Making the Case for The Beatles’ Unheralded 1964 Album ‘Beatles for Sale’

Fans speak of most Beatles albums with awe and reverence. LPs like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Revolver, The White Album, and several others in the band’s catalog are generally mentioned among the greatest rock albums ever recorded. That’s why it’s a surprise that an album like Beatles for Sale, released in 1964, doesn’t get much attention at all, at least not compared to other Fab Four records.

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We’re here to change that, because we think Beatles for Sale needs to be more than just a trivia answer for those trying to list all of their albums. On the contrary, we think it’s deserving of classic status in its own right, and we’re here to tell you why.

They’re so Tired

Beatles for Sale was the Fab Four’s fourth studio LP released in the United Kingdom, arriving in December 1964. (Like most early Beatles albums, it was chopped up and repurposed for release in America, with most of the 14 tracks ending up on either Beatles ’65 or Beatles VI in the U.S.)

It was recorded during a particularly busy time in the group’s schedule, although it’s fair to say their schedule was always hectic in the early years. They didn’t release any singles from the album in Great Britain, choosing instead to release the non-album tracks “I Feel Fine” and “She’s a Woman” as the A-side/B-side of a single just a few weeks ahead of the album.

They recorded the album in fits and starts whenever they had time to grab some studio time in the second half of 1964. Perhaps the most damning criticism of Beatles for Sale came from a guy who helped to put it together: Beatles producer George Martin, who said the following of Beatles for Sale in the Mark Lewisohn book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions:

“They were rather war-weary during Beatles for Sale. One must remember that they’d been battered like mad throughout ’64, and much of ’63. Success is a wonderful thing, but it is very, very tiring. They were always on the go. Beatles For Sale doesn’t appeal to me very much now, it’s not one of their most memorable ones. They perked up again after that.”

Selling Beatles for Sale

Beatles for Sale might not hang together thematically in ways that future albums by the group would. Because they were pressed for time, they went back to the cover song well after they had released all original songs on their previous record A Hard Day’s Night. Of the cover songs, a few stand out (John Lennon‘s raucous romp through “Rock and Roll Music,” and Lennon and Paul McCartney paying their debt to Buddy Holly on a lovely “Words of Love.”) But you could argue the others were time-killers.

But that doesn’t slow Beatles for Sale down much, because what really recommends it are the eight Lennon/McCartney originals. The cover of the album shows the band with somber expressions on their faces, and that’s reflected in the songs they wrote for it. Except for “Eight Days a Week,” the ebullience for which the band was known was largely absent.

In its place were ambivalence, pensiveness, even out-and-out sorrow. You’ve got Lennon, seemingly on top of the world as a member of the world’s most popular musical outfit, singing “I’m a Loser.” And you’ve got McCartney singing in bittersweet tones about leaving a faithful lover behind because of gathering rain clouds in “I’ll Follow the Sun.”

Perhaps because they are so downcast, several songs on Beatles for Sale stand as among the most underrated in the band’s catalog. Opening track “No Reply,” with its violently strummed acoustic guitars and impassioned harmonies, finds Lennon peeking through windows to catch signs of his lover’s unfaithfulness. “What You’re Doing,” highlighted by Ringo Starr‘s thumping drums and George Harrison‘s Byrds-like guitar, anticipates some of McCartney’s great love-gone-wrong songs on albums like Rubber Soul and Revolver. And “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party,” with its country leanings, again finds Lennon in a depressed mood, choosing to leave a gathering rather than being confronted with heartache.

Beatles for Sale might fall under the radar when it comes to other albums by the group. And we’ll even admit that some of the covers are skippable. But the way The Beatles managed to express a wider range of emotions on this record makes it essential in tracking their progress from lovable moptops to mature artists unafraid to depict the bad as well as the good.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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