With The Beatles, the follow-up to The Beatles’ debut album Please Please Me, consolidated their position as the United Kingdom’s number one pop act.
The album was released eight months to the day after Please Please Me, and was an instant hit. Although no singles were taken from it, With The Beatles came three months after ‘She Loves You’ became a smash, and just seven days before The Beatles conquered the world with ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’.
Seven of the album’s 14 tracks were written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. On Please Please Me the pair had demonstrated to audiences that they were more than capable at writing their own material, and With The Beatles proved that they were no flash in the pan.
The Beatles rarely had a day off in 1963, working a punishing schedule of recording sessions, concerts, dozens of radio and television appearances and numerous other public engagements. On 13 October they appeared on Sunday Night At The London Palladium before a television audience of 15 million, winning over Fleet Street journalists who coined the term Beatlemania to describe their fans’ hysteria, and the following month they appeared before the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret at the Royal Command Performance.
Admiration for The Beatles had spread by this time into the establishment. In his essay What Songs The Beatles Sang, The Times newspaper’s music critic William Mann praised Lennon and McCartney as “the outstanding English composers of 1963.”
One gets the impression that they think simultaneously of harmony and melody, so firmly are the major tonic sevenths and ninths built into their tunes, and the flat submediant key switches, so natural is the Aeolian cadence at the end of ‘Not A Second Time’ (the chord progression which ends Mahler’s Song of the Earth).
By the time they came to record With The Beatles, Lennon and McCartney had used up the best of their original compositions. The challenge of writing a new selection of songs meant they recorded the album’s cover versions first, but the pair eventually came up with a host of classic songs: ‘It Won’t Be Long’ and ‘All My Loving’ were on a par with anything else The Beatles recorded in 1963, and ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ later became a hit single for The Rolling Stones, though for this album it was sung by Ringo Starr.
George Harrison, too, was emerging as a songwriter. His first released composition, ‘Don’t Bother Me’, was recorded for With The Beatles; although its author later dismissed it as a throwaway, it is often acknowledged that Lennon and McCartney had several years of songwriting by 1963 and were far more confident in their abilities.
The remaining six songs were cover versions. The choice of songs demonstrated the group’s maturity, with a greater emphasis on Motown and R&B songs. Two were sung by Harrison: ‘Devil In Her Heart’, and ‘Roll Over Beethoven’.
In the studio
The success of their debut album, plus numerous radio sessions and TV appearances, meant The Beatles had become more confident in the studio by the time they came to record With The Beatles.
However, they were still bound by the technological limitations of the time, and the album was recorded entirely on two-track machines. It was only from ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ that the group moved on to four-track recording.
With The Beatles was recorded between July and October 1963. In contrast to the straightforward guitar, bass and drums line up of much of Please Please Me, The Beatles’ second album included greater use of percussion and keyboard instruments.
On 18 July 1963, the first recording session, The Beatles worked on four cover versions: ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’, ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’, ‘Devil In Her Heart’, and ‘Till There Was You’. The first two, in particular, arguably eclipsed any of the covers on Please Please Me, and remain among the group’s finest recordings.
Although they had more time to work on With The Beatles than on Please Please Me, the album was recorded in just seven non-consecutive days, plus several editing and mixing sessions. The most complicated song was ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’, which contained enough overdubs to warrant a series of reduction mixes. The final stereo version used a separate mono mix in each channel, in order to avoid any more tape-to-tape copying.
Mono was still the preferred format in 1963. Stereo mixes were made, but The Beatles attended none of the sessions. The stereo mixes were primarily intended to feature a balance between the vocals and instrumentation, with each typically filling one of the available recording tracks.
By the time With The Beatles was released, Please Please Me had been atop the UK album charts for seven months. The best-selling EP of 1963 was The Beatles’ ‘Twist And Shout’, and three of their singles – ‘Please Please Me’, ‘From Me To You’, and ‘She Loves You’ – had conquered the charts.
With The Beatles replaced Please Please Me at the number one spot, and stayed there for 21 weeks. Combined with the success of their debut, The Beatles achieved a continuous run of 51 weeks at the top of the charts.
The album also briefly entered the UK singles chart, where it peaked at number 11. In the early 1960s the chart included all releases, regardless of format or diameter.
With The Beatles spent a total of 51 weeks in the top 20.