Welcome to the grand finale to our reissue rundown of the 100 Greatest Albums of All Time, as selected by Rolling Stone. It may be telling that the entirety of our Top 5 comes from the period between 1965 and 1967. Three of these albums are the work of the same band, while the other two artists had careers that have intersected in various ways with the members of those bands. Yes, The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Beach Boys found inspiration from each other, and might even have felt a keen competition. Without further ado, our Top 5!
5. The Beatles, Rubber Soul (Parlophone, 1965)
The faces of the four Beatles appear stretched on the cover of 1965’s Rubber Soul, but the sounds within stretched the boundaries of popular music, too. Arguably the first truly unified album by the Fab Four (and their first recorded as an album within a specified session period), it boasted instrumental textures that would have been alien to the band’s past work. And (especially on the altered U.S. edition) it had a pronounced folk-rock feel (see No. 4 on this list), not to mention shockingly good songwriting, which inspired Brian Wilson to “compete” with a masterpiece all his own (see No. 2). Yes, Rubber Soul transcended its punning title, anticipated psychedelia with its cover artwork, and found the Beatles at the cutting edge. George Harrison contributed two tracks, with the balance credited to the Lennon and McCartney team.
Despite the fact that Rubber Soul was assembled as a whole by The Beatles and producer George Martin, the U.S. Capitol label nonetheless created a unique American version of the album. This edition offers dramatically different sequencing and an altered tunestack. “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “It’s Only Love” were added, beefing up the folk-rock feel. In turn, four songs were deleted so that Rubber Soul conformed to the 12-track American standard: “Drive My Car”, “Nowhere Man”, “If I Needed Someone”, and “What Goes On.” There were other minor variations; the U.S. stereo LP has a “false start” at the beginning of “I’m Looking Through You,” and “The Word” has John Lennon’s vocal double-tracked, an extra falsetto harmony on the left channel during the last two refrains, maracas panning to the right channel during the instrumental break and then back to the left channel and a slightly longer fade. The mono LP’s “Michelle” has a longer fade-out, as well.
When The Beatles’ catalogue was introduced on CD in 1987 and standardized, the U.K. Rubber Soul made its worldwide debut (Parlophone/Capitol CDP 7 46440 2). For its digital debut, George Martin created a completely new mix of the album from the four-track masters, unhappy with the primitive stereo originally used. This remix was offered again as the standard Rubber Soul CD received a remastered upgrade in 2009 (Parlophone CDP 0946 3 57501 2 6). It, of course, can also be found in the Beatles in Stereo box set (EMI 5099969944901, 2009). The original American Rubber Soul finally received its CD debut on The Beatles’ The Capitol Albums Volume 2 box set, and both the mono and original stereo mixes of the U.K. Rubber Soul were included on 2009’s Beatles in Mono box set (EMI 5099969945120, 2009).
4. Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia, 1965)
Despite its title, many listeners visited Highway 61 (a 1,400-mile stretch of road from New Orleans, Louisiana to Wyoming, Minnesota) for the first time on Bob Dylan’s sixth studio album, released in 1965. While Dylan had placated his dedicated folk fans with an acoustic side of his previous album, the order of the day was “all-electric” for Highway 61 Revisited, excepting the epic closer, “Desolation Row.” There was no mistaking it; Dylan had officially gone “rock.” Dylan’s oblique, evocative images were commandingly snarled by the singer: “Oh God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son’/Abe says, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on’/God say, ‘No,’ Abe say, ‘What?’/God say, ‘You can do what you want Abe, but/The next time you see me comin’ you better run’/Well Abe says, ‘Where do you want this killin’ done?’/God says, ‘Out on Highway 61!’
Of course, the most famous song on Highway 61 kicked off the musical journey. That song is “Like a Rolling Stone,” often hailed as the best rock song ever written, and the subject of an entire book by Greil Marcus. Al Kooper’s swirling organ gave the song a commercial hook and sheen. Dylan’s inimitable lyric might have been literally impenetrable, but his meaning was all too clear. The song was an instant classic. Despite the challenging lyrics throughout, or perhaps because of them, the grand and mysterious Highway 61 Revisited ascended all the way to No. 3 on the U.S. pop charts. Bob Dylan had arrived, turning folk, rock, pop and the blues on their ears.
