Album Review: “With The Beatles” (1963) / “Meet The Beatles!” (1964) — The Beatles

Introduction

I’m not gonna hype this post as some kind of EPIC SHOWDOWN when comparing two essentially similiar Beatles records, because in almost any configuration, the UK Beatles albums were superior to their US counterparts, and that’s pretty much all there is to it.

Except for Rubber Soul, which may be the only exception, and makes for longstanding debates among Beatle nerds, but that’s not why we’re here today.

Still though, it’s kind of fascinating to look at both With The Beatles (released in the UK on 11/22/1963 on the Parlophone label) and Meet The Beatles! (US release on 1/20/64 on the Capitol label). For those of you not familiar with how The Beatles handled UK/US album releases in the 60s, it’s basically like this:

1960s Beatles UK/US Album Releases

The US and UK had almost completely different album configurations between 1963 and 1966. The UK strategy involved not including songs that were released as singles on their LP albums; this was viewed as some kind of distasteful rip-off. 45s and LPs were kept separate. What this did mean was that they were able to pack two or three more songs onto their UK albums than they did in the US.

Meanwhile back in the US, The Beatles records were completely different from their UK counterparts. We’re talking separate album names, tracklists, completely different releases altogether. Many tracks on the US albums featured significantly different mixes and/or takes entirely! Don’t ever get any Beatle nerd started on how Dave Dexter dialed up the reverb on many Capitol US songs, in order to make them “sound better on AM radio” or some such nonsense.

However, the US did not have the “no singles on albums” restriction, and as such most singles ended up on an LP somewhere. So the overall Capitol strategy was to release more Beatles albums than Parlophone, but with less tracks per record. Between 1963 and through 1966, Capitol released ten US Beatles albums. Parlophone in the UK had only seven, but with more songs per album and generally better sounding audio.

Still with me? Good.

The Natural Correlation

There’s a natural correlation between With The Beatles and Meet The Beatles! though. For starters, both records feature the same photo of the band, although the photo is treated with a ghoulish blue tint on the US release. And that’s not all; Meet The Beatles! has that goofy marketing spiel at the top (“The First Album By England’s Phenomenal Pop Combo”) which is of course entirely misleading. The Fabs had released two albums in the UK before this one dropped, and even in the US, Vee-Jay Records (who through a licensing agreement I don’t even want to start with here) were able to push Introducing… The Beatles (which was basically the Please Please Me album from the UK with two songs missing) into release just over a week before Meet The Beatles.

Meanwhile, the With The Beatles album cover is much more subdued and elegantly laid out. After all, The Beatles were already huge in the UK. Beatlemania was in full swing and wasn’t dying down. No need to introduce them all over again.

Regardless, while Parlophone was presenting their album as a continuation of the Beatle experience in contrast to Capitol’s grand introduction, both records feature much of the band’s output recorded over the course of 1963. With some differences, of course. The following five songs included on With The Beatles did not make it to Meet The Beatles! and showed up on the American followup record, The Beatles’ Second Album:

  • Roll Over Beethoven
  • You Really Got A Hold On Me
  • Devil in Her Heart
  • Money (That’s What I Want)
  • Please Mr. Postman

Notice anything similar about the five removed tracks? They’re all cover tunes! Capitol wanted to present The Beatles as a new, wholly original group. So they shunted almost all of the covers off to the next record, leaving “Till There Was You” behind.

To replace those five lost tracks, Capitol put the following three songs on Meet The Beatles:

  • I Want To Hold Your Hand (released as a single in the UK)
  • I Saw Her Standing There (included on the UK Please Please Me album)
  • This Boy (B-side to the I Want To Hold Your Hand single in the UK)

Recording and Remixes

Both albums were released in mono and stereo configurations. The mono tracks on both albums are equivalent, but not the stereo ones. Many of the stereo tracks on Meet The Beatles! were not in “true” stereo, but rather “mock” or duophonic stereo. They basically took the mono mixes and created “fake” stereo mixes out of them, instead of using true stereo mixes from EMI. In fact, a “true” stereo mix of I Want To Hold Your Hand was not released in the US until the 1982 20 Greatest Hits album.

Also of note is that the songs included on both albums were some of the last the band recorded on the old two-track console that was the standard of the time. The only exception is I Want To Hold Your Hand and This Boy, both tracks on Meet The Beatles, which were in four-track. By October 1963, EMI had acquired a four-track desk which allowed for a slightly wider sonic palette. This would be the standard until 1968’s The Beatles, where they would do their first 8 track recordings. This would culminate with Abbey Road, when the solid-state TG12345 console would make their final recorded output sound richer and more dynamic than anything they had recorded up to that time!

But that’s a knish for another deli. Let’s take a trip through both albums, track by track, and see how they stack up against each other.

