A BEATLES' HARD-DIE'S SITE

Wilson and Alroy's Records Reviews: The Beatles

The classics albums part one
Forget it, I won't even try to make some new and profound generalizations about the most famous, influential, talented, and over-analyzed musical performers of the last half-century. Suffice it to say that you won't be able to understand the first thing about 60s rock - or Western pop music in general, really - until you sit down and memorize the half-dozen most important Beatles records. Almost every new LP shattered the previous boundaries of rock 'n' roll, and Lennon and McCartney's songwriting surpassed that of almost all their contemporaries.
There are three more points I just can't restrain myself from making: first, avoid all greatest hits packages, such as 1, as virtually every Beatles record is a greatest hits package unto itself. Second, the ratings here are conservative, spread out to give some guidance to the novice fan. If we were to rate these records relative to everything else being done in the 60s, virtually every disc would get four or five stars. Finally, the Beatles' rhythm section is, if anything, under-rated - brilliant singing, songwriting, and production weren't the only things the Beatles had going for them.


Please Please Me (1963)

- Surprisingly, about half of this is dominated by cover songs - mostly girl group, R & B, and Broadway show tunes. It all was recorded in one marathon session, and although the Beatles were up to the challenge, the material seems thin so many decades later. Nonetheless, there are some well-known rockers ("I Saw Her Standing There"; "Twist And Shout") and Lennon-McCartney pop songs (title track; "Love Me Do"; "P.S. I Love You"), five of which hit the Top Ten at once, but only after the follow-up LP hit like a tidal wave in the U.S. (JA)
- Besides "I Saw Her Standing There" I don't think any of the originals rank with Lennon-McCartney's better work, and as for the covers, well, I agree with John's 70s comment that the originals are better. The covers include mediocre tunes by several influential composers like Carole King & Gerry Goffin ("Chains") and Burt Bacharach & Hal David ("Baby It's You"). (DBW)

With The Beatles (1963)
- The breakthrough American version of this record was retitled Meet The Beatles, cut down, and then beefed up by the addition of "I Want To Hold Your Hand." The original British LP, now tranformed into the universal CD version, is surprisingly tepid. Despite one great Lennon-McCartney number ("All My Loving") and a couple of high-energy 50s rock 'n' rollers ("Roll Over Beethoven"; "Money (That's What I Want)"), it's again stuffed with lame covers of contemporary R & B songs ("Please Mister Postman"; "You Really Got A Hold On Me"). However, the band was always remarkably competent even when covering the most vapid material. (JA)
- I find this a big step up from the previous album: there are still lots of covers, but the originals are well-crafted and tuneful, with great Lennon vocals on "Not A Second Time" and "All I've Got To Do." This is probably the best document of the Beatles as high-energy, three-guitar rock and roll band. (DBW)

A Hard Day's Night (1964)
- A major improvement, thanks to more careful and sophisticated recording methods, and more thoughtful songwriting - this was the only Beatles record that consisted entirely of Lennon-McCartney tunes. Suddenly, the pathetically syrupy pop-song covers are gone, largely replaced by memorable, tightly crafted masterpieces (title track; "I Should Have Known Better"; Paul's melodramatic "And I Love Her"; the thrilling "Can't Buy Me Love"). Even the toss-off "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You," handed over to George to provide him with a lead vocal, is graced with brilliant backup vocals. The second side, thrown together at the last moment to fill out the record, does drag a bit ("When I Get Home," drab outside of its soaring refrain) - but it includes the wonderful rocker "Any Time At All" and two memorable ballads (Paul's "Thing We Said Today" and John's "I'll Be Back," both with clever ascending hooks). (JA)
- Indeed. I'm not a fan of "Any Time At All" and "When I Get Home" is possibly the worst Lennon-McCartney tune the Beatles ever recorded, but John's "You Can't Do That" is a relentless, powerful rocker. (DBW)

Beatles For Sale (1964)

