Monday, 23 December 2019

The Beatles - The Early Years (1962-1965)



The albums covered here are:-

Please Please Me (1963)
Meet The Beatles (1963)
A Hard Day's Night (1964)
Beatles For Sale (1964)
Help! (1965)
and The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl (1965)

Scroll down to read the reviews chronologically.

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PLEASE PLEASE ME (1963)

1. I Saw Her Standing There
2. Misery
3. Anna (Go To Him)
4. Chains
5. Boys
6. Ask Me Why
7. Please Please Me
8. Love Me Do
9. PS I Love You
10. Baby It's You
11. Do You Want To Know A Secret
12. A Taste Of Honey
13. There's A Place
14. Twist And Shout                  
                 
This was it, then, The Beatles' very first album, and, while very much of its time, there is still some superb stuff on it. Take I Saw Her Standing There. What and opening to a career, with its rocking McCartney vocal and solid bass line. Then there is the wonderful Please Please Me, with McCartney and Lennon in perfect harmony and that iconic harmonica riff. There are six cover versions alongside the Lennon-McCartney originals but that was pretty par for the course in 1963.

Misery is a lively, rock 'n' roll upbeat ballad, while Anna (Go To Him) has John Lennon on lead for the first time on album, expressing his soon to be familiar relationship problems. Chains has George Harrison on lead vocals on Goffin/King's country-ish rocker. For something from 1963, the sound quality on this is impressive. Even on this first album, there was a "Ringo song" and he takes vocal duties on the quirky rock 'n' roll of Boys. It still has a naive appeal to it. Ask Me Why is a melodic, lovelorn song from the already melancholic Lennon. It has a catchy but sad refrain. He was setting his stall out early on this type of song.

  

Love Me Do was, of course, the group's big breakthrough hit single. I have actually never been a big fan of it, to be honest, finding it lyrically banal, but I have to give credit to the harmonica intro. McCartney's PS I Love You is very much early sixties fare, similar to the sort of stuff Elvis was putting out at the same time. Their cover of The Shirelles' Baby It's You is very fetching with a convincing Buddy Holly-esque vocal from Lennon. Do You Want To Know A Secret is sung by Harrison and was a hit for Billy J. Kramer & Dakotas. It has a sublime, deep, warm bass line.



A Taste Of Honey, I have to say, sounds extremely dated now. It has an atmosphere to it though. The harmonica introduces the energetic, enthusiastic There's A Place. As appealing as it is, it all sounds so very long ago now. The album ends with Lennon's throaty, suffering from a heavy cold, vocal on the infectious Twist And Shout when The Beatles make The Top Notes/The Isley Brothers' song their own.

As with all the early Beatles albums, the 2009 stereo remasters are great but you simply can't beat the speaker-shaking thump of the mono version. Just check out that bass on I Saw Her Standing There in mono.

 

Above are Harrison, Lennon and McCartney in Hamburg in 1961 (left) and the statues that now stand on Hamburg's Beatles-Platz (right).

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WITH THE BEATLES (1963)

1. It Won't Be Long
2. All I've Got To Do
3. All My Loving
4. Don't Bother Me
5. Little Child
6. Till There Was You
7. Please Mr. Postman
8. Roll Over Beethoven
9. Hold Me Tight
10. You Really Got A Hold On Me
11. I Wanna Be Your Man
12. Devil In Her Heart
13. Not A Second Time
14. Money                                                    

Five cover versions in its fourteen tracks, this is an album of covers and short love songs, but its cultural effect was greater than the sum of its parts. For me, like Beatles For Sale it seems very much a Lennon album. He dominates the whole thing, let's be honest.

The first two songs are classic Lennon early sixties rockers - It Won't Be Long is excellent and All I've Got To Do not far behind. The sound is superb on both of them, either in stereo or mono. It is a McCartney song, however, that really gives you that typically Beatles sound, the irresistible, evocative All My Loving.

Don't Bother Me is one of those melancholic Harrison songs that sounds like a Lennon song, both lyrically and vocally. Little Child is rousing and harmonica-driven, with Lennon and McCartney sharing vocals. It has a huge bass sound on it too. Very typical early Beatles energetic, lively rock 'n' roll. Till There Was You is a cover of a country love song, sung by McCartney. Lennon takes vocals on The Marvelettes' Please Mr. Postman. They cope with this early Motown song pretty well. It is one of their more convincing, solid covers.

