Life at 33 1/3: The Greatest Albums of 1963

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1. The Beatles, “Please Please Me” (Parlophone)

The Beatles entered the EMI studios in Abbey Road on February 11, 1963 to record their first album.  Their second single, “Please Please Me”, had been released a couple of weeks earlier and was picking up sales fast.  But producer George Martin couldn’t have known that when he booked the studio, which makes it even more impressive that he actually had this much faith in the Liverpool-quartet.  I mean, an album?!  Only Cliff and Elvis did albums.

Any new band from anywhere in England, including London, would have been so crippled by awe, so taken by the moment, by technicians in their white coats, the suit-clad producer with every hair in place, the expertise, knowledge, experience and not least the fact that they were on the same floor and breathed the same air as legends.  They would feel small, clumsy, perplexed, they would do whatever the producer told them, and they’d deliver below par.  Guaranteed.

What did John (22), Paul (20), George (19) and Ringo (22) do?  They delivered beyond world class.  They invented the future.  They had already invented the self-contained rock and roll band.  They knew what they wanted.  And George Martin let them.  He followed his instincts rather than the strict EMI rules.  The chemistry between performer and producer is unparalleled in rock history.  The closest you get is the short years Elvis had with Sam Phillips.

The Beatles burst through the first two songs, “There’s A Place” and “I Saw Her Standing There”, with an authority that bordered arrogance.  For every minute that passed, the group grew an inch.  Ending it all nine hours later nailing “Twist And Shout” on the first take.  Actually they had to, John Lennon suffered a heavy cold that day and by now his vocal cords were bleeding.

Ten songs in less than ten hours.  With the first two singles added, that’s what became The Beatles’ first album.  It is raw, it is tight, and it’s so self contained.  Its importance cannot be overestimated.

Released: March 22, 1963

Side 1

1. “I Saw Her Standing There” (Lennon-McCartney)

2. “Misery” (Lennon-McCartney)

3. “Anna (Go To Him)” (Arthur Alexander)

4. “Chains” (Gerry Goffin-Carole King)

5. “Boys” (Luther Dixon-Wes Farrell)

6. “Ask Me Why” (Lennon-McCartney)

7. “Please Please Me” (Lennon-McCartney)

Side 2

1. “Love Me Do” (Lennon-McCartney)

2. “P.S. I Love You” (Lennon-McCartney)

3. “Baby It’s You” (Mack David-Barney Williams- Burt Bacharach)

4. “Do You Want to Know a Secret” (Lennon-McCartney)

5. “A Taste of Honey” (Bobby Scott-Ric Marlow)

6. “There’s a Place” (Lennon-McCartney)

7. “Twist and Shout” (Phil Medley-Bert Russell)

2. Bob Dylan: “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” (Columbia)

A very close contender to the album of the year spot.  It is angry and heart-broken, words pouring out of this amazing 22 year old blues, folk and hillbilly jukebox on two legs on his way to making a name for himself through songs that caught the zeitgeist spot on.  Turned him into something he didn’t want to be for long, a spokesperson.  Though the answer was of course blowing in the wind.

Released: May 27, 1963

(All songs written by Bob Dylan, except where noted)

Side 1

1. “Blowin’ in the Wind” – 2:48

2. “Girl from the North Country” – 3:22

3. “Masters of War” – 4:34

4. “Down the Highway” – 3:27

5. “Bob Dylan’s Blues” – 2:23

6. “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” – 6:55

7. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” – 3:40

 

Side 2

1. “Bob Dylan’s Dream” – 5:03

2. “Oxford Town” – 1:50

3. “Talkin’ World War III Blues” – 6:28

4. “Corrina, Corrina” (Trad.) – 2:44

5. “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance” (Dylan, Henry Thomas) – 2:01

6. “I Shall Be Free” – 4:49

3. The Beatles: “With The Beatles” (Parlophone)

Musically a huge progress, tighter, harder, even more self assured that “Please Please Me”, an inspired choice of cover versions, the overpowered “Please Mr. Postman” being my absolute favourite, and some intriguing and clever originals, “All My Loving”, “All I’ve Got To Do” and “Not A Second Time”, to name but three.  I probably should have named this the album of 1963.  Maybe I will tomorrow.

Released: November 22, 1963

Side 1

1. “It Won’t Be Long” (Lennon-McCartney) 2:13

2. “All I’ve Got to Do” (Lennon-McCartney) 2:04

3. “All My Loving” (Lennon-McCartney) 2:09

4. “Don’t Bother Me” (Harrison) 2:29

5. “Little Child” (Lennon-McCartney) 1:48

6. “Till There Was You” (Meredith Willson) 2:16

7. “Please Mister Postman” (Dobbins/Garrett/Gorman/Holland/Bateman) 2:36

Side 2

1. “Roll Over Beethoven” (Berry) 2:47

2. “Hold Me Tight” (Lennon-McCartney) 2:32

3. “You Really Got a Hold on Me” (Robinson) 3:02

4. “I Wanna Be Your Man” (Lennon-McCartney) 1:58

5. “Devil in Her Heart” (Drapkin) 2:27

6. “Not a Second Time” (Lennon-McCartney) 2:08

7. “Money (That’s What I Want)” (Bradford/Gordy) 2:47

4. The Miracles: «The Fabulous Miracles» (Tamla)

Early Smokey, and a piece of great music.  “I’ve Been Good To You” was John Lennon’s favourite Miracles-tune.

Released: February 28, 1963

Side 1

1. “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” (Smokey Robinson)

2. “I’ve Been Good To You” (Robinson)

3. “Such is Love, Such is Life” (Robinson)

4. “I Can Take a Hint” (Robinson, Janie Bradford, Stanley Ossman, Robert Rogers)

5. “Won’t You Take Me Back” (Robinson)

Side 2

1. “A Love She Can Count On” (Robinson)

2. “Whatever Makes You Happy” (Robinson, Ronald White)

3. “Heartbreak Road” (Robinson, White)

4. “(Have a) Happy Landing” (Robinson, White)

5. “Your Love” (Robinson)

5. Roy Orbison: “In Dreams” (Monument)

Orbison only has his name on three of the 12 songs, but he turns all 12 into his own property the moment he starts singing.  Even the Everly Brothers hit, “All I Have To Do Is Dream” becomes an Orbison standard.  And the title track is simply pure magic.

Released: July 1963

Side 1

1.”In Dreams” (Orbison)

2.”Lonely Wine” (Roy Wells)

3.”Shahdaroba” (Cindy Walker)

4.”No One Will Ever Know” (Mel Foree, Fred Rose)

5.”Sunset” (Orbison, Joe Melson)

6.”House Without Windows” (Fred Tobias, Lee Pockriss)

Side 2

1.”Dream” (Johnny Mercer)

2.”Blue Bayou” (Orbison, Joe Melson)

3.”(They Call You) Gigolette” (Orbison, Joe Melson)

4.”All I Have To Do Is Dream” (Boudleaux Bryant)

5.”Beautiful Dreamer” (Stephen Foster)

6.”My Prayer” (Jimmy Kennedy, Georges Boulanger)