The Best of the Beatles - Solo (Merry Christmas 2007)

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So what do you do if you're in the world's biggest band of all time, and it breaks up? Well, it depends on who you are.

If you're John Lennon... keep making bizarro experiments with Yoko for a while, then get your groove back and start releasing raw, heartfelt music rooted in the early rock sounds of the fifties you grew up with. You engage in a very public war of lawsuits and songs against Paul McCartney over the tremendous sums of cash at stake in the final dissolution of the Beatles' songwriting and record royalties. Then you become a folk hero through a series of classics (God, Mother, Working Class Hero, Imagine and others) in the "confessional singer/songwriter" vein plus your political protest activities and well-publicized immigration battle with the Nixon administration.

Then you go way off the tracks during a two-year wicked drunk bender with buddies in L.A. and issue a couple records non-fans wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. Finally, you pull yourself together again and put together a landmark album in 1980 just before your death that points toward the great music fans could have expected for years to come. Lennon never lost his gift for deep and challenging lyrics, although his solo output showed the occasional lack of pop tunefulness that McCartney's influence had provided.

If you're Paul McCartney... invent the indie/Do It Yourself genre by retreating to a home studio in Scotland and releasing a couple of pop gem albums on which he played all the instruments. You also demonstrate vast hypocrisy by complaining about Yoko, then insisting on involving your sweet but woefully untalented wife in most of your musical projects thereafter. Then you get the itch to be in a "band" again and form a new venture (Wings) with a rotating cast of session players and actually somehow become one of the most popular bands (in terms of records sold) in the 1970s. You peter out a bit with lyrically brain-dead pop pap in the late '70s and early '80s, do a duet with Michael Jackson, release a record in the Soviet Union that becomes one of the most-bootlegged albums ever, and get busted in Japan for smuggling Pot.

You revive your career in the late '80s, launch several worldwide mega-tours that make you even more astonishingly rich, then continue your critical (but not commercial) revival through the '90s and into the '00s with a series of classic pop albums and roots-rock cover albums. McCartney was by far the most commercially successful solo Beatle, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a lyric that wasn't the musical equivalent of cotton-candy - an unfortunate side effect of the lack of "harder" influences like Lennon.

If you're George Harrison... turn around and put out a triple album (All Things Must Pass) full of all the stuff the Beatles wouldn't use that was the best Beatles solo record of the early '70s. You enjoy the hip cachet of being the "underappreciated" Beatle, join with John on some anti-Paul songs, and release a string of albums with scattered hits (although with steadily diminishing returns from the first album). Unfortunately, that was apparently all your good stuff, since your late-'70s and early-'80s solo albums are listenable only by mutants and farm animals.

After reaching a critical nadir and being booted off your record label, you turn things around after a few years away from music and re-emerge in the late '80s with a career-revitalizing solo album (Cloud Nine) and membership in the super-duper supergroup The Traveling Wilburys. None of your following albums make the same critical or commercial impact, but you remain a beloved elder statesman of the music industry until your death in 2001. Harrison's solo work was wildly inconsistent in quality, but clearly showed examples of his brilliant songwriting and playing styles, which were very unlike those of Lennon or McCartney.

If you're Ringo Starr... trade on your position as the neutral "Switzerland" of the bitter Beatles fights to be the only person actually staying in contact with the other three. By collaborating with your fellow ex-Beatles and your many fellow alcoholic music industry buddies (especially Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman and others), you actually become the most commercially successful solo Beatle from 1971-1974.

The you get constantly wasted for about 10 years and make some of the most embarrassing albums in human history (like your disco album, Ringo the Fourth). Despite this decade-long bender, you manage to avoid dying (unlike most of your drummer drinking buddies) and retreat into the musical shadows until the great popular "classic rock" revival at the end of the '80s. Although you never make any new hit records, you tour frequently with a band of old-school musical buddies, and guest-star frequently on records by George and Paul. Although nobody expected Ringo to be much of a solo star since he was never a songwriter of note on his own, he has carved out for himself a profitable and affable place in the music industry and has gotten his long-overdue critical appreciation for his drumming skills.