The Beatles are often considered to be one of the, if not the, greatest bands of all time, and for very good reason: they broke new ground on both sides of the pond with their techniques in the studio and experiments in pushing the boundaries of music; their greatest works in that regard are Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. But, even in their earliest days as the Fab Four and playing teenybopper rock and roll, they were still remarkable artists. As a longtime Beatles fan, I have long wanted a chance to listen to their American releases; I recently got a chance to when I discovered the YouTuber That Squirtle You Know, who has taken the liberty of taking songs from the Beatles' "Topic" YouTube channel and organized them into a playlist of songs recreating those albums. The first two of these I listened to were Rubber Soul (which I consider to be superior to the UK version due to its more uniform folk rock/acoustic sound) and the album this review focuses on, Meet the Beatles!. The process behind both of these albums is well known: taking select songs (in this case from With the Beatles and one song from Please Please Me), rearranging the order in which they played, and adding a hit single (I Wanna Hold Your Hand), and creating a new album out of it in order to increase profits. But does this make the Beatles' American debut "weak" in comparison to their UK one? Well, ladies and gentleman of SBC, let's look at Meet the Beatles, and find out.
ALBUM NAME: Meet the Beatles!
ARTIST NAME: The Beatles
RECORDED: February 11-October 23, 1963
RELEASED: January 20, 1964
LABEL: Capitol Records
PRODUCER: George Martin
GENRES: Rock and roll
PERSONNEL: John Lennon (vocals, rhythm guitar, harmonica, acoustic guitar, tambourine on "Don't Bother Me"), Paul McCartney (vocals, bass guitar, piano on "Little Child", claves on "Don't Bother Me"), George Harrison (backing vocals, lead guitar, acoustic guitar, lead vocals on "Don't Bother Me"), Ringo Starr (drums, percussion, lead vocals on "I Wanna Be Your Man")
1. I Wanna Hold Your Hand - 2:24
2. I Saw Her Standing There - 2:50
3. This Boy - 2:11
4. It Won't Be Long - 2:11
5. All I've Got to Do - 2:05
6. All My Loving - 2:04
7. Don't Bother Me - 2:28
8. Little Child - 1:46
9. Til There Was You - 2: 12
10. Hold Me Tight - 2:30
11. I Wanna Be Your Man - 1:59
12. Not A Second Time - 2:03
TOTAL ALBUM LENGTH - 26:43
1. I Want to Hold Your Hand: The opening track of Meet the Beatles is important in both a music history context and the context of this album in that it not only introduced the world to a band that would set the standards that we see today in the modern music industry, but also re-introducing American audiences to a genre of music that was, by 1964, almost dead in the water thanks to a myriad of factors - rock and roll. While I may be exaggerating just a bit with that statement by my own admission, rock and roll was ultimately viewed as just a curious artifact of the 1950s and not much else by the time the Beatles hit America's shores. In any case, however, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" is the song that really kickstarted Beatlemania and caused a lot of pubescent fangirls to start squealing when Ed Sullivan introduced the nation to them on his variety show. Now that we have the context squared away, let's get into the song itself. Written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon in order to court the American markets, it's a fairly simple 4-chord song in the key of G major, with the verses having the progression I-V-vi-iii and the choruses having a IV-V-I-vi-I progression. Lyrically, the song exemplifies bubblegum, being inspired by Tin Pan Alley and Brill Building standards and is fairly innocent. This might (and has) understandably turned some crowds off from the Beatles, painting the four solely as a proto-boy band, an image that was most famously capitalized on by the Monkees. Along with the b-sides "I Saw Her Standing There" and "This Boy" (all three make up this album's first 3 tracks), "I Want to Hold Your Hand" lays down the bedrock on which the rest of Meet the Beatles stands.
