The Beatles Discography: Album by Album

A look at how the Beatles' music evolved from their first record to their last.

(From left) Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr (on drums) and John Lennon perform in Carnegie Hall for the first time on Feb. 12, 1964, in New York City.
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The Beatles albums bought by fans in the United States were not the same as the Beatles albums bought by fans in the United Kingdom. Not until 1967's "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" did the countries get in sync.

It came about because, early on, Capitol Records, which had the U.S. rights, was unsure of the commercial appeal of the Beatles (really!) and thus licensed certain singles that they thought would do well. They did deals for "Please Please Me" and "From Me to You" (Vee-Jay) and then "She Loves You" (Swan), but passed on the Beatles' first two albums, "Please Please Me" and "With the Beatles." Those came out in England in 1963 and, when Capitol finally pulled the trigger, it released the single "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (which spent seven weeks at No. 1) and a patched-together album called "Meet the Beatles" in early 1964. It contained just 12 of the 35 songs the Beatles had released so far.

Other album releases, titles and song selections got all jumbled up. The American version of "Help!," for instance, had a mix of Beatles songs and instrumental soundtracks, while the UK version had 14 Beatles songs. The difference didn't make the Beatles happy.

"We made only say, 10 albums, actually, and in America there seemed to be 30 of them," said John Lennon in a 1974 radio interview. "We would sequence the albums how we thought they should sound. We put a lot of work into the sequencing. We almost got to not care what happened in America because it was always different. It used to drive us crackers 'cause we'd make an album and then they'd keep two from every album." (Typically, the Beatles' U.K. albums had 14 songs and U.S. albums had 12.)

Interesting tidbit: The Beatles' 1966 album " 'Yesterday' ... and Today" was a collection of tracks packaged for the US market. The original cover had the Beatles surrounded by plastic baby dolls and fake blood. It's referred to as the "butcher" cover. A commentary on Capitol's resequencing and packaging -- the suggestion that Capitol butchered their babies? "That's a widely held theory," says Beatles biographer Tim Riley. (Capitol recalled the albums and pasted an inoffensive cover on top of the bloodied baby dolls image— it is the stuff of which collectors have salivated over for years.)

Here's our take on the best of the band. What we're working off here is "The Beatles," the 2009 CD box set of the UK albums that includes the double-CD of singles, "Past Masters."

"Please Please Me" (March 1963): The 14-track debut was famously recorded in one day. Yes, the Beatles were that ready to go. It kicked off with Paul McCartney shouting "1-2-3-4!" and into "I Saw Her Standing There," an explosion of optimism and delirious vocal harmonies. Six songs were covers and their early influences shine through — R&B, girl groups, blues, skiffle — and by the end of it, "Twist and Shout," Lennon is nearly hoarse, but ecstatic.

"With the Beatles" (Nov. 1963): Once again, six covers, eight original songs. Maybe the mix was out of necessity, but you've got to love the idea of the Beatles — clearly songwriters at this point — wanting to pay tribute to their influences. And it could be said they kicked Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven." There was the yearning in "It Won't Be Long," the promise in "All My Loving" and, in the closer, the Bradford-Gordy song "Money (That's What I Want)" a wild exhortation about that particular goal.

"A Hard Day's Night" (July 1964): The first album of all Lennon-McCartney songs (but only 13!) and the de facto soundtrack to the Beatles madcap first movie directed by Richard Lester. The title track captures the Beatles' life as it was depicted in the movie — frantic, on the road, delirious, besieged (and probably not far from real life). The songs on the LPs first side are from the movie; the second side features non-movie material. George Harrison introduces a jangly Rickenbacker sound. "Can't Buy Me Love" might be an answer song to "Money." "And I Love Her" and "Things We Said Today" are gorgeous and mostly acoustic; "I Should Have Known Better," with Lennon's breezy harmonica riff, is an exuberant song with a cautionary message.