Beatles in Black

Ah, so Beatles for Sale is the album that seemed to find the Fabs in Midas in reverse mode. Not even the 10,000 hours of hard graft in learning their craft could save them. Malcolm Galdwell’s claim that they had “outlier” genius looked like it was being put on hold. They may have had nothing to declare but their genius, but they were knackered mate. Where had my happy chappies gone?

Well I have to confess that I have never heard the Beatles for Sale album, ever. Even now, no-one has sat me down and said listen to this. Tony would have done so of course, but his family had recently moved and we had lost our oracle of all things Beatle. Just when the Beatles suffered a dip we lost the one true-hearted fan who would have played it endlessly and explained it to us weaker hearts. When I finally heard What You’re Doing on Love my first thought was that it must have been an outtake they hadn’t even bothered to include on Anthology.

It being 1964 and Beatles for Sale being a Christmas release it was, remarkably, the best selling album of 1964. However at the time singles were outselling albums by 4 to 1 and I had finally been able to save up the money to buy I Feel Fine on the day it came out. I was broke after that and could only afford Beatles albums as presents anyway. Somehow my first bike seem more exciting than the glumsome foursome. For a year we had thought they were glib cheeky chappies cheering up our black and white Britain but now they had gone monochrome; Beatles in Black.That difficult fourth album, their fourth album recording in 20 months, not counting the all original EP Long Tall Sally, almost cracked their productive creativity, and yet again they filled an album up with covers but, this time, with some unremarkable performances and songs.

I now have most of the tracks from Beatles for Sale on the extraordinary Capitol US Remasters; extraordinary because they are remasters of the US tapes which are heavy on the reverb, and with different track sequences, presented in cutely unreadable little versions of the American sleeves. As it happens when I bought them I played Beatles 65 a lot. The opening “Lennon trilogy” pointing the way to Rubber Soul and actually their outlier genius is readily apparent on some of the songs, such as the opener No Reply, which sounds as though it is from Rubber Soul; the Prequel.

Opening with that “I’m Down” trilogy of No Reply, I’m A Loser, and Baby’s in Black you wouldn’t have thought that they had just released the rockingly wonderful I Feel Fine; nor celebrated all things compliantly dolly bird in She’s A Woman. To me, especially when I finally clutched the single, my first brand new Beatles purchase (!) it was both a wonderful recording and a stunning B-side. One of my favourite B-sides in fact, along with Rain, until they got so good that all their B-sides were A-sides, and the talk on the streets became about which side you preferred.

Actually that is a quite wonderfully miserable opening trilogy. In retrospect now they really sound like a band, they sound intelligent and sensitive, but at the time they didn’t sound like the Fab Four we had grown up with over the previous two years, or twenty months in my case. My favourite track is Baby’s in Black, coz I heard it by surprise on the radio at the time and it did that early Beatles trick of hooking you in before you could even think about it. They played it quite a lot live and Lennon had deliberately written it as a waltz, and it always worked for me.

Each side of Beatles for Sale starts off well then loses steam, there is half of a great album there, but they are back to the product-filler with covers and show tunes again. Even so I love their version of Buddy Holly’s Words of Love; now that was a worthy tribute! Full track listing on Wikipedia here and an interesting discussion of the album on Allmusic who are definitely in the  prequel to Rubber Soul camp.

Sadly I have to admit that without my Beatles guru Tony playing and explaining everything to me I simply reverted to buying singles like a typical Beatles fan. I didn’t buy albums then because I could neither afford them, nor did I have a record player to play them on. And the impact my purchase of I Feel Fine (see the Beatles for Sale story) meant I didn’t have to buy the album to identify with my heroes. However I’m guessing Tony would have gone for I’m A Loser, which was intended to be the single until Lennon wrote I Feel Fine. I’m A Loser is one of the early tracks displaying Dylan influences. Listening now, rather than what got to me at the time, I think I would probably pick this as the best track.

So I have just one memory of Beatles for Sale from the time, seeing the sleeve in a record shop and thinking how miserable they looked. For a thirteen year old it was exactly the  wrong image for the Fab Four who had made me personally Feel Fine.  Mind you several of my friends bought the Beatles for Sale EP which neatly filleted the album and captured its best qualities perfectly, but I stuck with the single. It would be two years before I bought my first album.

The EP featured Eight Days A Week, with its legendary fade-in, more Beatles mysteries, which is actually the track all my mates were talking about at the time. It was played a lot on the radio in the UK, and became a Number One US singles after it’s release there. This is the track on Beatles for Sale that best captures the Beatles 1963 optimism, but is much better recorded.

A YouTube version of this post exists on A Beatles YouTube Album.

So, let me know which is your favourite track off Beatles for Sale; this time George is a write in oh Harrison fans, Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby is a bit weak.

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4 Comments

  1. deni said,

    August 4, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Would really have loved to have voted for George but it’s not exactly in the same league as his other stuff.

    • fred6368 said,

      August 4, 2009 at 2:44 pm

      Yeah it was a weak effort this time; still Don’t Bother Me is leading the With The Beatles votes, so I think some George’s fans are following this (two I reckon).

  2. deni said,

    August 5, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    I was 16 when this album came out, bought it on release date (as I did all the others – without hearing them of course!) so Beatles could do no wrong. However, there were no outstanding tracks and it was all a bit sad but in the midst of teenage angst the lyrics were easy to identify with for most of us. However, times they were a-changing(!) – it took the Beatles two years (after release of Love Me Do’) to get to this stage and in another two years we would be looking towards the ‘summer of love’ and they, their music and their audience would evolve into something completely different so looking back I think this was probably the ‘turning point’.

    • fred6368 said,

      August 6, 2009 at 2:18 pm

      Yeah, for me The Beatles, despite being the consummate singles band, almost accidentally invented the pop album with Please Please Me. You are right about them being halfway between two phases of their career. At this point they are making album quality tracks, like No Reply and Eight Days A Week, but not coherent albums. For me that starts with Rubber Soul, which was the first Beatles Album I bought. Overall I can’t get over the speed with which they wrote material and the quality they came up with. Lennon wrote most of his best stuff overnight, in his time off! And there was so much of it!


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