, by far. Good songs and great production (in a Beatlesy style), and Ringo’s singing is greatly improved compared with previous records. All of his studio albums from this point on are at least pretty good and most are better than that. Score 7.

 

82. Paul is Live by Paul McCartney,  8 November 1993. An unusually brief live album from Paul – just one disk. This is from the tour that was in support of his album Off The Ground, which isn’t one of his strongest records. Nevertheless, there are enough highlights from Paul’s earlier careers (Beatles, Wings and solo) to make it an enjoyable listen. His band is great, and it’s really well recorded. The cover is an edited version of a picture from the original Abbey Road shoot, and the title references the ludicrous rumour from the 60s that “Paul is dead”. Score 7.

83. Venus and Mars (Deluxe Edition) by Wings, 4 November 2014. One of the Paul McCartney Archive Series reissues, featuring the original album remastered plus a bonus disk of 7 previously unreleased tracks and 7 tracks from singles, plus 3 download-only bonus tracks, plus a DVD of videos. One of the best collections of bonus tracks in this series, particularly the single “Junior’s Farm” b/w “Sally G”. Score 7 (for the bonus disk).

 

84. Run Devil Run by Paul McCartney, 4 October 1999. Mostly covers from the 1950s plus a few originals in the same style. A tribute to Linda, who had recently died. It’s very good; I prefer it over Choba B CCCP, though it’s not quite as good as John’s Rock ‘n’ Roll album. Score 7.

 

 

85. Goodnight Vienna by Ringo Starr, 15 November 1974. Continues the approach started successfully on Ringo of including lots of famous guest stars (including John Lennon, Elton John, and Harry Nilsson) and uses the same producer as on Ringo. The single “Only You” was deservedly a top ten hit in the US, but the album lacks the consistency of quality that was evident on the earlier album. Score 7.

 

86. Early Takes, Volume 1 by George Harrison, 1 May 2012. A collection of previously unreleased versions of George’s solo songs, mostly from the All Things Must Pass era (1970). They are all good performances and interesting to hear, especially if you know the originals. My favourite is the cover of Dylan’s “Mama You’ve Been On My Mind”, which I’ve always wanted to own since I heard George playing it on a bootleg of the Let It Be sessions. The ‘Volume 1’ indicates that there is more to come. Score 7.

87. Band on the Run (Deluxe Edition) by Paul McCartney and Wings, 2 November 2010. The first of the Paul McCartney Archive Series reissues, featuring the original album remastered plus a bonus disk of 3 songs from singles and 6 previously unreleased tracks, plus an audio documentary about the album (first released in 1999), plus a DVD of videos. The bonus tracks are a very good set. Score 7 for the bonus tracks.

 

88. Ram (Deluxe Edition) by Paul and Linda McCartney, 22 May 2012. One of the Paul McCartney Archive Series reissues, featuring the original album remastered plus a bonus disk of eight previously unreleased songs, plus the mono mix of the album, plus the Thrillington album (easy-listening style instrumental version of Ram), plus 3 download-only bonus tracks, plus a DVD of videos. Half the tracks on the bonus disk are great, particularly “Another Day” (one of his very best) and “Little Woman Love”, but the other half are not as strong. Score 7 for the bonus tracks.

89. Good Evening New York City by Paul McCartney, 17 November 2009. Great live album in all respects except one: auto-tune is applied to Paul’s voice. You might not notice it, but I find it very distracting and somewhat disturbing. In some ways it’s a reasonable thing to do, given that he was 67 years old when this was recorded, but I can’t help grieving about what it implies about the state of his voice. The album includes the first live releases of “Paperback Writer” and “I’ve Got a Feeling”. Score 7 (would have been 8 but for the auto-tune).

90. I Wanna Be Santa Claus by Ringo Starr, 19 October 1999. A whole album of Christmas songs, about half of them traditional ones and half of them new originals, or not so new in the case of “Christmas Time is Here Again”, which is from one of the Beatles’ Christmas singles. Consistent with that, the songs are arranged in a Beatlesy pop sound, with slick production. It works pretty well, but it isn’t one to play outside the festive season. Score 7.

 

91. McCartney (Deluxe Edition) by Paul McCartney, 14  June 2011. One of the Paul McCartney Archive Series reissues, featuring the original album remastered plus a bonus disk of 7 previously unreleased songs, plus a DVD of videos. Includes “Suicide”, one of his earliest compositions. A small snippet of it had been included (uncredited) on the original album but here you hear the whole thing. It is remarkably good for an early teenager’s work. Score 7 for the bonus tracks.

 

92. Live in Los Angeles by Paul McCartney, 17 January 2010. Album given away free by a British newspaper, and not released in any other way. No auto-tune on this one, but you can see why they used it on Good Evening New York City. His voice is starting to show its age. Four of these tracks were released in 2007 on an e.p. called Amoeba’s Secret. The concert was held at Amoeba Music, a shop in Hollywood. Score 7.

 

93. Red Rose Speedway by Paul McCartney and Wings, 30 April 1973. “My Love” was the big hit song on this album – a US #1. I love the sleeve, and “One More Kiss” is a favourite, but there is too much filler in the rest of it. Wings is starting to sound more together and polished as a band, and the album is a significant step up on previous album Wildlife, but things were about to get a whole lot better on the next Wings album, Band on the Run. Score 6.

 

94. Wings Over America (Deluxe Edition) by Wings, 28 May 2013. One of the Paul McCartney Archive Series reissues, featuring the original album remastered plus a bonus disk of eight previously unreleased live tracks from a concert from the same tour, plus a DVD of videos. The bonus disk concert lacks some of the magic of the original album. Score 6 for the bonus tracks.

 

 

95. The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963 by The Beatles, 17 December 2013. A massive collection of studio outtakes, BBC radio performances and a couple of demos, released solely to secure their copyright in Europe for another 70 years. It’s a minimalist online-only release with no promotion at all. Lots of repetition of songs, in different versions. For big fans only. Although there are 59 tracks, two of them are repeats! Usually their BBC recordings were only broadcast once, but these two were played twice, and they’re included here as if they were different performances. Presumably it’s not intentional. The most interesting tracks are John’s two demos of songs that they didn’t otherwise release. Score 6.

96. Gone Troppo by George Harrison, 5 November 1982. Without any particularly standout tracks (I like “Greece” best) it’s a pretty good album, but I get the feeling that George wasn’t trying his hardest here. This was his last album for five years. He was spending a fair bit of time in Australia at about this time. Score 6.

 

 

97. Off the Ground by Paul McCartney, 2 February 1993. Includes a couple more songs co-written with Elvis Costello, but overall it’s not as strong as Flowers in the Dirt, with several relatively weak songs. There was a wealth of additional songs from the same recording sessions released on singles from the album – 10 in total. To my ears, some of these are better than the weaker songs that did get included on the album. Score 6.

 

98. Beaucoups of Blues by Ringo Starr, 28 September 1970. Ringo indulges in his love of country and western, hiring a bunch of big names to play on it and recording it in Nashville. It’s a serious effort, consisting of original songs by Nashville songwriters, but the songs themselves let it down a bit. His pretend-country songs recorded with The Beatles (“Act Naturally”, “Honey Don’t”, “Don’t Pass Me By”) are more enjoyable. Score 6.

 

99. Old Wave by Ringo Starr, 16 June 1983. Ringo’s last album for almost a decade. It’s nothing flash, but it’s vastly better than the three previous ones, thanks to producer Joe Walsh (Ringo’s brother in law) from The Eagles. Like its three predecessors, it bombed in the charts (it wasn’t even released in the US or UK), and Ringo decided to have a break. With George also taking a break, this left Paul as the only active ex-Beatle for the next four years, and one of those years (1985) is still one of only two years since 1962 not to see the release of a new Beatles album. Score 6.

100. Somewhere in England by George Harrison, 1 June 1981. The Threetles (George, Paul and Ringo) get together for George’s tribute to John, “All Those Years Ago”. Shame it’s not a great song. The rest of the album is good but no better. George had a lot of trouble with his record company over this album. They considered it weak and insisted on replacing four of the tracks with better ones, one of which was “All Those Years Ago”. I don’t think the changes improved the album much, if at all. Score 6. Interestingly, there are a number of other tracks also by The Threetles. In fact they recorded tracks in the 1960s (“Savoy Truffle” and “Long, Long, Long” plus four songs from Abbey Road that were recorded while John was recovering from a car crash), 1970s (“I Me Mine”), 1980s (“All Those Years Ago”) and 1990s (“Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” with John on tape, plus various jammed tracks – see here).

101. Mind Games by John Lennon, 13 November 1973. Much better than his previous album Some Time in New York City, but still miles below John’s best. Has a few good songs but lacks any great ones. I find the title track quite mediocre. John was separated from Yoko and drinking a lot at this stage. It’s hard to know how much effect that had on the album; the situation was the same for his next Album, Walls and Bridges, but that’s a far better album. Score 6.

 

102. Choba B CCCP by Paul McCartney, 31 October 1988. Paul’s first attempt at emulating John’s Rock ‘n’ Roll album. It’s pretty good, but not up to John’s effort. I really love his take on “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”. Initially this was only available in the USSR (I have a copy of the Russian vinyl version) but the CD version released much later in the west has more songs. Score 6.

