The Beatles – Yellow Submarine album review

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The ‘Yellow Submarine’ album is a curious entry in the Beatles official catalogue. It came about because the Beatles were contractually obliged to write four original songs for the animated film of the same name. The band were busy recording the White album at the time and not much bothered about doing it, so decided to keep the recording of the four songs completely separate to the other sessions. Thus, what was produced was slightly half-assed in nature but some bits of charm still shine through.

The film was released in July 1968, but the soundtrack was not released until January 1969, so not to clash with the white album’s release. The Beatles did not give much attention to the film, but warmed to it once they saw the excellent finished product.

The soundtrack is probably the least important official release of the Beatles career, containing two old songs, four new songs and the rest is instrumental music for the film that the Beatles did no work on.

I’ve always been a big fan of Ringo songs on Beatles’ albums so it’s really nice to see that a film was based around one of them. He deserved some recognition because, other than his drumming which is greatly underrated, his songs always added something to an album. His voice always has a friendly warmth to it and ‘Yellow Submarine’ is really his defining number. I said before in a previous review that only the Beatles could pull a song like this off – a Rolling Stones or Jimi Hendrix version (despite how much I love those guys) would probably sound terrible. This is definitely a Beatles’ song through and through with its quirky nature and laddish drunken sing-along mentality, making it as charming now as it was 50 years ago.

Other than the title track, the other previously released song is ‘All You Need is Love’, which is the perfect song to accompany the joyous animation of the film. If you wanted one song to distil the Beatles’ message of peace and define the ideals of the swinging sixties it would be this song. Filled with nothing but goodness, it’s the feel-good songs of all feel-good songs.

Of the new songs, they maybe don’t fit the theme as well; and are slightly inconsistent. Harrison’s ‘Only A Northern Song’ is a trippy but ultimately jokey and slightly incoherent number. It’s about Harrison feeling slightly aggrieved about not getting enough credit for his writing and royalties for the output the Beatles’ were producing. The song is a bit lazy, but then in many ways that is the point. Harrison is basically saying ‘why bother?’ when the credit for his work isn’t being given. Everyone likes a good moan once in awhile I suppose.

Jumping back to the more upbeat, All Together Now’ is a classic sing-along back and forth around the guitar style song in which everyone is drunk and singing loudly. So it makes perfect sense that it would become a popular chant around football terraces during games in England at the time. It’s throwaway for sure but still has a fun, rousing quality to it and from experience can easily get stuck in the head for days afterwards (and is absolutely the perfect song to dance like an idiot to).

But by far the highlight of the new material is ‘Hey Bulldog’, a number with a really dirty baseline played expertly by McCartney that is one of the Beatles’ heaviest sounding songs. The lyrics complement the number wonderfully with Lennon given it a full loud vocal before it deteriotes into barking and wailing and screaming. 

It’s a fun weird song that has the slight ham radio comedy skit feel about it at the end, and more the better for it- a sort of far more coherent version of their mid-60s Christmas records condensed into one pure rock song.

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The last of the original Beatles’ songs is ‘It’s All Too Much’ which is another Harrison-penned song. It seems to be his attempt to write a rock n roll song about LSD. The result is almost a dance song with a strong drum beat and distorted guitar strings intertwining to feel like a skyward gazing 90s psychedelic dance record. I think it’s better than ‘Only a Northern Song’ (Harrison was always better when upbeat and slightly spiritualised) and this has a slight rousing gospel feel to it somehow, which always makes me happily bounce my head along to as it plays.

The rest of the album is filled up with instrumental music for the film, which had little involvment from the Beatles themselves. Instead we have producer George Martin arranging a musical score of a 42 piece orchestra. It’s nice that George Martin, a crucial element in the Beatles success, gets his moment in the spotlight but it is mostly just soundtrack music.

The two stand-outs are ‘Pepperland’ and ‘March of the Meanies’. ‘Pepperland’ has some pretty lovely violin and pianos moments throughout, really using a large orchestra feel to its full power. It has that sound of a big opening credit song to a 1950s big budget musical. ‘March of the Meanies’ on the other hand has this brilliant urgent threat feel to it, a real ‘enter bad-guy’ song for a film that works really well. It really isn’t that far removed from the dark side music in Star Wars.

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The ‘Sea of Time’, ‘Sea of Holes’ and ‘Sea of Monsters’ are mostly disposable pieces with incidental music interwoven to react to what is happening in the movie. It’s an easy listen but rarely gives anything too memorable that you’d hum an hour later.

The album closes with more dread music in ‘Pepperland Laid Waste’ which is equally disposable, and then ends with a reworked orchestral version of the ‘Yellow Submarine’, which is actually very pretty piece that is removed enough from the original to be worth your time (but lacks the Ringo charm a bit).

Final Thoughts

This is the least essential album in any Beatles’ collection, but worth a listen on Youtube. Only ‘All Together Now’ and ‘Hey Bulldog’ are likely to get heavy rotation on an iPod, because both are brilliant, but I also liked the trippy good-natured ‘It’s All Too Much.’

Finally giving Sir George Martin the spotlight is a fantastic tribute to his importance as a part of the Beatles, but I think his album of reworked Beatles songs featuring Jim Carrey singing ‘I am the Walrus’, Goldie Hawn singing a jazzy sexy ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and Robin Williams doing ‘Come Together’ is far more an essential purchase.

Six and a half out of ten and one billion parodies

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The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour album review

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Magical Mystery Tour‘ was not originally an album, but has since become seen that way. After completing ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band‘, the Beatles wanted a new project. Having soured on touring, they decided to do a mostly improvised TV movie. They recorded six new songs as the soundtrack (the six first songs on the current ‘Magical Mystery Tour‘ album) and released it in the UK as a double EP packaged in a gatefold sleeve with a book featuring lyrics and pictures. A different way to release new material which was an innovation in itself.

