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Saturday, October 29, 2011

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT - side one

Promotional film for A Hard Days' Night
A Hard Day's Night is not generally considered to be one of the Beatles' masterpieces like Rubber Soul, Revolver or Sgt. Pepper, but I firmly believe it deserves consideration.  The boys are absolute masters of their craft by now, from songwriting to finished recording.  And not only is this the first album with no cover songs, it is the only one to be made up solely of Lennon-McCartney compositions (a year later, Harrison would begin writing his own material full-time).  And while the album is clearly dominated by Lennon, each of McCartney's three songs is a true gem.

The bulk of the soundtrack songs were recorded in four sessions between February 25th and March 1st, 1964.  John and Paul had written these compositions while in Paris, even requesting that a piano be moved into their suite at the George V to assist them in their work.  In laying out the album, producer George Martin naturally put all of these songs on side one.  The proceedings are kicked off by the title song, which I covered in my last entry, only I neglected to mention that it was recorded on April 16th.

I Should Have Known Better - It has been a while since we have heard John's harmonica, but here it is opening this uptempo Lennon number.  John sings this one alone, his voice double-tracked except for the final bridge.  This is the type of perfectly-crafted pop song that he and Paul could now write in their sleep, full of energy and high spirits matched in performance by each member of the band.  It is used twice in the film, first in the card-playing sequence on the train and again in the concert.

If I Fell - This magnificent ballad by John starts off with him singing a solo intro, then Paul joins in for the rest of the song.  Mark Lewisohn says that they requested only one microphone so they could sing side by side.  What they deliver here is perhaps the finest duet of their career.  It is easily the best example of what William Mann referred to in his Times article the previous year when he wrote, "one gets the impression that they think simultaneously of harmony and melody..."  Their vocal parts interweave so effortlessly that, as Tim Riley states, "both lines are so lyrical it's hard to say just which one is the 'melody.'"  And the musical ingenuity on display is matched by the beauty of the heartfelt lyrics.

Most of the soundtrack songs also appeared as singles in the US.  If I Fell was the B-side to Paul's ballad And I Love Her.

I'm Happy Just to Dance with You - For the second (and final) time, John writes a song for George.  Not only that, he also absolutely drives this number with his tireless rhythm guitar.  This pleasant, but lightweight piece also features strong backing vocals from John and Paul.  It is only used once in the film, rehearsed onstage before the TV cameras.

In the US, this was also the B-side to I'll Cry Instead, a non-soundtrack song (Or was it?  More on that next time).

And I Love Her - It has taken this long to get to a song by McCartney, but it was worth the wait to arrive at one of his minor classics.  The lyrics are pretty simplistic, but they are redeemed by the music and the performance.  This was, however, one of the first times that the Beatles had trouble finding just the right arrangement for a number, and it took three separate attempts over three days before they got it right.  On Anthology 1, you can hear that on day one, Ringo was playing drums, George was picking his electric guitar and Paul had yet to write the bridge.  By the time they record the master, Ringo is playing bongos, George is playing acoustic guitar (and turning in a performance as good as the one he did on Till There Was You), and Paul has completed the composition beautifully. 

As an A-side in the US, this song peaked at number twelve.  Paired with If I Fell, the two ballads made a wonderful single.

Tell Me Why - The only soundtrack song to not be a US single is Lennon's attempt to write a girl group number, a style which the Beatles had already recorded several times.  The refrain is John, Paul and George doing their best three-part harmony, then shifting to call-and-response for the verses.  This high-powered number is used to open the concert sequence in the film.

George Martin smartly places the already-familiar Can't Buy Me Love, which director Richard Lester had revived for the movie, at the end of side one, neatly framing the new songs between the two monster hits.

In the US, all of these songs, plus I'll Cry Instead (incorrectly listed as I Cry Instead) appeared on the United Artists soundtrack album, which was fleshed out by four George Martin instrumentals.  Four of the new soundtrack numbers also appeared on the Capitol album Something New.  I Should Have Known Better did not appear on a Capitol album until the 1970 compilation Hey Jude. 
 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Hard Day's Night b/w Things We Said Today

The story goes that, after a particularly long day of filming, Ringo was heard to say, "That was a hard day's night."  The phrase had also been used by John Lennon in his book In His Own Write.  The producer from United Artists, Walter Shenson, and his director, Richard Lester, knew that they finally had their title.  All they needed now was a song with the same title, so they told John and Paul to go write it.  The ever-competitive songwriters went their separate ways and, the next day, John came in with the goods.

