In Not Fade Away, we take a look at the legacy of some of the greatest albums of the past few decades – some iconic, some lesser known – as they celebrate significant anniversaries. Here, we look at the album, ‘Meet The Beatles,’ which turns 50 today.
In the half century since they’ve first hit our shores, America has never gotten over the Beatles. One of the biggest announcements about this year’s GRAMMYs came last week when we learned that the two surviving members of the Fab Four – Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr – will both perform at the GRAMMYs Sunday night. The following night, hopes are high that they will both appear at The Night That Changed America: A GRAMMY Salute To The Beatles, which will be broadcast exactly 50 years to the day of the Beatles‘ debut performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, Sunday, February 9, (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.
Media outlets will undoubtedly do their own “look back” at the anniversary of the Beatles’ first trip to the U.S. John Lennon,George Harrison, Paul and Ringo are currently on the cover of Rolling Stone; the headline is “How The Beatles Took America.” To be sure, there’s a lot of reasons why the Beatles “took America.” Not all of them have to do with music. But without the music, of course, there would have been no takeover at all; the world would be a different place. So, while everyone else recalls the impact on society made by these four young men, let’s have a look at the album that helped them to take over America. How does it hold up, fifty years later?
Remarkably well, as it turns out. Yes, it is of its time. But sit back and listen, it’s still fresh sounding, still exciting. From garage rock to Motown-inspired soul to show tunes, it still ranks as one of the Beatles’ greatest. Ergo, it is one of the best albums of all time.
The party kicks off with “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” their first U.S. #1 single. Surging guitars, undeniable harmonies and handclaps to help the drums keep the beat. The lyrics? Well, yes, they are a bit naive. Someone literally wants to hold your hand. Sure, in our hyper-sexualized culture, that seems quaint. But for the romantics out there, when you first meet that person, well, this song still works. It’s a timeless description of the giddiness of new love (or at least “like”). “When I touch you, I feel happy inside.” The sentiment is so universal, and that shows in the amount of covers that have followed: the Supremes, Al Green, Petula Clark and the Moving Sidewalks (featuring a pre-ZZ Top Billy Gibbons) have all put their spin on the song. It can be soul, R&B, pop or garage rock, depending on how you play it.
“I Saw Her Standing There” is a garage rock classic. It starts out with Paul yelling “1-2-3-4!” an idea that the Ramones liked so much, they started nearly every song with that countdown at their concerts. George’s guitar solo gives the song some teeth, and Paul’s Little Richard-esque scream was rewarded by Richard himself years later, who covered it – with Jerry Lee Lewis no less, on the Killer’s 2006 album Last Man Standing.
The band was profoundly influenced by Motown, and that influence showed up a few times on Meet The Beatles. The album’s third song, “This Boy,” pointed out that the Fab Four wasn’t just about teen pop. The lyrics, like Motown’s, are a bit naive. But also like Motown’s lyrics, they can still sting. “This boy would be happy just to love you, but oh my/That boy won’t be happy, ’til he’s seen you cry.” Who hasn’t felt that the object of their affections was making a mistake by choosing someone else? You can feel that way at 15 or 50.
“All I’ve Got To Do” also sounded as if someone was studying the Smokey Robinson songbook. The line, “You’ve just got to call on me” was echoed years later in another classic by another legendary writer from the era: Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend.” “Not A Second Time” also had a big influence from Detroit’s biggest hitmaking factory.
The influence of “It Won’t Be Long” can be heard in any music, from punk rock to hip-hop, that has a powerful call-and-response chorus. It’s just fun to sing along to: “It won’t be long!” “Yeah!” “Yeah!” “Yeah!” “Yeah!” “Yeah!” “Yeah!” But the song was deceptively simple; Bob Dylan himself said the Beatles use chords that are “outrageous, just outrageous,” in reference to this song.
“All My Loving” was the song that they opened their debut performance on The Ed Sullivan Show with, and for good reason. The Beatles’ fan base was at least 50% female in 1964, and what teenage girl doesn’t want to hear their favorite pin-ups singing, “All my loving, I will send to you/All my loving, darling I’ll be true.” The idea of of being romanced by your favorite celebrity crush still appeals today; you can hear it in current boy-band One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful.” (Whether they will have anything resembling the enduring appeal of the Beatles is a separate issue).
“Don’t Bother Me” was an important song for the group; it’s George Harrison’s first solo composition, showing that not only did the Beatles have the greatest songwriting duo with Lennon/McCartney, but in Harrison they had a third songwriter to be reckoned with. The lyrics would prove prescient: Harrison would become the most reclusive member of the group. The song gets bonus points for yet another great Harrison guitar solo; for all the accolades that the Beatles and their individual members get, Harrison remains an underrated six-stringer.
“Little Child” and “Hold Me Tight” are the album’s sole weak spots, if they can be called that. Fun garage rockers, they would be the highlights of most other band’s albums in the early ’60s, but they just don’t stand out on Meet The Beatles.
“Till There Was You” was the album’s sole cover. Like “This Boy,” it showed the band’s quieter side. Originally from the 1957 musical The Music Man, this was a Fab Four song that Beatlemaniacs could enjoy with their parents (maybe).
“I Wanna Be Your Man” was tacked on to the end of the album, but it turns out to be a rather important song in rock and roll history. Lennon and McCartney gave it to the Rolling Stones, who were in need of a hit. And it reach #12 on the charts for the Stones in England, bringing the band into the top 20 for the first time. That bit of history aside, it’s one of the Beatles’ best garage rockers, and one of Ringo’s coolest vocal performances.
Clocking in at less than a half hour, Meet The Beatles doesn’t have the gravitas of some of the records that were soon to come: Revolver, Rubber Soul, Abbey Road, “The White Album.” That doesn’t mean you should skip it: their “serious” records were, without a doubt, masterpieces, but it’s a blast to enjoy the earlier, more fun Beatles. Remember, it was this band that took over England, America and much of the rest of the world. These songs are a big reason why.
Note: 1963’s Please Please Me, released only in England at the time, was the band’s debut album. (Related: Not Fade Away: The Beatles’ Debut LP ‘Please Please Me’ Turns 50). In the US, the Beatles’ first album was actually Introducing… The Beatles, on Vee-Jay Records. It was, essentially, a domestic version of Please Please Me; the album was deleted less than a year later. Meet The Beatles came out on Capitol shortly afterwards and is now thought of as their American debut.
— Brian Ives, Radio.com