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Still Fab! The 10 Greatest Solo Albums By Former Beatles

02.22.2013

Sure, The Beatles revolutionized music and created a body of work that will stand for centuries. That doesn’t mean, however, that the members of group didn’t go on to produce music that in some instances was just as timeless. Below are 10 solo albums made by Fab Four alumni that should be part of every record collection.

Plastic Ono Band – John Lennon (1970)

Few Beatles fans were prepared for the searing introspection John Lennon unleashed with his first solo album. Having recently undergone primal scream therapy – a grueling process intended to bring repressed childhood memories to the surface -- Lennon composed material that gave new meaning to so-called confessional songwriting. Such classics as “Mother,” “Working Class Hero,” “Love” and “Well Well Well” were the result.

Ram – Paul and Linda McCartney (1971)

Everyone knows Double Fantasy was credited to John and Yoko, but many forget that Ram was credited to Paul and Linda. No matter. Featuring fuller production than McCartney’s self-titled post-Beatles debut, the album nonetheless contained a tossed-off charm that’s aged well. The whimsical two-part suite, "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” remains quintessential McCartney. “Ram reminds me of my hippie days and the free attitude with which was created,” McCartney said last year, in a statement posted on his website.

All Things Must Pass – George Harrison (1970)

The Beatles’ breakup gave George Harrison the opportunity, at last, to express fully the songwriting prowess that had long been brewing in him. This triple-album opus – the first box set in rock music history – also introduced the spiritual themes and slide-guitar emphasis that would often be central to Harrison’s subsequent work. High points include “My Sweet Lord,” “Isn’t it a Pity” and “What is Life.”

Ringo – Ringo Starr (1973)

The original idea for Ringo’s All-Starr Band concept can be traced to this terrific album. Contributions came not just from all of Ringo’s former mates in the Fab Four, but also from the likes of Marc Bolan, Harry Nilsson, Nicky Hopkins and members of The Band. “Photograph,” which Starr composed with George Harrison, and the delightful cover of “You’re Sixteen” both topped the charts in the U.S.

Imagine – John Lennon (1971)

John Lennon mellowed out a bit for this follow-up to his harrowing solo rock debut, but the softer stance was merely relative. “Jealous Guy” presented a self-portrait of someone broken and vulnerable, but “Gimme Some Truth” and “How Do You Sleep” howled with a spirit as searing as anything Lennon had done previously. Forty years on, the utopian vision offered up in the title track has lost none of its luster.

Band on the Run – Paul McCartney & Wings (1973)

Paul McCartney made what many consider his finest post-Beatles album in, of all places, Lagos, Nigeria -- on the west coast of Africa. “Jet,” “Helen Wheels” and the title track were all hits spawned by this superlative effort. Lennon, who generally only grudgingly complimented McCartney’s post-Beatles work, gave the album a whole-hearted thumbs-up. “Band on the Run is a great album,” he told Rolling Stone. “You can call them Wings, but it’s Paul McCartney

Cloud Nine – George Harrison (1987)

George Harrison ended a five-year recording hiatus with one of the most commercially and critically successful releases of his career. Enlisting ELO leader Jeff Lynne as co-producer, Harrison brought in pals Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Elton John and Jim Keltner to breathe life into some of his finest compositions. A cover of the obscure nugget, “Got My Mind Set on You,” reached Number One in the U.S., and the Beatles tribute “When We was Fab” did nearly as well. As fate would have it, the disc would prove to be Harrison’s final solo album.

Double Fantasy – John Lennon and Yoko Ono (1980)

Although Lennon shared billing with Yoko Ono on this album, released just prior to his death, the strength of the Lennon-penned compositions merits its inclusion on this list. Like much of Lennon’s best work, the sheer pop brilliance of “(Just Like) Starting Over” and the straight-on splendor of “Woman” dipped toes in the past while pushing toward the future. One can’t help wondering if ‘80s music in general would have followed a different course, had Lennon survived.

Time Takes Time – Ringo Starr (1992)

This album, Ringo’s first in ten years, was widely hailed as his best effort since 1973’s Ringo. Recorded sporadically over 1991, the album features such diverse material as a cover of The Posies’ “Golden Blunders” and a Diane Warren track titled “In a Heartbeat.” A McCartney-Starr composition, titled “Angel in Disguise,” was recorded for the album, but Starr opted not to include it. The song would have been the first and only song to bear such a credit.

Memory Almost Full -- Paul McCartney (2007)

It’s further testament to McCartney’s artistry that, well into the fifth decade of his career, he managed to come up with one of his finest efforts. Bright, lively melodies abound, and though the lyrical tone is reflective, there’s nothing maudlin in the music. The phrase “memory almost full” alludes to a digital message, of course, but it also happens to be an anagram of “for my soul mate LLM” (Linda McCartney’s full initials). McCartney has said the reference was unintentional.

Further Reading:

Band on the Run: The Harrowing Story Behind Wings’ Classic Album

Primal Scream: The Trauma Behind John Lennon’s Brilliant Plastic Ono Band

Come Together: The Night Lennon and McCartney Reunited

 

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