Beatles For Sale
Beatles for Sale was The Beatles' fourth album, released in late 1964 and produced by George Martin for Parlophone. The album marked a minor turning point in the evolution of Lennon and McCartney as lyricists, Lennon particularly now showing interest in composing songs of a more autobiographical nature. "I'm a Loser" shows Lennon for the first time seemingly coming under the influence of Bob Dylan, according to leading Beatles archivist Mark Lewisohn (see Complete Beatles Chronicle, p.168), having met him for the first time in New York while on tour on August 28th, 1964 (see Paul McCartney - Many Years From Now by Barry Miles).
The album is considered by some to be the weakest in the group's history, because of the "war weariness" (Lewisohn) the band was suffering from due to the now constant slog of touring and recording. Others note that the album, with its ironic title, and downbeat lyrics and cover photo, seems intended as a direct challenge to fans who wanted The Beatles to continue writing upbeat, happy songs. Only two months and eight days separates the last session for A Hard Day's Night (Tuesday 2nd June) and the first for Beatles For Sale. Prior to the new recording sessions, the band toured Australia and New Zealand (after a two-show night in Hong Kong), played concerts in the Netherlands , Denmark and Sweden and made several TV, radio and live concert appearances in the UK . It was "inevitable that the constant grind of touring, writing, promoting, and recording would grate on The Beatles," (All Music Guide) leading to the inclusion of several cover versions after the all-original A Hard Day's Night. And yet, during these sessions, they were still capable of recording the single "I Feel Fine" and its B-side, "She's a Woman," both songs of considerable quality and interest. The former contains the first known controlled use of feedback in the pop music idiom (Lewisohn), and illustrates, according to McCartney biographer Barry Miles, their "conscious awareness of the Surrealist tradition that they incorporated found objects into their work." The sound was found completely accidentally by Lennon, according to McCartney in Many Years From Now. McDonald refers to "She's a Woman" as "in every respect revolutionary," which illustrates, in the midst of recording the second and last studio album of an exhausting 1964, they could still push the parameters of pop music outwards.
Beatles for Sale and its modified counterpart in the United States, Beatles '65, each reached number one on the charts in their respective countries, with the former taking over from A Hard Day's Night in the United Kingdom. Almost 23 years after its original release, the album charted in the United Kingdom for a fortnight in 1987. Even though this album was recorded on four-track tape, the CD version is available only in mono.
When Beatles for Sale was being recorded, Beatlemania was just past its peak; in early 1964, the Beatles had made waves with their television appearances in the United States, sparking unprecedented demand for their records. Beatles for Sale was the Beatles' fourth album in 21 months; recording for the album began on August 11, just two months after the release of A Hard Day's Night, following on the heels of several tours. Much of the production on the album was done on "off days" from performances in the UK , and most of the songwriting was done in the studio itself. Most of the album's recording sessions were completed in a three-week period beginning on September 29. Beatles producer George Martin recalled: "They were rather war-weary during Beatles For Sale. One must remember that they'd been battered like mad throughout '64, and much of '63. Success is a wonderful thing, but it is very, very tiring."
Even the prolific John Lennon/Paul McCartney songwriting team could not keep up with the demand for their songs, and with a targeted deadline of Christmas to meet, the band resorted to recording several cover versions for the album. This had been their mode of operation for their first albums but had been abandoned for the all-original A Hard Day's Night. The album included six covers, the same number as their first two albums. Paul McCartney recalled: "Recording Beatles For Sale didn't take long. Basically it was our stage show, with some new songs." Indeed, three of the cover tunes were recorded in a total of five takes in one session on October 18.
Beatles for Sale featured eight original Lennon and McCartney works. At this stage in their collaboration, Lennon and McCartney's songwriting was highly collaborative; even where songs had a primary author the other would often contribute key parts, as with "No Reply" where McCartney provided a middle-eight for what was otherwise almost entirely a Lennon song.
In 1994, McCartney described the songwriting process he and Lennon went through: "We would normally be rung a couple of weeks before the recording session and they'd say, 'We're recording in a month's time and you've got a week off before the recordings to write some stuff.' . . . So I'd go out to John's every day for the week, and the rest of the time was just time off. We always wrote a song a day, whatever happened we always wrote a song a day... Mostly it was me getting out of London, to John's rather nice, comfortable Weybridge house near the golf course... So John and I would sit down, and by then it might be one or two o'clock, and by four or five o'clock we'd be done."
The recording of Beatles for Sale took place at Abbey Road Studios in London . The Beatles had to share the studio with classical musicians, as McCartney would relate in 1988: "These days you go to a recording studio and you tend to see other groups, other musicians . . . you'd see classical sessions going on in 'number one.' We were always asked to turn down because a classical piano was being recorded in 'number one' and they could hear us." George Harrison recalled that the band was becoming more sophisticated about recording techniques: "Our records were progressing. We'd started out like anyone spending their first time in a studio — nervous and naive and looking for success. By this time we'd had loads of hits and were becoming more relaxed with ourselves, and more comfortable in the studio (. . . ) We were beginning to do a little overdubbing, too, probably to a four-track."
Recording was completed on October 18. The band participated in several mixing and editing sessions before completing the project on November 4; the album was rushed into production and released exactly a month later. It was their fourth in 21 months. Beatles manager Neil Aspinall later reflected: "No band today would come off a long US tour at the end of September, go into the studio and start a new album, still writing songs, and then go on a UK tour, finish the album in five weeks, still touring, and have the album out in time for Christmas. But that's what the Beatles did at the end of 1964. A lot of it was down to naivety, thinking that this was the way things were done. If the record company needs another album, you go and make one."
Beatles for Sale was released in the United Kingdom on December 4, 1964. On December 12, it began a 46-week-long run in the charts, and a week later knocked A Hard Day's Night off the top of the charts. After seven weeks, the album's time at the top seemed over, but Beatles for Sale made a comeback on February 27, 1965, by dethroning the Rolling Stones and returning to the top spot for a week. The album's run in the charts was not complete either; on March 7, 1987, almost 23 years after its original release, Beatles for Sale reentered the charts briefly for a period of two weeks.
The downbeat mood of the songs on Beatles for Sale was also reflected in the album cover, showing the unsmiling, weary-looking Beatles in an autumn scene photographed at Hyde Park, London. Paul McCartney recalled: "The album cover was rather nice: Robert Freeman's photos. It was easy. We did a session lasting a couple of hours and had some reasonable pictures to use (. . .) The photographer would always be able to say to us, 'Just show up,' because we all wore the same kind of gear all the time. Black stuff; white shirts and big black scarves." The inner sleeve showed the Beatles standing in front of a montage of photos, which some have assumed was the source of inspiration for the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band though there is no evidence for this-
The sleeve notes featured an observation by Derek Taylor on what the album would mean to people of the future:
There's priceless history between these covers. When, in a generation or so, a radioactive, cigar-smoking child, picnicking on Saturn, asks you what the Beatle affair was all about, don't try to explain all about the long hair and the screams! Just play them a few tracks from this album and he'll probably understand. The kids of AD2000 will draw from the music much the same sense of well being and warmth as we do today.
The concurrent Beatles release in the United States, Beatles '65, included eight songs from Beatles for Sale, omitting the tracks "Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey", "Eight Days A Week"(a #1 hit single in the U.S.), "What You're Doing", "Words Of Love", "Every Little Thing", and "I Don't Want To Spoil The Party" (flipside to Eight Days A Week, it reached #35 in the U.S.and it would hit #1 on the U.S. Country chart for Rosanne Cash when she remade it in 1989). In turn, it added the track "I'll Be Back" from the British release of A Hard Day's Night, and the single "I Feel Fine" / "She's A Woman". The six tracks that were omitted were finally released in America on Beatles VI in 1965. Beatles '65 was released eleven days after Beatles for Sale (and just ten days before the Christmas holiday) and became the fastest-selling album of the year in the United States , shifting a million records in its first week alone.