There comes a time in a young man’s life* when he has to make a big decision. I’m going to make one at the end of this upcoming week, when I buy my first Beatles album. But which album should I buy first? I’ve got to admit to being fond of more of the tracks on Abbey Road than most other albums, although the White Album/The Beatles has some tracks I’m also fond of. Equally, I’m less fond of the earlier more pop-centric material. But that’s just me. Your opinions (and indeed expertise) may vary, and that’s why I’m opening it up to a poll. Feel free to vote, and also free to drop commentary in to why I should pick one particular album over another in the comments section.
*Shut up. I’m still young.**
** Well, OK, not that young. Youngish. Thinking young. Some have even said “juvenile”. That counts, right?
4 thoughts on “Which Beatles Album should I buy first?”
I’d go the Revolver then Rubber Soul – the Fab Four at the absolute top of their game.
Pretty much anything from Rubber Soul onwards (with the possible exception of Yellow Submarine) can be argued as “essential” to your Beatles collection.
Rubber Soul is the last album of the touring era, and combines their American influences with a nostalgia for Englishness that would become the hallmark of their “psychedelic” period. It’s also the first time you hear a sitar on a Beatles album (unless you count the US version of Help! which included excerpts from the film score).
Revolver is the first post-touring album and it shows, with more studio experimentation and longer songs that would not have been well-suited to performance on stage. This is also the most balanced album in terms of the influence of the two main songwriters.
Sgt Pepper is Sgt Pepper. It’s the first album that was conceived as an album instead of a collection of songs, and was at the time the one they spent the longest recording. 1967 was the peak year for the Beatles’ songwriting experimentation and willingness to go further than their audience expected, and that shows through.
Magical Mystery Tour is an American album that was only released in the UK in 1976 and was only accepted as part of the “canon” in 1987. Nonetheless, this one plus Sgt Pepper gives you everything the band did during what is arguably their best and certainly most productive year.
The Beatles (aka “The White Album”) is the band starting to come apart. Epstein was gone, they were managing themselves, and the Magical Mystery Tour TV special had provided their first real critical panning. They’d also been through the Maharishi experience with widely varying degrees of enlightenment or skepticism. The resultant individuation is more apparent here than on any other album, before or after.
Let It Be is like a cathartic group therapy session more than an album. There are some very strong songs there, but also fragments, snatches of dialogue, abortive attempts to revive the camaraderie that once bound them so tightly to each other (including The One After 909, one of the first songs John and Paul had written together, but that they’d been too embarrassed about to release eight years earlier — that’s how desperate they were to “recapture” whatever it was that had made them The Beatles). In the end they walked away and left it, only to revive it later more as an epitaph than anything else.
Abbey Road is the last hurrah. Great songs, great production, the band for the first time in years sounding like a cohesive unit. It’s far and away their peak as instrumentalists, particularly in the case of McCartney — his bass work on Abbey Road is as good as any in rock.
At the moment I’m on a bit of an Abbey Road jag, but I’ve also rediscovered the American version of Rubber Soul (quite different to the UK version). I’m probably not the person to ask which you should buy first, since yo haven’t given the option of “buy the box set”.
I’ve voted Magical Mystery Tour, as it was the first Beatles album I possessed. On tape.
Rubber Soul. Partly because it inspired Brian Wilson to create one of the greatest albums of the 20th Century.