One of the enduring debates among fans of the Beatles tries to answer a question, which is their best album? Ultimately it is difficult, probably impossible, to quantify this. So much of the judgement is subjective, with fans arguing the case for their individual favourite. Over the years, my mind has hopped in assessing the relative merits of Revolver, Sgt Pepper, and Abbey Road, but Revolver has generally been my favourite Beatles album. Indeed it is the only record I have felt inspired to review on Amazon – perhaps I should do more reviews. In the piece, posted in 2012, among other things, he said he said: “I cannot give the Revolver album anything other than five stars. It is acclaimed (by the experts?) as perhaps the Beatles second-best album, behind Sgt Pepper. The overall quality of songs is better on Revolver, with great variety, building into a showcase of the brilliance of the Beatles. Besides Paul’s majestic Eleanor Rigby, and the novelty of Ringo singing Yellow Submarine, there is an amazing trio from John – I’m Only Sleeping, She Said She Said, and Tomorrow Never Knows. George offers a couple of great songs in Taxman and I Want to Tell You. The studio experimentation of Sgt Pepper began a few months earlier in the Revolver sessions”. Four years after the review, I should add that a notable part of the appeal of Revolver is the way in which it displays an eclectic mix of styles, but also has unity, powered the guitar and drums sound common to the uptempo numbers, and dreamy lyrics that flow from Eleanor Rigby to Tomorrow Never Knows. The album title is a clever reflection of the way in which records revolve. There is also the original cover, with the psychedelic collage by Klaus Voorman on the front, and a photo of the band on the back – both in stark black and white. Revolver still sounds and feels modern – 50 years after it was recorded.
For many people, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the best album ever made by any rock artist. For me, the album does not quite match the claims for it. The concept is an imaginary concert, in 1967, by a band celebrating 20 years of performing. The band therefore began in 1947, which would explain the old-time music hall element of the album, but they now appear to also be embracing new-fangled psychedelic rock. The concert setting, with audience sounds featuring in the first two and last two songs, just disappears in between. There is a small hubbub of people talking, and laughing, at the end of Within You Without You, but this does not appear to be the crowd audible elsewhere on the record. The Indian mysticism of that song, along with its rather long and droning nature, seems out of place with the upbeat lyrics and melodies on most of the record. The end of Good Morning Good Morning also does not fit. It has been praised as a nod to the end of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, but the succession of noises conjurs up visions of a horde of wild animals running across the stage at the Sgt Pepper concert – something that just would not happen.
Several times, over the last few years, I have attempted to create a playlist that serves as a fantasy album, bringing together the best of Revolver and Sgt Pepper. Although the albums were created less than a year apart, the differences in style make a synthesis a challenge. After many attempts, I have recently put together something that, I feel, really works. Hoping to share my enthusiasm, and possibly get feedback from other fans, I set out the track listing in this Blog post.
I decided the parameters should be:
1 The equivalent of an LP of about 45 minutes, drawing equally from the two original albums, plus the amazing songs from the sessions that were released separately as singles.
2 A sequencing in which no two successive songs have the same lead vocalist – taking a lead from Revolver
3 Omission of the Sgt Pepper concert theme, focussing instead on a flow of the best quality songs from the two sessions.
Here is my selection, entitled Kaleidoscope:
Side 1 (approximately 22 minutes)
1 Eleanor Rigby. Starting with one of the greatest songs from the relevant sessions, and a minimalist piece, with vocals from Paul accompanied by a double string quartet.
2 I’m Only Sleeping. The song that follows Eleanor Rigby on Revolver, as John tells a tale at the point where sleep becomes awakening.
3 Fixing a Hole. The first step into the surreal world of Sgt Pepper, with a song from Paul that complements the preceding effort from John, and then gives way to another set of questions in the next selection.
4 I Want to Tell You. The first track here sung by George. An often-neglected marvel, tucked away near the end of Revolver, with that album’s trademark sound, leads neatly into the next piece.
5 Paperback Writer. The A side of the single featuring two songs recorded at the Revolver sessions, but omitted from the album. Paul’s tale about the wonders of story-telling flows towards the second Sgt Pepper track here.
6 Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. John’s surreal tale of “a girl with kaleidoscope eyes” in a strange land, inspired by the Alice in Wonderland novels of Lewis Carroll.
7 Yellow Submarine. Moving from the boat on a river of the previous song, we navigate the sea in a submarine, with a lovely sing-along, led by Ringo.
8 Strawberry Fields Forever. Side 1 concludes with a song from the Double A side single released ahead of Sgt Pepper, containing songs that George Martin subsequently said should have appeared on that album. John’s wander through Strawberry Fields is a wonderful piece of nostalgia, combined with psychedelia.
Side 2 (approximately 23 minutes)
9 Penny Lane. The second half of the album opens with the other side of the double A single, this being Paul’s celebration of ordinary English life. Towards the end of the song there is mention of “pouring rain”, which takes us to the next track.
10 Rain. The B side of Paperback Writer is an under-rated gem, a brilliant burst of psychedelic rock, with lead vocals by John.
11 Good Day Sunshine. The rain gives way to sun, and Paul brightens the mood with a song about the joys of love.
12 Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite. John copied the lyrics from an 1843 poster advertising a circus. This song ends side 1 of Sgt Pepper, and paves the way here for something based on the start of the other side of that album.
13 Within You Without You / Tomorrow Never Knows. Although I do not think that Within You Without You works on Sgt Pepper, the mashup with Tomorrow Never Knows, the finale of Revolver, on the Love album, definitely deserves a place in this fantasy compilation. George and Giles Martin merged two songs of Eastern thought into a splendid idea, with the start of John’s Tomorrow Never Knows vocal leading into George singing Within You Without You, while the drumming from the first song strengthens the music of the latter.
14 She Said She Said. John’s Acid trip in the previous track is followed by another such experience in this song, as he now hallucinates about a mystery woman. Indeed she could be an adult equivalent to the girl in Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.
15 Lovely Rita. Paul in turn has a moment with a lady, in circumstances that are very different from his narration of the tale of Eleanor Rigby. Musically the surreal sound of Lovely Rita points to the next song here.
16 A Day in the Life. Our Kaleidoscope concludes with the final song of the Sgt Pepper album, on which the musical accompaniment of Eleanor Rigby has grown to four Beatles and a 40 piece orchestra. For many people, including myself, A Day in the Life is the Beatles’ undisputed masterpiece, as a series of psychedelic dreams are sung by John, with an interlude from Paul, while the music builds from a quiet opening to a dramatic finale.