The Beatles' fourth album, Beatles For Sale, marks a turning point in the group's music. While being arguably their weakest album, it shows the start of their experimenting in the studio, which would blossom on the albums that would follow, as well as being the first Beatles album to show the obvious influence of Bob Dylan.

The album is definitely weakened by the Beatles' refusal to put singles onto albums. I Feel Fine and She's A Woman, the A and B sides of the band's single at the time, would both have improved it immensely. It's still worth buying though for a few decent Lennon/McCartney tracks and for Derek Taylor's hilarious-in-retrospect sleevenotes. Avoid the stereo version however - it's the worst mixed of all the Beatles' stereo releases.

The album was produced by George Martin. Unless otherwise noted, the song's principal composer took lead vocals.

No Reply, the album opener, is one of the strongest tracks on the album. John Lennon, who dominates the album, is the principal writer of this track, which has an interesting chord sequence and was considered as a single at one point. Lennon later claimed that Dick James told him this was the Beatles' first fully-rounded lyric.

I'm A Loser, another Lennon song, is the first to show the Dylan influence. A country-flavoured pop song, this is obviously at least in part tongue in cheek, but it also expresses Lennon's very real depression at this point. Lennon later pointed to this song as an example of his best work, and one of his most inadvertantly revealing - 'Part of me thinks I'm a loser and part of me thinks I'm God Almighty'

Baby's In Black is the third Lennon song in a row, though Paul McCartney may well have contributed. A close cousin (though not as good) of Lennon's other waltz-time close-harmony numbers This Boy and Yes It Is and very morbid in tone (possibly more death obsessed even than Yes It Is), this was obviously 'written off' the nursery rhyme 'Johnny's So Long At The Fair' .Lennon, like Brian Wilson who he resembles as a songwriter more than most people seem to notice, often based songs on nursery rhymes or childrens' songs, especially Three Blind Mice, which became All You Need Is Love, Instant Karma and My Mummy's Dead, but see also the rewrite of Wishing Well into Do You Want To Know A Secret and several other examples. The fact that the nursery rhyme in question also contains Lennon's first name would have been another factor in the choice of song to start from. While slight, this song remained in the band's set for several years, replacing This Boy as a chance for them to show their close harmony work.

Rock and Roll Music is a workmanlike cover of the Chuck Berry classic, with a very strong Lennon vocal and some enthusiastic piano comping from George Martin. Not the Beatles' best cover, but perfectly decent.

I'll Follow The Sun is a very early McCartney song (demo versions with a different middle eight were recorded even before Pete Best joined the band - a brief snippet can be heard on the Anthology TV series) dusted off for these sessions because the band were very short of material. Nothing special, it's a very pleasant little melody, simillar to his song for Billy J Kramer & The Dakotas I'll Be On My Way.

Mr. Moonlight is a cover of an obscure R&B song by Doctor Feelgood and the Interns (not the same band as the later band Doctor Feelgood), which combines one of Lennon's strongest vocals ever with a truly ghastly Hammond organ solo by McCartney. I've always had a soft spot for this myself, but almost everyone seems agreed that this is one of four or five irredeemably bad Beatles tracks.

Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey is a cover of a classic Little Richard medley (the first song being written by Leiber And Stoller). McCartney does a very strong lead vocal on this, but the songs themselves aren't exactly top notch.

Side two opens with Eight Days A Week, another contender for a single (as well as possible title track of the film that was eventually titled Help!). Mostly McCartney's song, based, like A Hard Day's Night on a comment from Ringo Starr, this is one of McCartney's strongest songs from a time when he was comparatively weak compared to Lennon - a fun little pop song that would definitely have been number one had it been released as a single.

Words of Love is a cover of the Buddy Holly classic. Out of tune and badly double tracked, this is one of the lowpoints of the album.

As indeed is Honey Don't. One of several Carl Perkins covers the Beatles recorded in one session, with Perkins himself apparently joining in on guitar, this would be fine were it not that the band chose to give the lead to Ringo, rather than Lennon who had dealt with the song live. Ringo's vocals are horribly out of tune, and this is definitely a track to skip.

Every Little Thing is far more interesting, another highlight. This is one of a very small number of Beatles songs where the primary author doesn't take the lead. Even though this is McCartney's song, Lennon handles the lead vocals and does such a good job that many writers refused to believe it was McCartney's song even though both Lennon and McCartney have said so.

I Don't Want To Spoil The Party is an Everly Brothers flavoured song that sounds more like Lennon than McCartney, but is probably a co-write. Not a wonderful song by any means, it's still better than most of the competition were doing at the time.

What You're Doing is another strong McCartney track. Far bluesier than anything else on the album, this is also the track where the recording experiments are most noticeable, in the dropped in piano, overdriven guitars and general sonic strangeness. It also features the first appearance of what seems to be McCartney's only interesting drum idea - he suggested a substantially simillar lick for Ticket To Ride and Tomorrow Never Knows. This track could have come off Revolver, although it would have been one of the weaker tracks on that album.

