Monday, May 5, 2014

Turn Left at Greenland, Part 5: ‘Beatles ’65’

In this monthly feature on Psychobabble, I’ve been looking at how The Beatles were presented on long-playing vinyl in the United States.

1964 had been a fortune-making year for The Beatles, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. They’d been screamed at, prodded, poked, sleep deprived, denounced, and deified. The experience was often more exhausting than exhilarating. While The Beatles maintained their cheerfulness on stage and for the sake of the press, their final album of the year betrayed the weariness creeping into Beatlemania. Beatles for Sale saw the guys backsliding after the all-original onslaught of A Hard Day’s Night with the usual half-and-half ratio of covers and originals. The originals turned down the excitement of the previous album with less electricity and more cynicism. Here was Lennon entering his supposed “Dylan” phase, though the American folk hero’s influence was mostly felt in the reliance on acoustic guitars. Bob’s zesty word play and stoned humor would not really be detectable in John’s songwriting until the next album. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that Beatles for Sale fully found John in his “Lennon” phase, as he began brutally self-analyzing/self-pitying with songs such as “I’m a Loser” and “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party”. He even manages to turn McCartney’s love-struck “Every Little Thing” into a statement of despondency with a vocal that sounds like it was recorded in the midst of mourning.

As has often been pointed out, The Beatles even looked exhausted on the cover of Beatles for Sale. Capitol would do its best to mask that weariness with the goofy, men-for-all-seasons cover of Beatles ’65, but the music inside couldn’t hide how the Fabs really felt.

Because of its preponderance of cover songs, Beatles for Sale has often been painted as a lesser Beatles album. That the covers aren’t among their strongest are a blow to the record too. Perhaps the most interesting interpretation is the zany juxtaposition of a particularly crazed Lennon vocal over Muzak backing on Dr. Feelgood and the Interns’ “Mr. Moonlight”, though a lot of fans also rate this track as one of The Beatles’ worst. It certainly has more going for it than a fatigued reading of Carl Perkins’s “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” that provides the most listless finale to any of their albums (The Beatles do much better by Perkins with a fun, Ringo-led take of “Honey Don’t”).

However, the richness and emotional depth of the album’s originals really find the band progressing exhilaratingly forward to the maturity of Help! and Rubber Soul. The joyful “Eight Days a Week” is the only original song that sounds like it could have fit on an earlier Beatles record. That was one of the songs clipped when Capitol went to town on Beatles for Sale to refashion it as Beatles ’65 (a title that seems to explicitly anticipate Help! and Rubber Soul if only in hindsight). Instead it was held aside for single release (coupled with another casualty, “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party”). Commercially, the move paid off when “Eight Days a Week” became The Beatles’ seventh number one hit in the U.S. in early 1965. In its stead on the latest Capitol record were both sides of the band’s sixth number one, “I Feel Fine” / “She’s a Woman”. The inclusion of these two souped-up walls of electricity might have made Beatles ’65 a less dour affair than Beatles for Sale if the very Beatles for Sale-style Hard Day’s Night-leftover “I’ll Be Back” had not been included.

Capitol scored The Beatles another well-deserved number one hit with “Eight Days a Week”, a track that was originally under consideration for single release in their home country too.

Ultimately, it’s a bit of a case of six-of-one/half-dozen-of-another. As different as the lineups of Beatles for Sale and Beatles ’65 are (the 14 track Parlophone album and the 11-track Capitol one only share 8 songs in common) they still share the same shadowy feel. Because “I Feel Fine”, “She’s a Woman”, and “I’ll Be Back” are all such strong tracks, Beatles ’65 ends up being a strong album in its own right and a much preferable equivalent to its UK release than UAs A Hard Day’s Night or Something New had been to theirs. Of course, Dave Dexter, Jr., still had to ruin those particular tracks with some of the heaviest application of echo you’ll hear on any Capitol Beatles LP. Had the mass of covers been set aside to allow “Every Little Thing”, “Eight Days a Week”, “What You’re Doing”, and “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” to find homes on Beatles ’65 instead of “Rock and Roll Music”, “Mr. Moonlight”, “Honey Don’t”, and “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby”, it most certainly would have been a better album than Beatles for Sale... and possibly their best pre-Rubber Soul album, period. But then that would have left The Beatles’ next Capitol LP in pretty sorry shape.

How's this for a line up?
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