It was January of 1964, and it looked as though the Beatles were not stopping to catch their breath any time soon. They were finishing up a few weeks’ worth of “Christmas shows” in London, recording live songs for the BBC, doing a televised show at the London Palladium, and heading off to France for a marathon of shows there. Their fame was growing at a phenomenal rate at this point, having finally broken in Europe outside their proving grounds of Hamburg, Germany. But that was just the beginning–at the start of February, they’d fly to the United States and play their most important shows ever: Washington Coliseum, Carnegie Hall, and two appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. These would prove to Capitol Records (and the rest of the world) once and for all that they were a rock and roll force to be reckoned with.
Being out on the road did not mean they weren’t working on new music. New songs were still being worked on, and a new album was slated for the summer to coincide with the movie they were about to shoot as well. In true Brian Epstein fashion, he refused to have the band act in a second-rate low-budget musical like the ones Elvis and Cliff Richard had made in the past. Scriptwriter Alun Owen had been hired to capture the distinct Liverpudlian style of humor the boys were known for. As soon as they returned from the US, they’d be not only behind the mike, but in front of the camera.
In the meantime, Parlophone made sure the busy Beatles remained in the charts and on the radio as much as possible.
EP: All My Loving
Released: 7 February 1964
This EP is for all intents and purposes a filler release (as most of their EPs were), using two tracks from each of their 1963 albums. “All My Loving” is definitely a song that should have been a single but wasn’t, though in EP form it made it to a respectable number 12 on that particular chart. The cover is a variation on the With the Beatles cover, adjusted to show a bit more of the darkened half of their faces, and a pinkish header up at the top to give it a bit of color. There’s not too much to be said about this release, other than that it did its intended job of keeping the band in the limelight.
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Single: “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand”/”Sie Liebt Dich”
Released: 5 March 1964 [Germany]
This single, on the other hand, had to be one of the more interesting and esoteric releases the band had ever recorded. The West German branch of EMI Records had been hounding Brian and George Martin to get the boys to record in German, absolutely convinced that their music would not sell at all unless they sung in the vernacular. [By now, we understand that most of the suits at the record labels at this time were often “absolutely convinced” something would not sell, and were almost always proven wrong after the fact.] So on 29 January, in the middle of their long stay at the Olympia Theatre in Paris, they were shuttled over to the Pathé Marconi Studios to record two songs for Germany. Clearly they were not looking forward to this, and must have only done it simply as a thank you to the country that had helped establish them a few years previous. The end result was mixed; as always, they did their best and it went over well, but in the end it really made no difference on the charts. They would not record another song in a foreign language (at least not for this reason and to this extent) again.
Side 1: Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand
First on the docket on that day was 11 vocal takes of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in German. They’d used the backing tracks for the English version here, explaining why this version sounds so close to the original. The vocal delivery lacks a lot of the emotion of that original, but it’s worth noting that they did their best, considering they’d only had a day or so to learn the song phonetically from a German vocal coach.
Side 2: Sie Liebt Dich
This version of “She Loves You”, on the other hand, is quite interesting, in that it was a full recording, music and all. The original masters for that single had been destroyed by EMI (one of only a rare few that had suffered that fate due to old and outdated regulations at Abbey Road), they recorded a completely new version in fourteen takes. Unlike the reckless abandon of the original, this version seems a little tame. Having played it so many times live since its release, this version sounds tighter and smoother–it sounds more like the sleek professionalism of “All My Loving” at this point.
All told, the single did reasonably well, but it was a superfluous release. The single itself would show up as an import in the UK, and in the US, “Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand” would show up on the US-only Something New album while “Sie Liebt Dich” would be released by Swan, and eventually show up on the 1980 Rarities compilation. Both would be considered official canon and are now available on the Past Masters compilation.
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Single: “Can’t Buy Me Love”/”You Can’t Do That”
Released: 20 March 1964
They had be come so efficient with their recording at this point, that not only did they end up cancelling a second day’s recording time for the above single, but they had time left over to record a new song. This time it was Paul’s new track, and one that would become the first single for their upcoming movie that they were about to start shooting at the start of March. Director Richard Lester had requested a few songs from them ahead of time to use within the movie (not so much as plot points but as scenes where they’re actually performing the song), and this was the first of many they wrote at the time. This was the first of an extremely small number of Beatles songs that were not recorded at Abbey Road, but as was often their habit, if they had a good idea, they didn’t want to waste time sitting on it until they returned back to their home base. While the b-side would be recorded a short time later at the end of February, this track became yet another turning point in their career.
[Note: As both of these would end up on the A Hard Day’s Night album, I will go into more musical detail in that entry; for now I will briefly go over the recording notes at this time.]
Side A: Can’t Buy Me Love
Paul’s blues-influenced rocker begins with a fantastic a capella entrance, just like the previous “All My Loving” and the countdown to “I Saw Her Standing There”–he knew how to pull the listener in right from the get-go. And like “She Loves You”, it starts off not with a verse or an introduction, but the chorus itself. It was also decided that, after previous versions that had the distinct Beatles harmony, they decided that a single-voice delivery worked even better. That was George Martin’s doing; it was another wonderful example of the producer hearing potential in a song, playing with the arrangement, and creating a newer and better track in the process.
Side B: You Can’t Do That
Another song written specifically for the upcoming movie, it’s a twelve-bar American blues-influenced track of John’s with a special nod to Wilson Pickett. Of special interest is the fascinating use of seventh chords in the rhythm guitar and the deep jealousy in the lyrics, both of which give the song a nasty edge. In another shake-up of the Beatles love song, he already has the girl, but she’s sneaking behind his back and he doesn’t trust her. This track was recorded at Abbey Road at the end of February, upon their return to the UK after their sojourn to the United States, and was very nearly part of the finished movie, only to be cut in the final edit. It ended up on the non-soundtrack side of the A Hard Day’s Night album in the UK, and on The Beatles’ Second Album in the US.
Considering how the rest of the year would play out for the band, this was probably the most understated and straightforward time of their career before worldwide Beatlemania kicked in. Though their touring schedule was intense, at this point they were not traveling nearly much as they had in the past few years–all told, in the first few months of the year they played a large number of dates at the same places, with no endless traveling in between–but that would change in the next half of the year, when their world tours began and their new movie hit the theaters.
Next up: the Long Tall Sally EP, A Hard Day’s Night, and making movies