Album Review: “Something New” — The Beatles (1964)

If you want to get Beatle Nerd gums a-flapping wildly and passionately and incessantly, just bring up the topic of the band’s American LP releases from the mid 60s.

I’m not even kidding. This is a subject I myself love to geek out over, and why not? If you were born of a certain era, with distinct memories of an entire universe that existed before the popularization of CD technology, then you remember The Beatles Capitol albums. To make a real long story entirely short: when The Beatles music first reached American shores, their records were released on the Capitol label (as opposed to the Parlophone label in the UK). Capitol and Parlophone had different ideas on how to package and present music to their respective audiences. Parlophone records had more tracks on them, but they were opposed to including songs that they had previously released as individual singles. Hence most of the Beatles singles released on 45 and EP were never included on the LP records.

Capitol, on the other hand, had little problem including singles on LP records, but their records had less songs on them. Instead, they just simply released more records. So, for example, between 1963 and 1965, Parlophone released six LP records: Please Please Me, With The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles For Sale, Help!, and Rubber Soul. In the meantime, Capitol had released eight: Meet The Beatles, The Beatles’ Second Album, Something New, Beatles ’65, The Early Beatles, Beatles VI, Help!, and Rubber Soul — less songs per record, but more records in total.

It is a commonly held standard (certainly by The Beatles and Apple) that the Parlophone albums are the definitive releases in their catalog. And why not? They were designed, sequenced, engineered, marketed, and promoted with the direct participation of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Starr, Epstein, and Martin. They are sonically superior to their American counterparts;Capitol employed the “talents” of one Dave Dexter, Jr. to remaster many of the tracks with copious amounts of reverb to make them sound more “palatable” to mono, tinny-sounding American AM radio.

Ever try listening to the American release of the “I Feel Fine” single? Sounds like they recorded it down a long hall away from the studio.

And didn’t I say I was going to make a long story “real short”? Yeesh.

Here’s another thing that most can generally agree upon: The Beatles American albums had generally inferior album covers, especially compared with the more tastefully designed Parlophone records. They consisted mostly of photo montages and marketing text plastered ungainfully throughout the cover image. Take a look at these similar releases, starting with the Parlophone “With The Beatles”:

Now compare that with its Capitol counterpart, “Meet The Beatles”:

It’s the same image, but the British version is simple, elegant, and iconic in black-and-white. The American cover is slightly enlarged, awash with blue tint, and replete with gaudy marketing spiel at the top (“The First Album by England’s Phenomenal Pop Combo”). And this is one of the better Capitol album covers!

I say all this because it brings me (finally) to the topic of today’s discussion, The Beatles 1964 American release Something New. I chose this record today because this was always my favorite American album cover from the period — and it still aint perfect because they had to ruin it with the promotional spiel on the right hand side. Grr.

But the photograph used on the cover, taken from their first Ed Sullivan appearance on February 9, 1964, is absolutely perfect. There is something about it that is deeply evocative of The Beatles in 1964: stylish, smooth, impeccable, and just plain cool.

Now how the album came into existence — and its historical importance among Beatles collectors — is fairly interesting, if you like that kind of trivia. United Artists Records, a label that was later acquired by Capitol, had the soundtrack rights to The Beatles 1964 movie A Hard Day’s Night (which was released by United Artists studios). According to whatever arrangements were set up by The Powers That Be, the UA album could only include songs that were featured in the movie, but could not contain any songs, included in the UK A Hard Day’s Night record, that were written for but not featured in the movie, including tracks like “Any Time At All”, “Things We Said Today”, and “When I Get Home”.

Capitol of course pounced on the opportunity to release these songs on their own record, which they did with Something New. The cover itself proudly trumpets this fact, that’s how transparently excited Capitol was about this prospect. They even included songs that were on the UA A Hard Day’s Night soundtrack, like “I’ll Cry Instead”, “Tell Me Why”, “And I Love Her”, “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You”, and “If I Fell”. Of course this gave a running total of eight songs, entirely too short even by Capitol standards. So they threw in two songs from the UK Long Tall Sally EP, “Slow Down” and “Matchbox”, and even added the German-language adaptation of their first US #1 single, “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand”.

