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Why “Beatles for Sale” Has Gone Up In Value

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I think it’s safe to say that by now everybody is aware of the story behind The Beatles’ fourth album. How they came into the studio at the end of 1964, exhausted from all the touring they’d been doing throughout the year. How only four months had passed since the release of A Hard Day’s Night and the band didn’t have the necessary time to write enough original material. How this forced them to hastily throw in six cover songs with the originals just to have a new full-length album to present to the record company. Given these circumstances, it’s not hard to see why Beatles for Sale is generally regarded as their weakest studio offering, especially when put next to the aforementioned A Hard Day’s Night, the band’s all-killer no-filler pop masterpiece.

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However, that doesn’t mean that it’s true. Let me explain. The very first thing that we hear when we put the album on is a desperate, paranoid John Lennon trying to win his girl back: “This happened once before / When I came to your door / No reply.” Compare this opening to the inviting count-off in “I Saw Her Standing There,” the harmony explosion of “It Won’t Be Long,” or the famous “A Hard Day’s Night” chord and the effect is quite striking. “No Reply” is still an addictively catchy pop song of course (with a particularly dynamic hook), but for the first time, we feel like there’s a strong bitterness underneath. The fact that the next two songs continue in the exact same vein confirms one thing: this is a new John Lennon we’re hearing, and a lyric like “Although I laugh and I act like a clown / Beneath this mask I am wearing a frown” suits him a whole lot more than “It won’t be long, yeah, ’till I belong to you.”

I think that with his lyrics, compositions, and vocals, John was the one that truly encapsulated the weary state of mind that the band found itself in at the end of 1964. Once you are put under pressure to write more and more, you can only dig deeper inside yourself for inspiration, and that’s exactly what he seems to have done. In “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party,” he portrays a protagonist that’s drunk and heartbroken, sitting in the corner at a party while everybody else is having fun. Combined with an excellent country-tinged melody, this is about as resonant as music gets for me, and God knows I’ve been in that situation way too many times. Still, that’s not to discredit the other members. At this point, The Beatles were still working as a tight unit, in constant search of new sounds and directions and it shows. “Eight Days a Week” starts with one of the earliest examples of a fade-in in pop music, and while it shouldn’t make such a big difference, it totally does – just like the feedback in “I Feel Fine,” it is another bit of playful experimentation that the song wouldn’t work as well without.

Paul steps up his melody game and writes “Every Little Thing,” easily one of the band’s most gorgeous and overlooked early compositions. With the use of timpani in the choruses and another beautiful-sad vocal from Lennon, this is just pure pop perfection from beginning to end. “What You’re Doing” is one more lost jewel in the same vein, though a bit more poignant, kind of like an upbeat precursor to “Yesterday.” Although McCartney is slightly behind Lennon in terms of this new direction, he is slowly getting there, and by the next year’s Rubber Soul, they had become equally distinctive and prolific songwriting forces. But until then they also had decided to compete with each other for the best rock n’ roll performance – Paul chose Little Richard’s “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey” and Lennon, Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music,” both resulting in absolutely killer versions, with an energy and enthusiasm that showcase their love for the genre.

And when they come together for a close-harmony version of Buddy Holly’s “Words of Love,” it almost sounds like a quiet gospel hymn. My point is that even the covers on Beatles for Sale sound more thought-out than earlier ones. Sure, “Mr. Moonlight” is still pretty bad and perhaps “Honey Don’t” and “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” don’t bring anything new to the table yet they certainly are a lot of fun. Overall, the album remains a fascinating chapter in The Beatles’ story and one that introduces quite a few new elements. Its combination of the early accessibility and fun with a dose of underlying sadness has always made it a particular favorite of mine.

Ovidiu Boar

Photo: Les Lee/Express, courtesy Getty Images

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Ovidiu Boar is a passionate music fan and writer looking to turn this hobby into a living. His tastes cover multiple genres such as rock, pop, hip-hop, soul, funk or metal, and he's always open to new artists. He also doesn't like referring to himself in the third person. You can go over to his blog at https://tangledupinmusic.com and tell him why his opinions are wrong. Or you can follow him on Twitter at @BoarOvidiu.