  

I still believe the guitar at the beginning of Chuck Berry's Roll Over Beethoven is messed up, although the rest of it rocks, big time, with a resonant bass line and a surprisingly good rock vocal from Harrison. Hold Me Tight is a McCartney sung Buddy Holly-esque number. Smokey Robinson's You Really Got A Hold On Me is given a harmonious vocal treatment from Lennon and McCartney. The song suits them. Lennon is particularly impressive. Neither is Robinson, of course, but it sounds ok. Ringo Starr takes vocals for the first time on I Wanna Be Your Man, famously also covered by the Rolling Stones. As one who always preferred The Stones to The Beatles, I have to give credit to the lively punch of this one, after all it was The Beatles' song, anyway.


The country number, Devil In Her Heart is very much of its time. It sounds pretty dated now, but still has an entrancing, innocent appeal to it. Not A Second Time has a huge bass thud to it, a great sound quality and a similarly impressive Lennon vocal. The cover of Barrett Strong's Money also has Lennon raspingly rocking it up. It is not up to the original, but again, it is more than acceptable. Starr comes into his own on here, though.

The 2009 stereo remaster is one of the best stereo remasters of the early recordings, but the mono's delicious power simply cannot be beaten.

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A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (1964)

1. A Hard Day's Night
2. I Should Have Known Better
3. If I Fell
4. I'm Happy Just To Dance With You
5. And I Love Her
6. Tell Me Why
7. Can't Buy Me Love
8. Any Time At All
9. I'll Cry Instead
10. Things We Said Today
11. When I Get Home
12. You Can't Do That
13. I'll Be Back         

The Beatles started to leave behind their rock 'n' roll and Motown covers for this soundtrack album to their first appealingly madcap romp of a film. Side one are all songs from the film and the second side were songs written for the film but not used. The emphasis is on pop pretty much all the way. It is an innocent, gently appealing album.
                                            
The first two are corkers - the now iconic A Hard Day's Night named after a throwaway comment from Ringo Starr and the rousing rock of John Lennon's vocal on I Should Have Known Better. I am sure there is a missed note on the harmonica at the beginning though. In fact, looking it up, apparently the stereo version does indeed have a brief "drop out". It doesn't occur at all on the mono.

If I Fell is an enchanting low key love ballad, while I'm Happy Just To Dance With You is very mid-sixties "easy listening" but it has a superb, rich, bassy sound and a captivating rhythm. George Harrison is on vocals on this one.

  

And I Love Her is beautiful. One of Paul McCartney's best early love songs (Just where did Ringo get those tom-toms? Don't ask :). Tell Me Why sees that soon to be familiar Lennon cynicism about lying within love beginning to make itself known, as it would much more on "Beatles For Sale" later in 1964. It suffers a bit from a murky, muffled mix, particularly on the stereo version. The mono version is probably the best way to listen this track, although it still has limitations. Can't Buy Me Love, of course, is now a world-famous classic. No need for any further comment from me, is there? Apart from to praise the bass line.


Any Time At All has a jangling guitar sound soon to be adopted by The Byrds. Songs like this are admittedly just pretty innocent love ditties, but the influence of their full-on guitar attack, at the time, was huge.

I'll Cry Instead is an upbeat country-ish rocker from Lennon with yet another throbbing, melodic bass line. McCartney's Things We Said Today has always been, for me, the best song on the album. It is catchy but also melancholic and broody, despite its lively refrain. After each chorus bit, however, the music gets downbeat again, most atmospherically.

When I Get Home is a very typical rock-ish Lennon number from the time, similar to his Beatles For Sale material. You Can't Do That sees Lennon in a similar musical groove and some mildly threatening lyrical content, as he gets a bit jealous of his girl's potential wandering. It is one of the album's most muscular rockers. I'll Be Back is a harmonious but once again slightly sad love song.

This is a pleasant, inoffensive album, but beneath the tuneful geniality there are several notes of mournful sadness. These would come to be expressed increasingly over the next few albums, particularly by Lennon.

Although this album was mixed in stereo and remastered thus in 2009, this is one of those where I definitely prefer the mono (which is actually the case for all the early ones). The bassy thump of the mono version is awesome.



