Monday, 1 December 2014

The Beatles: Compilations, Live Albums and Rarities Sets Part Two: 1976-2013



"Rock and Roll Music"
(EMI/Capitol, June 7th 1976)
Twist and Shout/I Saw Her Standing There/You Can't Do That/I Wanna Be Your Man/I Call Your Name/Boys/Long Tall Sally//Rock and Roll Music/Slow Down/Kansas City-Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!/Money (That's What I Want)/Bad Boy/Matchbox/Roll Over Beethoven//Dizzy Miss Lizzy/Anytime At All/Drive My Car/Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby/The Night Before/I'm Down!/Revolution//Back In The USSR/Helter Skelter/Taxman/Got To Get You Into My Life/Hey Bulldog/Birthday/Get Back
"I told you before - oh, you can't do that!"
How do you re-market the work of the most famous band on the planet to a new generation without letting them down or making them look stupid? In 1976 The Beatles were big again, thanks to Wings' record-pulling world tour (perhaps why there are so many of Paul's vocals here) and the 'red' and 'blue' sets proved there were a market for younger brothers and sisters who'd just missed out on the band the first time around. Also in fashion were hard rock, heavy metal and punk so what better time to revive the harder edged Beatles sound? Well, to be honest, we'll never know how you re-market a best-selling band because EMI/Capitol (delete according to which side of the Atlantic you come from) never ever got it right in all their many attempts to cash-in on The Beatles' name. After a career of being known as the brand that gave fans value for money, The Beatles found their catalogue cheapened in the worst possible way after their split.
 Take the packaging of this record for instance: a drawing of The Beatles so poor that you wonder whether the illustrator used a picture of the band from their really young days (Ringo looks awfully like a be-quiffed Pete Best).What's more The Beatles are standing in front of a [pre-dominantly 1950s background: to be fair the 1950s were big in fashion then but, honestly - the Beatles were chiefly responsible for moving the 1960s away from that decade! (It gets worse inside: images of Marilyn Monroe, coke bottles, a cheeseburger and a 1957 Chevrolet - at least these things made sense when Capitol tried a similar thing with The Beach Boys earlier in the decade, but by rights if Capitol wanted to go down the same tacky route they should have had The Liver Building, a football strip and a glass of rum and coke). Things get worse with the tacky addition of 'fingers' drawn round the outside clutching the record (I don't have my copy to hand but if I remember rightly they aren't even in scale - whose buying these records, a giant?!)  Even Decca's 'ner ner ner ner' Rolling Stones compilations - released as close as possible to whatever the band were doing with new label Atlantic across the 1970s - show more care than these sloppy records. Frustrated and angry at what was happening to the reputation of 'his' band, Lennon even wrote to the boss of EMI promising to compile the albums himself and draw a new cover in his cartoonish style - bizarrely they turned him down! (His later declares angrily 'you've made us into a Monkees reject!' and also offers to try and persuade Astrid Kirccherr to dig out one of her old 1950s photographs).
To be fair, 'Rock and Roll Music' is one of the better EMI attempts at re-packaging The Beatles. The idea - separating the records into 'rockers' and later 'ballads' is the next best thing to simply re-issuing the albums and made a change from simply offering a 'yellow' or 'green' best-of set to go with the 'red' and 'blue' ones. But some of the track listing is deeply suspect, with some 3/4s of the record taken from the band's first two years and very little from later in their career. Some of the choices aren't exactly what you'd call rock either: 'I Call Your Name' is reggae-rock; 'Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby' is country-rock; 'The Night Before' is folk-rock; 'Got To Get You Into My Life' is pure soul. There's also some shockingly obvious omissions: Where is 'Money', perhaps the hardest edged of all Beatles covers? Where is 'Can't Buy Me Love?' (one of the hardest-edged Beatle singles?) Where are 'Day Tripper' 'And Your Bird Can Sing' 'Paperback Writer' and 'Rain'? (All of which have that mid-60s harder edge that led to the creation of the 'heavy metal' market EMI seem determined to break?) Where are 'Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me and My Monkey' 'Yer Blues' and 'Dog A Pony' from later in the band's career? Where, for goodness sake, is 'Help'?!
This album ought really to be forgotten, dead and buried forever (it's never come out on CD, which is probably just as well!) However it's worth a mention because for the first time George Martin returned to the Beatles tapes and made the first ever post-split 'remixes' - generally speaking converting the earlier mono tracks to stereo, which Martin did by moving the vocals forward and into the middle and adding a lot of echo. He was under a lot of time pressure and did a more rushed job that we're used to hearing - the opening notes of 'Dear Prudence' can be heard after 'Back In The USSR' for instance and the 'Yer Blues' count in after 'Birthday'. Amazingly this unpopular, unloved, compilation of re-treads got to #2 on the American charts and might well have made #1 had Wings not released their 'At The Speed Of Sound' album the same week.
Luckily the album was soon deleted and replaced by two 'single disc' volumes. While still poorly mixed and curiously assembled, at least the second volume had a 'decent' cover of The Beatles in Paris in 1964 (the first volume had the old version we all know and hate). A bizarre spin-off was the release of 'Got To Get You Into My Life' as a single for the first time - it made it all the way to #7 in the Billboard charts, which wasn't bad for a ten-year-old recording still widely available and not promoted by any of the band! (Wings weren't even playing that one on stage in 1976!) Europe, meanwhile, got 'Back In The USSR', which peaked at a lowly #19 (Wings weren't doing that one yet either by the way!)

"Love Songs"
(EMI/Capitol, October 21st 1977)
Yesterday/I'll Follow The Sun/I Need You/Girl/In My Life/Words Of Love/Here There and Everywhere//Something/And I Love Her/If I Fell/I'll Be Back/Tell Me What You See/Yes It Is//Michelle/It's Only Love/You're Gonna Lose That Girl/Every Little Thing/For No One/She's Leaving Home//The Long and Winding Road/This Boy/Norwegian Wood/You've Got To Hide Your Love Away/I Will/P.S. I Love You
"How I long for Yesterday!"
Here, inevitably, is Capitol compilation part two, 1970s style: we've had the rockers so here are the 'love songs'. However the same problems as with the last set apply here: songs like 'Girl' 'For No One' and 'Norwegian Wood' are the very antipathy of 'love songs' (by contrast about being out-smarted in an unequal relationship, being trapped in a cold loveless marriage and using arson as revenge for being stood up during an affair!), while 'The Long and Winding Road' and 'She's Leaving Home' aren't even about love! (Well, only parental love in the latter case). Some albums are better catered for than others (almost half of 'Help!' is here for instance set against just one apiece from 'Abbey Road' and from the 30-track 'White Album'). It's as if someone at Capitol thought, 'gee, these are all love songs aren't they, I'll just select a few at random!' Oh and in case you think that there aren't enough love songs it might be worth adding a few more they could have used: 'Please Please Me' 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' 'I Feel Fine' 'If I Needed Someone' 'The Word' - what's going on?! I'm half surprised 'Yellow Submarine' 'Octopuses Garden' and 'Revolution #9' aren't here as well! At just an hour this is also incredibly stingy for a double album
All that said, at least Capitol (roughly) got the packaging right this time. The album cover is luxurious looking leather, as befits The Beatles (although CSNY got there first with 'Deja Vu' in 1970...), with a nice rarely seen Richard Avedon drawing from 1968 on the front in fake-gold lettering (actually re-designed from the original illustration where Ringo was in front and Paul smaller, nearer the back: Capitol changed all this and re-edited the photo to capitalise on Wings' continued success, meaning poor Ringo got even shorter!) The inside packaging is superb: lyrics to every song printed on parchment paper (apart from 'Sgt Peppers' no Beatles LP had lyrics printed, so this was a big deal back in the days before 'The Beatles Songbook' and 'The Beatles' Illustrated Lyrics' came out. Early editions also came on a limited edition yellow vinyl (surely red/blue or white would have been more apt? There isn't even a drawing of a submarine to go with it!) Perhaps hurt by the 'Rock and Roll' album Americans only bought enough copies of this album to make #24 in the charts, but a big following in Britain loyally saw this album rise all the way to #7. 

"Rarities"
(EMI/Capitol, December 2nd 1978)
Across The Universe (WWF Mix)/Yes It Is/This Boy/The Inner Light/I'll Get You/Thank You Girl/Komm Gib Mer Deine Hand/You KNow My Name (Look Up The Number)/Sie Liebt Dich//Rain/She's A Woman/Matchbox/I Call Your Name/Bad Boy/Slow Down/I'm Down/Long Tall Sally
"It's my pride, yes it is, yes it is oh yes it is, yeah!"
In 1978 a monumental event happened: after years of becoming increasingly rare every single Beatles album was released on LP (except for 'Magical Mystery Tour', which back then wasn't considered an LP in Europe). Re-issued in a handsome big blue box containing mock-up signatures of all four Beatles, it marks the first 'real' re-issue bonanza under the Beatles' name. 'Rarities' was the album meant to go with the set, a kind of prototype for the later 'Past Masters' sets that gathered together everything that hadn't appeared on album or the best-selling 'red' and 'blue' sets (which basically means a load of B sides and the 'Long Tall Sally' EP). At first available only with the box set, 'Rarities' was eventually released on its own in 1979.
The title has, of course, confused more than a few people who see it in Beatles discographies and think they're onto something really good: an early version of 'Anthology' or a remix album a la 'Love'. Instead the rarest things this record contains are the two German language recordings (which were rare in Britain in 1978), 'Bad Boy' (a 1964 song first issued in Britain on the 'Oldies but Goldies' compilation in 1966) and the World Wildlife Fund mix of 'Across The Universe' from 1960. Much loved at the time, this set has been null and void ever since 'Past Masters' re-issued every single song on this set and doesn't even feature any packaging to write home about, being a plain blue 'replica' of the box set packaging with the song titles embossed in gold and no pictures of the band or sleevenotes. Ironically, many people chucked their copy when the 'Past Masters' set came out and understandably this set never did come out on CD, meaning that after all these years 'Rarities' is finally living up to its name!
Incidentally, Capitol compiled their own, different LP entitled 'Rarities' including songs that for whatever reason weren't widely available in America (some because they were only out on Vee-Jay and sold less than others). This disc contains the following track listing: Love Me Do/Misery /There's A Place/Sie Leibt Dich/And I Love Her/Help!/I'm Only Sleeping/I Am The Walrus//Penny Lane/Helter Skelter/Don't Pass Me By/The Inner Light/Across The Universe/You Know My Name (Look Up The Number) and it ended with the 'inner groove' dog whistle/nonsense  from 'Sgt Peppers', deleted from most American copies of the album! The most interesting thing about this set, though, is the gatefold sleeve which - for the first time since 1966 - reproduced the notorious 'Butcher's Sleeve' for 'Yesterday and Today'!



