Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Beatles: The Early Beatles

Review # 32
Artist: The Beatles
Title: The Early Beatles
Format: LP
Label: Capitol Records
Year: 1965
Songs: 11

The Beatles' first album, Please Please Me, was a big hit in the UK in 1963. But it didn't come out in the US until 1964, and even then it came out on a small label and under a different name. It was not until 1965 that the Beatles' US label, Capitol Records (a holding of EMI, the label the band recorded on in the UK) would release these songs as The Early Beatles. Following a practice I mentioned in a previous review, three songs were left off the original British album album ("Misery," "There's A Place," and "I Saw Her Standing There"), allowing them to be released on other records or as singles. The 11 remaining songs were also re-ordered. So, while the songs here are the same as on Please Please Me, this is truly a different album.

Recorded in 1962, these songs capture the Beatles as they were in the early days of their career: a good little rock band with a few new ideas and a lot of talent, but still in a nascent stage. They knew how to harmonize and how to play rock 'n roll in style that was heavily influenced by their 1950s favorites like Buddy Holly. They had written a few catchy tunes. But they were not yet legends, by any means. They were just a good band made up of four young guys from Liverpool. In the early 1960s, it was still not common practice for bands to play mostly their own material, and as such, while there are a number of Lennon-McCartney tunes on this record, there are also several covers, such as "Boys," originally performed by the Shirelles and sung here by Ringo in one of the odder moments of record. It's catchy and fun, but both lyrically and musically clearly a song written for a girl group, and the decision to record it for their first album is an interesting one. Some of the lyrics are changed to suggest a heterosexual relationship ("my GIRL says when I kiss her lips...") but it still includes a chorus in which Ringo sings about boys over and over, which you couldn't really change without it being a different song. Perhaps foreshadowing the cultural boundary pushing the Beatles would do in the years to come, they are not held back from performing this song in spite of what might be perceived by some as a trangression gender norms (or, maybe I'm reading too much into this because I'm a grad student).

Probably the best known tunes on this record are the title track, "Please Please Me," and the Beatles' cover of "Twist and Shout," originally recorded by the Isley Brothers. These songs, more than the others on the record, point to the solidifying of the Beatles' early sound and would continue to be part of their live set for years to come.

An interesting note: everyone talks about how bad the CD versions of the Beatles records sound, leading to the albums all being remastered and reissued quite recently. Having grown up largely on the cds, I could never really hear the "bad" sound, because I had little basis for comparison. But I listened closely for it as I played the LP version of The Early Beatles and there is actually quite a difference. The harmonies and backing vocals in particular stand out much more clearly on the vinyl version and the sound is just richer (although that may be partially a feature of my record player, a big wooden console unit that makes everything sound better).

Everyone's heard most of these songs I think, but here's the Beatles' version of "Boys," in case you haven't.

Total songs listened: 422

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