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 that 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 (Revolution, 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.
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 Too. 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 geniune 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.