The aptly-titled Beatles For Sale was released on 4 December 1964, and entered the UK charts on 12 December. It was an instant chart-topper, replacing A Hard Day’s Night, and remaining there for seven consecutive weeks. It returned to the top for a week from 27 February 1965, and three further weeks from 1 May 1965. In all it spent 46 weeks in the charts.
One month prior to its release more than 500,000 advance orders had been placed. By the time Beatles For Sale hit the shops this had gone up to 750,000, the highest number of advance orders ever received for an album. It also briefly entered the singles chart at number 22, at a time when the hit parade was made up of sales regardless of the discs’ diameters.
In the US, songs from Beatles For Sale were released on two separate Capitol albums. Beatles ’65 was released on 15 December 1964 and included No Reply, I’m A Loser, Baby’s In Black, Rock And Roll Music, I’ll Follow The Sun, Mr Moonlight, Honey Don’t and Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby, along with I’ll Be Back, She’s A Woman and I Feel Fine.
In the studio
Although Beatles For Sale was created between August and October 1964, only seven days were spent recording. The first was on 14 August, then the group went on tour in the US and Canada, and resumed recording on 29 September.
Recording Beatles For Sale didn’t take long. Basically it was our stage show, with some new songs.
Aside from the unused Leave My Kitten Alone, each of the seven songs recorded before The Beatles’ 1964 UK tour began on 9 October was a Lennon-McCartney original. Only I’ll Follow The Sun would join the cover versions in the remaining two recording sessions. The group knew that they were short of material, and so recorded a selection of songs which would cause them the least amount of bother.
Each of the recording sessions for Beatles For Sale took place in Studio Two at EMI Studios, Abbey Road, London. While recording the album they also taped both sides of the standalone single I Feel Fine/She’s A Woman, and the group’s second fan club Christmas record.
Although The Beatles had limited time in the studio in the latter half of 1964, a number of studio innovations found their way onto Beatles For Sale. The most notable was the fade-in introduction for Eight Days A Week, the first time it had been done on a pop music recording. The Beatles experimented with a number of arrangements for the song in the studio, including a vocal harmony intro.
Every Little Thing was one of the very first songs to feature multi-tracked bass guitar. This is most apparent in the stereo mix, which separates the two bass parts to the left and right channels; the overdubbed notes can be heard during the lead guitar solo.
George Harrison’s version of Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby was also innovative in its use of heavy tape echo and delay on the vocals. His guitar introduction for Baby’s In Black was another studio experiment, although perhaps not as innovative. A number of variations were tested, including bending the opening note with his Gretch guitar’s vibrato arm, with George Martin happy to sit aside and let them perfect their arrangement.
Our records were progressing. We’d started out like anyone spending their first time in a studio – nervous and naive and looking for success. By this time we’d had loads of hits and a few tours and were becoming more relaxed with ourselves, and more comfortable in the studio. And the music was getting better.
For this album we rehearsed only the new ones. Songs like Honey Don’t and Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby, we’d played live so often that we only had to get a sound on them and do them. But with songs like Baby’s In Black, we had to learn and rehearse them. We were beginning to do a little overdubbing, too, probably a four-track. And George Martin would suggest some changes; not too many, but he was always an integral part of it.
There were a handful of new instruments used on Beatles For Sale, including Ringo Starr’s timpani on Every Little Thing, and George Harrison playing an African drum on Mr Moonlight, to which Paul McCartney also added a Hammond organ.
Although the group had access to four-track recording technology, three of the songs on Beatles For Sale – Rock And Roll Music, Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby and Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! – were each recorded in just one take. A second take of Kansas City was attempted, but it was judged inferior to the first.
Beatles For Sale was the first album where The Beatles attended mixing sessions; in future years they took a much closer role in the mixing process, but until this time had been content to let George Martin and his engineers carry out the sessions. Nonetheless, the mixes were mostly done quickly, with five songs mixed for stereo within half an hour on 27 October.
I felt we were progressing in leaps and bounds, musically. Some of the material on Beatles For Sale and the 1965 Rubber Soul album was just brilliant; what was happening elsewhere was nothing like it. It was getting to be really exciting in the studio. We did it all in there: rehearsing, recording and finishing songs. We never hired a rehearsal room to run down the songs, because a lot of them weren’t finished. The ideas were there for the first verse, or a chorus, but it could be changed by the writers as we were doing it, or if anyone had a good idea.
The first form in which I’d hear a newly written tune would be on the guitar or piano. It’s great to hear the progression through takes of various songs. They’d change dramatically. First of all, whoever wrote it would say, ‘It goes like this.’ They would play it on guitar or piano, singing it every time – they would be learning to sing the song while we were all learning to play it, over and over again.
Most of our early recordings were on three tracks because we kept on track for overdubs. That also kept us together as a band – we played and played and played. If one of them could sing it, the four of us could play it till the cows came home. There was none of this, ‘We’ll put the bass on later, or the guitars.’ We put most of it on then and there, including the vocals. And songs were written anywhere.