49 comments on “Why “Beatles for Sale” Has Gone Up In Value

  1. Michael Ray

    Spot on… except… Important extras I find include Lennon’s ‘preview’ of his Beales For Sale persona with the last two songs on Hard Days Night, ‘You Can’t Do That’ and ‘I’ll Be Back’. The latter was an odd note to leave such a spirited album on, perhaps as much so as starting an album with ‘No Reply’. And I was found BFS to be George’s album where his guitar seems to guide the others and in some cases, enhance. George is in full Chet Atkins mode through out. His ‘duet’ with Ringo (although he never sings) on ‘Honey Don’t’ shows the joyous friendship between the two. It is totally their showcase, as important as later ones like ‘Photograph’, ‘Octopus’s Garden’ or ‘It Don’t Come Easy’. The covers of BFS offer a tremendous insight to their Germany stage show, albeit less hungry and manic. All the originals and covers here come a few years separated from the boom of the first three albums. While more relaxed as a whole, there are enough dynamics clicking to signal the arrival of BFS Part Two (a slightly more focused ‘Help!’ album) and ‘Rubber Soul’, a flowering launch into Beatles 2.0.

    • Never cared for this album, probably my least favorite of all their albums. One great moment, is George’s Guitar solo on “Honey Don’t.”

  2. Ringo Porcaro

    One of the greatest mysteries or head-scratchers in all of Beatledom was the choice to include, “Mr. Moonlight” on this release in place of, “Leave My Kitten Alone”.

    • Joseph Abbate

      I thought Mr Moonlight was a very good song in the mist of it all, then again JOHN , had one of the greatest voices if not the greatest voice in rock history , the other was Paul if not the greatest also , when the Beatles first came out I was 13 , the guys I hung out with couldn’t scream & shout because it wasn’t manly to do so , but alone in my home , when no one could see u , I was in my glory , By the time I was 18 ( 1968) Life was different,, draft was in front of me , so I survived the Nam, came home listen to the Beatles with so much more understanding , to this day I’m never bored with them , the feelings are so much deeper , I am more excited when I see them ( hard days night , old reels ) like they were my friends , had to vent lol… I always wanted a drum set like Ringo , after all these yrs marriage , kids school , now it’s just me & my lady , I bought myself a kit , Ludwig absolutely , there will never be a band ( genius whatever , ) can’t explain , what the Beatles are ,were , all rockers , country , singers no one can come close to them , think about it , four guys , who met accidentally in life , become the greatest , not a guy from US & another country , etc: 4 guys from s small country , George what s genius , can go on Bout him ‘lll& Ringo , playing left handed on a right handed kit , not to mention Paul upside down playing , I love Sinatra & other crooners , but always come back , get back to the Fab Four … Bubba Lee from Brooklyn ????????????????????????

      • Thank you, Bubba Lee, for your service and for your insightful reply to this article. We share a close age difference and you more ably expressed my feelings about this album.

      • And at 66, I strive to play guitar like George. No flash, but solid and always knowing what a song needs.

  3. Vahan Nisanian

    Leave My Kitten Alone SHOULD have been on this otherwise terrific album.

    • Agreed. Unsure why LMKA was shelved and Mr Moonlight included.

      • Scott Gaines

        Simple.
        The Rolling Stones were a blues band. The Fabs were not. The Stones were riding the Beatles’ coattails at the time, not the other way around.
        The Beatles couldn’t be seen trying to copy the Stones. The Stones would have laughed in their faces.

  4. mark knoll

    Fabulous record, one of my favorites. The first “country rock” album, don’t you think? No Reply. What can you say about that performance. When they sing “I nearly died” in the last verse, it’s game over. Those two lines alone ensure their place in history, and that force and commitment is what is so sadly lacking in today’s music.

    • Decca rejected the demo Brian Epstein showed them, saying the Beatles sounded “too country.” They always had that country thing going. You can hear it in the BBC Sessions.

  5. Mr. Moonlight was one of the worst songs I’d ever heard as a teenager. Decades later it became one of my all-time favorite Lennon vocals, and it’s incredible. He really was a natural.

  6. Miles Kurland

    Lennon’s singing on “Mr. Moonlight” was absolutely astounding.

  7. I, on the other hand, LOVE Mr. Moonlight. Another passionate Lennon vocal, with the phrase “‘Cause we love you” so restrained and (almost) happy. Also, I agree wholeheartedly on Every Little Thing, the pluperfect Merseybeat song.

  8. Rick Thompson

    Great album and one of my all time favorites. Lennon’s vocals were soulful and thought Mr. Moonlight was a work of art!

