Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Beatles - Beatles For Sale (1964)

Well, this is embarrassing, isn't it? My longest hiatus yet.

If it's any consolation, listening (read: having the time to listen) has not been a luxury afforded to me. I figured I'd start back with something I could write in my sleep: a Beatles review. This means three things:

1.) Me extolling the virtues of George Harrison.

2.) Me taking the chance to explain to all of you why John Lennon wasn't what he seemed...and that his best work comes from his acknowledgment of this fact, not his "efforts" to save the world while doing very expensive drugs and acting as if his first son didn't exist.

3.) Lots of hyperbolic, and yet thoroughly deserved, praise for one of the greatest things to happen to Western civilization.

A couple of haircuts ago back in 2005, when I actually gave a shit about my own image and tried to wow girls by talking about how I "explicate" films and wanted to make movies myself (ha!), some bozo I went to high school with tried to start a site called Punk Press Online. He asked me to do some album reviews. I did three: Get Behind Me Satan by The White Stripes, which has just come out, Arthur, Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire by The Kinks (which I was just talking about to a friend earlier tonight in a Facebook message), and Beatles For Sale.

Why this album and not Pepper or Revolver? It's simple: those albums have earned their due, their place in the pantheon of great 20th Century art. Rightfully so, they tilted Earth's axis just a little bit. But there's plenty to be found even when The Beatles weren't setting out for anything, just wanting to put out another collection of songs in time for Christmas. In a way, this makes it a bit of a parallel to With The Beatles.

A year after With The Beatles, having conquered America, made a terrific film, released an album of all-original tunes, and discovered the music of Bob Dylan all in the wild whirlwind of Beatlemania that was 1964, Beatles For Sale serves as a bit of a progress report.

So, just how are the boys doing after a year of superstardom? Well, looking at the cover (which can be found here), George looks like he just got back from a funeral, John and Paul look either burnt out or smoked out (easily both), and Ringo looks terrified. Maybe it's just the effects of what appears to be a cold day in the photo.

It was still fun for all involved at this point, no chinks in the armor or cracks in the facade forming here...but the band's chief songwriters (at this point, it's just John and Paul) are beginning to grow in ways that suggest they might not be limited to making damn good pop music.

I jumped the gun mentioning him above, but Dylan's influence is first felt on this album. One of my old bandmates, who seemed to have it in for Dylan, pointed towards Beatles For Sale as being the first folk-rock album. But the fusion of folk and rock isn't what made Dylan, well, Dylan. That magic ingredient, the one that appealed so much to John, Paul, and George is all in the lyrics. Even on Another Side Of Bob Dylan, where the focus shifted away from lonesome deaths, finding answers in air currents, and the unbearable yet imminent precipitation that comes with nuclear war, where Dylan actually looks at himself - "My Back Pages," "It Ain't Me, Babe" - he's opening up some major doors.

Suddenly, it was okay to write about yourself. No more hand-holding, no more "she told me what to say-yay," and yet here on Beatles For Sale one can sense a tentative approach to these new sensibilities. Not every song here is an eye-opening revelation into John Lennon's psyche. (Although that would eventually come.) There's a good selection of pure pop songs here, without any subtext, any deeper meaning, or anything more than a catchy-as-Hell hook. But when it's time to be serious, they (and I really just mean John on this outing, though Paul offers a sleeper of his own) nail it.

This album finds the band in a provisional state, eager to test some new ground but not quite ready to let go of their A-side/B-side pop hit mentality. They couldn't have charged right into "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," "Yesterday," or "Nowhere Man" without the smaller steps taken here. Some authors bitch about this album being a collection of songs rather than an "album," that is, a cohesive whole. Such detractors need to remember that in December 1964, everyone was still putting out collections of songs. Not "albums" defined as cohesive wholes.

Consider where The Beatles' peers were at this point:

+ The Rolling Stones had two albums out in America, one in the UK. No US number one hits, but they'd had two number ones in their homeland and - get this - one in Sweden with the (vastly underrated) original tune "Tell Me."

+ The Kinks had one album out, two flop singles, two massive hits (come on, you have to ask?) and an EP that included a craptastic, possibly drunken, rendition of "Louie, Louie."