Since they were about halfway through the shooting schedule, Richard Lester knew that there would not be a scene where we would see the Beatles actually performing the new song, but he knew that it would play underneath the opening credits sequence, which featured the boys running through a train station to escape a mob of fans.  He told them that it had to have a striking beginning - something that would catch the listeners' ears right at the top.  And so it was that George Harrison came up with the chord which guitarists still argue over to this day.  According to Tim Riley, the chord is a G7 with an added 9th and a suspended 4th.  But to really get the same effect, it must be played as George played it - on a 12-string guitar.

John's double-tracked voice takes us through the bulk of the verses until Paul harmonizes with him near the end.  When they get to the bridge, it is suddenly Paul's double-tracked voice taking over.  Lennon later admitted that he wrote the song so quickly that he didn't realize the bridge was too high for him until they began recording.  The end result makes the number seem like much more of a group effort, which is perfectly in keeping with the image that the Beatles always projected early in their career.

George's guitar break is the trickiest piece he has played yet, but he pulls it off with aplomb.  George Martin doubles it on piano.  The solo proved incredibly difficult to duplicate live, so much so that on Live at the BBC you can hear them actually "drop in" the record for that section when they perform it.

For the B-side, one of the non-soundtrack songs was chosen, McCartney's Things We Said Today.  This mid-tempo number shows a nice maturity in Paul's songwriting ability.  The lyric is nostalgic, looking both forward and back over the course of a relationship.

A sharp acoustic guitar sets the mood immediately, followed by the first hushed verse.  The Beatles have already used dynamics several times in their recordings, but never more effectively than here.  In the bridge, the band cuts loose as Paul sings joyfully about being in love, then they pull back as they return to the verses.  They added this song to their live set, where the contrast between the verses and the bridge became even more apparent.  If you can find a copy of the much-maligned The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl album from 1977, you can hear it for yourself.

In the UK, the single and the album were released simultaneously on July 10th, 1964.  Five days later, they both hit number one.

In the US, the title song had already appeared on the United Artists soundtrack album on June 26th.  The single was released by Capitol on June 13th but, for the second time, the label could not resist tinkering with the B-side.  They replaced the reflective Things We Said Today with an uptempo song from the soundtrack, I Should Have Known Better.  Things We Said Today only appeared as a track on the album Something New, released on July 20th.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Long Tall Sally

The boys with Little Richard
The EP was a curious format.  It was the same size as a single, but it contained two tracks per side.  Parlophone Records issued twelve EPs by the Beatles during the first half of the group's career, usually containing previously released material - except in this instance.  The sessions that had produced the songs for A Hard Day's Night had been especially productive.  The Beatles had managed to record more than enough numbers for a full album and so, it was decided that an EP of all-new tracks could be released in advance of the soundtrack.

Long Tall Sally - The Beatles had played on the same bill as Little Richard, one of their rock and roll heroes, on more than one occasion in 1962.  Paul had already been singing Little Richard songs for years, but he still took the opportunity to get some vocal coaching from the master.  By the time they get around to recording this number, Paul has it down to a science.  As they had done with Twist and Shout, the Beatles and producer George Martin (on piano) are able to capture this performance in only one take, live in the studio.  Paul's vocal attack is electric, setting a frantic pace that dares the band to keep up.  The excitement builds even higher in George's second guitar break as the band climbs up together with uncanny precision.  And as Paul screams towards the finish line, Ringo lets loose with a flurry on his drum kit until the whole thing screeches to a halt.  Another breathless two-minute performance.

