Best of the Best: The Beatles

Making a Top 5 list of Beatles albums is a daunting task. There are so many obsessive, argumentative, die-hard Beatles fans and hecklers out there.

I’ve known about The Beatles my whole life—from hearing their hits played on the radio, to seeing documentaries, reading articles, and even obtaining some choice albums and compilations. I also used to be on a radio show called Here, There and Everywhere on KZSC-Santa Cruz, spinning tunes by The Beatles, the four solo members, and anyone related to them. I’ve enjoyed most of their music, and I’m aware of the band’s sonic and personal development over time.

The Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr) not just changed with the times—they SET the times. They discovered new places, people, and ways of thinking, and were incredibly public with sharing their journeys with the rest of the world. Their albums give a snapshot of their changing mindsets and priorities, and over time, a few have stood out to me as the best. What do you think of this list?


 5 . With the Beatles (1963)

With the Beatles

1963’s With The Beatles, the band’s second studio album, will start the low end of this list. My personal preferences (since we all have them) lean towards the latter part of The Beatles’ career, but this oldie stands out to me for a few reasons. First off, it gives a good look at the origins of the band: bowl cuts, songs about love, one foot stuck in the 50’s. Top that off with covers of classic Motown hits like Barrett Strong‘s “Money (That’s What I Want)” and the Marvelettes‘ famous “Please Mister Postman,” and you’ve got a recipe for commercial success that people in the early sixties will obsess over.

Album highlights: “It Won’t Be Long,” “Please Mister Postman,” “Hold Me Tight,” “Money (That’s What I Want)”

4 . Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Here we go—you’ll notice things have changed a bit with this album. By 1967, The Beatles had begun to experiment with new things—musically and more. Sgt. Pepper can be considered an early form of a concept album, where the band performs as a different group called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It’s an important set of recordings because it helped solidify the “album” concept as a whole (i.e. releasing a special curated group of songs, vs. just singles on a record). It also helped introduce elements of psychedelia into British rock. The Beatles started to be open with their use of substances like marijuana and LSD, by vague and not-so-vague references (“I get by with a little help from my friends / oh I get high with a little help from my friends”). Even though John Lennon explained the pure coincidence between the song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and the abbreviation L.S.D., the song is heavily surreal all the same. “Within You Without You” is an excellent song written by George Harrison and performed by a group of Indian musicians, which holds true to elements of classic Indian musical style. With phrases of Vedantic philosophy, Indian beats, and sitar galore, you’ve got a real example of how the Beatles’ sound had literally traveled thousands of miles and beyond. Sgt. Pepper, to this day, is one of the best-selling albums in music history.

Album highlights: “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Fixing a Hole,” “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” “Within You Without You”

Also awesome: The mashup of “Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows” on The Beatles LOVE.

3 . Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

Magical Mystery Tour

Here’s one that came out soon after Sgt. Pepper, later in 1967. The Beatles kept the surreal/fantasy trip going with Magical Mystery Tour. I mean, just look at the cover art. The idea for this album started when Paul McCartney wanted to create a film about the band. Descriptions of the plot are weird, to say the very least, and the film was poorly received. But it left us with a few hits that are widely enjoyed and remade, including the nonsensical “I Am the Walrus” (remember when Bono sang it in Across the Universe?), and “Hello Goodbye.” After releasing two psychedelic albums in 1967, it became clear the fab four had departed from tame songs about heartache and relationships to themes of universal love and endless imagination.

Album highlights: “I Am the Walrus,” “Hello Goodbye,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Baby You’re a Rich Man,” “All You Need is Love”

2 . The Beatles (The White Album) (1968)

The Beatles - The White Album

Yes. Yes! With two whole discs making up The Beatles’ White Album, it’s hard not to find a few that you really like on here. This album goes all over the place—for better or worse—but it’s still high up on the list. The White Album brings a lot of great, solid rock n’ roll to the table: “Back in the USSR,” “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?,” and the widely-used b-day jam, “Birthday.” The song “Happiness is a Warm Gun” is one of my all-time Beatles favorites, and it’s great to sing along to (especially when the singing breaks to a bluesy dialogue spoken by John Lennon: “When I hold you in my arms / And I feel my finger on yoooour trigger…”). The song was banned by the BBC for its references to sex and drug addiction (“I need a fix ’cause I’m going down”). Those references are clear, but it’s an honest and raw tune. The album goes to softer places with the famous and beautiful song “Blackbird.” Overall, the social and political references are prominent throughout discs 1 and 2, and The White Album does an incredible job at showing us what it was like in 1968 (for those of us who don’t know).