+ The Who had yet to release "I Can't Explain," their first proper single. Or at least, their first single as The Who.

In short, this was the time where The Beatles were the undeniable leaders of the proverbial pack. There were plenty of first-wavers from the UK who weren't songwriters (The Dave Clark Five, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Herman's Hermits) still in the running, but by the time Dylan went electric and The Beatles did Rubber Soul, it was all over for them. That's still a year from Beatles For Sale, but the executioner's axe would be coming.

Not a moment too soon, either...that man-baby Peter Noone and all his cutesy faces make me thank the Lord that The MC5 were learning how to tune their guitars right in time for these clowns to get chased off to the state fair circuit.

That said, yes, Beatles For Sale IS just a collection of songs. But so was 12x5 by The Rolling Stones. Beatles authors need to recognize that they don't need to put down their "lesser" works to build up the undisputed masterpieces.

Let's get it on.
(I've never done this before, but maybe it will help if I list all the tracks first, providing possible YouTube links - and there's plenty for The Beatles - and such here.)

TRACK LISTING:
01. No Reply [10]
02. I'm A Loser [10]
03.
Baby's In Black [9]
04.
Rock And Roll Music [10], originally by Chuck Berry.
05.
I'll Follow The Sun [10]
06.
Mr. Moonlight [10], originally by Dr. Feelgood & The Interns.
07.
Kansas City / Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! [2], originally by Wilbert Harrison / Little Richard.
08.
Eight Days A Week [10]
09. Words Of Love [1], originally by Buddy Holly.
10.
Honey Don't [8.5], originally by Carl Perkins.
11.
Every Little Thing [10]
12. I Don't Want To Spoil The Party [11]
13.
What You're Doing [10]
14. Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby [8.5], originally by Carl Perkins.

Single:
01. I Feel Fine [10]
02.
She's A Woman [3]

Honorable Mention:

01. Leave My Kitten Alone [10], originally by Little Willie John.

THE SONGS:
01. No Reply [10]

Their first album started off with the most raucous count-off this side of The Ramones. The second album had a song similarly rambunctious, but it started with just voice - no instruments - and to great effect. The third album was kick-started by the most epic chord ever strummed. (Okay, enough in-text links.)

This starts with a fairly melancholy (by 1964 standards) song about a dodgy woman, who it turns out is seeing another guy. It is never spelled out if she's a cheater, or (better still) if the narrator is a jealous ex. I like the ambiguity...though it's highly likely that I'm giving the song a modern reading.

Regardless, the heartbreak in this song is palpable, with the "I SAW THE LIGHT" / "I NEARLY DIED" / "NO REPLY" refrains sounding like pained lamentations. There's a gorgeous melody, with a slight Latin flavor (mainly in the syncopated drum beat and the achingly dramatic bridge). In only two minutes and twenty seconds, John Lennon invented power pop...and it still holds up 46 years later.

02. I'm A Loser [10]
Paired up with the gloomy "No Reply," it's easy to see why and how I point to this album as the sprouting seeds of John Lennon the emotional troubadour. He'd always turned to music when faced with a crisis. It was there for him when his deadbeat father and doting (but immature) mother weren't. It's what drew he and Paul so close in the early days...but to actually use music as an outlet instead of therapy?

I hate that John lived with such misery hanging over him: a shotgun marriage, the stresses of fame, and the increasingly differing expectations of the fans and the critics. He bottled up his insecurities and grief behind a tough, intelligent, and smart-assed front...and if you've ever seen A Hard Day's Night, boy, did he have us all fooled. The art Lennon created, though, as a result of all this suffering? Along with Ray Davies' work, it's some of the best stuff ever scribbled out by a British songwriter.

Either audiences were incredibly stupid and aloof, or they really just didn't give a shit about the lyrics, because "I'm A Loser" reads like a suicide note. Though it's something that Ray Davies and Randy Newman are better known for, John takes these self-loathing lyrics and sets them to a bouncy melody. There is an interesting tension in this song when the harmonica comes in; previously, the harmonica had epitomized The Beatles' poppy qualities, a sprightly and cheerful sound. Here, having picked up a few lessons from old Bob, the mouth organ sounds like a scream.