I Call Your Name - By the middle of 1963, the songwriting wares of Lennon and McCartney were already in demand.  This song by Lennon was given at that time to Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, another Liverpool band under Brian Epstein's management.  Now, John decided that the Beatles should record it, as well.  As with You Can't Do That, the first sound we hear is George's 12-string Rickenbacker.  John sings the title line solo, then is double-tracked for the rest of the song.  The instrumental break is quite peculiar, and it is years before Lennon states in an interview that it is the Beatles attempting ska.  If this is true, it is astonishing.  In 1964, ska was hardly known outside of Kingston, Jamaica.  How the Beatles could even have been aware of it is puzzling, unless they heard it in Miami on their first American visit.

The above two numbers were recorded on March 1st, 1964, during the sessions that yielded the songs for the film soundtrack.  A month later, Capitol Records was allowed to release them on The Beatles' Second Album, marking the first of several times that songs would be debuted in the US market.

Slow Down - Larry Williams is not exactly a household name in the pantheon of rock and rollers, but the sailors of Liverpool must have brought plenty of his records back to the Beatles' hometown, because John Lennon was a big fan of the American.  The group would wind up recording three of his compositions in less than a year's time.  This one is a basic, driving rocker which they had been performing for years.  It is just as much of a screamer for John as Long Tall Sally is for Paul, and gives us some of the longest instrumental stretches that they have played to date.  George Martin once again adds piano to the mix, overdubbing it a few days after the group session.

Matchbox - Carl Perkins, on the other hand, is one of the seminal rock and rollers.  He wrote and recorded Blue Suede Shoes before Elvis turned it into a monster hit.  To a man, the Beatles loved Perkins and his rockabilly style, but none of them more than Ringo.  His first two turns at the microphone had been face-paced rockers, but now, the drummer finds his niche.  Perkins was actually in the studio to witness this recording, which must have been a bit nerve-wracking for the boys, but they turned in a fine performance nonetheless.  George loved playing in this style, and he would get to do much more of it before year's end.  Martin plays piano yet again, live this time.

These last two items were recorded on June 1st, 1964, during sessions for the non-soundtrack side of the album.  Capitol Records added them to the album Something New in July.  A month later, they released them as a single, with Slow Down reaching number twenty-five and Matchbox peaking at number seventeen.  Matchbox was chosen to be the A-side.  Why?  Because the most popular Beatle in America was Ringo, of course.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Can't Buy Me Love b/w You Can't Do That

First Can't Buy Me Love sequence in A Hard Day's Night
Can't Buy Me Love - In Paris on January 29th, 1964, after recording the two German language songs, the Beatles still had time left at the end of the session, so they set about recording this new composition by Paul McCartney which would turn out to be their next single.  This would be the only time that all four members of the group would make any official recordings outside of England during their career.

The work on this song marks the first time that you can hear substantial changes from take to take until they arrive at the finished product.  And yet the song was complete in only four takes - that was how quickly they could accommodate new ideas.  Initially, Paul had written the song with the verse at the top, but producer George Martin suggested they open with the chorus to hook the listener.  On Anthology 1, you can hear take two, which features John and George singing backing vocals.  It was soon decided that these were unnecessary.  Back at Abbey Road Studios on February 25th, Paul's vocal was double-tracked and George's guitar solo was overdubbed (you can hear an earlier solo bleeding through in the background) and the song was ready for release.

This brisk, pop number was not intended for the upcoming movie, but director Richard Lester liked it so much that he used it not once, but twice in the film.  We first hear it in the glorious scene where the boys escape the TV studio and romp on a field with utter abandon.  Lester is actually inventing the music video right here twenty years before MTV.  The song is used again in the sequence where they rescue Ringo from the police station and rush back for the TV concert.

You Can't Do That - The first song to be recorded for the soundtrack was this B-side by Lennon.  Right at the top we hear something new - George's 12-string Rickenbacker which he had just purchased in the US.  John then launches into one of his earliest jealous guy compositions, singing with vengeful glee.  The guitar solo is another first with Lennon taking it himself, playing sharp, jabbing chords and bending notes as if they will help him burn off the steam he has built up in the lyrics.  And to top it all off, Paul plays cowbell!