However, due to the negative media coverage of the film, there was trouble getting US TV distribution at the time (it would later get a limited theatrical release in 1974) so Capitol Records decided to create a full length LP with the six songs from the soundtrack and all five of the single releases that year. This version was so popular it actually charted at number 31 in the UK charts in January 1968 through imported versions from the states alone. In 1976, this version was released in the UK and in 1987 when the Beatles back catalogue was to be released on compact disc across the world, this American version was released making it the only album not standardised to the British album playlists.

The film was savaged by critics at the time and is a bit of a mess. McCartney wanted it to be spontaneous so much of it is improvised, unfortunately it shows causing it to lack much coherence. As a time capsule to see the Beatles on film in this time, it is worth watching but if you want an entertaining film best stick to ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (by far their best endeavour into the moving pictures).

The album on the other hand, although not exactly canon, is one of their strongest collections of songs. With this LP version and ‘Sgt Pepper’s’, you pretty much get the Beatles’ entire output from 1967, one of their most creative years, so it is great that all this fantastic work can be easily accessible to future generations getting into the Beatles.

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The title track ‘Magical Mystery Tour‘ opens the album and, much like ‘Sgt Pepper’s‘ is as much an introduction to the theme of the album as a song. This similarity led some US critics, unaware of the album’s non-canon origin, to proclaim this as a poor man’s Sgt Pepper. McCartney wrote most of the song and based it on the ‘roll up, roll up’ merchants selling games at carnivals, but with a psychedelic edge. I actually personally prefer this song to ‘Sgt Pepper’, the joint harmonies on roll-up are lovely and the song has a uplifting feel-good factor that is hard not to get engaged in. The song obviously has drug references throughout too with ‘roll up’ clearly having the potential to mean ‘roll up a joint’ and the idea of a mysterious trip is clearly alluding to LSD on some level.

The Fool on the Hill‘, which is a McCartney song about a sage-like figure seen as a fool by society but actually wise, seems to divide fans. On one hand it has inspired over 100 cover versions, including most notably Aretha Franklin and Bjork, but on the other side Tim Riley a music critic who wrote a book on Beatles’ songs (and in my opinion slightly overly critical) said it was one of the “most unworthy Beatles standards.” I personally can see both points of view, I think the lyrics are slightly incoherent and sketchy, but it is beautifully sung by McCartney in a dreamy manner and the musical flow of the tune is lovely.

It also inspired one of my favourite McCartney videos in which he looks more stoned than the cast of Cheech and Chong:

 

Next up is somewhat of an anomaly, ‘Flying‘ is an instrumental mainly, with slight backing vocals put in, that is credited to Ringo, George, Paul and John. This is rarity in the Beatles back catalogue with only ‘Dig It‘ off the ‘Let it Be‘ album being the other official album release to have all members credited. The result is a nice chilled jam, with a jazz element throughout that introduces the use of a saxophone for the first time to a Beatles song.

Harrison contributes ‘Blue Jay Walk‘, following on from his more psychedelic and Indian influenced output on the last two albums, comes one in the same vein. Unlike before with its sitar usage, this uses the traditional guitar/drum set up with added organ and cello, with some great drumming from Ringo actually. Harrison’s constant chanting of “don’t be long” feels almost ominous, and the way he speeds up singing it as well as the cello and organ get more urgent make this feel decidedly creepy in tone.

Despite this, the song has very unspooky origins. A heavily jetlagged Harrison was waiting for publicist Derek Taylor to come to his rented flat on Blue Jay Walk in LA, but fog in the area had made him very delayed, so Harrison played around with an organ and wrote the song to pass the time. The repeated “don’t be long” is just Harrison tired and frustrated having to wait so long and not being able to go to sleep!

Great Performances

Your Mother Should Know‘ is a big singalong number around the piano type song, that could easily be imagined to be a great drunken favourite in pubs around Christmas. This was apparently McCartney’s inspiration for writing it, basing it on a singalong music hall environment very common in the sixities. The result is perhaps a bit throwaway in my opinion compared to the rest of the album but a lovely feel good jaunt that could possibly be seen as a precursor to his much bigger piano based singalong ‘Hey Jude‘.

It feels odd that it would take until track six of a Beatles album for Lennon to really feature, but such was the case here and a clear sign McCartney was taking more of a leadership role and Lennon more a step back. But what a way to come in late with the undeniably brilliant ‘I am a Walrus.’

As the story goes, Lennon was so amused to find out that school kids were being asked in music class to analyse Beatles’ songs that he decided to make his next one as lyrical confusing as possible.

A big fan of Lewis Carroll, the Walrus comes from the poem ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter‘ from ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass‘, but unfortunately Lennon said he was the Walrus who is more the villain of the poem. He realised saying he should have called it ‘I am the Carpenter’ instead, however, most of the lyrics are just random thoughts that do not have relevance to the poem.

Lennon said of the lyrics, “‘Walrus’ is just saying a dream – the words don’t mean a lot. People draw so many conclusions and it’s ridiculous.” Lack of meaning doesn’t really matter as the use of violins and Lennon’s distorted voice compliment each other perfectly creating one of the most crazy distorted little fairytales created (or the biggest LSD trip imaginable depending on your point of view). Just an absolute explosion of beautiful, weird imagery that is one of the best songs Lennon ever wrote.

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McCartney’s “Hello, Goodbye” is pretty much as Lennon put it “three minutes of contradictions and meaningless juxtapositions,” as McCartney says yes, no, stop, go, low, high, and I’d tend to agree with John on this. It is overly simplistic and probably my least favourite on this album. Lennon would further be enraged that this would be a single, with ‘I am a Walrus’ as the b-side which John saw as a much superior song.  ‘Hello, Goodbye‘ is however somewhat saved by the brilliant singalong of random words “Hela heba helloa” used to end the song, which brings back the best singalong around a piano style jaunts there are, and more amazingly it was apparently all ad-libbed in the studio.