 

 

103. Ringo 2012 by Ringo Starr, 30 January 2012. Not up to his high recent form for solo studio albums, and so short at 29 minutes that I felt a bit ripped off. (Mind you, that is longer than most of The Beatles’ early albums in the US.) The best song is a remake of “Wings” (nothing to do with Paul’s band), which first appeared on Ringo’s worst-ever album, Ringo the 4th, back in 1977. The two very different version of “Wings” have now been the best songs on two different Ringo albums, 35 years apart. Score 6.

104. Twin Freaks by Paul McCartney, 14 June 2005. Mash ups and radical remixes of Paul solo songs. These were done by producer Roy Kerr. Hearing the combinations of elements from old songs into a new piece is interesting, but it’s not an album I play often. The cover was painted by Paul. Score 6.

 

 

105. Standing Stone by Paul McCartney, 25 September 1997. Paul’s second classical album. A full-length instrumental piece, performed by London Symphony Orchestra, plus a choir. Vastly better than the first, Liverpool Oratoria, thanks largely to the absence of corny lyrics. Nevertheless, it’s just good rather than great. Score 6.

 

 

106. Tug of War (Deluxe Edition) by Paul McCartney, 2 October 2015. One of the Paul McCartney Archive Series reissues, featuring the original album remixed plus the original mix plus a bonus disk of 8 previously unreleased demos and 3 tracks from singles, plus a DVD of videos. The demos are interesting, but fall well short of the quality of the original album. Score 6 for the bonus tracks.

 

107. Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band by Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, 8 October 1990. Having escaped from alcoholism which marred his 1980s, Ringo focused on having some fun, giving concerts with his music celebrity mates as the backing band, playing favourite Beatles and solo oldies, and allowing his guest musicians to perform some of their hits. The first of many live albums in this format. They are all enjoyable, if lightweight. Guests on this one include Billy Preston, Joe Walsh from the Eagles, and two members of The Band. Score 6.

108. Pipes of Peace (Deluxe Edition) by Paul McCartney, 2 October 2015. One of the Paul McCartney Archive Series reissues, featuring the original album remastered plus a bonus disk of 5 previously unreleased demos, a remix of “Say, Say, Say”, a B side and two unreleased tracks, plus a DVD of videos. The bonus tracks are a mixed bag and score 6.

 

 

109. Live From Montreux by Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, 14 September 1993. Ringo’s second live album with a version of his All Starr Band. Each of these All Starr Band albums has a different line up. They’re all pretty good without being startling. Guests this time include Timothy B Schmidt from The Eagles, Dave Edmunds, Todd Rundgren and Burton Cummings from The Guess Who. The show was at the Montreux Jazz Festival! Score 6.

 

110. Oceans Kingdom by Paul McCartney, 3 October 2011. Another pretty good classical album from Paul, orchestral this time. It is the score of a ballet of the same name, commissioned by the New York City Ballet. There was also a live version of the album, made available as a free download to purchasers of the album. Score 6.

 

 

111. Third All-Starr Band, Volume 1 by Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, 12 August 1997. Another version of the All Starr Band (number 3), another pretty good live album, this one from Japan. It was available for purchase only through Blockbuster Videos in the US. Its lack of great success meant that Volume 2 of this concert was never released. Guests this time include Mark Farner from Grand Funk Railroad, Randy Bachman from Bachman Turner Overdrive, and John Entwistle from The Who. Score 6.

112. Ecce Cor Meum by Paul McCartney, 25 September 2006. Another classical album by Paul, this time with a choir. It’s not bad, but not compelling. I find that Paul’s amazing ability to craft wonderful melodies is somehow diminished in most of his classical output, including this one. Score 6.

 

 

113. New All-Starr Band by Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, 6 October 2002. Another good live collection with a good All Starr Band, the fifth such album. Guests this time include Roger Hodgson from Supertramp and Ian Hunter from Mott The Hoople. It is mostly pretty good, but the score is dragged down by one unlistenable song sung by the All Starr Band’s drummer, Sheila E (from Prince’s band). Score 6.

 

114. The Family Way: Original Soundtrack Recording by Paul McCartney, 6 January 1967. I was unsure whether to include this. Most of the credit for this belongs to The Beatles’ producer George Martin. The selling point is that it was ‘composed’ by Paul, but he really just provided some melodies to George Martin who added to them, arranged them and had them recorded (with no input from Paul). Still, it says Paul on the cover, making it the first Beatles solo album. It is pleasant but unremarkable music for a small orchestra, mixed with some very dated pop band sounds. The obvious datedness of this music contrasts starkly with the timelessness of “Strawberry Fields Forever”, which the Beatles were creating at the same time as this was being recorded. Score 6.

115. Rushes by The Fireman (Paul McCartney and Youth), 21 September 1998. Another ambient techno album by Paul and Youth. I slightly prefer this one over the previous album by The Fireman (Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest from 1993). It’s still repetitive (in keeping with the genre) but it holds more interest. Score 6.

 

 

116. John Lennon Signature Box by John Lennon, 5 October 2010. This box set includes 11 CDs but the only previously unreleased material is on the final CD of 13 studio outtakes and home demos. The main attractions are three pretty rough demos of otherwise-unreleased songs. The outtakes are interesting for their differences from the final versions, but they’re not essential. Score 6 for the unreleased material.

 

 

117. Tour 2003, Live At Casino Rama, Canada by Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, 23 March 2004. The sixth All Starr Band album is weighed down by two shockingly bad songs by All Starr Band member Sheila E, but otherwise continues the successful pattern of other All Starr Band albums. Other guests this time are Paul Carrack (Squeeze), Colin Hay (Men at Work) and John Waite (The Babys), all from a younger generation that grew up idolising The Beatles. Score 6.

 

118. John Lennon Anthology by John Lennon, 2 November 1998. Four CDs of demos, out-takes and rarities. Interesting moments, but the quality is highly variable, and often not that high. Lacks the magic and consistency of the Beatles Anthology albums. There are only a few really great tracks across the four CDs. The highlights are John’s versions of “I’m The Greatest” and “Only You”, both of which he did for Ringo. Disks 1, 3 and 4 score 6. Disk 2 covers the dreadful Elephants Memory era, around the time of Some Time In New York City, and is scored lower (3) as a consequence.

119. Decca Audition Tapes (various semi-legal releases) by The Beatles, 16 April 1981. 15 songs recorded in a failed audition for the Decca record label in London, on 1 January 1962, five months before they signed with EMI. They had a bad day in the studio (especially George), the sound mix is very poor (bass and rhythm guitar are inaudible and buried in reverb), and their drummer at the time, Pete Best, was terrible. Nevertheless, it’s completely fascinating to hear what they were like a year before they hit the big time. The 12 non-original songs were released on various semi-official releases and 2 of the 3 originals are on Anthology 1. Why they didn’t include the other original, “Love of the Loved”, is hard to understand – it’s one of the better tracks here. It remains officially unreleased, except on bootlegs, which is a shame. Score 5.

120. Press to Play by Paul McCartney, 25 August 1986. Apart from the opening track “Stranglehold”, which is great, the rest of the album is pretty ordinary. Teaming with Eric Stewart from 10CC to co-write the songs sounds like a good idea but it was not a success. The production is good, but the songs are weak. Nice cover, though. Score 5.

 

 

121. Wildlife by Wings, 7 December 1971. Quickly thrown together by the first line-up of Wings. The recording is intentionally rough and ready, but the real problem is that the album lacks any great original songs. The best track is probably “Tomorrow”, which would only be middle rung on his better albums. Too many of the rest are mediocre. The best thing about the album is the bucolic cover photo. Score 5.

 

122. The Beatles’ First (or The Beatles in Hamburg, or various other names) by Tony Sheridan and The Beatles, April 1964 (exact release date unknown). Recordings from 1961 (and one song from 1962), mostly with Tony Sheridan singing lead to The Beatles backing. Only a few of these songs were released in Germany at the time, and a single of “My Bonny” was released in England in 1962, but the full album wasn’t released until it came out in the US in 1964 to cash in on The Beatles’ remarkable success. It sounds dated and clichéd. The two songs played by The Beatles on their own are interesting, but so much better was to come. When these tracks were recorded,  Paul had only been playing bass in the band for a month (having switched from guitar when Stu Sutcliffe left), and considering that, his performance is extraordinary. Score 5.

123. Live at the Star Club by The Beatles, 8 April 1977. Terrible sound quality (the vocals are buried and muddy) and a poor sound mix (John’s guitar is way too loud relative to the other instruments) but still this is fascinating. Considering the fantastic playing on the Please Please Me album (recorded only six weeks later), this is pretty ragged, but that’s to be expected from these late, late-night club sessions in seedy Hamburg. These recordings are drawn from their last few shows before they hit the big time. The songs consist mainly of covers, almost none of which they ever played live again, although many of them did get played on the BBC in 1963 or 1964, as captured on Live at the BBC. In 1998 The Beatles won a legal case and the various releases based on this material had to be withdrawn. Score 5.

124. Work in Progress. Outtakes 1963 by The Beatles, 2014. This is not an officially sanctioned release, but it was released legally and opportunistically after these studio recordings came out of copyright in Europe because they hadn’t been released by the Beatles within 50 years of being recorded. It is very repetitive, with multiple takes of most of the songs (e.g. five versions of “There’s A Place”). It’s quite interesting, but probably only to an obsessive fan. Score 5.

