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Considered by many the weakest track on With The Beatles, “Hold Me Tight”, mostly composed by Paul McCartney, is devalued even by the group. Lennon called it a pretty poor effort, and McCartney himself thought of it as just a “work song”, something that was hammered into a shape just acceptable enough to be album filler. It was actually first recorded for the first album, Please Please Me, but the results weren’t good enough and the tapes were destroyed.
All this may be true, but while there isn’t anything very special in the tune or lyrics, the flaws in the song become charms. Much like hearing The Beatles flub a take in some of the song’s on the ’90s Anthology volumes showed an appealing human quality to this mythical, amazingly proficient band, hearing Paul’s ragged, out-of-tune singing in the middle of the song (“You…don’t know…what it means…to hold you tight…”), against the stark arranging of chugging bass, drums and handclaps is to hear the real, exhausted band in the midst of their otherwise slick, excellent second LP. It sounds more like, one imagines, how The Beatles sounded in Hamburg, hoarse, sweaty, and getting through an eight hour day of performing with booze and amphetamines. The song has not been covered all that much, but notably by a Phil Spector-produced group, The Treasures, as well as by Evan Rachel Wood in the Beatles-inspired film musical, Across the Universe.
This ranks as one of the most faithful of the Beatles’ cover songs, using a similar arrangement to Chuck Berry’s 1956 original classic, but rocking on for a few extra bars. Where it differs is that there isn’t any piano on the Beatles’ version, and the recording itself is much more dynamically produced. To be clear, there’s a lot of appeal to the more upfront, natural-sounding Berry vocals, and it’s understandable many would prefer his to the reverb-heavy, double-tracked Harrison lead vocal. Berry is also at this point a faster guitarist than Harrison; Harrison would subsequently work more on tone. But Ringo’s drums and the handclaps of Lennon and McCartney are much punchier than the thin snare on the Berry version, plus McCartney’s chugging bass adds more power. Bigger isn’t always better, but in this case I think the cover just edges out the original, though Berry’s witty lyrics, which reference not only classical music but other popular songs of the day and his own label mate Bo Diddley (“Hey Diddle Diddle”), remain uniquely his, and kind of a mouthful for Harrison. Although ’50s rock and roll sounds as old-fashioned to many people today as the classical music it makes fun of, the song at least retains its playful character. Featured on second LP, With the Beatles, from 1963, and 1994’s Live at the BBC, taken from a 1964 special called The Beatles: From Us To You.
One of those odd things about Motown Records is that they put the lie to great songwriting being the result of just one or two inspired people working together. “Please Mister Postman” started as a blues number by William Garrett, who gave it to friend Georgia Dobbins to rework as an audition piece for Motown with her band, The Marvels. She left the group and was replaced, the group becoming The Marvelettes, and the song was reworked again by in-house songwriting partnership Brian Holland and Robert Bateman, the final result becoming a 1961 hit and enduring classic, and somewhere along the line adding Freddie Gorman to the current listing of five composers.
The Beatles played this song in their Cavern Club days but had dropped it from their live set months before they decided to record it for their second LP, With the Beatles, requiring a bit of rehearsal to get it into shape again for the 30 July 1963 sessions. Lennon takes lead vocals on this one, as he did more often than not on the Motown covers, adding that throaty growl where once there were smooth male or, in this case, female, vocals. It’s originally a song about a girl hoping for a letter from her boyfriend, who’s away at war, though the war isn’t explicitly mentioned even in the original. The Beatles change the gender, so it’s just about a lonely guy hoping to hear from his girlfriend, who’s so far away. The song works with a note of desperation in it; after all, the subject is not just waiting for a letter, but stops the postman when they’re leaving, insisting they check their bag another time, just in case they’ve overlooked the letter. Unfortunately, some of the emotional pull of the song is lost in the cavernous, wall of sound production. It’s a very good, slick cover of the song, but not a reinvention of, or improvement upon, the original the way that, in my opinion, “Twist and Shout” is.