Before it makes much of an impact, in comes George with a great Chet Atkins/Carl Perkins guitar solo, bringing us back into the happy world the music has painted for us.

It's a slice of genius, that's for sure, one of the pivotal points in The Beatles' early catalog. Thank God for it.

03. Baby's In Black [9]
This one is a bit understated, but it rounds out a trifecta of songs with sub-poppy subject matter. One of my favorite early (see Appendix at the bottom of this entry for my definitions of Beatle eras) Beatles tunes, "I'll Be Back," closes out A Hard Day's Night with a sense of spite not heard elsewhere on an otherwise happy album.

One listen to the working version on Anthology One, in 3/4 time, and you'll hear the boys straining themselves as a band musically. The verses work well, but it all collapses during the bridge, devolving into slightly embarrassed laughter. The next cut on the CD is the song in 4/4 time, and the moment it kicks in (without the intro it has on the finished album) everything just sounds perfect...even if John flubs a note and laughs.

"Baby's In Black," which made it past the drawing board in waltz time, does feel a little clunky in parts. Still, an A for effort is in store. I can't imagine this song in straight time or in shuffled 4/4. It would sound awful. Still, that's a pretty sloppy solo, even for the not-so-dexterous George.

Where this song succeeds is in the lyrics. Like "No Reply," only to a more extreme degree, there is a subtext to this song that extends beyond the surface. At first, it sounds like a rather benign pop song about a girl whose world has ended due to a break-up. She wears black and shuns other men.

Sad, sure, but the whole "my heart is broken, therefore, life is meaningless" thing isn't uncommon.

What I love - and I mean LOVE - are the subtle hints at a much more macabre scenario: her lover is dead.

"She thinks of him
And so she dresses in black,
And though he'll never come back
She's dressed in black"

The best part is it could be read either way. I don't think the screaming girls gave it much thought.

The academic in me told the critic in my to run a quick check on Wikipedia, just to see if there's anything validating my suspicion. Sure enough, with some sources cited that I've read before and trust wholly, it turns out I was more right than I thought. It's about Stu Sutcliffe's bereaved fiance Astrid Kirchherr.

Wowie Zowie!

04. Rock And Roll Music [10]
I'd like to just go ahead and invent a saying; my apologies if some guy I've never heard of said something to this effect before me: "When in doubt, Chuck Berry."

Here's a guy who not only defined rock guitar (though I must pay respects to Paul Burlison for inventing raga rock on The Johnny Burnette Rock & Roll Trio's version of "The Train Kept A-Rollin'") and wrote some high-energy pieces to show it off, he was a Hell of a lyricist. You can keep Elvis, Pat Boone, and Buddy Holly. I'll take Chuck...and Eddie Cochran.

No point in making some lame-ass, long-winded build up to my bottom line about this song, I'll just say it:

BEST BEATLES COVER. EVER.

I like "Twist & Shout." I love the way George handles "Roll Over Beethoven." The delicate affection of "You Really Got A Hold On Me" makes it worthy of any mix-tape for that special someone. And their rendition "Money" can still put some cracks in your ceiling.

But this one, to crib a phrase from Ian Fleming, "has the delivery of a brick through a plate-glass window." Modern, worldly-wise, and politically correct "journalists" (note the floating quotes) would call such an unabashed celebration of rock music over jazz, mambo, tango, and conga to be "rockist," whatever the Hell that even means. The dopes who throw that word around can't even seem to agree.

To me, it's an unabashed celebration of rock music as the music of youth, energy, and rebellion, something to drown out the Lawrence Welk records that parents in the 1950's danced to. And whatever, rock and roll at its essential core of youth, energy, and rebellion is something immune to the "-ism" label. Save that for the guy jacking off to Styx, Journey, or some other overproduced mid-tempo arena-ready dreck.

Everything about this song is perfect. The way John's voice echoes. The way George Martin plays the shit out the piano. The fact that John calls it "rock-roll" music. The very timbre of John's vocals as he shouts like the building is on fire. The way the songs stops and starts with every trip back to the chorus. Its placement on the album, with three incredibly depressing songs about infidelity, self-hatred, and death preceding it, is perfect.