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BEATLES FOR SALE (1964)

1. No Reply
2. I'm A Loser
3. Baby's In Black
4. Rock 'n' Roll Music
5. I'll Follow The Sun
6. Mr. Moonlight
7. Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey
8. Eight Days A Week
9. Words Of Love
10. Honey Don't
11. Every Little Thing
12. I Don't Want To Spoil The Party
13. What You're Doing
14. Everybody Trying To Be My Baby         

The often ignored and underrated album in The Beatles canon makes it all the more interesting to listen to as opposed to listening to Sgt Pepper again. In many ways it is a John Lennon album more than it is that of any of the others, particularly in its three opening tracks. Lennon's cynical approach to love and romance is becoming notably clear. The music has many country-ish rhythms and it is often described as The Beatles' "country album", although it contained a few rock'n'roll covers too. It was also supposed to herald the first signs of Lennon's "Dylan influence", although I think using a harmonica on a song is stretching the point a bit.

Overall, though, it displays some mature pop songs, some lyrical cynicism, some acceptable covers and hints at a clear change in direction, attitude and ambience from the unbridled fun of 1963. It is a far more credible album than those that went before but it has to be said that it is still just a thirty minute collection of two minute 60s pop/country rock/rock n roll songs.

I own both the mono and stereo remasterings and have to say I prefer the stereo. The sound quality in general is excellent. Listen to the drums and acoustic guitar on Every Little Thing - clear, sharp and full simultaneously. Ditto the guitar and percussion on What You're Doing. You can't beat these latest stereo remasters, in my opinion.

        

With No Reply, the album begins with Lennon in resentful mood against his girl, against a country style largely acoustic backing and some powerful drums from Ringo Starr. A somewhat low key, downbeat introduction to the album, given that contemporary trends often saw an upbeat toe-tapper opening things. However, for me, it is a highly credible rock song.

In I'm A Loser, Lennon injects a little self-loathing into matters. Pure teenage love songs like She Loves You and I Wanna Hold Your Hand seem a long time ago now. Some critics have suggested that this is a Bob Dylan-influenced song. It maybe so, but personally I don't really see it. It contains some vibrant percussion from Starr and some harmonica too (hence the "Dylan period" claims, I guess), plus some rocking guitar too. For me this is all far too fast-paced and country "poppy" for Dylan. He was still in his slow acoustic poetic protest phase. This is a country-tinged rail about the singer's problems in love. Not really the same thing.

 Baby's In Black completes this intriguing opening trilogy - it gets even darker, albeit against a singalong country-ish air, "oh dear what can I do...". The lyrical content is certainly more moribund than it ever had been before. Certainly Dylan had showed that "pop" music need not always be about happy young people in love, although even Frank Sinatra had shown that in his "torch song" period. In many ways Lennon was building on that, and on the somewhat downbeat nature of the second half of the Hard Day's Night album, such as The Things We Said Today,  reflecting the disillusion with relationships that seemed to increase as one matured.

The mood gets lifted with this rollicking, upbeat cover of Chuck Berry's Rock 'n' Roll Music.  Lennon on vocals for the fourth track in a row. It is most enjoyable, possibly more upbeat and attacking than Berry's slightly slow-paced, unusually lazy original. Lennon just sounds as if he is really enjoying himself.


Finally, McCartney appears in I'll Follow The Sun - a short, pleasant ditty with its Buddy Holly-style guitar part. Apparently it dates from the group's 1960 Hamburg period. In many ways it sounds like it too. It sorts of sits uneasily with the more mature approach of the earlier material on the album.

In Mr. Moonlight Lennon is back on throaty vocals for another cover of an old country song. The guitar riff, in one part, was surely used by Blondie on 1978's I'm Only Touched By Your Presence Dear. A thumping bass drum from Harrison, for a change. All seems a bit of studio messing around, to be honest. This and the previous track are the two "fillers" on what is, otherwise, an interesting album.

Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey sees McCartney on vocals for this very credible and enjoyable rock'n'roll double cover. The band are energetic on this one, and sound as if they're having a great time. This cover works and brings the album back on track. Eight Days A Week is probably the only accepted, recognisable Beatles classic on the album. John Lennon on lead vocal in a song that has a great guitar riff and a quintessential 60s guitar pop sound. It is mid-60s Beatles to a tee.