Lennon and McCartney had a knack of when writing alone coming up with very similar themes that compliment each other beautifully, ‘Yesterday‘ and ‘In My Life‘ being an example with ‘Michelle‘ and ‘Girl‘ being another. This continues with the two songs about childhood, McCartney’s ‘Penny Lane‘ and Lennon’s ‘Strawberry Fields Forever‘.

I wrote in my ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ review that McCartney singing, “I have to admit its getting better, its getting better all the time” and Lennon interjecting “It couldn’t get no worse” was the perfect example of their different outlooks on life. ‘Penny Lane‘ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever‘ continue and expand on this.

Penny Lane‘ continues McCartney’s unparrelled skill of telling stories of everyday life, and in this he writes about the joyous community element of a street in Liverpool in a nostalgic tone from when he was growing up, in a jovial but slightly less cartoony manner to ‘When I’m Sixty Four‘.

Lennon starts ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, his own nostalgic look at Liverpool growing up, with “let me take you down” which obviously has an emotional double meaning to it. Both chorus’ parallel these differing tones as McCartney sings happily and triumphantly that “Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes” and with rose-tinted glasses at the “blue suburban skies”, whereas Lennon’s tone is more unemotional when opaquely singing “Strawberry Fields Forever” implying, whether good or bad, his childhood experiences will remain with him the rest of his life. In contrast to Penny Lane’s community spirit, Lennon talks of his feelings of social isolation “No one I think is in my tree” and takes a more cynical outlook to the community (“Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see”).

Originally both were to go on Sgt Pepper’s until it was decided to release them as a double A single at the beginning of 1967 instead. Surprisingly, the single only got to number two in the UK, being beaten by Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Release Me”, a rarity in Beatles’ chart performance. Both songs are still two of George Martin’s favourites declaring them at the time the best work they had ever done.

Lennon would later say “Strawberry Fields was psychoanalysis set to music” and, like ‘Nowhere Man‘, is an important song in exploring his psyche. Both are two of my favourites and show the individual outlooks and strengths of McCartney and Lennon. Had these songs been on ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ as originally intended they would, not only blended in seamlessly, but added to an already first-rate masterpiece.

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Baby, You’re a Rich Man‘ is a combination of two half-written songs; Lennon’s verses and McCartney’s chorus. The result is an absolute favourite of mine. Lennon sneers and mocks the “beautiful people” and how they can;t comprehend “nothing that doesn’t show”. And the chorus is just a great rousing joyous, and probably intentionally mocking, chant, thought to be a light-hearted dig at their manager Brian Epstein.

If there ever was a song that defines the ‘Summer of Love’ then its ‘All You Need Is Love,’ which closes the album. In 1967, the world’s first televised satellite link-up between 25 countries worldwide took place called ‘Our World’, with each country showing off something of their country to the others as millions watched the broadcast around the world. The Beatles were asked to represent Britain for the link-up, and Lennon wrote this song for it. The message of ‘Love is all you need’ was the perfect message of peace to a world that for the first time had the technology to hear it. It’s an absolutely beautiful track that avoids the sappiness a song like this would create if in lesser hands.

The actual broadcast is still just as impressive and wonderful as it probably was then (with alongside the Beatles added Jagger and Clapton in the audience too).


Final thoughts

While not an album, it is amazing to think that in 1967 the Beatles not only recorded one of the best albums of all time in ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ but managed to make another album worth of songs that are equal and sometimes even better than that offered in Peppers. It just shows the incredible talent this band possessed.

As essential a purchase as any other Beatles album, and some of my absolutely favourite songs ever created by any band.

Ten out of ten and Jagger looking jealous

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The Beatles – Rubber Soul album review

RubberSoulDespite five albums worth of classic material, the Beatles in many ways were just getting started by 1965. Rubber Soul not only redefined what the Beatles were, it redefined what an album was. Turning their back on the Beatlemania era completely, this explores more adult themes along with a far more downbeat tone compared to the smiley-happy upbeat tunes of before.

Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys saw Rubber Soul as the first time a band turned away from focusing on creating hit singles, to making a complete album without filler songs. He would answer the Beatles’ call towards a more serious record by releasing the Beach Boys own seminal work Pet Sounds.

Wilson’s point is fair when speaking of pop bands of the time, but acts like Bob Dylan were arguably already focusing on albums more than hit singles. Veering this way made sense as both McCartney and Lennon have echoed it was Dylan’s greater influence on their song-writing that created Rubber Soul.

Another influence prevalent that would influence the Beatles the rest of their career was drugs. While ‘Help!’ had had some influence, Harrison remarked Rubber Soul was the first time they were all “fully-fledged potheads.” Despite this, there was a new seriousness to the recording which took four weeks (a relative age next to the day their debut took) and the band was far more involved in the mixing and production of the album’s sound. The extra work payed off and 1.2m copies were sold in the US in nine days, alongside universal critical praise.

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The album starts almost cheekily with the most upbeat and jaunty of tracks on the album, maybe as a way to ease the younger fans into a more adult approach. ‘Drive my Car’ is the Beatles’ at their most playful with the chirpy ‘beep, beep, beep beep, yeah’ replacing the usual ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ as “drive my car” appears to be some sexual euphemism. The song has a role-reversal to previous songs with the girl bragging about her future stardom and offering the boy the luxury of driving her around, but with the added punchline that she doesn’t even have a car. The instant catchiness of the song is great, and can remain in my head for days, and shows the Beatles at their most playful with lyrics and tunes.

Carrying on with the sexual metaphors is ‘Norwegian Wood’ which takes its name according to McCartney from the cheap wood decorating houses at the time, or less obscure because the song is about a sexual encounter with a Norwegian girl. Lennon wrote it entirely and was inspired to write something about an affair he was having, but decided to make the lyrics opaque enough that his wife would not realise. The lyrics taken literally show Lennon putting dark humour into his words as it essentially tells the story of a girl leading a boy to her room with the promise of sex but last minute she makes him sleep in the bath so as revenge he burns her house down. Charming!

