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Desert Island and The Beatles

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NICK DERISO: Any conversation about the Beatles inevitably leads to one place: The Desert Island Disc. (Well, actually, it passes through Which One Is Your Favorite — somebody else can deal with that one — but it ends up, inevitably, with this eternal question.)

Too often, if you ask me, the answer is 1967's Sgt. Pepper's, which to my mind is too much of a period piece (and doesn't have any strong work from George); or the more obvious Abbey Road, which (as good as it is) is too Paul-heavy and is just too darn ubiquitous.

There was a time when I said 1968's The Beatles, more commonly known as The White Album. After all, it has so many song styles, so many turns for each of the Fab(ulously fractured, at this point) Four to express their own individuality, that it not only makes the title seem sadly ironic… but ensures any future generation on your little island will be exposed to everything from air-tight and ironic pop ("Back in the USSR", "Savoy Truffle") to country ("Don't Pass Me By") to experimental music ("Revolution No. 9") to hard-rockers ("Birthday", "Helter Skelter") to classic Beatles flower power ("Dear Prudence", "Mother Nature's Son") to the truly unnameable ("Why Don't We Do It in the Road", "Bungalow Bill") to the group's best collaboration (with Clapton, on While My Guitar Gently Weeps) to Wing-esque artistry ("Martha My Dear") to sweet orchestral reverie ("Good Night"), and so on.

But, that seems like a cop out. This was, after all, no Beatles album — but a series of solo tracks featuring some or none of the fellow group members.beatles_revolver>

So, I give my nod to 1966's Revolver, a triumph in every important way for any Beatle fan.The album is both sublime ("Got To Get You Into My Life", a tune so inherently funky that Earth, Wind and Fire covered it) and fun (Ringo's timeless "Yellow Submarine").

It's folky ("Here, There and Everywhere"), but never hokey: "Eleanor Rigby" is a tune of effortless artistry. George's contributions are finally measurable, as his "Taxman" kicks off the album with a snotty, rocking blast of perfect pop.

There is also the romantic release of McCartney in "Good Day Sunshine" — and the cool-rocking Lennon side, "And Your Bird Can Sing". I love the genuine wonder in George's "Love You To". This is his best Indian-influenced tune of all, and his first.

There is the expected mid-60s psychedelia from Lennon, with more humor (in "She Said") and so much more genuine alienation ("Tomorrow Never Knows"), than in all but the best of the rest. (That being "Strawberry Fields," of course.)

Lastly, this is the band's first genuine foray into something outside of their already comfortable pop-song structures, so it must be recognized for that.

"The biggest miracle of Revolver, wrote Stephen Thomas Erlewine, "may be that the Beatles covered so much new stylistic ground and executed it perfectly on one record, or it may be that all of it holds together perfectly. Either way, its daring sonic adventures and consistently stunning songcraft set the standard for what pop/rock could achieve."

For pure artistry, off-beat innovation and pure giddy fun, it's the ultimate pop experiment

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About Nick Deriso

  • Make that 2 votes for Revolver, with qualifications. I made up my own version in mono and included Paperack Writer and the b-side Rain into the mix.

    Heck, skip the mods – I’d take it as it is anyway, in panned wide stereo even.

  • Rob

    I have to agree as well, but Rubber Soul is a very close second. When you think of the year that Revolver came out, it really is a masterpiece. It’s hard to appreciate the impact that album must have had on the average music fan in ’66 when you’re living in 2007.

  • Which Rubber Soul are we talking about: American or Brit version? Because they’re totally different in terms of the tone each suggests.

  • Richard Havers

    Revolver without a doubt is a work of pure and sustained genius.

    I remember well the first time I heard it. I was at my parent’s friends house and their kids had bought it the day it came out – which was a couple of days earlier. I was so taken aback that I had to stop playing table tennis just to listen.

    I still listen to it today, from start to finish through the wonder of CD, and it’s still just as good.

  • Wow… this is damn impossible to answer. Hmm. Revolver is a great choice as is Rubber Soul.

    It’s funny you say that about Sgt. Pepper. In some ways I think it gets short shrift as an album because of the iconic nature of it. People forget how great so much of the music on that album actually is.

    I guess I am going Rubber Soul for “I’m Looking Through You” and “In My Life.”

  • jrocker

    Ihave to tip the scale more toward RUBBER SOUL, but REVOLVER is a close second. I prefer the American version (Rubber Soul) but the UK version is still slightly better than REVOLVER.

  • Rando Wilson

    Revolver is the greatest album, period. The up-front sound of every instrument is as much a tribute to the phenomenal talents of the Fabs as it is George Martin and Geoff Emerich. To my ears, I have never heard guitar and bass sounds EVER bettered on songs like And Your Bird Can Sing, She Said She Said, and Taxman, to name but three. Tomorrow Never Knows and Eleanor Rigby represent daring experiments in sound and lyric. It would be unfair to not mention that Ringo really came to the fore in his drumming and Macca and Lennon’s vocals were amazing.
    Sgt. Pepper is a close second, which means that from April 1966 to April 1967 saw The Beatles at the top of their game!!!