 

125. Kisses on the Bottom by Paul McCartney, 6 February 2012. When I heard that Paul was releasing an album of jazz classics backed by a small jazz combo, including Diana Krall on Piano, I thought it had great potential. Unfortunately I don’t like the voice he uses on much of this album. It sounds quite weak and lacks his usual vocal magic completely. There are a couple of songs on it that he sings really well, including his original song “My Valentine”, so I enjoy these.  They show that the weak voice is not just his age – it’s something he’s done intentionally. Score 5.

126. Complete Kisses by Paul McCartney, 26 November 2012. Includes 31 tracks: the original Kisses on the Bottom album (14), plus a live concert (13) plus some out-takes (4). Nine of the live tracks had previously been released by iTunes as iTunes Live From Capitol Studios, but I’m not counting that as a separate album as it is superseded by this one. Overall, though, this is no better than the original album. Score 5.

 

127. Scouse the Mouse by various artists, 9 December 1977. Soundtrack album for an animated kids’ TV show that never actually got made, with eight of the 15 songs being sung by Ringo. It’s pretty cheesy (pardon the pun), and it’s not worth moving mountains to get a copy. It’s not easy to find – it has never been released on CD (except in Russia, which is the version I have) or reissued on iTunes. Score 5.

 

128. Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest by The Fireman (Paul McCartney and Youth), 15 November 1993. This is the first of three albums by The Fireman, which consists of Paul and collaborator Youth. The style is ‘ambient techno’, it says on Wikipedia, and it’s not something I would ever normally listen to. It’s interesting to see that this sort of thing is popular enough to have its own genre, but the music is extremely repetitive and I find it quite tedious after a while. Score 5.

 

129. Menlove Avenue by John Lennon, 3 November 1986. The title comes from the address of John’s childhood home in Liverpool (I’ve been there!). Side A is leftovers from Rock ‘n’ Roll. Mixed quality, but some are pretty good. It’s intriguing to hear his version of “Angel Baby”, which apparently was his favourite song. Side B consists of studio rehearsals for Walls and Bridges. These are not worth bothering with; the polished versions on the final album are vastly better. Score 5.

 

130. Milk and Honey by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 9 January 1984. John’s songs on this were mainly recorded during the sessions for Double Fantasy. They are from unfinished recordings. The backing was polished later, but John’s vocals are demos or rehearsals, and they’re not always great. The real problem, though, is the songs. These are clearly weaker than the Double Fantasy songs, and may have remained unreleased if he had lived. Double Fantasy itself was short of good songs, and this album has only one: “Grow Old With Me”. It’s a truly lovely song, and incredibly poignant in the circumstances, but this is only a rough demo. Yoko’s half of the album is easily her best contribution to a John and Yoko album, but she’s still taking up space that would be far better filled by John. Score 5.

131. The Anthology … So Far by Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, 5 February 2001. A triple CD compilation of tracks from the three previous All Starr Band live albums, plus enough additional previously unreleased material to make up another album (20 tracks). Only six of the new tracks are sung by Ringo, though, and all but two had been released on previous All Starr Band albums (in different versions), so it’s not an essential purchase. Peter Frampton’s cover of “Norwegian Wood” is nice, and it’s not available elsewhere. Score 5 for the unreleased tracks.

132. Wings at the Speed of Sound (Deluxe Edition) by Wings, 4 November 2014. One of the Paul McCartney Archive Series reissues, featuring the original album remastered plus a bonus disk of 5 previously unreleased demos, an instrumental version of “Warm and Beautiful” and a weak joke track, plus a DVD of videos. One of the weakest collections of bonus tracks in this series. Score 4 for the bonus tracks.

 

133. McCartney II by Paul McCartney, 16 May 1980. Paul’s first post-Wings solo album was extremely disappointing. It is easily his worst album of pop songs. I like “Coming Up” (or else the rating would have been even lower) but with few exceptions the rest is just bad. He’s just making stuff up on the spot on some of these, and it shows. “Temporary Secretary” is possibly the worst song any Beatle has ever released. Amazingly he seems to have a soft spot for it, performing it live even in 2017. Score 4.

134. Acoustic by John Lennon, 1 November 2004. Acoustic demos, outtakes and live versions of 16 John songs. Only seven were previously unreleased, the other nine having been included on Anthology. The sound quality of the demos is pretty ordinary. I don’t think this album does justice to the legacy of John Lennon. Score 4.

 

 

135. Liverpool Sound Collage by Paul McCartney, 21 August 2000. ‘Sound collage’ says it all. No actual songs. Snippets from interviews conducted by Paul in the streets of Liverpool, woven into a sound tapestry, including spoken snippets from Beatles recording sessions. Wears thin after not very long. Score 4.

 

 

136. Stop and Smell the Roses by Ringo Starr, 27 October 1981. Another very poor album from Ringo, the third in a row. He went back to his earlier successful formula of including songs contributed by his three former band mates, but it didn’t result in the hit he wanted. The songs provided by Paul and George are not very strong, and Ringo felt he needed to omit John’s song (“Life Begins at 40”) following John’s death. The Harry Nilsson songs included are really bad, and the production overall is not great. The almost complete lack of success of the album anywhere led to Ringo being dropped from his record labels and being out of contract for the first time since 1962. Given the dire quality of his last three albums it was hard to imagine Ringo producing any further worthwhile music at this stage, but that was far from the case. Score 4.

137. Live 2006 by Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, 7 July 2008. This seventh All Star Band album is my least favourite of them. It has the same two ghastly Shiela E songs as marred the previous album, but songs by the other guests (Billy Squier, Edgar Winter, Richard Marx and Rod Argent) aren’t great either. As a group of All Starrs, they don’t have a great deal of star status. There are also too few songs by Ringo on the album. Score 4.

 

138. Live in New York City by John Lennon, 10 February 1986. John was always much more interested in the recording studio than in concerts, despite the fact that the Beatles played about 1400 shows. This concert from 1972 was his last full concert, and it is not very good (it’s from the unfortunate Elephants Memory era) but it seems to be the best Lennon concert recording we have. He never toured as a solo artist, so there aren’t many to choose from. Score 4.

 

139. McCartney II (Deluxe Edition) by Paul McCartney, 14 June 2011. One of the Paul McCartney Archive Series reissues, featuring the original album remastered plus a bonus disk (5 previously unreleased songs and 3 from singles), plus another bonus disk with 8 longer versions of the album tracks, plus a DVD of videos. These are the weakest bonus albums in the Archive Series. Some of these tracks are rather painful to listen to. “All You Horse Riders” is possibly even worse than “Temporary Secretary”, which I would hardly have thought possible. Score 3 for the bonus tracks.

140. Live Peace in Toronto 1969 by John Lennon, 12 December 1969. The first-released Beatles-related live album. The band is John, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann, Alan White (later of Yes), and Yoko. With that lineup you would be justified in having high expectations. Unfortunately they were badly under-rehearsed (they had just a couple of hours on the plane, so there was no practice with drums or electric instruments), the songs were chosen mainly because they were easy to remember, the sound quality is poor, and there’s far too much of Yoko’s painful wailing (all of side 2). Score 3.

141. Liverpool Oratorio by Paul McCartney, Carl David, Kiri Te Kanawa, Sally Burgess, Jerry Hadley, Sir Willard White, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Choristers Of Liverpool Cathedral, 7 October 1991. My least favourite album that Paul has ever released. I quite like some of his later classical releases, but this first effort at classical seems dull, boring, and at times corny. Being the first, it got a lot more attention than his later classical albums, even though some of those are much better. Score 3.

142. Bad Boy by Ringo Starr, 20 April 1978. The second of three really dreadful albums in a row from Ringo. Bad song selections and bad production makes this the one of the worst Beatles solo studio album that actually consists of songs. It also lacked any celebrity guests, a strategy that perked up many of his other albums. I remember listening to this when it came out and thinking that I didn’t feel a lot of motivation to rush out and buy Ringo’s next album. Score 3.

 

143. Some Time in New York City by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 12 June 1972. There is not one good song on this. What a remarkable comedown from his previous album, Imagine! The backing by Elephant’s Memory Band is turgid. This is worse than any other proper album by John, Paul or George. (Ringo has a worse one.) Score 3. The accompanying bonus live album scores 2, even though half of it (side 4) has Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention as the backing band. The two live songs sung by John are OK, but the rest is dominated by Yoko’s wailing, gurgling, squawking and honking. In 1992, a posthumous Frank Zappa album called Playground Psychotics included edited and remixed versions of the John and Yoko tracks from side 4, some of them with different names (including the completely apt “A Small Eternity With Yoko Ono”), but they are no better than the original release.

144. Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 29 November 1968. This is the first of three self-indulgent avant guard albums by John and Yoko, released in 1968 and 1969, the same years as the Beatles’ best albums. There’s nothing musical about this collection of tape loops, sound effects, random piano plonking and tuneless vocalising. Actually, it’s embarrassing garbage. The cover is notorious for its full-frontal nudity, but it’s less objectionable than the contents of the record. Score 2.

145. Electronic Sound by George Harrison, 9 May 1969. Consists of George (or somebody) fiddling inexpertly with a Moog synthesiser, creating random unattractive noises, often white noise rather than music or even notes. One guy claims that side 2 is an uncredited recording of him demonstrating the Moog synthesiser to George. Perhaps that explains why nothing about it holds the attention. Why George or anybody else thought this would be worth releasing on record is quite a mystery. Score 2.

