The Beatles’ meteoric rise continues
When Beatles For Sale first appeared in 1964, it was their fourth studio album in just two years. Such was The Beatles touring and recording schedule since the band’s debut the year before, thanks to Parlophone’s determination to make as much money as possible while the iron was hot, that The Beatles themselves had no choice but to work practically all year round, with few breaks in between commitments to enjoy the wealth they had begun to accumulate. The album cover says it all – where instead of the fab four, we have the drab four – with each of the boys looking a little weary, as if unconsciously saying ‘we need a holiday.’
However the contents inside the sleeve are anything but drab. As per previous efforts, Beatles For Sale was recorded, mixed, and prepared for the lucrative Christmas market in what now would be considered a ridiculously short amount of time. But that was how it was, and no-one dared to complain. Yet with only eight original songs in the can, the decision was made to fill the rest of the LP with covers, some of which dated to their Hamburg days.
First, this is perhaps the best sounding Beatles album up to that point, partially due to the group’s ever growing confidence in the recording process. Their playing is strong and virulent, as are Lennon and McCartney’s vocals/harmonies. What also sets Sale apart from their earlier (though not much earlier) output was the influence of country music and, perhaps more importantly, Bob Dylan and the effects of dope in particular.
The LP kicks off with “No Reply,” replete with acoustic guitars and Lennon’s romantically melodramatic lyrics, where he accuses his girlfriend of rejecting him: “This happened once before/When I came to your door/No reply.” Next is Lennon’s “I’m A Loser,” a song John himself admitted had been influenced by Dylan’s own approach to lyrical expression. Lennon’s use of the harmonica as an extension of his emotions was another Dylan tactic from which he borrowed from the American troubadour: “Although I act and laugh like a clown/Beneath this mask I am wearing a frown.”
A waltz with slight country undertones, “Baby’s In Black” is one of the few true Lennon/McCartney compositions on which they collaborated for this project. The song has a sad sentimental aspect to it, underpinned by the lyrics: “Oh dear, what can I do?/Baby’s in black and I’m feeling blue.” The Beatles had a definite knack for making events such as the Cuban Missile Crises seem trivial compared to a teenager’s broken heart.
The album takes a major detour with a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Rock And Roll Music,” where Lennon roars out the words in a way Berry himself would never had dared (much less been capable of). Apart from skiffle, rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll were at the cornerstone of the group’s earliest musical influences, and by the early ‘60s, The Beatles had become one of its finest exemplars. The band belts out a lively rendition of Leiber and Stoller’s “Kansas City,” before segueing into Little Richard’s “Hey Hey Hey Hey,” just as they would have in their pre-fame days.
“I’ll Follow The Sun” was originally an old McCartney tune, resurrected for Beatles For Sale, and one which proves that even at such a tender age, Paul possessed a natural penchant for writing quality compositions. “Mr. Moonlight” dates back to their Cavern days, and its inclusion here is odd to say the least. And though despite Lennon’s impassioned vocals, the song itself merely mopes along in a desultory fashion, as if the other three Beatles really weren’t that interested.
Not so “Eight Days A Week,” another piece of pop perfection the group’s fans (and EMI) had by now come to expect from their musical idols (no doubt due to the success of A Hard Day’s Night). Why it wasn’t released as a single in the UK is strange, considering the sheer enthusiasm on display (it was issued as a single in America the following year however, predictably reaching #1).
Buddy’s Holly’s “Words Of Love” reinforces the romantic theme of the LP, while Lennon/McCartney’s “Every Little Thing” represents all that was best about The Beatles in 1964 – a terse expressive lead vocal by Lennon, a melodically memorable chorus, and guitar work by Harrison that would go on to inspire a Pre-Byrds Roger McGuinn.
They once again look back to the ‘50s on Carl Perkins’ rockabilly rave-up “Honey Don’t,” finely sung by Ringo, go rockabilly on the maudlin “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party,” and once again prophesy the sound of The Byrds via “What You’re Doing,” before rounding things out with another Perkins tune, the echo-laden “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby,” during which Harrison pays homage to one of his favourite Tennessean’s.
Beatles For Sale marked a new phase for the group who, thanks to their ever increasing popularity around the world, and self-belief, meant The Beatles would enter 1965 with a new-found purpose and, just as importantly, a bigger budget from EMI.