Although they shot a performance of this song in the TV concert sequence, it was edited out of the film to keep things moving.  It is possible to find a VHS copy of the film which features this performance as an extra, with narration by Phil Collins who was one of the few young boys actually in the theater audience when it was filmed.

In addition to being a number one single in the UK, both of these songs also appeared a few months later on the album A Hard Day's Night.

By the time this single came out in the US, the market was absolutely flooded with material by the Beatles.  Both VeeJay and Swan Records had repackaged and rereleased almost every track to which they had the rights.  When Can't Buy Me Love hit number one on April 4th, 1964, the Beatles set an astonishing record - not only did they occupy the top five positions on the chart, they also had seven more songs in the Hot 100, as well as the number one and number two albums.  One week later, they added two more songs in the Hot 100, giving them an unprecedented domination of the charts that will probably never be equaled, let alone broken.

You Can't Do That appeared about a month after the single release on The Beatles' Second Album.  Can't Buy Me Love was included on the United Artists soundtrack album A Hard Day's Night.  Strangely, it did not appear on a Capitol album until the 1970 compilation Hey Jude.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand & Sie Liebt Dich

The Beatles had been on the verge of stardom the last time they played in Hamburg, but despite the fact that they had achieved international fame in the interim, Odeon, EMI's West German division, said that in order to sell more records, the group would need to record in German.  The boys felt that this wasn't necessary, but producer George Martin and manager Brain Epstein were somehow convinced by this argument.

And so it was that Martin and engineer Norman Smith arrived in Paris for a session on January 29th, 1964.  The Beatles were in the midst of a three-week engagement in the City of Light (playing for strangely less-than-enthusiastic audiences) and could not get away to London, so it was arranged that they would record the German versions of their two biggest hits at EMI Pathe Marconi Studios.

In The Beatles: Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn relates an amusing anecdote about the boys trying to blow off the session and George Martin having to literally drag them to the studio.  Once there, however, they got the work done in record time.

Because I Want to Hold Your Hand had been recorded on four-track tape, Martin had been able to make a tape-to-tape transfer of the rhythm track only and bring it with him to the Paris studio.  This meant that John and Paul only had to sing the German lyrics and add handclaps and the new version would be complete.  With the help of a translator named Nicholas, this was quickly accomplished.  She Loves You had to be a complete re-make.  It took the group thirteen takes to get the rhythm track correct, but only one for John, Paul and George to add the new lyrics.

Once the Beatles became big in the US, so insatiable was the American appetite for anything recorded by the Fab Four that these songs actually became available over here.  Swan Records, which only had the rights to She Loves You, released Sie Liebt Dich as a single with the original B-side I'll Get You.  Amazingly, my mother found this record in a local department store in New Bedford and, assuming that I would appreciate it, bought it for me.  I have to admit that I found it quite odd at the time, and it is only with the passing of many years that I came to understand the value of what I had in my possession.  Not to be outdone, Capitol Records added Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand to an album entitled Something New. 

Was it absolutely necessary for Die Beatles to rerecord their biggest hits in German?  Probably not.  Suffice it to say they never did so again.



Monday, October 17, 2011

I Want to Hold Your Hand b/w This Boy

Manager Brain Epstein told the powers that be at Capitol Records that the new single by the Beatles had been specifically produced "with the American sound in mind."  This was pure fabrication on his part - a salesman making his pitch.  He had been trying to sell Capitol on his group for a year now, but they had been unwilling to listen.  Now, suddenly, with the boys slated to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show and signed to a three picture deal with United Artists, they were ready to do business.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Both sides of this single were recorded on October 17th, 1963.  At the time of this session, they still had a few finishing touches to put on the album With the Beatles, but the new single took precedence.  And a new tool awaited them in the studio - four-track recording.  All of the work that they had done to date had been done on only two tracks.  Now, overdubbing would be that much easier to achieve as multiple layers of sound were possible.  On this date, however, the work was fairly straightforward.

