Thursday, July 16, 2009
THE FOLLOW UP
WITH THE BEATLES
What could feel better than having your first album hit # 1?
Having your second record replace it at the top of the charts and stay there for 21 weeks. Yes, it's number one, it's top of the pops, for 52 consecutive weeks.
With The Beatles is one of the crowning achievements of early sixties pop. Released just a scant eight months (to the day) after Please Please Me, it represents a massive step forward for the group in composition, arrangement and overall quality. EMI was pretty happy to see these guys stroll through the door by now. "From Me To You" and "She Loves You" were huge hit singles and the first LP was still selling by the truckload. Certainly, this outing benefitted from having more studio time allotted, though it was still completed very quickly by today's standards.
Those half shaded, non smiling faces on the jacket represented another step toward artistic merit in presentation. Robert Freeman took the iconic photo that the group members loved and management hated. It was thought that pop stars should radiate mindless good cheer, with no traces of seriousness to spoil the party. Equally bland and stupid were the "liner notes" found on releases of that era. (Very little substance and many exclamation marks cluttered the cardboard) Revolution in design format would be greatly influenced by such happy accidents as this cover shot.
Enthusiasm, coupled with ensemble handclaps, drives the shouted chorus of "It Won't be Long". Coming out swinging, those famous harmonized "yeahs" in response to the lead get even more intense with quick octave jumps. Tying the whole thing together is a typically Harrisonoid guitar figure that he would later recycle (and reshape) for his own "What Is Life". These subtle additions always raised the game and Lennon was wise to welcome the input. Notice how a dizzying array of styles are tightly packed into two exciting minutes, ending with nice minor sevenths.
"All I've Got to Do" owes a debt to the R & B/soul sides that were a main staple of their listening diet. Lennon was on a roll, this being no exception. Clumsy transitions to bridges that didn't quite fit (think "Ask me Why") were replaced by the smooth and effortless changes heard here. Paul turns in an instant standard with "All My Loving" and instead of being released as a blockbuster single, it merely takes a slot with the rest of the pack. Any other group would have been featuring a song like this on 45. Just another track for these guys. The performance here really shows their strengths as a live act. Harrison's solo is note perfect as are the harmonies.
There was now a third song writing member in the fold as Harrison contributed "Don't Bother Me". Beginner's luck notwithstanding, this was a solid effort with tricky changes, a startling solo and more than worthy of inclusion here. Crediting Paul with claves was a little much, though. They were mixed way too high. (At this point, the camera is pulled upward with the "crane shot" catching McCartney on his knees, screaming toward the heavens in the pouring rain. The claves roll slowly and silently away from him, into the gutter.)
Use percussion instruments responsibly!
Covers were present in the same ratio as the previous set with "You've Really Got a Hold On Me" and "Money" being the strongest. Ringo's drum fills in the former were exceptional as is Lennon's vocal, while they completely tear the original version of "Money" to pieces and make it their own. The live take from Sweedish radio in October 1963 is HEAVY. Seriously brilliant for its time. Paul's re-arrangement of "Til There Was You" is fine with Charlie Byrd's influence hanging over those impeccably played guitars. No wonder parents approved.
Weak spots are few: "Hold Me Tight" (uncharacteristically flat vocals) and "Devil in Her Heart" (boring cover). Now, this could have been fixed with some retakes and perhaps "This Boy" could have simply replaced one of these. The Brits had an issue with including singles on long players, so "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (backed with "This Boy") were made available in single format only. Hard to imagine that now, though the reasoning was that you were paying for music you already shelled out hard earned quid for.
Everything here just exudes energy, while musicianship and craft were razor sharp. They were still capable of magical, one take performances, though more time was allowed for post session fixes and multiple attempts. Four tracks were now available to fill, making it easier to develop instrumental personality. Better when you can hear what's going on with each part in the mix.
One of the four best albums that they ever made.
Their next step was to bring the party to US audiences. Prior to their historic Atlantic crossing in the winter of 1964, one Beatle had already visited the States. Who was it?