Album highlights: “Back in the USSR,” “Dear Prudence,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” “Blackbird,” “Rocky Raccoon,” “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”,  “Birthday,” “Revolution 1,” “Honey Pie”

1 . Abbey Road (1969)

Abbey Road

Ah yes, Abbey Road makes #1 on my list. Let’s start from the top. The album name is a tribute to Abbey Road Studios in London, where The Beatles recorded the majority of their work, and the iconic cover art is constantly being re-enacted by fans (watch a live stream here!). This is The Beatles’ 11th studio album, and reportedly their best-selling. The first track, “Come Together,” is insanely good because of the way it makes you move and groove. I won’t go through every track, but I encourage you to get a copy for your collection and listen through it. The best song on here, in my honest opinion, is “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” The emotion and desire in that song is so very real. It’s a long song, almost stretching eight minutes, and it changes rhythmically and stylistically at different points. You’re taken on a roller coaster, going everywhere from cool, calm observation, to the fiery depths of despair and defeat. Just when you think you caught a break, you’re hit in the heart with a burst of heavy guitar riffs after the words “She’s so—.” At that point, the song transcends the auditory realm into something you can physically feel, and it’s heavy as hell. The lyrics are sparse, letting the music do the talking. This is The Beatles at their very best, and at their last. They disbanded before the record was even released. Ending on a lighter note, George Harrison’s song “Here Comes the Sun” is fundamentally positive and optimistic, and a favorite of many Beatles fans. In a way, it’s looking towards a future where music by the entire band and its individual members will continue to be played and enjoyed by all kinds of people, even those who came after their time.

Album highlights: “Come Together,” “Oh! Darling,” “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Mean Mr. Mustard/Poythene Pam/She Came in through the Bathroom Window”


If you agree or disagree with my Top 5 albums, let me know in the comments! And, of course, check out The Beatles discography on Murfie.


Kayla Liederbach
@djkaylakush

Kayla manages social media and customer support at Murfie. You can hear her on the radio hosting U DUB, the reggae show, Wednesdays on WSUM. She enjoys hosting the Murfie podcast, cooking, traveling, going to concerts, and snuggling with kittycats.


Best of the Best: Bob Marley & the Wailers

Bob Marley & the Wailers, like many other bands, have evolved dramatically throughout their career—and they constantly churned out records, whether it was as The Wailing Wailers, The Wailers, or (most famously) Bob Marley & the Wailers.

Their albums give a snapshot of the changing lineup and production of the band, from the early ska years at Clement “Coxsone” Dodd’s studio in 1965, to the band’s oftentimes most revered years working with the genius (and eccentric) producer Lee “Scratch” Perry in the early seventies, to the departure of Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, and the addition of Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths, the I Threes, as backing vocalists. Today, the group tours as The Wailers band, with Aston “Family Man” Barrett as bassist and the only remaining member from the band’s earlier years.

Bob Marley & the Wailers have some incredible reggae albums, and a “Top 5” list is certainly debatable. Let me just say it took me quite a while to narrow these down, and I’m still feeling guilty about leaving some out. And no, Legend is not on this list—and if you think it should be, then get outta here! What do you think about these?


 5. Exodus (1977)

Bob Marley & the Wailers - Exodus

Exodus is simply an incredible album from start to finish. Even the first song “Natural Mystic” begins quietly, and grows louder on just a pulsating groove. When full volume is reached, the groove is met with a bongo roll, and Marley starts his prophetic lyrics with “There’s a natural mystic blowing through the air.” The first half of the album focuses on a huge and often-debated Rastafarian idea of leaving Jamaica and returning to the African homeland. Jamaica was in turbulent political times in 1977, and the band recently survived its own turbulence as well—an attempted assassination of Bob, Rita and other members in 1976, and a lineup change before that (Tosh and Wailer departing in 1974 for solo careers, and the I Threes and Wailers backing band arriving in their place). Exodus also brought the world-famous song “One Love/People Get Ready” to the masses, virally spreading a message of universal love and unity to people all over the planet. This album was recorded in both London and Jamaica and was originally released via the popular Island record label, bringing the band much success.

Album highlights: “Natural Mystic,” “Jamming,” “One Love/People Get Ready,” “Three Little Birds,” “Exodus” 

4. Kaya (1978)

Bob Marley & the Wailers - Kaya

Interestingly, many songs on Kaya were recorded alongside tracks from Exodus the previous year at Island Studios in London. The main topics on this album are less political and more easygoing—themes of romance, nice weather, and herb or “Kaya” are prevalent. On the easygoing side of things, the song “Easy Skanking” is one of my all-time favorites—it has a nice, relaxed vibe, and it reminds us to “take it eeeeasy.” On the love side of things, the song “Is This Love” simply recognizes the growing feeling of caring for another, and it’s without a doubt one of Marley’s most popular tunes.

Album highlights: “Easy Skanking,” “Is This Love,” “Sun Is Shining,” “Time Will Tell”

3. Live at the Roxy (Recorded: 1976, Released: 2003)

Bob Marley & the Wailers - Live at the Roxy

That’s right, I chose a live album as #3—and don’t knock it ’til you’ve heard it! Live music has a magical, raw energy. This album genuinely captures that energy from one of the band’s prime years and keeps it alive for listeners today. Live at the Roxy is guaranteed to give you some shivers when you feel what I just described.