It’s the first time a sitar was heard on a western record, due to Harrison’s growing fascinating with Indian culture, and this alongside the lyrics of sexual dalliance provide an intimate sound. It’s like the soundtrack of every good indie film you’ve seen.tumblr_m9n4ujk0It1qh847do1_1280

‘You Won’t See Me’ continues the more complicated lyrics about relationships as McCartney talks about his frustrations at his hectic schedule meaning he’s not around his then girlfriend Jane Asher. The frustrated tone really comes across in McCartney vocal and the obvious autobiographical nature of the song adds to its impact and power.

This relationship would be revisited later in the album with ‘I’m Looking Through You’ as he recounts the loving feelings disappearing after an argument (it’s amazing these two didnt last!). A very relatable idea that shows (once again) the Beatles ability to use specific events in their lives and make them universal.

Funnily enough, later on the album ‘Wait’ paints a far more rosier picture of coming back to your love after time apart, but this was actually written earlier for ‘Help!’ but was dropped from that album, which further underlines the diminishing state of McCartney’s relationship at this time.

By this stage Lennon was really growing as a song-writer and able to craft more personal feelings into his lyrics. ‘Nowhere Man’ is Lennon’s most confessional song to date. Singing in the third person “Doesn’t have a point of view, Knows not where he’s going to, Isn’t he a bit like you and me?” makes it more universal a theme and everyone has felt that anonymous and insecure in their life. Coming from a deeply personal place, Lennon’s ability to make this potentially depressing theme relatable shows his talent. So perfectly fitting his character it was the perfect name for the biographical film made about him a few years ago (which wasn’t a classic, but worth a watch in itself.).

George’s two songs ‘Think for yourself’ and ‘If I needed someone’ show a huge leap forward in his songwriting abilities and lyrics, as never before have his songs matched and blended so well with the McCartney/Lennon contributions. ‘If I needed someone’ in particular is my favourite Harrison song that he’d written to this date, and clearly the Beatles themselves thought so too as it is the only Harrison-penned song to be played regularly at their live shows.

‘What Goes On’ is Ringo’s slot on the album, but strikingly its got a writing credit for him alongside Lennon/McCartney; his first. This might have been John and Paul just being nice to their friend, as was hinted afterwards, but that’s a bit unfair. Ringo’s solo work after the split is surprisingly good and very diverse so he certainly had the capabilities to write decent stuff even if not completely apparent during the Beatles days.

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Another huge favourite of mine is ‘Michelle‘ which dated back to 1959 apparently so one of the earliest songs the Beatles had. The lethargic coos of love from McCartney are sung beautifully. It’s a stand-out track especially due to the lack of out-and-out love songs on the album and this is one of the best they ever did. McCartney’s yells of “I love you, I love you, I love you” were done many times in the Beatles song catalogue but never so sincere as here.

Even when writing predominantly solo, McCartney and Lennon would often parallel each other in themes at roughly the same time, (Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane are good examples) and usually the result were two classic songs that compliment each other beautifully. Next to the McCartney-led ‘Michelle‘, the Lennon-penned ‘Girl‘ explores the same themes and is equally beautiful. Lennon sings softly about his fantasy of the perfect girl. The sharp intakes of breathe and dreamy whispers of ‘girl’ give this an intimate feel as if he’s serenading a girl in bed. The result is one of Lennon’s best love songs and, despite his less than flattering words about most of the Beatles output once the band broke up, John spoke highly of this saying “It was one of my best” in 1980.

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My favourite song on the album (although that is splitting hairs), and one of the best they ever did, is ‘In my life’. A song penned entirely by Lennon that came about as he sat on a bus going through Liverpool and recalling memories of old friends and romances in the places he passed. Lennon would later say it was his first “significant piece of work” and I would agree this further raised the bar of his songwriting.

Mirroring McCartney’s ‘Yesterday‘ from the previous album, the song looks back with nostalgia to the past with both sadness and happiness. It feels like an old soul writing about what was important to them through their years whilst looking back at the end of their long, much-weathered life. This is even more remarkable when you consider Lennon was only 25 at the time. Not only one of the band’s best, but one of the best songs ever written.

The only sour note on Rubber Soul is the song ‘Run for your life’, which while a catchy tune has some of the darkest lyrics Lennon ever wrote as he unleashes his full jealous nature implying if he caught his wife cheating on him he would murder her. The lyrics leave a bad taste in the mouth for a closing song, a million miles away from the joyous closing numbers like ‘Twist & Shout’ from before, and probably would have been best left off the album entirely. Lennon even said later it was his least liked Beatles song.

Final thoughts

Rubber Soul is one of the best albums ever made and one of my favourites. I would listen to it throughout my teenage years and it was the perfect soundtrack to that time of discovering girls, love and heartbreak. An album with so many ridiculous highs that they could have been many a bands’ greatest hits collection. Instead, this was just the beginning of things to come for the Beatles.

Ten out of ten and a snowball fight.

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The Beatles – Help! album review

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‘Help!’ is the fifth album by the Beatles in the UK and amazingly the tenth released in the US, showing the substantial difference in releases between the two countries (the US version however had different songs to the UK version I’m reviewing). It is the soundtrack to their second film with the same name, which is less fondly remembered compared to ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. Quite rightly too as the film would be a lot more incoherent and the Beatles would all say they were barely able to communicate with the production staff due to being under a ‘haze of marijuana’ the whole time. However, in the films favour Lennon would later say it is was a pre-cursor in style to the hugely popular tongue-in-cheek ‘Batman Pow! Wow!’ type of TV show and many of the song performances are notable as they feel like early-versions of music videos.

The album itself is everything but incoherent filled with strong varied songs that push forward the musical compositions and songwriting to create in my opinion their best album to this date. Released in 1965, thankfully we return to Lennon/McCartney completely dominating songwriting duties with eight songs, two cover versions and two written by George Harrison.

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The album opens with ‘Help!‘ which is easily one of my favourite songs they ever produced. The song franticly moves at a lightning pace as Lennon urgently sings about needing to find love. In retrospect he would later say it was actually a cry for help and the lyrics match this. He’s yelling for aid as the run away success of Beatlemania and the crushing demands of fame started to get the better of him. Lennon would later call it his ‘fat Elvis’ period due to the depression he felt and was probably the beginning of why the Beatles withdrew from touring soon after.