I Want to Hold Your Hand -The attack at the top of She Loves You was vocal.  This time, it is instrumental.  For the listener, anticipation builds quickly until the voices come in with "Oh yeah I'll..."  John and Paul wrote this number together and they sing it as a duet.  There is nothing here like the great conversational tone of She Loves You.  The lyrics are actually pretty standard teenybopper fare, although the first time he heard the song, Bob Dylan misread "I can't hide" as "I get high."  The ingenuity is in the music and the performance.  As Dylan later told Anthony Scaduto, "They were doing things nobody was doing.  Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies made it all valid...I knew they were pointing the direction where music had to go."  This from Bob Dylan, a man idolized by the Beatles themselves.

As they have done before, they find variety by hushing the bridge to put it in contrast with the strident verses.  The first bridge is sung in unison, the second in harmony.  And despite all of the technical tricks that they now employ in their songwriting craft, the song is delivered from both the heart and the gut.  The sheer joy in their playing is contagious.

This Boy - The Beatles had already recorded a string of impressive B-sides, but now they came up with their first classic one.  Lennon wrote this three-part harmony number, a form he would return to throughout their career.  George Martin said that John, Paul and George had an innate sense of harmony.  He told Mark Lewisohn that "all I did was change the odd note."  This song reverses the form of the A-side - the verses are hushed and it's not until they get to the bridge that the song soars.  Paul and George shift to backing vocals and John's voice, suddenly double-tracked, takes off to incredible heights.  After he sings his heart out, they seamlessly shift back to three-part harmony for the third verse.  The instrumentation is subtle as opposed to the powerhouse playing on I Want to Hold Your Hand.  Using only their usual instruments, they display amazing versatility on the two sides of this record.

The single was released in the UK on November 29th, 1963, only a week after With the Beatles, thus completing Epstein and Martin's master plan of two albums and a handful of singles for the year.  It replaced the number one record She Loves You, which had recently returned to the top spot.

Although Capitol Records agreed to release I Want to Hold Your Hand in the US, they couldn't resist tinkering with the single.  They wanted more of a rocker for the B-side, and since they had the rights to the entire Beatles catalog, they chose I Saw Her Standing There from the first British album for the American B-side.  This Boy appeared instead as an album track on Meet the Beatles.  A few months later, George Martin recorded an instrumental version of This Boy for the soundtrack of A Hard Day's Night and renamed it Ringo's Theme for the sequence in the film when Ringo briefly quits the group and goes off on his own for a series of misadventures. 

The single was scheduled to be released on January 13th, 1964, but it was "leaked" to a few radio stations in advance and, thanks in part to a $50,000 promotional budget (huge at the time), demand was so great that it was rush released on December 26th, 1963.  Once it hit number one, there was no going back.  Though no British act had ever done it before, the Beatles had conquered America.

And the British Invasion had begun. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

WITH THE BEATLES - side two

Alternate cover shot by Robert Freeman
Roll Over Beethoven - That's not Chuck Berry playing the opening flourish, it's George Harrison giving a perfect note-by-note rendition of Berry's seminal rock and roll classic.  Like his bandmates, George learned his craft by listening to the masters, learning to duplicate their performances and then going out and playing them countless times in venues large and small.  By the time the Beatles get around to recording this and all of the other cover versions they ever did, the songs are second nature to them and they attack them with relish.  This number is an ideal showcase for George, both vocally and instrumentally.  The band drives him forward ferociously and he is up to the task, delivering one of his signature performances on disc.  A great choice to open side two of the album.  Like All My Loving, this song was released as a single by Capitol of Canada and managed to chart in the US as an import.

Hold Me Tight - The group had attempted to record this McCartney composition during the marathon session for the Please Please Me album, but the result was unsatisfactory.  I can't imagine that it could have been much worse than what we have here.  Never one of my favorites, the clunky, chugging rhythm and the repetitive call-and-response sections pale in comparison to Lennon's It Won't Be Long or the co-written She Loves You.  Paul has already composed some gems, but this is clearly not among them.

You Really Got a Hold on Me - The Beatles' version of this Smokey Robinson number features a rare vocal pairing.  For many years, I believed that it was simply John's voice double-tracked, but it is actually John with George singing the low harmony.  Paul joins George for the backing vocals on the refrains and George Martin adds piano to the mix.  While Lennon's voice is nothing like Smokey's peerless tenor, John once again manages to bring his unique stylings to another composer's material and finds a way to make it his own.