"The Beatles' Ballads"
(EMI/Capitol, October 14th 1980)
Yesterday/Norwegian Wood/Do You Want To Know A Secret?/For No One/Michelle/Nowhere Man/You've Got To Hide Your Love Away/Across The Universe (WWF Mix)/All My Loving/Hey Jude//Something/The Fool On The Hill/Til' There Was You/The LOng and Winding Road/Here Comes The Sun/Blackbird/And I Love Her/She's Leaving Home/Here There and Everywhere/Let It Be
"What did we do that was wrong? We didn't know it was wrong..."
Another day, another dollar for EMI. We've had the rock songs and the love songs. Thankfully stopping at the next logical step ('avant garde songs' or 'music hall songs', although a 'folk-rock' songs set would have been nice), EMI recycles themselves with no less than seven songs repeated from the 'Love Songs' set. The biggest change is that this set runs for a full 48 seconds longer - despite being a single disc rather than a double! Value for money I suppose, although there were a few complaints over the sound quality (the reason records last at most 40 minutes is because vinyl tends to lose sound quality after 20 minutes a side).
The packaging is best described as...weird. A dwarf John, Paul, George and Ringo sit in a forest surrounded by various cats and rabbits. The whole band look cross, apart from Paul who looks deeply depressed, which is about as far away from their 'normal' image as you can come (well except George perhaps, but then again he's the happiest of the four here!) Drawn by John Byrne and sampled from the equally bizarre 'Illustrated Book Of Lyrics' from the late 1970s, legend has it this cover was prepared ready for 'The White Album' back when it was still called 'A Doll's House' (although if that's true then it's a deeply unsettling vision of a dolls house - I've never kept my pets in one). At the time of release this set actually did really badly _ perhaps sensing they were on to a bad thing EMI didn't do much publicity for it and 1980 was a quiet year for The Beatles without any touring from any of them. However the album rose as high as #17 in the UK charts following Lennon's death three months later, making this the last 'official' Beatles product when all four of them were still alive. He deserved better - a lot lot better. 


"Reel Music"
(EMI/Capitol, March 22nd 1982)
A Hard Day's Night/I Should Have Known Better/Can't Buy Me Love/And I Love Her/Help!/You've Got To Hide Your Love Away/Ticket To Ride/Magical Mystery Tour//I Am The Walrus/Yellow Submarine/All You Need Is Love/Let It Be/Get Back/The Long and Winding Road
"They're gonna put me in the movies, they're gonna make a big star out of me!"
My personal favourite of all of EMI's increasingly desperate Beatle compilations, 'Reel Music' might have a daft idea at its core (Beatles music as featured on film and tv special soundtracks)but the packaging is done with far more care and attention than anything else with the band's name on it since the split and the front cover ('A Hard Day's Night' era Beatles queuing for cinema tickets while 'MM Tour's 'Walrus' gets out of a car and tried to avoid contact with the 'semaphoring' Help! Beatles blocking his path) is fantastic. (The back cover continues the theme in the car park round the back, where the Pepperland Beatles try to prevent a 'glove' knocking the 'Let It Be' Beatles off a smaller version of their 'rooftop' while a 'Help!' and a 'Yellow Submarine' Ringo have their arms round each other! The inside sleeve features various Beatles actually inside the cinema, with AHDN Ringo and 'Let It Be' Lennon sharing some popcorn, while a 'Help!' Paul chats to a 'MMTOur' Magician 'George'!) The cinema is naturally, lined with all the band's film posters, a look that's really quite good...The packaging inside is pretty great too with lots of glorious stills from the films (not yet available on home video remember and with bright shiny DVDs not even possible to imagine back then - although that again does make basing an album around films no one can see a bit daft).
The set was particularly handy for Americans of the day, who got to hear 'true' stereo mixes of four songs for the first time (three from 'A Hard Day's Night' plus 'Walrus'). The running time also manages to find the space to include not only seven #1 UK hit singles (count 'em) but also some more obscure pieces from the band's glorious back catalogue, seemingly plucked with care (or was EMI's randometer simply working better than normal that year?): gems like 'I Should Have Known Better' and 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away' that often get neglected next to their more famous bedfellows. Poor 'MM Tour' and 'Yellow Submarine' are rather hard done by, though, with just two songs each rather than three or four like the others...Ah well, as compilations go this one isn't bad and even features a very Beatley pun in the titleadly this record has never been re-issued and while an ok seller (it charted at #19 in the US) didn't do as well as the others: EMI will get sensible from hereon-in but first they get really really desperate... ! A single, 'The Beatles Movie Medley', was also released as promotion for the album, the first time any of the band's old music had been re-issued in new form. It won't be the last...


"20 Greatest Hits"
(EMI/Capitol, October 11th 1982)
Love Me Do/From Me To You/She Loves You/I Want To Hold Your Hand/Can't Buy Me Love/A Hard Day's Night/I Feel Fine/Ticket To Ride/Help!/Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out//Paperback Writer/Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby/All You Need Is Love/Hello, Goodbye/Lady Madonna/Hey Jude/Get Back/The Ballad Of John and Yoko
(note: the US version substitutes 'Eight Days A Week' 'Yesterday' 'Penny Lane' 'Come Together' 'The Long and Winding Road' and 'Let It Be' for 'From Me To You' 'Day Tripper' 'Yellow Submarine' 'Eleanor Rigby' and 'The Ballad Of John and Yoko')
"Day tripper, Sunday driver, yeah!"
At last the sensible option: Effectively a '20 Golden Greats' best-of to cash in on the recent successful albums for labelmates The Hollies and The Beach Boys (basically anyone else on Capitol or EMI which the American label co-own). The trouble is - The Beatles had so many hits where do you draw the line? And unlike The Hollies (who stopped having hits halfway into their career) or The Beach Boys (who switched record labels in 1969) EMI have access to everything. Their solution? Release two very different records for two not that different markets, a 'British' set with the emphasis on the early years and every single with the exception of 'Something' 'Let It Be' and 'The Long and Winding Road' (making for a record that starts with the innocence of 'Love Me Do' and ending with the archness of 'The Ballad Of John and Yoko'). The American version cuts out a lot of the middle period and that last song in favour of some American-only 1960s singles: 'Eight Days A Week' and 'Yesterday'. 'Strawberry Fields' is conspicuous by its absence from both versions. 'Hey Jude' meanwhile, gets a haircut from seven minutes to five on the US version (though not the British one). Neither version really gives an overview to what the Beatles were all about (their greatest claim to brilliance was their consistency over several years), but if a one-stop shop is all you need then this is (nearly) as good as any (or at least it was at the time till '1' came out). Lacking the length and the 'one size fits all' majesty of the later compilation '1', this record is badly packaged (plain white sleeves had been done - ever heard of 'The White Album'?!) and done without much care. The music still sounds good, though, obviously and putting all the hits out on one disc for the first time since 'Oldies But Goldies' a shocking 16 years earlier actually makes more sense than any of the past four EMI compilations.


"Past Masters Volume One"
(Parlophone, March 1988)
Love Me Do/From Me To You/Thank You Girl/She Loves You/I'll Get You/I Want To Hold Your Hand/This Boy/Komm Gib Mer Deine Hand/Sie Libt Dich/Long Tall Sally/I Call Your Name/Slow Down/Matchbox/I Feel Fine/She's A Woman/Bad Boy/Yes It Is/I'm Down!
"Remember what I said tonight..."
With all The Beatles albums out on CD for the first time in the late 1980s, EMI were hit with a quandary: what to do with all the songs that hadn't come out on album? They could have added them as 'bonus tracks' to each record but instead they did the sensible thing and released them as a two-disc set containing every single Beatle release up to that point not available elsewhere. A boon for collectors, this meant that the two German-language songs could now be heard for the first time ever in Britain (unless you had a friend in Germany or America or were willing to pay import costs) and relative rarities like the 'Oldies but Goldies' compilation orphan 'Bad Boy' and the four-track Long Tall Sally' EP finally got a proper place in the canon. Some fans moaned at the lack of rare mixes (there are many different versions of many different songs spread across many different countries) but 'Past Masters' very cleverly straddles the need to appeal to fans and casual newcomers. In all three number one hit singles are on this album - how many other compilations of 42 minutes can say that without recycling songs available on album?
The packaging is slightly less successful. While Mark Lewisohn did a great job at coming up with the name (a very Beatley pun on the fact that 'masters' are reels of tapes held in a recording studio that in this case are from the 'past' and also comparing the band to 'past master' painters), the track listing and some excellent informative sleevenotes that - arguably for the first time - treated The Beatles as a historical artefact to be savoured rather than recent cultural history to make a fast buck from. However it's a shame that the albums come in such boring covers, with plain text on a black background(in this case) or white (in the next case)- a poor man's 'red' and 'blue' idea which also sails uncomfortably close to 'White Album' territory. This is a colourful band but most of the compilations never really seem to reflect this. 'Past Masters' was re-issued as a two-disc set for the first time in 2009, when all the albums were re-mastered and re-released, with different sleevenotes by Kevin Howlett, new photographs and with just the black cover on the front. 


