This image by Jerry Bakewell, available under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
Today is my birthday! And I figured that was the perfect excuse — as if I generally need one — to do a gratuitous Beatles post.
People generally treat the breakup of the Beatles as an incredibly tragic event. There’s no doubt that the way things ended was less than ideal and certainly sad. The fighting, the lawsuits, and the bad blood were all ugly and regretful.
But I am of the unpopular opinion that the Beatles needed to break up. Not only do I think that the end was simply unavoidable, I think that it was also for the best. Like any other band that stays together too long, the group would have eventually become a parody, and started to defile their own legacy. Further, for certain Beatles at least, the breakup was the best thing that ever happened to them, certainly personally if not professionally. George, for example, only really blossomed once he was on his own, writing his best music yet.
In declaring the Beatles’ breakup a tragedy, it’s usually forgotten that albums and albums filled with fantastic music likely would have never been created without it. Songs would have gone unwritten, and more still unrecorded. We can debate all day if the music produced had the Beatles stayed together would have been better than what they put out on their own — but there’s little honest denying that much of what was actually released was absolutely great, particularly in the five years immediately following the breakup, a period from which all but one album on this list is drawn.
It seems that many fans, especially younger ones around my age, don’t even know much about this music existing, let alone its outstanding quality. So I’ve put together a list of what I deem to be the 10 best post-Beatles releases by the solo fab four. With each album, I’ve identified what makes it great, pulled out some key tracks, and posted the video for my personal favorite song from each. Whether you use it to reminisce or inform your own music purchases, enjoy!
1. All Things Must Pass
George Harrison wouldn’t become known as the “Dark Horse” until 1974, but he earned the label all the way back in 1970. The Quiet Beatle had already stunned audiences by contributing two of the finest tracks to 1969’s Abbey Road. Most fans wouldn’t have quite guessed that George had a song like Something in him. But he had that and more — a lot more, actually. Three LPs worth.
All Things Must Pass, George’s first musical statement after the breakup of the Beatles, and his grandest, is a near-perfect masterpiece. Granted, I tend to exclude the third LP Apple Jam from my analysis. A series of instrumental tracks taken from, well, jams, it’s my humble opinion that the disc wasn’t worth the vinyl it was pressed on. The task of a double album is insurmountable enough — after conquering the first two LPs masterfully, you took it a bit too far there, Hari.
But those first two LPs, the ones filled with actual songs, are absolute gold. Opening with the laconic I’d Have You Anytime, segueing into the monster-hit My Sweet Lord, before transitioning into the enormous, epic rocker Wah-Wah, and closing with the also epic, gorgeous Isn’t It a Pity, side one alone is enough to knock you on your ass. But sides two and three impossibly manage to follow that act quite skillfully, and where side four is lacking, it can be forgiven. Where the Beatles’ White Album fails to genuinely be worth two full LPs of new songs, All Things Must Pass succeeds.
Key Tracks: My Sweet Lord, Wah-Wah, Isn’t It a Pity, Run of the Mill, Beware of Darkness, All Things Must Pass
VIDEO: George Harrison’s song Wah Wah plays over an image of Harrison at the Concert for Bangladesh. Wah Wah lyrics.
2. Plastic Ono Band
In 1970, John and Yoko decided to conquer their demons by attending primal scream therapy, which aims to bring painful memories and emotions to the surface as a means to understand and become free of them. While reports on the effectiveness of that second part vary, the therapy certainly worked on the first count, and John’s raw, scarred, angry, and melancholy release Plastic Ono Band was the result.
Featuring Ringo Starr on drums and Klaus Voormann on bass, what Plastic Ono Band sometimes lacks in melody, it more than makes up for in power. From wrenching confessional songs like Mother, to tender, vulnerable songs like Hold On and Love, to politically-tinged rockers like I Found Out and Well, Well, Well, Plastic Ono Band is all John, all the time, and he holds back little. Whether denouncing his own legend in God or declaring his own sense of loneliness in Isolation, it may be his most definitive musical statement.
Key Tracks: Mother, Working Class Hero, Isolation, God
VIDEO: John Lennon’s song Mother plays over the official music video, which features black and white photos from John’s early life, both with and without his parents. Mother lyrics.