  9. Every Little Thing and What You’re Doing are the two most overlooked Beatles songs ever. I wish Paul would do them in concert.

    • Huge fan of the Beatles, many heartfelt songs that touch you in a way that today’s music lacks. John and Paul sang their hearts out . I loved everything they did, Paul’s dad was the one who preached how good harmonizing was to their sound. Their voices together were magic.j

  10. I have never understood the hatred of a song that starts with, perhaps, John Lennon’s most powerful vocal. Mr. Moonlight is a great Beatles song. Happy to see it being defended here.

  11. A terrific, insightful look at this album!

  12. No way to substitute the great Mr moonlght for leave my kitten all alone. The vocals harmony of John and Paul are superb!!!

  13. This has always been my favorite Beatles album, ever since my aunt sent it to me for Christmas when I was a kid.

  14. “What You’re Doing” is indeed a “lost jewel” and a favorite of mine from the album. The opening chords of “Ticket To Ride” and “Day Tripper” always reminded me of those of “WYD”. By the way, “I’ll Be Back” is at least in my Top 5 Beatles songs of all time. Not a wasted note and two different bridges. Great article.

  15. Stephen yocham

    It’s hard to decide which Beatles album was their weakest because every album had great songs but my personal opinion is Magical Mystery Tour was. Surely great songs on it but The Fool on the Hill and Your Mother Should Know weren’t that great and even George’s song wasn’t top notch. I just always felt it was their weakest effort just as I thought Let it Be had its weakness in some of the songs. Having said that I am a MAJOR Beatles fan having grown up with them and have read any and everything I could find on them and I consider myself extremely knowledgeable about them. As far as pretty Sgt Pepper stuff I don’t think any of it was ever weak or bad even Mr Moonlight although I agree Leave My Kitten Alone would have been a better substitution. All in all they were in command and rightfully so!

  16. Mr. Moonlight notwithstanding, Beatles For Sale, or Beatles ‘65 as I knew it, has always been my favorite Beatles album. “I’ll Follow the Sun” always makes me happily melancholy.

  17. Mr. Moonlight is horrifyingly bad. Amazing that the group would keep this and jettison Leave My Kitten Alone, a song that I’d heard kudos about for years. When I finally heard it on the Anthology, it immediately went on my top 5 of Beatles covers. I’d heard of the album being knocked for years and found Beatles For Sale to be an excellent listen (excepting Mr Moonlight).

  18. D Stanton

    John wrote the bulk of “Every Little Thing”.

  19. Beatles for Sale is haphazard and real. The covers are trudged through with arrogant brilliance and sincere ennui. The originals capture the moment, let off steam, and represent a cry for help. By the time they recorded Help, I think they had adjusted a bit, for whatever reason, and were allowed to expand their creativity. But Beatles for Sale has always struck a chord with me. Before every album had to be a concept album, it was a real expression in real time.

  20. I believe George Martin said the Beatles were exhausted by the time they began work on the BFS LP. Perhaps they dug deep; perhaps they rose above the madness that was their lives at that point. Regardless, the music from these sessions is first rate. Let’s take a look. I Feel Fine and She’s a Woman were the single. Another Number One. In the US, Eight Days A Week. Another Number One. Not much of a drop off in quality or popularity. Both singles were innovative and catchy. As for the LP (or LPs in the US, since BFS begat Beatles 65 and Beatles VI), you’ve got a batch of outstanding original songs (although I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party, What You’re Doing, I’ll Follow the Sun, and Every Little Thing are great tunes, they don’t get the credit or airplay they deserve). The first three songs on BFS are killer and show us a new Dylan-Influenced Beatles – No Reply, I’m a Loser, and Baby’s in Black. Wow. Great original material. The cover material on side 1 is first rate rock and roll (Rock N’ Roll Music, Kansas City), with the possible exception of Mister Moonlight. This track gets a lot of debate – great Lennon vocal? Absolutely. But the melody plods along. After all the upbeat material proceeding it – it is a downer. I prefer Leave My Kitten Alone. But for whatever reason, Mr. Lennon wasn’t happy with his vocal (Per the Beatles Recording Sessions at Abbey Road – Mark Lewison). I would have liked to hear that track close out BFS. Not to be. Another cover that didn’t get enough airplay (until recently) is their cover of Buddy Holly’s Words of Love. Side two definitely has more of a country western feel to it (I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party, Everybody’s Trying to be my Baby, Honey Don’t, What You’re Doing, Every Little Thing). I think the echo was overdone on ETTBMB. Overall, a very entertaining and solid album, groundbreaking, and of course, a No.1.

