50 Years Ago: The Beatles Release ‘With the Beatles’
‘With the Beatles’ was a hit before it was even released. By November 1963, Beatlemania was raging across the U.K.. On the heels of the Fab Four’s debut LP, ‘Please Please Me,’ and the smash singles ‘From Me to You’ and ‘She Loves You,’ ‘With the Beatles’ could have featured 33 minutes of Ringo Starr performing Shakespeare and it still would have topped the charts.
But the album did much more than that, providing an iconic cover image of the early Beatles, bearing more fantastic John Lennon–Paul McCartney originals and proving that the band wouldn’t be fading away any time soon. ‘With the Beatles’ also expanded the group’s sonic universe beyond guitar, bass and drums. The lads added extra percussion to some tracks, Lennon and McCartney played a little keyboard and George Harrison earned his first writing credit with ‘Don’t Bother Me.’ Plus, the Beatles gave us a taste of their Hamburg days by tearing through a few Motown gems.
When it came time to record ‘With the Beatles,’ the boys began with those cover songs because they hadn’t written any new stuff (remember, Lennon and McCartney had penned eight songs for the first LP, plus four more for their next two singles — all released in 1963, back when stars didn’t write their own tunes). So when sessions began on July 18, they bashed out a raucous version of ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ and a slightly sneering take on ‘You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,’ along with ‘Devil in Her Heart’ and the erudite show tune ‘Till There Was You,’ which was destined to become your mom’s favorite Beatles song until McCartney wrote ‘Yesterday.’
The Beatles recorded ‘Please Please Me’ in one day, but they got a whole week to assemble their sophomore album. The seven days weren’t consecutive, which gave Lennon and McCartney just enough time to write instant classics like ‘It Won’t Be Long,’ ‘All My Loving’ and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ (although ‘Hand’ would be saved for a single release a week after ‘With the Beatles’ came out). By the time sessions were completed in October, the ratio of originals to covers (eight to six) was the same as ‘Please Please Me.’ ‘With the Beatles’ would come out eight months to the day after the band’s landmark debut.
As predicted, the record was met with great excitement. It replaced ‘Please Please Me’ as the No. 1 record in the country and held the spot until the Beatles held the top spot for 51 straight weeks. ‘With the Beatles’ also became the first album by a British group to sell more than a million copies.
Of course, it did pretty well in the U.S. too, but with a different name and altered track list. ‘Meet the Beatles!’ would hit U.S. shores on Jan. 20, 1964, feature the same Robert Freeman photograph of the band and include nine of ‘With’s’ 14 songs — adding the U.K.’s single-only ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ and B-side ‘This Boy’ along with ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ from ‘Please Please Me.’ Beatlemania was about to conquer a whole new country.
Listen to the Beatles’ ‘With the Beatles’