The Beatles’ 4th release is a concept album about love and the male ego standing in the way of that. Sung from the masculine perspective, it starts out with the protagonist lashing out with paranoia and suspicion at his loved one. Accusations of infidelity are thrown, but at the same time it’s hard to side with him since we never really get her side of the story. She’s thoroughly absent, giving no reply. The creepy undertones certainly don’t help his case (“I know where you’ve been / I saw you walk in your door”). I’m a Loser then finds him in the post-breakup self-pitying mood. Heartbreak and hopes for a make-up dominate Baby’s in Black as well, and again we get a dark vibe due to the color being associated directly with her. He then turns to rock ‘n’ roll music as a distraction – he rocks and dances his problems away. It works because a more positive outlook on life is already adopted with the next song, I’ll Follow the Sun, which uses the star as a metaphor for chasing happiness in different places. The same idea is amplified on Mr. Moonlight – the ‘love’ word is brought back, but this time attributed to something else other than a human being. He has finally learned to enjoy life beyond her. Being a changed man, the protagonist returns to Kansas City to get his baby back home. He even feels that butterflies-in-stomach euphoric feel of being in love again that can’t be properly articulated (Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey).
They get back together and the relationship works again. He tells her he loves her even more than is humanly possible (Eight Days a Week). The hyper-excitement calms down a bit as the initial phase passes, but the atmosphere is still as romantic as can be (Words of Love). Then something happens. On Honey Don’t it is again unclear who did wrong to whom, but the fact that he thinks he has the nerve to tell her what to do comes in the way. He becomes possessive. On the surface, Every Little Thing sounds like another enthusiastic love song, but notice how the perspective changes – “eight days a week I love you” becomes “every little thing she does, she does for me”. It becomes more about him, about how he’s viewed by his friends. By the time of I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party he’s disappointed, lonely and drunk. He’s ruined it again. On What You’re Doing the protagonist alternates between self-pitying (“I’m feeling blue and lonely”), blaming her (“What you’re doing to me?”) and adopting the she-doesn’t-know-what-she’s-lost attitude (“Should you need a love that’s true – it’s me”). And finally, Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby concludes the album with the idea that there are plenty more fish in the sea (50, apparently, and they’re all knocking at his door). Whether that’s really true, or just the protagonist comforting himself we can’t tell. Will future relationships work out for him? The ending is open.
Naturally, this is my own interpretation and should not be taken as fact. I’ve yet to read any proof that The Beatles intended the album to be anything more than a collection of songs, but that doesn’t necessarily exclude a subconscious decision of writing about certain things and placing those ideas in a certain order. Beatles for Sale has always felt to me like a step up in many ways, with the song-writing themes more varied and the personalities of Paul and especially John more involved in the process. Sure, some cover choices are questionable. And maybe you’ll find my whole analysis way far-fetched. But only great albums leave space for such interpretation, and Beatles for Sale is definitely one of them.
Categories: Album Reviews