A minor song in the band’s catalogue, it’s nonetheless an important one historically, as it’s the first real George Harrison composition (he got a cowriting credit with McCartney for doing the solo on “In Spite of All the Danger” and solo credit for “Cry for a Shadow,” but that was a pastiche of The Shadows and not really an original idea). “Don’t Bother Me” is unusually sullen for The Beatles at this time, but as they would go on it would become clear that Harrison nearly matched Lennon for anger, which both of them tried to drown in substances or work through in meditation.
Featured on their second album, With the Beatles, the song doesn’t lack for production, with double-tracked vocals for George, reverbed guitar, and fantastic stop-start Latin-influenced drumming from Ringo. Rhythmically it’s almost giddy, but the minor chords and George’s dismissive vocals mute its success. Probably realizing this, the middle is both vocally and lyrically more positive and upbeat. It’s really less a kiss-off song than a song about defense. George’s character is telling the girl to go away because she means too much to him and it hurts to have her around.
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According to Paul McCartney, this song was written by him on a bus, lyrics first, which was a first for him and not something he’s done much since. He’s a tune-first guy. Envisioned as more of a country-western number, it retains some of that feel in George’s solo, but it’s really a platonic ideal of early Beatles pop, a sweet love song with excellent rhythm guitar by John and vocals and lyrics by Paul to make the girls swoon. Their second song written in the form of a letter to a girl, I happen to prefer the earlier “P.S. I Love You,” but this one is still pretty great. Dreamy Paul would have snagged a lot of girls just based on looks and playing in a band, but he was crafty, too: these lyrics about missing the girl but promising to be true while he’s away are designed to appeal to the target audience here. Not to oversimplify, but a lot of John’s love songs are more nakedly needy rather than trying to say what someone wants to hear. He wrote his share of empty sentiment, too, but it’s probably fair to say that while both men no doubt wanted attention and love, Paul was more willing to beg or connive to get it.
It’s one of their catchiest songs not to ever become a single, though EMI rectified this somewhat with the All My Loving EP in 1964. The song appears first on With The Beatles, recorded 30 July 1963, mixed in mono 21 August and then much later in stereo on 29 October, as stereo was still misunderstood at this time and considered something of a fad for hi-fi geeks. The song was performed for The Beatles’ first Ed Sullivan performance, and that recording is on Anthology 1. A February 1964 BBC performance was released on Live at the BBC in 1994.
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The second song from With The Beatles, this one was entirely a Lennon composition written for the American market. As evidence of this, the lyrics refer to calling a girl on the telephone, which according to Lennon was unthinkable to a British teen. For the better, for most of the band’s career, when Lennon/McCartney tried to write like one of their influences, it never sounded all that much like them, but this is pretty close in subject and structure to a Smokey Robinson & The Miracles song. It’s lyrically inconsequential, but becomes intriguing in combination with the music, with the heavy bass chords and Lennon’s weary, yearning vocal belying the message that whenever he needs his girl by his side, a simple phone call is all that’s required to make her come running home. The way he sings it, and the way the band plays it, it’s more like a morbid fantasy of a girl who doesn’t exist, or if she does, she’s a lot harder to get than that.
The first song from The Beatles second EMI LP, With the Beatles, and the first song recorded for it. Musicians and critics have made note of how unusual the middle eight is, with its chromatically descending chords, but to me, the middle isn’t just functional and not that memorable. Mostly, it’s a simple song based on a cute idea—using “be long” and “belong” together—but it works because of Ringo’s pummeling drums and the rising call-and-response “yeah”s between John and Paul & George that sound as close to orgasmic as 1963 pop music got. It might sound tame now to some, but The Beatles broke down the door for screaming in Pop with songs like this. It also sounds a little fuzzier and bigger than anything on Please Please Me; in other words it announces that The Beatles have made another step forward.
Recorded 30 July 1963 in two sessions, despite its ecstatic arrangement the song was never performed live by the band.
We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming.
