One of the things that makes The Beatles The Beatles is that nearly all of their songs sound classic immediately. My notes have “I Wanna Be Your Man,” the 11th track, as the first original Beatles song on here I was familiar with before hearing the album, and even then I wasn’t sure if I only knew about it because of Rock Band Beatles, leaving “Money (That’s What I Want)” as the only Beatles-written song on here I was sure I’d heard before I got this disc. But now I listen to it and I feel like I’ve spent a lifetime with these songs. I wonder if a psychologist could design an experiment that could tease out how much of that is because of some kind of Beatles-esque song-writing trait that hits the human brain in a certain way and how much of it is due to the fact that we’ve been trained into thinking that what sounds Beatles-esque is classic and so we plug it into that slot automatically.
Paul McCartney is the best Beatle and, despite this being my go-to ice-breaker question lately, it’s not up for debate. Goofy egocentric quirks aside, he had the best voice and was the best songwriter. However, this album is a great arrow in the (still wrong) John quiver. John’s written the best songs on here and his screaming vocals are at the height of their powers. None of this can make up for the Achilles’ Heel that was “Imagine,” but at this point in his career, McCartney was still catching up to Lennon in terms of songwriting and he hadn’t grown into his voice yet, either.
The only even semi-acceptable (but still wrong) answer to favorite Beatle that isn’t Paul is Ringo, and this album is also a great illustration of one of his underappreciated facets. His drumming is perfect. He’s got skeelz, but he’s never overly technical or flashy with them. They always fit the song perfectly: there if you want to appreciate them but otherwise just doing the work of the song that you don’t notice and showcasing the melodies.
And on this album it really is melodies. With McCartney still growing into his voice, the vocal harmonies are not there yet. They even make an early salvo in their competition with The Beach Boys on “Devil In Her Heart” and fail miserably, though that’s a song that I don’t think can ever work.
This is a difficult album to compare to Please Please Me because they’re quite different. Released in the same year, the band kind of ran out of original material and this ends up being a bit of a cover album. That’s not a criticism, it just means it’s more of a performance than composition critique. And from the performance standpoint, this does stand above the prior album. The band is having more fun, is tighter, and the sound is much better. Nothing here has stood the test of time as well as “I Saw Her Standing There,” but the band starts to shed a little bit (just a little bit) of that teeny bopper innocence and get a little wild, covering the loin-grinding Smokey Robinson and foreshadowing Gordon Gecko with “Money (That’s What I Want).”
– “Please Mister Postman,” “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me”
– “It Won’t Be Long,” “All I’ve Got To Do,” “All My Loving,” “Don’t Bother Me,” “Little Child,” “Till There Was You,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Hold Me Tight,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Money (That’s What I Want)”
– “Devil In Her Heart,” “Not A Second Time”
Filed Between: The Beatles’ Please Please Me and Help!
Song Notes: Below the fold… Continue reading