As has been noted before, on the cover of Beatles for Sale the band looks, frankly, knackered. And with good reason, too: this was not only their fourth album in two years (and their second in one year), but it had been somehow slotted between touring America several times and making two movies. Its excellence in these circumstances rather makes the time taken between albums by the likes of modern heavyweights – Coldplay and U2, for example – seem like eons. And if from time to time John, Paul, George and Ringo don’t sound as chipper as they did on, say, She Loves You, well… you can’t really blame them.
There’s the full surge of Lennon’s unhappiness in songs like No Reply, I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party and the pretty blatantly spelt-out I’m a Loser. Several of these songs, such as the mad waltz that is Baby’s in Black, bear loud witness to the fact that The Beatles were spending an awful lot of time trundling around the United States, listening to country stations (and thank goodness, as a Beatles album inspired by mid-60s British radio would be an awful thing). Some songs here are covers – the band simply didn’t have time to write enough original material – but, surprisingly, instead of being limp filler, oldies like Kansas City / Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! and Mister Moonlight are roaringly strong. In fact, the most notable track here – apart from the USA-only single Eight Days a Week – is Lennon’s brilliant, throat-ripping version of Chuck Berry’s Rock and Roll Music, while George Harrison’s comparable love for Carl Perkins makes his cover of Honey Don’t a complete delight.
Beatles for Sale is a transitional album, the group learning their way around studio and becoming more sophisticated. Rubber Soul would see them make another great leap forward (and drop the covers again), but this is a joyous, inventive and exciting album. Especially considering the circumstances it was made in.
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