The Quest for the Perfect Beatles Playlist

I needed a break from working the other day, so I decided to make a comprehensive Beatles playlist… all of their songs, in the order which best reflects the evolution of their work over time. It’s harder than it sounds.

The easy part is the full-length albums… but there’s still a little complexity there with “Let It Be” and “Abbey Road”. The former was recoded in Jan 1969, but not released until 1970. The latter was recorded in August 1969, and released later that same year. So… if you go by release date, then “Let It Be” is the last album, but if you go by recording date, then “Abbey Road” is. But, there’s a deeper story.

“Let It Be” was recorded under extremely trying circumstances. They were filming the process for a concept movie, which meant that instead of working in their cozy studio, they were on a film set. It was cold, drafty, and noisy. There were people all around all the time. They knew they were being filmed all the time. Plus, they were all starting to feel pretty worn out on The Beatles as a whole. So, they bickered their way through the entire production. Personally, I think you can feel it in the music.

“Abbey Road” was different. There’s a few stories about it, but the common thread is that it was understood that it was going to be “the one last album”. As such, you can tell that they guys pulled everything they had together to make one final statement. Everyone contributed a song or two (even Ringo, which is pretty unusual), and they are univerally held to be among their very best songs. Plus, the album captures the full breadth of their work from the pop songs of their start, to the orchestral overtones of their middle years, to the wild disonence and heavily distorted guitars of their later years. It feels like “the last album”, and the perfect summary of their work.

So. Recording order it is. But… what about everything else? Many of their best songs didn’t make it onto one of the canonical full-length albums!

Fortunately, long after The Beatles had broken up (and, indeed, long after John died), a collection called “The Past Masters” was released in 1988. This collection was specifically created to collect together all those songs which were released on singles and EPs. Now… where do they go?

One might be tempted to slot them in between the albums by their release dates, but this creates a lot of problems. To start, most of these songs were released multiple times in different formats and in different countries. Many of them, too, were released long after they were recorded. For example, “Across the Universe” was recorded roughly in the same time-frame as “The Beatles (The White Album)”, but wasn’t released until 1970… after “Let It Be”! So, sticking with the recording date comes to the rescue, and solves both problems.

Finally, there’s a few loose ends to tie up. First, “The Past Masters” does include a few songs which did actually make it onto a studio album (alhough almost always a slightly different recording). I decided to remove these in preference of those which appeared on an album. And, second, I just don’t need to listen to “Revolution 9” on a routine basis. So, that makes my final, complete, and “perfect” playlist:

songLove Me Do1962-10-05
albumPlease Please Me1963-02-20
songFrom Me to You1963-04-11
songThank You Girl1963-04-11
songShe Loves You1963-08-23
songI’ll Get You1963-08-23
albumWith the Beatles1963-10-23
songI Want to Hold Your Hand1963-11-29
songThis Boy1963-11-29
songKomm, Gib Mer Deine Hand1964-02-04
songSie Liebt Dich1964-02-04
songLong Tall Sally1964-03-01
songI Call Your Name1964-03-01
songSlow Down1964-06-01
albumA Hard Day’s Night1964-06-02
songShe’s a Woman1964-10-08
songI Feel Fine1964-10-18
albumBeatles for Sale1964-10-26
songYes It Is1965-02-16
songBad Boy1965-05-10
songI’m Down1965-06-14
songDay Tripper1965-10-16
songWe Can Work it Out1965-10-29
albumRubber Soul1965-11-11
songPaperback Writer1966-04-14
albumSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band1967-04-21
albumMagical Mystery Tour1967-11-07
songLady Madonna1968-02-06
songThe Inner Light1968-02-08
songAcross the Universe1968-02-08
songHey Jude1968-08-26
albumThe White Album1968-10-14
albumYellow Submarine1968-10-23
songDon’t Let Me Down1969-01-28
albumLet It Be1969-01-31
songThe Ballad of John and Yoko1969-04-14
songOld Brown Shoe1969-04-18
songYou Know My Name1969-04-30
albumAbbey Road1969-08-20