Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Art of the Album: Beatles For Sale

Beatles_For_Sale What You Need to Know: In my write-ups about The Beatles’ first three albums, I always made note of their energy – I did that so I could specifically note the tiredness of Beatles For Sale.

This was the band’s fourth album in less than two years, which would be notable enough without the feature film and the constant touring that also marked this era. As a result, the band looks exhausted (pictured right) and was strapped for material – the covers are back on Beatles For Sale, and after the all-original A Hard Day’s Night that’s not a good thing.

The Songs You’ve Heard: “Eight Days a Week” is this album’s lone single, and of course you’ve heard it. Notably, it fades in instead of fading out, which was uncommon at the time – this (and the feedback noise in recent single “I Feel Fine”) are small but significant steps toward the studio experimentation in which the band would soon immerse itself.

The album’s opening trifecta - “No Reply,” “I’m a Loser,” and “Baby’s In Black” – were never singles, but are significant enough as album tracks that you may be familiar with them. Primarily written by John Lennon, they are (in retrospect) upheld as examples of a more folky, introspective style of songwriting, the product of Bob Dylan’s influence on the group. Rock and folk would continue to meld on Help! and Rubber Soul.

The Songs You Haven’t: You probably haven’t heard many of the covers from this album, and with good reason – the ones that aren’t weary-sounding and uninspired (“Rock and Roll Music,” “Honey Don’t”) or downright bad (“Mr. Moonlight”) are so close to the original versions that they border on pointless (“Words of Love,” “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby”). That sounds harsh – they are by no means unlistenable – but they don’t hold a candle to the Lennon/McCartney songs on the album.

As for those, “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” is similar in timbre to the three songs that open the album, and I’ve always have a soft spot for Paul’s “I’ll Follow the Sun,” a ballad much less syrupy than “A Taste of Honey” or “Till There Was You.” I’m not quite as fond of “Every Little Thing,” but it has some neat rhythms going on, and features Ringo on timpani – more subtle evidence of a desire to make new sounds.

Why I Like It: It’s hard not to see Beatles For Sale as something of a step backward after the exuberant A Hard Day’s Night, especially in its return to the 8-originals-and-6-covers formula from Please Please Me and With The Beatles.

Those covers mostly weigh this album down, but the original songs are still strong, and they’re different in tone from anything they had recorded up to that point. No longer content to hold girls’ hands or see girls standing there, “I” and “me” become more prominent on this album than the previously ubiquitous “you” and “she.” The band doesn’t abandon the boy-girl love song it will on Rubber Soul and Revolver, but “No Reply,” “I’m a Loser” and “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” are more autobiographical in lyric and mature in tone – two avenues The Beatles would continue to explore on their next albums.

Desert Island Tracks: “No Reply,” “I’m a Loser,” “Baby’s In Black