2. I Saw Her Standing There: Although it was originally the opener to the Beatles' first UK album Please Please Me, "I Saw Her Standing There" was ultimately made the B-side to "I Want to Hold Your Hand" by Capitol Records when released in America. While on its own it works as an excellent opening track, when combined with "I Want to Hold Your Hand", it delivers an excellent one-two punch and really kicks Meet the Beatles into high gear. One of the first songs written by McCartney for the band, it was written as a sort of rock and roll version of "Seventeen Come Sunday", an English folk song (something I found out while doing research for this review) and performed during the group's time in Hamburg. A blues-influenced song in the key of E major, "I Saw Her Standing There" is built almost exclusively around the chord progression I-IV-V and concerns a guy who watches a girl dancing at a club, falling in love with her at first sight. The song's opening lines of "She was just seventeen/And you know what I mean" has a slightly more risque stance in counterpoint to the innocence of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and might raise a few eyebrows until you consider that the age of consent in the UK is 16, so from the point of view of the protagonist, his 'wink wink, nudge nudge' commentary on her age is perfectly normal. An unusual aspect in this song (later revisited in "Little Child", the eighth song on the album), as well as Please Please Me, is John Lennon's use of harmonica; this is something I assume is left over from the band's days as the skiffle group The Quarrymen. Nonetheless, I think it adds to the blues influence of the song with a bit of flavoring.
3. This Boy: The other b-side to "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (in this case, the UK version) is John Lennon's attempt at doo-wop, more specifically Motown's own Smokey Robinson. Building on a fairly standard 50s progression of I-vi-ii-V in D major, the song is actually pretty complex musically. First of all, the time signature is in 12/8, which was (and still is) progressive for a pop tune, especially at the time. Secondly, the harmony vocals revolve around a middle eight of G-F#7-Bm-D7-G-E7-A-A7 and back again. Given that John was, in his own words, inspired by Smokey's own "I've Been Good to You", it's no surprise that there are similarities, especially in the melody and arrangement. Lyrically, there isn't too much in the way; yet for all the song's simplicity, it's actually fairly dark, being inspired by the domestic abuse John's mother Julia Lennon suffered from her common law marriage to a man named John 'Bobby' Dykins. The resulting effect is not only a successful and moving first attempt at a ballad, but also showing a glimpse of the personal issues that would dog Lennon up until his death and proving that the Beatles were just as musically and thematically complex in their beginnings as they were post-Rubber Soul.
4. It Won't Be Long: Following the soulful doo-wop of This Boy is another fast-paced rocker - It Won't Be Long, featuring another lead vocal from John. In a similar case to I Saw Her Standing There, this is another example of an opening track being transplanted to another point in the album. While it works as an amazing opening to With the Beatles, here it acts as an opposite to This Boy, which I feel is more fitting since both have the same Beatle singing one after the other. Whereas This Boy is a moody, Motown-inspired ballad, It Won't Be Long brings us back to the upbeat and fun tone of the album's first two songs, lyrically centered around the worldplay of the words "belong" and "be long". Musically, the song is al over the place (and not in a bad or distracting way); since all of the four were self-taught musicians, they were never taught music theory and how songs were "traditionally" supposed to work. As such, the song contains non-standard chords and going into multiple keys, including a combined D and Bm.
5. All I've Got to Do: Yet a third Lennon-fronted song follows It Won't Be Long, again inspired by Smokey Robinson. With Paul playing actual chords on his bass and singing in harmony with John, All I've Got to Do is sweet and soulful, albeit too short in my opinion.
6. All My Loving: After three Lennon-led tunes, McCartney takes center stage again with All My Loving, a country/rockabilly-inspired tune. Backed with harmony vocals from the other Beatles, McCartney illustrates a story about a man who has to be away from his girlfriend, but he promises to write letters to her every day until he returns (lyrically, All My Loving follows a similar format to P.S. I Love You in that the song takes the form of a love letter). Unusually for McCartney. the lyrics came first in the form of a poem, then he wrote the music shortly afterwards. In an unsettling coincidence, this song was playing in the hospital where John Lennon died mere minutes after being shot by Mark David Chapman. With that in mind, you could also see the song as Paul talking about his friendship with John, and that no matter what, they would always have each other.
