Every Beatles Solo Record Ranked From Absolutely Terrible To Life-Changing
Some are good, some are great, and a lot are downright terrible.
Partway through Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, the gentle father played by Ethan Hawke tells an outright goddamn lie. “There is no favourite Beatle,” he tells his son. “It’s in the balance.”
Such a sentiment, despite being very wrong, is becoming increasingly popular. For whatever reason, people are becoming increasingly emboldened to spout this terrible Beatles opinion, opining that every member of the greatest rock band of all time were equal under the sun.
Yes, that Car Seat Headrest-obsessed dude that you met at your mate’s party will have the nerve to tell you that Ringo Starr is underrated. Or some boomer at a work function will tell you that actually, post-breakup, none of the fab four ever released anything good ever again.
To which I say: wrong. The Beatles were a perfect mix of talents and skills, sure, but that doesn’t mean that each of them produced uniformly strong work when left on their own.
In that vein, here is the objective ranking of every single post-Beatles solo record, from the Ringo Starr to the divine.
#56. I Wanna Be Santa Claus — Ringo Starr
Absolutely no thank you.
#55. Kisses on the Bottom — Paul McCartney
If you own a copy of this record, you’re on a watchlist now.
#54. Bad Boy — Ringo Starr
There’s a lot of things I could say about this absolute calamity, one of the very worst albums of the ’70s. But I think I’ll just let the first few lines of the record’s Wikipedia page do the talking. “Bad Boy is the seventh studio album by Ringo Starr, released in 1978 during a period where his musical career was sliding into free fall after several years of solo success,” it reads. “Although Bad Boy was meant to reverse this trend, Starr’s fortunes dwindled further.”
#53. Give My Regards to Broad Street — Paul McCartney
Despite evidence to the contrary, this album absolutely doesn’t exist. Nobody has ever heard it, spoken about it, or bought it. It is a Paul McCartney cheese dream we all briefly lived and then awoke from, never to consider it again.
#52. Give More Love — Ringo Starr
Literally the only thing going for Give More Love, an addled collection of ugly pop songs riddled with hoarse and hoary sentiments about peace and commitment, is that there’s a chance it might be Starr’s last solo album before retirement. One can only hope.
#51. Time Takes Time — Ringo Starr
Time Takes Time was officially positioned as a comeback record for the increasingly disliked Beatle, and it received better reviews than anything he’d released in about two decades. Don’t let those positive notices fool you, though; this is a geriatric, addled mush, through which Starr’s uniformly horrendous voice snakes.
#50. Rock ‘n’ Roll — John Lennon
No one in the history of the universe has released a record of early rock and roll covers that doesn’t deserve to be immediately slung into the bin, and Lennon’s half-hearted attempt at this deeply cursed, deeply boring tradition is no exception.
#49. Run Devil Run — Paul McCartney
More rockabilly covers! For fuck’s sake.
#48. Postcards from Paradise — Ringo Starr
More like postcards from relative obscurity. Go back to your MS paint portraits, Ringo Starr, and stop slurring your own reputation.
#47. Thirty Three & 1/3 — George Harrison
Thirty Three is the most aggressively ’80s sounding record in Harrison’s back catalogue — which is weird, given that it was released in the late ’70s. As daggy as a pair of khaki pants.
#46. Some Time In New York City — John Lennon
Starts by dropping the n-word, ends with an eight minute track of pure nonsense. Lennon’s worst habits are all on display here, but most egregious is how bloody pretentious the whole thing is, like a lecture from a denim-clad bastard at a boring party.
#45. Stop And Smell The Roses — Ringo Starr
Imagine if the cast of Monty Python banded together to record a Sgt. Pepper pisstake while absolutely fried on ketamine, and you’d have this horrorshow, a warped series of quasi-children’s songs. Truly embarrassing.
#44. Y Not — Ringo Starr
Please don’t make me write more words about how terrible Ringo Starr is, I just can’t do it.
#43. Tug of War — Paul McCartney
‘Ebony and Ivory’ is absolute rubbish, and everybody who ever loved it should be perpetually ashamed of themselves.
#42. Extra Texture (Read All About It) — George Harrison
Harrison is known as the most spiritual of the Beatles for a reason. But this, his sixth record, is strangely devoid of his usual pleas for peace and harmony, swapped out for a series of banal crooners about being in and out of love. Aggressively forgettable.
#41. Memory Almost Full — Paul McCartney
Did you know that Memory Almost Full was first released with a shaped picture disc, the kind of cute physical media gimmick that the Beatles traded on back in the day? The album itself is terrible, of course, but that rollout is kinda nice.
#40. Choose Love — Ringo Starr
In which Ringo Starr has his own, ‘how do you do fellow kids?’ moment.
#39. Driving Rain — Paul McCartney
McCartney writing a call to action after the events of 9/11 was never really going to work, but ‘Freedom’ is even worse than you might have imagined Macca going political might be.
#38. Press to Play — Paul McCartney
Listen, the late ’80s were tough for everyone.
#37. Gone Troppo — George Harrison
Harrison could never do silly, which is why it’s a shame that’s all he tries for on this, a disposable record from an artist with the unfortunate habit of sometimes phoning things in.