3. Band on the Run
Band on the Run is more McCartney than a person could ever ask for, with him playing lead guitar, bass, drums, and a whole lot more. One almost wonders why he bothered bringing (what was left of) his band at all, but never mind — Band on the Run is 70s pop rock heaven, and remains Paul’s most critically acclaimed album to this day for good reason.
The album is made up of smash hit singles — Band on the Run, Jet, Let Me Roll It — that earned every unit they sold, as well as somewhat more complex and subtle tracks like the transcendent Mamunia and the sweeping Picasso’s Last Words. The uninspired Helen’s Wheels throws a wrench in the works for U.S. fans, but blame it on Capitol — Paul never intended the track as a part of the album, and on the U.K. version, it wasn’t. Band on the Run stands easily as Paul’s solo masterpiece, and easily measures up to anything he did with the Beatles.
Key Tracks: Band on the Run, Jet, Let Me Roll It, Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five
VIDEO: Paul McCartney and Wing’s Let Me Roll It plays over a semi-recent image of Paul. Let Me Roll It lyrics.
After the catharsis of Plastic Ono Band, John opted to return to more commercially palatable pursuits. Imagine is no less personal in nature, but is a lot more friendly to the average radio listener’s ears.
Imagine is John’s most remembered album, thanks in large but by no means sole part to the title track, and though it’s not my personal favorite, it’s surely not a bad legacy. Far more than just the album’s iconic namesake, it also includes classics like Jealous Guy and Gimme Some Truth, and polished, tender ballads like How? and Oh My Love. Also in its favor are the work of both Klaus Voormann and the Beatles’ own George Harrison! A part of being John Lennon, I suppose, is getting the best studio musicians.
Key Tracks: Imagine, Jealous Guy, How?, Oh Yoko!
VIDEO: John Lennon’s song Oh Yoko! plays over a slideshow of images of John and Yoko together. Oh Yoko! lyrics.
5. Living in the Material World
For those who don’t share George Harrison’s spiritual devotion, it’s easy to cast a skeptical eye upon Living in the Material World, which is overwhelmingly and overtly about his spiritual life and journey. But as with My Sweet Lord, George Harrison manages to pull off the impossible, writing religious songs that get even non-believers singing along. There’s no risk of anyone being converted by listening to this album, but there is the guarantee that you’ll miss out on an awful lot if you don’t.
Living in the Material World is an album without a single bad track. It features both the grandeur of “big” songs like Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth), Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long, and Living in the Material World, as well as the quiet contemplation of songs like Be Here Now and That Is All. The bitter, pun-filled Sue Me, Sue You Blues is also a riot. Not quite as immediately gratifying as All Things Must Pass, Living in the Material World is a subtler creation that proves to be almost as rewarding.
Key Tracks: Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth), Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long, Living in the Material World, Try Some, Buy Some
VIDEO: George Harrison song Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long plays over still images and video footage of George Harrison playing music live throughout his solo career. Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long lyrics.
By its very nature — a posthumously released album by a Beatle who died too young, lovingly finished by his only son according to the painstaking directions he left behind — Brainwashed gets automatic kid glove treatment. Thankfully, it doesn’t need it. Just as he surely wanted it to be, Brainwashed is another George Harrison masterpiece, the perfect and fitting final note in his musical career.
While such a choice would be easily forgiven, Brainwashed is not a sad album. It’s barely even nostalgic. It is searching, it is thankful, and it is in many places jubilant. At the end, it seems that George was not busy pondering death — tracks like Pisces Fish, Looking For My Life, and Stuck Inside a Cloud show that he was still busy figuring out what to make of life. And if songs like Any Road and Rocking Chair in Hawaii offer any insight, he was not at all sorry to have lived it. Brainwashed is truly among the best in Harrison’s overall superb solo catalog, and I for one am grateful that he decided to get inside the studio one last time.
Key Tracks: Any Road, Pisces Fish, Looking For My Life, Stuck Inside a Cloud
VIDEO: George Harrison song Stuck Inside a Cloud plays over images of George Harrison from the 1980s through to 2001. Stuck Inside a Cloud lyrics.
