Only six days separate the last full band session for A Hard Day's Night (Tuesday 2 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 television, 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" (Allmusic), leading to the inclusion of several cover versions after the all-original A Hard Day's Night; the band's visible weariness on the album's cover is noted by narrator Malcolm McDowell during The Compleat Beatles. Yet during these sessions they were still capable of recording the single "I Feel Fine" and its B-side, "She's a Woman" (both not on this album), both songs of considerable quality and interest. There is a strong country influence on songs like "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party" and "I'm a Loser". Gram Parsons has noted The Beatles strong country influence on "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party" noting that country rock was popularized in 1967. Musically, there is a strong folk influence "I'm a Loser"'s also notable for being perhaps the first Beatles song to directly reflect the influence of Bob Dylan, thus nudging folk and rock a little closer together toward the folk-rock explosion of the following year.
Beatles for Sale and its modified U.S. counterparts, Beatles '65 and Beatles VI, 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.
On 26 February 1987, Beatles for Sale was officially released on Compact Disc (catalogue number CDP 7 46438 2), as were three other of The Beatles' albums, Please Please Me, With The Beatles and A Hard Day's Night. Almost 23 years after its original release, the album charted in the United Kingdom for a fortnight in 1987. Having been available only as an import in the US in the past, the album was also issued domestically in the US on LP and cassette on 21 July 1987. Even though this album was recorded on four-track tape, the CD version as well as the US vinyl and cassette versions are available only in mono.
This album has been digitally remastered using the latest technology (along with the rest of The Beatles' catalogue) and will be reissued on CD in stereo for the first time on 9 September 2009.
Writing and recording
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 11 August, just one month 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 29 September. The 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 Lennon/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. 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 18 October.
Beatles for Sale featured eight original Lennon and McCartney works. At this stage in their collaboration, Lennon's and McCartney's songwriting was highly collaborative; even when 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.”
Abbey Road Studios
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 18 October. The band participated in several mixing and editing sessions before completing the project on 4 November; the album was rushed into production and released exactly a month later. The Beatles' road 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."
The opening three tracks, "No Reply", "I'm a Loser" and "Baby's in Black", are sometimes referred to as the "Lennon Trilogy," as Lennon was the chief writer of all three tracks. Unusual for pop music at the time, each one has a sad or resentful emotion attached to it. This opening sequence set the sombre overall mood of the album, revisited in another Lennon tune, "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party", which, "consistent in tone with 'No Reply,' 'I'm a Loser', and 'Baby's in Black,'" according to Allmusic, "finds the singer showing up at a party only to find that the girl he expected to find isn't there."
According to Lennon in 1972, The Beatles' music publisher Dick James was quite pleased with "No Reply":
I remember Dick James coming up to me after we did this one and saying, 'You're getting better now—that was a complete story.' Apparently, before that, he thought my songs wandered off.
Reviewer David Rowley found its lyrics to "read like a picture story from a girl's comic," and to depict the picture "of walking down a street and seeing a girl silhouetted in a window, not answering the telephone."
"I'm a Loser"
Allmusic singled out "I'm a Loser" as "one of the very first Beatles compositions with lyrics addressing more serious points than young love." (cf. "There's a Place")
Rowley found it to be an "obvious copy of Bob Dylan," as where Lennon refers to the listener as a "friend", Dylan does the same on "Blowin' in the Wind". He also said its intention was to "openly subvert the simple true love themes of their earlier work."
"Baby's in Black"
Although "Baby's in Black", which Allmusic described as "a love lament for a grieving girl that was perhaps more morose than any previous Beatles song," was, as described by some, as mostly Lennon's work, it was written in the same room with McCartney, who contributed a harmony to it. Others therefore dispute that the song was mostly Lennon's work and claim that Lennon and McCartney were equally responsible for the song's composition; a claim that might be supported by the fact that both Lennon and McCartney shared lead vocal duties.