05. I'll Follow The Sun [10]
Trust Paul to give us a song that can cool us off after the last number without lulling us to sleep. This song is old - a demo from 1960 exists in all its lo-fi glory - and yet it fits in perfectly among these newer, more mature songs. Granted, the original version sounds more like a Tin Pan Alley tune you'd hear in an early talkie, but with a new bridge and some incredibly tight harmonies with John - which until I heard the album in remastered mono I had thought was just a double-tracked Paul - and you have one of Paul's finest songs.

It's short and sweet, even with the delicate electric guitar solo in the middle. This song keeps up the early Beatles trend of including Latin/Caribbean flavors in their music. With a different singer and arrangement, this could make for a passable calypso number.

06. Mr. Moonlight [10]
This is one of the most reviled tunes The Beatles ever released...and frankly, I love it. It sounds like music you'd hear at a seedy cocktail lounge in Tijuana, circa 1961. The organ is great, John sounds like a worn-out bandleader (hey, he sort of was!) singing for the table of ladies in the front row.

What can I say? I love this song, and I love it without any sense of "it's so bad it's good" at all. Not to get all Anthony Bourdain on you, but this is the dirty water hot dog of the bunch. Get a neon-coral colored beverage known only as "Papaya Drink" to wash it down, and you've got yourself a meal.

A song like this, it's pretty simple: you either hate it or you love it.

07. Kansas City / Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! [2]
Yikes!

Why hasn't anyone singled this little dumpling (emphasis on the "dump") out as an awful Beatles song? John flubs his enunciation on "Rock & Roll Music" and it sounds like he just couldn't give a shit, Paul does it and he sounds drunk, lazy.

It really doesn't help that I've heard plenty of white boy blues just as half-assed, slow, and tired as this.

This only goes to prove my argument that while we owe The Beatles for a lot of wonderful innovations and noteworthy firsts, we also have them to blame for some things, as seemingly every single song they did inspired another band's entire discography. Without Pepper, we might never have gotten The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, and we definitely wouldn't have gotten We're Only In It For The Money. However, we also wouldn't have gotten the overwrought garbage that is English prog rock (excluding Brian Eno).

Anyway, I kind of hate this song, a pock-mark on an otherwise outstanding album.

The strange thing is, I love Wilbert Harrison's original.

Thankfully, The Beatles wouldn't revisit the blues again until "Yer Blues," which seemingly goes against my oft-made assertion that the Fab Four sucked as a blues band.

08. Eight Days A Week [10]
I said this in my review of Instant Replay by The Monkees, but it bears repeating since I haven't written a review in 27 years: I acknowledge that my tastes by and large seem to sidestep the so-called "classics" of an artists' oeuvre. Not always - there's a reason a song like "My Sharona" (RIP Doug Fieger) was a one-hit wonder: the rest of The Knack's stuff isn't that great! - but something like The Beatles compilation 1 or any of the seemingly infinite Stones and Who compilations floating out there only serve to rub me the wrong way. "Start Me Up" isn't a good song. "Dancing With Mr. D" is, and yet that one isn't on Forty Licks.

And so on.

Anyway, here's the tried-and-true "classic" on an album that I'll admit has been treated like a bit of a wallflower in The Beatles' discography. Not only is it a "classic" (again, note the floating quotes) Beatle tune, it's a great Beatle tune.

They sure knew how to pace an album: three pieces of John's heart for us to consume, a riotous Chuck Berry song, a Paul ballad, and two R&B covers to round out side A. Flip the record over, and you're politely reminded that this is indeed the same band that brought you such timeless confections as "All My Loving," "A Hard Day's Night," and "Can't Buy Me Love."

Not only that, the song FADES IN! Can you imagine what that must have sounded like hearing it for the first time?

It's a shuffling Motown-esque love song - oh, hey, The Supremes covered it! - and musically, there's something oddly triumphant about that fade-in. You can almost assume it's The Beatles giving us an almighty, "Yeah, we did 'No Reply,' but we can still do a masterpiece like this in our sleep!"

Imagine if this had started the album proper, and not Side B. Makes me wonder how differently history would have treated it.

