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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Beatles For Sale

Beatles For Sale was released a mere five months after A Hard Day’s Night yet the difference in tone, quality, and creativity is drastic. Where A Hard Day’s Night was buoyant, light-hearted, and rambunctious, Beatles For Sale is cold, downtrodden, and uncharacteristically bleak. Even the title suggests a sort of moral bankruptcy at the heart of The Beatles machine.

Yet, for all the cover-original ratio backsliding and drabness, Beatles For Sale is one of the most prophetic albums of The Beatles career. Besides the shift in tone, Lennon/McCartney’s songwriting takes on a decidedly more personal point of view in the original songs, which was a more revolutionary change than it might seem upon first listen. The Beatles had sung about heartbreak before, but never had they personalized it so completely. Songs like “I’m A Loser”, “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party”, and “Baby’s In Black” not only have somber overtones but they suggest a deeper emotional complexity than their previous output. Especially “I’m A Loser” which presents the audience with a protagonist who is devoid of redeeming characteristics, who is wallowing in self-pity and presented as one who is “not what he appears to be”. This is a far cry from “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and an almost ironic response to the mounting hysteria surrounding the band. Losers were about the only thing they couldn’t be accused of being.

The reasons for such a drastic change in tone are legion: The Beatles had been touring almost nonstop for 2 years, they only had five months between albums, they’d started experimenting with marijuana, but probably the most important was their growing awareness that their celebrity was becoming a prison cell. By September of 1964 The Beatles had conquered every country they’d gone to, and the success of A Hard Day’s Night had made them instantly recognizable to millions of teenagers around the world. But the wage of such success was that they couldn’t go anywhere without escort and their lives had become a never-ending cycle of tour, practice, record. John Lennon in particular became very depressed during this period, culminating in one of the most ironic pleas for help in all of rock music: The song “Help!” off the album Help! only made The Beatles richer, and more successful.

Regardless, though the album has way too many uneven covers (I’m looking your way “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby”), Beatles For Sale sports a broadening of creativity as well as a few important sonic milestones. “I’m A Loser”, “Eight Days A Week”, “I’ll Follow The Sun”, and the incredible album cover photo are all worth the price of admission, making Beatles For Sale a must have for any Beatlephile.

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