"Past Masters Volume Two"
(Parlophone, March 1988)
Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out/Paperback Writer/Rain/Lady Madonna/The Inner Light/Hey Jude/Revolution/Get Back (Single Version)/Don't Let Me Down/The Ballad Of John And Yoko/Old Brown Shoe/Across The Universe (WWF Charity Mix)/Let It Be/You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)
"Without going out of your door you can know all things in Heaven...just plug in some headphones!"
More of the same, covering The Beatles;' peak years of late 1965 through to 1968 and featuring no less than six UK hit singles. The B-sides are still the biggest selling point for me though: 'Rain' and 'The Inner Light' in particular are among two of the greatest Beatles songs that only fans know and any other band would have released them as 'A' sides. This time around there aren't quite so many rarities however, with the only oddity the 'World Wildlife Fund' mix of 'Across The Universe' which appeared in December 1969, four months before the release of the album mix on 'Let It Be'. In truth it's not all that different or all that good, but it makes sense that it's here. The set ends strangely, though, with 'You Know My Name', the band's last ever B-side, a psychedelic joke that sounds out of place after the keening hymn of 'Let It Be' (perhaps EMI should have switched the two songs around?)  Still, that's what 'skip' and 'programme' buttons on your CD player are for and - as with the first set - it was the release at last of a full Beatles collection on CD that made many collectors take the plunge for the first time, with 'Past Masters' the first stopping point for many. Our love affair with the compact disc has come and gone over the years (replaced by DAT, mini-disc and mp3 players - temporarily in some cases) but our love affair with The Beatles grows and grows. Even more than 'Volume One' 'Past Masters' is a good clue why, giving you a rounded picture of the band that mixes well loved songs with some that people might not know and as such is more rounded than the 'res' and 'blue' sets or indeed the 'one' best-of. 


"Anthology One"
(Apple, November 1995)
CD 1: Free As A Bird/We Were Four Guys...*/That'll Be The Day/In Spite Of All The Danger/Sometimes I'd Borrow...*/Hallelujah I Love Her So/You'll Be Mine/Cayenne/First Of All...*/My Bonnie/Ain't She Sweet?/Cry For A Shadow/Brian Was A Beautiful Guy...*/I Secured Them...*/Searchin'/Three Cool Cats/The Sheikh Of Araby/Like Dreamers Do/Hello Little Girl/Well The Recording Test...*/Besame Mucho/Love Me Do (First Version)/How Do You Do It?/Please Please Me (First Version)/One After 909(Tracking Session and Completed Version)/Lend Me Your Comb (BBC)/I'll Get You (London Palladium)/We Were Performers...*/I Saw Her Standing There (Live, Stockholm)/From Me To You (Live, Stockholm)/Money (That's What I Want (Live, Stockholm)/You Really Got A Hold On Me (Live, Stockholm)/Roll Over Beethoven (Live, Stockholm)
CD 2:She Loves You (Royal Variety)/Til' There Was You (Royal Variety)/Twist and Shout (Royal Variety)/This Boy (Morecambe and Wise Show)/I Want To Hold Your Hand (Morecambe and Wise Show)/Boys, What I Was Thinking...*/Moonlight Bay (Morecambe and Wise)/Can't Buy Me Love (First Version) Recordings 1964: Can't Buy Me Love (First Version)/All My Loving (Ed Sullivan)/You Can't Do That (First Version)/ And I Love Her (First Version)/A Hard Day's Night (First Version)/I Wanna Be Your Man ('Around The Beatles')/Long Tall Sally ('Around The Beatles')/Boys ('Around The Beatles')/Shout ('Around The Beatles')/I'll Be Back (First Version)/You'll Know What To Do/No Reply (Demo)/Mr Moonlight (First Version)/Leave My Kitten Alone/No Reply (Early Version)/Eight Days A Week (Outtakes and First Version)/Kansas City-Hey! Hey! Hey!Hey! (Second Version)          * = spoken word
"Now for Paul McCartney of Liverpool (and his three friends) Opportunity Knocks!"
Always the Beatle keenest to resurrect the past, McCartney had been trying to come up with a 'Beatles history' ever since 1972 (when it was titled 'The Long and Winding Road'). Wings, marriage, babies and the indifference of the other three meant that he didn't get his wish until 1995 when for various reasons (Most of them financial) George, Ringo and EMI were all willing to go back to the idea. The first of three double-disc Anthology albums duly came out in November 1995 - thirty years to the month since 'Rubber Soul' - closely followed by an eight part TV series and - much later - a big fat book. Critics and fans alike generally agree that the CDs are the most effective part of the 'Anthology' series: there was something inside that even old timers who owned every Beatles bootleg had never heard, while new fans born after the 1960s could enjoy being caught up in a little bit of their own reflected 'Beatlemania'. In truth, none of us would have missed the best of the albums (which on this set include the band's first single as The Quarrymen, unheard except in brief clips, since 1957, the one-off TV recording of 'Shout!' - an Isley Brothers sequel to 'Twist and Shout' - and the storming 'Leave My Kitten Alone', a candidate for one of the greatest Beatles covers ever, which would have livened up 'Beatles For Sale' no end) for the world, even at the hefty price EMI were asking. All the recordings were spit and polished and in incredible quality for outtakes (in fact, embarrassingly, The Beatles' outtakes were the best-sounding part of their catalogue right up to the 'mono' and 'stereo' sets in 2009!) Worries about Lennon's absence were covered on both record and TV soundtrack with copious interviews and if anything John got an even bigger share of the sets than the other three.
However, there are many things 'Anthology' got wrong. The sets are either way too long for newcomers (the single 'Sessions' set intended for release in the 1980s would have been more than enough) and not enough for big fans (who would have preferred a set more like the 'Bootlegs 1963' one). The use of chat in between the songs (sensibly dropped for volumes two and three) badly spoils the flow (these could have been edited together as a 'bonus' at the end if they wanted people to 'follow' the story that well - although that's what the tie-in series was meant to be doing). There are too many boring TV appearances simply lifted from the soundtracks (e.g. The Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise show appearance is fun to have and deserves it's place in the series, but does the comedy version of 'Moonlight Bay' really deserve a place in between studio outtakes of key songs 'Please Please Me' and 'Can't Buy Me Love'? Ditto the Royal Variety Show, where on audio the band sound really nervous). Surely the rest of the Decca audition tapes or a bit of the Star Club tapes professionally cleaned would have been a better bet? While less noticeable in this first volume, the 'Anthology' sets also had a way of bastardising recordings, sticking edits from two, three...sometimes six or seven takes together to come up with something The Beatles never intended or created. The set also tries hard to run the songs in chronological order - but their own recording dates often give away how much they're out (they don't turn up till volume three, but the three demos George recorded on his 27th birthday should be together, not scattered up to five songs apart). The sad truth, too, is that a lot of these outtakes just aren't that interesting (although they do get better on later volumes), while a lot of the recordings still unavailable except on bootleg are much more interesting (where is Paul's 1960 demo for his 1964 track 'I'll Follow The Sun'? The live version of 'Some Other Guy' at the Cavern Club taped for 'People and Places'? John's demo of 'Bad To Me'? The seven minute jam on 'She's A Woman'? A glorious outtake of 'I'm A Loser'? Or best of all, John Lennon and the Quarrymen playing at Woolton Village Fete the day Paul met him?) There's also the jarring fact that we begin, not in 1957, but in 1995 and 'Free As A Bird' - fair enough that it had to be here for extra publicity but why not stick it on the end as a 'bonus' track?
The packaging too isn't quite what it should be: you can tell where Klaus Voormann was going with his cover: faded Beatle posters stuck one on the other as if flying back in time. But in practice it makes The Beatles look cheap and shabby right at the point when they had never sounded so bright and shiny in their careers. There are, at least, some rather good sleevenotes but even these could be longer and more thorough given all the hoo-hah about this being the 'definitive' word on the band: any newcomers to the group must have been badly lost as names like 'Stuart Sutcliffe' and 'Brian Epstein' are banded round without explanation. This first volume also created great controversy when the main cover image of a 'Hamburg' shot of The Beatles has Pete Best's head ripped off and a 'Please Please Me' Ringo inserted on top! Actually Pete Best did rather well out of this album, securing his first proper money from The Beatles' career and his drumming on the early songs (he plays on ten of the songs here) helped rescue his rather sabotaged reputation (interestingly Ringo did rather well out of these sets too: while the other three quite often 'mess up' on the outtakes the band never have to stop because of Ringo).
The sad fact is, at those kind of prices, the average listener came away feeling cheated - and volumes two and three didn't quite sell as well despite offering better value for money. The word 'anthology' doesn't actually mean a collection of or a complete guide to or a 'best of' anything - it really means a jumble of stories or poems collected together. That sounds about right: 'Anthology' is a jumble of leftovers never intended for release stuck together as if they're something big and grand and ordered. Still, for all my grumpiness, I'm still very grateful that these sets exist and the best of them are genuinely jaw-dropping. All Beatles fans must have yearned to have been a fly-on-the-wall as these great songs were made and the fact that we get the chance to hear ideas that were discarded, didn't work or were simply hammered into shape with practice is endlessly fascinating. It's just a shame that there isn't either more or less of this, depending on how much of a committed fan you are and that there isn't just that bit more care taken with everything. The sad truth is a lot of bootleg compilations covered better ground in a shorter time and for far less money. In a sad footnote 'Anthology One' peaked at #2 in the UK albums charts behind novelty act Robson and Jerome (the second time the band had been denied by a 'novelty act'; since the curse of Englebert Humperdinck in 1967) - something which speaks volumes about how much tastes had changed and how 'Anthology' fell between two stools, not quite designed with either old fans or newbies in mind. Thankfully better is to come...



