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The Beatles

by Tim Alexander
published in Artist Magazine (U.S.)


The Beatles

The Beatles as they arrive in New York City in 1964
A square quartered into four head shots of young men with moptop haircuts. All four wear white shirts and dark coats.

By United Press International (UPI Telephoto)Cropping and retouching: User:Indopug and User:Misterweiss [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Why The Beatles made $3.50 off me every three months when I was a kid.

I remember Thom, wide-eyed and wiggly. He'd come to me and say, "Son, your ears are too big, you're thin as a toothpick and you'll be starting kindergarten soon, but if you learn to play this here tennis racket, there might be hope for you yet."

So we practiced. Hour upon hour, day and night, week after week. Or maybe it was a few minutes, I can't remember. But we did it. We could play that tennis racket; we could be The Beatles.

Ummm. As you probably haven't already guessed, this is supposed to be a record review of the first four Beatles albums. I think the reason I got suckered into this is because my brother wanted to get fresh copies of The Beatles collection from the promo departments of their various record companies. They think they're suckering him into free promotion, he thinks he's suckering them into free records, and I think I'm the real sucker for doing this. I mean, who wants to listen to those old records anyway, when I could be reviewing the new opus by The Duran Club featuring Boy Girl? Maybe he did do me a favor....

The first U.S. domestic Beatles masterwork was Introducing The Beatles. It was originally released on Vee Jay Records in July of '73 and later reissued on Capitol in slightly altered form with the tile The Early Beatles in March 1965. So much for history. There was another one in between the two on Vee Jay again, but I won't mention it because this review is getting more boring by the second...

"I Saw Her Standing There." Good rock'n'roll—a lot of people like it, I don't. "Misery," dumb song. Check out the backup goals on Anna. It must have been George's first experiment with Quaaludes. Another loser, "Chains of Love." Sure, George, tie me up, whip me, make me watch reruns of That Girl, but don't make me listen to that song again. I've always wondered, does Ringo really think "Boys Are a Bottle of Joy?" Finally, "Ask Me Why." Nice three-part harmony and not a bad song.

Now side two. If it seems like I'm rushing this, I am. There's a rerun of Sonny & Cher's movie Good Times; in about an hour and we all know how super-talented that duo was. "Please, Please Me," incredible song. The first show for us Americans of those falsetto "ooohs," where we all get to shake our heads. Also the first sign of John's sexual frustration. "Last night I said these words to my girl/ I know you never even try, girl." The quintessential tennis racket song, "Baby It's You." Nice ballad, again sung by John and written by Burt Bacharach, Hal David and Ted or Andy Williams, which one I'm not sure. "Do You Wanna Know a Secret?" No.

"A Taste of Honey" is Paul going Vegas 30 years too early. "There Is a Place" where I can go when I feel low, when I feel blue. And "It's My Mind." Probably my favorite song on the album. "In my mind there's no sorrow/ there'll be no sad tomorrow." Well-written, and a sentiment I can certainly get into. I wonder if John realized how prophetic those first two lines would turn out to be? In three years John would find himself sitting in his English garden eating a lot of acid and getting a tan from the English rain. More on that later. Finally, the album winds up with a killer rendition of the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout." John was supposedly very hoarse from singing all day and it sounds like he's going to croak. Rod Stewart's original inspiration perhaps? All in all, not a great debut album for a group about to change the world, but the few gems make it worth listening to every few years or so just to bring back a few early heartfelt emotions, and also that beat up old tennis racket.

Meet The Beatles was released on January 20, 1964 by Capital Records. It sold over a million copies in two weeks. Some people have said it was the music. I've always felt it had a lot to do with John's famous quote in the liner notes: "Our music is just—well, our music." Profound.

"I Want to Hold Your Hand" is one of the greatest pop songs ever written, and I don't care what anybody else says. The melody is the union of simplicity and maturity that every composer strives lifelong to produce. It's one of those seamless songs where the verse, chorus and bridge all flow together and are each as strong as the other. I suppose you're asking, "Who is this pompous ass hiding behind a smokescreen of bourgeois clichés?" Good question."I Saw Her Standing There" sounds best if panned to the left. "This Boy" is probably The Beatles' first great ballad. Written and sung by John with beautiful support from the other two tall B's. Makes me want to cry. Really.

"It Won't Be Long" has a great intro, with John trading vocally with Paul and George. P & G also do a nice job of some very original contrapuntal backup vocals on the bridge, probably due to either their heavy Bach influence or their heavy Bock influence. Very aggressively fun tune. Later. "All I've Got to Do" highlights a very soulful John singing "You Gotta Call on Me," and Ringo's first great drum part. Did George Martin tell you what to play, Ring babe? Personal faves on The Fab's first Capitol platter. "All My Loving"—end side one showcasing Paul's first classic. The kind of song you get your mom into, but not really your teeth.