  • Sander van Schagen

    Sometimes, we should all sit down and actualy listen to Sgt. pepper again. It has been build up to be the greatest record ever, after that it has been defied. It is however still an amazing record and NOT a period piece. I must aknowlegde that for me it’s hard to chose the best Beatles record, because all of them (especially from A Hard Day’s Night) are so different. The only time they went “all the way” is on Pepper and I think they should receive credit for that. There were no safety belts, no obvious hits. So what is the best Beatles album? It depends on my mood and other music I’m listening to. So sometimes it is Revolver, then it’s Pepper, Abbey Road or The White Album. It’s never Yellow Submarine though.

  • I like to dabble in revisionist history, so I take all of their cuts recorded in 67 (or close enough) and make a compilation out of that. HAd they been patient, they might’ve had an album with:

    Strawberry Fields
    Lucy in the Sky
    Day in the Life
    Hello Goodbye
    Fool On the Hill
    Penny Lane

    And 4 or 5 of whatever the heck else you want – the rest doesn’t matter much, maybe: (Blue Jay Way is my vote for the George contribution), Baby You’re a Rich Man, She’s Leaving Home, Good Morning, and……. Flying. Whatever. Too much filler on Sgt.P & MMTour both for my liking, unlike the filler on the White Album, which is, I dunno – necessary.

  • Leslie Bohn

    This is a fun game. I’ll do 1965.

    Ticket to Ride
    You’ve Got to Hide Your Love away
    I’ve Just Seen a Face
    Norwegian Wood
    Day Tripper
    In My LIfe
    We Can Work It Out
    Nowhere Man
    You Won’t See Me

    The songs this “album” leaves out are saggeringly good: The Night Before, Bad Boy, Dizzy Miss Lizzy, It’s ONly LOve, Drive My Car, Girl, any George, Act Naturally… Amazing how much amazing shit John and Paul (and George Martin) were coming up with under massive pressure and time limitations.

  • Leslie Bohn

    Looking at the “album” again, what a year that was for Mr. Lennon.

  • Leslie Bohn

    saggeringly is not a word. Apologies.

  • Diane

    It’s hard to pick a best, but every time I hear Beatles VI (US) it takes me back to the first time I heard Paul sing Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey. That album has a few hidden gems like Tell Me What You See and Yes It Is just to name two.

  • Leslie Bohn

    I love “Yes It Is” both as itself and as a blueprint for the superior “Girl” a few months later. Paul was an incredible rock shouter, and KC/HHH is a stellar example.

  • John

    Abbey Road, With The Beatles, Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Rarities, Beatles For Sale and Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl. I can listen to these and all the previous-mentioned ones over and over again. And I do.

  • Earl

    When “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” were being recorded, there was a possibility that the album which became “Sgt. Pepper” would have a theme dealing with their childhood and coming of age in Liverpool. If this album had been done, with songs as high in quality as the two I mentioned in the first sentence, it would’ve been their artistic highpoint. To my ears, the perfect “desert island” Beatles recording would be the 45 single of “Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane.” (Of course, I’d need a turntable and lots of batteries.) This single was the best music the band ever did. Conceptually and artistically it went above and beyond the accomplishments of “Revolver.” The only song on “Pepper” that equals this single is “A Day in a Life.”

  • Rando Wilson

    Can’t argue about Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane. An amazing single, which I remember and loved very much as a seven year old. If only George Martin and Brian Epstein had not forced it out as a single, the whole complexion of what became Pepper would have been different, but would have been just as stunning.

  • How about the imaginary single “Strawberry Fields” b/w “A Day in the Life”?

    There’s a scjfi short story called “The Thirteenth Album” that’s an alternate history of the Beatles’ final days. Can’t remember the author – track it down if you can.

  • beatles on a desert island? i’m taking my ipod, a can opener, and matches.

  • If you’re really gonna be stranded on a desert island, you take The White Album because its got the most on it. Eventually you’ll love ‘Revolution 9’.

    That doent mean its the best album. Rubber Soul is… Here’s a site that compares it to Revolver: beatlesbattle.com

  • Boo Mitchell

    The very first Beatles album I owned was Revolver … which I still think is eclectic and wonderful …

    But my votes for desert album would actually be Hard Day’s Night soundtrack (UK version) or Abbey Road …

  • Ed

    Hmmmm. For me personally, I still have to go with Abbey Road as my desert island “record” Side one is a good blend of songs by all 4, and side 2 is simply a masterpiece in the way it is put together, culminating with The End, and after a prolonged pause, Her Majesty which almost didn’t even make it. Over the years for me, whenever I am a little down, or have no idea what to play, out comes Abbey Road, and all is right in the world. All the other albums mentioned are indeed arguable, but for me, it will always be Abbey Road. Peace to all of you,