Track By Track

TRACK #1

It Won’t Be Long

I Want To Hold Your Hand

You can’t argue with either as an album opener, but I Want To Hold Your Hand is not only an iconic song and an powerful album opener, it was THE song that introduced The Beatles to America. What other song could you open up Meet The Beatles! with? It Won’t Be Long is one of the strongest early Beatles rockers — full of rousing back-and-forth vocals, swinging guitars, George’s Tennessee Gentleman riffing, and inimitable harmonies between John, George, and Paul — but I Want To Hold Your Hand is as instantly identifiable with The Beatles as anything could possibly be. It’s practically the most perfect pop song ever written, except that the Liverpudlian gents have way too many songs that fit that particular criteria.

TRACK #2

All I’ve Got To Do

I Saw Her Standing There

Ho boy. We have one of the lesser known Beatles tracks versus one of Paul’s most popular and recognizable rockers from the period. Here’s where I give the nod to All I’ve Got To Do, but it wasn’t an easy choice. I Saw Her Standing There is pure upbeat, infectious, rockin’ joy from the band. The bassline always reminded me of the Peter Gunn theme from 1959, albeit much more uptempo. Plus you have Paul’s vocals at their best, just enough scratchiness to give it grit but with plenty of melody to worm its way into your heart. The harmonies, George’s guitar work, Ringo’s steady pounding rhythm, everything is firing on all cylinders.

But All I’ve Got To Do is a wonderful number from John, slower and more soulful, with a pervasive doo-wop vibe that sends the song into the stratosphere. Listen to the way Ringo is locking down the rhythm section with his drumwork, and those harmonies between Paul and John whenever they the repeat the song’s title in each verse are a delight. This is one of the lesser known tracks in their catalog, and a short one to boot, but one so perfectly realized.

Before we get to the next batch of songs, it suffices to say that Meet The Beatles! has the more recognizable and uptempo opening one-two punch than With The Beatles, which is slower and more subdued than its American cousin.

TRACK #3

All My Loving

This Boy

My jaw still drops every time I hear All My Loving. I mean, it’s a wonderful tune in and of itself. Beautiful lyrics and melodies, strong rhythm playing from John, wonderful harmonies from the boys, and a near-perfect vocal performance from Paul. But what blows my mind is how Paul could play that walking bassline AND sing lead vocals at the same time… which he did, MANY times. Hell, he did it on Ed Sullivan in front of something like 73 million people watching live. It stands slightly above This Boy, speeding up just as the American album slows down.

That’s no disrespect towards This Boy. What a vocal performance from John, Paul, and George, commanding those harmonies on the verses with absolute melodic dominance. John’s passionate delivery on the bridge (backed by “aahs” from Paul and George) is nothing short of rousing. But as great a song as This Boy is, All My Loving still takes this round.

TRACK #4

Don’t Bother Me

It Won’t Be Long

George takes over the mic (and shows off his songwriting debut) with Don’t Bother Me, a dour warning to would-be love interests to stay away from him while he’s getting over a nasty breakup. While at this time he wasn’t quite at Lennon/McCartney levels of songwriting mastery, Don’t Bother Me easily proved that he was no slouch neither. I enjoy its dark feel, the minor-key setting, the way the vocal harmony rises and falls, before dropping lower in the choruses as a kind of gruff warning. Or lament. Whatever. This is a fine song and a strong debut from George. It complements the tenor, feel, and aesthetic of the With The Beatles well.

We discussed It Won’t Be Long above, and it achieves victory here. While I think Don’t Bother Me is better placed, sequence-wise, the overall quality of It Won’t Be Long cannot be denied.

TRACK #5

Little Child

All I’ve Got To Do

And here we get our first whiff of a tune. Little Child has never been a favorite of mine. Compared to its brethren so far, it’s the black sheep. The song is kind of trite and musically uninteresting. It’s just not particularly memorable. I do like John’s harmonica solo, but that’s about it for high points. The previously discussed All I’ve Got Do easily takes this round.

TRACK #6

Till There Was You

All My Loving

You know, Till There Was You sometimes gets knocked around by Beatle fans as nothing more than saccharine fluff, a trifle piece of nothingness. A cover of the show-tune from The Music Man, the song features Paul is at his sweetheart crooning best. But even if it threatens to becomes too precious, here comes that amazing acoustic guitar work from George, and you’re utterly hooked. This song is ear candy of the best kind.

But then, it has to go up against the absolutely wonderful All My Loving, which is a stronger tune from a more “traditional” Beatle perspective. But in terms of album placement, I’m going to hand this one to Till There Was You because (a) it’s a lovely song, (b) it proved that the Fabs were capable of much more than just rock and pop, and (c) we needed something soothing after the ecch of Little Child.

