After the summer release of their first movie, there was a flurry of releases, both related and unrelated, to fill up an entire late summer-into-early-fall season. Some of them were mentioned in previous posts (Vee Jay’s plethora of “releases” and the US releases of Something New and A Hard Day’s Night). Since I went into detail about the Long Tall Sally EP and A Hard Day’s Night releases in my last entry, I will pass up going into detail and only list the movie-related (and EP related) releases here.
The United States had a heads-up on the A Hard Day’s Night soundtrack, having been released a good two weeks earlier on 26 June 1964. As mentioned previously, the American version differed in that it did not contain the non-film songs from the UK version. Instead, the film songs from the band were interspersed with the orchestral score arranged by none other than George Martin himself (this score would end up being reissued a short time later–with a few extra non-film tracks–on United Artists Records under George Martin and His Orchestra), and the non-film songs would be released a few weeks later on 20 July as part of the Something New album. There were also a number of singles released at the same time:
–A Hard Day’s Night/I Should Have Known Better (released 13 July)
–And I Love Her/If I Fell (released 20 July)
–I’ll Cry Instead/I’m Happy Just to Dance with You (released 20 July)
–Matchbox/Slow Down (released 24 August)
The UK releases, on the other hand, were much more conservative, obviously being that no massive media blitz was needed. After the tandem release of A Hard Day’s Night, the “A Hard Day’s Night”/”Things We Said Today” single, and the Long Tall Sally EP, there were no further releases on the docket until five months later, with the follow-up EPs to keep them in the limelight until the next project was ready:
—Extracts from the Film ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (released 4 November)
(I Should Have Known Better / If I Fell / Tell Me Why / And I Love Her)
—Extracts from the Album ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (released two days later on 6 November)
(Any Time At All / I’ll Cry Instead / Things We Said Today / When I Get Home)
After their last recording on 2 June which would wrap up the movie and EP project, they would not head into the studio again until 11 August, when they were to start recording their next album and single. In the meantime, they kept themselves quite busy with the movie premiere, many television and radio appearances, and Ringo’s bout of tonsillitis that caused Jimmy Nicol to fill in for six shows during a short tour through Australia and the Netherlands/Denmark area. Even then, this next round of sessions would be broken up by yet another tour–this time their first official tour of the United States. This would give them precious little time to write any new material, so instead of a full album’s worth of originals like A Hard Day’s Night, they only came up with ten songs, necessitating six covers (and a seventh that was never released until much later) from their older repertoire to fill in the gaps.
Schedule-wise, it seemed the world of Beatlemania was a blur of nonstop touring, frequent appearances, and young screaming girls everywhere, and it’s amazing to think that in addition to all of that, they somehow managed to also record two full albums and a handful of singles for three years in a row. Perhaps this is one of the main reasons that one can hear a major difference between the songs of the early years (1962-1965) and the later years (1966-1970)…once they were given more room to breathe and less of a jam-packed schedule, they were able to focus even more on their music. This wouldn’t happen for another couple of years, but you can definitely hear that things were starting to change.
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Single: “I Feel Fine”/”She’s a Woman”
Released: 27 November 1964
Credit: jpgr.co.uk – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site
The next new release from the band was a non-album single that preceded the album they were working on. Both tracks were actually recorded near the end of the sessions in October, and this was definitely a great example of the surprisingly quick turnaround of writing-to-recording-to-release that the band could occasionally pull off. The two tracks have a similar upbeat feel that could possibly fit in with the A Hard Day’s Night sound, but it’s also clear that there are outside influences at work here as well, specifically the soul of Motown and Ray Charles. In addition to that, it’s clear that the band had also become quite comfortable in the studio, and in the process had begun to experiment with their sound.
