Merry Christmas Eve! The Beatles are finally available on streaming services.
Now that you can listen to the Fab Four without digging out your vinyl crate, finding your CD collection, or purchasing every album on iTunes, here’s a quick guide to how you should spend your time with their catalog on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, or Amazon Prime.
No two fans will ever agree on what are the most “essential” Beatles albums, and you could pick literally any of their 13 studio albums and you wouldn’t be wrong. But here’s a quick guide to the classics.
A Beatles binge would not be complete without their self-titled 1968 magnum opus—best known as The White Album—which features an hour-and-a-half of the band exploring entirely new sounds while experiencing interpersonal turmoil (cough, Yoko, cough) behind the scenes. The combination of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” in the first quarter of the album alone makes this a rock classic.
You could also put on your finest brightly-colored marching band outfit (everyone has one of those, right?) and dance around to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the mythological effort Rolling Stone famously dubbed the “Greatest Album of All Time.” It’s pretty good.
There’s also Rubber Soul, which is basically what happened when Bob Dylan introduced the moptops to weed. There are lots of British folk sounds, sitar music, and non-Western chord progressions. Consider it a chronicle of when folk went pop; and when “world music” became a thing.
And when most of the band graduated to LSD, Revolver was created. Complete with philosophical lyrics, jazz bands, strings, overdubbed guitars, the record is quintessential mid-period Beatles.
If you’re looking for an easy mood-lift, of course, you could stream any of their first five records: Please Please Me, With the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles for Sale, or Help! Each of these albums play like greatest hits compilations in retrospect. It’s really hard to fail at this.
Hell, even Let It Be—regarded as their most troubled production, despite the high-gloss Phil Spector sound—is worth repeat listenings for its plethora of bittersweet rock classics.
But the best use of your streaming time would be Abbey Road, which shows all three of the band’s songwriters (sorry Ringo) at their best, despite it being the final Beatles session before their dissolution in 1970.
Everything about the album screams the Beatles, and no one would judge you for just listening to the side-two medley over and over and over and over again.
The Underrated Gems
Everyone knows the hits. They’ve had nearly fifty Top-40 U.S. singles. You could probably hum a Beatles song on command. And so maybe you’ll want to use your time to explore some of their deeper cuts. (To be sure: Diehard Beatles fans would consider most of these tracks to be “well-known,” but they aren’t the average listener.)
“She’s Leaving Home” is a heartbreaking Baroque pop tune from Sgt. Pepper’s about a daughter leaving her parents—so heartrending, in fact, that master Baroque pop songwriter Brian Wilson allegedly wept upon hearing it. Fun fact: It’s one of just a few Beatles songs on which none of the band members played an instrument.
Speaking of the Beach Boys, you can’t miss “Girl”—off Rubber Soul—which borrows the legendary surf band’s “la la la” harmonies for a melancholic tribute to an unattainable girl. There’s something deeply lustful about Lennon’s sigh each time he mentions her.
Let It Be may be the messiest album, but it has two of the band’s most underappreciated rockers: “Dig a Pony” and “I’ve Got a Feeling.” Both tracks deserve to be heralded as blues-rock classics; the latter would sound right at home today as a Jack White single.
George Harrison himself is underrated (he’s also the best Beatle—come at me), and “Long, Long, Long” is one of his neglected classics. Overshadowed by his “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on The White Album, it’s a deeply spiritual, sad love song that creatively emphasizes the loneliness by having Harrison’s vocals grow nearer and nearer before retreating.
“Oh! Darling” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” are the two best songs on Abbey Road, but are upstaged by the album’s trifecta of classic rock radio staples. The former features Paul McCartney’s vocals reaching a feverish shout as he pleads to his lover for forgiveness; and the latter is a purely carnal song about sex, underscored by Lennon and Harrison’s black metal guitar riffage.
And for Motown-inspired Beatles, you need to listen to the horn-and-shout joyousness of “Got to Get You Into My Life,” one of the hidden prizes of Revolver.
Other lesser-known gems for your listening pleasure: “Rain,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “The Word,” “I Will,” “Lady Madonna.” And pretty much any song that wasn’t already a massive hit.
Now that you have the band’s entire studio discography at your fingertips, you can pore over the wealth of material we’ll call Oddball Beatles. Buried in their LPs and B-sides compilations are these songs that make you realize the Fab Four were actually weirdos at heart.
Given its 30-song tracklist, The White Album is a gold mine for the stranger side of the Beatles. The obvious choice here is “Revolution 9,” a nearly-nine-minute clamoring work of avant-garde sounds. McCartney loathed the track, but Lennon insisted it was an expression of revolution through noise. (Hey, might this have been the birth of noise-rock?)
If you want to understand the Beatles’ love affair with Indian classical music and the sitar—the most radical break from their British Invasion sound—check out “Love You To,” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “Within You Without You,” and “The Inner Light.”
And if you want to hear the Beatles having pure, unadulterated fun in the studio—without all the fighting and Yoko-ing—then listen to two of their catchiest screwball songs: “Hey Bulldog” and “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number).”
The former, which is featured on Yellow Submarine, was recorded in 1968 amidst all the band turmoil, perhaps a cathartically goofy refuge from the interpersonal squabbles and burdens of fame. Lennon’s lyrics make no sense and, at one point, McCartney barks like a dog. Hey, if it makes you feel better, why not?
And “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” is notable for its short lyrics—yup, you guessed it: “You know my name, look up the number,” repeated over and over again like a mantra. There’s a saxophone solo, a salsa break, and bizarre sound effects. Once again, this is the Beatles just having fun.