EP: The Beatles’ Hits
Released: 6 September 1963
EP: The Beatles No 1
Released: 1 November 1963
The usual lifespan of a single is about two months, from release to charting to fade from public view. Back then as now, it would take a week or two for it to ascend the charts until it either stalled or hit Number One, and start its descent back down again. There’s the occasional rarity of a single so popular it stays on the charts for an extremely long time, or the even rarer single that rises, drops, then rises again. The Beatles’ releases would experience all of these during their tenure, and part of it was due to the shrewd planning of Brian Epstein. Having been a keen record store manager who could read the pulse of listeners and purchasers, he and George Martin understood that to keep your prized band in the limelight,
one had to have something new and fresh (or at least something in a different package!) in the shops every couple of months or so. This was standard practice back then, but Epstein and Martin followed it so thoroughly that it was considered shocking when the band finally took some time off in 1966 and their fourth quarter release was a greatest hits package instead.
These two EPs were nothing more than yet another repackaging of tracks from the Please Please Me album and are not worth going into too much detail here. Both covers were shot by Angus McBean–the second EP is an outtake from the debut album’s cover session–and the band’s erstwhile press officer Tony Barrow wrote some rather amusing fluff for the rear covers, as he would for the first three albums. The first one was packaged as some of the best songs “in the Lennon-McCartney Songbook”, a sort of sampler for those who hadn’t quite caught on yet. The second EP is a little stranger in packaging, as it looks as if Parlophone had come up with and soon aborted the idea of rereleasing the album in EP form of four songs each. This second EP is simply the first four tracks from the album.
Despite these two releases having nothing new at all, they did surprisingly well on the charts and in sales. Unlike the shameless repackaging-as-completely-new VeeJay releases in the States, Parlophone all but stated these were songs you already had, just in a new, collectible form.
In the meantime, the boys had spent their summer working on a second album, all while still touring locally.
Album: With the Beatles
Released: 22 November 1963
The Beatles released their second album exactly nine months after their first album, and though they were recorded just a few months apart, you can hear (and see!) just how much the band had matured in an amazingly short amount of time. The cover was taken by fashion photographer Robert Freeman, shot in a darkened hallway at the Palace Court Hotel in Bournemouth (the natural light source was a window at the end of the hall), who captured a slightly older, harder, more serious band. Even the artwork is reserved, the title in a small lowercase font.
Unlike the insanity of the first album’s recording in one marathon session, they spent a few weeks here and there in July and September working on the follow-up at Abbey Road, in between their never-ending tour schedule. While Please Please Me emulated the sound of the band’s live shows, this second album showcased their impressive songwriting chops in action. Six of the songs are covers–considering their meteoric rise to fame, it only made sense to continue with well-rehearsed covers from their live shows rather than rushing the songwriting–but once again their covers are of their personal favorites, Motown tracks, obscure American singles, and a song from a musical.
Track 1: It Won’t Be Long
One would expect an album’s first track to start out with a bit of melody or a countdown, some kind of introduction, yes? Not this one. Right out of the gate, we’ve got John belting out the chorus of this fantastic rocker, the first song written specifically for this album. Right away we hear two things: a deft call/response with the “yeahs” (perhaps a nod to their previous single, which they had just recorded), and John’s love of wordplay: It won’t be long ’til I belong to you. After the chorus we have a simple E-C-E verse, followed up with something quite interesting, a middle-eight filled with chromatically descending chords. You wouldn’t hear that in a rock and roll song. There are also little tricks hiding in the song, such as using only one measure instead of an expected two between the two verse lines. Listening to this alongside “She Loves You”, it’s quite surprising to hear how vastly different they are, even though they were written and recorded just a month apart. Even then they must have understood the sonic and melodic differences between a song destined for a single and a song destined for an album.
Track 2: All I’ve Got to Do
John follows up with a Smokey Robinson-styled original, and there’s something quite original going on here right at the beginning that you might not notice: an open chord, played not by a guitar, but by Paul on his bass, apparently the first rock song to ever to do that. There’s also the fact that, taking the lyrics in a historical sense, boys in the UK actually didn’t call girls on the phone! That was purely an American thing back then; it was still rare for kids in the UK to call lovers and friends (instead they would stop by their houses or meet up a predetermined destination). John stated this track was pretty much written for the American market on those two points alone.
Track 3: All My Loving
This fabulous number by Paul was written just weeks after “She Loves You”, and is quite possibly one of his first big hits. This track was never released as a single in the UK, but despite that it received so much airplay that EMI released it a few months later on an EP. Everyone supplies some fantastic playing here…Paul sings the wonderful melody while playing a descending/ascending bass line throughout. John supplies some impressive rhythm guitar work here, frantically strumming triplets to give it a bouncy, rollicking sound. George’s lead fills are very close to that of his country fingerpicking heroes like Chet Atkins. And Ringo’s drumming here is solid, echoing John’s triplets with his fills.