Side A: I Feel Fine
And nothing is more experimental in late 1964 than deliberate feedback! This track started out as a riff that John had come up with around 6 October while the band was recording “Eight Days a Week”, and had nearly thrown it away as ‘rubbish’ until he’d written a song around it, recording it two weeks later on 18 October. It was during one of those takes that the band had stopped playing to take a listen, when John, playing a semi-acoustic Gibson at the time, put his guitar down to head to the control room. He’d leaned the guitar against the amplifier, and the ensuing feedback stopped everyone in their tracks. Any other producer at the time would have screamed bloody murder at such reckless treatment of instruments, but it being the Beatles, they thought it was the coolest sound ever, and wanted it in the song. And George Martin being the producer he was, willingly obliged by suggesting it as an intro, preceded by a harmonic pluck of the A string on Paul’s bass. And another classic moment in Beatle music is born.
The song itself is excellent, a mixture of Ray Charles’ upbeat soul and trademark Beatle melody, and some of the best playing the band put on record to date. John’s signature riff plays throughout the main verses and echoed by George (who pulls off a brief Carl Perkins-style solo halfway through), and there’s some phenomenal harmonization going on here. Even Ringo deserves some serious accolades here, with some of his fastest and most intricate playing of ride cymbals and tom-toms. It’s a song that leaves you breathless just as John and George trade the riff on the fade out.
Side B: She’s a Woman
Paul, in the meantime, had written an equally driving song in the style of one of his favorite singers, Little Richard, which explains why the song is in such a high register (even for Paul at the time). This is also one of their first tracks where the song deliberately starts on the backbeat, with John’s Rickenbacker 325 hitting all those funky seventh chords. And once the song proper kicks in, we hear Paul playing a deliberate countermelody on bass and piano. George and Ringo don’t have too much to do in this song, but they do deliver a great solo and solid percussion. The track is relegated a b-side, but it’s still a great rock song that fit in quite well with the rest of the tracks they recorded at this time.
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Album: Beatles for Sale
Released: 4 December 1964
Credit: jpgr.co.uk – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site
The band released their follow-up album one week after the above single, just in time for the Christmas rush. It’s a record of a band evolving again, becoming older and more mature, and of a band whose persistent and unending hard work was starting to pay off. As is often commented, one can see this hard work in the eyes of the band on the iconic autumnal album cover shot by Robert Freeman in Hyde Park. They may look exhausted here–unlike the poses on With the Beatles a year previous, where they look confident and maybe a bit nervous–but they’ve also retained that confidence, that they can now show that they’re not a band in the dark but a band out in the world. The title itself may be a cynical response to the cost of their overwhelming worldwide fame, but it could also be a response to the level of fame they were at: they could easily sell themselves now, without using outside help.
Track 1: No Reply
One of the most repeated comments about Beatles for Sale is its downbeat attitude, and given the first three tracks on this album, it’s hard to refute that point. The album starts off with one of John’s songs that may be autobiographical–it’s a song of dark jealousy, about possibly being two-timed by his girl (in this case, his wife Cynthia, even though John’s often later commented that a lot of his “jealousy” songs were really about himself, projected onto other people). The music itself is given a darker edge as well, playing up the mood of the lyrics: the song is played in a quiet acoustic manner…only to burst out in emotional pain at the end of each verse, and worse, in angry accusation during the middle eight. The band had never written such an angry love song before, so this certainly set the tone for the rest of the album.
Track 2: I’m a Loser
As if to counterpoint the accusatory nature of the opening song, John returns with another, this time as if to say, “You know what–forget what I just said. I’m just an idiot.” Here he opens himself up even more, revealing the hard truth that his anger and jealousy is really an inner weakness–deep down, he’s afraid of himself and afraid of the pain. This track is highly influenced by Bob Dylan, but it’s also influenced by the sad country music they were listening to at the time, like that of George Jones.
Track 3: Baby’s in Black
Three songs in, and the band is yet to bring out a happy song–definitely unlike any other Beatles release at the time. This third track of John’s feels like an old-school American country ballad, written in 6/8 time and sung as a duet (similar to “If I Fell”, in which both vocals are the main melody). Written for their Hamburg friend Astrid Kirchherr, who’d been the fiancee of John’s old school buddy Stuart Sutcliffe before he died. The three had been extremely close friends, and their loss had hit them hard.
