”With the release of Beatles for Sale…the constant spotlight glare of Beatlemania and the accompanying happy, shiny surface was beginning to bear heavily on the Fab Four. The album cover photo shows a very somber and tired-looking band, and the double meaning of the title was lost on only the very naïve” (Wallis). ”It was inevitable that the constant grind of touring, writing, promoting, and recording would grate on the Beatles, but the weariness of Beatles for Sale comes as something of a shock. Only five months before, the group released the joyous A Hard Day's Night. Now, they sound beaten, worn, and, in Lennon's case, bitter and self-loathing” (Erlewine).
”The Beatles were rushed into the studios inbetween touring to make a new LP in time for the Christmas season of 1964” (Denning) – a de facto deadline imposed by commercial considerations (see title)” (Alroy). “Only eight of the fourteen songs here were penned by The Beatles” (Denning). “In desperation, the band fell back on cover versions of 50s rock standards by Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, and Chuck Berry” (Alroy). ”It's well-performed” (Wilson) – even “though their voices had been frazzled a bit by constant touring, they revved them up for some joyous shouting, and indulged their fondness for American country in subtle, playful ways” (Wolk). Even so, “despite some experimentation with recording effects and instrumentation” (Alroy), the covers are “ill-conceived” (Wolk) “and the originals are mostly lackluster” (Wilson). After the “entirely self-penned” (Denning) A Hard Days Night, “the very presence of six covers…feels like an admission of defeat or at least a regression” (Erlewine). “Beatles for Sale is usually regarded as a temporary step backwards” (Denning).
“There are some important changes…most notably Lennon's discovery of Bob Dylan and folk-rock” (Erlewine). Lennon’s “opening trilogy…is the darkest sequence on any Beatles record, setting the tone for the album” (Erlewine). Those songs, “along with I Don't Want to Spoil the Party, are implicitly confessional and all quite bleak, which is a new development” (Erlewine).
First up in that “1-2-3 opening punch” (Ursi) is the “moody No Reply” (Ursi) “sounds like a stronger song from With the Beatles” (Denning). This flows right into I'm a Loser, a ”brilliant, remarkably introspective number” (Alroy) that “displays a country influence in the guitar picking [and] has a fresh sound and wonderful lyrics throughout” (Denning).
The trilogy wraps with “the harmony-drenched Baby's in Black” (Ursi), which “is a weird semi-lilting song with strained sounding vocals perhaps reflecting the pressure these songs were recorded under. [There’s] a guitar solo that sounds all over the place, and not in a good way. Still, it triumphs despite these problems, because the song itself is just that strong” (Denning).
“The most memorable [of the covers was] the…frantic” (Alroy) and “frenetic, inspired take on Chuck Berry's Rock and Roll Music” (CdUniverse.com). “A trip down memory lane for the group…it's a good performance but does give off the 'whiff' of something [the group] played literally hundreds of times and ran through 'just once more' for the sake of recording” (Denning).
The “cheery I'll Follow the Sun” (Erlewine) “is a pretty ballad Paul had written” (Wilson) “pre-Please Please Me” (Denning), “but revived for this project as a last resort” (Wilson). It features “acoustic guitar [and] sweet vocals although lyrically is less sweet with such lines as ‘And now the time has come, and so my love, I must go / And though I lose a friend, in the end you will know, oh’: hardly the stuff of flowers and moonlit romances” (Denning).
”A tremendous medley of Kansas City and Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey…finds Paul McCartney's exuberant vocals comparing admirably to his hero Little Richard, providing a vibrant centerpiece” (CdUniverse.com).
”Some of the tracks ended up being among the most widely disliked by Beatles fans” (Alroy) – ”Lennon's cover of his beloved obscurity Mr. Moonlight winds up as arguably the worst thing the group ever recorded” (Erlewine).
“The mid section of Beatles for Sale sags and suffers, so thank god for” (Denning) “the dynamic” (Erlewine) Eight Days a Week, a “true pop classic…The title of the song was inspired by something Ringo said describing their hectic work schedule” (Denning).
A couple of cover tunes follow – Buddy Holly’s Words of Love and Carl Perkins’ Honey Don’t, with Ringo’s sole vocal lead on the album, before the “undeservedly unheralded Lennon/McCartney album track Every Little Thing” (Ursi). The song is “a true underrated Beatles gem, a fabulous song led by Paul and mixing in cool clear guitar lines with catchy vocals” (Denning).
George takes the lead on Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby, “an average Carl Perkins cover” (Denning). “Apart from the sound and style of the lead guitar - everything else is very tired and old sounding” (Denning), “leaving the impression that Beatlemania may have been fun but now the group is exhausted” (Erlewine).
”That exhaustion results in the group's most uneven album, but its best moments find them moving from Merseybeat to the sophisticated pop/rock they developed in mid-career” (Erlewine). Besides, even with a lackluster outing, Beatles for Sale “has enough moments sprinkled throughout for anyone to enjoy” (Denning) and, “as a marker of where they were and where they were going, the album is revelatory” (Wallis). After all, “the Beatles…instincts for what worked musically were so strong that they could basically do no wrong” (Wolk).