Track 4: Don’t Bother Me
George makes his official songwriting debut, and he doesn’t pull any punches at all. Written while he was recuperating from an illness while the band were playing in Bournemouth (at the same hotel the cover was taken, some time in late August), this song had started out as an exercise to see if he could, in fact, write a song for the band. Right away you can hear George’s penchant for uncommon chord changes, in this case the main melody of B-A-G-Em. It’s almost got a Link Wray feel, a “dirty blues” sound rather than a pop-infused melody like John and Paul knew so well. It’s also the band’s first song with a less-than-happy feel to it. He wants the girl back, but in the meantime, leave him alone to deal with it himself.
Track 5: Little Child
John readily admitted this was a filler song. It’s not one of their strongest or most creative; it’s a typical I-IV-V blues rock song with blatant throwaway lyrics. They at least did their best by turning it into a decent rocking jam, complete with some spirited harmonica playing by John.
Track 6: Till There Was You
The only Beatles cover of a song from a Broadway musical. Paul was familiar with Peggy Lee’s 1961 version of this song from The Music Man, which the band played frequently during its 1962 Hamburg run. One of four covers recorded during the first With the Beatles session on 18 July and redone and finished on the 30th, it’s a quiet and pretty little number very similar to Lee’s. Everyone plays very quietly, from George’s delicate fingerpicking and John’s muted chord strumming to Ringo’s soft percussion.
Track 7: Please Mister Postman
After the previous track’s quietness, they bounce back with another cover, this time of the debut single by Motown singers The Marvelettes. Similar to “It Won’t Be Long”, there’s no intro here, it just jumps right in with a howling “Wait!” from John, Paul and George. Also recorded on 30 July, this track definitely sounds like they had a hell of a lot of fun recording this one, even if it wasn’t their best work. It sounds like the band recording the song for their own enjoyment rather than the listener.
Track 1: Roll Over Beethoven
George gets a second lead performance here, this time with a great cover of the classic Chuck Berry tune. A holdover from the earliest days of the band, they loved playing this track so much they kept it in their live repertoire up until 1964. It was always George’s showcase song, not just with the great opening riff and guitar work, but as a singer. You can hear the conviction in his voice here.
Track 2: Hold Me Tight
Both John and Paul thought very little of this track, though I personally find it one of their more melodic tracks on this album. This was one of their early songs, written sometime around 1961 and attempted during the Please Please Me session, and used as another filler track here. It’s a party song more than anything else, one to get the crowds up on the dance floor, where the audience’s focus is more on having a good time rather than listening closely to the song. There’s also Paul’s incredibly shaky vocal delivery–he’s all over the place on this one, like he never quite figured out how to sing it. Despite all that, it’s got some great bits like the descending chords of the chorus. It’s definitely a throwaway, but it’s a good throwaway, probably better than “Little Child.”
Track 3: You Really Got a Hold on Me
After that diversion, we come back to another excellent cover song, this time of the great Smokey Robinson & the Miracles track. John and George share vocal duties here, and they do a wonderful job delivering the goods. It obviously pales to the soulful original, but for an up and coming British band to cover a hit song released only a year previous, they do far better than one would expect. This was the first track recorded for this album, back on 18 July, so you can still hear the afterglow of their recent live performances here.
Track 4: I Wanna Be Your Man
This goofy little party track was perfect for Ringo to sing–it’s got ridiculously simple lyrics, the music isn’t all that adventurous, and there’s a lot of amusing hooting and hollering from the other guys going on during the break. It’s not a song to take all that seriously! It’s definitely a step up from “Boys” from the previous album, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. The band handed this track to The Rolling Stones for one of their earliest single releases, even though they made a right hash of it (as only they could and get away with it!).
Track 5: Devil in Her Heart
Talk about obscure covers! George pulled out this single by The Donays, released late in 1962 in the UK which didn’t go anywhere on the charts. He did the pronoun switcheroo from “his” to “her” and the end result is quite excellent, bypassing the original and giving it a new life. His vocals here are strong and much more confident than his previous songs. Ringo executes some excellent drumming here, playing with force and conviction. One would be convinced this was an actual Lennon/McCartney composition, they pull it off so well.
Track 6: Not a Second Time
This quite a fascinating track of John’s, as there’s some really adventurous chord changes going on here–it’s almost a George song in that respect. Lyrically it’s also a song that’s not one of their cookie-cutter love lyrics, but one of heartbreak and not letting it happen again. It’s not a song that makes its presence known like some of the earlier tracks on the album, but it’s one that grows on you.
Track 7: Money (That’s What I Want)
The album winds down with one last cover, this of Barrett Strong’s song that gave Motown its first big hit. Brian Epstein turned them onto this one, having carried it at his record store back in 1960, and it became a staple of their live shows. John delivers a gritty lead, with the three sharing background “…that’s what I want” vocals as if their lives depended on it. It’s a great cover that would wind up on many of their post-breakup compilations.
The end result of With the Beatles is that, although it’s not their most cohesive record, it’s one where they’ve at least (and at last) found their voice and their style, and have begun to experiment with it. Unlike the previous album, this one shows a lot more confidence in their playing, if not always their writing. They could be forgiven for not quite hitting their mark this time out, considering it was recorded in fits and starts while they were out on tour. They would thankfully be given some time off in between gigs come 1964, which gave them a bit more time to come down as well as focus more on their songwriting.
If they thought they were on top of the world now, however, things were about to get a hell of a lot more insane.
Next up: “I Want to Hold Your Hand”/”This Boy” single and their first Christmas single