Beatles For Sale

Beatles For Sale album artworkRecorded: 11 August - 26 October 1964
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 4 December 1964 (UK)

John Lennon: vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, acoustic 12-string guitar, harmonica, tambourine, handclaps
Paul McCartney: vocals, bass guitar, piano, Hammond organ, handclaps
George Harrison: vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, African drum, handclaps
Ringo Starr: vocals, drums, tambourine, timpani, percussion, handclaps
George Martin: piano

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No Reply
I'm A Loser
Baby's In Black
Rock And Roll Music
I'll Follow The Sun
Mr Moonlight
Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!
Eight Days A Week
Words Of Love
Honey Don't
Every Little Thing
I Don't Want To Spoil The Party
What You're Doing
Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby

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.
George Martin
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Recording for 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.
John Lennon, 1964

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 session on 18 October 1964.

While 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.

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 John 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

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.

29 responses on “Beatles For Sale

  1. salesanalyst

    I just played this one again, twice, after many years. And I was really taken by many of the songs, including the strong opening 5 tracks, skipping Mr. Moonlight which I’ve always detested, and I especially liked I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party, an early melancholic Lennon number. And adding in Eight Days A Week, Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey, and a few more great covers make this album quite an enjoyable listen. This record certainly gets overlooked unnecessarily.

  2. Amphion

    I’ve noticed quite a few negative references to Mr. Moonlight, which I do like. Its got a powerful vocal. (Listen to John perfect it on the Anthology series. It also points to the fact that even from their early days they were playing a whole variety of different songs from different genres. This could also be said of many of the Beat boom groups from Liverpool. But it was this diversity as much as anything else which would define the Beatles as timeless.

  3. McLerristarr

    This is probably my least favourite Beatles album (other than Yellow Submarine but that hardly counts). But when you look at each individual song, they’re all great. Not sure what it’s lacking, perhaps it’s just they were still doing covers when they could have filled the album with self-written music. George didn’t have any self-written songs on the album and only sang one, that’s also a downside for me.

    1. Steve

      I think your right about the covers. In retrospect replacing ‘Moonlight, Words of Love and Honey Don’t with I Feel Fine, She’s a Woman and Leave My Kitten alone , would make it a fine album indeed.

  4. Stough

    This album gets ragged on for being “war weary”. Actually, I think Help is a better candidate for being tired (but I’ll leave those comments for that page). Certainly it’s not as varied or dynamic as Hard Days Night, but this is a very good album; especially when you add the single to the analysis. Alot is mentioned of the Dylan influence, but I think many of the acoustic tracks are also inspired by the success of the acoustic numbers from A Hard Days Night. Specifically, I believe they were building on the success of “if I Fell” and “I’ll be Back”. I know many of these tracks started out with a full electric line up, but I believe the above mentioned influences made it easy to go acoustic. To my mind they are doing the Everly Brothers and adding the folk/Dylan influence, along with their own awareness of their fantastic ability to sing duets. (Cynthia mentions how many times she and her friends were enraptured by the acoustic duets John and Paul would sing). As to the covers, Everybody and Moonlight are weak, but the rest are great. John dominates the writing, as Paul still seems to be looking for his voice (comparatively speaking); which I don’t think he really finds until Rubber Soul. What your doing is not a very strong track. I rank it ahead of both Help and their first album and MMT and possibly Let it Be (even with Don’t let me Down added). I love Georges 12 string , but it does seem to be getting old on some of these songs.

  5. Bob B

    I really liked this album a lot… the covers and originals. It was an album made in a frenzied time, but you can start to hear the changes that were to be evident a year later with Rubber Soul.

  6. Jerry

    What if the album lineup went like this:

    No Reply
    I’m a Loser
    Baby’s in Black
    Rock and Roll Music
    I’ll Follow the Sun
    Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby
    Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey
    Eight Days and Week
    Words of Love
    Honey Don’t
    Every Little Thing
    I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party
    What You’re Doing
    Leave My Kitten Alone

    Better? Post modern disc jockeying?


      Hey Jerry, looks like you have my habit of mentally resequencing albums or adding unused tracks to see what happens. I do it all the time and my rejigged version of For Sale was pretty much the same except that I think Kansas City would have been a better closer. I agree with inserting Kitten, after hearing it on Anthology 1 I can’t imagine why it wasn’t used. I would have put it at the end of side one. Maybe I’d have switched round Baby’s in Black and I’m a loser too. Otherwise I think you’re spot on with this one. Incidentally, I think Mr.Moonlight sounds 10 times better on the remastered version – it’s come to life.