146. Ringo the 4th by Ringo Starr, 20 September 1977. Appalling disco-style production. A terrible collection of songs. Only one of them, “Wings”, is almost reasonable. This is the worst Beatles solo album that actually consists of songs, rather than noises. It is almost unbelievably bad. Even the cover is dreadful – spectacularly tasteless. I prefer listening to the random noises on Two Virgins and Electronic Sound than this but, amazingly, it’s not quite the worst album ever released by a Beatle. Score 2.

147. Wedding Album by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 7 November 1969. Their third (and thankfully final) record of self-indulgent garbage. Hot on the heels one of the all-time great records (Abbey Road), this is a strong contender for the all-time most awful record (although I think Life With The Lions slightly eclipses it). Side 1 consists of 22 minutes of their heartbeats, plus them murmuring, moaning or shouting each other’s names. Side 2 is some awful Yoko singing and some cringe-worthy interviews recorded during their ‘Bed-In for Peace’ in Amsterdam. Score 1.

148. Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 9 May 1969. The second album of self-indulgent garbage from John and Yoko. A survey of Beatles fans in 2014 agreed with me that this is the worst album to which a Beatle ever put their name. Yoko wailing and grunting. John making random guitar noises. Five minutes of the heartbeat of Yoko’s unborn baby, which later miscarried. Two minutes of silence (the best part of the record). Some other rubbish. If anybody has released a worse record, I don’t want to hear it. Score 1.

Frequency of scores for 148 Beatles albums

Frequency of scores for 148 Beatles albums. Average = 6.9.

Further reading

Yagi, T. (2015). Nonlinear effects of superstar collaboration: Why the Beatles succeeded but broke up, Applied Economics and Finance 2(2), 103-111. IDEAS page

293 – Beatles tourism

During our current holiday, Pauline gave me the opportunity to indulge in some serious Beatles tourism. I could have done this years ago, but felt reticent about giving in to the urge. This time I gave in to it, and I’m so glad I did.

I have a passionate interest in music, and a tendency for my interests to become obsessions. These two things come together in my love of The Beatles. They are ideal fodder for an obsessive interest. As well as enjoying their amazing music, there is great scope for obsessively collecting their records and CDs, reading Beatles-related books and buying tacky memorabilia.

It also helps that the story of their rise from obscurity and poverty to unprecedented fame and fortune is about as compelling and interesting as a story can be. Sure they had incredible talent and natural charisma, but to make it in the circumstances they faced required a whole series of million-to-one chances to come off, and every one of them did come off. It’s like a fairy story, but it really happened. Add to this their drive to innovate and their enormous influence on music and culture, and it’s no surprise that they still have so many people totally hooked.

I spent several days in Liverpool seeing the sights and doing Beatles tours, Beatles shopping and Beatles museums. At one point, I had the most fantastic luck, as you’ll see. In addition, our travels prior to me reaching Liverpool took us to a number of important Beatles-related places, one planned and several by lucky coincidence. Here’s an overview of the highlights. There is an appendix below with lots more.

The greatest piece of luck was happening to bump into Colin Hanton, who was the drummer in The Quarrymen. This was the band formed by John Lennon in high school that eventually evolved into The Beatles. Colin appears in all the early photos of the Quarrymen, including this wonderful shot taken on 6 July 1957, from before Paul and George joined the band. Colin is sitting at the back, with his head near John’s elbow.

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He also played drums on the very first recordings by the band, in July 1958, when John, Paul, George, Colin and Duff (on piano) captured “That’ll Be The Day” and “In Spite of All The Danger” (the only original by McCartney and Harrison) on a record. You can hear these tracks on The Beatles’ album Anthology 1. Here, obviously, was a man who knew the young Beatles intimately (apart from Ringo).

beatles06I was in a small shop in Penny Lane actually looking at a book about the Quarrymen, when my personal tour guide (Stevie T from Mop Top Tours) said, here comes Colin Hanton. I knew exactly who Colin was, so my heart leapt! He came straight into the shop to talk to them about their stock of Quarrymen CDs. (They reformed in the 1990s, and still occasionally play and record). He was absolutely lovely, chatting, posing and signing the CD for me. I would have loved to ask him some probing questions about those early days, but my brain was buzzing too much to think straight.

beatles07After that, the guide took me to the location of that photo of the Quarrymen, which also happens to be the place where John and Paul first met: St Peter’s Church in Woolton, where the Quarrymen played at the church’s annual garden fete. This was the most emotional point in the day for me. Here I am standing in what was then an open field but is now part of the church’s graveyard. The stage was set up in the back corner, near the blue tarpaulin in the photo.

After Paul had seen the Quarrymen play, they all went over the road to the Church Hall, where the 16-year-old John was introduced to the 15-year-old Paul by their mutual friend Ivan Vaughan. Here is the hall, and me under the plaque that commemorates the meeting, trying not very successfully to hold it together.

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beatles10Later we went to The Casbah, a tiny club under a suburban house, where the Beatles played numerous shows between 1959 and 1961. They also helped to paint and decorate the place when it was first being set up, and their handiwork is still all over it. Paul painted the ceiling where I’m standing in the photo. This is the original stage area where they played their first Casbah shows, in a period when they had no drummer.

beatles11Just as exciting as seeing this was the fact that the tour through the Casbah was presented by Roag Best Jr, and I got to meet Roag Best Sr. These two men have complex and multiple connections to the Beatles. Firstly, Mona Best, owner and manager of the Casbah, was their mother (Sr) or grandmother (Jr).

Secondly, Pete Best, the Beatles’ drummer for two years from August 1960 to August 1962, prior to his sacking to bring in Ringo, is their half brother (Sr) or half uncle (Jr). Thirdly, Roag Sr’s father and Roag Jr’s grandfather was Neil Aspinall, the Beatles’ right-hand-man, close friend, roadie, tour manager, and eventually the chief executive of the Beatles’ company. Despite serious tensions (and a legal case) over Pete’s sacking, the Best family maintained close connections to the Beatles, through Neil, right through the sixties and beyond. Here I am with Roag Best Jr. Behind us on the wall is a silhouette of John, painted by his then-girlfriend, later-wife, Cynthia.

beatles12Finally, in this brief summary of highlights, while we were in London, I got Pauline to take a shot of me on the Abbey Road crosswalk, scene of the famous album cover. This was a bit tricky, as there were roadworks spoiling the view and creating traffic congestion, and there were lots of Beatles fans milling around and getting in the way of photos. We eventually got a picture that is not bad.

All this was just incredibly exciting, and there was much, much more. If you’ve read this far, and you aren’t shaking your head in disbelief at my foolishness, you might like to check out the appendix, which shows almost all the Beatles-related things I saw, organised into chronological order (in terms of when the original events happened), fleshed out with a little bit of the relevant history.

 

Appendix

1934, September 19. [birthplace] Below left is Rodney Street, Liverpool, where the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein was born. Right is his family home at 197 Queens Drive. Getting Brian as their manager was one of the million-to-one chances that came off for the Beatles: a man of high honesty and integrity in an industry where these were in very short supply. He was creative and artistic in nature, with wealth and connections, a love of their music and of them as people, and he was willing to put his all into managing The Beatles for their benefit and on their terms. They certainly would not have made it without him. The guy in the photo is my guide, Stevie T of Mop Top Tours, to whom I am hugely grateful for the great tour he provided.

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beatles011940, July 7. [birthplace] [home] 9 Madryn Street, Liverpool. This is where Ringo Starr, the oldest Beatle by a few months, was born and lived his first few years with his parents and then just with his mum. Ringo was the most working-class of the four Beatles. This extremely basic home was scheduled to be demolished as the area is being redeveloped (you can see that it is shuttered), but after a public outcry the council decided to keep it and fix it up.

1940, October 9. [birthplace] Liverpool Maternity Hospital, Oxford Street. John Lennon was born here on a day when, unusually, there was no German bombing.

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1940-1945. [home] Below left is 9 Newcastle Road, John’s first home, where he lived with his mother Julia and saw his merchant-seaman father Alfred rarely, until he and Julia split up. Alfred had no further contact with John until he was one of the four most famous people in the world.

1943, February 25. [birthplace] [home] Right is 12 Arnold Grove Liverpool, George Harrison’s birthplace and early home. It was about as basic a home as Ringo’s and had to accommodate a family of six. George was the only Beatle not to lose one or both parents, whether through death or abandonment. Of the Beatles’ birth places, only Paul’s has been lost; Walton Hospital was demolished in 2011.

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beatles321943, Spring. [home] “The Cottage” 120a Allerton Road. John and his parents lived here for a couple of months, probably the longest continuous time the three of them spent together. The house was owned by Julia’s sister Mimi and her husband George Smith.

Uncle George was the only reliable male in John’s life and so was very important to him, especially once Julia’s wild and irresponsible behaviour prompted Mimi to take John in to live with her and George. Tragically, Uncle George died young, when John was only 14, the first of several of the people he most cared about to die over the next few years.

1945 [home] 10 Admiral Grove. Ringo’s second home. His mother Elsie moved them here when she could not meet the rent on 9 Madryn Street. They moved from one tiny run-down place to an even smaller and more run-down place a short walk away. Also shown is The Empress, the pub at the end of the street, where Elsie worked as a barmaid. The view we can see to the right of the pub is Admiral Grove, towards number 10.