09. Words Of Love [1]
That's right. A one. I might stand as the only white person who doesn't get a boner over Buddy Holly. It isn't something as shallow as it being a matter of my own hatred for the veneration of the dead...I just don't like his music. I won't deny his influence, but I think the music that all his fans enjoyed was trite lovey-dovey nonsense.

In fact, Buddy Holly is kind of like the Mozart of rock and roll. Everyone talks about him, everyone seems to worship him...but I just don't see the appeal. Of course, I've outlived him since June 7th, 2009, and he did all he did in 22 years, 4 months, and 27 days while I'm still adrift in a sea of reading responses, scholarship applications, conference presentations, travel grants, and job interviews.

So...yeah. I had to flame myself before any of you did it in the comments.

That said, I hate the original, and I think The Beatles' version is worse. The eighth-note handclaps bug me to no end, John and Paul's harmonies are God-awful and an aural depiction of them going out of their way to sound American, the guitar tone hurts my ears, and what a waste of a good slapback echo.

Well...now that I've pissed you all off, let me take this opportunity to remind you that any comments left get screened first.

10. Honey Don't [8.5]
Right on time! Ringo gives us a great Carl Perkins number on this, his latest vocal since "I Wanna Be Your Man."

This has everything that I feel "Words Of Love" is lacking. It's got a nice beat, the instruments are all balanced quite well, George turns in not one, but TWO great solos (after all, Carl Perkins was one of his idols), and what's not to love about Ringo saying, "Aw, rock on George, for Ringo!" Great rockabilly guitar riff throughout, too.

11. Every Little Thing [10]
My good friend and once non-sexual domestic partner Eric Condon and I had an interesting discussion about whether or not anything by The Beatles can truly be called underrated. It's a good question, because with 13 albums that (for better or for worse - I'm looking at you, Please Please Me!) have been scrutinized and eaten up time and again by the record buying public, it's a bit like saying there's an overlooked play by Shakespeare, or that one of the corners of the Mona Lisa doesn't get enough respect.

Still, everything in context: these records, tapes, 8-tracks, CD's, and MP3's have sold in the millions. Even still, I postulate that there are some dimly-lit nooks and crannies in The Beatles' works. It's mainly, as I said in my With The Beatles review, on the flip-sides of these early LP's and singles. You know "Lady Madonna," but have you heard George's b-side, "The Inner Light?" It's one of their best songs.

There's plenty of songs that just seem...forgotten. The underside of With The Beatles I've discussed before. For A Hard Day's Night, the b-side is all songs that weren't in the film...an unfortunate position for all six of those songs. "Things We Said Today," although it might be the only pro-love love song in a minor key, is reason enough to still love Paul McCartney after "Silly Love Songs." "You Can't Do That" is a glimpse into John's darker side...the inspiration for the (in?)sincere "Jealous Guy" from 1971. And as I said before, "I'll Be Back" is great. Period. It's a barrage of songs that, had they been the ones in the film would be the songs venerated and celebrated the way their side-A counterparts are today. Help! fares even worse, and for the exact same reason.

Now, on Beatles For Sale, the three other Lennon/McCartney originals stand in the shadow of "Eight Days A Week." Eric and I both agreed that these songs, discreetly tucked away on the b-side of what is an uneven, hastily cobbled-together album, stand as proof that, yes, Virginia, there are underrated and overlooked Beatles songs.

To begin, "Every Little Thing" was written by Paul, but has John on lead vocals. This was never a common Beatle practice; there's only one instance where George sang a Lennon/McCartney song ("I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"), and as for John or Paul singing the other's song (not counting duets) - and I do welcome corrections on this - I really think it's a one-time occurrence.

Anyway, John's vocals are great here. I can't really picture Paul singing these lyrics, even though he wrote it. And speaking of the songwriting, oh, my God! Paul is writing something that isn't a radio-ready love song with an infectious chorus? John isn't the only one in the band growing up.

McCartney gibes aside, this is a great song. Gorgeous melody, and the piano/timpani combo gives a nice weight to the music, a nice complement to the sweet lyrics. Glenn Gass did note that the song's chorus:

"Every little thing she does
She does for me, yeah!
And you know the things she does,
She does for me, ooh!"

