Editor's note: Since Oct. 6, 2012 (the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles' debut single "Love Me Do," we've been on a half-century celebration cycle in which we are scheduled to relive every Beatles innovation, every release of the Beatles' landmark career in real time, right until the inevitable 50th anniversary of their breakup in 2020. But what other long-forgotten anniversaries are being overshadowed by the Fab Four (again)? To answer that question, we present another installment in this series: "The 50th Anniversary of Something Else."
December 4, 1964, marked the release of the Beatles' fourth UK album in 20 months, Beatles for Sale. If no one picked up on the cynicism of that title upon release or the group's growing dissatisfaction with fame, there were those unsmiling Fab Four faces on the front sleeve, rushed out to Hyde Park before photographer Robert Freeman lost the sunlight.
At least for John Lennon, the sunlight had gone out of his world view. He penned three of the most despondent songs of the Beatles' career ("No Reply," "I'm a Loser," "Baby's in Black"), and amazingly, dapper George Martin sequenced them as the album openers. It's hard to reconcile this moody group with the chipper lads of A Hard Day's Night less than six months ago. It's as if Paul's grandfather had remained with them for an entire tour and soured their entire worldview.
John revealed he harbored the same inferiority complex as the on-screen Ringo, and his version of "parading" is much like Ringo's: "There's nothing for me here, so I will disappear." Even chipper Paul was found complaining about his girlfriend on "What You're Doing." With no rest or time for Lennon and McCartney to come up with a full album of originals, poor Ringo and George were just given a pair of Carl Perkins songs to provide the album's comic relief.
Although no one realized it at the time, The Beatles had again invented another genre, the disaffected-pop-star-who's-just-about-had-enough album. Here are some notable examples of people following the World's Most Popular Foursome's lead.
1. Elvis for Everyone! (1965)
No despondency here, at least on the surface. Naming an album Beatles for Sale is one thing, but putting the King of Rock 'n' Roll by a cash register with the RCA mascot Nipper keeping a watchful eye on the till and its biggest cash cow seems like the most pronounced answer to human servitude ever expressed on an album cover. And that includes any Ohio Players album where they shackle that bald chick in chains. Only the King's crooked manager Colonel Tom Parker could have dreamed up such a morally bankrupt premise for an album as this and then install his smiling robot of a client on the cover to make it look like it's Elvis' idea.
Like the Beatles, Elvis' schedule was incredibly busy, but in this case he was occupied with making horrific movies with even worse soundtracks. With little time to go into a recording studio and produce a brand new studio album to commemorate his 10th year with RCA Victor, this long player was cobbled together with, among other things, rejected songs from Flaming Star, Follow that Dream and Viva Las Vegas. The Beatles had changed the world of popular music by 1965, but Elvis people weren't listening, were they? Surely they wanted to hear Elvis tackling "Santa Lucia," didn't they? Elvis For Everyone marked the rot setting in on the Colonel's punishing release schedule, resulting in the first Elvis album of his career not to go gold during its decade of issue.
2. The Rolling Stones - Between the Buttons (1967)
In direct opposition to Lennon's claim that anything the Beatles did, the Stones did three months later, it was almost three years before they parked their weary faces into a park-lined still-life photo shoot. To make them look even more tired, photographer Gered Mankowitz scheduled the shoot at 5:30 in the morning following an all-night recording session to capture them looking, well, "stoned." He succeeded beautifully. In Brian Jones' case, he succeeded in getting that death-warmed-over look people attributed to Keith Richards at least two years before Keith's skin came in contact with a needle tip. There isn't a still from this entire shoot where Brian doesn't look like an insomniac troll gone to seed. Or as Rolling Stones biographer David Dalton put it, "a doomed Albino raccoon."
And while the group had been cynical about fame and its trappings since "Satisfaction," this album captures them just at the point where drug busts and annoying rich people infiltrating the discoteque crowd were becoming major annoyances. And Keith, on his first prominent lead vocal for "Connection," complained "The bags, they get a very close inspection." He was of course referring to the luggage in customs and not the bags under Brian Jones' eyes.
