It’s gone down as one of the most laughable blunders ever made by a record label: on January 1, 1962, the Beatles auditioned for Decca Records and were turned down, purportedly because “guitar groups are on the way out.” But the truth is, if you listen to those recordings, it’s not the Beatles you know and love. For one thing, Ringo had yet to join, with drum duties handled by inaccurately-last-named Pete Best.
Pete Passable-For-The-Time-Being didn’t fit on a marquee.
The 15 songs they recorded that day were selected by manager Brian Epstein and did little to showcase the group members’ personalities, which were just as critical a component of their early success–if not more so–than their musical ability. And that doesn’t even account for producer George Martin’s role in shaping them into the band they eventually became. Had they gotten signed to Decca, the Beatles most likely would have been another short-lived, long-forgotten footnote in music history.
By the time they recorded Please Please Me just over a year later, the Beatles had grown immensely…but they still had room to improve, and a bout of sickness at that album’s primary recording session leaves a lingering impact five decades later. All of this is a roundabout way of saying that timing is everything. Had the Beatles recorded their cover of “Anna” in, say, 1965, the results would have undoubtedly been superior to this 1963 take. The song itself is weightier than your average early 60s pop song, written and recorded by Arthur Alexander as a true account of his failing marriage, and the Beatles only grew as musicians in the ensuing two years.
Actually, you wouldn’t even have to go that far into the future: six months later, and in better health, they recorded a more mellow take on “Anna” for the BBC (available on On Air – Live at the BBC, Volume 2) that’s much stronger than the album version. That said, when it comes to John’s delivery on the final word of the line, “I still love you so, but if he loves you mo’,” I still like them both, but I like the studio version mo’.
If it sounds like I’m not overly critical of a song that I’m not even ranking in the top 200, it’s because when you get down to it, there aren’t very many all-out duds in the Beatles’ catalog. Fasten your seatbelts, because it only gets harder from here.