Cover artwork

Although pop groups in 1963 were expected to be pictured grinning from the sleeve of their latest long-player, With The Beatles broke new ground with its artful black-and-white portraits of the group in half-shadow.

The photograph was taken on 22 August 1963 by Robert Freeman inside the Palace Court Hotel in Bournemouth, during the group’s six-night residency at the town’s Gaumont Cinema.

They had to fit in the square format of the cover, so rather than have them all in a line, I put Ringo in the bottom right corner, since he was the last to join the group. He was also the shortest.
Robert Freeman

With The Beatles outtake by Robert Freeman

The Beatles had shown Freeman the iconic images taken by Astrid Kirchherr in Hamburg, and asked if their album could be given a similar treatment. Freeman was paid £75 for his work, three times the normal fee granted by EMI.

It was in a hotel and we had an hour in which he could take our picture. He pulled out four chairs and arranged us in a hotel corridor; it was very un-studio-like. The corridor was rather dark and there was a window at the end, and by using this heavy source of natural light coming from the right, he got that photo. He got this very moody picture which people think he must have worked at for ever and ever in great technical detail. But it was an hour. He sat down, took a couple of rolls and he had it. But Robert was very good. I liked his photography a lot. I thought he took some of the best pictures of The Beatles that way.

In his book Yesterday, Freeman claimed that the picture was taken in a hotel dining room. Whatever the true location, it is known that EMI were reluctant to use a black-and-white photograph on the cover, but were persuaded otherwise by Brian Epstein and George Martin.

Freeman’s image was also used on the cover of Meet The Beatles!, the group’s first Capitol album in the United States.

The release

With The Beatles was released in the UK on 22 November 1963 as Parlophone PMC 1206 (mono) and PCS 3045 (stereo). It was also issued in 1964 on 4″ 3¾ ips twin-track reel-to-reel tape, in mono only, as TA-PMC 1206.

In order to give maximum value to the fans, it was decided that neither the group’s previous singles ‘From Me To You’ and ‘She Loves You’, nor their forthcoming ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, would feature on the album. This was a highly unusual move for 1963, a time when long-playing records typically comprised a handful of hits and plenty of filler.

With advance orders of 300,000, the success of With The Beatles was guaranteed before it was even released. The group was even awarded a silver disc for sales of 250,000, four days before the official release, on 18 November 1963.

After just seven days on sale the album had sold more than half a million copies. By the middle of January 1964 this had increased to 885,000, and by the end of the year 930,000 had been sold.

With The Beatles was the first British long player ever to sell more than one million copies, a milestone that was passed in September 1965. The 1958 soundtrack to South Pacific had also sold that amount, but a British group had never managed the feat.

Despite their fans’ eagerness to hear new recordings, reaction to With The Beatles was muted in some places, due to the assassination of President John F Kennedy on its release date.

Sleeve notes

As he did for Please Please Me, the sleeve notes for With The Beatles were written by the group’s press officer Tony Barrow. His notes included the phrase “the fabulous foursome”, which was duly abbreviated by the media to the Fab Four.

Fourteen freshly recorded titles—including many sure-fire stage-show favourites—are featured on the two generously filled sides of this record. The Beatles have repeated the successful formula which made their first ‘Please Please Me’ LP into the fastest-selling album of 1963. Again they have set eight of their own original compositions alongside a batch of ‘personal choice’ pieces selected from the recorded repertoires of the American R.&B. artists they admire most.

The first half of the sessions gets away to a rip-roarin’ start with John’s powerful treatment of IT WON’T BE LONG NOW. Two more Lennon/McCartney compositions follow with these two remarkably talented tunesmiths handling their own lyrics on ALL I’VE GOT TO DO and ALL MY LOVING. On the first slower number John takes the vocal lead with Paul supplying the harmony. On ALL MY LOVING Paul stands in the vocal spotlight with John and George chanting in the background. Listen to George’s superb, slightly Country and Western guitar solo, an intriguing feature of ALL MY LOVING.

DON’T BOTHER ME marks the disc debut of George Harrison as composer. It is a fairly fast number with a haunting theme tune. Behind George’s double-tracked voice the rest of the fabulous foursome create some unusual instrumental effects. Paul beats out a lean, hollow-boned rhythm from the claves, John uses a tambourine and Ringo hits out at a loose-skinned Arabian bongo (don’t ask me where he picked that up!) to pound out the on-beat percussive drive.

On a fair number of previous recordings by The Beatles producer George Martin has joined the group to add suitable piano sounds to their instrumental arrangements. His keyboartd contributions come a little later in this new programme but on LITTLE CHILD it is Paul McCartney who plays piano. John and Paul join forces for the vocal on this rocker and, whilst Paul was over-dubbing the piano bits, John was standing beside another microphone adding in some neatly-timed mouth-organ phrases.

Those who considered Paul’s interpretation of A taste of honey to be a stand-out attraction of The Beatles’ first LP will be more than pleased to hear him assume the role of romantic balladeer again on TILL THERE WAS YOU, the near-standard hit from the show ‘The Music Man’.

Ringo plays the bongos behind Paul’s solo performance. George and john switch to acoustic guitars for this track—only Paul’s pulsating bass uses electricity.

If you have read a great deal in the musical press about Merseyside’s beat basement, The Cavern, you might imagine that the cellar stompers of Liverpool would demand an all-up-tempo programme. Curiously Paul’s persuasive handling of TILL THERE WAS YOU used to go down extremely well at the club long before the Love me do days when The Beatles were frequent bill-toppers at this now-famous venue.

The first half closes with another number which dates back to The Beatles’ Cavern Club period. Once an American chart-topper for a recording group called The Marvelettes, PLEASE MR. POSTMAN features a double-tracked John Lennon with George and Paul in vocal support.

Chuck Berry’s ROLL OVER BEETHOVEN has been one of the most requested items at recent concert performances by The Beatles. George duets with himself on this one; the boys add to the atmosphere of excitement by their hand-clapping.

Paul issues forth with the invitation HOLD ME TIGHT on the fairly brisk second track of Side Two. More handclapping and energetic vocal support from John and George.

The boys have an immense admiration for America’s rhythmic group The Miracles, to whom they pay tribute via their interpretation of YOU REALLY GOT A HOLD ON ME. John and George tackle the wild, relentless vocal with Paul joining them for the chorus lines. Incidentally that IS George Martin on piano this time!

Observing the tremendous audience response that Ringo has been getting whenever he sings Boys, John and Paul put their heads together to pen a special new number for their fierce-voiced drumming man. The result is a real raver entitled I WANNA BE YOUR MAN. The Hammond organ in the background is played by John Lennon.

Though they are lesser known on our side of the Atlantic than The Crystals of The Shirelles, the American all-girl group The Donays have always commanded plenty of professional respect from The Beatles. Therefore they switched around the lyrics of DEVIL IN HER HEART and handed the medium-paced beat offering to George Harrison. John and Paul provide the harmony with Ringo using his maraccas.

The final Lennon/McCartney composition of this session features a double-tracked John Lennon singing NOT A SECOND TIME. George Martin’s piano work is featured on this number and again upon the programme’s closing track MONEY. Paul describes MONEY as ‘a really big screamer’ and he recalls the numerous Cavern Club occasions when this item brought forth the same type of overwhelming response given to Twist and Shout. Much recorded by American blues merchants, MONEY has John shouting the raw lyrics with tremendous force and feeling whilst George and Paul supply the answers.

MONEY makes a completely worthy climax to this knock-out programme. Hope it doesn’t leave you too breathless to flip back to Side One for a repeat-plat session WITH THE BEATLES.

Tony Barrow

Published: |