In the last post I ranked The Beatles Yellow Submarine soundtrack at the bottom of the 13 Beatles albums released during their time. Now we start the climb towards #1. At #12 I have The Beatles For Sale. I have long said that my least favorite Beatles album is Let It Be- but in thinking long and hard about it I think that has been simply because of a few factors- it was the final Beatles album released, the Let It Be documentary was a downer- and the production of Let It Be by Phil Spector left a lot to be desired. Again I like every Beatles album but in listening to Let It Be recently I have to admit it isn’t at the bottom or even next to the bottom. I have to give #12 to The Beatles For Sale. It has some outstanding songs no question about that- but it was a rushed for Christmas album by the bean counters. We need more product to cash in give us more product so we get a mixture here of Beatle originals and covers.
When I think about this album the first thing I think of his how tired The Beatles look in that cover shot and rightly so. 1964 was a crazy year for them. They invaded America- made their first movie, did a lot of touring, wrote a lot of songs and recorded a couple albums somehow in between. They didn’t have the time to write enough songs for this album and I think it was abuse to even ask them to do another album at this point but we need another album to sell for Christmas so the boys went into the studio and came up with some new songs- and did some covers and here we go The Beatles For Sale– a good title for it. Not that I am complaining because I am very happy that the album exists and it is a good album.
There are fourteen songs on The Beatles For Sale- eight written by The Beatles and six covers. Their previous album A Hard Day’s Night was all written by John and Paul. The songs on this album are also different in tone than on A Hard Day’s Night- which was a fun album full of positive energy. The Beatles For Sale has a darker tone/ lyrics and they do sound kind of wore out from Beatlemania. The album was influenced by The Beatles meeting Bob Dylan in the summer of 1964 and his lyrics especially was an influence on this album for John Lennon. Also there is a country music influence to this album-
The most famous original song on the album is Eight Day’s A Week- which became the bands 7th #1 song in just over a years time. The song is famous for being the first pop song to use a fade-in to open a song. Lennon would later call the song ‘lousy’ but John Lennon said a lot of different things in interviews- depending on his mood at the moment. He had no filter. This isn’t a lousy song.
The album starts out very strong- the first three number are highlights of the album. No Reply is kind of a surprising opener- its not the potboiler The Beatles tended to open an album with but this album lacks a real potboiler- Eight Days A Week would have been the closest. This is an up tempo song- that tells a story- one advance this album does make is the lyrical advancement- the telling of a story-the Dylan influence on John. Side story originally John wrote this and gave it to one of Brian’s artists Tommy Quickly- who rejected it! Can you imagine that! So The Beatles took the song back and here it is leading off the album.
The best song or at least my favorite song here is John’s “I’m A Loser.” I came to my Beatle fanaticism in the mid 70’s- and by that time we knew from interviews John had given that he thought this was one of his first honest songs and that he at times suspected he was a loser- other times God almighty – but when it came out how did people take this song? This was clearly Dylan influenced- and this I think was a turning point for The Beatles as far as subject matter and advancing lyrically. When I think of this song I think of back in the 80’s at a high school talent show a young man with a guitar went out on stage and played this song. He did a great job with it- of all the songs to play- impressed he dug a little deeper into the Beatles catalog and played this. This was going to be a single then John wrote I Feel Fine and that was it. One of my favorite Beatles non-singles.
Baby’s In Black follows I’m A Loser- it was a song written by John and Paul together- again this is a downer kind of song influenced by the boys listening to a lot of George Jones and Buck Owens at the time- and not the energetic happy song of the earlier period. A great song though. One of Steve Earle’s favorites. He does a great cover of it.
The cover of Rock and Roll Music the Chuck Berry classic is next and the best cover version on the album. The best Beatle cover of course is Twist and Shout but this is one of their better ones. John does the singing.
I’ll Follow The Sun- which was George Martin’s favorite song on the album- was a song Paul had written years earlier that didn’t pass the muster as anything they would release-until they got in the pickle of having to produce an album at this point and were short on material.
Mr. Moonlight is a dreadful cover although John does his best to try to save it. How did they decide to cover this crap? Kansas City/Hey,Hey, Hey. Hey- sung by Paul -a Little Richard cover written by the great songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller is much better and finishes the first side.
Eight Days A Week opens side 2 followed by the only cover they did on an official studio album of one of their heroes Buddy Holly- Words Of Love- sung by John and Paul. Then the Ringo song on the album a cover of another major Beatles influence the underappreciated Carl Perkins- Honey Don’t. The Beatles did more covers of Carl Perkins songs than of any other artist- and with the royalties Perkins was able to buy his parents a farm. Every Little Thing, I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party and What You’re Doing are solid tunes of those three I like What You’re Doing the best. George finishes the album up with a cover of another Carl Perkins song “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby”- at this point George’s own songwriting was in its infancy. On the remaining studio albums during their career The Beatles would only do two more cover songs- Act Naturally- Dizzy Miss Lizzy which closes Help!
If going by just my personal favorites I would rank The Beatles For Sale one notch higher at #11 instead of #12 but in thinking about it- the album I have at #11 is a better album. The Beatles For Sale by nearly any other band would be a career highlight. For The Beatles it ranks at #12 on my list. So as far as the countdown goes #13- Yellow Submarine #12- The Beatles For Sale. What will #11 be?