Although With The Beatles recreates the template used so successfully on Please Please Me (open and close your album with a feisty rocker, include some slow ballads, chuck in a quick number for Ringo and feature George on lead vocal a couple of times, with a light sprinkling of R&B covers in between) it nevertheless represents a confident stride forwards from its buoyant but wet-behind-the-ears predecessor in my opinion. I agree with nimrod; it's a less rushed, more considered and thoughtful offering. There was no need to hang the album onto a brace of hit singles as before. This album was bold enough to stand on its own - even the trendsetting sleeve marked a willingness to break new ground. The first four tracks are superb:
It Won't Be Long is John Lennon at his high-octane, sledgehammer best. Paul & George do well keeping up with the alternate yeah / yeah vocals....a "hook" the lads made their trademark in '63. Blistering opener to the album.
All I've Got To Do this is superb, mellow brilliance. John's slow burn vocal control is remarkable, complemented by nice harmony from Paul. Mature and confident songwriting. Love this track.
Just when it looks as though alpha male Lennon has the proceedings in an unchallengeable, vice like grip... up pops Paul McCartney with the album's catchiest and most commercial song-that-should-have-been-a-single...
All My Loving deserves its status as one of the - if not THE - highlights from With The Beatles. It is so irresistibly accessible and infectious and I personally love those super-speed guitar triplets from John. I ought to make it clear that I am not a musician (on early Beatle records especially, the vocals are what matters above all else to me), but as the saying goes about art - I might not know much but I know what I like; and for me, George's guitar solo is excellent. A piece of class from all four Beatles from start to finish.
Don't Bother Me of course marks George's début as a composer - and he nails it with his sardonic vocal and downbeat lyrics. Following on directly from the effervescent All My Loving, Harrison's offering provides perfect shadow to McCartney's light - almost like the album cover itself put to music.
Here is where the album loses momentum for me.
Little Child is an out and out filler in my opinion - and worse, an uncharacteristically forgettable one. Twee in a Love, Love Me Do type of way, with none of the maturity that the previous tracks exhibited. Shame, but there was worse to come...
Till There Was You marks the album's low point for me. If anyone can salvage mushy sentimentalism into musical credibility, then it's Paul - yet even he fails to rescue this embarrassingly mawkish piece of schmaltz. Possibly the worst cover version The Beatles ever attempted. It has an old fashioned, flowery theatricality completely at odds with the tracks surrounding it. I'm sure many love it...for me it comes close to spoiling side one of the LP... Sorry!
The guitars are nice but the whole thing sounds so jarringly dated on what had been shaping up as a very modern (for its time) pop album.
Please Mr Postman lifts the spirits to some extent, and the tried and tested formula of John on lead vocals with Paul & George providing enthusiastic backup never fails. But I am always conscious that it's another cover, and I am always disappointed that the promise of those opening four fab tracks by the fab four should have run out of steam by the close of side one.
Still, on to side two (for those of you reading this in vinyl) and it's another helping of George with Roll Over Beethoven. This might have carried more clout had Paul (or better yet, John) taken the lead - I think it was traditionally a Lennon number in the Hamburg and Cavern days. Still, Harrison copes adequately and the track chugs along with sufficient merriment to keep things rolling.
Hold Me Tight for me succeeds where Little Child failed. There are similarities - both bubble along energetically more in hope than anything else - and Paul's offering, like Little Child, is another prime example of "filler" - yet somehow this track has enough momentum to pull through. I like it, but I know some who don't and there are those who openly cringe at Paul's occasionally flat, out of tune vocal. A guilty pleasure for me, and once again employing the echoed one/two-word backing vocal ploy.
You Really Got A Hold On Me does not, alas, exert any hold over me. Redeemed in part by John's stupendous vocal prowess, it was in my opinion a poor choice of cover and oh how it drags! I'm in complete agreement with tkitna here.
I Wanna Be Your Man a lively affair given to Ringo and handled with admirable kick-ass gusto. Refreshing and guaranteed to get my feet tapping and put a smile on my face.
Devil In Her Heart another cover from George. I can't really put my finger on why this works so well, but it does for me. Once again it's probably because the vocal interplay is so much to the fore. In fact I can't readily think of another example of The Beatles "arguing" throughout a song as they do here. I love the various ways that Harrison delivers the "no, no..." rebuttals to John & Paul.
Not A Second Time- well, if penultimate track There's A Place was a forgotten gem from their first album (and for me it was) then Not A Second Time fills that role here. I LOVE this track. Like Don't Bother Me, it resides in the shadows and has a dark and bitter quality delivered with sinister relish by John. None of your I-love-you, you-love-me twee nonsense here... Lennon is wounded and out for revenge. Once again the songwriting shows an impressive maturity in style. This was the famous "aeolian cadence" track raved about by the Times music critic... I wouldn't know about that; for me, the power of the lyrics and the stern piano combine to give this track real attitude. Terrific.
And just as There's A Place presaged rocking finale Twist And Shout, Not A Second Time leads us to..
Money - a real corker on which to finish. As with Twist And Shout, only John could do this one justice, and sure enough he carries off the callous lyrics with ballsy venom. A superb climax to the record. Follow up albums are notoriously difficult. For me this album confirmed that the Beatles were no flash-in-the-pan one hit wonders, but a real force to be reckoned with.