For all the great music that The Beatles made, my favourite two albums from the Liverpool quartet are their mid career peaks of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Both capture the band at a point where they’d embraced studio technology, making their albums more detailed and interesting, but where they still had the tight-knit chemistry of four friends.
I’ve pitted the two albums against each other, song by song. Because Revolver has an extra song, I’ve dropped one of its less remarkable pieces, Lennon’s ‘Dr Robert’, from the contest, leaving it as 13 songs on each.
Track 1: Taxman vs Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Both albums start strongly. Taxman is one of George Harrison’s more notable Beatles’ songs, but in a possibly controversial decision, I’ve awarded it to Paul McCartney’s title track, which provides a showcase for his great rock’n’roll voice and sets the scene for the concept ahead.
Revolver 0: Sgt Peppers 1
Track 2: Eleanor Rigby vs With a Little Help from My Friends
John Lennon’s showcase for Ringo Starr is charming, but ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is one of McCartney’s greatest songs, elegiac and haunting.
Revolver 1: Sgt Peppers 1
Track 3: I’m Only Sleeping vs Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
Two Lennon songs occupy the third slot of the first sides – they’re both strong pieces, but the psychedelic imagery of ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ is the more striking.
Revolver 1: Sgt Peppers 2
Track 4: Love You To vs Getting Better
Another Harrison vs McCartney showdown, and again McCartney’s tunefulness wins out – ‘Getting Better’ is one of Sgt Peppers’ overlooked gems.
Revolver 1: Sgt Peppers 3
Track 5: Here, There and Everywhere vs Fixing a Hole
‘Fixing A Hole’ is pretty, but a little plodding, while ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ is one of McCartney’s most beautiful, elegant melodies.
Revolver 2: Sgt Peppers 3
Track 6: Yellow Submarine vs She’s Leaving Home
It’s tough for Starr’s charming spotlight on ‘Yellow Submarine’ to stand against McCartney’s sophisticated ‘She’s Leaving Home’ – Lennon’s Greek chorus vocals are a sublime finishing touch.
Revolver 2: Sgt Peppers 4
Track 7: She Said She Said vs Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Two John Lennon pieces – the dynamic, druggy ‘She Said She Said’ is one of his best Beatles’ songs, while ‘Mr Kite’ is one of the weaker pieces on Sgt Peppers.
Revolver 3: Sgt Peppers 4
Track 8: Good Day Sunshine vs Within You Without You
I like ‘Within You Without You’ more than I used to, but it outstays its welcome and it’s got a tough match-up against a strong McCartney song.
Revolver 4: Sgt Peppers 4
Track 9: And Your Bird Can Sing vs When I’m Sixty-Four
Lennon’s ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ has always felt like a McCartney song to me, slight and tuneful, but it still feels more substantial than ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’, one of McCartney’s foray into geriatric-oriented show-tunes.
Revolver 5: Sgt Peppers 4
Track 10: For No One vs Lovely Rita
These are two terrific McCartney songs, but I give his tribute to a meter maid the edge. ‘For No One’ is beautiful, but suffers from sharing album space with the similarly mournful and orchestrated ‘Eleanor Rigby’.
Revolver 5: Sgt Peppers 5
Track 11: I Want to Tell You vs Good Morning Good Morning
Harrison finally gets a point – as much as I like the gimmick at the end of ‘Good Morning’ with the chain of animal sounds, ‘I Want To Tell You’ is the more solid of the tunes for me.
Revolver 6: Sgt Peppers 5
Track 12: Got to Get You into My Life vs Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise)
A reprise vs a fully blown, excellent McCartney song doesn’t seem like a fair contest.
Revolver 7: Sgt Peppers 5
Track 13: Tomorrow Never Knows vs A Day in the Life
‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ is a terrific closer, one of Lennon’s most successful experiments with its use of loops and backwards guitar solo. It’s one of The Beatles’ best songs, but it pales in comparison to epic closer ‘A Day In The Life’, often cited as The Beatles’ best single recording.
Revolver 7: Sgt Peppers 6
So Revolver takes a narrow win on a song by song battle. As much as it’s not a very good way of deciding the better album – albums are often more or less than the sum of their individual songs – a narrow 7-6 win is a good summation of my relative feelings towards the two records.
Which album do you think wins?