Early hits capture the excitement of the era when the Beatles played live
PUBLISHED: 07:00 26 January 2019 | UPDATED: 19:44 27 January 2019
The late Beatles were great - but don’t overlook their early work! Here’s a tribute to the early singles and albums.
The later albums may now get more respect, but it was the early Beatles who first conquered the world.
This was the era when the Fab Four played live, before escaping into the studio. Sadly, they often couldn’t be heard over the screaming, as many people who went and saw them at the Gaumont in Ipswich and the Grosvenor Rooms in Norwich have recalled.
But all that hysteria wasn’t just because of the moptop haircuts and collarless jackets. It was also about the music, with its fresh, innovative feel.
Born in 1960, I was just a few years too young to enjoy those early recordings as they were released, or to go and scream at John, Paul, George and Ringo when they visited East Anglia. But I discovered the music later, and still love it.
During a visit to Liverpool a couple of years back, I heard tribute acts performing some of those early songs in the reconstructed Cavern Club, and it really gave a feeling of why the Merseybeat sound caused so much excitement at the time.
Yes, Sgt Pepper came later, but the years from 1962-65 have a drive and vibrance of their own.
The music of the early 60s has a lot in common with the films and fashions from that period. This was the era of kitchen-sink dramas, Minis and mini skirts, which saw everything which had been “the establishment” questioned and reinvented.
And the birth of a new pop music with a distinctively British voice and personality was all part of that. Suddenly, rock’n’roll was edged with humour and irreverence.
Here are my pre-Revolver favourites:
With the Beatles (1963): This early album (the group’s second) has an iconic sleeve image, taken by Robert Freeman, showing the Beatles in half-shadow. Its 14 tracks are a great mix of originals like McCartney’s All My Loving and Lennon’s Not a Second Time, with covers of classics like the Marvelettes’ Please Mr Postman and Barrett Strong’s Money (That’s What I Want). Incredibly packed and varied.
A Hard Day’s Night (1964): With its title famously based on a jokey comment by Ringo, the Beatles’ first film captured the sheer excitement and fun of the Swinging 60s. Those same qualities come across in the album, the first to be entirely made up of Lennon-McCartney originals. Almost all the 13 tracks would have made great singles - Any Time at All, Things We Said Today, I Should Have Known Better...
Rubber Soul (1965): Lennon later described this album as the first one where the Beatles were in full creative control. It shows, with a host of soul and folk influences shining through. Great songs include Lennon’s wistful Girl and In My Life, and Norwegian Wood, which is influenced by Bob Dylan (and in turn influenced Dylan’s Fourth Time Around), and McCartney’s playful Michelle and Drive My Car.
Please Please Me (1963): The second single was really the one which started everything. It was originally written as a slow number, but producer George Martin suggested speeding up the tempo, and the rest is history! The sexy lyrics challenge traditional love songs right at the start of their career.
I Want to Hold Your Hand (1963): It’s amazing to realise in retrospect that this was the Beatles’ fourth single of the year. And surely the sweetest, becoming their first American number one. It has a surprising tenderness and warmth and the voices blend perfectly.
Help! (1965): The film Help! hasn’t worn quite as well as A Hard Day’s Night, but the title song has done. Lennon chose this as one of his own favourites from his Beatles songs, because of the emotional honesty of the lyric, and wished the group had recorded it at a slower tempo. But, listening to the power of the fast, driving beat, it’s hard to agree.