In the old days (i.e. a month ago) when I could take Bruno out for a walk without worrying about him, I would put a podcast on for an hour while we trudged round the fields. I got a warped feeling of enjoyment when Roo would ask me if Bruno enjoyed the walk and I would say I had no idea because I wasn’t paying him any attention. I was too busy listening to a Beatles or Malcolm Gladwell or Hepworth/Ellen or More Or Less podcast. In the new normal, whenever I take Bruno out now, I have to give him my full attention so I have to listen to the podcasts at home. I’ve had no time today to listen to “Nothing Is Real” which is a great podcast by two Irish guys enthusing about The Beatles. They talk very well together, respecting each other’s point of view and are not uncritical about the world’s best ever band. First thing tomorrow, before I take Bruno out, I’m going to listen to the latest episode which I can see is all about The Beatles’ fourth album, “Beatles For Sale”. I thought I would write about it first before listening to it.
At the start of the podcast, they say that everyone thinks they know The Beatles but how much do we really know? Here are some things I’ve found out about this album which I wasn’t aware of before.
“No Reply” was originally recorded as a demo for Tommy Quickly in June 1964 but when he had not used the song by September, they reclaimed the song for their new album. I wonder if Tommy Quickly was renowned for making good decisions quickly? In 1980, John Lennon said that he was inspired by the song “Silhouettes” which was a big hit for The Rays in 1957 (and later for Herman’s Hermits in 1965). “I had that image of walking down the street and seeing her silhouetted in the window and not answering the phone.” The recording of this song was started and finished on September 30th after they had concluded “Every Little Thing” and “What You’re Doing”. They needed eight takes of “No Reply” to complete it. The speed at which they were recording brilliant music is breathtaking.
“I’m A Loser” was heavily influenced by Bob Dylan’s album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” which The Beatles first heard when they were in Paris in January 1964 (even though it was released in May 1963). In 1964, John Lennon was spending a lot of time in London clubs and amongst the musicians he was regularly seeing were Eric Burdon and Mick Jagger. Eric Burdon, as leader of The Animals, had hits with two songs from Bob Dylan’s eponymous first album (“Baby Let Me Take You Home” and “House Of The Rising Sun”). Mick Jagger was a huge fan of the folk-blues artists that were a big influence on Dylan (e.g. Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy, Reverand Gary Davis). John Lennon and Paul McCartney were brilliant at soaking up the influences of other musicians and using them to re-invent themselves. The brilliance of Bob Dylan’s lyrics were too much for John Lennon to attempt to copy but a strummed acoustic guitar, a harmonica and some introspective lyrics represented a slight movement towards Dylan’s style. Another influence was Kenneth Allsop who was a writer on the Daily Mail and he was also what we used to call a “Television Personality”. In the “Green Room” at the BBC, Kenneth Allsop spoke to John Lennon and encouraged him to “try and write something more autobiographical, based on personal experience” (according to Elliot Mintz who was a good friend of John Lennon towards the end of his life). Between 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm on August 14th, The Beatles recorded eight takes of “I’m A Loser” and four takes of “Mr. Moonlight”. Although they would return to the latter, “I’m A Loser” was started and finished in about ninety minutes. Incredible.
“Baby’s In Black” was one of the few songs that Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote face to face as they used to do in Paul McCartney’s bathroom or John Lennon’s front porch. Recording of this song took four hours with John Lennon and Paul McCartney singing in the same microphone during the fourteen takes that were needed to achieve the final version. The song was a favourite of the group as they played it live at most shows for the next two years.
By the middle of October 1964, The Beatles were under pressure to finalise their new album. Between 2:30 pm and 11:30 pm on October 18th they finalised “Eight Days A Week” as well as recording, from start to finish, “Kansas City”, “Mr Moonlight”, “I Feel Fine”, “I’ll Follow the Sun”, “Everybody’s Trying To Be My baby”, “Words Of Love” and “Rock And Roll Music”. That’s staggering. “Rock And Roll Music” is really good and the version on the album is the first and only take of the song. George Martin plays a brilliant rock’n’roll piano part. One of the reasons they only needed one take of this song is that it had been part of their live performance since 1959 and remained so until they stopped touring in 1966.
“I’ll Follow The Sun” was written by Paul McCartney in Hamburg in 1960. Whilst it is easy to be judgmental about a song which tells his girlfriend that one day, he’ll leave her, it is probably a fair reflection of how he felt when working in another country and he felt that anything was possible. George Harrison adds an electric guitar solo in the space where a lot of Beatles songs had a “middle eight”.