TRACK #7

Please Mr. Postman

Don’t Bother Me

Yup, Please Mr. Postman is a cover, but damn if it ain’t a great one. The boys wasted no effort with their take on the 1961 single from The Marvelettes. It’s so musically endearing, so utterly charming and disarming, it hardly abides the telling. It doesn’t really go anywhere particularly groundbreaking with its repeated chord progression (your basic A-F#m-D-E) but hot damn, the energy behind this vocal performance by John on lead and Paul and George on harmony. Infectious as hell. This one was tight, but it barely squeaks out a victory over Don’t Bother Me.

TRACK #8

Roll Over Beethoven

Little Child

This is George on his second lead vocal for this album, and he’s taking some classic Chuck Berry for the ride. The very DNA of rock music can be found in Roll Over Beethoven, and George easily rises up to the task of honoring the song by not diminishing any of its primal energy while giving it his own spin. George’s love for the song, his enthusiasm and energy, all of it is an almost tactile experience. When he rips into that guitar solo, it’s sonic perfection. For me, this is the definitive version of Berry’s song, with zero disrespect intended toward Marvin’s cousin. Oh, and it’s going up against Little Child? No contest.

TRACK #9

Hold Me Tight

Till There Was You

I’ve already gone over my unbridled love for Till There Was You, but Hold Me Tight is such a strong rock number that it wins this particular round. The traveling riff that roots the song is masterful, and Paul is again in strong vocal command of the tune. He hits some high notes in the chorus, builds strongly in the pre-chorus, and takes it down just enough in the bridge to not only build anticipation towards the next verse, but also bring the song back down to Earth at the coda. Wonderful.

On With The Beatles, the threepeat of Postman, Beethoven, and Hold Me Tight is really hard to deny.

TRACK #10

You Really Got A Hold On Me

Hold Me Tight

Smokey really had a hold on the Fabs, and it shows Their cover of one his signature Motown classics is spirited and richly harmonious. I mean, just listen to John and George on those verses. George taking the lower harmony underneath John’s strong lead is something to behold. The swing of You Really Got A Hold On Me is completely undeniable, and as I much as I love Hold Me Tight I’m going to give my nod to the cover here.

TRACK #11

I Wanna Be Your Man

I Wanna Be Your Man

. . . yeah well there you have it. Listen, no one is going to mistake I Wanna Be Your Man for some songwriting apex from Lennon/McCartney, but try not to love the song anyhow. Sure, they gave it to the Stones first, but this song is completely owned by Ringo. It’s primal, raw, direct, and pure dance-floor fun.

TRACK #12

Devil In Her Heart

Not A Second Time

Talk about some late album filler. Devil In Her Heart has some nice harmonizing and is pleasing enough, but this cover of the Ricky Dee single is slight. Not A Second Time edges this one out with some more interesting musical changes and somber lyrical content. Neither song blows my socks off, but neither stinks the joint out.

With The Beatles — final two tracks

At this point Meet The Beatles! ends, whereas With The Beatles continues with two more tracks: Not A Second Time and the Motown classic Money (That’s What I Want). The latter had been a staple of the band’s setlists going back to 1960, so putting it to vinyl made a ton of sense. I love the tune; John is completely in his vocal element, the rhythm section totally cooks, and even good ol’ George Martin is getting down and funky on the piano! Say what you want about whatever album, but Money is a much more epic closer than Not A Second Time.

Conclusion

I think which album you prefer is entirely up to your experience. For first and second-generation Beatles fans, which can be loosely described as those fans who were there for Beatlemania when it happened (1963 to 1970) and those who became fans after the breakup (1971 to 1987), a lot of might come down to what you’re used to.

In other words, legions of American fans who bought the records before the first CD reissues in 1987 basically only knew Meet The Beatles! and loved the album. Oh sure, the hardcore Beatlemaniacs who sought out the original UK records as imports became familiar with With The Beatles, but the vast majority of US fans only knew and loved the US release.

On the other hand, With The Beatles was the album that the band themselves recorded, sequenced, and released to audiences in the UK before the music was delivered to the US and subsequently re-mixed and re-sequenced by Capitol Records. It is the “definitive” presentation of the album, at least as far as The Beatles and Apple Corps Ltd. are concerned. Even beyond the ideology of the release, the sonics on With The Beatles are superior. The fake stereo remixes on Meet The Beatles! are definitely a curiosity for newer fans but beloved by the older ones, but as far as the band is concerned, With The Beatles is the definitive presentation.

In my opinion, Meet The Beatles! is a somewhat more “high octane” and “exciting” album for US audiences first meeting the band, whereas With The Beatles is a more assured and consistent presentation of the material to UK fans. These were the same fans who were already living in the midst of madcap Beatlemania. I have a deep nostalgic love for Meet The Beatles! and listen to it often, but most Beatle fans — your intrepid narrator included — would agree that With The Beatles is the superior release.