I Wanna Be Your Man - The story goes that Paul had this half-finished composition in his pocket when he and John met up with the Rolling Stones.  Mick Jaggar and Keith Richards asked if they had anything that the Stones could record as their second single.  Paul and John went into a corner, finished the song and handed it over to Mick and Keith, who were inspired by this incident to begin writing their own material.  Only a day or so later, needing a song for Ringo, the Beatles set about recording it, as well.  Needless to say, the Stones' recording is quite different from the Beatles' performance of this number.  While the Stones are slower and much more bluesy in their approach, Ringo and his mates are manic, with Paul and John's backing vocals absolutely wild.  Ringo also plays maracas and George Martin adds Hammond organ (mistakenly credited to Lennon on the album's liner notes) to this track, which curiously took a few sessions for them to get just right.

Devil in Her Heart - Another girl group song, this one by an obscure group called the Donays.  Only a few days earlier, the Beatles had recorded this number at a BBC session.  You can hear it on the CD EP entitled Baby It's You, which was released after the Live at the BBC package in 1995.  That radio session led the group to consider the song for the new album.  The strong backing vocals are by John and Paul, but the lead is George, giving him as many solo vocal numbers on the album as Paul.

Not a Second Time - The final original on the album is by Lennon, a moody piece comprised of merely one long verse and refrain.  After a restrained piano solo by George Martin, John sings the entire song again, finding numerous variations in the phrasing, then launches into plaintive repeats of the title during the fadeout.  This is the composition which famously received critical praise for its' Aeolian cadence by William Mann of the Times.  While that comment was a real head-scratcher for the Beatles and their fans, it was simply part of an article lauding Lennon and McCartney's innate songwriting skills.

Money (That's What I Want) - Those who know say that if you want to know what the Beatles sounded like before they were famous in the sweaty confines of the Cavern Club, this is the recording that captures it best.  Lennon growls the lead vocal in this cover of a number originally done by Barrett Strong.  With George Martin once again on piano, the band plays some of the dirtiest, nastiest rock and roll they will ever commit to tape.  The backing vocals by Paul and George threaten to spiral out of control, but of course, they never quite do.  As with Twist and Shout, Martin has found the number which cannot be topped and which brings the album to a satisfying close.

In the UK, With the Beatles was released on November 22nd, 1963, a fateful day here in America.  The album immediately took over the number one spot from Please Please Me and stayed there for twenty-one weeks, giving the Beatles a record fifty consecutive weeks at the top of the British charts.

Following the success of I Want to Hold Your Hand in the US, Capitol Records took nine of these songs and re-packaged them in an album simply, but cleverly titled Meet the Beatles.  The album opened with the hit single and its' two B-sides (more about that in my next entry).  The following songs were all of the originals by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, the sole exception being Till There Was You.  Capitol later released the five remaining cover versions on The Beatles' Second Album, the first of several compilation albums.

Meet the Beatles was the first album I ever bought, saving my pennies until I could plunk down the required $2.39 for the high fidelity version (stereo would have cost me a whopping $3.98).  For most Americans, it provided our first perception of the Beatles - brash, energetic, highly-polished and, with only one cover song on the record, almost completely self-sufficient.  It is a very different image than the one first presented to Britons with the raw Love Me Do and the rough-around-the-edges album Please Please Me.  I still put my scratched and beaten copy of the album on the turntable from time to time and listen in wonder at how fresh and exciting it still sounds to me.  A true treasure. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

WITH THE BEATLES - side one

Photographer Robert Freeman posed the boys in black turtlenecks against a black background, lit them from one side and, with one click of his camera, created an iconic image of the Beatles.  The photo is like the group itself - often imitated, sometimes parodied, but never equaled.

Before the single She Loves You was even released, the Beatles were back in the studio to begin work on this second album.  The schedule of half a dozen sessions spread out over three months was positively luxurious compared to the marathon day it took to record the album Please Please Me.  Producer George Martin dispensed with the live-in-the-studio premise of the previous release and took the time to get each track to his satisfaction.  Numerous overdubs were employed, including many (John Lennon later said too many) double-tracked lead vocals.  The instrumentation is still basic, but various percussion instruments, piano and even organ begin to slowly work their way into the sound.

