Our next #1 is a record that wastes no time in getting to the heart of what it’s all about. The song is called ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, and the intro goes:
Can’t Buy Me Love, by The Beatles (their 4th of seventeen #1s)
3 weeks, from 2nd – 23rd April 1964
Can’t buy me love…. No-oh…. Can’t buy me lo-ve… It’s a jarring intro – a bit too in your face – but things improve a lot with the verses. I’ve always liked the swinging, bluesy rhythm on this record and today, listening to it for the first time in ages, I still do. Buy you a diamond ring my friend, If it makes you feel alright, I’ll get you anything my friend, If it makes you feel alright…
It’s a song about money not being everything; which is a topic that always sounds a bit off coming from hugely successful and completely loaded musicians. But I think The Beatles were young enough, and sufficiently green behind the ears, in early-’64, to get away with it. Actually, in a similar manner to ‘She Loves You’, Lennon & McCartney take a familiar theme here and add a layer or two. The lyrics aren’t about not needing money; they’re about having money and not really caring what you do with it. I don’t care too much for money, Money can’t buy me love…
It’s also a kind of contradictory message, as they then list the things they’ll give someone – as long as they love them back. Give you all I’ve got to give, If you say you’ll love me too… So money can buy you love…? I’m confused, guys. Perhaps we’re getting a first glimpse, four number #1s into their career, of The Fab Four’s disillusionment with fame and riches…? Especially in the final verse, where they hope that the girl wants the kind of things that money just can’t buy. Had they already been burned by gold-digging groupies…? It ends on what almost sounds like a wistful sigh… Ohhhhh….
Musically, it’s a little basic. At least, it’s Beatles-basic (which means that most other bands would have bitten your hand off for a chance to record it.) The high points are the ear-splitting shriek before the solo, and the echoey, plucked guitar that follows. It’s never been one of my favourite Beatles songs – I guess I always overlooked it in favour of the ‘bigger’ hits – but it’s been nice to re-discover it for this post. For some reason I will always associate it with an episode of The Simpsons, in which Grandpa and his friends frolic in a meadow (I’m sure I’m not imagining that…)
‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ ensured that The Beatles joined both Elvis and Frank Ifield in scoring 4 #1s in a year (though only Elvis did it in a calendar year.) In fact, this record hit the top simultaneously in the UK and the US and pretty much marks the absolutely demented, scream your head off and throw your panties height of Beatlemania. It was #1 in the week of the famous all-Beatles Top 5 in the Billboard Hot 100, and followed directly on from ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ and ‘She Loves You’ in occupying pole position. These three discs hogged the top spot over there for a full fourteen consecutive weeks.
Back on the other side of the Atlantic, though, you could be forgiven for thinking that a three-week stint at the top of the charts seems a little short for a hot new single from The Biggest Band the World Had Ever Seen. Perhaps, but they were about to be replaced at #1 by one of their own songs… again…
Listen to all the #1s so far by following my playlist:
9 thoughts on “166. ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, by The Beatles”
The 3 weeks on top disguises the sales – it sold a million in the UK for a hat-trick quickly because the Fabs were at their commercial peak and this record was darker than the jollier predecessors. The key moment in Hard Days Night movie sold it beautifully as a sort of promo video. The three-biggest-selling records of the 60’s (that means right up-to-date 2019 total sales as well as at the time)? 1. She Loves You 2. I Want Yo Hold Your Hand 3. Can’t Buy Me Love. That’s some kind of hat trick! 🙂
Not bad at all! Maybe it’s the strength of the competition that kept the #1 turnover quite high. I think 1964 must be the best year ever in terms of quality of number one. Barely any duds.
It’s also quite strange that The Beatles never entered at #1 at this time. I know it was rare back then, but I would have thought a brand new disc from them in 1964-65 would have blasted straight in at the top. Never did, though.
Charts in the 60’s were highly suspect, the “official” chart has been taken to be Record Retailer charts as it was a bigger top 50 and compiled from a very small sample of 30 shops returns (with many tracks “selling” the same but separated according to rules established), but it was never made public in the early days from 1960! At the time the BBC used a compilation of NME, melody maker (who had shop samples of 100-150) & co and got some weird results some weeks. It wasn’t until 1969 things got a bit more reliable. The Beatles very much did enter at 1 on these other charts even though compilation day was usually a Monday.
Yes, I’ve read all about the different charts and the dodgy collection methods. Never realised that could be behind them not entering at number one, which has always struck me as odd. Mystery solved!
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