I think there’s been somewhat of a shift from Sgt Pepper’s to Revolver in the last 20 years as the Beatles’ magnum opus.
When Sgt Pepper’s was released, for the next 30 years it was considered untouchable as one of the greatest albums – if not the greatest – ever made. The reason I think it has not aged well and why Revolver is now highly regarded is because people have changed their listening habits. People used to just sit a home, put an LP on the record player and just listen. That is why during the 1960s-1970s the concept album came into being as a way for people to experience music holistically – the entire album as a whole rather than each individual song.
What’s the best song off of Pepper? Day in the Life maybe? Compared to Revolver, Sgt Pepper does not have as many stand out tracks that can be listened to in a vacuum. Sgt Pepper is meant to be experienced holistically as an entire album – it was an album made for the vinyl era, which is why it ranked so highly in that era.
The reason why Revolver is now considered the Beatles’ best, is because it’s just a collection of great songs with no central theme like in Pepper. All the songs are very good, which means this album can be played from any point, any song taken out (Eleanor Rigby, Taxman, Yellow Submarine etc) and people will enjoy it and chances are if you take any collection of songs from any album, Revolver might be the album with the highest density of great songs. That makes it a great album for the CD / MP3 / streaming era. Which is why Revolver has aged much better than Sgt Pepper’s.
Personally, my pick for best Beatles album is neither of these – it’s Abbey Road. Abbey Road is just so fantastically produced, and contains elements of both Pepper and Revolver. The first side of Abbey Road is a just a great collection of songs with no central theme. This was John’s style who preferred just to have an album like Revolver with great songs. The second side of Abbey Road is similar to Sgt Peppers, a stream of songs that all blended together like a concept album. This was Paul’s style who preferred to have an album like Sgt Pepper’s. In the end, Abbey Road ended up being a great mix of Revolver and Sgt Pepper’s – a collection of great songs on the first side and a great medley of songs flowing together on the second side. It’s my pick for best Beatles album.