3. The Monkees - Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. (1967)
The band that outsold both the Beatles and The Stones combined in 1967 began to show the strain of being for sale around the clock by the Summer of Love. Too busy to even pose in a park, a faceless cartoon of the foursome was featured here, with the familiar logo buried inside a field of water colored flowers, as if to prove they too are getting sick of Monkee'ing around. Like the big boys, the Monkees first let on here that they too were in close contact with drug peddlers ("Salesman," "Daily Nightly") and groupies ("Star Collector"). The flower power partnership hinted at in the album's title will fracture within a year of this album's release with the cancellation of the show, the box office bomb their feature film Head turned out to be and the departure of Peter Tork, the one guy who wanted them to be a real band. That of course meant breaking up. And breaking down.
4. The Kinks - Everybody's in Showbiz (1972)
The first album to complain about rock 'n' roll touring as we knew it, back when there was still financial record company support. Ray Davies turned his keen observational wit to become Eric Idle in that Monty Python travel agency sketch, bitching and moaning about road food, the same depressing hotels, and the monotony of touring. And yet no groupies. Here's one instance where the Plaster Casters could've provided some well-needed artistry.
5. Mott the Hoople - The Hoople (1974)
The cover -- Mott the Hoople as rock star dandruff in a supermodel's hair (shades of the Monkees' Head?) doesn't even begin to approach the bleakness of nearly every track. From "The Golden Age of Rock and Roll," where Ian Hunter sounds like a miffed that rock stardom isn't as fun as Jerry Lee Lewis made it look, to the nightmarish "Marionette," where he can feel himself being turned into a puppet of the record industry Gepettos, to "Crash Street Kids," where he hopes the emerging punks will assassinate him with tommy guns and put him out of his misery. It's amazing he even hung in there with Mott for another year. Maybe he liked the road cuisine.
6. The Osmonds - Love Me For a Reason (1974)
Beatles For Sale might've sent a signal to fans that the Fabs felt like they were whoring themselves for the Christmas market, but what were fans supposed to make of The Mormon's gift to music dressing like five Huggy Bears? This followed an album called The Plan where the brothers outlined the tenets to their faith, and it failed to make the Top 50. This made it to number 48! And there was rejoicing on planet Kolob once more!
7. David Cassidy - The Higher They Climb, The Harder They Fall (1975)
Cassidy was one year removed from The Partridge Family and already binge drinking with the Hollywood Vampires (John Lennon, Keith Moon, Alice Cooper, and Harry Nilsson, whose "This Could Be the Night" Cassidy covers here). You can hear the hard living already catching up with his voice and see the emotional toll teen idolatry took on the album 's artwork; the front cover depicts a rock star in ascent - the back cover has his jumpsuit smoldering on the sidewalk. The song contents are equally bleak. One cut, the dialogue skit "Massacre at Park Bench" has faded rock star David Cassidy sleeping on a park bench , self-medicating with alcohol and fighting with another bum over a newspaper blanket. More success, mostly in the UK followed where Cassidy was the first person to have a hit with "I Write the Songs." Pass the Thunderbird!
8. The Bay City Rollers - It's a Game (1977)
The tartan terrors were in tatters, down to a four-piece after a succession of bass players cited "nervous exhaustion." For the first time, the Rollers smiling dentures were nowhere to be found, replaced by chess pieces on a board. Well, Ian Hunter said "rock 'n' roll's a loser's game," and here is where the Rollers answered back, "Check, mate." The rear sleeve has them exerting control over the board or losing badly to their manager at a game of strip chess.
9. 2001 'N Sync - Celebrity
The popular boy band was handling their celebrity with varying degrees of success. Actually, Justin Timberlake looks like the only one who looks like he's reached the breaking point. Maybe he's just inconsolable about still being in 'N Sync, a notion reinforced by the fact that he recorded a solo track here called "Gone." The other four guys almost seem delighted be surrounded by the cast of freaks on this cover, and given their upcoming solo careers as b-list reality show mainstays, they are never gonna see a red carpet again unless someone gets a job as a movie usher.
10. Britney Spears - In the Zone (2003)
After the cheeriness of ...Baby One More Time, the teen queen's album covers had gotten progressively more miserable as she got closer to adulthood and nervous exhaustion. But nothing screamed "devoid of any expression" louder than the cover of In the Zone, where cadaverous-blue Brit looked like she spent the night not in the zone but instead in the walk-in freezer. And singing "Me Against the Music," featuring her more committed idol Madonna, just made Brit seem like a brat begging to be sent to her room.
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