The Beatles’ fourth EMI album was recorded at the height of their fame. In 1964 they recorded and released two new albums and an EP, starred in their first feature film, gave countless interviews, radio sessions and television appearances, and toured the world.

They were rather war-weary during Beatles for Sale. One must remember that they’d been battered like mad throughout ’64, and much of ’63. Success is a wonderful thing, but it is very, very tiring. They were always on the go. Beatles For Sale doesn’t appeal to me very much now, it’s not one of their most memorable ones. They perked up again after that.

The recording of Beatles For Sale began on 11 August 1964, just two months after the release of A Hard Day’s Night. Although it wouldn’t be released until December, the group’s hectic schedule meant they had to fit it around their other commitments. Lacking the creative drive that had enriched so much of A Hard Day’s Night, The Beatles delved back into their Cavern-era songbook, resurrecting old cover versions, early Lennon-McCartney songs, and a handful of new songs.

We’re really pleased with the record and with the new LP. There was a lousy period when we didn’t seem to have any material for the LP and didn’t have a single. Now we’re clear of things and they’re due out, it’s a bit of a relief.

As with Please Please Me and With The Beatles, Beatles For Sale contained six cover versions. The group’s familiarity with the songs meant they were able to work quickly, with three of the covers – ‘Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby’, ‘Rock And Roll Music’, and ‘Words Of Love’ – recorded in a total of five takes at the end of a single session on 18 October 1964.

While John Lennon had dominated the songwriting on A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles For Sale was more of a collaborative effort. ‘Baby’s In Black’, ‘Eight Days A Week’, ‘What You’re Doing’, and ‘I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party’ were Lennon-McCartney collaborations. McCartney also contributed ‘Every Little Thing’ and an early song, ‘I’ll Follow The Sun’, while Lennon came up with the opening ‘No Reply’ and ‘I’m A Loser’.

We got 14 tracks into the record, which is about as much as you can fit in. We’re pleased about this because we don’t like to give short measure, and we felt bad about the Hard Day’s Night album only having 13 numbers.

We like them all. If there was something we weren’t keen on after we’d recorded it, we would scrap it, and do something else. We think there are some interesting sounds in the LP.

Paul McCartney
Disc, 14 November 1964

The Beatles’ exhaustion after two solid years working in the spotlight made itself manifest in the downbeat tone of a number of the songs. Whereas A Hard Day’s Night had showcased the group’s cheeky and charming side to the world, Beatles For Sale was in many ways its antithesis.

Beginning with ‘No Reply’, the album began with three melancholy, mostly acoustic songs about romantic or personal loss. By the middle of 1964 The Beatles were keen fans of Bob Dylan, and his influence found its way into the lyrics, chords and arrangements.

‘No Reply’ was described by publisher Dick James as “the first complete song you’ve written where it resolves itself”, according to Lennon. Perhaps his first effort at telling a story in song, it was a breakthrough for Lennon as a writer, though it made perhaps an oddly downbeat opening to the album. The introspection continued through ‘I’m A Loser’ and ‘Baby’s In Black’.

‘I’m A Loser’ is me in my Dylan period, because the word ‘clown’ is in it. I objected to the word ‘clown’, because that was always artsy-fartsy, but Dylan had used it so I thought it was all right, and it rhymed with whatever I was doing.
John Lennon, 1974

Two of the album’s songs were written in Atlantic City, New Jersey, during a break in The Beatles’ tour in August and September 1964. The first was ‘Every Little Thing’.

John and I got this one written in Atlantic City during our last tour of the States. John does the guitar riff for this one, and George is on acoustic. Ringo bashes some timpani drums for the big noises you’ll hear.
Paul McCartney
Disc, 14 November 1964

The other song written during the break in New Jersey was ‘What You’re Doing’.

We wrote this one in Atlantic City like ‘Every Little Thing’. It’s not that Atlantic City is particularly inspiring, it’s just that we happened to have a day off the tour there! Ringo does a nice but of drumming decoration in the introduction, and I double-track on the vocal as well as playing some piano.
Paul McCartney
Disc, 14 November 1964

Prior to recording, The Beatles only rehearsed the original songs; the cover versions were well known from their stage act. While the likes of ‘Rock And Roll Music’ and ‘Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!’ were The Beatles at their early ’60s peak, two of them in particular rank among The Beatles’ weakest: ‘Honey Don’t’ is a plodding and lifeless vehicle for Ringo Starr’s limited range; and ‘Mr Moonlight’, despite a sterling vocal from Lennon, is curiously old-fashioned for a group of The Beatles’ calibre. What’s more, they were included at the expense of the marvellous ‘Leave My Kitten Alone’, one of The Beatles’ finest cover versions which remained unreleased until Anthology 1.

We all knew ‘Honey Don’t’; it was one of those songs that every band in Liverpool played. I used to love country music and country rock; I’d had my own show with Rory Storm, when I would do five or six numbers. So singing and performing wasn’t new to me; it was a case of finding a vehicle for me with The Beatles. That’s why we did it on Beatles For Sale. It was comfortable. And I was finally getting one track on a record: my little featured spot.
Ringo Starr

Elsewhere, Beatles For Sale contained ‘Words Of Love’, their only recording of a Buddy Holly song for EMI, and ‘Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby’, George Harrison’s tribute to his beloved Carl Perkins, recorded in a single take on 18 October 1964.

As with the UK albums With The Beatles, Rubber Soul, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and The Beatles (White Album), no songs on Beatles For Sale were issued as singles. The group considered releasing ‘No Reply’, ‘I’m A Loser’, and ‘Eight Days A Week’, before Lennon and McCartney wrote ‘I Feel Fine’ and ‘She’s A Woman’, released as standalone single one week before the album on 27 November 1964.

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