  21. James Semsch

    “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” is a masterpiece and one of my favorite songs of all time. The dual lead vocal track by John is brilliant!

  22. I’ve always loved BFS. Opens a new chapter with Dylanesque songwriting and amazing cover versions from their live sets at the time. Very important album

  23. BFS was a sonic ear opener for this American listener. The tympani on Every Little Thing was never captured on the US albums. On s trip to Germany in 1973 I returned with Help & Revolver as well as the Hamburg double LP. The sound quality was far superior to the Capitol releases, not to mention-more tracks per album!! I soon invested in more import albums & BFS has been a favorite. Mr Moonlight has grown on me & is a bit of the Beatles in amber.

  24. I used to hate Mr Moonlight as a kid and thought the organ was really cheesy, but now I love it for the rockin Lennon vocal.
    Also, there were other bands doing ‘Leave My Kitten Alone’ at the time, so maybe they thought that would diminish their version. And Mr Moonlight was a staple in their set in Hamburg.

    On another note, I’m pretty sure that Lennon wrote ‘Every Little Thing.’

  25. Mister Moonlight is one of John’s best vocal performances ever; it’s just a shame that it’s on such a ridiculous song. And while I must admit that Every Little Thing is a cute little ditty, I can barely listen to it after hearing Yes’s pyrotechnic cover of it on their 1969 debut: it’s as huge an improvement as Hendrix’s take on Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower. Eight Days A Week and I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party are both great tracks, but Baby’s In Black and What You’re Doing are pretty much filler. That said, it’s hard to top the opening one-two punch of No Reply and I’m a Loser; it’s like hearing John becoming John on record.

    • I just can’t help but love “Mister Moonlight,” bad organ solo and all. If anything, putting it on an album showed confidence and courage.

  26. One of the few times the singles would have helped. Eliminate the Carl Perkins tunes and replace with I feel fine and she’s a woman and now it’s a very strong album. I don’t mind mister moonlight. It’s a killer vocal from Lennon. Also another example of Dave dexter programming the album better. Kansas City is a much better lead off for side 2 than closer for side 1.

  27. I’m a Loser slays me. Opening Shindig killed live. How is that not mentioned in each review above. I’ll Follow the Sun one of Paul’s early best. Baby’s in Black a stable of shows from this era. Everly Bros influence is huge here. Not sure how these are not mentioned by all. She’s a Woman/I Feel Fine, a monster single. This album is major!

  28. Love that record. George’s guitar playing sounds beautiful – this is the Tennesean with Hi-Lo-trons. And their vocals & harmonies are outstanding. Don’t get why critics diss it. It’s wonderful to listen to.

  29. beatles 65 is what i know ..this was a import in vinyl..not known in the Usa ….beatles 65 please

  30. overseas pressings have no meaning to me….the US versions are what i remember and have emotion invested in…these are worthless to me

  31. Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion I reckon,.. but in my opinion the author”s receivew of Beatles For Sale is a so far off base it makes me realize how little he actually knows about the Beatles. Beatles For Sale was actually an excellent album. Aside from the cheesy organ part used in the Middle Eight, Lennon’s vocal was absolutely stunning! That was a well recorded and well produced album. If someone wants to rag on the Beatles,.. rag on some of the tunes on the White Album. Although there were certainly master pieces on that album, there was also some real shit! I have never liked Helter Skelter,. Hey Bulldog, and Why Don’t We Do It In The Road. If any one REALLY wants to learn more about the REAL Beatles and the hard realities of their music and the actual recording of their phenomenal music,.. I suggest reading Geof Emerick’s book ‘Here, There and Everywhere. My Life Recording The Beatles’

  32. I became a teenager the summer of ’64, but I was already cultivating a dark brooding side. So those first Beatles singles were a little too bright and cheery for me, and the singles from Beatles for Sale came just in time to make me a fan. To this day I remember waiting for my mom to pick me up after confirmation class, 9:30 at night, pacing next to the curb to the beat Ringo’s drum riff for “What You’re Doing.” I was hooked.

    And the way Ringo kept it going after the song was over, must be a drum fade-out. No, Paul’s bass is coming back for a some bars, then piano and guitar, a fugue! Then the fade-out. I love this album.

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