George opens side two telling people not to bother him. I only wish he hadn't bothered us with this song. Just kidding, George. Actually, it's pretty good for George's first pen job. "Little Child" is John doing rock'n'roll, no more, no less, take it for what it's worth, you gotta love the guy, it's just water under the bridge, a stitch in time save nine, who's that sleeping in my bed, drop a penny on the curb for good luck. What? Never mind.

"Till There Was You" takes Paul back to the Cabaña Room at the Hotel del Fuego in beautiful downtown Las Vegas. He also shows his first sign of illiteracy by introducing the word "sawr" into the English language. Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen, and now I'd like to do a song by my very special friend, Paul Anka. "Hold Me Tight," ahhhh. "I Wanna Be Your Man," shut up Ringo, bark like a dog. Thank God it's only 1:59. "Not a Second Time" is an excellent ending to The Beatles' first great album. John's writing a very progressive chord progression and his singing is a classic vocal performance. This is the album that all the others were based on for the next two years.

On April 10, 1964 Capitol Records released The Beatles' second album. Included were five tracks from the British With The Beatles LP, plus four tracks from American singles and two as-yet-unreleased songs. It had advance orders of a million copies and sold many, many, many, many more over the years to come.

It kicks off with George tipping his hat to one of The Beatles' earliest mentors, Chuck Berry, who was tipping his hat to one of his earliest influences, Ludwig von (sort of). "Thank You Girl" burns with optimism's flame. Andy Partridge said that. You just have to believe John when he says, "All I gotta do is thank you, girl." Simple chords, chestnuts-roasting-over-an-open-fire type tune. You'd think you couldn't expect much soul from white, waspy Liverpudlians, but John delivers a watermelon full of Smokey Robinson's classic, "You Really Got a Hold on Me."

"Devil in Her Heart" was good for The Fab's TV cartoon, but that's about it. Great drum beat in "Money." John lays it on the line in this wicked, sinful song. "Money (That's All I Want)," a favorite in their live performances for years. "You Can't Do That" is mediocrity at its height. What's that cowbell doing? Side two opens with Paul's fave rave, "Long Tall Sally." In fact, he liked it so much that he later changed the title to "I'm Down," and claimed to have composed it. Wait 'til Richard hears about this! They must have just discovered the cowbell 'cause it seems to be on every song, or at least "I'll Call Your Name." So much for the facts. You knew I was gonna lie to you anyway.

"Please Mr Postman". I think Jimmy said it best in Quadrophenia: "Mr fucking postman, there it is lying on the floor, you killed it, you killed me scooter." Cool song. "I'll Get You" is a personal fave of mine. It's the one you want to sing to your girlfriend at the drive-in. Finally, "She Loves You." One of the greatest things that happened to every kid in '64 was hearing this song. So much to talk about, so little needs to be said. Amen.

A Hard Day's Night was released on United Artists Records in June 1964, accompanying a film of the same name. I'll bet you didn't know that, did ya? it also sold billions and made lots of money and was in record stores and kids loved it and....

The title track is a good, solid tune but not quite the up to the likes of "She Loves You" or "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Again that foolish cowbell. Good harpsichord/ guitar solo and great 12-string ending that'll take you home. "Tell Me Why?" Exactly. "I'll Cry Instead" is sort of countryish with John carrying a chip on his shoulder that's bigger than his feet. Outrageous. "I'm Happy Just to Dance With You" is a cool song. Groovy rhythm guitar from John.

"I Should Have Known Better" is the song in the railroad scene with a boss teenage Patti Boyd ogling The Fab's playing cards. Did you understand that last sentence? In "If I Fell" John tops "This Boy" as the ballad of '64. A truly unique intro coupled with John and Paul doing that lovely unison-to-harmony vocal which make this a standout on the album. Also listen to Paul crack in vain. Dig it. My friend Curtis Cooper once told me, "Even gods blow their noses.""And I Love Her" features George playing a very complimentary nylon string guitar in this beautiful Paul composition. Claves, bongos and a half-step modulation make this a fun, fun song. And to close, we have "Can't Buy Me Love." Paul rocking out with those funny 7th chords again and George doing a wanking good solo. A decent record, but check out the British Hard Day's Night LP for something a little bit more rewarding, aye?

So these are the first four Beatles LPs. If you haven't heard 'em, buy 'em. If you haven't seen 'em, look for 'em. If you can't find 'em, then you're not of this world.

  

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