"Anthology Two"
(Apple, March 1996)
CD 1: Real Love/Yes It Is! (First Version)/I'm Down! (First Version)/You've Got To Hide Your Love Away (First Version)/If You've Got Trouble/That Means A Lot/Yesterday (Early Version)/It's Only Love (First Version)/I Feel Fine (Live in Blackpool)/Ticket To Ride (Live in Blackpool)/Yesterday (Live in Blackpool)/Help! (Live in Blackpool)/Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby (Live at Shea Stadium)/Norwegian Wood (First Version)/I'm Looking Through You (First Version)/12 Bar Original The Void (aka Tomorrow Never Knows First Version)/Got To Get You Into My Life (First Version)/And Your Bird Can Sing (First Version)/Taxman (First Version)/Eleanor Rigby (Strings)/I'm Only Sleeping (Rehearsal and First Version)/Rock and Roll Music (Live, Tokyo)/She's A Woman (Live, Tokyo)
CD 2: Strawberry Fields Forever (Demo and Alternate Versions)/Penny Lane (First Version)/A Day In The Life (Alternate Version)/Good Morning Good Morning (Early Version)/Only A Northern Song (First Version)/Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite (First Version)/Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (Early Version)/Within You, Without You (Strings)/Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) (First Version)/You Know My Name (Look Up The Number) (Unedited Version)/I Am The Walrus (Basic Track)/Fool On The Hill (Demo)/Your Mother Should Know (Early Version)/Hello Goodbye (Early Version)/Lady Madonna (Alternate Mix)/Across The Universe ('Anthology' Version)
"You say 'goodbye' I say 'hello'!"
'Anthology Two' is more interesting than 'Anthology One' for a variety of reasons. First the irritating chat bits have been taken out, there are less excursions to telly and in concerts and by and large we're in the Beatles' peak creative years here, when songs used to change dramatically between first rehearsal and final version. As a result this set has many priceless highlights: the weird-but-not-quite-was-weird-as-the-final-version first take of 'Tomorrow Never Knows, different arrangements of 'I'm Looking Through You' and 'Got To Get You Into My Life' that sound like completely different songs, a storming alternate take of 'I Am The Walrus' with Lennon spitting holding nothing back and a gorgeous piano demo of 'Fool On The Hill'. For most bands these songs would reflect the highlights of an entire career, not just the highlights of a band's unreleased career.
And yet...while a few things have been ironed out, 'Anthology Two' still ought to have been better. Even more of these songs have been stapled together from different edits that never actually existed, passed off as genuine when they're actually 'fake'. We get string parts for 'Eleanor Rigby' and 'Within You Without You' that even George Martin admitted were 'filler'. There's a whole six minutes taken up with the released take of cult B-side 'You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)' for the sake of 45 extra seconds. There are also four songs from 'Live At Blackpool', one from 'Shea Stadium' and two from one of the band's final shows in Tokyo: all deserving of release but on a 'live rarities CD', not here where they interrupt the studio flow with their muddy sound, incessant screaming and off-key harmonies (no wonder The Beatles were getting fed up after hearing 'Revolver' playing in their heads). Anthology also pulls the trick once too often of giving us a song with a guide vocal, only to snatch it away from us and fade into the finished version we've bought several times over already (what's wrong with leaving the second half as a backing track if the vocal stopped there?)There's also no one great entirely unreleased track on this collection, unlike volumes one and three: a hole that was originally meant to be filled by 'Carnival Of Light' before George vetoed it ('If You Got Troubles' and 'That Means A Lot' are better than people say, but they're no 'Leave My Kitten Alone'). That's a shame because, weird as I'm sure the end product was, a lot of 'Anthology Two' seems like a lot of dressing and padding for a suit of clothes that isn't actually all there yet. Where, too, are other gems from this period (common on bootleg) including the tape loops for 'Tomorrow Never Knows', a rocky 'Sgt Peppers' before the horns were added and it was an uptempo rocker with an uncertain ending, Lennon's basic but great demo for 'Good Morning Good Morning', an unedited 'It's All Too Much', 'She's Leaving Home' with its original full string accompaniment, edited in the final mix, an even more chilling 'Walrus', yet more fantastic alternate takes of 'A Day In The Life?'
Don't get me wrong: the chance to hear the alternate versions of some of The Beatles' greatest songs (as outlined above) is a great privilege and the production team have clearly worked hard to clean everything up. It's just that, as with the first volume, there is either too much here - or not enough by half.

"Anthology Three"
(Apple, October 1996)
CD 1: A Beginning/Happiness Is A Warm Gun (Demo)/Helter Skelter (First Version)/Mean Mr Mustard (Demo)/Polythene Pam (Demo)/Glass Onion (Demo and First Version)/Junk/Piggies (Demo)/Honey Pie (Demo)/Don't Pass Me By (First Version)/Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (First Version)/Good Night (Rehearsal)/Cry Baby Cry (First Version)/Blackbird (First Version)/Sexy Sadie (First Version)/While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Demo)/Hey Jude (rehearsal)/Not Guilty/Mother Nature's Son (First Version)/Rocky Raccoon (First Version)/What's The New Mary Jane?/Step Inside Love- Los Paranois/I'm So Tired (First Version)/I Will (First Version)/Why Don't We Do It In The Road? (First Version)/Julie (First Version)
CD 2: I've Got A Feeling (Early Version)/She Came In Through The Bathroom Window (Rehearsal)/Dig A Pony (Rehearsal)/Two Of Us (Rehearsal)/For You, Blue (Rehearsal)/Teddy Boy/Medley: Rip It Up-Shake Rattle and Roll-Blue Suede Shoes/The Long And Winding Road (Basic Track)/Oh! Darling (Rehearsal)/All Things Must Pass/Mailman Bring Me No More Blues/Get Back (Later Version)/Old Brown Shoe (Demo)/Octopuses' Garden (First Version)/Maxwell's Silver Hammer (First Version)/Something (Demo)/Come Together (Early Version)/Come And Get It/Ain't She Sweet (Rehearsal)/Because (Vocals Mix)/Let It Be (First Version)/I Me Mine (Unedited)/The End (Remix)
"All through the day, I Me Mine..."
By now the world was getting a little bit fed up of 'Anthology' to be honest. A full year of media blitz meant it was 'all too much' for more than a few and the first reviews of 'Anthology Three' were the most 'ho-hum' of the lot. History, however, has been a bit kinder to this set, which many longterm fans now rate as the best of the three thanks to a whole disc of White Album outtakes and the lack of any TV/live/spoken word interruptions. In truth the first disc is better than the first and while a good half of the 'White Album' and two-thirds of the 'Let It Be' recordings are worth releasing, the same can't be said for the 'Abbey Road' outtakes, which are mainly in a rather sorry state. The one much-talked about unreleased song from these sessions, 'What's The New Mary Jane?' was seen as a major disappointment all round after being once described as a 'six minute distillation of 'Sgt Peppers' (a six-minute extension of that album's run-out groove more like...) However George's rocking 'Not Guilty' bowled away all sorts of fans who only knew the song from George's more placid solo reading in 1969, his very different demo of 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' won him many news fans in the form of reviewers and many more plumped for Paul's rushed demo for Badfinger 'Come and Get It' the highlight of the entire six CDs.
There's also less interfering this time around: thanks partly to the sheer amount of 'White Album' demos (most of them lovely although as there were 22 in all the mere five included here seemed a bit mean; George's unreleased 'Circles' and 'Sour Milk Sea' and John's rough demo for 'Jealous Guy' - still an entirely different song titled 'Child Of Nature' and apparently influences by Paul's 'Mother Nature's Son' - are more interesting than anything we get here) and to the 'back to basics' spirit of 'Let It Be' there's less messing around by Anthology producers. Interestingly there's a lot more messing around from The Beatles themselves as they begin to grow less afraid of wasting time and have more fun, which rather sits against what we know about the fall-outs and bitterness across these recording sessions (although that said Lennon's barbed comment about giggling during the solo for 'Let Ie Be' says more about the break-up than the entire two CDs). Along the way John and Paul make up a quick song as Spanish buskers 'Los Paranoias', John tries desperately to fit new girlfriend Yoko's name into 'Happiness Is A Warm Gun', Paul introduces a sparkly first take of 'Hey Jude' as 'from the heart of the black country', a lovely rehearsal take of 'Good Night', a very different arrangement for the under-rated 'Glass Onion', there's a rocking early version of 'I've Got A Feeling' until it breaks down at the end and funky readings of 'Old Brown Shoe' and 'Come Together' that sound all the better for being raw and spiky, not to mention George's glorious dig at Lennon and the band during the last official Beatles session 9which he must have known would be listened back to for posterity). Of course we also have to sit through another interminable 'Rocky Raccoon', a longer take on nobody's favourite Beatle song 'Why Don't We Do It In The Road?' , an even more repellent 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' and both of Ringo's sole compositions for no other reason than to give the drummer a bigger share of royalties. Better still would have been the addition of some cracking further outtakes we know still exist: the original twenty-minute version of 'Revolution' that knocks socks off any other incarnation of it, Paul's delightful improvisation to cheer up his step-daughter 'Heather', a classy demo of 'Goodbye' a Macca song for Mary Hopkin, an early soulful 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)' where John duets with Billy Preston,  a terrific jokey accented version of 'Two Of Us', a glorious sped-up gibberish version of 'Get Back', John having a genuinely affectionate go at Paul's first song 'I Lost My Little Girl' and the unreleased Lennon ballad 'Oh I Need You', a cross between 'I Want You' and 'Don't Let Me Down'.
The result is, like the first two volumes, mixed but arguably has more great rarities and alterations between songs than either of the first two versions. Once again there's either too much or nowhere near enough, but at least you feel like you've got closer to value for money on this version, while the concentration on three albums and period singles as opposed to four and five albums respectively makes this set feel like a more thorough examination of this later period. Best of all its changed our understanding of what that period was like, making it more three-dimensional than simply 'that sad bit at the end when everyone hates each other' and featuring some terrific band interplay both musically and verbally. Perhaps Anthology One and Two should have been more like this. Perhaps, too, there'll be an 'Anthology Four' one day that will take the best of the rest from all periods and once and for all proves what an embarrassment of treasures there is in The Beatles' unreleased canon.
                                                

