Wednesday, October 18, 2006

With the Beatles (1963)

Most overrated: The whole album. The production is great, as are the performances, but the album is mostly filler and covers. It's overrated because it sold incredibly well, and has an unforgettable cover (the four Beatles, unsmiling, faces half in shadow). Unfortunately, "All My Loving" is the only original that lives up to the quality of the previous album. Their rendition of "I Wanna Be Your Man" is a little tame, and comes off even more so given that the Rolling Stones released an earlier, scratchier, more desperate version that makes the song feel like a Keith Richards composition even when though it isn't. If you buy all the Beatles albums, you will play this one the least frequently, guaranteed.

Most Underrated
: "Please Mister Postman." Like most Beatles covers of black music, this version is a little stiff. In fact, the Anthology editors chose to place footage of this song immediately following George Martin's commentary on the substandard quality of song choice on With the Beatles. But the song obviously doesn't suck, and the performance -- though slightly stiff compared with the Marvelettes -- absolutely kills. It really does. Lennon did the vocal, and I suspect that his affinity for the voice of Ronnie (soon-to-be) Spector began right around this time. "Be My Baby" had come out earlier that same year, and you can hear it in his inflection. The intro stamps the song "Beatles," because no one else has the goofy sincerity you hear on the handclaps and shouts of "Wait!," plus the aforementioned stiffness which you have to love because they're still cutting loose and doing their best. The best part of the song comes (of course) in the breakdown: "You gotta wait a minute, wait a minute, oh yeah, you gotta wait a minute, wait a minute, oh yeah..." In that moment -- and this is a tribute to both the songwriting team and the Beatles' performance -- "Please Mister Postman" achieves the classic Motown transcendence wherein a desperate plea for love transforms into a celebration of hope itself, the original object of affection all but forgotten. If that's a little high-minded, what I'm talking about here are songs like "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "Oh, Girl," etc. Also good: "Po-whoa-whoa-ostman."

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