It Won't Be Long - As before, Martin gives a lot of thought to the layout of each side.  He wants to start off with a bang and then hold the listener's attention from track to track.  No count-in is needed this time, just the urgency of John's double-tracked voice is enough to propel us into the album.  The excitement in this number is palpable.  The interplay between John's lead and Paul and George's backing vocals is marvelous - in the exchange of "yeah"s during every refrain and even more so through the relatively complex middle eight.  And George plays a crisp lead guitar throughout.  His playing already sounds more assured on this album, with the knowledge that he has the luxury of multiple takes and even overdubs to help him achieve just the right performance for each song.

All I've Got to Do - After the rush of the opening number, a gentle strum lets us know that we are in for a more reflective piece here.  John now applies to a composition of his own the soulful singing that he has only reserved for covers to this point.  In these first two songs, we catch a glimpse of the vulnerability that lurks beneath the cocky, glib persona he projects.  Simple devices begin to give a sense of variety to these songs.  In It Won't Be Long the bridge is somewhat hushed compared to the rush of the body of the song, while in All I've Got to Do the reverse is true, with the bridge driving until it comes to a stop-time moment before the next verse.

All My Loving - Paul's first offering on the disc is one of his minor classics.  The verses ride along not only on Paul's walking bass line, but especially on John's driving rhythm guitar.  And again, George is allowed to take the time to perfect his lead guitar solo in the studio.  They added this number to their live repertoire and, in fact, it became the first song that they would perform several months later on the Ed Sullivan Show.  This song also charted in the US, a fact which confused me for years until I learned that it was released as a single by Capitol of Canada and sold in such great numbers as an import that it made the Billboard chart.

Don't Bother Me - George Harrison's debut solo composition is a brisk, bristly little number enhanced by numerous bits of percussion including Paul on claves, John on tambourine and Ringo on a loose-skinned Arabian bongo which they actually found lying around in the Abbey Road studio collection.  Though in later years Paul and John would be accused of giving less than their all (or in John's case, sometimes not showing up at all) when it came time to record one of George's songs, everybody is clearly throwing themselves into this effort.  The fact is that John and Paul almost never helped George with any of his compositions.  And even George Martin admitted years later that he, too, usually gave Harrison's recordings short shrift.  No wonder, then, that it took years for young George's songwriting skills to develop.  For a first outing, Don't Bother Me is not too shabby, especially considering what immediately follows it.

Little Child - This Lennon-McCartney composition is a throwaway, a song not even close to the quality of the two singles they had recently co-written.  Still, there are some nice touches.  John plays his harmonica with abandon, turning in a wild solo.  Plus we have Paul's debut at the piano.  The boys certainly don't treat the song as sub-par, and no listener will be tempted to skip over it to get to the next track.

Till There Was You - For the first cover on side one, the Beatles show off their musical knowledge by tackling this Meredith Willson song from the Broadway show The Music Man, although they were probably familiar with it from the Peggy Lee version, an even further demonstration of their wide-reaching taste.  It's the only quiet number on the entire album and they do an exquisite job of it, with Ringo on bongos, Paul doing a masterful vocal and George playing an impeccable acoustic guitar solo.  You can also hear them doing this at the Royal Command Performance on Anthology 1, including Paul's standard gag intro.

Please Mister Postman - "Wait!"  Paul and George's shout shatters the mood of the previous track and tumbles us into this frantic rendition of a girl group song originally recorded by the Marvelettes.  John turns in yet one more brilliant vocal performance with still more to come on side two.  By the time they get to the fadeout, all three vocalists are screaming wildly.  Though the song is about desperation, they sound as if they are having an absolute blast in the studio.  And George Martin once again achieves his goal by bookending the album side with two breathless performances, leaving the listener wanting more.

See you on the flip side.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

She Loves You b/w I'll Get You

"Yeah, yeah, yeah!"  It was the shout heard 'round the world.  Not immediately, of course, but soon, very soon.