“Mr Moonlight” is not my favourite Beatles song. In fact, I struggle to think of any more unappealing songs. John Lennon’s vocals are screamed rather than sung and Paul McCartney’s Hammond organ solo is terrible. Dave Rybaczewski on the website “beatlesebook”, claims that this is a humorous song. Geoff Emerick, one of the engineers on the session, said that “the stumbling block again was Harrison’s guitar solo – not the notes he was playing, but the odd, sped-up tremolo sound he was using…Lennon thought the unconventional sound was terrific – and, personally, so did I – but George Martin insisted that it was simply too weird. After some discussion, it was decided to overdub a cheesy organ solo instead. Even though I loathed the sound, I was most impressed to see Paul playing it – up until that point, I’d had no idea that he could even play keyboards.”
“Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey” is a medley that The Beatles had heard Little Richard perform in 1959. The final version is the first take that they made in the mammoth session on October 18th; they discarded a second take. Placing these two cover songs together at the end of Side One of the album does allow us to compare two of the greatest singers in popular music history belting out vocals with as much intensity as they could. Personally, I don’t really like either song but Ian MacDonald, in “Revolution In The Head” claims that this is one of their best covers. Geoff Emerick said that he was surprised that this was recorded so early in the session as Paul McCartney’s vocal cords were being “ripped apart but after years of performing onstage, his voice was strong and could take the abuse.”
Side Two starts with a fade-in to “Eight Days A Week”. This was the first time that a fade-in had been used in a pop recording. The song was written by Paul McCartney and was one of the first songs that he brought into the studio in an unfinished state. This was to become more common later on in their careers. Unusually, although the song was written by Paul McCartney, it’s John Lennon who takes the lead vocal. After the recording was finished, it was assumed that this would be their next single until John Lennon completed work on “I Feel Fine”. However, it was a single in the USA, reaching Number One in March 1965.
“Words Of Love” was written by Buddy Holly and was in The Beatles live act between 1958 and 1962. The album sleeve indicates that the vocals are by John Lennon and Paul McCartney but it sounds more like John Lennon and George Harrison. Three attempts were made at recording this song in the recording session on October 18th but only the third take was complete and this was the one they included on the album.
“Honey Don’t”, written by Carl Perkins, had normally been sung by John Lennon when performed live but vocals were handed over to Ringo to ensure that he had one song on the album.
“Every Little Thing” is another song that was written by Paul McCartney but sung by John Lennon. Some of Paul McCartney’s songs appear to reflect a man with a dominating view of women. There are two contradictory views of this song in that context. Is he overwhelmed by the extent of his girlfriend’s care for him and respects that so much that he commits himself to her forever? Or is he saying that her whole existence is merely to please him?
“I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party” may well have been written by John Lennon in Los Angeles on August 24th. The other members of the group went to a party at Burt Lancaster’s house but John Lennon stayed in to write about a song in which he didn’t want to be a party pooper. The day before, they had flown from Vancouver to Los Angeles, arriving at 4 a.m. Later in the day they played at The Hollywood Bowl and four of the songs they played on that day appeared on “The Beatles Live At The Hollywood Bowl”. On August 24th, the group went to a garden party in aid of the Haemophilia Foundation where they had to smile, shake hands and be loveable moptops. This context may well explain the singer’s disinclination to attend a party. I’ve always loved this song. The video below features the vocals only. It’s incredible.
“What You’re Doing” took 12 takes to perfect over two days. It features some unusual rhyming, e.g. “You got me running and there’s no fun in it”.
“Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby” is George Harrison’s only lead vocal on the album and was recorded in one take. The song was written by Carl Perkins and was part of The Beatles’ live act between 1961 and 1964.
The astonishing speed with which The Beatles wrote and recorded new material during this period is hard to credit. In 1964, they played shows in Denmark, Holland, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and Sweden as well as thirty concerts in the USA, fourteen concerts in Paris and seven concerts in the UK. They started the year playing “The Beatles Christmas Show” ten times and ended the year by playing “Another Beatles Christmas Show” eight times. They filmed “A Hard Day’s Night”. They released two albums and three singles. John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote twenty three new songs.
The quality and quantity of their work in this year was unreal. Nothing is real.