  7. M. Whitener

    This album took a long time for me to like, but once I matured with their music & came back to it, I realized how ridiculously strong it is. “I’ll Follow The Sun” was my long time fav, but after really listening I realized “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party” is one of John’s great performances & “What You’re Doing” is definitely one of the most slept on songs they’ve ever made. Add in “Baby In Black”, which is one of the best Lennon/McCartney combo vocals of their entire catalog, and this album is among the strong of the pre-Studio band years. As a complete work, I’d take it over With The Beatles, Please Please Me & even A Hard Days Night.

  8. Richie

    Somehow I missed this album as a teenager. But I did manage to acquire the “4 by The Beatles” EP which included “I’m a Loser,” “Honey Don’t,” “Everybody,” & “Mr. Moonlight” enclosed in a nice cardboard cover. The fidelity of this vinyl Capital EP seemed enhanced compared to the other 45 rpm era singles such as “Eight Days”/”Spoil the Party.” I regret my 4 EP was destroyed in my parents’ house fire in 1984. They maintained it in their record rack & enjoyed listening to “Mr. Moonlight.”

  9. Yuri

    Hey guys, you should understand that e.g. in Russia, english words of the Beatles songs were in fact out of side of understanding but almost everything was defined by musical sounds. Probably it is true, with other texts the influence would be less since there is a definite harmony for sounds and words in that songs. Such things as No reply or Eight days were just anthem for youth and everyone heard the words (in Russian) in them which he wants to hear and later they were replaced by Michelle and Girl in a similar manner. To my mind, Beatles for sale is very high in sense of emotional perception if you do not understand words. This concerns also other albums. That’s why the influence of Beatles is such large all over the world even you get no words clear to you.

  10. Bill

    Always liked this album. Johnny Cash once said that he thought “I’m A Loser” sounded like a Johnny Cash song. One thing about the boys, they were very selective about which cover versions they would release on record, which I always appreciated. Some British groups recorded cover versions that were better left alone (does anyone really wanna hear Mick Jagger sing “My Girl”?). The boys’ versions were usually pretty faithful to the originals, therefore “Honey, Don’t” isn’t plodding, it sounds very much like Perkins’ version. Never cared for “Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey” in any version, not one of Little Richard’s best. The first fade-in on a pop record was Johnny Horton’s rockabilly classic “The Wild One” from 1958, unless someone knows of an earlier one.”No Reply” and “I’m A Loser” are two of my all-time favorite Lennon songs. I don’t think the boys were “war weary” at all. That’s just a tag that was put on this album years ago that stuck for some reason. I don’t think it’s accurate at all.

  11. James Ferrell

    On A Hard Days Night John’s contributions dominated, but Paul’s three songs were all great. On this one Paul has only one great song, I’ll Follow the Sun, and John’s middle eight was a high point of the song.

    So as much as I like some of the songs (No Reply, I’m a Loser, I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party, Eight Days a Week–I even really like the “plodding” Honey Don’t–overall I agree with the conventional wisdom. Weak Paul contributions + some lame covers = sub par Beatles album.

    One thing though–even though I’m not wild about the songs Every Little Thing and What You’re Doing, they both have a bit of a Rubber Soul vibe to me. A forerunner of better things to come.

  12. Dat Big Cheeze

    The Beatles music flipped on this album, recorded just after their meeting with Bob Dylan, since I’ve always been curious which album, song in particular, marked the end of the earlier Beatles “pop” period and entered their “psychodelic” (if you will) period. From what I’ve discovered, I’m A Loser was the very first song of the Psychodelic period, anyone know which song was penned just prior to August 28th, 1964, which would be the ending of the “pop” era?

  13. Beatle Chris

    This is not the beginning of their Psychedelic period Cheeze. This is smack dab in their busy early non-stop touring making hits days. I guess you could say Rubber Soul is the beginning of the huge change, but not this. They were exhausted and short on original material, but still put out a great album.

