A Millennial's Guide to the Beatles

Christmas came early for music fans this year.

The Beatles announced on Christmas Eve that their entire catalog would become available on streaming music services. (Remember that Michael Jackson bought the catalog in the ’80s.) In just five days since becoming available, the 10 most popular Beatles songs on Spotify have been streamed almost 21 million times, and that's not to mention the hundreds of other songs in the Beatles' legendary catalog.

The Beatles were notoriously late in coming to the digital music game. It took until 2010 just for their albums and songs to hit the iTunes store. Spotify and its rival streaming music services had been around for years before last week's announcement. As streaming, either via subscription-based or free services, becomes the dominant mode of consuming music for young people, a previously unthinkable conundrum might arise: It's possible that young people have never heard a Beatles song that wasn't on the radio. The absence of a digital avenue might mean that some young people might never have listened to a Beatles album all the way through. 

The 10 most played Beatles songs on Spotify aren't particularly surprising. As of today, the list looks like this:

"Come Together" (Abbey Road)
"Hey Jude" (The Beatles)
"Here Comes the Sun" (Abbey Road)
"Let It Be" (Let It Be)
"Twist and Shout" (Please Please Me)
"Blackbird" (Beatles)
"I Want to Hold Your Hand" (Meet the Beatles!)
"She Loves You" (The Beatles' Second Album)
"In My Life" (Rubber Soul)
"Yesterday" (Help!)

All these songs are great, but it's also a very entry-level list. So in the interest of helping produce a well-rounded generation of music fans, here are some selections from every Beatles album that you won't hear on the radio or see on any top 10 lists, but highlight why elders consider the Beatles the most important pop band ever. 

Please Please Me (1963)

The songs you've heard: Album opener "I Saw Her Standing There" reached number one, and you've probably also heard the title track and "Love Me Do." The cover of "Twist and Shout" is a surprise entry on the most streamed lists.

The deep cuts you should hear: The album is almost half covers of other people's songs, and there is one particular standout worth a listen: the Arthur Alexander song "Anna (Go to Him)." The John Lennon composition "Ask Me Why" is a lush love song filled with surprisingly interested rhythm guitar work and great backup vocals that weave in and out of Lennon's lead voice. Don't sleep on "There's a Place," either.

With the Beatles (1963)

The songs you've heard: You surely know "All My Loving," but the rest of this album isn't super well-known. Maybe you know "I Wanna Be Your Man," or perhaps the covers of "Please Mister Postman" or "Roll Over Beethoven."

The deep cuts you should hear: They're not deep cuts, exactly, but the first two songs on the album are both pretty phenomenal pop songs. "It Won't Be Long" is a frantic, upbeat dance number, and "All I've Got to Do" is a Smokey Robinson-esque number composed by Lennon. 

A Hard Day's Night (1964)

The songs you've heard: The title track and "Can't Buy Me Love" both reached number one. 

The deep cuts you should hear: "Things We Said Today" is a nice little minor key song, and has a somewhat western feel compared to the chunk-chunk sound found on the rest of the album. John Lennon cited Wilson Pickett as an influence for "You Can't Do That," which is an apt description for the sound. It's also one of the several Lennon compositions that contain some eerily jealous and controlling lyrics, quite the different perspective from the man best known for his naked love-ins and the sappy "Imagine." 

Beatles for Sale (1964)

The songs you've heard: "Eight Days a Week" is probably the most mature pop song the Beatles wrote up to this point. This album is notable for being the first step in the Beatles' shift from the boy band pop that defined the group's early recordings and toward the mature, serious songs that made them famous.

The deep cuts you should hear: "Baby's in Black" is a mournful shuffle featuring great harmonies from Lennon and Paul McCartney. "I'm a Loser" is a great track as well, and "Every Little Thing" and "I'll Follow the Sun" are also worth close listens.

Help! (1965)

The songs you've heard: "Yesterday" is easily the most popular song from this album, and it's an undisputed classic covered by countless artists. "Help!" and "Ticket to Ride" also hit number one. 

The deep cuts you should hear: This album is the final album of the Beatles' early phase, and it's a great one. "The Night Before," "I Need You," "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," and "Lose That Girl" are all fine pop songs, but "I've Just Seen a Face" is an up-tempo McCartney song that truly shines. It's insistent in its drive forward, an enthusiastic melody that matches perfectly to the lyrics about a fleeting crush on someone you've never spoken to. It's an ode to urgent, young love. 

Rubber Soul (1965)

The songs you've heard: "In My Life" is one of the few songs on that "most streamed" list also considered a classic by critics. "Norwegian Wood" is well known also. "Drive My Car" opens the album and has achieved its own level of popularity. "Nowhere Man" falls in this category as well. 