McCartney considered the Beatles for Sale sessions to be the beginning of a more mature phase for the band:
We got more and more free to get into ourselves. Our student selves rather than 'we must please the girls and make money', which is all that "From Me to You", "Thank You Girl", "P. S. I Love You!" is about. "Baby's in Black" we did because we liked waltz-time ... and I think also John and I wanted to do something bluesy, a bit darker, more grown-up, rather than just straight pop.
"Every Little Thing"
The dark theme of the album was balanced by "Every Little Thing," a "celebration of what a wonderful girl the guy has," according to Allmusic, that appeared later in the album and had been written as an attempt for a single, according to McCartney:
'Every Little Thing', like most of the stuff I did, was my attempt at the next single ... but it became an album filler rather than the great almighty single. It didn't have quite what was required.
The British progressive rock band Yes covered the song on their 1969 debut album.
"Eight Days a Week"
"Eight Days a Week" is noteworthy as one of the first examples of the in-studio experimentation that the band would use extensively in the future; in two recording sessions totalling nearly seven hours on 6 October devoted exclusively to this song, Lennon and McCartney tried one technique after another before settling on the eventual arrangement. Each of the first six takes of the song featured a strikingly different approach to the beginning and ending sections of the song; the eventual chiming guitar-based introduction to the song would be recorded in a different session and edited in later. The final version of the song incorporated another Beatles first and pop music rarity: The song begins with a fade in as a counterpoint to pop songs which end in a fade out.
"I'll Follow the Sun"
"I'll Follow the Sun" was a reworking of an old song; it had originally been written when McCartney was a youth, as he related in 1988:
I wrote that in my front parlour in Forthlin Road. I was about 16.... We had this hard R&B image in Liverpool, so I think songs like "I'll Follow the Sun", ballads like that, got pushed back to later.
AMG argued that although the song was "sometimes described as a ballad because of its light and mild nature, it's actually taken at a pretty brisk tempo."
Other McCartney songs on the album included "What You're Doing," which implored the singer's girl to "stop your lying." Although "Eight Days a Week" and "What You're Doing" are well-regarded by many fans, they were regarded negatively by their creators; McCartney dismissed "What You're Doing" as "a bit of filler.... Maybe it's a better recording than it is a song...", while Lennon referred to "Eight Days a Week" in a 1980 interview with Playboy magazine as "lousy". In 1972, Lennon revealed that "Eight Days a Week" had been made with the goal of being the theme song for the Help! movie:
I think we wrote this when we were trying to write the title song for 'Help!' because there was at one time the thought of calling the film Eight Arms To Hold You.
The remainder of the album consisted of cover versions, several of which had been staples of The Beatles' live shows years earlier, especially in Hamburg, Germany and at The Cavern in Liverpool, the United Kingdom. The band, which in the previous year had grown weary of performing for screaming audiences, followed the contemporary standard industry practice of including covers in order to maintain an expected level of productivity which many later artists would consider excessive. Q found the album title to hold a "hint of cynicism" in depicting The Beatles as a "product" to be sold. Nevertheless, Allmusic said, "the weariness of Beatles for Sale comes as something of a shock."
However, even in a somewhat weakened state the Beatles created an album some critics such as Allmusic found to be a stepping stone "from Merseybeat to the sophisticated pop/rock they developed in mid-career." Some of the cover versions on the album included Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music", Buddy Holly's "Words of Love", and two Carl Perkins tunes: "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby", sung by Harrison, and "Honey Don't", sung by Ringo Starr. Starr recalled: "We all knew "Honey Don't"; it was one of those songs that every band in Liverpool played ... that's why we did it on Beatles for Sale. It was comfortable. And I was finally getting one track on a record: my little featured spot."
