Perhaps no artist has an output as consistent as that of The Beatles. With the exception of Yellow Submarine, which is really an EP of new Beatles material tucked inside of a George Martin soundtrack album, all of their LPs are essential. When they split in the seventies and stopped prodding each other to keep that quality level moon-high, there was a lot more filler. That put them in a most unfortunate position, since few bands can be reasonably compared to The Beatles, and now the ex-Beatles were being compared to their former selves. Consequently, the solo years have increasingly been painted as a wash out by certain fans and critics.
This isn’t true. In fact, John, Paul, George, and Ringo made a lot of great music after they ceased to be a unit. You just have to weed through their output a bit. In his new book Still the Greatest: The Essential Songs of The Beatles’ Solo Careers, Andrew Grant Jackson does most of the work for you. The writer cherry picks 182 songs out of that mass of albums and singles released from McCartney in 1970 right up to RIngo’s Y Not from 2011. The structure is cute: Jackson arranges the songs as pseudo-post-Beatles-Beatles LPs. For music made before Lennon’s death, he generally uses the Revolver ratio: five each by Lennon and McCartney, three by Harrison, one by Starr. He really does end up covering the mass of the guys’ best post-Beatles songs even though a selection of their albums (Plastic Ono Band, All Things Must Pass, RAM, Imagine, Band on the Run, Ringo) still fully deserve to be heard in their entireties. However, the bulk of Jackson’s commentary has more to do with the history of those years than the selected songs, making it quite similar in approach to Bill Janovitz’s recent Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of The Rolling Stones. For the most part, I liked the telling too, though Jackson does make some missteps along the way. I’m all for using a bit of irreverence to juice up the storytelling, but he goes way too far when he says that Lennon’s “big mouth got him killed.” Actually, it was an insane man with a gun who got Lennon killed, and it’s pretty sick to suggest he was responsible for his own death in any way.
Get Still the Greatest: The Essential Songs of The Beatles’ Solo Careers on Amazon.com here: