The recent release of "The Beatles: The Remasters" prompts a longtime
fan to return to their early genius.
By Misha Berson
Seattle Times arts critic
September 27, 2009
Let audiophiles debate whether the Beatles albums sound best in the
newly remastered, highly touted mono or in the fresh stereo editions.
Or, for that matter, on the original vinyl discs.
To many of us aged 7 to 17 in 1963, the year the Beatles conquered
America, the more exciting thing about the Beatles' reissues is the
déjà-vu of ecstasy they induce.
Like a gazillion other little girls screaming at their TV sets during
the band's U.S. debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show," I got caught up in
that swoon of prepubescent sexual hysteria triggered by the "lads
I vividly recall how John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and
Ringo Starr made shaggy hair and collarless suits cool. And how their
cheeky wit and raffish panache suddenly turned dowdy old England into
the center of the pop-culture universe.
The Fab Four had style to burn. But Beatlemania was first, foremost
and forever about their irresistible, irreplaceable music.
Though they draw less attention today, the band's first five British
album releases (from "Please Please Me" to "Help!," all recorded,
amazingly, between 1963 and 1965) capture the essence of their aural
appeal: supple Lennon-McCartney melodies. Creative daring with tempo,
instrumentation and chords. Sublime musical chemistry, forged by
John, Paul and George since their teens (Ringo came aboard later).
With erudite and simpatico producer George Martin, the Beatles
crafted an amazing array of 3-minute wonders during the period not
mere ditties, but chamber-pop compositions polished to a high gleam.
Even on a $5 transistor radio, the songs didn't just grab you with a
catchy riff or two. They snagged your ear with hooks galore
George's sublime guitar licks, Ringo's eclectic percussion, Paul's
nimble bass lines, and, best of all, those killer lead vocals and
Setting aside the group's many robust covers (of Buddy Holly, Chuck
Berry, et al) and their monster, classic singles ("She Loves You,"
"Can't Buy Me Love," etc.), I've fallen in love again with some
(relatively) obscure 1960s Beatles originals from the new remasters
that still please and please me (oh yeah). Here, in no special order,
is a short list. Feel free to comment on your own faves at
"It Won't Be Long": An exuberant rave-up, with Lennon bragging about
an imminent sexual conquest. He's egged on by some back-and-forth
with Paul ("Yeah!" "Yeah!" Yeah?" a total of 56 "yeahs" in all),
and a thrilling closer: that hushed, blissfully harmonized exhalation
of the final word: "Yooooooou." (from "With the Beatles")
"No Reply": A doozy from Lennon's stack of jealous-guy songs. In
hypnotic musical shorthand, it's the Hitchcockian tale of a crazed
guy who pulls a Peeping Tom when his gal won't answer his calls and
spots her at home with a new love. Lennon's insistent vocal carries a
sense of dread and betrayal that belied the band's "cuddly" image of
the time. And the background refrains ("I saw the light!" "I nearly
died!") are deliciously eerie. ("Beatles for Sale")
"I Saw Her Standing There": OK, I'm cheating a little here with a
huge Beatles favorite (which Paul has rerecorded with Dave Grohl).
But when it was paired with the monster hit "I Want to Hold Your
Hand," I didn't get its genius. The song opens the Beatles' debut
album with a shot of pure rock adrenaline. And it proved their "B"
sides were everyone else's triple-A's. Plus Paul's shout-out is one
of the best intros ever: "One, two, three, 'fo!" ("Please Please Me")
"If I Fell": A haunting, harmonically innovative ode to romantic
ambivalence, unfurled in a sinuous, fluid ribbon of sound. Amazingly,
there's no overdubbing on the unconventional two-part vocal: it's
just Paul and John, on a single mic, harmonizing an octave apart as
they send out a yearning plea for tenderness. ("A Hard Day's Night")
"Things We Said Today": Shifting between minor and major keys, both
tender ballad and rock stomper, this jewel enchants from the first
strum. It features a dreamy vocal by Paul and bears one of his
favorite themes: "reverse nostalgia" (looking ahead to look
backward). Though McCartney says he wrote it for actress Jane Asher,
forget about her. He's really cooing this to you ... ("A Hard Day's Night")
"I Call Your Name": Lennon and McCartney turned out so many great
songs in this period, they sent their overstock to other British
bands. This jaunty strut, tempering heartbreak with insouciance, was
first recorded by Billy J. Kramer and Dakotas. But the Beatles'
version is far superior, with its muscular Lennon vocal ("I'm not
gonna may-ya-yake it"), Harrison's limber guitar lines and Ringo
clanging away on the cowbell. ("Past Masters Volume 1")
"Little Child": Paul shrugged this tune off as "album filler," and so
have many rock critics. Never mind, 'cause with John's bluesy
harmonica entreaties and his "c'mon, c'mon, c'mon!" lead vocal,
Ringo's drums and Paul's pumping piano, it's a grand invitation to
dance. ("With the Beatles")
"I Should Have Known Better": Another robust harmonica riff from John
pulls you into a sparkling cut from "A Hard Day's Night." The Beatles
perform it on a train, surrounded by love-struck schoolgirl fans (one
played by George's future wife, Patti Boyd). And given those
clanging, rollicking rhythms and Lennon's blissful falsetto, it's a
swell ride. ("A Hard Day's Night")
"You Can't Do That": Once again, Lennon has something to say that
might cause us pain: If we ever talk to that boy again, he's gonna
leave us flat. What might have been a standard 12-bar blues threat is
transported by the metallic jangle of George's electric 12-string
Rickenbacker guitar, and those punchy backup refrains ("Everybody's
greeeeeeeen!"). ("A Hard Day's Night")
"You Like Me Too Much": Harrison was a come-lately to songwriting,
and his early efforts can't touch the Lennon-McCartney output at this
time. But he begins to find his groove here, with a bouncy
reconciliation tune enriched by a bluesy keyboard solo, and George's
drawling, endearing vocal. ("Help!")
"You've Got to Hide Your Love Away": This treasure is a bridge to the
Beatles' next phase: leaving behind live touring and focusing on
increasingly inventive and complex studio work (starting with "Rubber
Soul"). Inspired by Bob Dylan, John wrote one of his most personal,
candid lyrics to date but matched it with a gauzy, moody waltz that
is pure Beatles. The soaring "Hey" chorus punctuated by tambourine?
The winsome flute solo? Sublime. ("Help!")
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org