What a melange!

Now this isn’t the best of their US-exclusive albums; in terms of sequencing, cohesiveness, and overall quality, I’d rank Rubber Soul, Yesterday and Today, and The Early Beatles above Something New. Nonetheless, given that most of these tracks were recorded during the A Hard Day’s Night sessions, the collection here holds together pretty well. Here’s the complete track list in order:

Side A
“I’ll Cry Instead”
“Things We Said Today”
“Any Time at All”
“When I Get Home”
“Slow Down”
“Matchbox”

Side B
“Tell Me Why”
“And I Love Her”
“I’m Happy Just to Dance with You”
“If I Fell”
“Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand”

To the casual Beatles listener, Something New represents something of a deep-dive experience. There are no “name” hits represented here at all; there may be some passing recognition of “And I Love Her” and “If I Fell”, maybe, but that’s it. A German language version of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” certainly poses a curiosity, but it’s hardly a big draw.

I think where Something New succeeds is as a reasonable cross-section of lesser-known 1964 Beatles tracks. The A Hard Days Night songs (you can read my thoughts about them individually here at my review of the A Hard Day’s Night album) are assuredly good listens. I’ve even grown more fond of “When I Get Home” over the years, some of its wonky lyrics notwithstanding. The beauty of “If I Fell” and “And I Love Her” cannot even begin to be overstated. “I’ll Cry Instead” is one of Lennon’s best unheralded tracks from this early period, a wonderful mix of folk and pop with an unmistakably confident groove. There’s the stunning minor-key melancholy of Paul McCartney’s commanding “Things We Said Today”, and then you have pure Beatles jangle-pop with “Any Time At All”, “Tell Me Why”, and “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You”.

Of the non-AHDN tracks, I’m pretty ambivalent. “Slow Down” and “Matchbox” are both covers; the former is a serviceable if unremarkable R&B-styled pastiche, but “Matchbox” is a dreary country/western ordeal, although sung with as much muster as possible by Ringo. As mentioned before, the German-language “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand” is a novelty of sorts, but what makes the track interesting is that John and Paul didn’t simply sing their vocal lines over the pre-existing instrumentals; this is a whole new take on the song. Nifty to hardcore Beatle nerds, but that’s about it.

But Something New also stands out to Beatles collectors. The 1964 stereo version (there was also a mono release) was released in “true stereo” — actual, honest-to-God stereo mixes rather than electronically manipulated mono mixes made to resemble a stereo sound. The American A Hard Day’s Night stereo release featured many of these exact same tunes in “false stereo”, so the stereo Something New album presented entirely new audio presentation of these songs. Also of note is the mono album’s version of “I’ll Cry Instead”; it lacks the refrain of the first verse (which created a synthetic three-verse structure out of what was originally a two-verse song) at the end of the track. I prefer the two-verse version; shorter, yes (the song doesn’t even reach two minutes in length), but perfectly succinct without unnecessary repetition.

I generally enjoy Something New as an album. It’s not their best collection of songs (or even the best of their unique Capitol records), but it holds together fairly well and presents a reasonably enjoyable collection of “deep tracks” from The Beatles’ early period. Is it a “definitive” album? Maybe not, but for North American Beatles fans between 1964 and 1987 — the year the album was officially discontinued, in favor of the UK Parlophone catalog finally making its stateside appearance — it was the only way to experience these songs, which makes it definitive in its own time. As a collector, there’s much to like about this record. There’s certainly enough variation to pick up both mono and stereo releases, and as mentioned before, that’s one SWEET looking cover. Mostly. I think my little Photoshop job right here might have been significantly more oomphy!

Better? Worse? About the same? Your mileage may vary…