...hasn't exactly aged well. What can you do? McCartney was a traditionalist; a man needed a maid. In fact, it was this tension that broke up his relationship with Jane Asher. She didn't want to give up her acting career to be a stay-at-home wife. Who did he think she was, Maureen Starkey or Cynthia Lennon?

Pre-feminist sexism aside (again, it was a different time, they came from a different culture,) the song gets enough of a pass on its other merits to get a ten.

12. I Don't Want To Spoil The Party [11]
Take away those trademark Beatle harmonies, and this is something straight out of the Ray Davies songbook. I praised the pacing of the album earlier...but the more I think about it, the more I have to say that only applies to Side A, which is where this song belongs. Lennon's self-portrait just as pathetic as "No Reply," as self-aware as "I'm A Loser," and distraught as the narrator of "Baby's In Black." This almost got the crown of being awarded an 11 score.

"I had a drink or two and I don't care..."

...and yet he's wondering why his lady has ditched him? Man, the irony, the desperation - intentional or not - is magnificent. Even though it's implied he's behaved like a drunken ass, that chorus has him acting like he's the victim:

"Though tonight she's made me sad,
I...still...love...her!"

Although there's some decent competition from the songs on either side of it, never mind the two songs at the start of the album, it wasn't much of a debate for me to pick this as the best cut on the record.

13. What You're Doing [10]
That drum cadence is something I could listen to all day. George's 12-string calls back to the sound he had with his Rickenbacker 360-12 on A Hard Day's Night (and yet this song is not a hold-over from those sessions), and where's the chorus? There isn't one.

It's unconventionally structured, with its bizarre rhyme scheme, Paul's syncopated verses (all sung while hitting impossibly high notes), and a fairly complex - for 1964 - melody. This is the kind of song that the early Monkees' stuff (the songs Micky Dolenz sang) tried so desperately to ape, no pun intended. Not even the best of the best Tin Pan Alley veterans could come close.

14. Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby [8.5]
Two Carl Perkins covers on one album? Good as they both are, and also indicative of their love for Perkins' music, it's definitely a sign that they had a bit of a song shortage.

After 13 tracks, we finally hear George's beautiful baritone voice on lead. It bops on with a lovable rockabilly swagger. It sounds like they're having a Hell of a good time, too, but they also sound worn out...like this last song on the album might have even been the last one they recorded for it. Still, a memorable performance, plenty of that marvelous echo that I love on the vocals.

Before I do the subtotal, let me just say...I'm a little surprised by how uneven this album is.

Subtotal: 85.7% B

Replay Factor: 1

I have to say, side A plays fairly well, though I might skip that awful two-for-one thing at the end. Side B? Less so...kind of uneven. Those Perkins covers are good, but they're still filler. In between, though, are some real treasures of Lennon/McCartney songs.

Consistency Factor: 0
It is kind of rare for me to give a zero in this regard, but it is a pretty bumpy ride. If you're wanting to introduce someone to Moptop Beatles, play With The Beatles or A Hard Day's Night. If you want to treat someone to some great mid-phase Beatles, look no further than Help! and Rubber Soul. This really is them in transition, and while I generally think the phrase "advanced listening" applies to other albums I might give a zero to (like Lumpy Gravy, Studio Tan, Thing-Fish, or Broadway The Hard Way by Frank Zappa), because that implies these are albums worth holding out for. As I define in my Just The Facts entry, a zero is an album generally classified as "for the die-hards only." That doesn't really apply here...more like, "Of the 13 Beatles albums, this is second only to Yellow Submarine or Please Please Me as being the last one you should purchase." Still an essential part of your collection? Yes. But if you were really hurting for cash and could only buy, say, one, three, seven, or even nine Beatle albums...this one wouldn't make the cut.

External Factors: 1
This really is a thrown-together-for-the-Christmas-market release. That's not common in the business anymore, not in this era where you can write some stupid original Christmas song (that isn't "Father Christmas") and put it out as a single, bribing your way to getting it shown on the MTV. The fact that they were expected to have a Christmas disc ready showed balls on The Beatles' part for rising to the challenge. There's plenty of criticisms to lob:
+ No George-penned songs
+ Six cover tunes...a bit of a step backwards considering that A Hard Day's Night was 13 all-original tunes
+ The covers, barring one, aren't as memorable as their earlier efforts
+ A dismal three "Paul-only" vocal performances, one of them being their shitty fake blues medley?

