Albums I Could Not Live Without (Part 2) - The Beatles Together and Solo
Friday is fun because it’s music, so there’s always a playlist. Today, I add to the list the albums I could not live without. This time The Beatles and their solo years. Ah, music. Glorious music.
I used to love blogging Top 10 lists. The great fun (and frustration) of a Top 10 list is that it’s always as much about what you leave out as what you include. So here’s the second attempt in a potential ongoing series. From time to time I’m just going to jot down some of the albums I feel I could not live without. The ones that just absolutely wreck you; the records you want to both tell everyone about and keep entirely for yourself. The ones where you feel you’re being let in on a secret. The records of your lifetime.
You might remember I shared a list of 10 albums I reckon I couldn’t live without one other time.
Well, this time, I’m going with a wee theme. The Beatles. But The Beatles AND their solo years. You get to hear them too. Linking to each album. And of course you should share your list, or the start of your list, or feedback around my list, in the comments below…
Alright, and pretty much in order of importance too - let’s go:
Abbey Road by The Beatles
I wrote a bunch about the 2019 ‘Super Deluxe’ 50th Anniversary edition, even a poem about the album turning 50. I Love This Record. It’s quite possibly the album I’ve listened to most in this lifetime. Easy contender, by virtue of it being the record I used when learning to play the drums. So there’s that too. But this album just feels so accomplished, and correct - every damn time I hear it. They’re all firing, on all cylinders. And there’s all the backstory and weariness that we know from the docos too. This is the one that means the most to me.
Plastic Ono Band by John Lennon
It’s a three-way tie for best solo album by a Beatle (sorry Ringo!) I’ve been known to be a bit harsh about John Lennon when of course I love his contribution to 20th Century music. But I just can’t quite get on board with all the hero-worship. Still, no issues with Plastic Ono Band being raved about. And some days, I’m quite sure it’s the very best of The Beatles-gone-solo. Bonus points too because Ringo is hugely involved, and his contribution is absolutely crucial.
George had something to prove - and boy did he nail the assignment. My Sweet Lord, Wah-Wah, Isn’t It A Pity, and What Is Life, all in a row. Throw in the immaculate Dylan cover (If Not For You) and the moving title track. In terms of weilding a supergroup (and giving birth to another supergroup through the process - Derek and the Dominos essentially formed here) and issuing banger after banger this was a polite fuck-you to his former bandmates, especially the songwriters he was eventually in competition with; George was holding the middle finger up - even if he had the facade of preaching peace. He was saying ‘get a load of these songs, many of them you didn’t think were good enough’. The album (a triple LP) is a beautiful monster record.
Ram by Paul & Linda McCartney
Paul and Linda’s Ram is the third in the three-way tie, and sometimes it’s my very favourite, and nearly my favourite album by anyone. I fell in love with this album as a kid, and then again in my first year away from home. Finding this in a chuckout bin on vinyl ($1 - can you believe it - still have that very copy, still plays a-okay!) was like finding a piece of home.
The Beatles (aka ‘White Album’) by The Beatles
I love the White Album for many reasons - and I love its sprawling messiness, as well as its announcement that the individuals within the group were already going their own way, off exploring within songs; no longer feeling like they were making anything for a stage ever, nor anything that needed to fit into a cohesive whole (as on the nearly-theme album, Sgt. Pepper). It’s also the very best of the recent reissues, its enormous anniverary edition for the 50th Anniversary is the most compelling of the latest glut of Beatles re-prints - not just filled with the same song over and over again, but featuring interesting demos, all in one place finally. A real nice-to-have.
Revolver by The Beatles
Someone else would think I was crazy for only picking three Beatles albums - but these days I’m far more taken with the 70s and 80s material that George and Paul offered, and the very best of John’s output (which includes his very early 80s material, when you factor in some leftovers). But I can’t not include Revolver. It is immaculate. So tight, and yet it goes all over the place too. The influence of Indian music, and Dylan, and drugs, and still the idea that some of these songs could live on a stage and morph and change - possibly. Not a single dud track. I dare you to find one.