The Beatles had met Bob Dylan in 1964 and had been listening to his music a lot and his influence really comes across in this album. In particular, ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away‘ is practically Lennon doing a Dylan impression. But imitation is not necessarily a bad thing as the stripped down acoustic music and Lennon singing solo without harmonies increases its impact as he bares his soul.

The Night Before‘ furthers this lyrical complexity as McCartney mourns a woman not liking him as much the morning after a night of passion, condensing a full range of emotions and story-telling into two minutes with expert skill. Similarly, ‘Another Girl‘ recounts the joy and excitement of a new relationship but unlike previously this is countered by McCartney recalling the lose of a previous relationship and moving on. Whilst hinted at on ‘Beatles For Sale’, ‘Help!’ is the sound of the band beginning to fully move on from the days of simple rock n roll ‘I love you’ songs.

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Along with this theme, one of the stand-outs ‘You’re Gonna Lose That Girl‘ has one of the oddest morally dubious lyrics the Beatles ever wrote. Lennon tells an unknown man that he thinks he is treating his girl wrong so Lennon vows to steal her from him; a two wrongs make a right logic. It’s also a disastrous karaoke song to sing (from experience) due to the deceptively difficult vocal as Lennon changes key with such ease and has never sounded better. The filmed performance from the movie is also one of the highlights of the film.

Following on in the morally dubious theme is ‘Ticket to Ride‘, one of their most famous songs. Whilst the lyrics suggest a lover getting a train to ride, Lennon would later allude to the song meaning a ticket showing a clean bill of health that hookers in Hamburg would have on the streets. Whatever the meaning, it is a classic. Music critic Ian MacDonald would describe it as ‘extraordinary’ and the lyrics ‘psychologically deeper than anything the Beatles had released before.”

Its Only Love‘ was later described by Lennon as lousy and by McCartney as a filler track but that does it a disservice. The lyrics may not be as strong as elsewhere but the chorus is particularly strong as Lennon puts real power in his voice when he sings “It’s only love, why do I feel the way I do.”

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The McCartney penned ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face‘ matches the urgent frantic speed of Help! with McCartney singing at great speed and the musical taking in a country influence. It’s a fantastic catchy song showcasing the multiple genres of music the band could dip into with great success despite it being their first real country and western song attempt. ‘Tell Me What You See‘ is a declaration of love, a full blown wedding vows style description of protecting someone through everything. Whilst dismissed as not terribly memorable by McCartney later, the slowness of the singing lies in direct contrast to the speed elsewhere on the album and I would disagree with Paul as its a brilliant love song.

It’s almost surprising ‘Yesterday‘ is on this album; it would not be out of place on the later more mature sounding ‘Abbey Road’ or ‘Let It Be.’ It’s the sound of McCartney’s songwriting growing and becoming far more weathered. What appears is arguably the most famous of all the Beatles produced, and the most covered song of all time, as McCartney mourns the lose of a love and the carefree life he once led. McCartney’s sings it beautifully and has never sounded so frail in tone which really adds to the immense power and impact this song holds. Beatles_Boesendorfer_Fluegel

With every album, Ringo’s song gets better and the cover of Buck Owens’ ‘Act Naturally‘ is the best so far. Ringo sings and plays the character of a jolly simpleton being able to make it in the movies by acting as himself. The sweet nature fits perfectly with Ringo’s nice guy image and is smile-inducing throughout. It is also the last cover the Beatles would record until the Get Back/Let It Be sessions and a great way to send off that part of their Beatlemania period.

The two Harrison written songs fit in great to the rest of the album showing his improving strength in song composition. The rather wonderful ‘I Need You‘ is a straight-out love song as George begs a girl to come back to him while ‘You Like Me Too Much‘ however is far more complex. The lyric ‘you like me too much and I like you’ hints at far more complex emotions than the freely declared ‘I love yous’ of the past as George sings about too lovers held together despite obvious tensions and too afraid to leave each other.

The closer ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy‘ takes a break from the improving songwriting and returns to a strong throat-tearing Lennon cover to end the album. The Larry Williams song has a catchy recurring guitar riff which perfectly compliments John’s yelps and screams to create another big party starting rock n roll song like ‘Twist and Shout’.

Final thoughts

Underrated seems unlikely for a Beatles’ album but I’d say this is at least a little underrated. Most of the songs on this album could easily be placed on their later albums without them seeing out of place. Pre-Rubber Soul Beatles’ albums are generally seen as less to what the Beatles would later produce but that is not necessarily the case. ‘Help!’ should easily stand side-by-side with the later albums in people’s minds as some of the finest tunes the band ever produced. Whilst the film was the worst they made, this is the best soundtrack that they made.

Nine out of ten and a nice picnic

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The Beatles – Beatles For Sale album review

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‘Beatles For Sale’ was the second album released by the Beatles’ in 1964 and, after 3 albums of upbeat rock n roll dominated by love songs, this brings a sudden tonal shift of heartbreak and paranoia.

The title ‘Beatles For Sale’ is in itself a sly dig at their over-exposure and commercialisation. Alongside this, the cover art shows all the Beatles looking unhappily at the camera hunched together in coats on a cold autumn day depicting a more downbeat theme.

Having written all the songs for ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, Lennon and McCartney write 8 songs here with the remaining six being cover versions, which does feel like a step back. But whilst Lennon dominated the writing on ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ these songs are mainly credited as both McCartney and Lennon collaboration.

pcs3062_bNo Reply’ opens the album, a direct contrast to the huge rock n roll numbers that had filled this spot previously, as Lennon recounts how a girl no longer returns his calls and is dating another man. Publisher Dick James commented at the time that it was the first complete story Lennon had written in a song and certainly shows a full description and more involving narrative than before.