Everybody's Trying Be My Baby is an odd choice for an album closer. Another Carl Perkins cover, this one has George Harrison on lead vocals, but it's not suited to his then-weak vocals, and while it's a perfectly adequate track the album hardly goes out with a bang.

On the whole then this is one of the Beatles' weaker albums, but that's still better than most bands can do. It would however have been a very strong album if they'd dropped three of the cover versions and included I Feel Fine, She's A Woman and the recording, not released until Anthology 1 in 1995, of the band with Lennon on lead covering Little Willie John's Leave My Kitten Alone. The Beatles wouldn't do another album one could be this critical about until 1968's Yellow Submarine, though.

Here, I will focus on the instrumentation and other technical details of The Beatles' fourth album (Britsh Release):

Overall: Recorded mostly from August 11 to October 26, 1964 at Abbey Road Released on December 4, 1964.

  1. No Reply...Recorded on September 30, 1964 at Abbey Road.
  2. I'm a Loser...Recorded on August 14, 1964 at Abbey Road
    • McCARTNEY: bass, harmony vocal
    • LENNON: acoustic guitar, harmonica, lead vocal
    • HARRISON: lead guitar (Gretsch Tennessean model PX6119)
    • STARR: drums, tambourine
  3. Baby's in Black...Recorded on August 11, 1964 at Abbey Road
    • McCARTNEY: bass, lead vocal
    • LENNON: acoustic guitar, lead vocal
    • HARRISON: lead guitar
    • STARR: drums, tambourine
  4. Rock and Roll Music...Recorded on October 18, 1964 at Abbey Road
    • McCARTNEY: bass, piano
    • LENNON: rhythm guitar, piano, vocal
    • HARRISON: acoustic guitar
    • STARR: drums
    • George Martin: piano
  5. I'll Follow the Sun...Recorded on October 18, 1964 at Abbey Road
    • McCARTNEY: acoustic guitar, lead vocal (occasionally double-tracked)
    • LENNON: acoustic guitar, harmony vocal
    • HARRISON: lead guitar
    • STARR: bongos
  6. Mr. Moonlight...Recorded on October 18, 1964 (remake of an August 14, 1964 recording) at Abbey Road.
    • McCARTNEY: bass, Hammond organ, harmony vocal
    • LENNON: acoustic guitar, lead vocal
    • HARRISON: lead guitar, African drum
    • STARR: bongos
  7. Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey...Recorded on October 18, 1964 at Abbey Road.
    • McCARTNEY: bass, lead vocal
    • LENNON: rhythm guitar, backing vocal
    • HARRISON: lead guitar, backing vocal
    • STARR: drums
    • George Martin: piano
  8. Eight Days a Week...Recorded on October 6, 1964, with an outro edit piece tape taped October 18, 1964, at Abbey Road.
    • McCARTNEY: bass, harmony vocal
    • LENNON: rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, lead vocal
    • HARRISON: lead guitar
    • STARR: drums
  9. Words of Love...Recorded on October 18, 1964 at Abbey Road.
    • McCARTNEY: bass, lead vocal
    • LENNON: rhythm guitar, lead vocal
    • HARRISON: lead guitar (Gretsch Tennessean model PX6119)
    • STARR: drums, packing case
  10. Honey Don't...Recorded on October 26, 1964 at Abbey Road.
    • McCARTNEY: bass
    • LENNON: acoustic guitar, tambourine
    • HARRISON: lead guitar (Gretsch Tennessean model PX6119)
    • STARR: drums, vocal
    • George Martin: piano
  11. Every Little Thing...Recorded on September 29 and 30, 1964 at Abbey Road.
    • McCARTNEY: bass, piano, lead vocal
    • LENNON: acoustic guitar, lead vocal
    • HARRISON: lead guitar
    • STARR: drums, tympani
  12. I Don't Want to Spoil the Party...Recorded on September 29, 1964 at Abbey Road
    • McCARTNEY: bass, lead vocal
    • LENNON: acoustic guitar, lead vocal
    • HARRISON: lead guitar (Gretsch Tennessean model PX6119)
    • STARR: drums, tambourine
  13. What You're Doing...Recorded on October 26, 1964 (remake of a recording made on September 29 and 30, 1964 at Abbey Road.
    • McCARTNEY: bass, lead vocal
    • LENNON: acoustic guitar, backing vocal
    • HARRISON: lead guitar
    • STARR: drums
    • George Martin: piano
  14. Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby...Recorded on October 18, 1964 (in just one take) at Abbey Road:
    • McCARTNEY: bass
    • LENNON: acoustic guitar, tambourine
    • HARRISON: lead guitar, vocal (occasionally double-tracked)
    • STARR: drums

Other singles from this period:

My sources are Beatlesongs by William J. Dowlding1989) and The Beatles Anthology, by "The Beatles" (©2000).

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