McCartney by Paul McCartney
I love all The Beatles, but it’s no secret that Paul is my favourite. For a while there, I wanted George to be my favourite, but he’s just so unlikeable when you dig down into his psyche. Paul wouldn’t always be a saint - because who is, frankly - but he is the most talented member of the group musically, also the most experimental, and you can hear that here right away. Ramshackle, comfortable, silly, and then, as with Ram and its Back Seat of My Car, he just absolutely hits it out of the park with Maybe I’m Amazed. This is possibly my favourite “bedsit” album by anyone ever.
McCartney II by Paul McCartney
McCartney II is another album from my childhood, one I’ve never stopped listening to really - but a few years back I declared it Paul’s solo masterpiece in a bit of writing that felt like an audition for the 33 1/3 series; I’d love to write one about McCartney II. Boy, would I ever. This album is gloriously weird, and introspective and goofy, and just heartbreaking in places. One Of These Days feels like he’s writing a Beatles song by imagining the contributions and improvements John might offer. And how hooky is Darkroom, and Coming Up?
Red Rose Speedway by Wings
I love Wings - so much. And on a recent dig through all the albums I retired my love of Band on the Run (still great, just a little too clean - and overplayed for me I guess) and decided to really focus in on this. Another sprawling mess of an album - but filled with glorious surprises. And after a slow start from Wings (on purpose - he was desperate to not make it a Beatles Part 2) this is where McCartney fully starts to feel out the voice of the new band. Writing for the band, as well as for himself. So bursting with ideas, some still so baffling. Brilliantly so.
Wings at The Speed of Sound by Wings
I have always loved McCartney’s cheesiness - and cheekiness - and I’ve always defended Silly Love Songs and adored Let ‘Em In; this album is surprisingly jam-packed with beautiful things you might never have bothered with or forgotten about (The Note You Never Wrote, Beware My Love, Cook of the House, San Ferry Anne). I’m almost surprised I love it as much as I do - but it’s scraping in on the essential list. So. There.
Obviously, I’m a Beatles-fixated goon, so I own copies of most of the albums by all of them, and I want more. I curbed my collector-streak by selling off those middling mid-70s Ringo Starr solo albums. And some of George’s too. Guess what? Now I kinda want them back. But I’m not exaggerating the impact of them and my love for them when I say the first three solo albums by Ringo are terrific. I love Sentimental Journey with its drippy romantic, jazz-lite standards. I’m a huge fan of the country weirdness (sincere though it is) on Beaucoups of Blues, and I guess with Ringo he started having a run of proper hits of his own beyond just a single or two. I also love a lot of George’s stuff but have a soft spot for the penultimate album, the last fully completed solo record in his lifetime, Cloud Nine. And of course I love Double Fantasy, Imagine (minus its awful title track) and lots of Walls & Bridges and Mind Games. The truly great other McCartney solo albums for me are late-90s gem, Flaming Pie and the recent Egypt Station and McCartney III. But I also dig Tug of War and Flowers in the Dirt. I love all the Wings albums in some way, so won’t single out any more of them. They’re all great to me. Ditto: I love all the Beatles albums, but some I don’t really need to have and hear anymore. Next on my must-have list by the band now is actually Let It Be.
But this, somehow, was about a narrowing down of the TEN I have to have. These are the one I could never let out of the house; the ones I now barely let out of my sight.
Hey, while I (still?) have you…
I also made this fun playlist a while back - one of several versions of this, from a fun game, trying to imagine what the last Beatles album might have been, by focussing on the first singles from their solo projects. So, erm, imagine…
And that’s obviously far too much Beatle-talk for many of you, and nowhere near enough for others at the very same time. So, I’ll close, as always, with the randomness of this week’s A Little Something for The Weekend playlist. Vol. 144 in the continuing saga of trying to find something for everyone.
Don’t forget to leave your comments about all of this below, maybe your own list, Beatles-related or not. And don’t forget, if you’d like a go at writing a guest post in this style, we already had an excellent one from regular reader, Si White.
And I’d be happy to share any others if anyone else was up for it. (Drop me a message via Substack or to Simon@offthetracks.co.nz. As always, thanks for reading. And happy listening.
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