Meet the Beatles
Although the American versions of the early Beatles albums are dismissed by purists as not of the canon, for those who lived through the British Invasion in the early ‘60s, no album epitomizes the full fury of Beatlemania more than Meet the Beatles.
The iconic half-shadow headshots of the front cover suggest the apotheosis to come, and the disk itself is seminal, beginning with “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, a song that, overnight, transformed pop music, followed by “I Saw Her Standing There”, Paul’s rollicking ode to ephebophilia. After these back-to-back rockers, the album moves through moods and styles, foreshadowing the Beatles’ subsequent expansions of the boundaries of pop music and the further development of their already-impressive musicianship.
“This Boy” features the Fabs’ facility with three-part harmonies and includes an intricately syncopated rhythm guitar figure. “It Won’t Be Long” rocks hard courtesy of George’s insistent, descending guitar riff as well as Paul’s maniacal vocals echoing John’s “yeah”s during the chorus. John’s moody “All I’ve Got to Do” is notable for its unorthodox shifts in time signature as well as Ringo’s maddeningly catchy hi-hat accent on the three-and beat during the rest leading into each verse. “All My Loving” continues in the vein of rhythmic innovation, as John dominates the song with his strident, strummed triplet guitar part.
The second side begins with George’s first attempt at songwriting, the dour “Don’t Bother Me”, penned while he was sick in bed as an experiment to see if he could actually write a song. The result is quirky in the extreme and features odd percussion effects, stop-start rhythm guitar, and George’s strained, droning vocal. “Little Child” was subsequently dismissed by John as one of his throwaway tunes, mere album filler, and yet its jaunty good cheer carries the day, fueled by John’s raucous harmonica and Paul’s ebullient background vocals.
“Till There was You” is the sole cover tune on the album, and it’s one of the highlights, as John and George’s intricately orchestrated guitar parts ride effortlessly over Paul’s pulsating bass, providing a luxurious underpinning for one of Paul’s most natural, lucid vocal performances ever. “Hold Me Tight”, like “Little Child”, is filler by nature, though it entertainingly features the Beatles’ trademark dinosaur-stomp heavy four-to-the-bar also heard in such tunes as “Roll Over Beethoven”.
Ringo’s turn in the spotlight follows with “I Wanna Be Your Man”. The received wisdom is that the Rolling Stones’ version of this song trumps the Beatles’, though an objective comparison of the two makes such a verdict hard to countenance, as the Fabs rock out maniacally: Ringo bellows; Paul shrieks wildly; George intersperses intermittent, twanging guitar fills; John anchors the groove with a Bo Diddley-style guitar hustle. The result is music that seems on the verge of mayhem, suggestive in its almost Dionysian abandon of the later “Helter Skelter”.
The album ends fittingly, and prophetically, with the ominous strains of “Not a Second Time”, featuring John’s brooding, double-tracked vocal and a spare musical accompaniment, a somber coda in a time of frothy, mindless pop.
The boys would, of course, go on to conquer the world and blow our minds, but they’d never again quite capture the feral genius of when we first met them.