Track 4: Rock and Roll Music
The album finally gets an emotional lift with a phenomenal cover of Chuck Berry’s classic rock song, done as only the Beatles could do it. If you went back and listened to the original, you’d hear a much more laid back version, one that sounds almost quaint at this point. The Beatles instead chose to give it their live interpretation by cranking up the guitars and screaming out the lyrics. Its placement here is almost cathartic, as if it’s high time to let go of the emotional baggage they felt at the moment and just rock out.
Track 5: I’ll Follow the Sun
It seems the emotional release of the previous track only lasts so long, as we’re right back down to the melancholy of love thwarted. This time it’s Paul with a lovely ballad about leaving. As a counterpoint to his previous “Things We Said Today” in which he hopes things are better in the future, this track says the opposite, as if there was no future in that relationship, and that he’d warned her this would happen. Paul’s songs at this time were never as emotionally raw as John’s, but he could be just as cold in his departure. It’s actually an older track dating from around 1960, but they never recorded it previously as it wasn’t considered “hard” enough for their original leather-jacket image. [On a lighter note, Ringo performs on an altogether different piece of percussion equipment here–his knees. It was one of the first Beatles tracks where he’s on the track but not playing his drum set.]
Track 6: Mr. Moonlight
Another cover is brought in, this of an obscure b-side by Dr. Feelgood and the Interns that was a cult favorite of British teens back in the day. It’s kind of a weak track here, as it’s a straightforward cover that doesn’t vary from the original. Still, it’s a reminder of their early pre-studio days when most of their live set was filled with adventurous covers. Its only saving grace, really, is John’s stellar vocal delivery (with able assistance by Paul), although it took them a few tries to nail it!
Track 7: Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey
The first side finishes up with a third cover, this one of a medley made famous by Little Richard of an old Wilbert Harrison blues song matched with one of his own. Paul being a serious Little Richard fan (and no mean impersonator!) they deliver a solid party track. It unfortunately gets lost in the darker mood and the long list of covers on this album (it works much better as an opening salvo on the 1965 US release Beatles VI), but it’s a great cover nonetheless.
Track 1: Eight Days a Week
The second side starts off on a much happier note, this time with an unexpected twist–a fade-in. It’s also the first song they’d brought in unfinished, quite unsure how to arrange it. The Anthology version shows an altogether different cold opening with a harmonizing “ooh’s” from Paul and John, before eventually settling on the opening guitar riff. Elsewhere on the arrangement one can find an interesting use of quiet singing on the two bridges, as well as Ringo’s use of floor toms both on the intro and the coda. In retrospect, this song is almost like a return to their simpler “Love Me Do” era songs, only updated to fit their current sound.
Track 2: Words of Love
Yet another cover, but this time it’s a lovely interpretation of an early Buddy Holly tune, complete with some excellent vocal duet work by Paul and John, and possibly the inspiration for some of their own “duet melody” songs like “If I Fell”. Again, it’s a straight cover, but it highlights their strengths here. Aside from the vocals, George delivers some excellent guitar-picking here, quite clearly in his Carl Perkins phase.
Track 3: Honey Don’t
Cover number five on the album, and Ringo’s vocal entry on this album. John had sung this one back in their Cavern days, but it suited Ringo quite well, as his vocal delivery here has to be the best he’s given the band so far. The cover itself sounds a bit sparse, as if it had been recorded more as a jam than a true album track–John’s rhythm guitar is unadventurous and quite loose, and George’s two solos are almost the note-for-note the same, but that only adds to the charm of this Carl Perkins track. Clearly, Ringo’s strengths as a singer lay in country music.
Track 4: Every Little Thing
One of the few really strong tracks on this album, this one is unique in that it was written by Paul, but John is the primary vocalist here, even though Paul is there as backup. [One way to figure out who wrote what in the Lennon-McCartney catalog is to hear who sang it, as they often sang their own compositions.] It hints at a Buddy Holly track, actually, with its plaintive vocals and “I’m a lucky guy” lyrics, which Paul had written while still living at Jane Asher’s house. The arrangement is quite nice, sparse and tight during the verses, and more unbound in the chorus. In a hint of what was to come, Ringo introduces another non-standard instrument to a rock song: the timpani drum, using it to great effect during the chorus to underscore its importance.
