Tuesday, February 12, 2008

161. The Beatles: Beatles For Sale (1964)

Now we continue our journey through the back catalog of a little-known '60s band I've recently discovered.

How does that classic old song go? "Two steps forward, one step back"? After the general excellence of the entirely-original of A Hard Day's Night, The Beatles came back the exact same year with an album that replicated the same structure of their first two efforts.

That's right, Beatles For Sale sports only 8 originals along with 6 cover songs. And if the formula was getting stale on With The Beatles, it completely expired on this album.

The record starts strongly with three John Lennon compositions that show a startling growth, considering the band were only a year removed from their debut. No Reply is accusatory and claustrophobic, picking up on the darkness and melancholy of Lennon's A Hard Day's Night contributions. On the chorus he almost screams: "I nearly died!" when his girl ignores him. This is far from your typical pop fare.

Likewise, I'm A Loser is a countryish lament, with the title phrase declared in a curiously sunny voice. And then there's Baby's In Black, which as far as I can tell is about being in love with a woman in mourning for a dead lover! It features an appropriately dissonant solo.

Not a happy beginning, but a great one nonetheless. So what comes next? A cheerful cover of Chuck Berry's Rock And Roll Music. There's nothing wrong with the band's performance, but the song couldn't sound more out of place.

That goes for every cover on the album, from Mr. Moonlight to the Paul-led medley of Kansas City and Hey Hey Hey Hey. George and Ringo get back in the singing act with two different Carl Perkins numbers, the former on Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby and the latter on a loose Honey Don't, but they just don't gel.

The problem is not only the tone of Lennon/McCartney originals, but also the quality. It seems blasphemous to say, but by this point these two were writing better songs than Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins or Buddy Holly. Before you balk at that statement, give a spin to the faded-in Eight Days A Week, a joyful handclappy rocker. Or take a listen to Paul's two strong contributions, the underrated What You're Doing (with an off-kilter piano solo) and the gentle, folksy I'll Follow The Sun.

Though it's far from their best album, Beatles For Sale is an important album. By juxtaposing their modern pop next to classic rock, The Beatles inadvertently showed how far they'd come in theme and sound. One might say it's where in the students became the teachers.

Grade: B-
Fave Song: What You're Doing

1 comment:

Culture Bully said...

I've been having more fun lately digging into back catalogs myself - The Beatles in particular actually...amazing to take the music out of its context and still enjoy the timelessness of the sounds within.