"Yellow Submarine Songtrack"
(Apple, September 1999)
Yellow Submarine/Hey Bulldog/Eleanor Rigby/Love You To/All Together Now/Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds/Think For Yourself/Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band/With A Little Help From My Friends/Baby You're A Rich Man/Only A Nothern Song/All You Need Is Love/When I'm 64/Nowhere Man/It's All Too Much
"Everywhere is birthday cake, so take a piece - but not too much!"
In retrospect, this expanded re-issue of 'Yellow Submarine' (minus George Martin's incidental music but with every song heard in the film - however briefly, although 'A Day In The Life' and 'I Am The Walrus' are conspicuous by their absence) seems like testing the waters for the 'Mono' and 'Stereo' box sets. Rather sweetly called a 'Songtrack' rather than a 'soundtrack' album, it's rather redundant now without the film to go with it and with all these songs out in improved sound on the 'mono'/stereo' re-releases of 2009, but at the time was a well-kept secret: the best place to hear gorgeous stereo remixes of several key Beatles songs for a good decade. This could have been more of course: the film version of 'It's All Too Much' is significantly longer and this would have been a nice way of releasing it officially for the first time; ditto the a capella harmony overdub for 'Think For Yourself' (which is how the Beatles wake up their 'Pepperland' counterparts and was actually part of the only pre-Let It Be session taped in full, in the hope that it would provide something useful for the band's 1965 Christmas fanclub disc - it didn't by the way, with the band oddly self-conscious that day). Still, before I turn into a blue meanie, this was still a good idea: a chance to remix The Beatles and check for fans reactions before going the whole hog (about 95% of which was positive about the results) and while not quite so essential a purchase today still offers cheap and rather good compilation of the band's middle years that's somehow more satisfying than the 'res' and 'blue' sets or the later 'Tomorrow Never Knows'.
"1"
(Apple, November 2000)
Love Me Do/From Me To You/She Loves You/I Want To Hold Your Hand/Can't Buy Me Love/A Hard Day's Night/I Feel Fine/Eight Days A Week/Ticket To Ride/Help!/Yesterday/Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out/Paperback Writer/Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby/Penny Lane/All You Need Is Love/Hello, Goodbye/Lady Madonna/Hey Jude/Get Back/The Ballad Of John and Yoko/Something/Come Together/Let It Be/The Long And Winding Road
"Hold me, love me, hold me, love me!"
OK, dear readers, here's a puzzle for you. What's the best-selling AAA album of all time, whether compilation studio live or solo record? 'Dark Side Of The Moon'? Nearly. 'Exile On Main Street?' wrong part of town. 'The Best Of The Beach Boys?' Close, but no striped shirt. A clue for you all? The walrus was Paul! Yes inevitably it's a Beatles product, but which one? Sgt Peppers? The Red and Blue sets? 'Jolly What! The Beatles and Frank Ifield Live On Stage?!' Hardly! It is, of course, the CD compilation 'One', with 31 million copies (and counting) sold. The millennium was a good time for re-issues, with strong entries in a good half of the AAA band's back catalogues, but the one that took people's imaginations as a summary of all that the 20th century had created was a minimally packaged 27-track album of songs every serious music collector already owned several times over already.
So why was this the 'big' one? And why is it still a relatively uncommon site in the kind of places you see other popular best-sellers after a few years? (Charity shops are full of brain-numbing crazes like Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' and 'The Spice Girl's Greatest Hits!) Well, 'One' finally makes good on what all those EMI and Capitol compilations had tried to do over the years: include only the songs that everybody knows. This time, though, they have a full 80 minute CD running time to do it. They also have a cute peg to hang this particular compilation on (every track within this album got to number one...only Elvis can compete in terms of quantity) but one that's wide enough to include a couple of surprises ('...but not necessarily in the Beatles' homeland, which is why they can get away with including American number ones 'Love Me Do' 'Eight Days A Week' 'Yesterday' 'Penny Lane' 'Something' and 'The LOng and Winding Road'). While not having the space or the depth of the 'red' or 'blue' compilations, this set does have the advantage of being both shorter and cheaper, more something in the price range of the casual music fan who thinks they ought to own it, as well as The Beatles collector who has to have everything. Of course most of the 'casual music fans' who bought this album fell in love with the band and bought everything anyway. Of course you can pick holes in it: sleevenotes or photographs would have been a nice touch, the 'number one' principle means that there's no 'Please Please Me' (some charts had it at #2 in the UK and it barely charted in the US in 1963) and there's nothing here you couldn't already get on either the 'red' or 'blue' sets. No matter, it is what it is: a fairly good one disc guide  to a band who were about so much more than could ever have been fitted onto a single disc.


"Beatle Bop- Hamburg Days"
(Bear Family, November 6th 2001)
My Bonnie (with German intro, English intro and no intro)/The Saints/Cry For A Shadow/Why (Can't You Love Me Again?)/Nobody's Child/Ain't She Sweet/Take Out Some Insurance On Me Baby/Sweet Georgia Brown/Swannee River*
* Features a non-Beatles re-creation of a Beatles arrangement
There have been several borderline-legal attempts to release the Beatles' Tony Sheridan recordings of 1961/62 on LP after they became famous. Several of the early ones didn't even feature The Beatles all the way through (instead containing recordings by Sheridan's backing band under the pseudonym The Beatles used for the recordings 'The Beat Brothers'). For the record these are: 'The Beatles with Tony Sheridan and Guests' (MGM, 1964), 'The Beatles Beat' (Odeon, 1964), Ain't She Sweet? (Atco, 1964), The Beatles' First (Polydor, 1967), In The Beginning (Polydor, 1970) and The Early Tapes Of The Beatles (Polydor, 1984). However to date the most recent compilation is 'Beatle Bop - Hamburg Days' - the most comprehensive way to hear all The Beatles recordings in one place but nothing else (except a sole 'Beat Brothers' rendition of 'Swannee River' and even that is reportedly a re-creation of an arrangement The Beatles created but never got round to recording). Anyone curious to hear the 'Beat Brothers' recordings should look out for the 'I Saw Her Standing There' two-disc set reviewed later on.
The music is, of course, shaky. The Beatles are merely a backing band here and only 'Ain't She Sweet' (the album highlight) features a Beatle lead vocal. However The Beatles are game for anything on their first professionally released recordings and add much fire and enthusiasm to the recordings. Sheridan is a good singer too, better than he's often given credit for (especially on 'My Bonnie', the best thing here), although its rather disconcerting to hear such a 1950s style grafted onto something much more modern and 'new'. The 1962 recordings are definitely under par compared to the 1961 ones, too, suggesting that the second time round the band were more dispirited than the first. Still the first half of this set is essential to any Beatles collection, showing off a band at the start of a great journey and who already seem to have a vision much bigger than the tiny German school hall they're playing in.  


"Let It Be...Naked"
(Apple, November 2003)
Get Back/Dig A Pony/For You, Blue/The Long And Winding Road/Two Of Us/I've Got A Feeling/One After 909/Don't Let Me Down!/I Me Mine/Across The Universe/Let It Be
"Get back to where you once belonged!"
'Let It Be' was always a sticking point in The Beatles' career. The one album that wasn't signed off by each of them (Phil Spector was invited at Lennon's invitation to do what he liked to tapes that had by then been gathering dust for a year), it somehow fell between two stools: Phil's terribly over-lush orchestral arrangements had made a mockery of the original intentions of a 'back to basics' LP, while compared to the recent released at the time 'Abbey Road' it didn't sound that polished either. McCartney, especially, hated the final version of that LP and well he might - he took Lennon's witty ad libs personally (especially the mock choir boy who introduces 'Let It Be', a song his colleague loathed) and resented the OTT arrangements meted out on two of his finest ballads ('Let It Be' and 'LOng and Winding Road'). Paul at least was always going to return to this project one day and do things 'his' way. The strange thing about this record was the fact that this hadn't been done earlier (say when 'Let It Be' was first re-mixed for CD in 1988) and why then, in 2003 (Beatle conspiracy theories claim that George blocked it every time Paul tried and that after his sad death in 2001 this was Paul's first opportunity to have a go; the publicity, however, made much out of the fact that George had given his blessing to the rough idea).
So was it worth returning to such bad vibes in the name of art? Well, yes and no. I've always maintained that there's a great LP in 'Let It Be' somewhere - I actually prefer a lot more songs individually on this album to 'Abbey Road' and McCartney, particularly, is in the last stage of his impressive run of form that lasted from 1966-69 and which he won't find again until 1973 onwards. The 'Let It Be...Naked' album works much better than the original album did for several reasons: the running order works better, there are no cul-de-sac oddities like 'Maggie Mae' and 'Dig It!', 'I've Got A Feeling' is now an edited hybrid of the original album version and the 'Rooftop' concert (a sensational version that should be here complete!), 'Dig A Pony' has had the odd mistake 'auto-corrected' (you wonder why they bothered but, yes, it does make one of the most overlooked Beatle gems sound slightly better), 'Don't Let Me Down' - senselessly left off the album because it had already come out as the B-side of 'Get Back' - is present and correct and, as we suspected all along, Paul's original simple versions of 'Let It Be' and 'The Long and Winding Road' are goose-pimply perfect. If this record existed, as many fans supposed it did, simply to prove the bassist 'right' then it does so with spades: far from being the lame dog of the Beatles' back catalogue, 'Let It Be' now sounds like one of those 'B+' Beatle albums, able to hold its head high amongst the likes of 'Beatles For Sale' and 'Magical Mystery Tour'. Even like this few fans are ever going to rate it as their favourite Beatle album, but 'Let It Be' always deserved another chance and it's rather pleasing that it got it.
However (and I bet you knew that was coming...) 'Let It Be...Naked' could have been great, not merely very good. The first person The Beatles turned to after the project 'crashed' was engineer Glyn Johns (a star on various Who and Rolling Stone records in the 1970s) who promptly put together an album entitled 'Get Back'. Much bootlegged, this fascinating little record sounds like exactly what The Beatles envisaged: a rough and ready bare bones little album that rocks nicely. Johns tended to go with takes that 'felt' right rather than, as Spector did, choosing the songs with the least mistakes in them and he left in even more chat, intriguing little snippets of oldies and Beatle chat that are far more interesting than what did make the record. While a few songs - notably the ballads - were the same as the ones that made the record, many of the takes were better (well, in my opinion and a few other Beatleologists anyway). You can see whether you agree yourself on the 'Anthology  Three' version of 'I've Got A Feeling' (to date the only 'other' recording from this album with an official release) where Lennon gets the words wrong and the whole song break down but in-between the song is punchy and fired up - far more so than on the record. 'Let It Be Naked' might have been more interesting still had this worthy version of the album been released in its stead - even as a 'bonus disc' version. The Beatles could also have 'borrowed' someone knowledgeable to sift through all the session tapes ('Let It Be' being the only album that exists complete, thanks to the film cameras doubling everything) and come up with a multi-CD box set if they'd wanted. Yes a lot of the 'Let It Be' tapes (widely bootlegged) are blurred and boring chats about nothing with the odd chaotic attempt to rehearse a song no one wants to play. But there's easily a majestic four CD set that could be made from this: cracking alternate versions of all the album songs, fascinating little titbits such as Lennon trying to remember The Who song 'A Quick One' (played when he and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg were at the taping of the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus a mere month before) and busking Paul's first song 'I Lost My Little Girl on his own and an early version of 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)' with Billy Preston trading lines. There's also a whole load of chat that's crucial to The Beatles tale: some of it happy (the band jokingly debating where they should their 'end' concert -ideas include the Pyramids and the QE2!), some of it sad (John, Paul and Ringo camp out at the canteen to decide whether they can carry on without George the day he walks out - and whether Eric Clapton might be available now Cream have folded?)
Instead the only 'bonus' collectors get is a rather odd 22 minute compilation of 'Beatle chat'. These are given to us higgledy piggledy, with no mention of whose speaking to whom and with the edited sections often out of sequence (what's more they don't 'pair' with the interview snatches printed in the booklet, most of which are more interesting than what's included here). The CD is occasionally illuminating: John and Paul revive two pre-Beatles song 'Because I Know You Love Me So' and 'Fancy me Chances With You', neither of which is up to 'One After 909' but would have made a fine double A side for Peter and Gordon. Talking of which, John's caustic reply to Paul that after seven years he 'finally' understands '909's lyrics and the fact that the boy is at the wrong platform to greet his girl ('It's the word location....it rhymes with station!') is worth the price of the disc alone. However you need a diploma in 'Let It Be' to understand every reference here (there's even a few I don't get!)and a lot of what's here is either confusing or ordinary (Ringo's second ever song 'Carolina', isn't even up to 'Don't Pass Me By'!) What might have been better would have been a 'straight' re-issue of the original album packaging (as well as the original album, a 'deluxe' edition of the record came in a box set with a rare book of photos and quotes that was so cheaply made  - blame Allen Klein again - it soon fell apart and is now very rare!) Ultimately, then, 'Let It Be...Naked' (and don't get me started on that awful name - what's wrong with 'Let It Be Unplugged'?) is a lost opportunity. Unlike a lot of reviewers of the time I do like it, I do prefer it to the 'finished' version and I'm glad that Paul (with Ringo's backing) tried to put this album right rather than simply 'Let It Be' (although this version of the album is conspicuous by its absence from the 2009 box sets). But I say let's have another go and let 'Let It Be' be the beautiful album it always should have been, one that really does show The Beatles with their 'trousers down' and yet ends up making them looking better, cleverer and tighter than even this new improved version does.  


