Bleary Beatles in late 1964
It was widely considered at the time that Beatles For Sale
was a retrograde step from the glories of its predecessor
, and that the band was all washed up. 'A bunch of cover songs again? Ha — they can't write anymore!'
Nobody seemed to stop and wonder why...
A résumé of the band's '64 agenda confirms that The Beatles had been working (like a dog) the equivalent of an eight-day week
throughout the year: they'd made a movie and the soundtrack LP, as well as a non-album EP; done two tours of the States; played gigs around Europe, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand; toured Britain (and honoured all of their pre-mega bookings in smaller venues while they were at it) — not to mention innumerable TV and radio sessions. But hold up, lads — we still need a new album for Christmas!
Even if they were not precisely 'For Sale', The Beatles were most certainly regarded as public property by this point. If A Hard Day's Night
had been something of a coming of age, all four of them had had little choice but to grow up even faster in the ensuing period. And it's worth remembering that little more than twenty months had elapsed since the release of Please Please Me
Recognising the boys' "war-weary" state, George Martin kept the production pretty basic, avoiding the need for endless overdubs. Time was also an important factor here: the LP was 'for sale' less than a month after the final recordings were made, in order to cash in on that all-important festive market.
Old friend, roadie and confidante Neil Aspinall summed it up pretty nicely: "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..." In fact, the recording sessions straddled the second American Tour in August, starting right on the back of A Hard Day's Night
, but what the hell. The Beatles were far from washed up, as posterity has told: even beyond Derek Taylor's optimistic millennium prediction in the sleevenotes. They were, however, quite definitely wiped out.
Just look at the four of them on the cover — they all look completely shagged... and quite possibly a little stoned. The majority of critics take pains to indicate the musical influence of Bob Dylan here (The Beatles' Black Album
?), and especially on John Lennon. I prefer to see it as an extension of the influence already demonstrated on A Hard Day's Night
, though certainly compounded by his initiation of them as habitual partakers of 'herbal cigarettes' during their summer visit to the States. ("Jazz Woodbines", George Harrison used to call 'em!) For Lennon, who — since childhood — had spent more time inside
his own head than anywhere else, getting stoned out
of his head helped him to put a new perspective on his introspection — or at least the confidence to explore it in his songs. The two openers, "No Reply"
and "I'm A Loser"
are prime examples.
The originals on For Sale
are evenly divided between him and Paul: three each, plus two co-writes. There's a definite down feel to all of them, musically and lyrically, with a heightened level of experimentation and innovation in both departments, signalling the way towards Rubber Soul
. The piano-percussion ploy on "Every Little Thing"
still sounds as fresh as ever; and "Baby's In Black"
certainly saw them waltzing off in new directions.
In fact, it's only really the covers — mainly faithful renditions of rock 'n' roll standards from their live set — which sound very much at all like those cuddly little mop-tops who the whole world had come to know and love. Their inclusion was
primarily due to the lack of new material: as stated, they hadn't really had too much spare time to sit around writing, and they all knew the tunes inside-out, three of the six actually being banged off in a single session.
But they also served to tie up some loose ends of hero homage. Chuck
, Carl (twice)
: all now duly versioned. Penniman
had, of course, already received the Beatle treatment — along with Larry Williams
— on the Long Tall Sally
EP, back in June. Only Elvis remained untouched, but — hey — Elvis was Elvis, uh-huh?
Perhaps not surprisingly, fans accepted it willingly enough, anyway. In the UK, it knocked their previous effort off the top of the chart, spending eleven weeks there and another eleven at Number Two during virtually a whole year on the listings. The American issues which contained the songs, Beatles '65
, enjoyed similar success.