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This hotel was used for the cover or Ringo’s first solo album in 1970, Sentimental Journey, on which he sang old-time songs that he probably learned from singalongs in this pub.

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beatles221946-1963. [home] “Mendips”, John Lennon’s home for 18 years – the longest time he spent in any home. He lived here by mutual agreement between his Aunt Mimi and his mother Julia. Mimi had decided that Julia wasn’t providing anything like the care he needed (which was probably true), and it seems that Julia preferred for Mimi take him in rather than for herself to become a more responsible mother. Although stern, Mimi gave him care and stability, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the psychological damage of being abandoned (as John saw it) by both parents, separately and for no very good reason. The unresolved pain was powerfully expressed on his 1970 solo album (John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band) in such lines as:

Mother, you had me, but I never had you

Mumma don’t go, Daddy come home

Adding to the pain, Julia was killed in a road accident in 1958 just near Mendips, soon after John had re-established a relationship with her.

The house, together with Paul’s main childhood home, is now owned by the National Trust, which offers an excellent tour of both. Standing in John’s small bedroom (the window above the door) was a deeply, deeply moving experience.

beatles231955-1963 [home] The family home of Paul McCartney, at 20 Forthlin Road, was the location of early rehearsals and the composition of a number of Beatles songs. This too is owned by the National Trust and is part of their tour. Unlike John, Paul had a settled and loving childhood. However, his mum died of breast cancer soon after they moved to this house. The fact that they had both lost their mothers early became one of the important bonds between John and Paul.

beatles451958. [place] Ye Cracke, a pub much frequented by John, Stuart Sutcliffe (who later became The Beatles’ original bass player), Cynthia Powell (John’s girlfriend and later wife) and other art students.

By early 1958, Paul and George had joined the Quarrymen and were playing with them in their occasional gigs. They were still school boys, but John had moved on to art college. None of them were model students, to put it mildly.

1958 and thereabouts. [place] On the left below is the Liverpool Institute, a grammar school for boys, attended by Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Neil Aspinall. Right next door, was the Liverpool College of Art (right picture) attended by John Lennon, Stuart Sutcliffe and Cynthia Powell (later Lennon). Paul and George would sometimes skip school and hang out with John in the art collage.

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beatles521958, July and 1960, May. [studio] Semi-pro recording studio, run by Percy Phillips, at which the Quarrymen recorded “That’ll Be the Day” in 1958 and “One After 909” in 1960. Obviously it was just in Percy’s home.

The mid 1958 recordings with Percy Phillips marked the end of the first phase of The Quarrymen. After that, Colin and Duff drifted away, leaving the core of John, Paul and George, three guitarists. Over the next couple of years they largely trod water, playing shows when they could but not really improving or progressing significantly. Other players came and went in the band, but John, Paul and George remained the core.

 

beatles351959, August 28. [instrument] That’s the date John purchased a Hofner Club 40, his first good-quality guitar. It was bought just in time for their first gig at the Casbah. This replica is on display at The Beatles Story in Liverpool, a sort of museum that outlines and illustrates the Beatles history.

beatles651959. [home] 3 Hayman’s Green. An outside shot of the home under which the Casbah was located. This was the home of Pete Best, Beatles drummer from mid 1960 to mid 1962. Pete’s is one of the more tragic stories in the Beatles saga.

 

 

 

beatles261960. [home] Flat 3, Hillary Mansions, Gambier Terrace. Home of Stu, then also of John and briefly of George. While Stu was living here he agreed to join The Beatles as their first dedicated bassist. Although he lacked notable musical talent, he did have the money to buy a bass!

 

 

beatles661960, April 23. [venue] The Fox and Hounds pub in Caversham. We were well into our walk along the Thames before I realised that we would be walking right by Caversham (on the other side of the river to Reading). This raised the possibility of me visiting a special site in The Beatles’ history: the only place where John and Paul ever performed in public as a duo. They went by the name of the Nerk Twins (a Goon Show reference), playing to a handful of people in the bar. Only four months later, the band went to Hamburg and really got their kick start, but at this stage they were complete unknowns, getting a gig because the pub was run by Paul’s cousin. Unfortunately I couldn’t have a drink there as it was under renovation, but here is me out the front.

beatles641960-1962. [venue] The Jacaranda (or the Jac) was a Liverpool coffee bar and music venue owned by Allan Williams, who played a crucial role in organising the Beatles’ first two trips to Hamburg. The Beatles would almost certainly never have made it without these Hamburg experiences to hone their performance skills. Williams had gone to Hamburg to check out the club scene there. He went into a club, the Kaiserkeller, and met its manager Bruno Koschmider. He tried to play Koschmider a tape of some Liverpool bands (not the Beatles) to persuade him to hire them, but the tape was kaput. Williams thought he’d blown in, but Koschmider was intrigued by Williams’ enthusiasm and later travelled to London to check out bands (he hadn’t realised Williams was from Liverpool). In one of the Beatles’ million-to-one chances that came off, Williams happened to be making a rare visit to London that same day with one of his Liverpool bands (Derry and the Seniors), and happened to go into the same coffee house as Koschmider. The band (the Seniors) did an audition on the spot, was hired and was a great success in Hamburg. In the wake of that success, Koschmider asked Williams to send another band, and the Beatles’ luck came through again. Williams offered the gig to all the main bands in Liverpool, none of whom could do it, for one reason or another. He was left with the only option being The Beatles, a pretty ordinary group with no drummer. They quickly appointed Pete Best as drummer (his audition was possibly in the Jac). Williams personally drove them to Hamburg, leaving from the Jac.

1960, November. John’s Club 40 guitar (shown above) was later used by Paul for a while (once John bought his first Rickenbacker in Hamburg), though being left-handed Paul had to restring it and play it upside down. Here it is in one of their most iconic photos. It’s from their first proper photo shoot, by Atrid Kirchherr in Hamburg, during that crucial first Hamburg trip. In Hamburg they played 7 or 8 hours per night, 6 nights per week. With such intense playing they rapidly and dramatically improved their musicianship, their repertoire and their stagecraft.

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At this stage they were a five-piece band (L-R, Pete Best, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Stuart Sutcliffe). They were also very young. John had just turned 20 and the rest were teenagers, with George only 17 (he looks it!). A month after this photo, he was sent home for being under-age. Stuart left the band in 1961 to pursue a career in art, prompting Paul’s somewhat-reluctant switch to bass. Stuart died in 1962 from a brain haemorrhage.

When The Beatles returned to Liverpool at the end of 1960, they were transformed and they quickly became the city’s biggest band.

beatles411961-1962. [instrument] The Casbah’s original piano (now stringless), which Roag says was played by The Beatles. It would have been played by Paul, who was the only one with any piano skills at that stage.

Also in the picture are The Beatles’ PA speakers, which they left in the Casbah when they outgrew it.

beatles481961-1963. [venue] The Cavern Club at 10 Mathew Street. It became The Beatles’ home base in 1961 and 1962, with them playing there 292 times. There were just a few shows in 1963, when they were far too big to play such a small venue. The Quarrymen also played there on 7 August 1957, before Paul or George had joined. The original Cavern was closed in 1973 and demolished to make way for an underground rail loop, which was never built. Decisions like that illustrate that, for a decade or so after the Beatles broke up in 1970, Liverpool didn’t sufficiently appreciate their importance, their tourism potential or the longevity of interest they would generate. These days the stamp of the Beatles on Liverpool is huge and very obvious. The current Cavern is closely modelled on the original and about half of it overlaps with where the original was.

1961-1962. [place] Pubs in central Liverpool much used by The Beatles. The Grapes, in particular, was their watering hole when they played in the Cavern.

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beatles511962, June to 1970, Jan. [studio] EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London, where The Beatles recorded almost all of their output. The way The Beatles’ recording contract with EMI came about was another million-to-one chance. They had already been rejected by every record label in England, including EMI. However, the EMI music publishing firm, Ardmore and Beechwood, was keen to sign up Lennon and McCartney as songwriters. (Through another series of unlikely events, Brian Epstein had been able to play them some of the Beatles’ early original songs.) Brian would not agree to a publishing contract unless it came with a recording contract. Unbeknown to Brian or the band, Ardmore and Beechwood put pressure on EMI to provide one, but they refused. Then, in a freak of luck for The Beatles, one of the heads in EMI got wind of the fact that one of his label managers, George Martin, was having an affair with his secretary. This head was a deeply moral man and was outraged. To show his displeasure, and to get the publishers off his back, he forced George to take on The Beatles. It took a while for the relationship to bed down, but within about six months they had established the most important producer-musician relationship in music history. Part of the incredible luck in the story was that it was George Martin, and no other producer, who ended up with The Beatles. Thank goodness they were rejected by all the other labels, or they would have ended up in a deal providing no artistic freedom, with little (and perhaps no) scope to record original songs, and probably limited to releasing singles, not albums, which was normal for pop stars at the time. Once he grasped their potential, Martin provided the perfect environment and musical support for them, making crucial contributions to some of their greatest music.

1962, August 23. [place] Below left is 64 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool. This was the registry office where John and Cynthia were married. The marriage was a rush job as Cyn was pregnant with Julian. [home] On the right is the flat at 36 Falkner Street, Liverpool, owned by Brian Epstein, where John and Cynthia lived for a while following their marriage.