I’m a Loser’ further empathises Lennon’s expression of vulnerability and his pursuit of more substantial lyric writing. He sings “I’m a loser and I’m not what I appear to be” expressing his insecurities despite the fame and popularity. He’d later call it his Dylan period and that “part of me suspects I’m a loser and part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.” Paul would later cite it retrospectively as a brave cry for help and it certainly does show Lennon baring his soul in ways not heard before.

The pessimism is continued with ‘Baby’s in Black‘, speculated to be about Astrid Kirchherr the girl engaged to the group’s former bassist Stuart Sutcliffe who died of a brain haemorrhage in 1962, which talks of the mourning of a lost love with many funeral references and is a stand-out of the album. Lennon/McCartney wrote it together and wanted a more mature bluesy sound. The harmonies are gorgeous and flows beautifully. The sad lyrics also had a comical effect when sung live as hoards of girls screamed their love for the Beatles as the backing to this bleak song at the Hollywood Bowl.

I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” is fast-paced stand-out in which Lennon mourns the absence of a girl not being at a party as he wants to declare his love. Lennon sings it with a frailty in his voice rarely heard and adds to the theme of unrequited love that runs through most of the album.EPSON scanner image

Whilst I love the original songs on the album, the cover versions drag this album down, especially given the more low-key tone of the originals, the rock n roll screams in the covers don’t mix well. This is the first time it is really notable the difference between the quality of the Lennon/McCartney songs and those by other artists. The covers are pretty much all lukewarm but saved by tremendous vocals that really highlight how the Beatles were improving and diversifying their singing with every new album.

Case in point, ‘Rock n Roll Music‘ has a great vocal by Lennon but doesn’t come near the Chuck Berry original and seems just in here to fill the rock n roll quota needed. Ditto, the cover of Little Richard’s “Kansas City/ Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!” which is a McCartney led shouty rock n roll song on the track-listing entirely to cater to American fans (they were eventually paid a huge amount to play an extra date in Kansas City by a baseball promoter). However, it seems so out of place due to the Beatles being from Liverpool and not even having been to Kansas when they started singing it.

Roy Lee Johnson’s ‘Mr. Moonlight‘ is often considered one of the worst Beatles’ songs they ever recorded. However, it really isn’t as bad as its reputation would have it thanks entirely to a ridiculously strong Lennon vocal. When John frantically sings, “And the night you don’t come my way, I pray and pray more each day” its hard not to believe every word as genuine and heartfelt.

Despite Buddy Holly’s huge influence on the Beatles, McCartney even said that he inspired them to write their own songs, ‘Words of Love‘ is the only Holly cover they released and its a fun departure to hear the Beatles tackle an old-school song.

George and Ringo each sing a Carl Perkins cover. “Everybody’s trying to be my baby‘ is the complete opposite of the shy, introverted style heard from Harrison before as he arrogantly and humorously declares, “Went out last night, didn’t stay late, ‘fore I got home, I had nineteen dates.”  Although it is a cover, it’s probably a pretty good representation of what being a Beatle was like in those days.

After being absent on vocal duties on ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (although apparently this was due to tonsillitis on the day they were scheduled to record one), Ringo sings ‘Honey Don’t‘. I really like Ringo songs, they’re never the highlight of an album but they always add something. There is something fun and cool about Ringo so this certainly has a charm and is his best song up to this time.

What You’re Doing‘ is a song based on doubts around McCartney’s relationship with Jane Asher at the time and has a bizarre lyrical arrangement suggesting the future experimentation of structure they would attempt later.

George Martin’s favourite song on the album is McCartney’s ‘I’ll Follow the Sun‘ and it is lovely. Written surprisingly early when Paul was still at school, it sounds like a less mature version of ‘Here Comes the Sun’ as Paul softly serenades about leaving a love behind as he follows his dreams.

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Every Little Things She Does‘ is an absolute favourite from the album and one of the Beatles best love songs. A song that could easily be a contender for first dance at any wedding around the world. The Beatles at their most loved up by a girl, and surprisingly not as well known as it should be.

The most famous song on the album is clearly ‘Eight Days a Week‘, the name coming from a cab driver describing his busy work schedule to McCartney as they drove to Lennon’s house. They would write the song immediately that day upon Paul’s arrival.

Lennon would later describe it as ‘a bit manufactured’ and ‘lousy’ at various times and was originally intended to be the first song for their second movie ‘Eight arms to hold you’ which would eventually become the movie ‘Help!’. Personally, I couldn’t disagree with Lennon more, like ‘Love Me Do’, the song is one of those universally known that still is as much a pleasure to listen to despite the thousands of plays it has received.

Final Thoughts

The Lennon/McCartney songs on this album are fantastic, but the cover versions do bog it down slightly. At this stage, the Beatles were worn out after an insanely busy year and this lethargy shows slightly in the writing. George Martin would comment that they happily perked up after this one and this does sound like a pause, a sudden deep breathe before plunging into the insane run of original material they would produce from here on.

It signalled the maturing of Lennon as a song-writer, a shift away from pure rock n roll and first evidence of the Bob Dylan influence. All of which helped create the greatest run of classic albums ever produced by a band from 1965 onwards.

Seven out of ten and a lego parody

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The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night album review

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1964 was a huge year for the Beatles. They released two albums in the UK, released their first film ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, had a world tour, took Beatlemania to America, occupied all places on the Hot 100 top 5 at the same time (a record still today, only 50 Cent came close with 3 in the top 5 in 2005), Lennon published his first book and they had radio, tv, concert appearances or press interviews pretty much every day. Just a quick look at their schedule is crazy!

The fact that they didn’t all collapse from exhaustion is a miracle in itself but that they were able to produce classic music, a fantastic film (second only to Spinal Tap in films about bands on tour) and create iconic, legendary television moments like their appearances on the Ed Sullivan show is beyond belief.

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A Hard Day’s Night was the first album released in 1964 and acts as the soundtrack to the film of the same name. For the first time all songs on the album are written by Lennon and McCartney. Whilst avoiding including singles on albums at this time, they did so for the film soundtracks so ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ are included.

