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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

With The Beatles

Three months after recording and releasing Please Please Me The Beatles were back in the recording studio working on a new record, what would eventually be titled With The Beatles. The title, I suppose, is meant to inspire a connection with the audience (at the time a whole lot of screaming pre-teen and teenaged girls) but as I listened through this uneven collection of originals and cover songs it seemed to me that the title is almost like a musical mad lib. The title could have just as easily been A Journey Through The Last Few Years of Pop Music…With The Beatles, or A Forced Follow-up to Their Smash Hit Debut…With The Beatles, either one being appropriate.

Now, in all fairness, of all The Beatle records With The Beatles is the one with which I am the least familiar. I have always avoided it because of the high cover-to-original ratio, and because most of the originals can be purchased on other records*. So it could be said I went into this one with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. But, unfortunately, the honest answer is that this record didn’t really disavow me of my bias. There are a lot of covers, and some of them are not particularly good (i.e. “Til There Was You”, “Roll over Beethoven”, “Money”, etc.), and the originals that can’t be purchased elsewhere seem like pale versions of their better Please Please Me counterparts**. The record is largely saved from irrelevance by the always fresh and bubbly “All My Loving” and “It Won’t Be Long”, which I’d forgotten about until this relisten.

This record suffers largely for two specific reasons: 1.) the LP was not the dominant vehicle for delivering pop music at the time and 2.) George Martin and crew did not believe in releasing singles from the albums.

1.) At this point in 1963 the LP (or Long Playing record) was still a secondary vehicle, sitting backseat to the 45, or single, so much of The Beatles efforts were funneled into creating hit singles and then throwing the rest of their work onto an album to peel even more bucks/pounds out of the wallets of their fans.

2.) Partly because of the 45 being so dominant, George Martin did not like releasing singles from albums so the best tracks were released as singles and put on later albums to help those albums sell.

These two factors worked in tandem, combined with the fact that John Lennon and Paul McCartney had all of three months to write all new material, to practically ensure With The Beatles would feel a little rushed and devoid of inspiration. For Please Please Me The Beatles had three years to get material together, for With The Beatles they had three months. And what happened between the two albums? Well, they just toured Europe and the UK and released a couple minor singles called “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand”***.

*One of my biggest shortcomings as a Beatles fan is that I don’t like their covers. Never have, probably never will.
**Although one way With The Beatles most definitely has Please Please Me beat is in the album cover category. I think With The Beatles is one of the best Beatles album covers of all time
**In case you either didn’t pick up on the sarcasm or are not enough of a Beatlephile to catch my jest, “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” were not even close to being minor singles. They were monsters, #1 both of them.