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Early 1963 [clothing] An early Beatles suit jacket worn by Ringo in 1963. I chanced upon this in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In early 1963 Ringo had only been in the band for a matter of months. Pete’s sacking to make way for Ringo was one of the most controversial episodes in their history. Ringo very quickly settled in and became part of an inseparable team with John, Paul and George, which Pete had never been.

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beatles161963 [clothing] A non-matching set of Beatles’ suits. Two of them seem to be from the same set as Ringo’s jacket above. The other two have collarless jackets, which they used for a while in 1963. These are on display in the Museum of Liverpool, which is highly recommended, and not just because of their excellent Beatles displays.

In the course of 1963, The Beatles went from being a little-known regional group with one minor hit to the biggest thing in British showbiz history. Their first album, Please Please Me, spent 30 weeks at number 1, and was only knocked off the top by their second album, With The Beatles, which stayed there for a further 21 weeks.

beatles341963, August [instrument] Maton Guitar used by George in August 1963 while his usual Gretsch was being repaired.

Four months later, Capitol released “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in the US, and the American music industry was shaken to its foundations. Previously, British acts were almost completely ignored, but in the first four months of 1964, over half of all records sold in the US were by The Beatles. After that, British acts had a period of remarkable dominance, and the impact of British music remains hugely disproportional to their population.

beatles171965 [clothing] Stage suit jacket of John Lennon, worn on the 1965 American tour. This included the momentous show at Shea Stadium, the very first stadium music concert. Displayed at The Museum of Liverpool.

By 1966, The Beatles were thoroughly sick of the mad hysteria that accompanied their concerts, so they quit touring, but they entered a period of unprecedented creativity and innovation in the recording studio and in their song writing. The next three songs epitomise this new phase.

1966 [song reference] The gravestone for Eleanor Rigby at St Peter’s Church, Woolton, where John and Paul first met. Paul says he was unaware of this gravestone and made up the name, which makes it an amazing coincidence. Also here is a statue of Eleanor Rigby, inspired by the song, created by the singer Tommy Steele and displayed in central Liverpool.

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beatles571967 [song reference] “Strawberry Fields Forever” is my favourite song by The Beatles, or indeed by anyone. Its beauty combined with its awesome complexity, coupled with the amazing story of how it was created, are irresistible. Here is the gate to Strawberry Field, the Salvation Army children’s home close to John Lennon’s childhood home, Mendips. John attended an annual garden party here, and his young gang of friends jumped the wall to hang out there at other times too. These gates are almost all that is left of the original place.

1967 [song reference] The actual barber shop referred to in Penny Lane. “In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs …” On the right is Penny Lane itself, this photo taken from the “shelter in the middle of a roundabout”. “Penny Lane” is one of Paul’s most ingenious compositions, with numerous key changes that sound completely natural within the song. Most people don’t even realise they are happening. I’ve recorded a version of it, arranged for voices only, in four-part harmony. Hear it here. Fancy putting both of these incredible songs (“Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”) onto the same single. Such was their wealth of material.

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beatles291967. [place] A lovely old bandstand in Sefton Park that is thought to have been part of Paul’s inspiration for Sgt Pepper.

In 1968 they released my absolute favourite album, a highly eclectic double album set, officially known as The Beatles but universally referred to as the White Album.

1969, May 26 [place] We made a quick visit to Montreal early in our trip. This was a chance to see the hotel that John and Yoko used to stage their Bed-In for Peace, and also recorded the song “Give Peace a Chance”. Here I am in front of the very posh Fairmont Le Reine Elizabeth Hotel (in 1969 it was called the Queen Elizabeth Hotel), and also inside it in front of a display that commemorates the event.

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By early 1970 it was all over. It’s quite understandable that they were ready for a change after all they’d achieved and been through together. Unfortunately the end was dominated by disputes amongst them over business decisions, mostly between Paul and the other three. History showed that Paul was completely right, especially about the undesirability and untrustworthiness of Allan Klein, who the others wanted to appoint as the band’s manager.

beatles211970-2001. [home] Pauline booked the accommodation for our long walk along the Thames (see PD292), and she had no idea that the place she had chosen in Henley-on-Thames was about 50m from the front gates of George Harrison’s mansion, Friar Park. He bought this eccentric 19th century construction in 1970, saving it from demolition. This is just the front gate, with the gate house behind it. The actual house, not visible from the gate, is enormous, with 120 rooms. The contrast with the home he was born in could not be more extreme. His widow Olivia still lives in Friar Park.

1970. [instrument] [home] Below left is a reconstruction of the White Room in John’s London home, Tittenhurst Park, where he wrote “Imagine”. This reconstruction is at The Beatles Story in Liverpool.

1975ish (year not specified in the display). [instrument] Below right is a piano used by John Lennon in a New York recording studio. It may have been Record Plant, which he used for several albums, or the Hit Factory – I can’t recall. This is displayed in The Beatles Story.

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2001 [place] They named the Liverpool airport after John in 2001.

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beatles392012 and 2007. [instrument] These are two backup bass guitars built specially for Paul by Hofner. The left one was for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert in 2012, and the right was commissioned by Paul as a backup for concerts in 2007.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016 [tourism] Two of the many commercial enterprises that serve Beatles tourism in Liverpool. Researchers at the University of Liverpool estimated that Beatles-related tourism generates around £82 million revenue per year in Liverpool and keeps 2300 people employed.

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To finish with, here are various statues and memorials to the Beatles in Liverpool. In order, they are: (a) The latest statues unveiled only 6 months ago, at the Liverpool Docks. These are really good likenesses. (b) A set of more impressionistic statues below Mathew Street, at about the point where the original Cavern stage was. (c) The Cavern Wall of Fame, listing all the bands who played in the club in its original phase. (d) John Lennon Statue in Mathew Street, next to the Cavern Wall of Fame (e) The Hard Day’s Night Hotel, which has a statue of each Beatle spread across its front at the first floor level. (f) Another memorial in Mathew Street. “Four lads who shook the world” sums things up rather well.

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Further reading

Lewisohn, M. (2013). Tune In: The Beatles – All These Years, Vol. 1, Little Brown, London.

Pannell, D.J. (2004). The White Album, Pannell Discussions #10.

Pannell, D.J. (2012). It was 50 years ago today, Pannell Discussions #225.

Pannell, D.J. (2014). Capitol Records’ shameful handling of The Beatles, Pannell Discussions #264.

288 – Bowie albums ranked

Since David Bowie’s death a couple of weeks ago, I’ve playing his albums pretty incessantly. Playing them all within a short time made me think about which ones I prefer. I’m sharing, in case it’s helpful to others thinking of expanding their Bowie collections.

David Bowie is in my second rank of favourite musicians: not someone whose music I’m completely obsessed with, but definitely one of the greats. He fits into mainstream rock, but like the most original and creative rock artists (The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Radiohead) he was renowned for making radical changes in his music from time to time. In fact, Bowie’s changes were more radical and more frequent than any other major artist.

My decade-by-decade summary would be:

  • The 1960s: An awkward debut, one brilliant single, and a very good second album.
  • The 1970s: Mostly stunningly good, progressing through five utterly distinct phases.
  • The 1980s: Starts with one very good album. After that, several dreadful albums that I can’t bear to listen to.
  • The 1990s, 2000s and 2010s: Everything from 1995 on was very good to excellent.

I have a strong preference for his more adventurous work, and a very strong dislike of his most commercial work (from the mid 1980s).

To be more specific, here is my ranking of all his albums, from best to worst, with some comments about each.