Paul’s second post-Beatles release is credited to both him and his wife Linda, despite her contributions being limited to co-writing credits on several tracks and backing vocals. Questions of authorship aside, however, it’s a fabulous little album. A bit under-produced and dirty in places, Ram may take a few listens to warm to ears used to McCartney’s usually ubiquitous polish. But the sound of Paul getting back to basics and bring his then-simple, folksy approach to life to his music is an incredibly pleasing one.
The tracks on the album span a wide-range of genres, from rockers like Too Many People and Monkberry Moon Delight, to numerous folk-inspired acoustic numbers like Ram On, Heart of the Country, and Three Legs, and even throws in complex melodies like that on Dear Boy, and eclectic stylistic mashes like The Back Seat of My Car. While initially seeming straight forward, Ram grows in depth and complexity with every listen
Key Tracks: Too Many People, Dear Boy, Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, The Back Seat of My Car
VIDEO: Paul and Linda McCartney’s song Dear Boy plays over images of the LP version of their album Ram. Dear Boy lyrics.
8. Walls and Bridges
For the life of me, I truly cant understand how Walls and Bridges has earned its somewhat bad reputation. Sometime in New York City isn’t exactly my cup of tea. The appeal of Mind Games is mostly lost on me. And Rock and Roll, I’m sorry to say, is just plain bad. But Walls and Bridges is a hidden gem, and quite a lovely one. The first side is pure gold, from Going Down on Love, to Scared. And where the second side drags or confounds (Steel and Glass, Beef Jerky, Ya Ya), all is entirely redeemed by the time that one of Lennon’s most inspired masterpieces, Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out), comes around.
Walls and Bridges was written during John’s “Lost Weekend” separation from Yoko Ono, and reflects his confused and troubled state. The album includes not only What You Got, where John literally pleads with Yoko to “Baby, give me one more chance” and the expression of intense longing and deep love for his wife in Bless You, but also the joyful love song Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox) for his girlfriend May Pang.
Key Tracks: Old Dirt Road, What You Got, #9 Dream, Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)
VIDEO: John Lennon’s song Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out) plays over an image of the remastered Walls and Bridges album cover. Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out) lyrics.
9. Goodnight Vienna
Poor Ringo gets no love. But forget all the negative hype you’ve ever heard about his solo career — Goodnight Vienna is a genuinely great album. The 1974 LP is filled with catchy songs, including a title track written by John Lennon, a hit single written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, and a bunch of great numbers written or co-written by Ringo himself. And let us not forget the infinitely enjoyable No No Song.
As always, Ringo pulls off the up tempo songs the best, but he also manages to work several of the ballads like Call Me and Only You (even if Husbands and Wives and Easy For Me leave a little bit to be desired). Great drums, fun vocals, memorable tunes, and all-star guests like Billy Preston make this Ringo album a must-have, and my personal favorite.
Key Tracks: (It All Comes Da-Da-Down To) Goodnight Vienna, Oo-Wee, Snookeroo, No No Song
VIDEO: Ringo’s song Goodnight Vienna plays over images of Ringo from around the time of recording for the Goodnight Vienna album, as well as images of Ringo doing promotion for the album in his blue spacesuit. Goodnight Vienna lyrics.
Not being the most prolific writer himself, it wasn’t unusual for Ringo to get through his earliest solo years with a little help from his friends — namely, his fellow ex-Beatles. Ringo was the most successful of his attempts using this strategy, with not only all three other Beatles contributing tracks, but also an enthusiastic critical and commercial response. While I have a minor quibble with the assessment of the LP as Ringo’s personal best (see above), and really loathe the misogynistic track Devil Woman, it certainly is one of Ringo’s finest efforts, and an essential part of any solo Beatles music collection.
Key Tracks: I’m The Greatest, Photograph, You’re Sixteen, Oh My My
VIDEO: Ringo’s song Photograph plays over various photographs of Ringo throughout the years. Photograph lyrics.
Share your own favorite solo Beatles albums in the comments. (I’ll admit that both my Paul and Ringo collections aren’t as complete as I’d like them to be, so I could use the tips!) Or, alternately, share your favorite tracks off of the albums listed in the post.