For a long time, I held the opinion that everything the Beatles did before Sgt. Pepper’s was pretty close to worthless–just mindless pop music. However, after a while, that threshold changed to Revolver, and then to Rubber Soul, until my current state where my music snob has admitted defeat in the face of the Beatles’ early catalogue.
And while it certainly lacks the sophistication and boldness of songs like “Across the Universe” and “Tomorrow Never Knows,” there’s a primal energy to the songs put to wax that eludes the more mature material of their later projects.
At the time of this release (according to the liner notes), John and Ringo were twenty-three (John was married), Paul was twenty-one, and George was just twenty years old. This makes the adolescence that carries through the album a bit more forgivable.
From the savage (in context) rocker “I Wanna Be Your Man” to the R&B informed “All I’ve Got To Do” (probably my favorite track on here), the songs are almost exclusively sung to “you” and have some mention of love therein (excluding George’s “Don’t Bother Me,” which doesn’t let on that its author would someday become one of the greatest songwriters the world has ever seen).
It’s a teenage sensibility that serves the fast pace well.
And that pace is a lot to do with Ringo–while the ensemble as a whole would go on to develop their skills so far beyond what this album suggests, Ringo’s immaturity is the most glaring. Even later in their career, he was known for the rock minimalism on display here, but on this album especially, he seems to have one speed: GO.
Most of the songs are 120 BPMs or above, and he keeps his right hand committed to his open hi-hat. He shows his restraint a bit on the ballad “This Boy,” but when he is placed on the bongos for the cover song “Till There Was You,” the rest of the group shows their true versatility, free of the tyranny of his pounding.
It’s over very quickly–none of the songs reach the three-minute mark, and little time is wasted on extended jams or guitar solos. It’s complete playing time is an even 27 minutes, which, while brief, was once the most important 27 minutes in the history of recorded music.
It’s fast, sweet, and loud, and serves as the cavalry marching up the beach at the crest of the British Invasion, which would find dozens of other bands imitating the speed and volume that the Beatles patented.