1. Low (1977). The second of three albums in a row that are just amazing. Low is the most radically unusual album by any mainstream rock artist that was actually meant to be listened to. It’s strange, fragmentary, and quite unique in its sound, but it’s absolutely compelling. Brian Eno helped make it that way.
2. "Heroes" (1977). This follow-up to Low has a darker feel, and the songs are more like traditional songs. Brian Eno is back, and Robert Fripp on guitar really stars, especially on the magnificent title song.
3. Station to Station (1976). A bit of the white funk/soul of the previous album Young Americans continues, but it’s much more sinister and challenging, especially the title track. Wonderful, memorable songs.
4. Hunky Dory (1971). Here is another group of three consecutive brilliant albums, this time from the start of the 1970s. They each sound completely different. Hunky Dory is the album to play to someone who likes relatively traditional songs and needs to be convinced about Bowie. Many highlights but "Life on Mars" is incandescent. (Rick Wakeman, no less, says that it was “the best song I had ever had the privilege to work on.”)
5. The Man Who Sold the World (1970). Utterly different from the albums before and after it, this one is sort of heavy metal/prog. Dark, apocalyptic and sinister, and mostly pretty heavy, but exciting throughout.
6. Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972). Most serious fans consider this his best album. I’ve got it at number 6. It’s still brilliant, but not as brilliant as the others above it. It’s off-centre pop-rock with great songs.
7. Black Star (2016). It’s hard to properly assess the worth of an album that’s only been released for a few weeks, especially a Bowie album, but at the moment at least this one seems outstanding. The title track is creepily uncomfortable in a way that only Bowie at his best can do. The album sounds like an artist thriving, rather than one on the brink of dying.
8. Diamond Dogs (1974). Excellent production, excellent songs, a great unified feel for the album. This was the last of his run of four early-70s glam rock albums before he started heading off in radically different directions (again).
9. Lodger (1979). This was the third of the Berlin trilogy (after Low and Heroes). It has some excellent tracks, but not quite the sustained brilliance of the other two. A highlight is the guitar playing of Adrian Belew. Bowie has worked with some incredible guitarists, but in my view Belew is the best. He also plays on the live album Stage.
10. The Next Day (2013). Given Bowie’s ill-health and a 10-year gap, fans were not expecting to see another album, let alone one this good. Surprisingly, my top 10 consists of eight albums from the 1970s and two from the 2010s.
11. Heathen (2002). One of five very good Bowie albums released between 1995 and 2003. This is my favourite of the five. It’s interesting and consistently good.
12. Earthling (1997). Almost as good as Heathen, though it’s very different. He’s being creative with “Drums ‘n’ Bass”, an English genre of electronic music.
13. Space Oddity (1969). The title track is such a standout that it boosts my ranking of this album, but the rest of the album is good too, in a folky sort of way.
14. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (1980). Like Space Oddity, this contains an outstanding track ("Ashes to Ashes" this time) and a set of other very good tracks. This was the last really good album he made for 15 years.
15. Outside (1995). This was the next very good album he made after Scary Monsters (there were seven others in between). He reunited with Brian Eno, who was such an important part of Low and Heroes, for another album that is quite strange. It’s not as artistically successful as those earlier gems, but it is definitely worth having.
16. Young Americans (1975). One of his most radical departures: from the glam rock of Diamond Dogs to the white funk and soul of this one. Contains two of Bowie’s very best songs, "Young Americans" and "Fame", but the rest of the album is not as strong.
17. Reality (2003). His last album before health problems and other activities kept him away from recording for a decade. It would have been a very good final album, though his actual final album is substantially better.
18. Hours (1999). My least favourite of the albums he released after his mid-1990s return to form (the energy level feels a bit low for Bowie), but it’s still pretty good.
19. Tin Machine II (1991). Tin Machine was Bowie’s attempt to break away from the hyper-commercial dross of his mid-1980s albums. It partly worked. It sounds like an American, heavy-guitar-based rock band with Bowie as singer – because that’s what it was. I quite like both Tin Machine albums, but something was lacking. Originality, probably.
20. Tin Machine (1989). See Tin Machine II. This was the first of the two Tin Machine albums. Also quite good.
21. Aladdin Sane (1973). Many Bowie fans would gasp at me putting this below Tin Machine, but it has never really connected with me. I think it’s by far the weakest of his 1970s original albums. Neither the songs nor the production are as good as on most of his other albums.
22. Black Tie, White Noise (1993). The first hint that a return to something like his best form might be possible, after a decade of mediocrity. It’s still too commercial sounding in an American way, but there are some interesting and enjoyable parts.
23. Toy (2001). This album was made for commercial release but it never came out (I guess it will at some stage). It was leaked online in 2011. It includes a number of re-makes of old Bowie songs from the 1960s. The production is good but it lacks great songs.
24. Buddha of Suburbia (1993). Some soundtrack music, with words added to some pieces. Bowie himself rated this album really highly. To me it's just not bad. His instrumentals on the Berlin albums were much more compelling.
25. Pin Ups (1973). Disposable. Mostly not-very-good cover versions of some of Bowie’s favourite songs from the 1960s. Includes one great track: "Sorrow".
26. David Bowie (1967). His debut was completely different from everything that followed. It now sounds very dated. There are a few nice songs but too many novelty songs that make me cringe.
27. Let’s Dance (1983). Bowie’s most commercially successful album by miles. It’s slick, but creatively dead. The death was even more obvious on his next two albums (which are the final two in this list) but it was already there on this one. Even his hair was awful in this period.
28. Tonight (1984). It’s hard to know which of these two mid 80s albums to put last. They are both execrable. Over-produced, boring, and lacking any good original songs.
29. Never Let Me Down (1987). See Tonight.

 

264 – Capitol Records’ shameful handling of The Beatles

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first success in the US, and there is a lot of celebrating and reminiscing going on. Capitol Records in the US probably made more money from The Beatles’ phenomenal success than anybody else, but nobody less deserved to profit from The Beatles than Capitol Records. They were dazzlingly incompetent and shamelessly greedy

Capitol had the right to release all of The Beatles music in the US, because Capitol was owned by The Beatles’ British label, EMI. But for ages they refused to release any Beatles music at all, turning down four singles and two albums, to the enormous frustration and anger of everyone associated with the band. Capitol arrogantly presumed that anything produced by the British would not succeed in the US. Even “She Loves You” (not just obviously a great track but the all-time highest selling record in the UK for the next 14 years) didn’t hit them as something that would be worth releasing. Clearly they were totally incompetent as judges of music, but they couldn’t even take the signals from the Beatles’ extraordinary success in England throughout 1963. American artists touring the UK were returning to the US with tales of the great music and unbelievable success of The Beatles, but Capitol didn’t know or didn’t care.

Eventually they released “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (one source says they were forced to by their parent company EMI) and immediately the Beatles records took off like nothing else before or since. In the opening four months of 1964, more than half of all records sold in the US were by the Beatles. One week they held all of the top five positions on the singles chart, plus the top two albums. Did Capitol learn from their previous arrogance and stupidity and treat The Beatles with more respect? Not a bit of it – they found a variety of ways to add insult to injury.

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In a demonstration of brazen greed, Capitol omitted three or more songs from every Beatles album, and when they had accumulated enough songs in this way, they put out additional albums. This must have infuriated the Beatles, who were always concerned about providing value for money. The average length of The Beatles’ early Capitol albums is about 26 minutes. Most outrageously, Something New included only five new songs; four of the other six had already been released the previous month on A Hard Day’s Night and two had already been released as singles. And they called it Something New! Even including the six songs that fans already had, the album was only 24 minutes long.

They didn’t just shorten the albums, they re-juggled and mashed together songs from different albums and singles, meaning that the albums lost continuity of sound and style. Capitol threw out any of the band’s judgments about album coherence and song sequencing. For American fans, the Beatles’ extraordinary album-by-album progression – so obvious in the rest of the world – was masked. Most of the US albums are incongruous messes, with songs stuck together from several different sources. For example, Yesterday and Today (which was at least honestly titled) included two tracks from Help! from mid 1965, four tracks from Rubber Soul from late 1965, two tracks from a late 1965 single, and three tracks from Revolver from mid 1966. When they released Rubber Soul, they didn’t just trim down the UK version, they slashed four tracks and threw in two tracks from Help! that didn’t belong there at all. All of their albums prior to Sgt Pepper were pruned, muddled and mangled like this.

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United Artists got in on the rip-off act when they released the movie soundtrack albums for A Hard Day’s Night and Help! In the rest of the world these albums had 13 or 14 Beatles tracks, but in the US they had only 9 (AHDN) or 7 (H!). They were padded out with instrumental music from the soundtrack, not performed by The Beatles.

Displaying further greed, Capitol released an absolute appalling documentary album, The Beatles Story, in 1964. It is truly ghastly.

By this disgusting combination of practices, Capitol and UA required US fans to buy 12 albums (prior to Sgt Pepper) compared to 7 in the rest of the world.

Capitol butchered the sound of the recordings. Without permission from The Beatles or their producer George Martin, they added treble and extra echo to the early recordings and they manufactured fake stereo from mono recordings by putting high frequencies in one speaker and low frequencies in the other. As a result, the sound quality of the US releases was noticeably inferior to the UK originals.

Capitol was so careless about things that they actually failed to release two great Beatles songs on Capitol albums at all (“Misery” and “There’s a Place”). Rather than give US Beatles fans better value for money for a change, they just left them off The Early Beatles, presumably hoping to squeeze out one more album at some point, but there was never a suitable place to put them until Rarities in 1980. (The sleeve notes for Rarities trying to explain the omission of these tracks add dishonesty to the list of crimes. “In the early Sixties … [Beatles’] albums from one country seldom resembled those from another.” Absolute rubbish. Outside North America most releases in most countries matched the UK albums. Only in America did they mangle the albums.)

Another way that Capitol made easy money was by releasing extra singles for tracks that were only on albums or e.p.s in England. Some of these were good choices for singles (“Yesterday” and “Nowhere Man”) , but a couple of the songs were really second-rate by The Beatles’ standards (“I’ll Cry Instead” and “Matchbox”). Clearly, Capitol couldn’t tell good music from bad, or they didn’t care.

Up until Rubber Soul, the album artwork of US albums was just awful, as illustrated in the above two examples. They passed over some excellent artwork design on the UK albums to release a series of tacky and tasteless covers.

Overall, the contrast between the good taste, value for money and integrity of Parlophone/EMI in the UK, and the tastelessness, greed, incompetence and unscrupulousness of Capitol in the US could hardly be greater.

When the albums were released on CD in 1987, the Beatles insisted on the UK versions being used in all countries, and the appalling US albums were finally put to bed.

Or so it seemed. Unfortunately, Americans who grew up knowing only the mangled albums continue to hold a soft spot for them, despite their many failings. Eight of the albums were released in two box sets in 2004 and 2006, complete with the original poor sound. In January 2014, another CD box set of all 13 US-specific albums was released, and you can now buy them all individually. There is no excuse or explanation for this other than greed. This time they have better sound but the dreadful original track listings and covers are preserved. I pity the fans who are allowing themselves to be ripped off all over again. They should be giving Capitol their condemnation, not their money.

