After A Hard Day's Night, the Beatles entered “artistic adolescence”, for just as the band grew up as people during their Hamburg residencies, so too the band matured as composers and recording artists from late 1964 through 1965, over which time they released three albums: Beatles for Sale, Help!, and Rubber Soul.
These albums include two basic types of songs: those that reflect the band's previous work (songs like “Rock 'n' Roll Music”, “I Need You” and “What Goes On”, which are rather retrospective in nature); and those that break from their recorded past work and chart new artistic territory by exploring different sounds and musical possibilities (songs like “Ticket To Ride”, “Norwegian Wood” and “Nowhere Man”)
Many songs of this period blur those two classifications by employing aspects of both. “I Feel Fine”, for example, is rather retrospective rock 'n' roll number, but it also features the first ever intentional use of feedback on a recording. Similarly, the body of “Eight Days a Week” is more similar to their previous recordings than to their later work, but it was the first recording ever to use a fade-in as the introduction. A great many recordings used fade-outs, but “Eight Days a Week” was the first to use a fade-in.
One major catalyst for this artistic maturation was Bob Dylan. The Beatles discovered his music through his second studio album Freewheelin', and they met in person for the first time on 28 August 1964 at the Delmonico Hotel in New York City. Dylan impacted the Beatles in two primary ways: First, although they had taken Preludin in Hamburg, and had a history with alcohol (with Lennon more so than the others), Bob Dylan furthered the Beatles drug use by introducing them to marijuana. Legend has it that Dylan misheard the lyrics to “I Want to Hold You Hand” (“And when I touch you I feel happy inside, it's such a feeling that my love I can't hide, I can't hide, I can't hide”) as “I get high, I get high, I get high”. It's called the gateway drug for a reason, and thereafter the Beatles' drug use escalated exponentially.
The second major influence Bob Dylan had on the Beatles was that he freed them from the conventions of pop music. This resulted in an increased use of acoustic rather than electric instruments in Beatles recordings, as well as a dramatic rise in their compositional craftsmanship. “I had a sort of professional songwriter's attitude to writing pop songs,” said John Lennon. “We would turn out a certain style of song for a single... I'd have a separate songwriting John Lennon who wrote songs for the meat market, and I didn’t' consider them (the lyrics or anything) to have any depth at all … Then I started being me about the songs, not writing them objectively, but subjectively. … I'd started thinking about my own emotions. … Instead of projecting myself into a situation, I would try to express what I felt about myself. … It was Dylan who helped me realise that” (Anthology page 158). The difference is clearly discernible in their recorded output from that time. Lennon's “I'm a Loser” off Beatles for Sale, “You've Got to Hide Your Love Away” off Help!, and “In My Life” off Rubber Soul are the obvious examples. Though Dylan's influence was most noticeable in John Lennon, Paul McCartney's songs of the same albums show similar progress. Songs like “I'll Follow the Sun” off Beatles for Sale, and especially “Yesterday” off Help!.
These Dylan-influenced songs lack the youthful “yeah, yeah, yeah” enthusiasm and energy so prevalent in the Beatles early recordings and clearly delineate the band's development from teenybopper pop phenomenon to the true artistic leaders of their generation.
Beatles. The Beatles Anthology. Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA, 2000.
This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.