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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. 

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