WITH THE BEATLES (1963) – Quality time well spent with The Fab Four

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With the Beatles – Released Nov. 22, 1963

On the same date that a tragedy was occurring in America, musical joy was being spread across Britain. The Beatles’ first album weighed heavily towards cover versions of hit songs, but this record showed them in all of their songwriting and performing glory. Happily, the musical ecstasy of which Britain was currently partaking would soon spread across the pond to ease the national wounds of JFK’s assassination.

It Won’t Be Long: In sentiment at least, it’s practically a sequel to All My Loving (which paradoxically comes two songs later), and it’s just as infectious. You’d have to be a total ogre not to savor the driving beat and down-to-earth optimism of this joyous song. Ends with the kind of “oooooo” wail that drove millions of girl fans straight into puberty.

All I’ve Got to Do: Another of those whisper-sweet-nothings-in-your-ear songs, and quite effective at that. As these kinds of narratives go, there’s a lot more give-and-take between the singer and his listener-lover, far more gratifying than the standard aren’t-I-a-great-guy lyrics. Perfect make-out music.

All My Loving: This is a quintessential early-Beatles song that you’d have to beat to death to make unlikable. Some of The Beatles’ early songs sound weaker when they’re done live, but this one’s infectious melody and quietly touching lyrics — a perfect sentiment for loved ones far away — never fail to deliver, no matter what version. A real rouser.

Don’t Bother Me: George Harrison’s first composition to make it to a record, and he’s done far worse. It’s obviously an aping of the Lennon/McCartney unrequited-love style, but it’s a damn fine imitation, helped in no small way by George’s own guitar licks. A welcome promise of good things to come.

Little Child: A perfect Beatles dance tune, though John’s condescending title reference to the girl in question is one step removed from the misogyny that would show its ugly light in later songs. But the rocking rhythm and harmonica blasts handily put aside such concerns, at least for the time being.

Till There Was You: Beatles covers were nothing new even on this album, but definitely none of the others were borrowed from a Broadway hit. Paul at his most romantic (love that flamenco guitar style!) grabs hold of a hit from Meredith Willson’s The Music Man and savors the flavor for all its worth. Even more delightful is the Anthology 1 version (performed at Britain’s Royal Command Performance), where Paul introduces the song as having been performed by “our favorite American group, Sophie Tucker.”

Please Mr. Postman: From this cover song to Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues (on Anthology 3, from the Let It Be sessions), postmen can’t catch a break on Beatles recordings. As with most of their early covers, the Fabs bring enough soulful fever to their version to make the original look like a pale skeleton.

Roll Over Beethoven: Just as Zeppo Marx occasionally got a nice solo number for indistinctly serving his fellow Marx Brothers for so long, so the Fabs threw this Chuck Berry bone to George since they gave him so little else to do in the early years. It’s not quite the “rocking little number” George would have you believe, but it would do until future Beatles producer Jeff Lynne did the ultimate version of the song for Electric Light Orchestra in 1973.

Hold Me Tight: Standard effective early-Beatles formula: Hypnotic backbeat, a few falsetto “you-oo-oo’s,” and Paul singing about “making love to only you,” and there goes another female!

You Really Got a Hold on Me: Another aces cover, this one of Beatles-acknowledged influence Smokey Robinson. This one more than adequately conveys the original’s sense of obsessive love, which John would later take to its ultimate end in I Want You (She’s So Heavy). Where did these white boys get such soul?

I Wanna Be Your Man: Whereas a potboiler like Hold Me Tight gets across all too well via Paul’s libidinous delivery, perhaps Ringo (the guy who sang about the virtues of Boys on The Beatles’ first album) wasn’t the best choice to deliver a rocker like I Wanna Be Your Man. Small wonder this one later went to The Rolling Stones to give it the requisite, er, power.

Devil in Her Heart: As Beatles cover versions go, adequate but nothing spectacular. The concept of George singing the lead while the other Fabs serve as a Greek chorus is nice, but it’s eventually ruined by George’s inadequate delivery (starting with the very first lyric, delivered unclearly). The BBC radio version, presented on the Baby It’s You taster CD for Live at the BBC, is even more woeful, with George completely screwing up the final refrain and practically throwing his arms up in resignation.

Not a Second Time: John had a bad lover, he blew her off, she’s back again, and by golly, he’s not going to take it anymore. Now that’s all settled.

Money (That’s What I Want): Compared to The Beatles’ sinister cover, the singer in the original version of this song was asking for a quarter for a cup of coffee. A most underrated Beatles cover that sounds downright possessed by the old maxim about love of money, root of all evil, and all that Bible-thumping stuff. An absolute stunner and a perfect closer to an amazing album.

What do you think of With the Beatles and/or particular songs from it? Let us know in the “Comments” section below. Tomorrow: A Hard Day’s Night.

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