The deep cuts you should hear: This album is considered the Beatles' first grown-up album, fleshed out with an original sound that would go on to influence countless musicians. "Drive My Car" features some really close, tight harmonies that were dissonant in a way few Beatles songs ever were. "You Won't See Me" is a beautiful McCartney song, featuring some of the background vocals that would become Paul's signature over the next few albums. "Girl" and "Wait" should not be skipped. Another creepy Lennon song, "Run For Your Life," closes the album.

A Millennial's Guide to the Beatles

Revolver (1966) 

The songs you've heard: The transformation that started on Help! completed on Revolver, and for that reason many critics rank this album as the best Beatles album, even the best album of all time. You'll recognize "Taxman," "Eleanor Rigby," and perhaps "Got to Get You Into My Life."


The deep cuts you should hear:

"I'm Only Sleeping," "She Said She Said," "For No One," and "And Your Bird Can Sing" are all fantastic. But the McCartney song "Here, There, Everywhere" is possibly the most beautiful ballad the Beatles ever performed. It certainly belongs in the discussion for best Beatles songs of all time. 

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

The songs you've heard: The title track, "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," and "When I'm Sixty-Four."

The deep cuts you should hear: Pretty much every song on this album is perfect. "Getting Better," "Fixing a Hole," and "Lovely Rita" are all fantastic, as is the album closer "Day in the Life."

Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

The songs you've heard: "I Am the Walrus," "Penny Lane," and "Strawberry Fields Forever" are all psychedelic classics. 

The deep cuts you should hear: Lennon and McCartney described "Baby You're a Rich Man" as a mash-up of two songs written one by the former and one by the latter. It features Indian influences and a delightful series of melodies from Lennon and a fun chorus from McCartney. 

The Beatles (a.k.a. the White Album) (1968)

The songs you've heard: Assuming you've been alive sometime in the past four decades, you've heard "Hey Jude," though the song wasn't included on the original release, it was put out as a single. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Helter Skelter," and "Revolution 1" were all hits. "Dear Prudence" has probably wormed its way into your earholes at some point. 

The deep cuts you should hear: Another standout classic from the Beatles' catalog, the following songs demand repeated listening: "Sexy Sadie," "Martha, My Dear," "I'm So Tired," and "Cry Baby Cry." Pitchfork's Mark Richardson nailed it when he wrote that the album is "a glorious and flawed mess, and its failings are as essential to its character as its triumphs." There are some strange songs on here, like the Beach Boys parody "Back in the U.S.S.R.," and "Revolution 9" is important to listen to, if only once. Easily the most experimental Beatles album, this one might take the longest to ingest and comprehend, but it's well worth the effort. 

Yellow Submarine (1968)

The songs you've heard: The title track is good for kids, I guess. After that, there's not much on this album, besides "All Together Now," that casual fans would recognize.

The deep cuts you should here: "Hey Bulldog" features some interesting ideas. Lennon once called it "a good sounding record that means nothing," which you could practically say about the whole album. The album is actually a soundtrack to the movie of the same name, and film is absolutely worth watching. The soundtrack just doesn't hold up like the other Beatles records. If you skip one, choose this. 

Abbey Road (1969)

The songs you've heard: "Come Together" and "Here Comes the Sun," obviously. The former is brilliant while the latter is a bit sappy and annoying, but, hey, what can you do? The people like what they like. "Something" is George Harrison's composition and easily ranks as one of the best Beatles song ever.

The deep cuts you should hear: This is another album where pretty much every song is a classic. "Oh! Darling" is probably McCartney's best vocal performance with the Beatles. As he screams, "When you told me you didn't need me anymore, well you know I nearly broke down and died," there's so much passion in his voice you have to choice but to believe him. Despite this, Lennon once said in an interview he'd always believed he could have sung it better than Paul, but that's a tantalizing prospect we'll never get to realize. Lennon's "I Want You (She's So Heavy) feels like Lennon's response to "Oh! Darling," and it's a sprawling, intense composition marked by some of Lennon's most direct, simple lyrics since the early Beatles days. 

Let It Be (1970)

The songs you've heard: The title track, "Across the Universe," "Lady Madonna," and "The Long and Winding Road" are all very recognizable.

The deep cuts you should hear: "I've Got a Feeling" is a nice little blues number. The second track on the album "Dig a Pony," features some very nice vocal work from Lennon, though he'd later call the song "garbage." Just don't think too hard about the lyrics and you'll hear a pretty incredible piece of classic rock.

Bonus: The song "Yes It Is" never made it on to a Beatles album but was released as a b-side to "Ticket To Ride" in 1965. It features some just stunning vocal harmonies and some interesting volume pedal work from Harrison. 

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