The “Listen Again” series went over well enough here in the Los Angeles area that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some L.A. TV execs and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) FIVE-STAR albums. This edition we discuss one of your screwy scribe’s favorites and a comparatively overlooked album, The Beatles’ The Beatles’ Second Album.
Whether you live in L.A. or the UK, most music aficionados know that The Beatles were a Brit band formed in Liverpool in 1960. They were one of (if not THE) most critically and commercially successful groups in history. The roster from 1962 on included: John Lennon (rhythm guitar/vocals), Paul McCartney (bass, guitar/vocals), George Harrison (lead guitar/ vocals) and Ringo Starr (drums/ vocals). Born of skiffle music and 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, the group would go on to work in many different genres including elements of pop, psychedelic, country and even classical music. They were at first simply leaders of the British Invasion but went on to become musical legends that embodied the ideals and the social and cultural revolutions of the 1960s.
The Beatles’ Second Album is aptly named in that it is The Beatles’ second album from Capitol Records. The music on this album was recorded from March 1963 to March 1964. The album has a running time of less than 28 minutes and was produced by George Martin.
One thing that makes this unique from its British counterparts is that it is made up of nothing but up-tempo numbers. This is one reason why many Beatles fans and music critics consider this a favorite. (Even to this day sources such as Allmusic note that this recording is one of the “best pure rock & roll” Beatles’ albums.)
The 11 cuts on the album were taken from four different UK releases. It includes the five songs from the second UK LP With the Beatles that were not included on the first Capitol record Meet the Beatles! The opening song is their famous cover of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven”. As other rock journalists have noted, The Beatles covers of songs such as this would often make more money than the originals and many music fans didn’t even know the covers were indeed covers.
Also included here is “Thank You Girl”. This was originally the B-sideto the UK single “From Me to You”). This is a true stereo version. (This would be the only true stereo version until over four decades later when another stereo version would be included on the remastered edition of Past Masters in 2009.) This LP version is truly a rarity. It includes echo and three extra harmonica riffs.
The next number is “You Really Got a Hold on Me”. This is a cover of a Smokey Robinson classic. It’s quickly followed by The Beatles’ version of Richard Drapkin’s “Devil in Her Heart” and the more well-known “Money (That’s What I Want)”. Although this was actually written by Janie Bradford and Berry Gordy, Jr. this was one of the tunes many thought was thought to be a Lennon-McCartney composition.
Side one closes with “You Can’t Do That”. This is a mono version. It is clearly different than the one on the UK A Hard Day’s Night platter although it is unclear why.
The second side’s lead-in is “Long Tall Sally”. This was a new cover of the classic by Robert Blackwell, Enortis Johnson and Little Richard. The stereo version has echo and the mono version doesn’t. (A month after the release of this album in the US, this song would be put out in the UK on the Long Tall Sally EP.)
The next number, another new song, “I Call Your Name”, would also find its way onto the above-mentioned UK EP. The mono version includes more cowbell and this cut also includes a different opening 12-string guitar phase courtesy of Harrison. This leads into a Beatle adaptation of “Please Mister Postman” which was written by Robert Bateman, Georgia Dobbins, Garrett, Fred Gorman and Brian Holland.
The single versions of “I’ll Get You” and the early hit “She Loves You” close the project. The latter, incidentally, was supposed to be (according to some) the worst thing The Beatles had ever done yet it went on to be a big success. On this album the Capitol Records engineers included lot of reverb and echo to make music sound more “live” and it is most noticeable on the With the Beatles tracks because they had been recorded in two-track stereo.
The album, released in April 1964, reflected The Beatles proximity to their raw rock ‘n’ roll beginnings. Forward thrust dominates over the melody, the vocal harmonies are borrowed from the Everly Brothers and their initial instrumental sound is obviously rockabilly cum English skiffle. Yet the band was nonetheless clearly different as they wrote their own material and generally avoided the rather deadening influence of rock ‘n’ roll formulas.
They used chord patterns previously unknown to rock and underlined them with significant guitar chords and a pounding bass that was both functional and yet had its own little identity. It was both harmonic and rhythmic. These are just part of why the album climbed to number one taking down their Meet the Beatles! This marked the first time an artist replaced itself in the top slot on the US album charts.
Its success also merited its release in the US on 8-track cartridge in 1967 as well as reel to reel tape and cassette in 1969. It would not be until 2004, however, that this album would be re-released on CD as part of The Capitol Albums, Volume 1 box set. In addition, it would also soon after be re-released separately on CD in several foreign countries with a 12-page insert that included pages from the 2004 boxed set booklet. It also includes the same 22 cuts in both mono and stereo.
At the time of its release (1964), listeners were just starting to notice the strength of their incipient culture. The Beatles enthusiasm, unlike the somewhat giddy naiveté of earlier artists, was what gave their covers of 1950s songs and Motown classics a unique power and freshness. The Beatles’ The Beatles’ Second Album was a clear example of this and yet another reason why it is an indispensible album.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.