Of the trilogy of Beatles albums which feature many covers this may be the best. It is certainly better than With The Beatles, and about equal to Please Please Me, depending on whether you prefer upbeat songs, or darker, introspective ones. While their first album was full of optimism and energy, this one is their fourth in two years and shows all the signs of a band almost broken by touring. The energy may be dulled, but the song writing has greatly improved in all areas. Luckily the covers they choose here are better than on those other albums and the original material is becoming more varied.
`No Reply’ starts the album, and is their darkest song yet. Starting soft, before the heavy guitar and percussion comes in symbolizing the surprise of seeing the girl through the window it shows further signs of the band’s growing intelligence. Indeed the song grows in intensity with more instruments building throughout before softening towards the end. It speaks of paranoia, unfaithfulness, and pain and is a typical Lennon lyric. The next two songs follow suit, dark, self-deprecating, introspective and showing the influence of other more poetic artists of the time such as Dylan. It is a splendid opener.
`I’m A Loser’ interestingly starts with the refrain before blasting into the verse. It is bleak lyrically, but sounds wonderful musically filled with nice guitar parts and a return to harmonica days. Lennon sings quite deeply in parts with McCartney filling in the high harmonies. It has a quick tempo and is equally strong with `No Reply’.
`Baby’s In Black’ ends the opening dark trilogy, a mournful song with a waltz feel to it. Probably darker than the first two songs the lyrics are reminiscent of a woman mourning a lost love. The guitar parts are original, with single notes bent, and lots of tremolo used.
`Rock’n’Roll Music’ is the first cover on the album and an obvious choice given the band’s love for Chuck Berry. It isn’t wildly different from the original or any other version, a decent song with lots of energy, but filler nonetheless.
`I’ll follow The Sun’ is a sweet yet melancholy McCartney ballad with lyrics about an unappreciative lover, leaving someone only for them to realize what they pushed away. It is soft and soothing with lulling guitars.
`Mr. Moonlight’ for some reason has been derided by fans and critics alike, but it is my favourite Beatles cover and my second favourite song on the album. The organ may feel out of place but it still feels like a Beatles song. Lennon does a great job with the vocals, Harrison’s guitar is fine, I like the drum pauses, and melodically the song is perfect. For people to say that it is the worst thing they ever recorded is quite frankly embarrassing.
`Kansas City’ on the other hand is a weak cover. Yes it is full of energy and I like the way `Hey hey hey’ is blended in, but it’s just another boring up tempo rocker with shouty McCartney lyrics. I’m sure this song would have worked better live but here it is filler and can easily be skipped.
`Eight Days A Week’ keeps the tempo and energy high and subverts the typical fade out pop song by having a fade in intro. It is a simple, joyful song celebrating how much love one feels for another. It has a nice melody but isn’t particularly outstanding.
`Words of Love’ for a modern listener sounds a bit like The Kinks or The Bangles, something about the tone of the guitar. It is a good cover of a Buddy Holly song and sticks fairly close to the original. Luckily the background claps aren’t very loud or irritating.
`Honey Don’t’ is a Ringo vocal, a cover of a Carl Perkins song but don’t worry it isn’t too bad. The song can probably be classed as filler, there is nothing wrong with it but nothing too exciting either. Ringo’s spoken words during the song though are annoying.
`Every Little Thing’ is my favourite song on the album, and really should have been a hit. Melodically perfect, sweet, lyrically fine it is a highlight of early Beatles albums. I particularly like the Timpani which jumps in, in the middle of the chorus.
`I Don’t Want To Spoil the Party’ returns to the darker mood with lyrics about alienation and self hatred. It sounds fairly upbeat due to the sweet harmonies, memorable melody, and soft guitars. Again there is self deprecation as Lennon admits `though tonight she’s made me sad, I still love her’.
`What you’re Doing’ is unusual not only for the drum intro but mainly because it is a McCartney song dealing with feelings of despair and sadness. Lyrically it is quite clever, and structurally the words and music are complex. Naturally it sounds as upbeat as any other McCartney song.
`Everybody’s trying to Be My Baby’ ends the album fittingly- a high tempo song dealing with the mania of fame and groupies, recorded at the time they were most tired and alienated by touring. It is another good cover and closes the album well.
This album has not been a critical or fan favourite but it does include some classic moments. It was still better than most of what was around at the time and even through time and energy constraints, pressure, exhaustion the group managed to record a pretty good album.
As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments section.
Updated with the Nightman Scoring System(c):
Sales: 5 (Another smash hit)
Chart: 5 (Another smash hit)
Critical: 4 (Seen as a step back towards the first two albums with the unfortunate inclusion of the covers, some strong, some weak, but this was largely done to meet the demand of pumping out album after album. The more mature writing style of the originals though is singled out for praise)
Originality: 4 (Those covers hold the album’s originality back, but the original songs are strong enough to more than counter this. The sound hasn’t necessarily evolved but the newer influences on the band have been merged into a new style of pop hit)
Influence: 4 (One of the least influential albums thanks to those covers, but again the original songs have spawned a host of imitators)
Musical Ability: 4 (Similar to the previous albums, with less progression, but still high amounts of skill)
Lyrics: 4 (Those darker songs have some great lyrics, finally showing that Lennon in particular was branching out, while the remaining Beatlemania tracks again have enough fresh perspectives to keep them from becoming derivative)
Melody: 4 (Luckily even the weaker covers have decent melodies and the original tracks are still highly effective)
Emotion: 4 (There is a darker tone throughout, though a fair amount of this is diluted by the covers. The covers have there moments, but some are too plain)
Lastibility: 5 (Once again we’re still discussing it 50 years later, and actively listening to it on technology that didn’t even exist at the time of release)
Vocals: 4 (Some of the strain and tiredness is beginning to show and have a negative impact, but the harmonies remain strong, giving a freshness to the covers, and there are enough moments of brilliance to keep the score well above average)
Coherence: 4 (This is a strange one, because some of the songs hold together brilliantly in mood, tone, sound, style, yet they are interrupted by tracks which feel brash)
Mood: 4 (Similar to above, the mood is mostly dark, but then there are infrequent outbursts which take the focus away)
Production: 4 (Nothing out of the ordinary but still high quality stuff)
Effort: 3 (Again the covers mark this category down)
Relationship: 3 (It’s difficult to find a relationship amongst the covers as some are rockers, some are more left field, and they don’t fit well with the rest of the album. The originals mostly relate well to everything which the band has done to this point, as well as showing the progression in content which would be more prevalent in later releases)
Genre Relation: 4 (The covers ironically help here, as many other bands were doing the same thing and the range of styles blend well with the masters of each genre)
Authenticity: 4 (The originals and the overall tone, even including the covers here, lend an authenticity – even though there are 6 covers, the band are aware of this, down to the album title, which makes an ironic joke of the necessity of their inclusion)
Personal: 4 (Obviously a lesser album than A Hard Day’s Night due to the rushing, scheduling, covers etc, but still an album most would be proud of).
Miscellaneous: 3 (A sombre album cover, a difficult recording process overcome, not much else to mention)