Columbia’s original CD issue (Columbia CK 9189) remained in print until the remastered series in 2003 at which time Highway 61 was issued as a stereo-only hybrid SACD (CH 90324). The SACD was later replaced with a standard edition. A 1992 gold CD from DCC Compact Classics featured a new mastering by Steve Hoffman (GZS 1021). A 2008 Blu-Spec disc (playable on all CD players) was released in Japan (SICP 20024). The mono mix made its CD debut on Dylan’s 2010 Original Mono Recordings (Columbia 71604) box set. As Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab has just announced a first wave of Dylan reissues as hybrid stereo SACDs, it’s possible that a new MFSL mastering might be around the corner.
After the jump, it’s a battle of the bands as The Beach Boys and The Beatles face off!
3. The Beatles, Revolver (Parlophone, 1966)
The Beatles followed Rubber Soul (see above) with Revolver, which established a “heavier” sound for the band than the folk-rock shimmer of its predecessor. But “heavier” didn’t mean any less eclectic. Revolver showed the group still maturing. George Harrison fumed on the rocking “Taxman,” and also offered two additional songs, the Indian-inspired “Love You To” and the pulsating “I Want to Tell You.” The groundbreaking “Love You To” incorporated sitar, tabla and tambura, emulating Indian instrumentation. Primarily from Paul McCartney’s pen came the beautiful standard-to-be “Here, There and Everywhere,” as well as the haunting “Eleanor Rigby,” touching “For No One,” brassy “Got to Get You Into My Life” and optimistic “Good Day, Sunshine.” John Lennon was the chief architect of the edgy, infectious rocker “And Your Bird Can Sing,” the reverse-guitar dream (played by George Harrison) of “I’m Only Sleeping” and the experimental “Tomorrow Never Knows,” with its tape loops, double-tracked vocal and Indian-inspired backing track. In short, every track on Revolver is of the highest order, of both production and songwriting. Even “Yellow Submarine,” written to showcase Ringo Starr as lead vocalist, has become a classic for kids of all ages.
Capitol’s American version of Revolver dropped three tracks from the U.K. edition, as they had already been featured on the U.S.-only album Yesterday and Today: “Doctor Robert,” “I’m Only Sleeping” and “And Your Bird Can Sing.” The result was a 14-track album simply shortened to 11 tracks for the American market. When The Beatles’ catalogue was introduced on CD in 1987 and standardized, the U.K. Revolver made its worldwide debut (Parlophone CDP 7 46441 2). Revolver received a remastered upgrade in 2009 (EMI 09463 82417). It can also be found in the Beatles in Stereo box set (EMI 5099969944901). The original American Revolver, simply a truncated version of the original, has never been released on CD. The mono version of the U.K. Revolver can be heard on 2009’s Beatles in Mono box set (EMI 5099969945120, 2009).
2. The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds (Capitol, 1966)
“I figure no one is educated musically ‘til they’ve heard [Pet Sounds],” Paul McCartney once said of The Beach Boys’ classic released on May 16, 1966. George Martin concurred: “Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper wouldn’t have happened.” And Wilson has indicated that without Rubber Soul raising the bar for a unified pop album, Pet Sounds wouldn’t have happened. Brian Wilson poured his musical heart into the album’s thirteen tracks; in less than thirty-five minutes, he delivered an entire spectrum of emotions in a song cycle of striking beauty and sensitivity. Pet Sounds may initially have been conceived by Wilson as an answer to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, but it functions as an elegy to lost innocence (“Caroline, No”), a hope for the promise of brighter days ahead (“Wouldn’t It Be Nice”) and an expression of one young man’s innermost soul laid bare (“I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” “That’s Not Me,” “You Still Believe in Me”) in such a way that it was universal. Oh yeah, and it just might have the greatest pop love song ever written (“God Only Knows”) which begins with a potentially shocking lyrical conceit: “I may not always love you…” Wilson and lyricist Tony Asher captured the zeitgeist on Pet Sounds, and every few years have brought another reissue of the album which initially was ahead of its time. (It wasn’t certified platinum until early 2000, and only rose as far as No. 10 on the Billboard album chart at the time of its original release.)