"Love"
(Apple, November 20th 2006)
Because/Get Back/Glass Onion/Eleanor Rigby-Julia/I Am The Walrus/I Want To Hold Your Hand/Drive My Car-What's That You're Doing?-The Word/Gnik Nus ('Sun King' backwards)/ Something-Blue Jay Way-Nowhere Man/Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite-I Want You (She's So Heavy)-Helter Skelter/Help! /Blackbird-Yesterday/Strawberry Fields Forever-Hello Goodbye/Within You, Without You-Tomorrow Never Knows/Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds/Octopuses' Garden-Yellow Submarine-Sun King/Lady Madonna/Here Comes The Sun-The Inner Light/Come Together-Dear Prudence-Cry Baby Cry/Revolution/Back In The USSR/While My Guitar Gently Weeps/A Day In The Life/Hey Jude/Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band (Reprise)/All You Need Is Love
"'Love' isn't all you need - it's just like looking through a glass onion while EMI make your mother buy, though she's old enough to know better...I'm crying!" Or "What's that you're doing?...Help!"
Well, I honestly didn't see this coming. Never in their darkest, most desperate moments in the 1970s did EMI sink so low as to mess around with history and even in 1982 'The Beatle Movie Medley' is the equivalent of giving the statue of David a new lick of paint to keep him fresh. 'Love' is like tipping a barrel of paint over him, sticking on a psychedelic jumper and feeding him LSD-;laced cocktails. 'Love', you see, is not so much a 'remixed' Beatles album as a 'remashed' Beatles albums, with George Martin and his son Giles lots of bits and pieces from lots of different periods having nothing more in common than (occasionally) tempo or key crammed together to create a new artificial monster that was never meant to be. The result is an album that scares off youngsters who see their grandparents messing around with technology that should be 'theirs' and confusing elder generations who simply want to be able to hear their favourite albums in sound as good as modern records. Apparently created for a 'new' backdrop for a terrifyingly dull 'cirque de soleil' routine based on The Beatles (I haven't seen it, but after sitting through the documentary in the project I truly don't want to - never thought I'd say that about an official Beatles product!), it was the last official product that George gave his 'blessing' too. I can almost hear him laughing from here, as Paul and Ringo try to keep a straight face about how this album is 'different way of listening to The Beatles' (yeah, so is listening to all the records underwater but I don't fancy that much either).
It's all very clever. It's all very fun if you know your Beatles enough to work out which bits came from where. And occasionally it's quite good (The 'Octopuses Garden' merged with bits from 'Yellow Submarine' and 'Goodnight' is actually better than the original!) But The Beatles are the greatest cultural legacy of the 1960s and playing 'Where's Wally' with different bits of their back catalogue just seems like vandalism. The point a lot of fans miss in their excitement at racing through the album is that some of this album still hangs together really really badly: who in their right mind thinks that stapling the first half of 'Drive My Car' to the second half of 'What You're Doing' with the sax riff from 'Lady Madonna', the guitar solo from 'Taxman' and God knows what from 'The Word' to mask the gaps in any ways improves on the original? And why, for God's sakes why, is there an entire minute of 'Sun King' played backwards for no apparent reason (if you want to do that to a song, do it to 'Rain' - the track Lennon originally intended to be completely backwards!) Oh and minus several hundred marks for taking the beautiful understated of 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' from 'Anthology Three' - and then plastering it with such yucky syrupy strings. I'm surprised George's ghost (or his re-incarnation) didn't return to wipe the master tapes then and there. Incidentally this idea isn;t even that original - a site called 'The Beat Goes On' had fans doing this kind of stuff for years and almost all of it was done better on no budget, just out of love (there's a particularly good 'Leave My Kitten Alone' with howls from 'Hey Bulldog' plus the animal sound effects from 'Good Morning Good Morning' and a terrific version of 'The End' with solos imported in from a good 20 Beatles songs - why couldn't EMI do something similar?)
For all my rant, there are three great moments where this concept works. The first we've covered. The second is 'Here Comes The Sun', now bookended with the 'sun sun sun' riff heard over the rattled tablas of 'Within You Without You' and little tweaks here and there from 'The Inner Light'. The one thing that prevented this track from being one of the greatest songs for me was the lack of a decent opening - and now it has the perfect one, with The Beatles temporarily turned into the Beach Boys for 30 glorious seconds. The third - the set's masterstroke - is in combining two of my favourite Beatle songs: the heavy relentless backbeat of 'Tomorrow Never Knows' with the voices from 'Within You Without You', a terrific three minutes that's amongst the most blissfully psychedelic things in my back catalogue. Yes, I know these two songs were never meant to go together either but whether by design or lucky accident these two somehow sound 'meant' to be in a way that the rest sounds likes a clever engineer with way too much time on his hands. Oh and there's another clever passage where the closing radio of 'I Am The Walrus' slowly fades into the squeal of Beatle screams (added to the familiar version of 'I Want To Hold Your Hand'). Even there though the producers mixed a trick: surely the squealing noise is the perfect intro to the jet plane of 'Back In The USSR'?
In short, however, three great moments (four at a pinch) across a full-price album of 26 tracks doesn't cut it. 'Love' is an album that's actually quite hard to 'love', one that on the one hand manages to go for all the obvious choices (if they really wanted to mess around with a song, why not 'Revolution #9' or 'Happiness Is A Warm Gun', two songs made of pulling apart, or the name-checking 'Glass Onion' of which only a few fragments are used) and on the other wrecks songs that mean an awful lot to an awful lot of us. 'Love' is wrongly made, it's worst fallacy is that it doesn't feel like it's made with 'love' at all, just a con trick for enticing youngsters hooked by 'The Beatles Rockband Game' (a superior product all round) who don't want to buy a full album. While many were impressed at the time (and this album made a respectable #3 in the UK, even if it was outsold by an Oasis compilation that got things right by not messing round with history at all - a salutary lesson there), fans have gone a bit quiet on this album since, whose production gimmicks have already dated it quicker in ten years than all the 'proper' Beatles albums have in fifty.
They say you can measure the success of a Beatle project by how many people copied it. The fact that there's no Rolling Stones remixes album out there (inevitably called 'hate' you'd have thought, in response to this album) or a Who concert anthology called 'Live'(whereas quite a few bands released an 'Anthology' or their own BBC sets) points to how coolly most quarters received this album. When, we fans asked, were EMI going to stop playing around with their new toys and re-issue these albums properly, the way they were meant to be heard? Thankfully even EMI realised they couldn't keep stalling anymore and sanity is just around the corner...