#36. Mind Games — John Lennon
Ever notice those folks who are convinced Lennon was far and away the genius of the Beatles rarely mention he released a song called ‘Tight A$’?
#35. Old Wave — Ringo Starr
This mess is so bad every single American record label refused to release it. Consider that: you’re a Beatle, and you still can’t get some two-bit outfit to squeak your limp ballads into record stores.
#34. Electronic Sound — George Harrison
In which the songwriter behind ‘Here Comes The Sun’ dicks about on a Moog for just under an hour.
#33. Walls And Bridges — John Lennon
Lennon himself said that he “churned out” Walls and Bridges’ lead single ‘Number 9 Dream’ with “no inspiration”. So consider that a warning straight from the horse’s mouth.
#32. Red Rose Speedway — Wings
At the time, critics called Red Rose Speedway ‘inconsequential.’ In actuality, that might even be too positive. At 42 minutes in length, RRS is one of the longer records in the Wings discography. But somehow not a single moment of it sticks — it leaves absolutely nothing in its trace, dissipating like a smoke ring. Not even worth getting angry about.
#31. Ringo’s Rotogravure — Ringo Starr
Starr aims for Dr. Seuss and lands somewhere around the territory of Michael Myers’ Cat In The Hat remake. As in: this is unlistenable, vaguely horrifying horseshit.
#30. Unfinished Music No. 1, 2 and Wedding Album — John Lennon
This trio of experimental records were released separately, but are far too weak and limp to stand on their own. Lennon and Ono completionists should listen to them in one go for a taste of their early, most experimental output. The rest of us should skip ’em.
#29. Wonderwall Music — George Harrison
Not so much an album as it is a collection of instrumental flourishes and short skits, Harrison’s debut record has all the impact of a fart in a bathtub. Not bad exactly, but also not much of anything.
#28. Venus And Mars — Wings
Wings get a bad rap, criticised for being too big and too silly. For the most part, those slights are unfair — but in the case of Venus And Mars, an overblown collection of trite trinkets, they fit perfectly.
#27. Ringo The 4th — Ringo Starr
#26. Somewhere In England — George Harrison
Muddled and slapdash, Somewhere In England is notable for featuring Harrison’s most public display of grief over the death of his bandmate John Lennon via the song ‘All Those Years Ago’. Skip the rest of the record, though.
#25. Ringo Rama — Ringo Starr
Overlong, irritating, boomer-bait wank, in which Starr rhymes ‘young’ and ‘fun’ and ‘right’ and ‘night’. But still, at least it’s not actively offensive. This is Starr at his most lowkey, which also means Starr at his easiest to ignore.
#24. Back To The Egg — Wings
That title must be at least partially to blame for the vicious reviews this Wings project received when it first dropped (Rolling Stone called it “the sorriest grab bag of dreck in recent memory”.) After all, Back To The Egg isn’t that bad. It’s just kinda naff, full of overproduced glam rock inspired pop trifles about nothing at all.
#23. Ringo 2012 — Ringo Starr
I mean, it’s not good, exactly, but any record that features a song co-written by Van Dyke Parks, one of the greatest American songwriters of the last 100 years, deserves at least a casual listen.
#22. Off The Ground — Paul McCartney
McCartney never really found his feet in the ’90s, and Off The Ground is one of his most lost records; a confused jumble of electronica and new wave crooning. Still, once you settle into its erratic groove, there are some pleasures to be found here — ‘Biker Like An Icon’ is oddly charming.
#21. Vertical Man — Ringo Starr
By the late ’80s, when Vertical Man was released, Starr’s already obnoxious voice had been weathered into near obliteration. Oddly enough, however, the new timbre rather works for him. He still sounds about as soothing as a horse with arthritis, but the man finally understands the limits of his range, falling into an oaky mumble that elevates the otherwise uninspired instrumentation.
#20. Wings At The Speed Of Sound — Wings
A Paul McCartney record that barely features Paul McCartney, Wings At The Speed Of Sound is a pleasant reminder that Denny Laine was always the secret weapon of Wings. It won’t change your world, of course, but it’s perfectly suited for a lazy Sunday morning. Let it wash over you.
#19. Egypt Station — Paul McCartney
Listen, nobody is expecting a 2018 release from Paul McCartney to be a masterpiece. But as far as late-late-late career records go, Egypt Station is surprisingly serviceable. The target demographic is dads, of course, but there’s enough playfulness and life here that even relative Macca neophytes can get in on the fun. It doesn’t suck, is what I’m saying, and it had every right to.
#18. Living In The Material World — George Harrison
Fun, if a little slight, Harrison’s fourth record leans heavily on new age stylings and lyrics about self-fulfilment. No wonder it’s the favourite record of retired yoga instructors the world over.
#17. Imagine — John Lennon
The Lennon-heads probably expected this one to place much higher. And sure, while it does feature one of the most famous songs ever written, the rest of the record is largely dispensable, if entertaining: a series of loose piano ballads about how much smarter John Lennon is than everyone else.
