With The Beatles
The Beatles didn’t get a lot of breathing room in 1963: In February, they had to be smuggled out of a show in Carlisle in a post office van by a police sergeant disguised as a mail carrier; by November, a couple of weeks before the release of their second album, With the Beatles, a riot broke out after fans pushed a parked car into a line of police officers trying to enforce a cordon outside a show in Dublin. Though the precise coinage is still debated, the word “Beatlemania” entered the public lexicon in October; at a couple of live shows, the band reportedly stopped being able to hear their instruments over the sound of the screaming.
While the bulk of Please Please Me had been recorded in a single 13-hour session, With the Beatles was recorded in seven sessions over three months—a schedule that seems comparatively luxurious until you realize that every session took place on days between tour dates or other travel-oriented obligations, and in at least one case, straddled a three-and-a-half-hour stretch in the middle of the day during which the band drove to a theater several miles from the studio to record both an interview and a session for the BBC. In London traffic. On a Tuesday. Oh, and they wrote most of the songs, too, and in some mysterious hour during which the accomplished accomplish things, they learned to play them as well.
And so here they were again: Moody on the album cover (a black-and-white Robert Freeman photo inspired by Freeman’s images of John Coltrane), bright and unruffled in the music. Like Please Please Me, about half of With the Beatles was made up of covers of American soul and R&B (The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman,” Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me”), while half were Lennon and/or McCartney originals. If Lennon was emerging as the band’s ironist (Barrett Strong’s “Money [That’s What I Want]”), McCartney was becoming their moony romantic (The Music Man highlight “Till There Was You”)—a yin-yang balance that lasted the duration of their shared career. (At the Royal Variety Performance in early November, Lennon famously encouraged the people in the cheap seats to clap along and the rest of the audience—which included the Queen—“rattle your jewelry.”)
While still basically a youth band, they’d started to get dues from the establishment, too: A couple of days before Christmas, a critic for The Times said they were the finest English composers of the year, noting that they seemed to think simultaneously of harmony and melody, while also singling out the naturalness of their Aeolian cadences and intriguing pandiatonic clusters, none of which mattered to the hoarse-voiced teenagers squatted for days outside ticket booths, but which signaled the possibility that the band was on the brink of universal appeal: pop music handled with the sanctity of art.