"The Beatles In Mono" /"The Beatles In Stereo"
(Apple, September 9th 2009)
(First published as part of News, Views and Music Issue #45 on October 9th 2009 as part of a review for 'Magical Mystery Tour')
The Mono set contains: every British studio album released between 1963 and 1969 (ending with 'Yellow Submarine' and missing out 'Abbey Road' and 'Let It Be') plus the 'Past Masters' compilations from 1988 and the 'American' version of 'Magical Mystery Tour'
The Stereo set contains: every British studio album released between 1963 and 1970 along with 'Past Masters' One and Two
"I'm in love and I feel fine!"
Was it only on September 9th there were cries of ‘Please Mr Postman look in your bag and see if there’s a parcel for me?’ Demand for the mono/stereo Beatles sets were so high the amount of stock sent to individual shops had to be restricted and the backlog for online shopping was quite high too. It was like Beatlemania all over again - only with online shopping instead of proper record shops and album cover reproductions much smaller than our old vinyl discs (ours arrived nice and early, by the way, but then again we’d had it on order since the beginning of June!) Amazingly every single Beatles album charted somewhere in the top 100 a month ago (Peppers highest, Yellow Submarine lowest – no surprises there) and it was, temporarily, just like the 1960s all over again (though, sadly 1967 thanks to the anachronism of Vera Lynn making #1 in the album charts that week rivalling the unexpected and seemingly never-ending #1 of Englebert Humperdinck in the singles that year). What a year Beatle fans with the Beatles Rockband game that’s out too. (Thanks, Apple, all my money’s gone now!)
We’ve waited a long time for this fellow Beatles fans – 22 years to be exact – and just as with every single one of the many fab four re-launches since 1969, half of the planet’s population who aren’t passionate record collectors suddenly look on us with half-hidden respect and the other half just laugh at how caught up in all the minutae we are. In the past Apple have been hopelessly misguided about who to flog their latest Beatle-linked products too, trying either to coerce newer fans to the party who half-heard about these timeless songs and are genuinely interested in partaking of the feast just to see what all the fuss is all about and half that pander to the other extreme, offering us lots of raw Beatles delicacies that give all but the converted horrible indigestion. We’ve been fairly scathing about EMI/Apple on this website and all their many mistakes over the past 20 or so years - 40 if you go back to the 'theme' compilations of the 1970s (the less said the better: 'Got To Get You Into My Life' is soul, not rock!)
For starters we got ‘The Beatles At The BBC’ which was a fairly promising first taster for our favourite band’s less heralded moments but suffered as any two-hour extract seemingly randomly picked from 12-odd hours of output would be. It catered to newbies in other words and not necessarily to fans who would have preferred the box-set treatment – even though the thought of hearing raw and ragged versions of tried and tested classics with some new tracks thrown in almost had the words ‘fans only’ written all over it. Then we got the horribly drawn-out Anthology project, one whose six hour CD running time and 8-part TV special put off practically all newcomers to the band simply through their sheer size and scale (it’s still a pretty daunting prospect listening to all six CDs of Anthology end to end and you’re talking to someone who heard all 12 hours of BBC sessions in one go without a break) – and its still not enough to appease the true fans (there’s at least the same amount of useable outtakes available again in the vaults – 3/4s of them better than the average track on Anthology). Even the mammoth coffee-table book, whilst full of interesting anecdotes and the occasional rare photograph is hardly a book designed for casual reading – its way too heavy to hold and the print is so small that my opticians did well enough out of my failing eyesight that year as to move to bigger premises, mainly thanks to my money. And as for the remix project ‘Love’ (a great way of introducing newcomers to the band’s music...marketed to longtime fans as ‘The Beatles as you’ve never heard them before!’ instead) I was beginning to think that perhaps the late Neil Aspinall was playing a practical joke on his old employees and was out to kill off the band that turned his life upside down after all.
We fussed and moaned and gurned and gesticulated all through the Beatles reviews on this website, pleading with somebody to see sense and re-master the fab four’s albums properly (I’d love to say that’s the only reason why Apple agreed to the project but they’ve been working on it in secret for six years or so apparently) – after all, we’d spent 11 years with the best quality Beatles recordings around being...the out-takes, rehearsals and live sessions as included on Anthology! So much effort did I put into emphasising how much the Beatles risked dying out amongst the new generation that I can scarcely believe my eyes at the speed of the turn around and the mini-revolution we had last month. Did the Beatles re-mastered stereo and mono sets really come out without being pulled hours before release? And is that really a Beatles computer game I keep seeing in all the games shops, enthralling young and old alike in a way that only Halo, Fable and Football games have before them? Have I entered a parallel world where EMI/Apple actually care about the most important (and potentially lucrative) back catalogue on the planet? Do I really hear youngsters on the bus and in the streets gazing at Beatles merchandise in awe and respect, instead of shaking their heads over how people can listen to music that isn’t sampled (somebody had to invent the music that’s being remixed y’know!) The only thing better than this would have been a Beatles reunion (and no, ‘Free As A Bird’ doesn’t count!)
These new re-issues are not the cheap and nasty thrown-together CD releases of 1987 that launched the medium as the mainstream in the eyes of many (most collectors said they were either holding out until the first batch of shiny Beatles discs came along or specifically for Sgt Peppers – and I think I’m right in saying that it took another 5 years before the sales of CD players caught up with this 1987 sudden spike). The packaging of each one is exquisite – lots of rare photos that even Beatlebuffs like me have never seen before and – more importantly – they’ve been chosen with care and all fit into the relevant timeline of each release (unlike, say, the ‘Anthology’ book). The remastering is, generally, exemplary too. I wouldn’t it past Apple to re-issue the whole set as a 5.1 surround sound or a Blu-ray edition someday as there’s still room for improvement in places but each of these CDs sound better to some extent – some more than others it has to be said. Oh and forget all the hoo-hah there’s been about buying only the mono box by the way – yes, it may have been the way the Beatles intended you to hear these albums in the 1960s and the mix they spent most time on, but the run of technology we’ve had in the past 40 years has left mono far behind and even in better sound they sound like bygone relics rather than the could-be contemporary classics they do in stereo (although 'Rubber Soul' still sounds a bit weird in stereo). And you pay the same price as the Stereo set for the privilege of not owning ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Abbey Road’ (which never did come out in mono). OK – we never did get the long list of extras I requested on each CD (the relevant outtakes from ‘Anthology’ would have done, even without the oodles of great things still in the archives) but EMI/Apple got the important half of the job done and after 20-odd years of trying to make them eat it I take my hat off to them. Even the price isn’t that bad overall (I paid £135 for my set but even the full whack at £170 is cheaper than the old CDs were if you bought them all together).
The biggest winners of the batch are Please Please Me (which has far more power and personality, at least in stereo, than it ever had on the old mono CD – there’s far more strain showing in the 10 songs the Beatles recorded in that single 12 hour session but in the case of songs like ‘Twist and Shout’, where the band’s ready to fall apart at any minute, that only helps make a classic shine even more brightly), With The Beatles (similarly more powerful in it’s 2009 model compared to 1987, with Ringo’s drums sounding like the band’s leading starr rather than just offering an occasional cameo), ‘Help!’ (which sounds the best of all the Beatles albums previously available only in mono – the stereo mix trumps it in every way suggesting the Beatles might have been dabbling in stereo by 1965 despite what the books tell us), ‘Revolver’ (the best sounding album of all in 1987 is the best sounding album of all in 2009 too, with so much more going on than you ever heard before) and ‘The White Album’ (the memories of that awful 1990s re-issue can be banished forever, thank God).  For some reason every fan, fanzine and music mag has been raving on about how good ‘Abbey Road’ is – personally it doesn’t sound that different to these ears and the slightly crisper, cleaner sound is only a benefit on about half of the tracks (what’s the point of hearing a song like ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ in perfect sound – the whole point is meant to be that we can’t hear what’s going on ; thank God that doesn’t happen with ‘Helter Skelter’ which still sounds joyously tuneless!) Even so, Abbey Road is still an improvement on the 1987 model, as are all these albums to be fair. The only two albums that disappoint are Sgt Peppers (OK, so it’s not that great an album anyway but considering the amount of sounds that were stuffed on this record it’s a shame that you can still only hear about half of them) and Past Masters Volume One 1963-65 (which still sounds as thin and weedy as it ever did – it’s always been sonically the paler cousin of the two records and now, despite its new status as a double pack, the gap between the two volumes has got even bigger).
Overall, though, this is nitpicking at the smaller things because - for the first time since at least 'Past Masters' in 1988 - The Beatles finally have a re-issue programme they deserve! Excuse me, I must go now - there's still another three hours of the day left in which to start going round all the albums in order a fourth time...
Onion
"The Beatles Rock Band"
(Harmonix, 2009)
(First written as part of an early issue of  'News, Views and Music' sometime in late 2009 but left unpublished and later re-created from memory and an unfinished draft I discovered on my old pen-drive!)
"And now, the act you've known for all these years!"
It's amazing what they can do with games nowadays. A mere 35 years after the Beatles 'Flip Your Wig!' board game came the third release in the prestigious 'Rock Band' series, that invited gamers to become musicians and inspired a whole new generation to take up a musical instrument for real and...get bored after the first lesson when no pretty colours appeared on the screen. Expensive and addictive, the first two games featured lots of well known rock anthems (and even a couple of obscure ones: who would have guessed at The Who's 'Drowned' and 'Sea and Sand' or The Grateful Dead's 'China Cat Sunflower' appearing in the setlist?!) with the 'soundtracks' from the original recordings re-mastered and separated so that your 'bandmates' really did know it was you who fouled up on that blue note on the 15th bar of Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid'. In truth the first two sets were a little heavy metal heavy for a melodicist like myself and I wasn't expecting much from issue number three, especially when someone wrote in to ask Harmonix about including Beatle songs for the first set and they said Apple charged too much money.
And then...kaboom! The first and (to date) only Rock Band game centred around one single band came out so unexpectedly I barely had time to register a trailer before finding myself standing in a queue waiting to buy it (I still don't own a gaming console but luckily my friend The Face Of Bo already had one so problem solved -hours of fun, especially when I persuaded him unknowingly to sing lead on 'I Am The Walrus' with a full two minute fade out of 'oompah oompah stick it up yer jumper' over and over!) Apparently we have George's son Dhani to thank as, a keen gamer himself, he represented the 'middle ground' between the rather stuffy Abbey Road staff and the hip trendy game manufacturers (in other words playing the same role his dad did 35 years earlier!) Giles Martin, son of George, had a lot to do with it too and redeemed himself well in my eyes (and ears) after the 'Love' album.
While there were a few sticking points (George plays Eric Clapton's guitar solo during 'While my Guitar Gently Weeps' and there's no Billy Preston on the 'rooftop'!) , a few errors deliberately made for the sake of gameplay (the band setlist in Tokyo's Budokan has almost nothing in common with what was actually played) and the original 45 song game came with a bizarre mixture of the popular, the rare and the unplayable (thankfully you could download every single Beatles track for 90p each - I never did pluck up the courage to give 'revolution #9 a go!), by and large I was deeply impressed. I mean, who reading this site hasn't wanted to be a Beatle? At long last there I was, with the greatest backing group in the world behind me, unflinching as I sang out of tune to some of the best songs ever written. Karaoke?  Count me out! Karaoke with The Beatles backing you? Count me in!...out! (that last one's for 'Revolution', which also happens to be extremely difficult!)
The graphics are also amazingly spot-on, re-creating various events in the fab four's life with so much attention to detail they were even wearing the right clothes! (The six 'levels' are The Cavern Club, Ed Sullivan Show, Shea Stadium, Budokan Tokyo 1966, Abbey Road Studios - with 'dreamscapes' for several songs linked to the lyrics; 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' is the best and certainly the trippiest - and the Apple Rooftop! is this what an acid-tinged Paul on his first trip meant when he told roadie Mal Evans to write down the message 'there are seven levels'? If so is there an unlockable level I haven't found yet?!) The faces of John, Paul, George and Ringo all seem amazingly 'real' to me (although as a caveat I am a mainly pc gamer who tends to buy stuff secondhand that's been out at least five years so I'm no expert, but I do know my Beatle expressions!) and in truth a little distracting every time I was meat to be playing but wanted to gaze at how well the graphics team had re-created the scene from 'I Am The Walrus'.
Best of all, the soundtracks sounded amazing. This was a bit of a problem actually: I was too busy hearing how each song sounded 'without' what actual instrument I was meant to be playing and I ended up getting roundly booed off quite a few stages. Then again, even Paul is reportedly to have said that his daughter Beatrice beat his high score when she was just seven so I don't feel quite so bad now! High scores are also rewarded with various 'bonuses' - usually concert flyers although I did hear a snatch of one of the early Christmas fanclub records. My favourite part in the whole game though - and the bit that really moved me - is when the game ends with perhaps the most difficult of the original tracks, 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)' - Lennon finally getting his wish from 1969 that the Beatles career would end with the sudden 'slicing' of this track. However this version doesn't end - it just keeps on playing, tricky riff after tricky riff, until the rooftop disappears in a puff of wind and fog (a nice pairing with the use of George's moog synthesiser wind effect on the original) until, eventually, it's all been dream and you find yourself back at the start waiting to go into the Cavern again. Clever stuff that really makes you feel like you've been on a 'journey'!
Not owning a proper games console (if I took the plunge and bought one you'd never get any of these articles/books written - although if you dislike my writing badly enough to raise me the required funds I won't object!), I don't know if 'Beatles Rock Band' lasts through as many re-playings as it should do. I don't know if the levels get boring the way they did after finally mastering the impossible 'Holiday In Cambodia' on the original 'Rock Band' (which afterwards made everything else seem really easy). I also suspect even the bit of playing I did do has ruined my ability to play the piano in real forever (it's all much easier with coloured dots!) Sadly Rock Band has fallen from grace in the last five years, with no new releases for a few years now, suggesting all the above is true and that this was a franchise 'craze' rather than a lasting addition to both the gaming and Beatles genres. But I do know this: my first five hours or so spent on this game in the company of one of my best friends and one of my favourite bands was time well spent indeed. And if I keep going like this then, why, soon I might too pass the 'audition'! Roll on the 'solo Beatles' Rock Band in a few years when I can learn to raise sheep to 'Ram', play 'Mind Games' to 'Mind Games', go on 'Cloud NIne' with 'Cloud Nine' and get to sing 'I'm The Greatest' with Ringo! (Note: to date only 'Imagine' and three songs promoting McCartney's 'Good Evening New York City' DVD have so far been released as part of the franchise).