There are so many highlights from this album, both obvious and subtle—and they go way beyond what can happen in a studio. One example of this is how the audience cheers with delight after recognizing the opening notes of “Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Road Block).” In the same song, Bob strings together and slurs his plea to the arresting officer in an entertaining and animated way.

Something else I love about this album: The wonderful I Threes and their backing vocals, especially on “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)”. Their na na na, na na na na na’s act as a kind of a melodic baseline. And a lot of the songs on this album are extended well beyond their studio counterparts time-wise, letting the listener enjoy the special instrumental grooves, periods of drum and bass, and more. The super-slowed-down, crawling skank on this version of “Burnin’ and Lootin'” is something worth hearing as well. Disc two of this album contains the awesome song “Positive Vibration” and a medley containing the songs “Get Up, Stand Up,” “No More Trouble,” and “War.”

Album highlights: “Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Road Block),” “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry),” “Introduction + Trenchtown Rock,” “No Woman, No Cry,” “Roots Rock Reggae”…basically every track on here. 

2. Soul Rebels (1970)

Bob Marley & the Wailers - Soul Rebels

I’m taking it way back to the early years of the band here with Soul Rebels, recorded in Kingston, Jamaica, and produced by none other than the highly acclaimed, slightly mad, Lee “Scratch” Perry. This album is more “simple-sounding” to me than the others. It has more of a basic instrumental setup, with less of a dubby sound than the later bass-heavy versions of songs emphasized. The reason I love this album so much is it captures most of the original band in their early form, before signing on to major labels. Bob’s youthful voice fittingly asks listeners to “Try Me” on track two. Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh lend their backing vocals throughout the album, and the trio sound wonderful singing together (Peter Tosh on the lower vocal range and Bunny Wailer on the higher side. Funny note: I used to think Bunny Wailer’s vocals were that of a female until I learned more about the band). Tosh sings main vocals on the songs “No Sympathy” and “400 Years,” showcasing his militant demeanor and knack for pointing out injustices. I also love the song “It’s Alright” a lot, it’s one of my favorites, actually—and when you first hear it, the exciting thing is you don’t know that it’s a reggae song right away. In fact, it could be considered a rockers jam.

Another thing worth noting: I never liked the cover art on this album. It has no connection to the subject matter whatsoever. Apparently, the band felt the same as I, and they weren’t consulted about it before the album was released.

Album highlights: “Try Me”, “It’s Alright”, “No Sympathy,” “400 Years” 

1. Burnin’ (1973)

Bob Marley & the Wailers - Burnin'

And here it is, arguably the best Bob Marley & the Wailers album, Burnin’. Why is it #1, you ask? Well first of all, it contains an awesome version of “Duppy Conqueror,” a song that stands out to me for its melody and message.

“Yes me friend, me good friend / Dem set me free again… / The bars could not hold me / Force could not control me / They tried to keep me down / But Jah put I around…”

It’s the kind of song that empowers you to overcome oppression of any kind, whether it’s a prison cell in Kingston or any kind of government institution. Connection to and acknowledgement of a greater positive force will always help you overcome injustice, physically and mentally, whether you believe that force is Jah, the universe, or what-have-you.

More songs of empowerment are “Small Axe” (“If you are the big tree / We are the small axe / Ready to cut you down (well sharp) / To cut you down”) and “Get Up, Stand Up” (…stand up for your right!). With these examples, I mean to say that it’s the feeling of empowerment and hope, and the strength in unity, that makes this album so special, historically valuable, and important for future generations.

Album highlights: “Get Up, Stand Up,” “Small Axe,” “Duppy Conqueror,” “One Foundation”


To cover my @$$, here are my notable album mentions, each of them close to making the Top 5:

  • Uprising (1980): “Coming in from the Cold,” “Redemption Song,” “Work,” “Could You Be Loved”
  • Rastaman Vibration (1976): “Positive Vibration,” “Roots Rock Reggae,” “War”
  • Catch a Fire (1973): “No More Trouble,” “Stop That Train,” “Rock It Baby,” “Stir it Up”
  • The Best of the Wailers (1971): “Soul Shakedown Party,” “Soon Come,” “Cheer Up,” “Back Out,” “Do It Twice”
  • Natty Dread (1974): “No Woman, No Cry,” “Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Road Block),” “Talkin’ Blues,” “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)”

If you agree or disagree with my Top 5 albums, let me know in the comments! And, of course, check out the Bob Marley & the Wailers discography on Murfie.


Kayla Liederbach
@djkaylakush

Kayla manages social media and customer support at Murfie. You can hear her on the radio hosting U DUB, the reggae show, Wednesdays on WSUM. She enjoys hosting the Murfie podcast, cooking, traveling, going to concerts, and snuggling with kittycats.