...but there's also plenty to praise:
+ Four-track recording meant more room for overdubs and a crisper sound altogether
+ All of the original songs are bold moves forward
+ Plenty of John to go around

Total: 87.7% B


Now, a single and an outtake.

01. I Feel Fine [10]
The subject of love is a tricky one to write about. How do you define it? What is it, even? Can you really sum up the feelings of being in love in a simple two-minute song?

With "I Feel Fine," the answer is yes. Ask me to define love, and I'll just tell you to listen to this song. If this had been on Beatles For Sale, it would be an undisputed 11.

02. She's A Woman [3]
They still don't quite have the art of making a decent b-side down yet, do they? I kind of hate this song...but the chorus makes up for how awfully Paul is singing. And on that note, what is with his singing? He's shouting, he's yelping, he's mumbling...tuneless muck. That scene in Help! when Eleanor Bron's character plays this song on a reel-to-reel tape player for Leo McKern and he goes, "Uggghhh! Shocking!" kind of sums up my thoughts on this song.

01. Leave My Kitten Alone [10]
WHOA! This outtake remained in the can for 31 years until Anthology One. All I can ask is what the Hell they were thinking leaving it off the album! This song instead of "Words Of Love" would have made the album a 92% A-, throw in the tilt factors and it would be a cozy 94% A.

It's a shame. Oh, well, at least it's out for us to consume now.

Have fun debating this one!

Appendix:

I divide The Beatles' discography into three (technically four) periods -

Pre:
Their first recording ("That'll Be The Day") through the Decca Audition (1958-1962) Reserved almost exclusively for die-hards, there's plenty of treasures here like the Decca Audition, the Tony Sheridan tapes, and their gigs at The Star Club in Hamburg. There's also some real shit, though, too, like their incredibly lo-fi rehearsals from 1960 that might or might not feature original bassist Stu Sutcliffe.

Early: Please Please Me through Beatles For Sale (1962-1964) The moptop phase, where they wore matching suits, shook their heads and went "WOOO!!!!", and were poised to take over the world.

Mid-Phase: Help! through Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band / "All You Need Is Love" (1965-1967) With the world placed in their hands, they don't quite know what to do with it...except make their greatest music.

Latter: Magical Mystery Tour through Let It Be (1967-1970) From the first fumble to the last, with a bitchin' double-LP and a slickly over-produced farewell sandwiched in between.

4 comments:

Andrew said...

We just talked about John and Paul listening to The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan in Paris, a month before they came to America.

Personally, I'd have given Baby's In Black a 10 or 11, but I do love close, country style harmonies, so I'm a little biased.

I prefer Buddy Holly to Chuck Berry. I love Chuck and I recognize that he is more important than Buddy.

I'm glad you love Mr. Moonlight. I never got the hate. I love that song so much. I think it's my favorite cover they did.

I actually like Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! but only as a live version on Live At The BBC.

I used to hate Eight Days A Week because I got sick to death of the songs on 1 when I realized there were better songs on the albums, but now I really love it. The intro and the singing on hold me/love me.

I love Words of Love. Buddy Holly is one of my favorite artists. I think it's due to his presence in American Pie, a song I thought was really cool when I was younger because of how much rock history it covered and I felt cool for getting all the references. I loved Buddy because The Beatles loved him and I really loved The Beatles. Everyday was one of my favorite songs when I was in high school. It made me think of girls I liked. I liked Buddy because he was a big nerd like me but yet really cool. I wanted to be like him. I also felt sad because he died so young and I felt really sad when I learned that his wife had a miscarriage shortly after he died.

I can understand why you don't like Buddy, it's just very puzzling for me.

I love the fadeout harmonies on Every Little Thing, again close sung country style harmonies.

I really like I Don't Want To Spoil The Party and What You're Doing

I hate Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby. Just this version. I think there's too much echo on George's voice and I just like it less than the one on Live At The BBC. I did hear those versions first, so that may have influenced my opinion to a certain degree.