The Beatles were big stars in England in the spring of 1963 with the number one single and the number one album in the land.  And, in order to maintain that status, manager Brain Epstein had them touring the country relentlessly, as well as making frequent stops in London to appear on various BBC radio programs.  But now, in keeping with the master plan, it was time to come up with another hit to keep them looking fresh in the public eye.  And so, on July 1st, they returned to Abbey Road Studios with a brand new composition in hand and made a breathtaking leap into immortality.

As with the previous single, both sides of the new one would be true Lennon-McCartney collaborations.  Unlike the most recent release, the two new songs would be very different in character.  The B-side in this instance would be another one of their hidden gems, whereas the A-side would prove to be one of the touchstones in rock and roll history - in all of popular culture, in fact.

She Loves You - One of my favorite stories in Mark Lewisohn's book The Beatles: Recording Sessions tells of engineer Norman Smith glancing at the lyrics as he was setting up the microphones in the studio and reading, "She loves you, yeah yeah yeah, she loves you, yeah yeah yeah, she loves you, yeah yeah yeah yeah" and thinking to himself, "This is going to be one that I do not like."  Once they began playing, however, he quickly changed his mind.  As Tim Riley states in Tell Me Why, "Everything here can be traced to earlier material...but nothing that came before hints at this kind of power."  Riley then goes on to give an exhaustive, almost second-by-second breakdown of the merits of the song, which I highly recommend.

The eruption of sound at the top of the song is astonishing, especially when you consider that it is still only the same four-piece band that listeners were by now accustomed to hearing.  This is the power that Riley refers to.  Once again, all of the devices that they have learned are here - the kicks, the starts and stops, the vocals flowing from unison to harmony and back again, the "woo"s - the only thing missing for a change is John's harmonica.  One delightful new trick is George Harrison's added sixth on the final "yeah" each time around.  George Martin pointed out to them that it was rather old-fashioned, a chord big bands were prone to use, but they insisted that they simply had to have it, so he wisely let them have their way.

The exuberance of the music is equaled by the lyrics.  It was easy for our elders to be dismissive of the "yeah yeah yeah" hook, but the major step forward here is in the verses.  This is an interesting and rare narrative - a guy singing about and rejoicing in his friend's chance at love.  The verses have a conversational feel to them, so much so that comedian Peter Sellers and the Goons (also produced by George Martin for Parlophone Records) recorded a few spoken word versions which, while humorous, wound up demonstrating just how conversational the lyrics were.  Lennon and McCartney were already beginning to mature as songwriters.

I'll Get You - The harmonica reappears at the top of I'll Get You along with handclaps and some "oh yeahs"s from John and Paul, John singing incredibly low in his vocal range.  The melody which follows is lilting, almost hypnotic.  The tempo is a nice contrast to the A-side - it's comparatively laid-back.  When George joins in vocally for the bridge, somebody muffs the lyrics around "when I'm going to change (make) your mind," yet somehow, it was left in the final mix.  This is one of the few times that Mark Lewisohn could not find take numbers (for both songs) in the usually meticulous Abbey Road archives, so we don't know if they were pressed for time by the end of this session and the take was considered to be good enough.  What we are left with is one of those quirky little flubs that some of us delight in.

The single was released on August 23rd and became the Beatles' first million-seller.  This release, soon followed by appearances on both Sunday Night at the London Palladium and the Royal Command Performance, results in the phenomenon which is suddenly referred to as Beatlemania.  England had never seen anything like it.  As big as they had been before, they were now caught up in what could only be described as mass hysteria.  And soon, the world would be caught up in it, as well.

But not yet.  It was still the same old story in the US - a little bit worse, in fact.  This time, Brian Epstein could not even convince tiny VeeJay Records to release She Loves You.  The previous two singles and the album had done so poorly that VeeJay passed on the record that was creating such a frenzy in England and parts of the continent.  He eventually talked Swan Records, an even smaller label, into releasing the songs.  And yet again, with no promotion and little airplay, the record went unnoticed.

Several months later, after I Want to Hold Your Hand had broken the ice, Swan rereleased She Loves You and it became the Beatles' second number one in the US.