The Beatles continue to perfect their craft and pave the way for a new style of pop
With each generation that comes along, the original impact The Beatles had on youth culture diminishes exponentially. What The Beatles mean to young people today is perhaps more akin to curiosity than worship. Popular groups nowadays might be able to fill American stadiums and large auditoriums around the world, but few, if any, could draw tens, if not hundreds of thousands of adoring fans out onto the streets, in the hope of getting just a fleeting glimpse of their idols.
With The Beatles was released when the band was on the cusp of world domination, and recorded only four months after their debut, Please Please Me. Such a short timeline between albums reveals just how demanding the record industry could be, especially when it came to product, since Parlophone/EMI saw the band as little more than merely another ‘pop group’ to be exploited while they were still popular.
However what Parlophone weren’t expecting was the level of understated genius that was rapidly emerging with every new composition Lennon and McCartney were churning out so effortlessly. Of the fourteen songs cut at EMI Studios, eight of them were originals (including one by Harrison), and captured live (with a very minimum of overdubs added on later), which means that the record retains a certain rawness and spontaneity not too different from their then live act.
On opener “It Won’t Be Long” they unleash a torrent of early ’60s exuberance, with Lennon and Co unafraid to wear their Englishness on their tailored sleeves. “All I’ve Got To Do” is a nice piece of romantic filler, while Harrison’s upbeat “Don’t Bother Me” is clearly an attempt by the guitarist to write something approximating the magic of Lennon and McCartney.
But it’s “All My Loving” which captured the public’s hearts (and wallets), with its cascading melody and jangly tempo, and of course those irresistible working class harmonies. The Latin flavoured “Little Child” and a lively cover of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” are the sort of rockers one would have expected to hear during their days at The Cavern. The band steers itself into cocktail hour with a tender “Till There Was You,” before venturing into Motown on “Please Mister Postman.”
The Beatles’ bluesy interpretation of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got A Hold On Me” is another genuine highlight, and could easily be a White Album outtake, while “I Wanna Be Your Man” was one of the most exciting Lennon/McCartney originals the two had yet written. If “Devil In Your Heart” was an attempt to woo the hearts of millions of teenage girls in Britain then they undoubtedly succeeded, although “Not A Second Time,” despite some fine playing and harmonising, remains one of the LP’s weaker tracks (along with McCartney’s “Hold Me Tight”).
Album closer “Money, That’s What I Want” stills sounds as fresh and engaging as the very first day it was heard through many transistor radios across England in glorious mono, something which ought to be considered. Because at the time, mono was how most pop/rock music was recorded in Britain, since, unlike in America, stereo technology was not readily available or seen as worth investing in.
Ultimately, With The Beatles was yet another creative stepping stone towards what would soon be known as Beatlemania.