Following on from the sparkling romance and breezy high spirits of A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles For Sale always sounds like a rather jaded hangover to me. It’s as though the film fun is now a fuzzy memory and here we come back down to Earth with a bump. No smiles on the Autumnal album cover, just a row of post-party headache, weary faces.
No Reply – I must admit I like it, despite the rather morose tone which it sets. John’s voice – impressively double-tracked - is in fine fettle as usual and I love the way Ringo’s playing matches John and Paul’s shouts of alarm (”I nearly died!”) as the urgency escalates. The handclapping mid section (“If I were you...”) I don’t like so much, it seems to break the momentum and rob the song of its rather curious, rising panic. There is a pleasingly novel twist in opening the album on such a downbeat, uncharacteristically bleak and plaintive note; but for me this bold move suffers by being diluted with an immediate double dose follow up of continued negativity...
I'm A Loser – a fine track, but carrying the baton of despair onwards in one of Lennon’s more self pitying essays (lyrically at least, although the tune itself bubbles along rather nicely in the vein of the similarly sad-yet-catchy style of ‘Misery’). John descends towards the bottom end of his vocal range and just about carries it off. Nice harmonies from Paul. Certainly not strong enough to be a single, for which it received initial consideration, the harmonica resurfaces and adds punch to this earcatching little number, heralded by some as a prime slice of early Dylanesque introspection (for me it was far more country & western than folksy).
Baby's In Black – The air of desolation plumbs new depths. It’s getting morbid now; we are exploring bereavement and emotional denial. Not what we had come to expect from our moptops at all. Yet whilst we normally forgive them their bold forays into new territory, this is just plain awful... the vocal harmonies – usually a copper-bottomed guarantee of triumph capable of lifting the most pedestrian of tracks, fail miserably here. George’s guitar actually sounds ugly, which is unthinkable. What’s going on? It stops short of being truly dreadful – the waltz swing has a curiously grim magnetism at times – but overall: uniquely depressing. Always puzzles me why it enjoyed such a long shelf life within their live set.
Rock & Roll Music – this is more like it. OK so it’s a cover track (too many of those on this album for my liking, but forgivable considering the massive pressure of demand the lads were under by now) but John devours it and succeeds in demolishing the Chuck Berry original in the process. The frenetic tempo and spontaneity (I’m sure I’ve read that this was recorded in a single take) gave the LP a much needed kick up the arse and succeeded (albeit briefly) in blowing away some of the cobwebs of gloom which were beginning to settle.
I’ll Follow The Sun– A nice brief little melody which even so, again carries a message of regret and loss - by now the hallmark of the album as a whole. Nevertheless, a charming, wistful composition from Paul, with a lovely acoustic feel which stays the right side of twee and blesses the album with a splash of calm reflection. I like the simple (to my ears) guitar intro and John’s harmonising. Paul’s vocal is spot on as usual.
Mr Moonlight – Oh dear. From John’s strangulated vocal to the over-ramped up harmonies via McCartney’s horribly chintzy Hammond Organ solo, I’ve never been able to find much if anything to commend this one – another cover version which I grew to resent more than ever many years later on discovering ‘Leave My Kitten Alone’ from these sessions which would have ripped this to shreds as a song choice. Very poor selection; worse than just a makeweight.
Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey (Medley) – Terrific lead vocal from Paul who delivers a fabulous Little Richard impression on this side one finale which attempts to lift some of the previous gloom... and with a measure of success. I don’t like John & George’s echoed harmonies at all for some reason. As with Rock & Roll Music, I believe this was knocked off in one take and the spontaneity shines through it.
Eight Days A Week – Side two’s opener is surely the obvious candidate for single-that-should-have-been. Only John’s brilliant ‘I Feel Fine’ prevented this in the UK (although I am aware that it did hit the top spot as a 45 in the States). Following the sombre mood of side one, here was a wonderfully warm and cheerful track, from the innovative fade-in/fade-out to the buoyant shared vocals and handclapping (was this ever put to better effect on a Beatles song than it was here?) to Ringo’s exemplary drumming. It had the stop-start hit single feel to it in much the same way as ‘All My Loving’ a year earlier.
Words Of Love - I love this, yet it feels like a guilty pleasure. A tribute to Buddy Holly, with a nod to The Everly Brothers, I find it warm and tender where I suspect others find it gooey. I like George’s treble heavy, ringing guitar. John & Paul produce a lovely ‘If I Fell’ style harmony. Very nice.
Honey Don’t– Despite the ‘This Boy’ theme and his central role within the film, Ringo had not come to the fore on the Hard Day’s Night album. But it’s “as you were” again here, with the generally obligatory Starr turn putting in an appearance via this country feel Carl Perkins number. The little namecheck nudges to George don’t do it for me... the whole thing sounds a bit too forced as the boys go through the motions on something of a filler.
Every Little Thing – here’s my favourite track on the whole album. I love Ringo’s thunderous timpani and John’s confident lead vocal – for years I thought this was a Lennon original but I have read since that this was a McCartney number. If so I do wonder why John dominates the vocal. Whatever the dynamics, the whole thing works beautifully for me with George’s understated guitar work, Paul’s smooth harmony and an overall romantic feel which would not have been misplaced on their previous album. A gem!
I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party – I’m not really keen on this one. Partly because it lies between two of my favourites in the album’s running order and in the old vinyl days I always wanted to skip it. Another helping of dreary self pity, which again brings the country & western flavour pervading the whole album back to the surface. A sort of miserable re-write of ‘I’ll Cry Instead’, with the doleful musings of a maudlin party drunk as narrator. I really don't like the jarring, shouted chorus either.
What You’re Doing – Another gem in my opinion. Once again Ringo’s dark, thumping drumbeat - this time shadowed by that rumbling barrelhouse piano - lend the track an ominous texture perfectly complemented by Paul’s superbly controlled vocals. John makes a balls up on a couple of occasions on the backing vocal – how DID that slip through the net and be allowed to stand? I think he sings “I” when Paul (correctly) sings “You” – at least that’s how I always hear it. But this slightly amateurish slip can’t really detract from this almost petulant yet wonderfully emotional track from Paul. In many ways I think of it as the dark sister to the more upbeat ‘Every Little Thing’.
Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby – and the album bows out rather weakly with yet another cover version, this time showcasing George. I’m pretty ambivalent about this one. I like the echo applied to the vocal but it does seem ironic that, on an album chockfull of doleful themes, the Beatle most suited to droll, sardonic delivery should be left to close the proceedings with a relatively jaunty piece of rockabilly fun. The mistimed opening (John out of step on guitar?) gives it, once again, a slightly amateurish quality.
They were getting tired.