The Beatles' best albums, ranked

10 November 2023, 13:48

Which of The Beatles' albums do you think is their best?
Which of The Beatles' albums do you think is their best? Picture: Parlophone/Apple Records

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

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Their musical legacy endures like no other act from the 20th century.

The Beatles completely altered the course of popular music during their remarkably short, yet unimaginably impactful seven-year recording career.

Each member brought their own magic to The Beatles' unique alchemy, transgressing through pop into folk, rock, and psychedelia with their music, consistently breaking boundaries with every album they created.

Their songs truly stand the test of time, likely because the band unearthed two of the greatest songwriters of the century in John Lennon and Paul McCartney, not to mention George Harrison who seldom got a look in despite not being half-bad himself.

Ranking their 13 official albums (if you include Magical Mystery Tour which some people don't, though we are here) will inevitably rile the most ardent of Beatlemaniacs.

But we can assure you it's a ranking of fine margins - unless you think Yellow Submarine is the band's greatest, then you're just plain wrong.

Ultimately, it's a thankless task deciding the very best album amongst their immaculate body of work, when the likes of Revolver, Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Abbey Road all vie for the top spot.

So what did we choose as The Beatles' best? See for yourselves below:

  1. Yellow Submarine (1969)

    Yellow Submarine.
    Yellow Submarine. Picture: Apple Records

    The soundtrack to the animated film Yellow Submarine is often derided as The Beatles' worst album (or least best shall we say) and we're inclined to agree.

    With a second side of the LP being purely orchestral music, the first side is made up of re-used songs like the film's title track which featured on Revolver, and 'All You Need Is Love' which serves as the film's 'flower power' mantra and main theme.

    Out of the new four songs that feature on the album, 'Hey Bulldog' and the George Harrison-penned 'It's All Too Much' only really stand out, the latter being called the pinnacle of British acid-rock by some critics.

    Given the animated film didn't actually feature any of The Beatles' original voices, Yellow Submarine is easily the bottom of the pile when it comes to their albums.

  2. Beatles For Sale (1964)

    Beatles For Sale.
    Beatles For Sale. Picture: Parlophone

    Beatles For Sale was the band grappling with their newfound status as a global phenomenon, becoming what Lennon would later controversially refer to as "more popular than Jesus".

    It was their fourth album recorded in just over a year, under pressure by the burgeoning Beatlemania which would engulf their lives.

    Throwing together a series of covers by Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Little Richard alongside classics like 'Eight Days A Week', it still performed incredibly well in the US despite its ramshackle curation.

    Lennon and McCartney's songwriting partnership was prolific, but not quite enough to meet insane demand in the States - the band's faces on the album cover say it all really.

  3. Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

    Magical Mystery Tour.
    Magical Mystery Tour. Picture: Parlophone

    Yes, it wasn't technically an album in the UK initially, but it's since become canon after its 1976 re-release so we're including Magical Mystery Tour.

    It's The Beatles at their weirdest, which provides mixed results compared to the band's other psychedelic-indebted efforts of the same era.

    Though, it does feature some of their finest compositions, namely 'The Fool On The Hill', 'I Am The Walrus' and the ever-influential 'Strawberry Fields Forever'.

    Not that the band themselves were particularly happy with the latter's inclusion, as it was released as a standalone double A-side single with 'Penny Lane' in the UK, but the US edition slapped them both on the album which irked Lennon particularly.

  4. With The Beatles (1963)

    With The Beatles.
    With The Beatles. Picture: Parlophone

    Beatlemania starts here With The Beatles - the band's second album from 1963 started the rising wave of fame and fortune they'd go on to achieve soon after.

    It's an energetic mix of originals like 'I Wanna Be Your Man' (which was donated to The Rolling Stones prior) and covers from the likes of Smokey Robinson in 'You Really Got A Hold On Me' and Chuck Berry's blistering 'Roll Over Beethoven'.

    George even got a look in, with the album featuring 'Don't Bother Me', his first songwriting contribution.

    Arguably the standout from With The Beatles is 'All My Loving', McCartney's gorgeous ode to his then-girlfriend Jane Asher.

  5. Please Please Me (1963)

    Please Please Me.
    Please Please Me. Picture: Parlophone

    Where it all began for four spritely boys from Liverpool, who would unknowingly change the world with their music.

    1963 debut album Please Please Me sees The Beatles in full-swing, drawing all the raw energy from playing the iconic Cavern Club and packing it into the record's 14 song tracklist.

    Recorded in just one 13-hour session, the album sounds like it, brimming with youthful excitement and exuberance in opener 'I Saw Her Standing There', 'Love Me Do', and a cover of 'Twist And Shout'.

    Two months after its release, Please Please Me reached the top of the UK album charts and stayed there for thirty weeks, only to be knocked off by their sophomore album With The Beatles.

  6. Help! (1965)

    Help! Picture: Parlophone

    Though it was ostensibly the soundtrack to their movie of the same name, Help! was when The Beatles matured into more meaningful songwriters.

    Taking a step away from the purely pop-indebted sensibilities of their work until that point, the album featured future classics like the raucous 'Ticket To Ride', the title track, and 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away'.

    Most notably however, Help! featured the baroque masterpiece 'Yesterday', which has since become the most-covered song ever written.

    It marked the beginning of The Beatles' critical success too - their songwriting was now being recognised by mainstream critics, even nabbing a nomination for Album Of The Year at the 1966 Grammy Awards, the first rock band to achieve such a feat. Their creative whirlwind start here.

  7. Let It Be (1970)

    Let It Be.
    Let It Be. Picture: Apple Records

    Re-analysed by Peter Jackson's documentary Get Back, the recording process for Let It Be - The Beatles' final album - wasn't quite the seismic disaster it was initially made out to be.