Paul McCartney always loved Buddy Holly's music and this version of Words Of Love is one of The Beatles' finest covers, up there with the original. George Harrison absolutely nails the guitar part. I really like this, just lifts the spirits every time you hear it. Lovely bass from McCartney as well. A similar, cheering effect is achieved by Ringo's vocal take on Honey Don't, a Carl Perkins slice of country rock'n'roll. Starr's vocal delivery is fetching as to are his exhortations to Harrison to "rock on George, one time for Ringo". Some have said this is a rather tired effort, again, personally, I disagree. I think it's great.


Now it is time for a few original Lennon/McCartney songs, and Every Little Thing is a good one, with a convincing Lennon vocal that is clearly far more positive and optimistic about his girl than the first three tracks on the album. I like the booming bass drum punch from Starr too.

I Don't Want To Spoil The Party is a Lennon/McCartney song but it is the obviously country & western-influenced song on the album, so much so that one almost expects to find out that it was a cover. Melodic, jaunty and enjoyable. Pretty light though.

In What You're Doing, Starr's excellent rumbling drum intro brings in this upbeat McCartney vocal with a Byrds/Searchers-style jangly guitar riff. Classic 60s guitar-driven pop in many ways. Nice bass sound and good production all round. A quirky little drum and bass guitar interplay at the end.

The album closes with Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby with George Harrison on lead vocal for this fast-paced rockabilly rush through another Carl Perkins song. This is a pretty credible cover, but by now, other songs on the album have made you think that The Beatles could, and should, have done better than this.

Of course, they were soon to do just that. That Cavern Club early/mid sixties period ended, right now, with just a brief sidestep for Help!.



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HELP! (1965)

1. Help!
2. The Night Before
3. You've Got To Hide Your Love Away
4. I Need You
5. Another Girl
6. You're Going To Lose That Girl
7. Ticket To Ride
8. Act Naturally
9. It's Only Love
10. You Like Me Too Much
11. Tell Me What You See
12. I've Just Seen A Face
13. Yesterday
14. Dizzy Miss Lizzy           

This album largely existed to serve as a "soundtrack" for the film of the same name. It was expanded to include both some new non soundtrack songs and a couple of cover versions thrown in for good measure. After the diversification of the end of the previous year's Beatles For Sale, where John Lennon's questioning, often cynical approach to relationships was given free reign there would have seemed to have been a conscious effort to "lighten things up" a little, mainly to suit the happy-go-lucky ambience of the film. The country rock vibes that were very present on Beatles For Sale are still there. Indeed, it would take until 1966's Revolver to see the demise of those completely.
                              
The lead off huge hit, in Help!, is a great start, Lennon laying himself bare, but in a very singalong, impossibly catchy way, so much so that any real cry for help is lost beneath the appeal of the upbeat tune. Lennon later claimed, expressing personal regret, that the song was changed due to "commercial pressure" from a morose piano ballad to the "fun" song that suited the film.

  

 The Night Before is a mid-paced country based rocker with a throaty McCartney vocal, all very nice and steady with good sounding percussion and some nice guitar right at the end. The old "Dylan influence" chestnut rears its head again in Lennon's sensitive You've Got To Hide Your Love Away. Some acoustic guitars, lyrical sharpness and a starkness of delivery do not a Dylan make. Dylan, as it happens, was, around this time, recording his electric stream of consciousness in Subterranean Homesick Blues while The Beatles were going all acoustic in the manner of Dylan's earlier albums, (supposedly).

Harrison's I Need You was an appealing, but by now characteristically downbeat tune,  almost laconic in its vocal delivery. It contains an intriguing guitar sound just behind the vocal refrain. Another Girl is a lively love song largely written and sung by McCartney. It features some good rocking guitar in parts. You're Going To Lose That Girl is a very 1950s rock n roll type ballad featuring Lennon's melodic yet at times vituperative vocal. Ringo Starr's madcap bongos on this track are utterly incongruous and irritating.

The jangly, instantly recognisable strains of the marvellous hit single Ticket To Ride need no introduction. It has been said by several writers over the years that this was recorded around the time The Beatles first dabbled in LSD. If true, the drug did a good job. The song is perfectly created and performed, possibly the high point of their career so far. The guitar sound on here would continue with successful songs like Nowhere Man and Paperback Writer.

The rockabilly style cover of Act Naturally, an old country and western hit, suited Ringo Starr's deadpan vocal delivery and his ordinary but loveable persona perfectly, particularly as shown in the films. Indeed, it almost could have been written for him (obviously it was not).

