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Beatles for Sale – Released Dec. 4, 1964
At the time of its release, this record was mostly regarded as simply another Beatles album to be bought (hence the cynical title). But its shift into downbeatness comes as a surprise after the endless optimism of A Hard Day’s Night. Even the album’s cover photos depict the young Fab Four as world-weary. Fame was beginning to wear on them, and the songs herein reflected that.
No Reply: Much of this album seems tinged with bitterness (as symbolized by the somber photo on the album’s cover), so it’s appropriate that the song begins the album. Most of The Beatles’ unrequited-love songs have the appropriate shade of heartache, but here, the singer sounds more like a candidate for a restraining order. Only the usual superb musicianship save the song from unflagging self-pity.
I’m a Loser: John Lennon in full Pagliacci mode. A nearly fatal dose of self-pity redeemed by some savage harmonica wails.
Baby’s in Black: Just reading the Beatles for Sale playlist is enough to make you listen to the album with a bottle of pills nearby. Color-as-unrequited-love-metaphor is done far more effectively in Yes It Is, especially where twangy guitar and harmony are concerned; here, you envision The Beatles playing being a steel fence in some seedy country bar a la The Blues Brothers.
Rock and Roll Music: Chuck Berry might disagree, but for me, The Beatles do the definitive version of this song. John sings his little States-influenced heart out, and that juke-joint piano in the background doesn’t hurt things a bit. An absolute knockout.
I’ll Follow the Sun: The Beatles soft-pedaled their wares so rarely at this point that nearly any of their wistful songs give pause to the average rocking-out listener. Nice John/Paul harmony carry the song’s vagabond theme nicely.
Mr. Moonlight: This hank-of-hair-and-piece-of-bone stuff is best left to Jimmie Rodgers, as evidenced by the cheesy organ line the Fabs tossed into this cover. John’s throat-threatening vocals offset the song’s corniness well enough, though.
Kansas City/Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!: Notorious among Beatles aficionados in that, for years, Capitol ignored the song’s medley and listed it simply as Kansas City. It does make one wonder what the song’s final half (a man soulfully questioning his lover’s bad attitude) has to do with going to Kansas City (is that where she got the bad mood?), but somehow Paul pulls it off.
Eight Days a Week: Should have been a cliche, but for once the cheeriness isn’t forced. Beginning with that engine-revving fade-in, John’s unusually sunny vocals and hand-clapping are worthy of a revival. Anthology 1‘s early version of the song substitute wistfulness for high spirits but is quite effective in its own way (How about John and Paul’s falsettos on the word “week”?).
Words of Love: Nice Buddy Holly tribute, especially with John growling in best back-seat-of-the-car style. Only debit: All that damn hand-clapping.
Honey Don’t: This country-flavored rendition of Carl Perkins’ tune fits Ringo to a T, in this saga of a woman who (as John would later put it in Day Tripper) is just a big teaser. Ringo’s admonition to “Rock on, George” (who does just that) seem far more sincere than in If You’ve Got Trouble (from Anthology 2); at least there’s something to rock to here.
Every Little Thing: The title and its accompanying laundry list of how the singer’s woman pleases him sounds more like the singer is trying to convince himself (What’s with that sarcophagus-like piano pound in the refrain?). One feels that if the song’s own message of true love were more convincing, John wouldn’t have to utter the word “love” four times in a single verse.
I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party: Another glass of whine, please! John is so eager to advertise his supposed self-effacing modesty, one imagines the host continually edging him towards the doorway. The unrequited-love theme is served far more effectively elsewhere.
What You’re Doing: Once again, unrequited love sounds more like a stern lecture from a father whose daughter missed curfew. Ringo’s slamming drum rolls and a whiskyfied piano bridge save the day.
Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby: If you say so, George. Funny that George is the Carl Perkins idolator, and yet Ringo does a far more effective cover of Perkins’ Honey Don’t. Nice guitar work, but George’s vocals don’t suggest a rapscallion so much as a curmudgeon getting his morning nap interrupted.
What do you think of Beatles for Sale or any of its songs? Share your thoughts with us in the “Comments” section below. Up next: The soundtrack (songtrack?) to the movie Help!