Following on from the positively summery Jimmy Buffett last time out, something vintage seems rather fitting, so I've gone with The Beatles' seminal 1964 effort Beatles For Sale.
If you read the column a couple of months ago where I went through and painstakingly ranked all of The Beatles' studio releases, you'll know that I find Beatles For Sale to be a criminally-underrated record. Looking at it now, it's one of those albums that others would place lower down because they find it a tiring or uninspired listen compared to the likes of A Hard Day's Night or Please Please Me and whilst it may lack the bright enthusiasm of those records, to me at least it makes up for it in overall content.
The opening couple of No Reply and I'm A Loser immediately exhibit a different side to the more joyful Lennon and McCartney compositions seen on the earlier records. Beatles For Sale on the whole is a bit darker than the likes of Please Please Me and the strained vocals on both songs portray this perfectly. In addition, I’m A Loser particularly shows off a country influence and marks one of the first times that Lennon or McCartney moved beyond the classical tales of young love to something a bit more grown up. In the words of critic Richie Unterberger, I’m A Loser sheds light on “the hypocrisy of keeping a happy face when your world’s falling down.”. Regardless of subject matter however, these two tracks still retain the classic Beatles charm with an infectiously catchy melody, jolly bassline and clever lyricism. It’s much the same on the ensuing Baby’s In Black, a song that would become a live staple from 1964 onwards, offering a similar style to its predecessor with a darker subject matter backed by some great harmonies and insight lyrics. When performing it live, McCartney usually introduced it with “And now for something completely different…”, acknowledging the fact that the band’s musical direction had changed by the record’s release.
Beatles For Sale isn’t without the band’s usual split of original compositions and covers with the covers in-keeping with the band’s previous choices with American artists such as Chuck Berry (Rock And Roll Music) and Buddy Holly (Words Of Love) taking centre stage here. The former harks back to the band’s days in the clubs of Hamburg and Liverpool with a rock and roll romp suiting Lennon’s gravelly voice perfectly. For anyone who says that Beatles For Sale is a lethargic record, Rock And Roll Music greatly disproves your theory. It’s evident here that the band are pushing themselves to the limit, not least from Lennon’s vocal and the Jerry Lee Lewis like erratic piano. Buddy Holly’s Words Of Love is to be found on the second side of the album, nestled amongst some absolute gems that I’ll be discussing a bit later on, and offers a nice contrast to the earlier Chuck Berry number. It’s a lot more relaxed and dreamy than Rock And Roll Music and produces one of the tightest sounding songs that Beatles For Sale has to offer, not least due to the fact that it had been in the band’s repertoire since the days of the Quarrymen and Silver Beatles from 1958 to 1962.
Despite others’ views, there’s a lot of evidence other than Rock And Roll Music to greatly disprove the idea that Beatles For Sale is ultimately a tired-sounding release. Paul McCartney’s medley Kansas City-Hey Hey Hey Hey is brimmed with attitude and features this reckless sound inspired by McCartney’s idol Little Richard. It’s got this wonderful fifties sound to it with a simple but effective melody and gritty solo that Little Richard himself would have been proud of. What’s more, the likes of Carl Perkins’ Honey Don’t, the only track here sung by Ringo Starr, carries the same upbeat vibe as the other rock and roll covers this album contains. It’s one of the more groovy affairs on Beatles For Sale and whilst I’ve never been the biggest fan of Ringo’s singing, this particular effort just carries that classic Ringo charm with his words to George Harrison before the solo - “Rock on George, one time for me!” - never failing to put a smile on my face. Moreover, Ringo’s rugged drum fills fit this track perfectly and the playful melody that it contains just exudes a youthful sentiment not seen since their debut.
It’s the back-end of this album where the band really starts to excel in terms of both song quality and variety. Some of the final tracks on Beatles For Sale are certainly its best but also its least-listened to. Whilst some may consider the likes of Eight Days A Week to be the pinnacle of the Lennon and McCartney songwriting partnership and it is undoubtedly one of their best work, the likes of Every Little Thing or I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party just offer a certain something that the likes of the more well-known tunes here don’t. Every Little Thing comes first and offers some intriguing contrast in the lyrical content and delivery. Whilst its lyrics concern a relationship where “love will never die”, the delivery from both Lennon and McCartney is remarkably downbeat. There’s great emotional depth to it which once again demonstrates the more grown-up sentiments on both this song and the entire record. John Lennon’s I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party continues the downbeat and melancholic sound found on the first side with this particular track picking up from where the likes of I’m A Loser and No Reply left off. If I’m honest, this is easily my favourite song on the whole record with its charming guitar solo, obscure status and decent drum fills.
Beatles For Sale was undoubtedly a career turning point for The Beatles, marking a pronounced shift in style and content that would hurtle the band towards the mid sixties and their best work on the likes of Rubber Soul and Revolver. Compared to some of their other work, it’s a release that’s largely gone under the radar and received some completely unwarranted criticism. If you start listening to the Beatles with one album, make sure it’s this one.
If you want to pick up a copy, I’ll leave an Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/2YeLglL
Or, if you’d prefer, here’s a Spotify link:
More musical magnificence to come next week!
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