Beatles For Sale wouldn’t be many people’s choice of favourite Beatles album, but it’s by far my favourite Beatles album cover. You can marvel at the druggy, warped close-up that heralds Rubber Soul, and Klaus Voormann’s pen and ink collage on the front of Revolver, and it’s hard not to appreciate the vision behind Peter Blake’s Sgt Pepper concept, but no album cover then or since probably froze the zeitgeist of a precise moment in time quite like the Robert Freeman shot for Beatles For Sale. Taken in London’s late Autumn Hyde Park, it cryogenically captures the band in the clothes they turned up in, battered, brusied and bloodied by Beatlemania, baggy-eyed and bored of it all, desperate for their beds and a bit of peace and quiet. Great hair though.
Beatles For Sale was the 4th Beatles album in 21 months. That’s four LPs. In less than two years. Coming hot on the heels of the phenomenal A Hard Day’s Night LP (their first to feature all-original material), Beatles For Sale represented something of a dip in quality for the band. And, as outlined above and below, no wonder why…
In late 1964, Beatles found themsleves in the unenviable position of requiring material to release in time for the lucrative Christmas market. EMI suddenly owned the biggest, fattest cash cow of them all and, what with this pop music lark being a short-lived affair and whatnot, were keen to milk it for all it was worth. Recording started only one month after A Hard Day’s Night was released and many of the songs were written in the studio and recorded there and then during any free days between shows. All associated with The Beatles (including the band themselves) knew they were being somewhat exploited.
George Martin: “They were rather war-weary during Beatles for Sale. One must remember that they’d been battered like mad throughout ’64, and much of ’63. Success is a wonderful thing, but it is very, very tiring.”
Paul McCartney: “We would normally be rung a couple of weeks before the recording session and they’d say, ‘We’re recording in a month’s time and you’ve got a week off before the recordings to write some stuff.“
Neil Aspinall: “No band today would come off a long US tour at the end of September, go into the studio and start a new album, still writing songs, and then go on a UK tour, finish the album in five weeks, still touring, and have the album out in time for Christmas. But that’s what the Beatles did at the end of 1964. A lot of it was down to naivety, thinking that this was the way things were done. If the record company needs another album, you go and make one.“
And to think Prince had the cheek to scrawl ‘Slave‘ on his face in protest at how Warner Music treated him.
Stuck for material, the band resorted to Cavern Club cover versions of yore. Indeed, almost half the LP (6 out of 14 songs) is made up of twanging country rockers and raucous rockabilly re-hashes. Not bad, all the same, just not the great leap forward you might’ve expected following A Hard Day’s Night. Of the original material, Lennon is in full-on Dylan mode (he met him around the same time in New York), harmonica wheezing like an asthmatic tramp, acoustic guitar high in the mix, and McCartney treads water slightly, looking for the inspiration to guide him towards Help and Rubber Soul. In the UK, no singles were taken from the LP, although I Feel Fine (written when Lennon riffed along to a playback of Eight Days A Week) and She’s A Woman, recorded at the same Beatles For Sale sessions were released on the one single, which duly rocketed to the toppermost of the poppermost just before Christmas. Despite the mood surrounding The Beatles at this time, I Feel Fine remains a defiant high point of early-mid period Fabness.
Ever since I heard it (and bought it) on that terrible, none-more-eighties Stars On 45 single, I’ve always had a something of a soft spot for No Reply. Maybe it’s because it reminds of BB discos when, loaded up on Kwenchy Kups and cheap maize-based crisps, I’d slide across the church hall floor from one end to the other while the ‘DJ’ played all 15 minutes of the terrible non-stop pumping Beatles karaoke just to annoy all of us who wanted Baggy Trousers and Stand & Deliver.
Contrast and Compare:
No Reply (Mono)
No Reply (Stereo)
Anyway. No Reply. As done by The Beatles. I like how Lennon starts it straight away, before breaking into the hysterical “I nearly died!” section. And I like McCartney’s bridge, with its rush of handclaps and Little Richardisms in the backing vocals. Over and done with in little over 2 minutes, it’s a muted melancholy masterpiece.
Elliott Smith I’ll Be Back
Here‘s Elliott Smith‘s terrific version of A Hard Day’s Night‘s I’ll Be Back, all double-tracked vocals and sparkling electric guitar. Nice nod to John, Paul, George and Ringo at the end. Super-rare, I’ve featured it before. But it’s worth giving it the space again. And for entirely different reasons, a great cover too.
Och, go on then…
(Stars on 45, all 15 minutes of it. Download available only on request. You don’t need it.)
Not such a great cover.