‘Please Please Me’ proved a pleasant, superior than average record, but it was ‘With The Beatles’ which showed just how fab the Fab Four could be, the genesis of Lennon-McCartney’s finest songs placed delicately throughout their sophomore effort. Given the relative luxury to record over seven sessions over a matter of months (a vast improvement to the twenty-four hours allocated for ‘Please Please Me’), ‘With’ gave the band their first taste for art since Stuart Sutcliffe left the band, pleasingly adorned in their music, and draped on their cover, a black and white portmanteau, smiles disappeared, eyes forward, three half masked heads over-shadowing Ringo Starr’s, their most iconic image second only to ‘Sgt.Peppers Lonely hearts Club Band’.
Opening with a triple hat of terrific songs (the first two Lennon’s, the final McCartney’s), ‘With’ exemplified the group’s fascination with the perfect pop sound, ‘It Won’t Be Long’ and ‘All My Loving’ the perfect combinations of jingle-jangle instrumentation, earnest harmonisation and lyrical romanticism, the latter a welcome mainstay in McCartney’s set list, fifty years after completion. ‘All I’ve Got To Do’ proved stronger again, Lennon’s ambition to write a Smokey Robinson complete, the song is awash with soul influences and the strongest track on the record.
Though Lennon-McCartney would be considered the driving force by the mid-sixties, ‘With’ finds the four as the ensemble they always projected themselves as. John Lennon’s voice dominates the record (he takes lead vocal on seven out of fourteen tracks), though George Harrison received an unprecedented three vocal spots, a habit not repeated until their masterpiece ‘Revolver’, three years later. Drummer Ringo Starr sang McCartney’s pop gem ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, a song later covered (less successfully) by The Rolling Stones. Starr (a much better singer than frequently given credit for) brings ballast and blues to the upbeat and frothy, his best vocal until ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ in 1967.
Harrison also proved a strong rocker, guitar licks and vocal playing with nice precision on Chuck Berry’s ‘Roll Over Beethoven’. Abstaining from their debut, Harrison produced his debut song ‘Don’t Bother Me’ for this record. While its lyrics may have left much to be desired (Harrison was reportedly so embarrassed by the track he would not write another Beatles song for inclusion until 1965), musically, ‘Bother’ had that melancholia atypical of later Harrison records, the perfect seismic contrast to Lennon’s drive and McCartney’s ear for melody.
Piano rocker ‘Little Child’ gave an excuse for its songwriters to show their intricate vocal weaving and Starr to show his adeptness for groove, ‘Not A Second Time’ an early indicator of Lennon’s honesty through music. As the duo’s song-writing grew, so did their ability to pay tribute to those who inspired them, the band’s rendition of ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’ the finest cover the Liverpudlians would record, the chorus line a testament to the vocal prowess of Lennon, Harrison and McCartney.’Please Mr. Postman’ brought an end to the first side with fifties zest, ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ brought the L.P to a close with an stomp (Starr’s drumming to the forefront). Only ‘Til There Was You’ fell flat, McCartney’s nerves at singing such a delicate song audible on record (well, he was only twenty – one), though Meredith Wilson’s song is saved by some of Harrison’s fine acoustic work. Elsewhere, there wasn’t a dud to be heard, ‘Hold Me Tight’ an example of McCartney’s wilder side, the genesis of ‘Helter Skelter’ here unveiled.
Released in November 1963, ‘With’ would go on to sell a over a million copies in the U.K, holding the number one position for a staggering twenty-one weeks. Eight of the album’s songs would be released on the American ‘Meet The Beatles!’ (a tradition The Beatles had to endure as they saw American Record Companies dismantle their work onto different records, a habit continued until 1967), in 1964, where it also topped the charts. World domination at the grasp of their hands, the Fab Four entered into the world of music, walking in front of a world racing to catch up. And, in many respects, it never did!