On Jan. 20, 1964, Meet the Beatles was released to an American audience who immediately embraced it as the Biggest Thing Yet. Since there was no rock press 30 years ago, we have to wonder how the reviews would have read had the following journals been critiquing rock & roll. * The New York Times Beyond this quartet's visual gimmicks (pudding-bowl haircuts and collarless jackets) there lurks a promising pop ensemble with a modicum of talent. Mr. McCartney and Mr. Lennon manage a tenable balance between adolescent exhilaration and lugubrious yowl. However, Mr. Starr (ne Starkey) wails, ''I Wanna Be Your Man'' in a homely monotone that exhibits more entertainment value than musical proficiency. Nevertheless, the sum total of the Beatles' talents is the stuff of which screams are made.
* Rolling Stone *** From the ultimate nowhere town (Liverpool, England) comes a left-field attempt to co-opt our hallowed American rock styles. Meet the Beatles is a spunky effort, but it's ultimately derivative (Chuck Berry meets the Everly Brothers), and it's been done way better on these shores. Exhibit A: The Flash of Darkness are a bunch of disaffected angstmeisters spouting the cathartic rage that can take rock to its glorious future as a disseminator of world peace through white noise. They're much better than the Beatles-they must be, since no one except rock critics likes them. Nevertheless, we give this album our usual three stars.
* Guitar Player Just what we need, more teen idols pushing the ax to the back of the band. George Harrison's solos never stretch past eight bars, he never gets near an effects pedal, and he plays way too slow. Pretty lame.
* High Times Check it out. We heard their big radio hit, ''I Want to Hold Your Hand,'' and were immediately psyched by the lines, ''I get high, I get high, I get high.'' Then we bought the thing and listened more closely, only to find that the actual words are ''I can't hide.'' Oh well.
* SASSY Cute Band Alert: We are so besotted with these four, who make beautiful boy noise and wear cool, beatniky black turtlenecks. Paul is especially cute in that pudgy, pale-faced British way. The songs are nice too- short and bouncy pop full of girl obsession. What's not to like?
* Village Voice Nowadays the radio is lousy with the Lovable Louts of Liverpool. But their innocent teen image belies a finely tuned political agenda. ''This Boy,'' (''That boy won't be happy till he's seen you cry This boy wouldn't mind the pain'') is clearly forceful pro-gay (albeit with S&M overtones) sentiment couched in pop pablum. They can't fool us-surely somebody has the key to that closet.
* Playboy The Beatles lean heavily toward a diet of love songs-and we're always in favor of a well-orchestrated mating ritual. A few tunes do give us cause for worry, though. Is it us, or do titles like ''Not a Second Time'' and ''It Won't Be Long'' make you feel just a teensy bit inadequate?