- The Beatles stumbled here despite some experimentation with recording effects and instrumentation, having failed to come up with more than a handful of solid songs by Christmas of 1964 - a de facto deadline imposed by commercial considerations (see title). John did contribute one brilliant, remarkably introspective number ("I'm A Loser"), but the other solid material broke little new ground ("Eight Days A Week"; "What You're Doing"). In desperation, the band fell back on cover versions of 50s rock standards by Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, and Chuck Berry, the most memorable being the latter's frantic "Rock And Roll Music." None of this could salvage the record, however, and some of the tracks ended up being among the most widely disliked by Beatles fans ("Mr. Moonlight"). (JA)
- It's well-performed ("Words of Love") but the covers are redundant and the originals are mostly lackluster ("What You're Doing"). "I'll Follow The Sun" is a pretty ballad Paul had written years before but revived for this project as a last resort. (DBW)

Help! (1965)
- Like almost everything that the Beatles did from this record on, it's not merely good, but groundbreaking. The harmonies are superb ("Tell Me What You See"), the hits are unforgettable (title track; "Ticket To Ride"), John's lyrics are advancing rapidly ("You've Got To Hide Your Love Away"; "It's Only Love"), and Paul contributes a frighteningly modern-sounding semi-acoustic number ("I've Just Seen A Face") and a startling, wildly successful experiment dispensing with the normal four-piece rock band backing track in favor of a string quartet (the widely imitated and covered "Yesterday"). There are a few weak numbers, but they're harmless (the superfluous country number "Act Naturally," an excuse to spotlight Ringo; the rocking cover of "Dizzy Miss Lizzy"). (JA)
- "Miss Lizzy" is one of their best covers, actually. And George is starting to contribute quality compositions ("I Need You"). There's also a great guitar solo by Paul on "Another Girl." (DBW)

Rubber Soul (1965)
- The best 60s rock album produced up to this point, which is saying a lot - there was in fact some stiff competition (e.g., The Beach Boys Today). Although the Beatles were still often sticking to their tried-and-true love song format (the cutesy "Drive My Car"; Paul's "You Won't See Me" and "Michelle"), John is experimenting with anthems ("The Word," which summarizes the whole flower power movement two years before it even happened), as well as highly personal, almost diary-like sketches that rank among his most popular work ("Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," the first prominent rock record to feature a sitar; the devastating "In My Life"). It's all solid; even John's insecurely misogynistic "Run For Your Life" features a great vocal. The simultaneously released single ("We Can Work It Out"/"Day Tripper") was arguably their best to date. (JA)
- This record is a blast. George throws in clever lyrics of his own on "If I Needed Someone," and rocks out on "Think For Yourself," with Paul on fuzz bass. I could make an argument that More Hits by the Supremes, for example, is a stronger album, but what the hell. (DBW)

Revolver (1966)
- Another complete breakthrough by the Beatles - earlier advances were steady and significant but predictable, paralleled by those of other artists like Dylan and the Beach Boys. Revolver isn't as carefully crafted and relentlessly tuneful as Pet Sounds, but it's even more important, pushing the sonic boundaries of rock farther than any other LP in history. The Beatles combine startling studio wizardry ("Tomorrow Never Knows") with inventive lyrical themes (John's "I'm Only Sleeping" and "She Said She Said") and unusual instrumentation (George's "Love You Too" - which kicked open rock's door to Eastern music). Paul is in top form ("Eleanor Rigby"; the brassy "Got To Get You Into My Life"), George contributes the fantastically funky and ominous "Taxman," and, of course, there's everyone's all-time favorite sing-along novelty tune - "Yellow Submarine." The single that immediately preceded Revolver ("Paperback Writer"/"Rain") ranks with anything the Beatles ever did. (JA)
- Sure, this is a classic, but there are plenty of weak moments. John's drug consumption produces mixed results: "Tomorrow Never Knows" is weird all right, but it's not exactly great entertainment. "Love You To" is the first but not the best of George's Indian compositions, while "Doctor Robert" and "And Your Bird Can Sing" are unimaginative filler. Meanwhile, Paul's "For No One" is brilliant songwriting, minimally produced. (DBW)
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