#16. Cloud Nine — George Harrison
Don’t let that awful cover fool you — Cloud Nine is surprisingly accomplished, a boppy and lively collection of bass-driven songs about contentment and nostalgia. ‘When We Were Fab’ is as sweet as ‘Here Comes The Sun’, in its own way.
#15. New — Paul McCartney
As dependable as an old swing, as essential as a third wheel.
#14. Flowers in the Dirt — Paul McCartney
Just about superlative enough to work, Flowers in the Dirt is a big old serve of nonsense, elevated by the sheer scale of its ambition. Think one of Jeff Koons’ giant, flower-covered dogs, and you have at least some kind of reference point for this oversized delight.
#13. London Town — Wings
A twisty series of blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em-medleys, London Town is probably best known for spawning ‘Mull of Kintyre’. But the record itself is a determinedly good time, with McCartney at his most playful and bizarre. How can you not be won over by ‘Backwards Traveller’?
#12. Pipes of Peace — Paul McCartney
While certainly one of the more dated records in the McCartney catalogue, Pipes of Peace is elevated by the extraordinary ‘Say Say Say’, an arch serve of silliness that sees the Beatle lean into everything that makes him special.
#11. Wild Life — Wings
Thirty-seven minutes of pure, blissful pop frivolity.
#10. Chaos and Creation in the Backyard — Paul McCartney
And underrated, late-career classic, Chaos and Creation is surprisingly direct and earnest. No tricks here, just a series of simple, old fashioned paeans to English tea, love, and sunlight.
#9. George Harrison — George Harrison
Proof that the best records don’t have to come from periods of deep emotional upset in their creators’ lives, George Harrison is a slice of pure romantic bliss. It’s the Beatle at his most sensitive and reposed, full of liltingly pretty ballads and paeans to fatherhood. Truly beautiful.
#8. Flaming Pie — Paul McCartney
For the most part, McCartney turned his back on the Beatles after the split: once they were done, they were done. Flaming Pie, however, is the exception to that rule. A deliberate invocation of the group’s early era, the record is an antic, upbeat slice of joy that bets everything on nostalgia and succeeds. It’s the kind of exercise that would never pay off twice — which is probably why McCartney never tried anything like it again.
#7. Double Fantasy — John Lennon
It’s impossible not to view Double Fantasy through the lens of Lennon’s death — he died a mere three weeks after its release. But the album’s ecstatic reputation can’t simply be chalked up to horror over his passing. At its heart, Double Fantasy is a trembling dose of honesty; the rawest thing that the musician had released in decades. Every second of it matters, from the woozing fancy of ‘Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him’ to the urgent ‘Watching The Wheels’. Lennon’s death still hurts, but the majesty of his final album takes some of the pain away.
#6. Band On The Run — Wings
Anybody who uses Wings as a punchline should listen to this, a pop masterpiece, on repeat until they see the light. It’s just astonishing: funny, and fun, and endlessly listenable. God bless every minute of it.
#5. Dark Horse — George Harrison
A big, footstomping masterpiece, Dark Horse was overshadowed by a disastrous tour Harrison embarked upon around the same time, a series of shows hampered by a bad case of laryngitis. But time has been astonishingly kind to the record. Mixing Harrison’s Eastern folk music influences with the best of his subtle, moving songwriting, it’s a work of considerable beauty, held in place by the crushing, excellent titular song.
#4. All Things Must Pass — George Harrison
Despite writing a number of their best songs (‘Here Comes The Sun’ amongst them), Harrison was always underrated during the Beatles’ tenure, pigeonholed as “the quiet one”. But All Things Must Pass, released after the band split, blew that reputation apart. A brilliant, heartrending collection of ballads, the record is as strong as anything that Harrison wrote for the Fab Four. Every inch of it trembles.
#3. McCartney II — Paul McCartney
This is the record to shove in the face of anybody who tries to tell you that Paul McCartney was nothing but a soulless pop machine. Bizarre, tangential, and utterly delightful, McCartney II has remained in the cultural memory for a reason. It’s just so fucking odd, darker than Sgt. Pepper but just as lopsided, and drenched in loopy wordplay that would put ‘I Am The Walrus’ to absolute shame. ‘Temporary Secretary’ is an absolute banger.
#1. Ram — Paul McCartney
McCartney was the bad guy of the Beatles split according to most media commentators, so it makes sense that his first solo record was heaped with derision. But there’s another reason Ram was so despised. It’s a record oddly ahead of its time, a collection of blisteringly alternative sentiments and melodies disguised as an unassuming soft rock record. McCartney has never topped anything like ‘Ram On’ or ‘Heart Of The Country’, both of which are as beautiful and as humane as anything he wrote while a member of the Fab Four.
Sure, some people still like to take the piss of this thing’s bucolic pleasures, but time has only strengthened its majesty. Simply put, this is one of the most humble, unvarnished and essential records of the ’70s. It’ll change you.
Joseph Earp is a critic and journalist who likes John Lennon more than this list might make it appear. You can find him @Joe_O_Earp.
Image Source: The Beatles Magical Mystery tour via Parlophone Music Sweden used under Creative Commons Licence 3.0