For the inaugural entry of Listening To History, we need to get the obvious choice out of the way. It’s not one LP, but a whole catalogue; the most important catalogue of rock music there is.
Every official Beatles studio record and single except Yellow Submarine (cheating, I know, but it’s mandatory) (also, only get the UK versions, obviously… excluding the US-only Magical Mystery Tour)
Please Please Me (1963)
With the Beatles (1963)
A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Beatles For Sale (1964)
Past Masters Vol. 1 (1962-1965)
Rubber Soul (1965)
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
The Beatles (the White Album) (1968)
Abbey Road (1969)
Let It Be (1970)
Past Masters Vol. 2 (1965-1970)
It’s very unnecessary to recapitulate the innovations and successes of the greatest band ever, but here’s a reminder anyway: They emphasized artistic independence and group cohesion in the music world by creating their own concepts, writing their own lyrics and songs, very capably playing everything themselves, and even helping to produce some tracks; they cemented the status of rock music as art and not just a passing fad; they embraced and modified every genre yet invented at that time and created several more; they helped to point rock in a roots-influenced, “back to basics” direction during the end of the decade; they symbolically shattered the naïve delusions of the 1960s by breaking up during the peak of their career; they became the popular face of the “teen pop” demographic and trend in the wake of Elvis and other crooners; they bridged the generation gap between old styles and modern pop; they made British music (and, indeed, pop music in general) marketable around the world (a.k.a. the British Invasion); they introduced Indian musical values and sounds into Western pop; they singlehandedly made the full-length record a viable artistic statement and commercial product; they helped to make conscious, poetic, complex lyrics a standard for the medium; they helped make folk rock popular; they made psychedelia popular and partially invented it, with orchestral arrangements, advanced studio techniques like tape looping, and incorporation of new instruments such as the melodica (which influenced other bands to do the same); they established four distinct identities that would dominate the 1960s and then subverted and showed different sides of those personalities more than once (while managing to keep their egos balanced and cooperative); they made the archetypal career path for all future bands, as well as pioneering a few different aesthetic and fashion styles worldwide; they made the first postmodern and “meta” rock music; and most amazingly of all, managed to be the most successful, beloved group ever, while still consistently making songs that were challenging, listenable, adequate, diverse and satisfying (and not least of all, they managed to achieve all this in a jaw-droppingly eventful nine years). If you forgot why they’re the best, there you have it.
Key tracks: “Love Me Do”, “She Loves You”, “All My Loving”, “A Hard Day’s Night”, “What You’re Doing”, “Help!”, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds”, “A Day In the Life”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Hey Jude”, “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”, “Helter Skelter”, “Here Comes the Sun”, “I’ve Got A Feeling” (Sgt. Pepper gets two key tracks because it’s freaking Sgt. Pepper)