The Beatles With The Beatles

Their second UK album once again goes to Number One on the charts

The Beatles' second UK album "With The Beatles"
The sophisticated black and white cover art for The Beatles' second UK album, With The Beatles. Apple Corps Ltd.

This is The Beatles’ second LP on the UK Parlophone label. It was released in Britain on an auspicious date – Friday, 22 November, 1963, the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

That event had an effect on the future of The Beatles in the USA. At the time they were virtual unknowns in America, but a TV news feature detailing their huge success elsewhere in the world was due to be aired nationally that very same night.

Of course the story on the beat group from Liverpool was dropped and wall-to-wall coverage of the tragic events in Dallas dominated. Understandably all anyone wanted to see and hear that day was the biggest story in the world – the shocking death of JFK.

That Beatle news program feature was shelved. In fact it wasn’t seen on US television screens until some weeks later, by which time The Beatles had already made their big breakthrough in the States via other means, namely their appearance on the hugely popular variety program, The Ed Sullivan Show. In a strange way had the Beatles been featured earlier on those news shows in the US they may not have enjoyed the same absolutely huge response that they later received. The Sullivan program turned out to be a far more influential vehicle.

Back in the UK, With the Beatles went to Number One on the charts and stayed there until April, 1964. It signalled the start of what became known as Beatlemania in Britain, a new type of mania that was about to infect the whole world. At the time the respected music magazine New Musical Express wrote: “If there are any Beatle-haters left in Britain, I doubt they'll remain unmoved after hearing With The Beatles. I'll even go this far: if it doesn't stay at the top of the NME LP Chart for at least eight weeks, I'll walk up and down Liverpool's Lime Street carrying an "I Hate The Beatles" sandwich-board”. He didn’t have to do it.

The album begins, just as their previous LP Please Please Me did, with an up-tempo number that immediately grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. In this case it’s “It Won’t Be Long”, a Lennon/McCartney original that again features the now trademark Beatle “Yeah, yeah, yeahs”, but this time in a catchy, infectious call-and-response form. There’s an excitement to this recording which simply jumps out of the speaker. If there’s one thing that producer George Martin managed successfully with The Beatles it was to capture in the studio their powerful “live” sound. It comes out even now in the record grooves. More than fifty years on this song still resonates.

Next up is “All I’ve Got To Do”, another original composition, but much slower in tempo this time, and again with a John Lennon vocal. This is Lennon paying tribute to an idol – one Smokey Robinson.  

The third song on With The Beatles is a Paul McCartney number, the hugely confident “All My Loving”. The song embodies the excitement of Beatlemania, and yet it’s a song that simply came to Paul one day while he was shaving, and he wrote it down as a poem. Incidentally, this was the first song that the Beatles performed on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 before an audience estimated to be 73 million viewers.  

George Harrison gets a song of his own for the first time on this LP. “Don’t Bother Me” is a real foot-tapper and as good as anything Lennon and McCartney had written. George composed the song while on tour in 1963, at the Palace Court Hotel in the city of Bournemouth. Harrison was later very dismissive of the song, writing in his 'biography' I Me Mine “It might not have been a song at all, but it showed me that all I needed to do was keep writing and then eventually I would write something good”.   

“Little Child” was initially written for Ringo Starr to perform, but the song ended up having a John Lennon vocal (Ringo instead got the better-suited “I Wanna Be Your Man” on this album). It has to be said that this is not one of the greatest Beatle tunes. It's regarded by many critics as an album filler track.

Next comes a sequence of three covers. These had been performed by The Beatles for years as part of their stage show, and as a result they are each well rehearsed and familiar to the band. Each is striking in contrast to the next.

First up is Meredith Wilson’s Broadway song “Till There Was You” (from the 1957 musical comedy The Music Man) with Paul on vocals; then comes a Motown song made popular by the girl group The Marvellettes, “Please Mister Postman” (which is infectiously sung by John). It’s followed by the 1956 Chuck Berry rocker, “Roll Over Beethoven” (with a great lead vocal from George Harrison). Each song, in its way, is The Beatles paying tribute to some of their very early influences. In the process they demonstrate the breadth of styles that the band could tackle with ease.

“Hold Me Tight” is another Paul McCartney composition. It’s a bit of a throw-away song to be honest, but still has a strong beat-group feel to it, typical of the era. While the song is nothing special it's not embarrassingly bad either.

“You Really Got a Hold on Me” is another Beatle cover. It’s a Smokey Robinson and the Miracles song, with John Lennon on vocals. This Beatle version is very close to the original, but distinctive enough to make it one of the great covers. As already mentioned, Smokey Robinson was definitely one of Lennon’s main idols at the time.

The next song, “I Wanna Be Your Man” was initially given to the Rolling Stones before The Beatles later decided to record the version we have here with Ringo as lead vocalist. The Stones rendition, which John and Paul literally finished off writing in front of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, went into the UK charts. That was impressive enough to encourage Jagger and Richards to embark on writing their own original material too. The rest, as they say, is history.     

“Devil in Her Heart” is the third George Harrison vocal on With The Beatles. It’s a relatively obscure cover of a song originally recorded by the US rhythm and blues group The Donays. The Beatles probably first heard their version of the song at NEMS, the record store owned by their manager Brian Epstein, which stocked numerous US titles. 

“Not a Second Time” is another Lennon/McCartney original sung by John Lennon, who really dominates this whole album. This is the track to be singled out by William Mann, The Times of London classical music reviewer in 1963, who wrote in glowing terms of its ‘Aeolian cadences’, and which he said demonstrated the Beatles’ ability to ‘…think simultaneously of harmony and melody, so firmly are the major tonic sevenths and ninths built into their tunes’. Lennon didn’t believe such praise at the time, saying he was simply trying to write a song Smokey Robinson might be proud of. However, he was probably secretly pleased that his work was receiving some intellectual analysis and appreciation. Perhaps Mann was ultimately correct. It does seem that the music of The Beatles will endure and be around at least as long as Beethoven, Chopin and Tchaikovsky.       

The album’s powerhouse closer is another cover called “Money (That’s What I Want)”. It's a Motown classic, written by Berry Gordy and Janie Bradfield, and was originally a hit in 1960 for Barrett Strong. Yes, it’s a cover, but oh what a cover. Like he’d done previously on Please Please Me with “Twist and Shout”, John Lennon vocally really gives this his all. The Beatles really own this one and totally make it theirs.

The striking cover photograph used on With The Beatles deserves mention. It was taken was by Robert Freeman and has since been copied by many bands, but never bettered. This cover broke new ground for a pop record of the time. It is sophisticated and subtle with a somber, moody, and brooding Beatles shot in black and white. The photo is a clear statement that the band saw themselves as something more than a run-of-the-mill popular beat band. They are headed in a more considered and artistic direction. The same image, with slightly different toning, was used for the US LP Meet The Beatles, (which contains nine of the songs from With The Beatles).