There’s no doubt that The Beatles had a canon of work that is so incredibly poignant and potent that it will never be forgotten—but that doesn’t mean they didn’t misstep too. While every record the band put out had the odd pop gem on it, there is one album that is undoubtedly their worst; Beatles For Sale. The record has gone down in history as one of The Beatles least adored albums and it’s largely because the album sees the band in a period of huge transition.
Released on 4th December 1964, the LP represents a very rare piece of the band’s iconography and largely acts as the bridge between two of the band’s most prominent eras of creativity. From teeny-bopping pop stars to bonafide musical icons. As with any awkward stage, the maturation was not without its spots of trouble and, if we’re honest, Beatles For Sale is a bit of blotch on the band’s otherwise near-immaculate visage.
“We would normally be rung a couple of weeks before the recording session and they’d say, ‘We’re recording in a month’s time and you’ve got a week off before the recordings to write some stuff.’ You’d say, ‘Oh, great, fabulous’,” Paul McCartney said of that period of songwriting. “So I’d go out to John’s every day for the week, and the rest of the time was just time off. We always wrote a song a day, whatever happened we always wrote a song a day.”
It’s this sentiment which rings through the entirety of the work on the LP. By now, the clamour for The Beatles was nearing fever pitch and Beatlemania was as valuable as any other major business. It meant that McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were being worked and worked hard. It’s only natural then that the potency with which the band’s songwriters of Lennon and McCartney had been churning out hits had begun to wane. Their artistic output suffered as a result.
That’s not to say the album doesn’t have any great songs on it, ‘I’m A Loser’ and ‘Eight Days A Week’ are both classic tracks. Equally, ‘No Reply’ may be the most undeniable tribute to Bob Dylan that’s around but more on him later. It also had some shining production moments too, featuring John Lennon providing the first-ever feedback on record for ‘I Feel Fine’: “That’s me completely. Including the guitar lick with the first feedback anywhere. I defy anybody to find a record… unless it is some old blues record from 1922… that uses feedback that way. So I claim it for the Beatles. Before Hendrix, before The Who, before anybody. The first feedback on record.”
Caught between their chart-topping pomp and the new artistic direction they were carving out for themselves, the album falls between the cracks and doesn’t match up to the rest of their output and, what’s more, it’s all Bob Dylan’s fault.
Having met the band that year he had expressed his desire to hear them open themselves up to their art, to ditch the chart-toppers and instead see their music as fragments of their own souls. It was a transitional idea that captured the imagination of both McCartney and Lennon and saw them both pine for a new songwriting style.
The issue was that they were still expected to churn out a new record to land before the Christmas shopping truly begun, thus guaranteeing themselves a hefty bit of festive-teen budgets. It means the band are caught between two spots, much like the awkward stage of between being a teen and adulthood.
There’s no doubting that Beatles For Sale will be a Beatles fan’s favourite album. Such was their mass appeal that it’d be crazy to think otherwise. But, judging not only by their impressive canon but their own watermarks as songwriters and performers, it’s hard not to see this studio album as their worst. If the band had started the year of 1964 as the teen heartthrobs and heroes of their day, the ended it as jaded rock stars looking for a new escape. They would naturally find it and leave Beatles For Sale behind in their dust.