Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Beatles - Beatles for Sale (1964)

The Beatles released their third album, A Hard Day's Night, in July 1964. The soundtrack to the film of the same name, it was the band's first record to be comprised fully of Lennon/McCartney originals, with John Lennon, especially in a very prolific phase. After its release, the band returned to their very hectic schedule of touring, recording, and making TV appearances that had become the norm to them. It was also during this time period that the band was introduced to pot, with Bob Dylan having them try out the drug during a meeting with the band in New York City. Between August and October of 1964, the Fab Four had to juggle their many touring commitments with recording fourteen songs for an album, plus a non-album single, mostly recording during off-nights on a UK tour and finishing writing songs in the studio, a first for the band. It became obvious to the group that they most likely wouldn't be able to write 14 brand-new songs in time for a Christmas '64 release, and so the decision was made to switch back to including covers on the album, as was the case with their first two studio LPs. It was also the last time they indulged in such practice, with all following albums comprised mostly of original songs.

The ten original songs the band recorded between August and October 1964 were some of the greatest of their career thus far, with some even exhibiting the influence of Bob Dylan and folk music, and showing a clear step forward from their earlier phase. Even if Lennon and McCartney seem to have scrapped the bottom of the barrel in search of material ("I'll Follow the Sun" dates from the band's days as the Quarrymen), the quality is consistent throughout, and both the eight original songs on Beatles for Sale and the "I Feel Fine" b/w "She's a Woman" single are absolutely great. The cover songs included in the album, however, seem like a clear backward step from the all-original A Hard Day's Night. Most of them are inspired renditions (John's scorching take on "Rock and Roll Music" and the sweetly sung "Words of Love" are absolute highlights), but the ones that aren't (the campy "Mr. Moonlight" and the boring "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby") really bring down a record that if it weren't for the non-original material, I honestly think would be ranked among the group's best, such is its quality and originality, which is pretty much a given when talking about the band during their golden years.

That begs the question: what if the Beatles for Sale album was made up exclusively of originals? Is that even possible? Well, it turns out, it actually is possible! It does require some lateral thinking and a little bit of research, though. So, in order to tackle this in a sensible manner, let's set up the rules for this reconstruction first. There won't be a non-album single coming from this album's sessions, as AHDN didn't have one either, freeing up "I Feel Fine" and "She's a Woman" to appear on the album and giving us only four empty song slots to worry about. Other than that, we are only allowed to include songs that were already at least partially written by the time of recording Beatles for Sale, and that were recorded by the band in some form or another back then. Arrangements would change, obviously, and said changes will be explained later on. Only songs that were written by either Lennon/McCartney or George Harrison are to be included, obviously, and I will try to replace the cover songs with songs that are as similar to them as possible, in order to preserve the album's flow, and make my job of sequencing this much easier too. Without any further ado, here's how our all-original Beatles for Sale looks like:

No Reply (Beatles for Sale)
I'm a Loser (Beatles for Sale)
Baby's in Black (Beatles for Sale)
The One After 909 (Anthology 1)
I'll Follow the Sun (Beatles for Sale)
You Know What to Do (Anthology 1)
She's a Woman (Past Masters)
Eight Days a Week (Beatles for Sale)
Michelle (Rubber Soul)
What Goes On (Rubber Soul)
Every Little Thing (Beatles for Sale)
I Don't Want to Spoil the Party (Beatles for Sale)
What You're Doing (Beatles for Sale)
I Feel Fine (Past Masters)

Paul, John, Ringo, and George playing on a TV Show, October 1964

The first song we'll be replacing is Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music", which is now "The One After 909". A song dating from the group's Quarrymen era, it serves the purpose of a fast-paced rocker with lead vocals by John perfectly, meaning it gets to replace the aforementioned Chuck Berry cover. The only changes I see happening from the Anthology 1 1963 arrangement would be that the song would be performed faster, and feature a piano overdub by George Martin, bringing it closer to the treatment they gave "Rock and Roll Music". The weird "Mr. Moonlight" is replaced by another soul music-influenced track, the single "I Feel Fine". A bit of a stretch, I know, but it's probably a good thing that none of the songs on the album sound anything like "Mr. Moonlight", don't you think? I surely do, and appreciate the leap in quality this simple substitution gives the album. Next, we simply replace a Little Richard rock and roll song with a rock and roll song inspired by Little Richard, with "Kansas City" giving way to b-side "She's a Woman". The fact that both songs have Paul belting it out in the vocals certainly helps bridge the gap between the two songs, making for a great side closer to the Beatles' fourth album.

When replacing "Words of Love", I was looking for a slightly acoustic song, with great harmonies and that was midtempo. I found just that in "Michelle", which began life as an instrumental composed by Paul in 1960, which he finished in late 1965 when pressed for material for the Rubber Soul album. The circumstances being the same here, we'll just pretend he did this one year sooner and call it a day. We also need a Ringo song, this time a tune to replace Carl Perkins' "Honey Don't". That means we'll be stealing another Rubber Soul song, this time "What Goes On", and we'll be using it in that spot, since it was around as early as 1963, and would fit into this slot perfectly. The final replacement we need is for another Carl Perkins song, this time sung by George. That means "You Know What to Do", demoed by George in the same session that John first brought in "No Reply", gets to be chosen. Had the track been finished, I believe it would have sounded much more upbeat and countrified than the demo, making it fit like a glove into "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby"'s place. I've always felt, however, that this song made for a terrible album closer, which remains the case. To solve that issue, we'll simply switch it and "I Feel Fine" in the tracklisting, and there you have it, our completely original Beatles for Sale.

Clocking in at 35 minutes with a 17-minute side A and 18-minute side B, which is the average for most early Beatle records, our reconstructed album feels like the logical next step after A Hard Day's Night, moving into a folkier sound while retaining the band's rock and roll roots. And while some of the songs in this album were written much earlier than the songs on AHDN, this LP is a clear evolution from that album's sound and songwriting style. The album cover is just another photo of the band during the late-1964 period, which we'll use here just to change things up a little, just for variety's sake. While George unfortunately doesn't have the strange onion-like haircut he did on the original photo, the band still has the same jagged, exhausted look on their face, which means this covers transmits the same message as the real one. When looking at this period during the band's career, it's a shame the band's schedule took such a toll on their creativity, and it's immensely impressive how they simply seem to have learned how to work around the circumstances in order to produce their following masterpieces. And it certainly would be nice to see a great album such as this being elevated to masterpiece status.

The Beatles - Beatles for Sale
The Beatles - Past Masters
The Beatles - Rubber Soul
The Beatles - Anthology 1