Tuesday, April 6, 2010

420. With the Beatles- Because being without them is too horrible a concept to contemplate.

Album: With the Beatles

Artist: The Beatles.

Genre: Greatness.

Year: 1963

And so at at 420 (appropriately enough) comes the first of many Beatles albums that from now on will crop up regularly on this list. No artist has more entries in the top 500 than the fab four. I’ve heard some criticism about this but I’ll defend The Beatles presence here to the death. The list is the 500 greatest albums and they deserve all their places here. The fact that the Beatles are the only major artist (with ten or more releases to their name) to have more of their work included than left off goes someway to proving how good they were. If you think they were over rated then you don’t understand what music was like before they came along.

With the Beatles was the second album released by J,P, G and R and came out in 1963. It’s one of a quartet of early Beatles albums often referred to as the Beatlemania albums. It follows the blueprint for most of the early releases- some covers along with a collection of original songs. The only way to address this is to go track by track, something I don't often do but Beatles releases deserve.

1. It won’t be long.

A song John wrote to try and replicate the success of She Loves you. This song is so damn… Beatley. A catchy chorus, harmonies, yeah yeahs. It even finished with a big “oooo” sound the likes of which drove kids wild. You might not know it but if I played it in your house you could identify the authors within the first four bars and your toes would be tapping four bars later. The album version is Take 17 with some overdubs recorded in the same day.

2. All I’ve gotta do.

A song John wrote two years earlier and had lying around. A Slower number but still oozing fab-fourness. If beatleness was liquid this would flood your bedroom before the second verse started and you’d have a great time drowning. They laid down the entire track in under an hour. After a few false starts they played the track six times, chose the best version, recorded an overdubed backing vocal in one take and then moved onto something else.

3. All my loving.

This is coming up to 50 years old but it’s fresh and sparkly and new and fab every time you hear it. Try not to sing along. Go on try! Put your hand over your mouth and clench your teeth and try not to join in. Futile isn’t it? Paul wrote the lyrics while shaving and then later put it to music. They recorded it in the same session that produced It won't be long with only 13 takes required.

4. Don’t’ bother me.

After three Lennon/McCartney songs a Harrison original. Early on in his career George couldn’t write as well as the others but in only a few short years he was cranking out something like Something which is really something. It’s like great song-writing is contagious and over constant exposure to two carriers George caught it (but somehow Ringo was immune). Unlike most of the rest of the album the Beatles took two days to record this track instead of one. They weren't happy with it after a run through on September 11th so they returned to it on the 12th. The final version on the album is Take 15 which they overdubbed with Claves, tambourine and bongos. Personally I prefer Take 10 without any overdubs at all.

5. Little Child.

Possibly the album’s second weakest moment. For the Beatles this is just an album filler but for any other act in the sixties an original composition like this would have been an instant single. And it would have charted as well. I may be spoiling some illusions here when I tell you that this track is constructed rather than performed. The basic take was taken from the seventh take. They then included some harmonica from the 13th take, the harmonica solo from take 18 and some piano from take 15. They were talented guys but John had yet to master singing while playing the harmonica at the same time.

6. Till there was you.

The Beatles were so damn good they could even cover tunes from musicals and make them good. That’s true talent. This song is a ditty. I don’t know what makes a ditty and what makes a song but this is definitely in the ditty camp. Paul’s voice suits it perfectly and George’s solo is so good there were many who assumed it was played by a session musician. Thankfully the band included it in their live repertoire which gave George a chance to prove who was really responsible. The take on the album is from the second session they attempted this track but I prefer live versions without overdubs.

7. Please Mr Postman.

This was originally a hit for the Marvellettes, a girl group whose only claim to fame is to have recorded this song. When they performed it after this album came out people thought it was a Beatles cover. This sort of stuff was pretty much unknown to white audiences before the Beatles came along and introduced it. They'd been doing this live so when they came to record it on July 30th they only needed a few takes for John to master his vocals. Backing vocals and handclaps were added immediately afterwards.