Whilst the songs are credited to both, it is generally excepted that Lennon was the main song-writing force behind this album. Lennon wrote 6 of the songs, was the main composer on 2 more and collaborated with McCartney on ‘I’m Happy Just to Dance With You’. McCartney would contribute ‘And I Love Her’, ‘Things We Said Today’ and ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’.

The album opens with title track ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ , with one of the most iconic opening strums of the guitar ever, which is still debated today as fans disagree what chord was used. It’s the definitive Beatlemania track, all happy up tempo rock n roll about loving a girl. The song name comes from a ‘Ringoism’ when he was asked why he looked so tired in the studio Ringo replied describing his bad sleep, “I had a hard day’s night.”

After the terrific opener, ‘I Should Have Known Better’ and ‘If I Fell’ back-to-back are practically a part one and two as both have some beautiful vocals from Lennon as he daydreams about asking a girl out and the magical things that will happen when they fall in love. Sweet and universal feelings that highlighted Lennon’s ability to write straight out and out love songs, with McCartney and Lennon sharing a microphone added intimacy on the harmonies in ‘If I Fell’.Opening-scene-a-hard-days-night-24207825-399-299

Next is ‘I’m Happy Just to Dance With You’ which was described by McCartney as a ‘formula song’ and Lennon said he would never have sung it himself. Nevertheless, Harrison sings it sweetly taking his shy cute appeal with the fans to another level as he says “If somebody tries to takes my place, just pretend you can not see his face.” A throwback to innocent 50s dance hall rock n roll.

And I Love Her” would later be described by Lennon as McCartney’s first ‘Yesterday’ and is an absolute stand-out on the album. McCartney himself said it was the first time he was impressed by his own writing. Declarations of love were becoming overused slightly after 3 albums of it at this stage but rarely did it sound so sincere as Paul softly repeats the words “And I love her” as if declaring it coyly to friends and relatives that he has finally found the love of his life. Alongside ‘All My Loving’, easily one of McCartney’s best songs in the pre-Rubber Soul days.

Anytime At All” doesn’t quite hit any big heights and with the relatively poor recording of the vocals and instruments suggests this was meant as filler, Lennon himself would say it was merely an attempt to redo ‘It Won’t Be Long’ “with me shouting.” ‘I’ll Cry Instead” again brings in the Smokey Robinson influence portraying the pain of a break-up but with the added humour of Lennon arrogantly vowing to sleep with thousands of girls as an act of revenge.harddaysphoto

Another stand-out from the album is “Things We Said Today” which adds a level of urgency as Paul relates frustrations about being away from his girlfriend Jane Asher. It’s almost ominous in tone with added gloom to the vocals McCartney brings. It feels like an early attempt at the story-telling songs McCartney would later perfect like ‘For No One’ and ‘She’s Leaving Home’.

It’s funny that “When I Get Home“, a song in which Lennon sings about rushing home to see his wife so he can “love her till the cows come home,” is immediately followed by “You Can’t Do That“, an up tempo song which is actually quite dark as Lennon shows his jealous nature and his intention to hit his wife for looking at another man. film-beatles-film-a-hard-day-s-night-twickenham-studiosThis, alongside ‘Tell Me Why’ which McCartney suggested was about arguments John was having with his wife Cynthia at the time, is a theme Lennon would allude to in other songs on later albums. As is well-documented, Lennon was prone to occasional domestic violence and retrospect certainly does damage the jumpy, happiness these songs have.

‘Cant Buy Me Love’ is pretty much the Beatles retorting their previous ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ as their feelings on the matter changed with success. McCartney outlines a philosophy the Beatles would become figureheads of throughout the 60s; the love movement. It is rarely articulated more simply than here. This is what I’d call a ‘smile’ song, I absolutely can’t not smile when I hear it, a cure for depression if ever there was one.

After huge crowd-pleasing cover songs closing the first two albums, this one finishes with ‘I’ll Be Back’, a relatively downbeat closing as Lennon sounds like he’s drowning his sorrows at having to go. This move feels like a signal that the Beatles were starting to shake-off the Cavern Club days and looking to move elsewhere with their music. The intention is good but this time its not particularly memorable and pales next to Twist & Shout as an ending.

Final thoughts

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If I had to list my most to least favourite album by the Beatles, this would probably be my least (other than Yellow Submarine which isn’t a full album anyway). Many would disagree strongly with my opinion but for me the lack of variety in the music (it rarely drifts from upbeat rock n roll) and the similar tone throughout make this a collection of Beatles songs I have the least affection for.

However, in saying that, the Beatles were incapable of making a bad record. Its lack of appeal to me is only due to the ridiculous heights they achieved in other releases. When compared to albums by British Invasion bands of the 60s in general this is one of the finest releases of the time and it does still have some absolute classic songs like ‘And I Love Her’ and ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’.

Seven out of ten and a silly face (my marking of these is especially harsh as I’m comparing between each Beatles’ album rather than against other artists. And just having tens across the board would be boring!)

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The Beatles – With The Beatles album review

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Not many days have left a mark on our cultural collective consciousness like 22 November 1963; US president JFK was assassinated, the first episode of Doctor Who aired and the Beatles released their difficult second album ‘With the Beatles’. ‘Difficult’ has become a buzzword due the many underwhelming second albums from bands over the years. The first album is usually full of songs written and honed over many years whereas the second needs to be written quickly against a hectic backdrop of being on the road so can create varied results.

Recorded in seven days, although these sessions were stretched over 3 months due to the hectic schedule of TV, concert and radio appearances. This was a relative age compared to the single day ‘Please Please Me’ was recorded but the pressure was still there as the album received 500,000 pre-orders before its release. It sold a further 500,000 in its first month in the UK, only the second album to hit one million at the time after the soundtrack for ‘South Pacific’ so a strong album was certainly needed to justify the hype.

