>As of one minute ago, the new Lucero is out. Me being a pre-ordering superfan and all, I’ve had it for some time now. My full-fledged review will be seen in this space soonly, but let me give you a quick teaser:
This album is ten really’s worth of great.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. When last we left off, Phillips everywhere were gasping in horror to the Bottom 4 of my Beatles Album Rankings. Now we head into the meat of the rankings: The Middle Four!
7) Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
MMT marked the first time in the Beatles’ short history that their instincts betrayed them. The ill-conceived Magical Mystery Tour documentary was nothing but a videotaped acid trip gone terribly wrong, and much of the film’s music was equally worthy of dismissal. Luckily, the final cut of the LP featured the previously-released giants “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane.” Teamed with the also separately-released “All You Need Is Love,” this trifecta is enough to warrant MMT‘s place in the Top 7. The ostensibly autobiographical “Hello Goodbye” gave the album yet another hit single, and a deeper insight into the growing rifts between Lennon and McCartney, while “The Fool on the Hill” is one of John’s most beautifully successful forays into surrealism. Though wildly imaginative and often brilliant, the album plays for what it is: a relative creative letdown on the heels of Sgt. Pepper. It captured the Beatles after the escapist themes of Sgt. Pepper but before the grounded beauty of Abbey Road.
Best Song: “Strawberry Fields Forever”
Sleeper Favorite Song: “Your Mother Should Know”
6) Rubber Soul (1965)
If you wanted to argue that 1965 was the best year in the history of popular music, I’m not going to fight you. Help!, Rubber Soul, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, My Generation, Rolling Stones No. 2, Out of Our Heads….the list is borderline silly. Both Beatles albums in 1965 showed a marked departure from their rhythm and blues roots. Dashes of surrealism (“Nowhere Man”), emphatic Motown backbeats, minor harmonies, and even acoustic arrangements. These boys were even writing folk songs–and inspiring them. According to legend and a healthy amount of evidence, Dylan wrote “4th Time Around” as his own version of “Norwegian Wood.” Because of these artistic strides, Rubber Soul is a truly classic album, and many would rank it higher on the list. Only a few duds mark this landscape (“Drive My Car,” “The Word”), and there are no shortage of Beatles staples (“Norwegian Wood,” “Michelle,” “Wait,” “In My Life”). The real strength of Rubber Soul, however, is its unity–this album has a sound, vision, and purpose all its own, and is executed without error.
Best Song: “In My Life”
Sleeper Favorite Song: “What Goes On”
5) Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Some would say that Sgt. Pepper is the greatest rock album by any band. And here I have it behind four other Beatles albums, much less some by other artists. Here’s the thing: you can make several thousand points as to why Sgt. Pepper is the first concept album, that it is the definitive album of the 60’s, that it is arguably the most influential album of all time, that “A Day in the Life” might very well be the Beatles’ crowning achievement, that it marked the exact moment and time that pop music’s biggest stars had become its most accomplished musicians, that it took studio experimentation to an entirely new statosphere, etc. It might all be true, especially the bit about “A Day in the Life.” Thematically, intellectually, even culturally, Sgt. Pepper is an unparalleled contribution. But aesthetically, it’s problematic: it’s simply not a great listen. For example, I know that “Fixing a Hole” is a musically brilliant composition, but the song’s emotional core doesn’t resonate in any way. I never just want to “put on” “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” or “Lovely Rita.” And “She’s Leaving Home” dangerously straddles the line between poignant and maudlin. I’m not saying that these aren’t great songs–they are. I’m just saying that most of them speak more to my head than my heart. So, number 5.
Best Song: “A Day in the Life”
Sleeper Favorite Song: “Good Morning Good Morning”
4) Help! (1965)
About the title track, Lennon once remarked, “It had never occurred to me before that I could write a song like that. All the ones before were about girls, or somebody or something else…here I was unhealthy, fat as a pig, just really unhappy. Just really needed some help, you know? And the song just came out. I think it just had to come out.” In this way, Help! marked the first time the Beatles tried–and mastered–something new. The perfect blend of early-period pop (“The Night Before,” “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”) and middle-period folk-infused rock (“Ticket to Ride,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face”), Help! established the Beatles as rock’s most progressive and adaptive pop songwriting team. The most interesting tracks to me, though, remain the relative “throwaways.” “It’s Only Love” is an amazing conceit and one of John’s most delicately-crafted melodies, and George’s “You Like Me Too Much” is a self-portrait of vanity that remains honest yet likable. And, of course, there’s this song called “Yesterday.” If Rubber Soul gets credit for its consistent 8.5, Help! gets higher honors for sustaining a 9.
Best Song: “Yesterday”
Favorite Song: “Ticket to Ride”
Sleeper Favorite Song: “The Night Before”
My baby don’t care,