Beatles For Sale (1964)


Title: It’s often taken to be a pessimistic reflection of the group feeling like a product, having been ‘sold’ all over the world for 30-odd months – a view not dispelled by the…

Cover: Four glum-looking Beatles in an autumnal Hyde Park. It’s moody and, I think, rather magnificent.

Best song: No Reply, the opener written by John. It has quite a sedate feel for most of its 135 seconds, but about a minute in there’s a tremendous little crescendo powered by piano and handclaps.

Honourable mentions:

* John’s I’m a Loser has mournful lyrics, harmonica solos and a bubbling bassline that drives the chorus.

* Paul’s breezy I’ll Follow The Sun is enormously charming – I especially like George’s ‘solo’ (four strikes of his guitar, each one slid up its string).

* How the polished Eight Days A Week was never a single is beyond me – it’s catchy and has a cute structure (including a famous fade-in intro). Although worked on by both Lennon and McCartney, it was based on an idea of Paul’s – so why John sings the lead vocal is a bit of a mystery. The usual rule was that whoever initiated the writing took the lead.

* Another ‘wrong singer’ song is Paul’s Every Little Thing – it’s one of the many usually ignored gems you can find on Beatles albums. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone say they like it, yet each time I hear Beatles For Sale it sidles up like an old friend and makes me feel very happy. Ringo pounds on a timpani to inject some effective drama into the choruses.

* The drum pattern on What You’re Doing, meanwhile, is also great fun. The whole song, with its Byrds-like guitar work and detailed harmonies, sounds like it should be from later in the Beatles’ career (Rubber Soul, say). It’s terrific.

Worst song: For once, it’s not something sung by George or Ringo! Mr Moonlight, first recorded a couple of years earlier by Piano Red, is like something from a tired student cabaret. Lennon seems to be enjoying himself, but the whole thing is just nonsense. And that Hammond-organ solo: Jesus!

Notable outside contributions: George Martin again plays piano when needed – listen to him go all Jerry Lee Lewis on the tubthumping cut of Rock and Roll Music!

Review: Overall, it’s a mixed bag – there are some world-beaters, but with a few tracks there’s a sense of the group padding out the LP. Perhaps what’s most interesting about this album is the development of the lyrics – songs such as No Reply and I’m a Loser show more thought in the words than the ‘boy loves girls’ stuff of earlier albums. Bob Dylan – who the group met in August 1964, just as they were starting to record Beatles For Sale – had an undoubted influence. Yet, after the totally self-written A Hard Day’s Night, it’s back to a mix of originals and covers – while four albums in, George and Ringo have contributed only one song between them. It was definitively John and Paul’s band at this point, but even they couldn’t keep up with demand.

Seven tears falling like rain from the sky out of 10.

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