In 2003, when Rolling Stone ranked the 500 greatest albums of all-time, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band came in at No. 1. It faced some stiff competition, however, as three other albums from The Beatles placed in the top 10 (Revolver, Rubber Soul, and The White Album). With the competition this close, it was enough to ask if Sgt. Pepper’s was even the best Beatles album, much less the best of all-time. In recent years, there’s been somewhat of a groundswell against Sgt. Pepper’s in favor of the growing new favorite Revolver. Since that album turns 50 this weekend, let’s take a look at how strong the case is for it being the Beatles’ greatest masterpiece.
Revolver marked an important evolution for the Beatles. While the previous album, 1965’s Rubber Soul showed that their songwriting skills had matured beyond simple pop songs, this was where they really began experimenting musically. It was hard to believe they were only two years removed from A Hard Day’s Night, because they were going places that wouldn’t have seemed possible during those days. For one thing, this was the album where the band really began exploring with the psychedelia and counter-culture that would be featured prominently on later albums, particularly on album closer “Tomorrow Never Knows,” which was unlike anything the world had heard up to that point.
Perhaps the two best known tracks from this album are “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yellow Submarine,” two songs which could not be more disparate in tone. The former was one of the sadder songs the Beatles had ever recorded, telling the story of a lonely woman who dies without much regard or concern, as no one attends her funeral. The latter is… well, a song about living in a yellow submarine. But while these songs are decidedly different, they both are essential parts of Revolver, as one song illustrates the band’s willingness to explore dark topics, while the other reminds us that their sense of humor remained intact via Ringo Starr’s signature levity.
This is also a very rich album when it comes to deep tracks. In particular, the second side starts with a barrage of great cuts with “She Said, She Said,” “Good Day Sunshine,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “For No One” all coming one after the other. All of these songs hold up extremely well, and in particular, “And Your Bird Can Sing” is one of the album’s most inspired songs, with one of George Harrison’s best guitar tones. The song has an unconventional verse-chorus structure, yet remains incredibly catchy. Elsewhere, “For No One” is one of Paul McCartney’s most under-appreciated ballads. Between this and “Eleanor Rigby,” he had developed a unique ability to write about rather dark topics, which acts as a refutation of the accusation that he only wrote “silly love songs.”
Really, it’s hard to find a single weak track. Maybe “Doctor Robert” doesn’t quite hold up to the stiff competition, but it would be a highlight on a lesser album. From “Taxman,” to “I’m Only Sleeping” to “Got to Get You into My Life,” the consistency here is remarkable. Whether it’s their best album is up for debate, but it’s likely their most solid from start to finish. Along with Rubber Soul, Revolver was part of the Beatles’ transitional period, which meant that it combined the pop sensibilities of their early works with the creativity and experimentation have become later.
The result was a stunningly brilliant album that just about every Beatles fan can agree on. 50 years on from its original release, the quality and impact of this album are undeniable. Taking all of that into consideration, it just might be the greatest album of all-time.