Track 5: I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party
As if to bring the opening theme of the album back around again, John brings another Dylanesque track to the fore, this time a song of love thwarted. There’s no jealousy, no anger…just heartbreak here, as his girl has stood him up, and he doesn’t want to bring everyone else down in the process. It’s not one of his strongest songs, and feels a bit like he didn’t try all that hard with this one, but there’s some great guitar work going on here, and the vocal melody is deliberately resigned. In retrospect, it’s one of his strongest emotional songs in that it’s so retrained–he’s not lashing out or accusing here, he’s completely blaming himself.
Track 6: What You’re Doing
In an interesting change, it’s Paul this time who’s writing a song of a relationship in trouble. Supposedly written about his current relationship with Jane Asher (who was quite the socialite at the time; Paul, when not on stage or in the studio, was more of a stay-at-home guy), it’s a song about questioning what the status of their relationship is, and more specifically, where she thinks they are. Is she serious, or just playing games? Does she truly love him, or the idea of being with him? The music itself is a perfect complement to the lyrics–it’s sharp and staccato, leaving uncomfortable silences everywhere. Hardly any instrument, save George’s excellent 12-string playing, resonates for more than a moment.
Track 7: Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby
The album ends with the last cover, and interestingly, a Harrison vocal. This time it’s another Carl Perkins track, this time about the perils of being a bit too famous, and closes up the theme of the entire album quite nicely. Like “Honey Don’t”, the cover is delivered much like a loose jam, but considering they knew this song so well, it didn’t take that many tries to perfect it. George had many guitar heroes in his lifetime, and Carl Perkins was right up near the top there, so this can also be thought of as a personal ‘thank you’, as he delivers his guitar and vocal work with care and admiration. Recording engineer Geoff Emerick gave George’s voice a STEED effect (send tape echo & echo delay), giving it an odd yet pleasing multiple-echo sound that hints at the amateur recording processes of yesteryear. And as a final nod, they deliver a false ending–just when you think it’s going to stop cold, they sneak back with one final jazzy riff. It’s a fun way to end an otherwise downbeat album.
Beatles for Sale may in fact be a deeply uneven and perhaps even a weak album to some, but it’s not without merit. Given that it was recorded in roughly six days over the course of four months scattered in between dates of a major world tour, and so quickly on the heels of a major album and movie breakthrough, it’s a wonder they were able to finish it at all in time for the Christmas season. Even more surprising is a seventh cover, Little Willie John’s “Leave My Kitten Alone”, had been recorded and ended up unreleased until 1995’s Anthology 1. Still, it remains a relatively strong album, if not a stellar one. As I’d mentioned in previously, the A Hard Day’s Night track “I’ll Be Back” was definitely a sign of things to come…the band had evolved from the simple by-the-books pop songs and started experimenting with different soundscapes and themes, and Beatles for Sale is full of songs that sound nothing like their previous output, even despite half of it being cover songs. It also hints at the folksy sound they would perfect once they recorded Rubber Soul a year later, under very similar circumstances as this one.
As an aside, the songs here actually benefit from the US track shuffling. As Beatles ’65, four tracks were taken off (Eight Days a Week, Words of Love, I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party and What You’re Doing–they would appear a short time later on Beatles VI), and I’ll Be Back and the I Feel Fine/She’s a Woman single are added, creating a slightly shorter and much tighter sounding album, and one with a slightly more positive outlook. If you listen to the songs on that album–and forgive the US meddling of adding ridiculous echo to a few songs–one can forgive the exhaustion and resignation that permeates Beatles for Sale and hear the songs instead as a band once again in motion–they were maturing, both as artists and as people. This version is available as part of The Capitol Albums Vol 1 box set. It’s well worth checking out.
Next Up: Another Christmas Beatles Record and post-Beatles for Sale releases