Many critics panned the cover version of "Mr. Moonlight", and Allmusic went as far to call it Lennon's "beloved obscurity" that wound up as "arguably the worst thing the group ever recorded." Q magazine agreed, calling "Mr. Moonlight" "appalling." Rowley noted that the original by Dr Feelgood and the Interns was "hardly outstanding" too. (A cover of Little Willie John's "Leave My Kitten Alone", recorded at the same session, was rejected for the finished album but much more highly regarded by fans and critics; it was widely bootlegged before seeing official release on 1995's Anthology 1 compilation.)
Beatles for Sale by The Beatles (side 1) - Parlophone yellow and black label. This is an original pressing as the "Kansas City" track listing was not yet corrected.
The recording of the medley of "Kansas City" and "Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey" was memorable for McCartney, who in 1984 said that it required "a great deal of nerve to just jump up and scream like an idiot." His efforts were egged on by Lennon, who "would go, 'Come on! You can sing it better than that, man! Come on, come on! Really throw it!'" The song was inspired by Little Richard, who combined "Kansas City" with his own composition, "Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey", but Rowley found the lead vocals "strained" and considered it McCartney's "weakest Little Richard cover version" (although McCartney only recorded one other Little Richard cover, "Long Tall Sally," while with The Beatles). The original LP sleeve listed the song as "Kansas City" (Leiber & Stoller). After the attorneys for Venice Music complained, the record label was revised to read "Medley: (a) Kansas City (Leiber/Stoller) (P)1964 Macmelodies Ltd./KPM. (b) Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey (Penniman) Venice Mus. Ltd. (P)1964."
Beatles for Sale was released in the United Kingdom on 4 December 1964. On 12 December, 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 27 February 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 7 March 1987, almost 23 years after its original release, Beatles for Sale re-entered the charts briefly for a period of two weeks.
The album design
The downbeat mood of the songs on Beatles for Sale was reflected in the album cover, which shows the unsmiling, weary-looking Beatles in an autumn scene photographed at Hyde Park, London. 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."
This was the first Beatles album to feature a gatefold cover (the next would be Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, in 1967). The photo inside the gatefold cover 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 omitted tracks 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.
Although the LP was released with an identical track listing to the UK version, EMI Australia changed the cover art. The reason for this was due to a union rule stating that either new artwork had to be made for overseas albums or the original cover was to be photographed. John Lennon complained to EMI Australia at a meeting about the changes, but the cover remained the same until the album's release on compact disc in 1988.
All songs credited to Lennon/McCartney, except where noted.
1. "No Reply" – 2:15
2. "I'm a Loser" – 2:31
3. "Baby's in Black" – 2:02
4. "Rock and Roll Music" (Chuck Berry) – 2:30
5. "I'll Follow the Sun" – 1:46
6. "Mr. Moonlight" (Roy Lee Johnson) – 2:33
7. Medley: "Kansas City" (Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller)/"Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey" (Richard Penniman) – 2:33
8. "Eight Days a Week" – 2:43
9. "Words of Love" (Buddy Holly) – 2:12
10. "Honey Don't" (Carl Perkins) – 2:55
11. "Every Little Thing" – 2:01
12. "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party" – 2:33
13. "What You're Doing" – 2:30
14. "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" (Carl Perkins) – 2:23
* George Harrison – background vocals; lead vocals on "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby", lead and acoustic guitars; African drum on "Mr. Moonlight" and handclaps.
* John Lennon – lead, harmony and background vocals; rhythm and acoustic guitars; harmonica, piano; tambourine and handclaps.
* Paul McCartney – lead, harmony and background vocals; acoustic and bass guitar; piano and Hammond organ and handclaps.
* Ringo Starr – drums, tambourine, tympani, packing case and bongos; lead vocals on "Honey Don't".
* George Martin – piano and producer.
Released: 4 December 1964
Recorded: 11–14 August and 29 September – 26 October 1964, Abbey Road Studios, London, United Kingdom
Genre: Folk rock, country rock, rock and roll
Producer: George Martin
Singles from Beatles for Sale
1. "Eight Days a Week"
Released: 15 February 1965