  14. Graham Paterson

    Like the album that followed it Help it is a transitional album and underrated. I received this record in 1978. Along with great covers it has songs showing the ever developing craftsmanship of the Lennon- McCartney team. With the former I just love Kansas City, Rock and Roll Music, Words of Love and Everybodys Trying To Be My Baby. And with the latter McCartneys Ill Follow The Sun is great, but this is an album that is particularly strong for John Lennon compositions. The autobiographical Lennon was really coming to the fore with Im A loser and No Reply and I Dont Want To Spoil The Party are great numbers. Also Eight Days A Week is as catchy as hell and a US number one to boot.

    1. Graham Paterson

      Just adding something to my comments from a few days ago. Babys In Black and Every Little Thing are two other great Lennon- McCartney songs off this album that are outstanding, showing the steady development of their craft so evident on this album.

  15. Amy Gdala Godiva

    No Reply, to my ears, has one of the greatest bridges ever both in terms of composition and execution. If I had hairs on the back of my neck, they’d stand up every time I heard it!

  16. Biased Lennon-Harrison fan

    There were only two albums in which George seriously threatened Paul’s role
    as John’s wingman, those were With the Beatles (which I commented on) and this album, Beatles For Sale. After With the Beatles, Paul made sure to shut down George’s contributions to A Hard Day’s Night, rejecting his original song You Know What To Do. On this album though, George couldn’t be held back.
    The credits to this album should read

    John is in top form as always. He wrote
    No Reply, I’m A Loser and I Don’t Want To Spoil the Party, singing lead on all of them. He also came up with the original idea for Baby’s In Black and collaborated with McCartney on Eight Days A Week.
    John even sang lead on Paul’s Every Little Thing. Add that to his covers of Rock and Roll Music and the underrated Mr.Moonlight along with his prominent lead harmony in Words Of Love

    Paul wrote 3 songs and collaborated on 2 others, though he only sang lead in I’ll Follow the Sun and What You’re Doing. He also did a mediocre cover of Kansas City and sang harmonies on Words Of Love and Baby’s in Black

    George only sang lead on Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby, but his guitar work is what defines this album, along with John’s raspy voice of course.
    His guitar on songs like Honey Don’t
    Words of Love, Spoil the Party and I’m A Loser among others is amazing.

    So 7 lead vocals for John and 2 duet lead vocals
    3 for Paul and 2 duets
    1 for George, but prominent guitar parts throughout
    And Honey Don’t for Ringo

    George’s contributions overall are equal if not superior to McCartney’s. If he had only developed his songwriting skills a little earlier, we could be remembering Beatles history very differently. As it is, Paul’s stranglehold on the wingman spot was tightened by the time of Help!

  17. Steve

    Have to say though that the opening triple salvo of No Reply, I’m a Loser and Baby’s in Black is as good an opener as on any of their albums. Imagine how good the album would be if it also included I Feel Fine, She’s a Woman and Leave my Kitten Alone at the expense of some of the weaker covers and perhaps What your Doing ( not a great mac a track ). Btw if you haven’t heard the cover of Every Little Thing as covered by prog rock band Yes do yourself a favour and give it a listen. Outstanding , really brings it to life.

  18. Steve

    My Dad bought me this album on my 14th birthday (1974) he said it was their best one . I didn’t believe him then, I don’t believe him now, I think he will be proved right in the future.

  19. J Huckleberry Sneed

    Ah, but what they learned about singing -after listening back to their dreadful vocals at the Decca audition. Right eh? A bit about singing with much more power and grit. John, especially, morphed really into having much more of staying true to his own voice. You know, Pauly, that you keep re-writing history. Well, surely now…just make sure you don’t tell them how we actually wrote our first 3 LPs in Hamburg…

  20. jnoble

    always thought Beatles For Sale was an unusually sloppy sounding poorly-produced Beatles album compared to what came before and after. Tinny sounding, many obvious mistakes left in, some half-baked songs. When I make my list of their best to worst albums, that one is always towards the bottom.

    Still, Words Of Love is a deep cut hidden gem that I’ve always liked.

  21. Don

    I just played the remastered version for my 14 year old son during breakfast. A very fine, underrated gem. It shows the band’s 50’s influences and Dylan, as well. I still get chills when George hits the chimey intro chords to “Words Of Love”. Your website is awesome!

  22. edward slack

    This after Revolver Is the best of the Beatles.. More so because John Lennon was in the forefront (for a change !)
    Before G.Martin and the musiciatians got involved this is the true essence of Beatles.

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