I really thought I was going to review every single track The Beatles released, more or less chronologically, but I’ve come to realize that the dozens of covers they learned for their pre-fame repertoire are more fun to listen to than to write about. That’s on me, I suppose, as I’ve just found it difficult to come up with ways to describe George’s guitar playing or John’s or Paul’s vocals on each song. The thing is, these songs are all of a piece, rhythm and blues, rockabilly or country tracks mostly from the late ’50s, songs the band members grew up with, records they collected and traded and learnt their instuments to. It’s their heart and their school. Some of these songs are on their first four albums, before they started producing so much original material they had no need for covers again, aside from songs to warm up to in the studio. And some have turned up long after The Beatles’ career was over, on the Anthology series and on Live at the BBC. Here are the tracks from Live at the BBC, minus Beatle originals or covers that turn up on their albums:
1. “I Got a Woman” 2. “Too Much Monkey Business” 3. “Keep Your Hands Off My Baby” 4. “Young Blood” 5. “A Shot of Rhythm and Blues 6. “Sure to Fall (In Love with You)” 7. “Some Other Guy” 8. “That’s All Right, Mama” 9. “Carol” 10. “Soldier of Love (Baby Lay Down Your Arms” 11. “Clarabella” 12. “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry (Over You)” 13. “Crying, Waiting, Hoping 14. “To Know Her Is To Love Her” 15. “The Honeymoon Song” 16. “Memphis, Tennessee” 17. “Sweet Little Sixteen” 18. “Lonesome Tears In My Eyes” 19. “Nothin’ Shakin’” 20. “The Hippy Hippy Shake” 21. “Glad All Over” 22. “I Just Don’t Understand” 23. “So How Come (No One Loves Me)” 24. “I Forgot To Remember To Forget” 25. “I Got To Find My Baby” 26. “Don’t Ever Change” 27. “Lucille”
I think that about covers it. Unfortunately, it’s an album that has yet to be remastered, but it came out in the ’90s and still sounds pretty good. Anyway, the reason they’re all grouped together here instead of reviewed individually is because they’re all of a piece. This is The Beatles learning their trade, learning and playing songs they enjoyed so they could have concert material. Most are close to the quality of the covers that ended up on the albums. The thing is, while they’re all worth listening to, if you just hear the albums, you’re not truly missing a lot. Paul ripping through a Little Richard-sounding “Clarabella” isn’t much different than Paul ripping through “Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey” from Beatles For Sale. “Memphis, Tennessee” or “Sweet Little Sixteen”? The Beatles covered Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Rock and Roll Music” elsewhere. Songs like “The Hippy Hippy Shake” are fun because other British Invasion groups had success with it, so it sounds like an All-Star team stepping onto the field for an inning. Precious trifles like “The Honeymoon Song” and “I Forgot To Remember To Forget” are charming because they’re clearly material unworthy of The Beatles and yet ennobled by their sincere effort at bringing them to life. I’m partial to “Too Much Monkey Business,” which is one of the few songs I’ve heard to use the word “imbibe,” and “Soldier of Love” is a terrific Motown tribute. But basically this is the band building a repertoire and figuring out which of their influences they could wear most comfortably.
Based on the recorded evidence, The Beatles may have liked Carl Perkins best of all the fathers of rock and roll, though it’s likely they were too intimidated to cover Elvis. “Sure to Fall (in Love with You)” was planned as Perkins’ follow-up to his hit, “Blue Suede Shoes,” but it didn’t work out that way, only released to DJs and then on a 1957 album. The Beatles must have liked their arrangement of the song a lot, as they recorded it four times live in the BBC studios. The released version, on 1994’s Live at the BBC, was dated 1 June 1963. It’s marked by a slow, loping Country-Western arrangement, though Paul’s earnest vocal is nice. I’ve never heard the Perkins version, but would imagine if he’d considered it single material, it was probably faster and bouncier.
One of the many rockabilly songs in The Beatles’ live repertoire, this one was first performed by Johnny Burnette & His Rock & Roll Trio in 1957, and it was written by Burnette, his brother Dorsey, Paul Burlison, and Al Mortimer. The Beatles recorded it live in the studio for BBC program, Pop Go The Beatles, 23 July 1963, five months after recording their first album, and a month or so before recording their second. It can be found on the 1994 compilation, Live at the BBC, selected by, and remastered under the supervision of, George Martin.
Like a lot of the previously unreleased BBC songs, it’s fun but not particularly revelatory, notable mainly for a really enthusiastic but rough lead guitar by George Harrison. Lennon takes the lead vocal, and there aren’t any harmony vocals
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