7. Don't Bother Me: George Harrison's first song (in the sense that he both composed and sang lead on it), Don't Bother Me is (unlike a majority of the songs on this album) a glum tune, focusing on a man lamenting on his recent breakup with his girlfriend, blaming himself for the incident. He becomes anti-social and aloof, not wanting to see or speak to anyone until he (hopefully) improves himself and gets his girlfriend back. While (much like all the songs on this album) it is a love song, Don't Bother Me establishes a common theme for Harrison: dour moods and the low points in a man's life. Short, simple, and most importantly catchy, this song is a major first step for Harrison, whose songwriting would (within a few years) propel the Beatles into the mysticism of the psychedelic era.
8. Little Child: Paul McCartney has often described Little Child as album filler, and it's easy to see why. On a technical and lyrical level, Little Child is incredibly simple; a piano and harmonica-driven track with John and Paul on vocals, the song is built around the chorus of "little child, little child/Little child, won't you dance with me?/I'm so sad and lonely/Baby take a chance with me". Adding on to this simplicity was the original intended vocalist being Ringo Starr, who was often given "simpler" songs to sing in order to compensate for his self-confessed subpar vocal abilities. In my honest opinion, however, Little Child doesn't feel like album filler at all. It's a fun rock-and-roller, with John's harmonica and Paul's piano playing going together like peanut butter and jelly, complimenting the lyrics perfectly.
9. Til There Was You: The sole cover that was kept from With the Beatles on this album by Capitol Records is also one of the best. An oddity among what one might expect from the Beatles at this time, Til There Was You is something unexpected - a Broadway showtune, specifically from the 1957 musical The Music Man (something Paul admitted he didn't find out until later). Having first heard the 1961 version by Peggy Lee from a cousin of his, Paul McCartney incorporated it into the Beatles' setlists at Hamburg clubs and eventually into their failed audition at Decca Records before signing to EMI. Taking a more acoustic and intimate approach to the song with Paul, John, and George playing guitars, Til There Was You can be considered a predecessor to songs such as "And I Love Her" and more importantly "Yesterday", as well as proving to the older generations that the four lads from Liverpool could do more than just rock and roll.
10. Hold Me Tight: Just like with Little Child, both Paul and John said that Hold Me Tight was just a filler track, statements that underestimate how good both songs really are. Written and initially intended by Paul for Please Please Me, the song captures the live sound of the band perfectly - loud and wild, with the bass and guitars working together perfectly to create a rocker that could have been a potential hit single.
11. I Wanna Be Your Man: The history of this particular song is rather interesting, as the Beatles were the primary songwriters, but not the first to record it - that honor goes to the Rolling Stones, who saw it as a potential hit single, and asked Paul and John (who had been finishing the song in the same room as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards). As such, the early hard R&B influence of the Stones is particularly prominent, only boosted by the energetic vocals of Ringo Starr. The title and some parts of the song (both musically and lyrically) also bear a resemblance to I Want to Hold Your Hand, so it's likely the former influenced the latter in some way.
12. Not a Second Time: The final song on Meet the Beatles is a piano-based track sung by John, once again showing the soul influence he had during this period. Much like This Boy, Not a Second Time deals with an abusive relationship. Unlike that song, however, this is told from the point of view of the abusee, who basically tells their abuser to go screw themselves, and thst they aren't falling for their tricks anymore. Not only does it flip the perspectives on This Boy's premise (although the lyrics are ambiguous, I feel they talk about not only male-on-female domestic violence, but abusive relationships in general), but also gives a positive message that is still socially relevant today - you still have power and equal ground in an abusive relationship. All it takes is help from others, and the willpower to stand up for yourself.
Meet the Beatles is a perfect album in every sense of the word: all the songs are catchy pop/rock tunes, and there is absolutely no filler whatsoever. It's a record you can play over and over again and not get tired of. In fact, it's far superior to the first two British releases since Capitol chose to do something unique for the time and focus almost exclusively on the band's original material. As a result, it brings out Lennon and McCartney's strong points as songwriters who can craft rockers as well as softer, less intense songs, something the British releases didn't start doing until A Hard Day's Night later that year. This albums reputation as the powder keg for the British Invasion is well-deserved, and I'm glad I can surely say it's in my Top 10 albums list.