Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Album by Album Analysis of The Beatles Catalog: Beatlemania

Awhile back Bloggerhythms posted capsule reviews of all of the Chicago albums from the Terry Kath era and it turned out to be one of the more enjoyable ventures I’ve ever undertaken for this blog. So today, I’m going to begin the same project for my all time favorite artists, The Beatles. The albums under scrutiny will be the original British versions, because that is the way the group conceived them, and not the ripped up and reconfigured American releases they detested. This series of posts will include all of The Beatles’ official main albums, the two Past Masters sets, Live at the BBC, and the trio of anthologies, everything the Fab Four officially released. Because of the extensive diversity in their catalog the series will be broken into several categories. Today we’ll begin with the very early years that I dubbed Beatlemania 1. Soon to follow will be Beatlemania 2, The Psychedelic Era, The Later Beatles, and After The Beatles. Criticisms of these LPs should be taken only within the context of other Beatles records because, as the All Music Guide wrote, "a substandard Beatles record is better than almost any other group's best work."


Please Please Me (1963)
For those of you who want to know what the Fab Four sounded like back in their days playing in Hamburg and at Liverpool's Cavern Club this fourteen song set is easily the best example. The album contains eight originals and six cover versions that were part of their standard repertoire at the time. The record's arrangements are thin, the lyrics are simple, and the musicianship is just adequate. George Harrison, in particular, had not yet reached the pinnacle of his capabilities as a lead axeman. Producer George Martin had not yet begun to double track the lead vocals, there are no keyboards, and the only colorful flourishes occur with John Lennon’s harmonica. The LP is a formative work in every way so it does not show what these pop geniuses would become in the very near future. That said, why is this one of my favorite early Beatles albums? The answer is easy. Please Please Me has energy, it’s fun, and, even at this early date, the band’s original compositions were truly melodic and very, very, catchy. The title track (their second single and first #1) shows off the three part harmonies Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Harrison excelled at. "I Saw Her Standing There" is still a crowd pleasing concert closer for McCartney and all during their years of touring their cover version of "Twist and Shout" often ended the quartet’s shows. Other highlights include "P. S. I Love You," "Misery," "Chains," and "Baby, It’s You." "Love Me Do," their first single, was released the previous November and went to # 17 on the British charts.

With The Beatles (1963)
Issued as Meet The Beatles in America (with a very similar cover) this album was the first one to feature their classic,  early Beatles sound. The highlight is McCartney’s gem, "All My Loving." The set rocks more and is louder than Please Please Me but for the most part it lacks the classics most of their other LPs possess. The shorter, American version of the album is the better of the two because it contains both sides of their first American hit "I Want To Hold Your Hand," and "I Saw Her Standing There." This record also offers three of their best covers, "Roll Over Beethoven," "Please Mr. Postman," and "Til There Was You." Harrison, who wouldn’t jell into a significant force as a composer until Rubber Soul, presents his first self-penned song, "Don’t Bother Me."

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
This is the quartet’s early period masterpiece and is among the better records in their entire catalog. This thirteen song platter is the first one to be entirely self-written by Lennon and McCartney. The album contains all of the songs from their highly regarded first film and a whole host of other gems. While the sound is very similar to the one they employed on With The Beatles the duo’s songwriting has improved leaps and bounds. Classic songs are everywhere. The title track, with Harrison’s famous opening chord, is one of their trademarks. McCartney’s "Things We Said Today," and his partner’s "I Should Have Known Better," are both highlights. Lennon offers their loudest vocals to date on "Tell Me Why," and Ringo Starr’s cowbell punctuates "You Can’t Do That." Two of their best loved early ballads add some variety to the mostly raucous (for the time period, anyway) proceedings. Lennon’s "If I Fell" and McCartney’s "And I Love Her" had the girls swooning. This is the album to play if an alien spaceship touched down on Carnaby St. in 1964 and asked you what The Beatles were all about.

Beatles For Sale (1964)
The band's fourth full length release was a step backward as they returned to their formula of eight original songs with six cover versions. It’s always been assumed that the guys were too busy recording, touring, and filming movies to create another album of all originals so quickly. The covers are highlighted by McCartney’s shouting vocal of "Kansas City/ Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey." Their own songs included one of my favorites, "Eight Days a Week," and its absolutely wonderful and underrated flip side, "I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party." Lennon’s introspective "I’m A Loser," and another super McCartney ballad, "I’ll Follow The Sun," are worthy, as is a song that almost became a single, "No Reply."  Beatles For Sale is a good batch of songs. It just pales in comparison to its outstanding predecessor.

Past Masters, Volume 1 (1994)
These eighteen songs culled from EPs, hit singles, and B-sides issued from 1963 to 1965 were compiled together on one CD a whole generation later because none of them appeared on any of the British albums already discussed here. Don’t think for a minute that this set is just a bunch of inferior throwaways. The only reason many of these previously released hits never appeared on any of their original LPs is because The Beatles believed that forcing the public to buy the same songs twice was a ripoff. Some of their most famous tunes of the era are included. "I Want To Hold Your Hand," "She Loves You," "From Me To You," "I Feel Fine," and "She’s A Woman," are among them. Chuck Berry’s "Long Tall Sally," and originals "I Call Your Name," "I’m Down," "I’ll Get You," and "Thank You Girl" are all here. Two more songs featuring those great three part harmonies, "This Boy" and the little known "Yes It Is" are among the highlights.

COMING SOON: Beatlemania 2 (1965 – 1966), featuring Help!, Rubber Soul, and Revolver. The Beatles prove that they are true artists while continuing to tour.

4 comments:

  1. I've heard some of the mono versions of these and the sound is a bit fuller and better than the later studio versions (with the possible exception of last year's remasters).

    Considering the Beatles albums up to Sgt. Peppers were originally recorded in mono there's something to be said for hearing them in their original form.

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  2. "...and all during their years of touring, their cover version of "Twist and Shout" often ended the quartet’s shows." Actually, by 1964 they typically opened their shows with Twist and Shout in an abbreviated "call to arms" sort of way. By 1966, they opened their shows with "Rock and Roll Music".

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  3. I've always felt that 'Hard Days Night' is a bit of a forgotten gem - it is one of my top three Beatles LPs. It straddles the line between the genuinely innovative songwriting of the future Beatles and the tight exciting dance band of their formative years. All material is home-grown and what quality! A truly fab album.

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  4. I agree, withour reservation, with the comment from All-Music Guide. It reminds me of what one of the Rolling Stone record guides said: Not liking the Beatles is as perverse as not liking the sun.

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