It's Only Love was lyrically shallow but melodically catchy, Lennon apparently hated it. Harrison's You Like Me Too Much sounds like something from the She Loves You days. Very early 60s pop, innocent and twee but featuring a nice piano break. Tell Me What You See is another disposable, early 60s style pop number featuring McCartney on vocal. McCartney had not really contributed much to Help!. It had largely been Lennon and, to a lesser extent, Harrison. The country-ish, jolly, folky romp that was I've Just Seen A Face betrayed a few "problems in love" lyrics, but it was not a very convincing attempt to get back "with the project", to be honest.


Then, of course, however, there is McCartney's seismic redemption with his solo recording (with orchestration) of the most covered song in history - Yesterday. It featured classical music instrumentation for the first real time, something that would be utilised considerably by George Martin and McCartney on songs like Eleanor Rigby and She's Leaving Home.

The album ends of a lazy, irrelevant low point in a muffled cover of Larry Williams' Dizzy Miss Lizzy which seems to suffer from awful sound problems. No need for this to have featured at all. It would be their last cover version.

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LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL (1965)

1. Twist And Shout
2. She's A Woman
3. Dizzy Miss Lizzy
4. Ticket To Ride
5. Can't Buy Me Love
6. The Things We Said Today
7. Roll Over Beethoven
8. Boys
9. A Hard Day's Night
10. Help!
11. All My Loving
12. She Loves You
13. Long Tall Sally
14. You Can't Do That
15. I Want To Hold Your Hand
16. Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby
17. Baby's In Black    

This material has been knocking around for many a year, but this releases it "cleaned up" and remastered to what is probably the best it is ever going to sound. Yes the incessant screaming is omnipresent and something of an irritation but one just learns to listen beneath it, so to speak, and concentrate on the music. Anyway, that's what The Beatles live in concert was like in 1964-1965. The Rolling Stones live material from that period is similarly blighted.

                                     
The "set list" compromises two minute rock n roll standard covers and some of The Beatles somewhat twee "pop" songs like She Loves You and I Wanna Hold Your Hand. To think that Bob Dylan was on the way to performing material like Subterranean Homesick BluesDesolation Row and Like A Rolling Stone by 1965 is a reality check. That said, this is an extremely interesting and enjoyable listen. It is great to hear The Beatles functioning as a gigging band and interacting with the audience. Why, John Lennon even sounds quite nervous when he announces, haltingly, "this is off our latest album...err..LP...". It is as if he is hoping a few more people will go out and buy a few more. Maybe he actually was. Several "intro" mistakes can be picked up on too which makes one think "if only they carried on gigging, how good they may have become".

The collection begins with an abridged Twist And Shout (I wish it had been a bit longer). Great to hear the lesser-known She's A Woman given an outing and also one of my favourites, the wonderful The Things We Said Today. The vocal interplay is superb on this and as for Ringo, well, I will talk in more depth about him later. Lennon's attack on Dizzy Miss Lizzy is invigorating and Ticket To Ride and Can't Buy Me Love are reproduced in energetic, almost perfect fashion. It is good to hear Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby and Baby's In Black too. Love those not so popular tracks.

For me, and I think for many others, the standout performance on this album is that of the often unfairly-maligned Ringo Starr. His water tight, innovative drum work carries the whole collection. Why, at times it feels as if it is HIS band. His is the dominant sound that hits you when you hear this. I had forgotten just how good he was on this until I listened to it again recently. Fashionable to say he was a bad drummer. I'm no drum expert but he sure sounds good to me. Listen to him drive Roll Over Beethoven like a steam hammer. Ditto Long Tall Sally. Of course, he also sings Boys while drumming superbly too. A highlight for me. He sounds as if he is completely loving it. Yes, I'll admit it, Ringo has always been my favourite Beatle.

McCartney's bass sounds wonderful too, particularly on Boys.

The Beatles would never sound like this again. They certainly didn't want to do stuff like this anymore. Never would they romp through a batch of two minute "fun" songs. Weirdness and experimentation was just around the corner. Just as with The Beach Boys, the earlier stuff was just such fun. Despite its minor faults, this is an enjoyable 40 minute or so's listen.

Finally, does John Lennon try to introduce A Hard Day's Night in A Scottish accent?

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