I remember in theater class, when I was a sophomore, one of our vocab words was feedback and when giving my explanation, I mentioned I Feel Fine as being the first song that purposefully used feedback.

I'm not a big fan of She's A Woman either.

I do like Leave My Kitten Alone.

I think Beatles For Sale is just out of my top five Beatles albums. I think I might prefer it to A Hard Day's Night.

Alex said...

Interesting thoughts...I knew I could trust a civil discourse to come from you.

Personally, if I were to present the Moptop Beatles in their prime, as much as I love With The Beatles as representing their live sound, I'm gonna have to go with A Hard Day's Night, based on its merits for showing off the talents of John and Paul as songwriters. These are the songs people mined for covers in those early halcyon days...as we saw with The Supremes.

Oh, boy, you brought up one of the single, solitary reasons I think nostalgia is the worst thing in the word: Don McLean's "American Pie."

Less said, the better, other than I want it played at my funeral for the same reasons Peter Sellers had "In The Mood" played at his.

Andrew said...

I think I like A Hard Day's Night less because of If I Fell, maybe its because when that song comes on the radio my mom sings along with it and I have the automatic response to hate anything she likes, musically speaking. Or maybe because my brother likes the song a lot and my rule of thumb is not liking anything he thinks is good that I don't already like. I don't know why I dislike it so much. I also dislike And I Love Her for some of the lyrics, they irritate me. I don't know, I guess I kind of hate happy love songs. It might be from having seen the film before having the album and I hated those scenes so that colored my perception. I realize its very silly and I'll probably change my mind one day.

I find American Pie pretty trite these days. I have a soft spot for it because of the Weird Al parody.
If you're so down on nostalgia how do you reconcile that with your love of Village Green Preservation Society? I'm not trying to be snarky, just curious, I'm sure you touched on it in your review of it, I just can't remember.

Peter Sellers is great.

I was thinking the other day when we were doing the test in Z201 when Rock Around The Clock came on, I thought that it would have been nice growing up in the 50s. I'm not trying to idealize that time period, it was pretty shitty in some respects, but it would have been cool to have been growing up when all the great early rock songs were coming out. Even though Bill Haley is kind of cheesy, I still think Rock Around The Clock is still fresh sounding and electrifying.

Shelley said...

I agree on everything you've said, except a little less harsh.

01. No Reply: Oh my god this song, oh my god. I really love everything about this song.
02. I'm A Loser: I don't like it as much as No Reply because to me it's not as ear catching (opposed to eye-catching). But I do love the lyrics. And I think the lyrics are better than No Reply.
03. Baby's In Black: I did think this song was about the death of a girl's boyfriend but I had no idea it was about Stu.
04. Rock And Roll Music, originally by Chuck Berry: WOW.
05. I'll Follow The Sun: Sweet song, I like it a lot but not my favorite on the album.
06. Mr. Moonlight, originally by Dr. Feelgood & The Interns: Oh my god this song, oh my god, oh my god. I remember first hearing it and absolutely loving it. It's so eerie! And the way it starts is amazing.
07. Kansas City / Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!, originally by Wilbert Harrison / Little Richard: Okay is the original better? Yes I think so. Is this bad though? Not really.
08. Eight Days A Week: Yet another WOW.
09. Words Of Love, originally by Buddy Holly: My least favorite song on the album, but I still like it. I mean I don't know much Buddy Holly but I don't abhor his music. I can tolerate it. And I actually like the harmonies. The clapping - a little cheesy. But I like cheese.
10. Honey Don't:, originally by Carl Perkins: This song makes me smile.
11. Every Little Thing: Again a WOW!!!!!!
12. I Don't Want To Spoil The Party: I adore this song. I agree with whatyo u say about it.
13. What You're Doing: Ok, last WOW of the album.
14. Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby [8.5], originally by Carl Perkins: I think I like this version better than the original. I feel like this is such a George song. As for them sounding tired? Maybe a little worn out, but still enjoying it.

I do love the singles, even SHe's A Woman. I didn't at first, but I guess you can say I got used to it. Ok, I like She's A Woman, I don't love it.

And you are totally right about the consistency factor. This album is all over the place to me.

Peace.