Review Summary: 1963's "With the Beatles", the second album by the legendary pop group from Liverpool, boasts some of the catchiest early Beatles material.
1963. In America, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated and we are caught in a war in Vietnam. Meanwhile, in Britain, a little band called The Beatles is nearing the height of their popularity. Already breaking out with hits such as "Love Me Do", "I Want To Hold Your Hand", and "Please Please Me", they were becoming a household name. Now, I'm not saying that Britain didn't have its problems at that time, but the rising popularity of "Beatlemania" was a very big deal. When "With the Beatles" was released on November 22nd 1963, it was eaten up by eager fans, and with good reason. While a lot of fans tend to stray away from the Beatles' early records (I consider early records A Hard Day's Night and everything before it), I and many others embrace them. The reason for this? Because they're so damn catchy.
I first acquired this album on vinyl when I "borrowed" it from my dad's collection. Already being relatively familar with The Beatles, I decided to give it a listen. To be honest, I didn't expect much, but when I heard the first several seconds of "It Won't Be Long", I was immediately hooked. I knew the songwriting wasn't all that it could be, but the instrumentals were good enough and the vocals fit the music perfectly. For the next few days, I layed in my living room, absorbing the beautiful sounds coming through the worn out speakers. I had never heard anything like it before, and was in love with this music.
As I had mentioned before, The Beatles' instrumentation on "With the Beatles" are very satisfying for such a young group in the early 60's. George and John's guitar work never fail to impress when taking into account their ages. However, while John is by no means a bad guitar player (he is actually a very good rhythm guitarist), George really steals the show on this album. Possibly his greatest moments on here are the solos on "All My Loving" and "Roll Over Beethoven", the last of which is a Chuck Berry cover and blows me away every time I hear it. Even at such an early point in his career, you can see the huge amount of potential George had.
Another notable attribute about The Beatles is their rhythm section. Paul's fantastic bass playing coupled with Ringo's drumming (which is underrated) go perfectly hand in hand on every single track.
While the instrumentation is certainly a factor, I think the what gives the album most of its aforementioned "catchiness" is the vocals, which are at their best when Paul and John sing in harmony. The duo's singing make tracks like "You Really Got A Hold On Me", "It Won't Be Long", and "Hold Me Tight" standouts (I would mention "All My Loving", but technically that is Paul's vocals double-tracked).
When I first heard this album, I thought for sure that it was flawless. While it is pretty close to a classic rating, "With the Beatles" has its flaws. I don't direct these mistakes towards one single band member, but the feel of some tracks as a whole. For example, Harrison's first of two vocal performances, "Don't Bother Me", strikes me as just plain dull, but I don't think it's entirely his fault. I've listened to it many times trying to change my opinion, but I can't. Another thing is that I can't help but compare the songwriting on this album to The Beatles' future releases. It makes the songwriting on here almost embarassing when it really isn't.
"With the Beatles" shows a band with a huge amount of talent, and is a precursor to the life-altering albums that became their later work.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
It Won't Be Long Now
All My Loving
Please Mister Postman
Roll Over Beethoven
Hold Me Tight
You Really Got A Hold On Me