    But by that point, creative tensions were boiling over resulting in John, George and Ringo checking out, leaving Paul to seemingly drag the project to completion with Billy Preston's twinkling keys backing him up.

    For what would prove to be the band's swansong, Let It Be does feature moments of excellence - namely the epic centrepiece and title track, 'Don't Let Me Down', 'The Long And Winding Road' and 'Get Back' - but by then the creative chasm between the four individuals was beyond repair.

    Largely regarded as a self-penned eulogy, Let It Be saw The Beatles wisely bow out before their critical and commercial success diminished, offering one last chance to see them perform live together too in the now-legendary "rooftop concert".

  8. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

    A Hard Day’s Night.
    A Hard Day’s Night. Picture: Parlophone

    A Hard Day's Night captured the Fab Four at their most effortlessly charming and cheekiest, embracing the insanity of Beatlemania from the eye of the storm.

    Their first full album to consist of just songs written by the band - well, Lennon and McCartney - it also provided the soundtrack to their film of the same name.

    Embracing the peppy pop-orientated sound in favour of rock 'n' roll covers that helped bulk out previous full-lengths, The Beatles' third studio album was a landmark moment in their journey to global domination.

    The influence of A Hard Day's Night spread far and wide too, inspiring US bands like The Byrds and Lovin' Spoonful to start rocking, and leaving the door for The Rolling Stones, The Animals, and The Kinks to conquer America in what became the Brit Invasion.

  9. "The White Album" (1968)

    "The White Album".
    "The White Album". Picture: Apple Records

    A scatter-gun collection of songs from four artists almost working independently, "The White Album" planted the seed for The Beatles to inevitably go their separate ways.

    Creative differences meant they'd begin to splinter, with Yoko Ono's continued presence become irksome and Ringo even quitting the band for two weeks.

    Frequent moments of pure genius go shoulder-to-shoulder with maddening avant-garde experimentation, with ideas spilling out into the expansive double-album, one that sees the band flirt with pop, rock, blues, folk, music hall, and even proto-metal in 'Helter Skelter'.

    With timeless songs like 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps', 'Hey Jude', 'Revolution', 'Blackbird', 'Dear Prudence', one can't help but think that if it was condensed into a single album that it potentially could've been their very greatest creation.

  10. Rubber Soul (1965)

    Rubber Soul.
    Rubber Soul. Picture: Parlophone

    The Beatles' milestone album Rubber Soul saw them shed Beatlemania, with Bob Dylan's increasing cultural impact seeing the band up their game.

    Embracing tambourine-shuffling folk and early cornerstones of the psychedelic movement in the sitar and harmonium, The Beatles entered a new era of expression with their sixth studio album which spawned classics like 'Drive My Car', 'Norweigan Wood', and 'If I Needed Someone'.

    They instigating a period of cultural creativity, in a knock-on effect which would inspire the likes of Brian Wilson, who crafted The Beach Boys' magnum opus Pet Sounds in response.

    After experiences with LSD and marijuana made the band reconsider the futility of their own fame, Rubber Soul marks the departure from The Beatles' pop fandom and beginning of their trip toward an ever-lasting cultural legacy.

  11. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

    Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
    Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Picture: Parlophone

    Pop music reached peak psychedelia in 1967 with The Beatles' deeply influential, blueprint concept album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

    Flamboyant in their multi-coloured attire, the band wouldn't only produce one of the most iconic album artworks in the history of pop music - one that has consistently been the subject of conspiracy theories about Paul's dying and being replaced by an imposter - but it was also a revelation in terms of recording.

    Considered one of the first ever art rock albums, The Beatles remoulded ideas of what was possible in the recording studio with sound effects and tape manipulation, the result of which created cornerstones of British psychedelia in 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' and the masterful, peerless 'A Day In The Life'.

    A pop culture phenomenon that still to this day hasn't been matched.

  12. Abbey Road (1969)

    Abbey Road.
    Abbey Road. Picture: Parlophone

    Technically their final album - albeit released ahead of 1970's Let It Be which was shelved due to mixing complications - Abbey Road proved that despite their increasing quarrels, when their minds met on the same plain that The Beatles were still capable of absolute magic.

    After years of being sidelined by the Lennon-McCartney songwriting dynamic, Harrison took centre stage for the first time, with the truly great 'Something' and endlessly optimistic 'Here Comes The Sun', the latter of which remains one of the band's most popular songs.

    Of course, there was plenty in the tank for The Beatles' principal songwriters, notably Lennon's guitar-wielding rockier efforts of 'Come Together' and sprawling 8-minute epic 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)'.

    The album artwork shot at the crossing outside of Abbey Road Studios continues to be lovingly recreated to this day, being awarded grade II listed status for its "cultural and historical importance" all thanks to the Fab Four.

  13. Revolver (1966)

    Revolver. Picture: Parlophone

    In 1966, The Beatles finally called time on their career as a live performing band. With no intention of recreating their music in-concert, the four members ventured down the rabbit hole of experimentation the recording studio.

    The result of which was Revolver, the band's defining statement as the most significant cultural act of the generation.

    Due to their ambition, newfound interest in LSD and Eastern philosophy, and experimentation with recording techniques, the band injected countercultural sensibilities directly into the mainstream.

    Revolutionising pop and rock with the entrancing 'Tomorrow Never Knows', the tragic 'Eleanor Rigby', the anti-capitalist 'Taxman', and spritely 'Got To Get You Into My Life', on the radical Revolver, The Beatles proved that opportunities for where to take contemporary music were limitless.