Those that know me know that I’m a huge fan and listener of the Beatles, including their respective solo efforts. The release of a new George Harrison box set (Apple Years) has got me thinking about their best solo albums so I thought I’d put together a top 10 covering them. I must emphasise that this list may cause debate among Beatles fans and the order in which I’ve listed them is my opinion. It was tough! Here we go.
That’s right, we start off with a solo album from Ringo Starr. Which one? His best one. Ringo actually released two solo albums before this one, Sentimental Journey and Beaucoups of Blues which both came out in 1970. However it wasn’t until 1973 that he would release what is widely considered to be his first proper solo album, Ringo.
The really great thing about this album is that Ringo has a little help from his friends. Not only do Lennon, McCartney and Harrison all feature on the album, each of them actually contributed songs to the album as well. The opening track I’m The Greatest was penned by Lennon, a demo of which can be heard on the John Lennon Anthology released in 1998. Harrison also plays electric guitar on this track, sighting one of the only times three of the Beatles would work together in the studio before John Lennon’s death in 1980. Harrison would write a few songs for the album as well, one of which was jointly penned by Ringo in the form of one of the best Beatles solo songs ever recorded, Photograph. Six O’Clock is the song McCartney would write for the album.
This is without a doubt the closest we ever got to another album from the Beatles after the breakup in 1970 due to each of them appearing on it either together or separately. But not only do all of the Beatles appear here, it sounds very much like a Beatles album as well. How could it not do? The songs sound great as well and you can’t help but think “what if?” And because of that there is no way it could be out of this top 10 list.
- I’m The Greatest
- Have You Seen My Baby (Hold On)
- You’re Sixteen (You’re Beautiful Your Mine)
9. Tug Of War
The first of five McCartney albums in the top 10. Yes, you read that correctly. Tug Of War is arguably one of his best post-Wings album that saw him reunite with George Martin in the studio along with Ringo on drums on one song. The album also featured two collaborations with Stevie Wonder (What’s That You’re Doing? & Ebony and Ivory) and a duet with rock and roll legend Carl Perkins (Get It). But most notably, the album also contained a tribute to fellow Beatle John Lennon, Here Today, who was tragically shot dead in NYC when initial recording sessions for Tug Of War were taking place.
It’s widely seen as one of McCartney’s most Beatle-like solo album in terms of sound and feel and is full of catchy melodies and hooks that remind you why he is considered one of the greatest songwriters of all time. This of course is bolstered by the fact that the album was produced by none other then George Martin. The album contains absolutely everything. The duets with Stevie Wonder may not be everyones cup of tea but in general the songwriting is fantastic and was a return to form after a few lacklustre Wings albums.
Sadly this was to be McCartney’s last legendary album until Flaming Pie was released in 1997. The non-collaboration songs on this album stand out over the others but overall it’s a solid effort.
- Take It Away
- Here Today
- Ballroom Dancing
Lennon’s second album is a must for any top 10 lists due to the quality of the songs he was writing during that early 70’s period. Even though the overall production has dated pretty badly the songs themselves still hold up nicely, some of which were even written when he was still in The Beatles. Phil Spector served as producer on Imagine yet somehow the production just sounds dull in comparison to other albums of the early 70’s, especially RAM by McCartney.
The only really negative thing about this album song-wise is the inclusion of How Do You Sleep?, a song solely dedicated to attacking McCartney in every way possible. Even though the song itself musically is quite nice, the lyrics are nothing short of ridiculous and just shows how bitter Lennon was towards McCartney at this period in time. However apart from this one song, most of the songs on Imagine are nicely written with Jealous Guy and Give Me Some Truth being two stand out tracks, the latter being a song that Lennon demoed for the Beatles during the Get Back sessions. Harrison also featured on the album, laying down a number of guitar parts. He can be heard on slide guitar on Oh My Love and there is a documentary of the making of this album which shows Harrison and Lennon working together.
It’s a good album overall and of course includes probably the most well known song not only in a Beatles solo catalogue but in the world. And that’s the title track, Imagine.
- Jealous Guy
- Give Me Some Truth
- Oh My Love
7. McCartney II
Released 10 years after McCartney’s first self titled album and immediately after the break up of Wings, this is arguably the most experimental album released by a Beatles up until this point. In fact McCartney would record the songs using the same template he had on his first record, recording all the songs and parts himself and using no-one else.
McCartney II is an album that certainly grows on you the more you listen to it. On first listen it appears to contain a handful of real songs and a handful of experimental throwaways. But it needs to be heard from start to finish without any interruptions for you to fully understand what is going on. All of the tracks compliment each other beautifully. Coming Up, On The Way, Nobody Knows and One Of These Days are standard song formats whereas Front Parlour, Summer’s Day Song and Frozen Jap are more experimental in their style. But together these songs add up to a truly brilliant album.
The freshness in McCartney’s writing and recording in particular really stands out to the listener and Lennon himself said he loved this album.
- Coming Up
- Temporary Secretary
- Nobody Knows
- One Of These Days
6. Living In The Material World
This is the album that may cause some controversy being so high on a top 10 Beatles solo albums list, but I’m sticking to my guns here. The follow up to All Things Must Pass, this album is the first of George’s solo output to properly focus on his songwriting post-Beatles as a lot of the songs on All Things Must Pass were written when he was still a Beatle. It can only be described using one word, and that’s divine. The songs and the playing are simply exquisite and contain an almost religious like beauty to them and the whole album has a spiritual feeling from start to finish. It’s simply beautiful, and that is all.
Living In The Material World is an unbelievably underrated album and never seems to get the attention that it so desperately deserves from Beatles fans. In fact his career in general always gets overlooked, especially compared to that of Lennon and McCartney. You could easily say that Harrison had a more successful solo career than Lennon did.
Sadly this would be the last through-and-through great George album until Cloud Nine was released in 1989, although there are a number of solid songs on the albums he released in between including the supergroup, The Travelling Wilbury’s, who he formed with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne.
- Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)
- The Light That Has Lighted The World
- Living In The Material World
- Be Here Now