Assessing The Beatles’ 2009 Studio Remasters (Part Four)

Dylan.  In one meeting, he changed everything.  He brought weed into their lives and stressed the importance of lyrics.  They inspired him to go electric.  Neither party would be the same again.
When The Beatles met him in a New York hotel on August 28, 1964, following a summer tour of America, they were still very much in their bubblegum phase.  The immediate consequences of this private encounter would be felt on Beatles For Sale, the band’s fourth British studio release.  Running a mere 33 minutes and 47 seconds it was the last to follow the eight originals/six covers formula (seven, if you count the medley at the end of side one) established a year earlier with their debut, Please Please Me.
No Reply features one of the prettiest melodies John Lennon and Paul McCartney ever devised together.  But if you pay close attention to the lyrics, it’s quite a creepy number.  A discarded lover is trying to get some answers about his girl.  He once again goes to her house to track her down.  Her parents say she’s not there.  He catches her looking out the window, though.  Interesting.  He tries calling.  Again, he’s told she’s not home.  He’s not buying it.  (“That’s a lie.”)  Totally fed up, he resorts to stalking her which leads to a startling discovery.  She’s moved on with another man.  The intense middle eight section is basically his last attempt to win her back.  But he never does.  What a way to start an album.
I’m A Loser comes next.  Like It Won’t Be Long from With The Beatles, there are no repeated verses.  Lennon’s lyricism has grown a bit more sophisticated as he warns listeners not to screw up their relationships like he did.  Coming right after No Reply, it feels like a continuation of that song’s storyline (minus the other man).  Rather than anger and a fierce determination to return things to their normal state of being, Lennon sounds resigned, depressed, philosophical, even.  At one point, he even questions the real reason for his sadness (“Is it for her or myself that I cry?”).  The country-western arrangement is most appropriate.
Baby’s In Black is about a guy worried about his woman and with good reason.  She can’t get past her ex, hence her dark fashion sense.  More pretty singing from Lennon and McCartney as they harmonize their way through the 6/8 time signature.  The middle eight section (sung twice) is the strongest of the piece.  I’ll Follow The Sun might be the sweetest sounding break-up song of all time, thanks to McCartney’s typically warm vocals.  Like all good break-ups, it’s over quickly and painlessly.  Eight Days A Week wouldn’t have been out of place on any of the previous records, minus its unusual fade-in opening.  That aside, it’s the most traditional Beatle track on the album, lyrically speaking.  Despite its simplicity and lack of originality (cool title, aside), like the vast majority of their songs, you’ll end up singing along anyway.  Resistance is futile.  Every Little Thing is another one that covers similiar terrain (in this case, not taking the joy of monogamous love for granted) but is so well-crafted it’s hard not to admire the finished result.
In between these originals are several engaging covers.  John Lennon vocally hammers Chuck Berry’s Rock And Roll Music without destroying his vocal cords.  Words Of Love is not one of the best Buddy Holly songs but The Beatles offer a fine rendition.  The seriously underrated Mr. Moonlight, originally performed by Dr. Feelgood And The Interns, features some of the prettiest harmonies the band ever committed to tape.  Love the old-timey organ solo, too.  Little Willie Littlefield’s Kansas City (a Lieber and Stoller composition) is seamlessly paired with Little Richard’s Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! and allows Paul McCartney a welcome opportunity to let loose on these old 50s numbers, a talent that he doesn’t always get credit for possessing.
The other two covers are Carl Perkins songs.  Honey Don’t features one of Ringo Starr’s best vocal performances on a Beatles album.  Yet another Beatles For Sale track with a country-inflected arrangement, Ringo plays the part of a concerned boyfriend worried about the fidelity of his gal very well.  I like how he cues George’s solos, too.  Even better is Harrison’s spooky take on Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby, a most appropriate selection.  As his voice echoes during the choruses, Harrison sings about the parade of women who hound him at every turn.  The performance gives you the impression that the character in the song feels like he’s in the greatest dream ever.  He doesn’t sound the least bit annoyed by his good fortune.  It’s a good way to end the album.
Just before it appears, though, a couple more Lennon/McCartney cuts can be heard.  I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party spins a tale about a guy looking in vain for his ex at a social function.  Despite sticking around for “a drink or two”, he’s more interested in reconciling so he leaves early in a desperate bid to find her.  He never does.  Like a lot of Beatle tracks about clueless men wondering how they lost the loves of their lives, Lennon ably handles the vocals here.  The arrangement is good, too.  What You’re Doing is distinguished by Harrison’s twangy 12-string Rickenbacker and the overemphasized first words of the first two lines of every verse.  Lyrically, McCartney is perplexed by the actions of his love interest but despite crying over her unidentified transgressions, he still pines for her (“Should you need a love that’s true, it’s me”).  Yet another catchy number but what else is new?
Sound-wise, Beatles For Sale is terrific.  There’s no real reason to complain about the remastering process.  Everything you want to hear you can hear clearly.  (Then again, I liked what I heard on the earlier CD but what do I know?)  Unfortunately, the enhanced portion is a huge disappointment.  Early pressings contain a 3-minute mini documentary about the making of the album which can only be accessed on your computer.  (You need at least Windows 2000 and QuickTime to check it out.  Consult the back cover for more details.)  There are numerous glitches that detract from your viewing pleasure.  The picture occasionally freezes, the audio and the video are out of sync, but most importantly, it sounds horrible.  It’s hard to describe the problem but it’s annoying nonetheless.  It’s too bad because Paul McCartney’s stories about how the photographer who shot the album cover was amazed by George Harrison’s “turnup tip” hairstyle and the origin of the title Eight Days A Week are funny and revealing.  Also cool is the in-studio banter during the recording of No Reply.  You can actually hear the throat drops John Lennon is sucking on while he complains about his sore throat.
The liner notes are loaded with cool photos.  John Lennon and Ringo Starr wear sunglasses in several of them.  They look like actual rock stars.  My favourite is a two-page spread that reveals cups and saucers on a table next to some studio mics in one of the Abbey Road Studios.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they were routinely filled with tea.  How quintessentially British.  Press guy Derek Taylor’s original liner notes feature moments of unexpected prescience, like this nugget:  “The kids of AD 2000 will draw from the music much the same sense of well being and warmth as we do today.”  (Remember, that was the year 1 was released.  It has sold 10 million copies in America alone.)  Or this one:  “For the magic of the Beatles is, I suspect, timeless and ageless.”  (The band hadn’t even released their best material yet, it should be noted.)  The usual Historical and Recording Notes, common to all these reissues, offer brief albeit familiar tales about the album’s chart success and the making of its contents.  Worth a read if you’re a newbie and a nice reminder if you’re already a convert.
The real draw, though, is the music.  Although the band had yet to reach the creative heights waiting for them on the other side of the 1960s, Beatles For Sale nudged them a little closer to greatness.  Pick this one up if you don’t already have the 1987 CD.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, February 4, 2010
12:04 a.m.
Published in: on February 4, 2010 at 12:04 am  Leave a Comment  

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