Pet Sounds made its first appearance on CD in 1990 (Capitol CDP 548421) in mono with three bonus tracks (“Unreleased Backgrounds,” “Hold On to Your Ego,” “Trombone Dixie”.) DCC Compact Classics enlisted Steve Hoffman to remaster Pet Sounds in 1993 for gold CD (GZS-1035). This was followed in 1997 by the lavish The Pet Sounds Sessions (Capitol 7243 8 37662 2 2) , including the mono album, the first-ever true stereo mix and three discs of session material. The stereo mix reappeared on CD in 1999 (Capitol 72435-21241-2-1) with one bonus track, “Hang On to Your Ego,” and again in 2001 with the mono mix and the bonus track (Capitol 72435-26266-2-5) both appended on the HDCD-encoded release. It was also in 2001 that a DVD-Audio disc (Capitol 72434-77937-9-0) arrived, with the album playable in advanced resolution surround, mono and stereo, plus seven bonus audio tracks. 2006 brought the 40th Anniversary edition (Capitol 09463-44967-2-8) with the mono and stereo mixes plus a bonus track of “Hang On to Your Ego,” as well as a DVD (containing The Making of Pet Sounds and Pet Stories documentaries, Rhythm of Life: Sir George Martin & Brian Wilson in the Studio excerpt, 1966 promotional films for “Sloop John B” and “Pet Sounds,” the 1966 “Good Vibrations” firehouse promotional film, “God Only Knows” photo gallery and the album in 5.1 Dolby Digital and PCM Stereo. This edition was available in both a standard jewel case and a “fuzzy” box. Audio Fidelity afforded Steve Hoffman the opportunity to master the title again in 2009 on a new mono gold CD (AFZ 031). Mobile Fidelity in 2011 promised a Pet Sounds stereo SACD, and it has just started shipping from specialty retailers like Music Direct; a general release on Amazon and elsewhere is forthcoming. With the Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary celebration getting into high gear next year, the likelihood of yet another Pet Sounds is possible!
1. The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Parlophone, 1967)
Seeing as the Beatles never stood still for very long, it’s no surprise that the follow-up to Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, built upon the radical studio experimentation of its predecessor, to become one of the most beloved recordings of all time, and the title selected by Rolling Stone to top this very list. Both a logical continuation of the pioneering work on Revolver and a partial answer to the conceptual consistency of Pet Sounds (see above!), Sgt. Pepper’s is an album that’s very much of its era, but also able to transcend any particular period.
Taking in both classical and psychedelic influences, Sgt. Pepper’s presented The Beatles in the guise of the eponymous band, led by bandleader Billy Shears (Ringo Starr). The album is bookended with the title song, though the majestic “A Day in the Life,” perhaps The Beatles’ most singular studio achievement, appears after the “Pepper’s” reprise as a coda. Each aspect of Sgt. Pepper’s has become iconic, including the often-imitated Peter Blake cover. Paul McCartney was reportedly more involved with the “concept” aspect of the album than Lennon, but his songwriting partner certainly stepped up to the plate with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “Good Morning, Good Morning.” McCartney was primary writer of the title song, “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Getting Better,” “She’s Leaving Home” and “When I’m Sixty Four.” And “A Day in the Life” remains one of the most stunning true collaborations between Lennon and McCartney. George Harrison wrote the Side 2 opener, another deeply personal, Indian-style meditation in song, “Within You, Without You.”
Needless to say, Sgt. Pepper’s topped the charts in the U.K. and in the U.S., where the original album and sequence appeared; it was The Beatles’ first album not to receive a distinct American counterpart. It even inspired a film version…but the less said about that one, the better. You know the drill by now: Sgt. Pepper appeared on CD in 1987 (Capitol CDP 7 46442 2) and again in 2009 when The Beatles’ catalogue was remastered (Capitol 0946 3 82419 2 8). It’s also available on the Beatles in Stereo box set (EMI 5099969944901) and in mono on the Beatles in Mono box (EMI 5099969945120). It’s doubtful that Paul McCartney ever suspected we would still need Sgt. Pepper’s long after his own 64th birthday, and it remains a testament to the art of John, Paul, George and Ringo, as well as the power of transcendent popular music.
Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!