Further reading

Lewisohn, M. (2013). Tune In, (The Beatles: All These Years, vol. 1), Crown Archetype, New York. [This is actually about the era that predates Capitol’s worst disgraces, but it’s easily the best of the many Beatles books on the market.]

225 – It was 50 years ago today

October 5, 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first proper release. The single Love Me Do came out in England to no outstanding acclaim, enjoying moderate chart success. Like most aspects of The Beatles’ career, there is a great story behind it.

The year 1962 started with The Beatles failing an audition for a recording contract with Decca. The man who turned them down, Dick Rowe, signed Brian Poole and the Tremilos instead! Imagine the regret he’s lived with ever since. However, if you listen to what the Beatles recorded for Decca that day (available on various semi-legal releases, and in part on ‘Anthology 1′), his decision is understandable. The recordings are fascinating in the light of what came later but, in truth, they aren’t very good, and some parts are cringe-worthy. Listening to it, it would have been hard to imagine any particularly notable success for the band.

This was the most well-known of numerous knock-backs they received. Pretty much every record label in England turned them down, including Parlophone, the label they would end up on. George Martin, the head of Parlophone, heard nothing that interested him in the Decca audition recordings when they were played to him by Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein. However, some months later, Martin was forced to offer them a recording contract by his boss, who was responding to enormous pressure from their in-house publishing company, which wanted to publish the songs of Lennon and McCartney.

Their first Parlophone recording session on June 5 was different from the Decca episode in several ways. For one thing, from the two songs that survive from the session, they sound much better – more together and fuller. Secondly, three of the four songs recorded were Lennon and McCartney originals, including Love Me Do, whereas for Decca they mainly recorded cover versions. Thirdly, they had a recording contract – it was not an audition.

After the recording session Martin’s main negative comment was that he didn’t think much of their drummer, Pete Best. This precipitated one of the most discussed episodes in the band’s career: Best’s sacking and replacement by Ringo Starr, right on the cusp of their breakthrough to massive success. This was really tough on Best. He had paid his dues thoroughly with the band, performing in hundreds of shows with them, and being a key part of their evolution from rank amateurs to a band ready for extreme greatness. He had suffered with them through two years of extremely poor playing conditions and long, long hours in the seedy clubs of Hamburg. Best was also a popular band member amongst Beatles fans, due to his moody good looks – a sort of James Dean character. (You can get some hint of that in the above photo – Best is on the left).

The other element of the controversy was the way he found out the news – from manager Brian Epstein, rather than from his fellow band members. It was terribly cowardly of them, really.

So why was he sacked? A range of reasons have been proposed.

(a) He didn’t fit in well with the other three Beatles, who were extremely tight-knit and shared a distinctive sense of humour, and a distinctive hair-do which Best refused to adopt.

(b) The others were jealous of his popularity.

(c) He was a poor drummer.

I think reason (b) is implausible. A popular, handsome member is an asset to a pop band. Each of them had an avid individual following, anyway, even in those early days. This reason was made up by fans in Liverpool who lacked the musical knowledge to judge reason (c).

The Beatles themselves referred to reason (a) in the ‘Anthology’ TV series, and it certainly was part of it. Best kept himself apart from the other three, choosing not to socialise with them.

But the main reason was (c). You can hear Best’s drumming on various historical releases from those very early days, and it is generally pretty bad. In particular, on that first recorded version of Love Me Do from June 1962 (released in 1995 on ‘Anthology 1’), the drumming is absolutely terrible. No wonder Martin didn’t like it. It must have grated on John, Paul and George, who were solid musicians (or much better than solid in Paul’s case). It would have been absolutely obvious to them that Best was their musical weak link. Replacing him with Ringo gave them a much tighter more professional sound, and he was much more engaged and lively on stage.

So the first set of recordings was shelved. When The Beatles returned to the Abbey Road recording studio on September 4 to have another go at recording their first single, Ringo was the drummer, having quit his existing band with only a couple of days’ notice. George was sporting a black eye, received from a Beatles fan protesting about Best’s sacking (or another theory is that it was a local tough jealous of his girlfriend’s interest in the band). George’s head is intentionally angled away from the camera in the photo from the session (left – he is second from the left) to hide his shiner.

There were two songs in contention for the single A side: Love Me Do and a song that George Martin preferred, How Do You Do It?, which was not a Beatles original. After the sessions, The Beatles argued strongly that they wanted to go with Love Me Do rather than covering somebody else’s song. This speaks volumes about their confidence even then. These days, it is expected for bands to write their own material, but that is purely a result of The Beatles. It was almost unheard of in those days. And to resist the preferences of their producer, who would have been used to getting his own way, was also courageous. What’s more, George Martin’s judgement about the commercial potential of the other song was spot on. It was later a number 1 hit for Gerry and the Pacemakers.

But the Beatles hated How Do You Do It? – it was far too wimpy for them. So, right from the start, The Beatles demanded creative freedom from their producer. George Martin really didn’t want to allow it – he still didn’t think much of Love Me Do. However, when the songwriter of How Do You Do It? heard the Beatles recording of it, he hated what they had done to it, and refused to allow them to release it, leaving Martin with no choice but to make Love Me Do the A side.

Because How Do You Do It? was ruled out, they now lacked a recording for the B side. So they went back to Abbey Road a week later to record P.S. I Love You. This marked another dramatic moment, as the Parlophone producer (not George Martin this time, but a stand-in named Ron Richards) had engaged a session drummer, Andy White, to replace Ringo. This was really unnecessary and unfair on Ringo. His playing on the second version was fine, although he’d had some difficulties during the second recording session. You can’t hear Ringo’s difficulties in the recording (it is available on ‘Past Masters Volume 1’), but there were other more obvious weaknesses; Paul’s singing was a little bit off in one or two places, and the bass guitar was slightly out of tune. So it was fortunate that they had this third session, as it gave them the opportunity to record Love Me Do for a third time (once they’d finished recording P.S. I Love You), and this time they nailed it. Ringo was gutted not to be playing on it, but he dutifully played tambourine along with the session drummer. This certainly is the best version of the three, due to better singing, the bass guitar tuning and the overall mix – nothing to do with the drumming.

Ironically, when the single came out on October 5, due to a mix-up, it contained the second version with Ringo on drums. It was switched to the third version on the ‘Please Please Me’ album and on subsequent pressings of the single. To avoid that mistake happening again, EMI destroyed the master tape of the Ringo version. They had to take it from a copy of the first pressing of the single to include it on ‘Past Masters Volume 1’.

The song peaked at number 17 on the English charts. To me, this seems about right. As a song, Love Me Do is OK but not great – probably their weakest single. Mind you, it  could have gone higher if Parlophone had promoted it properly. George Martin felt it had no prospects of making the charts, and left it to sink. Only after it made the top 20 anyway did he realise that he’d misjudged it and come fully on side as an enthusiastic ally.

Love Me Do is one of only a few of their very early compositions that they actually recorded for EMI. (others included One After 909, I’ll Follow the Sun and When I’m 64.) Interestingly, they had written dozens of songs together in 1957-59, but hadn’t written any at all in the two years before Brian Epstein became their manager at the end of 1961. In their shows they were solely a covers band until they got the recording contract, and for some reason they were kicked into action as composers at that time (probably encouraged by Epstein).

Love Me Do wasn’t released in the US at that time. By the time it was, in 1964, The Beatles were totally dominating the music industry, and it went to number 1 as a matter of course.

After Love Me Do, the pace of The Beatles’ improvement in song writing and recording was unbelievable, reaching something close to perfection just 4-5 years later with the Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever single and then the ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ album. Play Love Me Do and Strawberry Fields Forever back to back and be amazed. From simple pop song to an astonishingly great piece of art in four years.

P.S. 27 December 2013. I have extensively edited the piece to bring it into line with the correct history, as described in the fantastic new biography “Tune In” by Mark Lewisohn. His account corrects a number of errors that have been perpetuated in all previous biographies. For example, he clarifies that the first session for Parlophone was not an audition – they already had a contract by then. Also I had no idea that George Martin signed them against his will. That’s amazing. It is also the first book to be really clear about why Pete Best was sacked. I’ve always known he was a terrible drummer with awful timing – just listen to the recordings! But no previous book had made clear to non-musician readers how terrible he was. They can have no doubt after reading this book. Here are four examples that make the point eloquently.

Early Beatles collaborator Tony Sheridan said, “Pete was a crap drummer, you can take my word for it. He was just not competent, and there were discrepancies between his feet and his hands.”

In an earlier recording session in Germany, the producer didn’t think Pete’s drumming was good enough for recording. He physically removed the bass drum and tom-tom drum from his kit in an attempt to keep him on time! The engineer from the session was quoted saying “the drummer is just bloody awful”.

The engineer from the Decca audition session said, “I thought Pete Best was very average and didn’t keep good time. You could pick up a better drummer in any pub in London. … If Decca was going to sign the Beatles, we wouldn’t have used Pete Best on the records.”

Ron Richards (main producer on first Parlophone session), said to George Martin, “He’s useless; we’ve got to change this drummer.”

Clearly, there was absolutely no way Best could stay in the Beatles. Best himself didn’t accept that his drumming was not up to scratch, and repeatedly claimed that there must have been some other reason for his sacking. That he could listen to those recordings and think they were OK just reinforces how unsuitable he was.