8. Roll over Beethoven.

Although they had fun doing it, the Beatles were always outclassed in their Chuck Berry covers by The Stones who could do Chuck better than anyone. But it’s still great and their playing even makes you forget how terrible the words are. Berry owes a huge debt to the Beatles and the Stones who helped introduce him to generations of white record buyers. Can’t type…anymore… must dance…

9. Hold me tight.

The lowest point on the album. An unconvincing song that Paul sings without any sense of conviction. It’s like he knows this isn’t going to make it on the album. Imagine his surprise when it did. The band actually tried to record this for their first album but decided it wasn't worth pursuing. I wonder what made them change their mind a few months later? I've got a version which has been remixed slightly Out Of Phase which highlights the bass but still does nothing to redeem it as a song.

10. You really got a hold on me.

A slow ballad that gives you a chance to examine those famous Beatle harmonies in all their glory. Great aren’t they? You Really Got a Hold on me was originally recorded by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles who John had a bit of an obsession with at the time.

11. I wanna be your man.

A song that Lennon and McCartney knocked off quickly in the presence of the Rolling Stones who were trying to learn to be song writers. They gave it to Jagger and Richards as a gift and then to Ringo as his song to sing on the album. Letting Ringo out from behind the drums for one song on every album was a masterstroke- he always sang as if he was so happy just to be given a microphone.To be honest he was probably thrilled to be in the band at all. He strikes me as the sort of guy who would be delighted just to be let into a lift. The version included on the album was recorded within a week of it being finished. I prefer live versions recorded later when the band and Ringo were more confident and capable of making it rock.

12. Devil in her heart.

Another ballad not written by the Beatles and a bit of a slowing down at the end. An odd choice for a cover song as the original wasn't a hit anywhere and was a pretty obscure track to cover. George probably sings it better than the original version but since the original has pretty much faded into obscurity we'll never know for sure.

13. Not a second time.

More piano than in the other tracks and a nice showcase for George Martin, the fifth Beatle and justifiably the most famous record producer who ever lived (or at least the most famous record producer who didn't attract fame by killing people). This track is the source of the famous Aeolian Cadences quote that gets mentioned a lot. A music critic from The Times praised John's songwriting especially his use of Aeolian Cadences. John said years later that he still had no idea of what an Aeolian Cadence actually was claiming they sounded to him like a kind of exotic bird. It's a great example of how the Beatles caused professional music critics to witter about their abilities even though they had no formal musical training.

14. Money.

An absolutely barnstormer of a closing number. A magnificent thumping gem which John belts out and the band nails completely. That’s what I want!

Original Highlight: All my Loving. Sing it with me now.

Cover Highlight: Money. Nobody has ever done it like they have.

Lowlight: Hold me tight. Not a bad song just not as good.

Influenced by: Chuck Berry, Smokey Robinson and Motown.

Influenced: Music.

Favourite Amazon customer review quote: “All of these songs are so trite and silly its easy to see that the Beatles were the Hansons and the Backstreet Boys of their generation”.

-You massive, massive, massive twat.

So are you with the Beatles or against them? Let me know below.


  1. Should any Album by the beatles be lower than any album by kiss ? While they were still finding their feet on this one, there are more great songs here than on just about anyones best albums.

  2. I agree. I think I could compile a Beatles worst-of and I'd still rather hear it than listen to KISS. Although we'll see what the rest of the countdown brings.

  3. " Early on in his career George couldn’t write as well as the others"
    What? Harrison's song is clearly the best on the album. Beautiful melody, excellent lyrics and great instrumental work.

    Followed by Mr Postman at second best.

  4. Thanks for the comment. I'm not sure there are too many that would agree with you about Don't Bother Me being the highlight of the album. I agree it's a great song but it's not quite up there with some of the others. Thanks for sharing your views on the Beatles. Stay tuned, there's plenty more of them to come.

  5. The fact that this album on the list, ALONG WITH "Meet the Beatles!" is awfully overkill. Good thing they rectified that on the first edit.