The Beatles having completely gutted their back catalogue for ‘Please Please Me’ had to write a host of new songs in a surprisingly short period of time. Whilst still reliant on filing the album with covers at this stage, they managed a fantastic album that didn’t reinvent the wheel but kept it on a steady track towards the heights they would get to.

Even the album cover art itself, a brooding black and white picture of each of their faces deep in shadow in direct contrast to the happy, smiling colourful pictures generic in the 1960s, is as iconic as it comes.With The Beatles _3

Out of the fourteen tracks, seven are written by McCartney/Lennon, one by Harrison and the other 6 are cover versions. The Beatles at the time made the decision to give value to their fans so did not include singles on the release, so ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ did not feature. This decision was a bold one setting them a huge challenge to not only create hit songs but have albums good enough that those hits were not missed. Never before or after has this strategy been as successfully accomplished as the Beatles achieved.

The weakest part of the album are definitely the covers. Its fun to hear any Beatles version of a song but there is nothing particularly overwhelming just a continuation to the level of covers from ‘Please Please Me.’ We get a Miracles cover ‘You Really Got a Hold Of Me’ which John sings beautifully but doesn’t quite strike the level of the original (upstaging Smokey Robinson is practically impossible even for the Beatles). The Harrison sung ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ doesn’t hit the heights of the Chuck Berry original either, but again there are few that can touch Berry’s versions (not even Marty McFly).

‘Please Mister Postman’ is a fun hand-clapping party-starter with a superb lead vocal from Lennon. Whilst a cover, it returns to the recurring theme receiving letters, something the Beatles would write several songs about.

The two most pleasing covers are easily ‘Till There Was You’ and ‘Money (That’s What I Want). ‘Till there was you’, from the musical the Music Man, is sung tenderly by McCartney cementing his boy-next-door appeal that would help fuel Beatlemania and you can practically hear the screaming girls as he coos “There was love all around.” It showed the ease in which the Beatles could veer from their rock n roll comfort zone with great success. ‘Money’ is a Barrett Strong song that was surprisingly a minor hit before the Beatles cover given its instant familiarity now. Much like ‘Twist & Shout’, this provides the barnstorming belter of a closer to the album as Lennon wails and screams at uproarious levels. The sound of the Beatles having fun with their music is always immediately infectious and none more so than here.The_Beatles_and_Lill-Babs_1963

Alongside the Berry song, George Harrison sings the well-known Donay’s hit ‘Devil In Her Heart’  which would be the last girl group cover they would release as Lennon/ McCartney compositions began to dominate the albums. Sweetly sung as the boyish nature of George’s voice comes through as he laments going for a girl who will most likely break his heart.

Harrison also contributes his first self-penned song on a Beatles album ‘Don’t Bother Me.’ According to McCartney, him and John had talked extensively about including George in their song-writing team but ultimately decided to keep it simple with only the two of them. Instead, they gave him a spot on every album so he could develop because, according to Paul, some of the girls were really ‘mad for him’. Harrison didn’t particularly like the song afterwards but it did symbolize a moment when he realised he could write songs so was important for his development to the heights he would later reach. It also is markedly different in tone to the other songs on ‘With the…’ due to its negatively. Its ‘leave me alone’ lyrics were in direct contrast to the happy joyous songs elsewhere suggesting the beginning of more depth to the Beatles which would add to the longevity they achieved not usually expected by popular bands in 1963.

Ringo also gets his moment to shine with ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, a song originally written for the Rolling Stones, which became that band’s second single. According to Lennon, they visited the Stones in the studio who asked for a song so John and Paul went into the corner and wrote it on the spot. This inspired Jagger and Richards to write more original songs themselves (so I guess we have something else to thank the Beatles for). Although Lennon was dismissive of the song “Well, we weren’t going to give them anything great, were we?”, Ringo confidently sings it with a happy upbeat tempo that would have gone over a treat at the Cavern club. The song is everything a Ringo song should be; instantly accessible, happy and fun.

with-the-beatles-csg013The stand-out tracks however are clearly the Lennon/McCartney written songs.

Whilst ‘Little Child,’ a self-declared filler song by John remains largely disposable and ‘Hold Me Tight’ was seen as a “failed attempt for a single” by Paul, the others soar.

‘All I’ve got to do’ and ‘Not a second time’ are both described by Lennon as his attempts at Smokey Robinson songs. Both have that sweet longing by Lennon showing his ability to write and sing love songs, despite his more edgier rock persona compared to Paul. ‘Not a Second Time’ is particularly underrated, showing an ability to create strange and unique melodies and was famously cited at the time when The Times’ classical music critic William Mann hailed them as composers of 1963 in his review.

The opener, ‘It Won’t Be Long’ is as immediate and catchy a start to an album as ‘I Saw Her Standing There.’ The call and response ‘Yeah’ throughout is great and infectious. Lennon said it was his attempt at a single and if released I think would have been a big hit.

‘All My Loving’ is firmly a McCartney song and the best on the album. An absolute storming love song that became a firm live-favourite. If released as a single (something I can’t believe didn’t happen), it could have sold a million copies. Despite making disparaging and dismissive remarks towards many of McCartney’s songs after the Beatles broke up Lennon praised this song wholeheartedly. In an interview with Playboy in 1980 he said: “All my loving is Paul, I regret to say. Ha-ha-ha. Because it’s a damn good piece of work. [Sings] ‘All my loving…’ But I play a pretty mean guitar in the back.”

The website Beatle Bible said it was a defining moment for Paul, “It marked the point where Paul McCartney began to emerge from the dominance of Lennon, asserting himself as a talent equally worthy of attention.”

Final Thoughts

Whilst not their best or their best known, upon deciding to write reviews of all the Beatles’ albums I’ve been listening to them non-stop and none so much as this one. The covers are enjoyable throwaways but the original songs are great with ‘All My Loving’ and ‘It Won’t Be Long’ being two of the best songs the Beatles did pre-Rubber Soul. Overall, the difficult second album was passed with flying colours.

Eight out of ten and a jump for joy

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