The Beatles - Beatles For Sale

An Album of Transition

The Beatles For Sale
A world-weary Beatles on the cover of their fourth UK album, Beatles For Sale. Apple Corps Ltd.

Beatles For Sale is The Beatles’ fourth official LP in the UK.

Released in December, 1964, it followed Please Please Me, With the Beatles and A Hard Day’s Night, all issued on Parlophone Records in Britain in quick succession in just a little over twenty months. Today, that sort of output would be considered more than just prolific. It’d be regarded as nigh on impossible for one band to produce so much content – but such was the popularity of The Beatles that they just kept the hits coming.

Recorded over a period of seven days (fitted in and around all the other demands being made on their time), the album artwork shows a slightly weary-looking Beatles, and it's no wonder. That year they’d completed two tours to North America, dozens of concerts in the UK, a world tour that included Europe, Asia and Australia, and they’d starred in (and written songs for) their new feature film, A Hard Day’s Night.

Despite all that, they’d produced an album that sees the very beginnings of the Beatles maturing as a band, something that would be further cemented on their next two releases, and Rubber Soul. Beatles For Sale sees a band in a state of transition and sets the trend of each subsequent release being a departure from what has come before. Beatles For Sale contains a mix of Beatle originals and some really good cover songs, with a wide range of styles from Bossa Nova and country and western to folk, Latin rhythms, and a waltz.

The album features eight Lennon/McCartney numbers and six covers. It kicks off with three songs featuring John Lennon on vocals, story songs really, which are much more angst-ridden and autobiographical in nature than previous outings. Lennon really injects pop music with heartfelt slices of life, and talks in real terms about the pain and deceit that can riddle relationships.

As an example, from “No Reply”, come lyrics like these: “I tried to telephone/They said you were not home/That's a lie/'Cause I know where you've been/And I saw you walk in/Your door”. It’s followed by “I’m a Loser”, a remarkable song title given the huge fame of the band at the time, and very reminiscent of the song “Help!” with its theme of self doubt. Then comes the morose “Baby’s In Black”. You get the idea.

The cover songs on this album were all from The Beatles' stage show, songs they’d been playing for years, and so they were well-rehearsed and recorded quickly. While oddly placed after the first three introspective numbers, the party definitely picks up with the injection of Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music”. It’s the band paying tribute to one of their idols and Lennon, who'd been performing the song since the early Hamburg days, gives it his all.

Buddy Holly was another inspiration and the Beatle version of "Words of Love" sticks closely to the Holly original, with beautiful harmonies from John and Paul. There are also no less than two Carl Perkins covers - "Honey Don't" with vocals from Ringo, and George Harrison’s rendition of “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby”. We also get Paul McCartney channeling the spirit and voice of Little Richard on the medley “Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey!” Probably the weakest song on the album is Lennon’s interpretation of “Mr Moonlight”, which most critics agree was evidence of the band scratching around a bit for enough content and should have been left off the LP.

Paul McCartney’s first lead vocal contribution to Beatles For Sale is “I’ll Follow the Sun”, a song he wrote when he was just 16 years old.

One of the best original Lennon/McCartney tunes, which also became a single in the USA in 1965, is “Eight Day’s A Week”. Paul once said of the origins of the song: “I used to go out to John's house in Weybridge to write songs and at that particular time I had been busted for speeding, so I had to have a driver to take me out there and we were chatting on the way and I remember saying to the guy, well how you been, you know, you been busy? And he said, 'Oh yeah mate, I've been working eight days a week.' And I went into John's house and said, 'Right, I've got the title “Eight Days A Week”' and we wrote it there and then.”

“Every Little Thing” is a Paul composition about his then girlfriend Jane Asher, but oddly it has lead vocals from John Lennon.

That is unusual, but it works and is one of the best Beatle songs ever. It’s followed by another introspective Lennon tune. While upbeat, “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” is John once more revealing that beneath his seemingly confident veneer he’s really a vulnerable and lonely person inside. 

The final original on Beatles For Sale is a terrific song. “What You’re Doing” is again a Paul number, and again about a relationship (possibly about Jane Asher). This is not the usual optimistic Paul. It is a song about a relationship in trouble. The production points to sounds The Beatles would further explore on their Rubber Soul album, with strong folk-rock elements and George Harrison’s distinctive electric 12-string guitar fills throughout.

Perhaps predictably Beatles For Sale went straight to the number one spot on the album charts in the UK. It stayed there for eleven of the 46 weeks it spent in the Top Twenty. No singles were issued from this LP in Britain. As the Beatles' producer, the late George Martin, explained: "In those days we didn't release a single off an album or rather when we came to put an album together we did not include the single in it.” This was because the band had a policy of not wanting their UK fans to have to pay up twice for same song. There were therefore two non-album tracks released as a single in conjunction with this album. They were the Lennon/McCartney tunes “I Feel Fine” and “She’s A Woman”.

Eight of the songs on Beatles For Sale can be found on the US album Beatles ’65, (released in December, 1964). The remaining six can be found on Beatles VI (released in June, 1965).

There’s an interesting short documentary here on the making of Beatles For Sale.