"Tomorrow Never Knows"
(Apple, July 24th 2012)
Revolution/Paperback Writer/And Your Bird Can Sing/Helter Skelter/Savoy Truffle/I'm Down!/I've Got A Feeling ('Let It Be...Naked' version)/Back In The USSR/You Can't Do That!/It's All Too Much/She Said She Said/Hey Bulldog/Tomorrow Never Knows/The End ('Anthology' version)
"Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream..."
'At last!' I thought. 'EMI have done the sensible thing and for their latest cash-in compilation album have finally done what casual fans have been asking for for a long time and released the best album material from the bands' 'progressive' middle years.' I guessed wrong: EMI goofed again. Of the songs here only the title track, 'She Said She Said' and 'Hey Bulldog' really represent the best of The Beatles and the hodge-podge way the rest has been thrown together ('Paperback Writer' but not 'Rain') suggests again that somebody somewhere was picking songs at random. Released solely on iTunes to lure new fans who only vaguely knew about The Beatles 9and were perhaps too young for the Rock Band/Mono/Stereo sets bonanza in 2009) this could have been a terrific opportunity to show off just how ground breaking the fab four were - and how futuristic a lot of their best 'psychedelic' songs sound even now. Instead, this minimally packaged download-only set left a nasty taste in the mouth: it was like the bad old days of the 1970s again...Apple also bizarrely chose to release two 'outtake' versions of songs from 'Abbey Road' and 'Let It Be' instead of the real thing, for no apparent reason (for the record the rest of the set is as these songs appeared on the 'stereo' box sets of each album).
Hopefully one day The Beatles will get the killer comxpilation they deserve, missing out the beginning and end and concentrating solely on the years 1965-68, perhaps emphasising a few lesser known songs. Heck, I was even bored enough to come up with my own running order to save them the bother: Ticket To Ride/The Word/Norwegian Wood/Nowhere Man/In My Life/Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out/Paperback Writer/Rain/Eleanor Rigby/Here There and Everywhere/She Said She Said/For No One/And Your Bird Can Sing/Got To Get You Into My Life/Tomorrow Never Knows/Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds/Good Morning Good Morning/A Day In The Life/I Am The Walrus/Fool On The Hill/Baby You're A Rich Man/All You Need Is Love/ Revolution/Hey Jude/Long Long Long. Now wouldn't that be the single greatest album of all time, a great hook to lure the next generation of Beatle fans with while missing out the need to explain why the early 1960s songs sound the way they do and what went wrong on 'Let It Be'? Ho hum, suit yourself!

"I Saw Her Standing There"
(Rock Melon, April 21st 2013)
(Review first published as part of 'News, Views and Music Issue #207' on August 19th 2013)
CD 1: Hamburg/BBC:  My Bonnie (with English intro)/Skinny Minnie*/Whole Lot Of Shakin' Goin' On*/I Know Baby*/You Are MY Sunshine*/Ready Teddy*/The Saints/Hallelujah I Love Her So*/Let's Twist Again*/Sweet Georgia Brown/Swannee River*/Top Ten Twist*/My Bonnie (with German Intro)/Ich Lieb Dich So*/Der Kiss Me Song*/Madison Kid*/Let's Dance*/Ya Ya*/Sweet Georgia Brown (New Lyrics)/Cry For A Shadow/Why?/Dream Baby(BBC)/Memphis Tennessee (BBC)/Please Mister Postman (BBC)/Ask Me Why (BBC)/Besame Mucho (BBC)/A Picture Of You (BBC)/What'd I Say?*
CD 2: The Decca Audition Tape/Cavern Club Rehearsals: Money (That's What I Want)/Til' There Was You/To Know Her Is To Love Her/Take Good Care Of My Baby/Memphis Tennessee/Sure To Fall/Crying Waiting Hoping/Love Of The Loved/September In The Rain/Besame Mucho/Some Other Guy (Live at the Cavern x2)/Kansas City (Live At The Cavern)/Radio Interview/I Saw Her Standing There (Cavern Rehearsal)/One After 909 x 2 (Cavern Rehearsal)/Catswalk x 2 (Cavern Rehearsal)/Love Me Do/P.S. I Love You
* = Does not feature The Beatles
"She was just 50, you know what I mean!"
Ah that 50 years copyright rule. We speculated a few years back what this might mean for the AAA bands and the rules were duly tightened to songwriters receiving something closer to 70 years of royalties in most cases. However, a few recordings fall by the way side, especially those unreleased at the time or – as in the case of most of CD one  of this set – given a limited release at the time and blocked ever since. So here is the first of a three-way batch of material from 1962 (ie 51 years ago) which is semi-legal (ie the Beatles don’t want it out  - indeed they’ve banned some of these tapes many times over the years - but can’t do anything legally to challenge it this time around).  Yes, it’s the return of the Tony Sheridan recordings, taped by the Beatles (under the name of ‘The Beat Brothers’ because ‘The Beatles’ was considered to be a ‘stupid name’) in Hamburg in aid of a friend who needed a backing band at the last minute. ‘My Bonnie’ was rightly chosen as the single and is the best thing here by a country mile – McCartney’s harmonies and Harrison’s stinging guitar solo in particular demonstrating what it might have been like to hear the fab four in Germany on a good night. Re-released on ‘Anthology One’ in 1995, this CD sports an alternate version with a German intro which is new to me (and quite rare to bootleggers as far as I can tell). The other tracks here on CD One (only a few of which feature The Beatles but all of which feature Sheridan) aren’t in the same league but are nice to have and sound better than they do on most other sets. In addition, CD one includes the first two ever Beatles radio sessions , from March and June 1962 respectively (remember, ‘Love Me Do’ didn’t come out till October that year!) These tracks have turned up on bootleg lots, sometimes in better sound, but astonishingly were left off the official ‘At The BBC’ set in 1994 – ‘Dream Baby’ and ‘A Picture Of You’ (songs the band never returned to again) are particularly interesting, while it’s also fascinating to hear subtle differences in the arrangements for future Beatles powerhouses like ‘Please Mr Postman ‘Ask Me Why’ and Chuck Berry’s greatest song, ‘Memphis Tennessee’. At first the last track on CD one – a Cavern version of Ray Charles ‘What’d I Say’ – looked like the ultimate rarity, but no; chances are it’s not even by the Beatles (or if it is then they’re deeply drunk and singing at the wrong speed).
CD two contains a fuller account of the infamous ‘Decca Audition tapes’ recorded on January 1st 1962, which Dick Rowe rejected along the lines that ‘no one wants to hear guitar groups anymore' (shockingly Brian Poole and the Tremeloes were hired instead). Most reviewers who’ve heard the tapes since claim that Decca was right: the Beatles sound staid and nervous and don’t sing much of the material they were known for even then (Brian Epstein thought doing more ‘standards’ would go down well, although McCartney – the default vocalist for these – sounds terribly ill at ease here). However, I think people have been unkind: the band were in an unfamiliar studio, in the unfamiliar city of London (where none of them had ever been before) and had absolutely no rapport with Decca from the first (unlike EMI, where both George Martin and Ron Richards were welcoming, even if through gritted teeth at first). Some of the songs here shine greatly: ‘Money’ already sounds definitive (despite the band nicking it from a similar arrangement the Searchers were doing), ‘To Know Her Is To Love Her’ shows Lennon fully in tune with Phil Spector only seven years before the pair work together on ‘Let It Be’ and best of all the Lennon-McCartney original ‘Love Of The Loved’, while not their greatest early song, is already as good as the standards in their set (later given to Cilla to sing, it would have been a perfectly respectable addition to ‘Please Please Me’). Best of all, Pete Best’s drumming is superb, far from the amateurish playing so many people have assumed for so many years, and is easily the better of anything Ringo plays with the band 1962-63 (the question of course is whether Pete’s heavy sound would have ‘grown’ with the band like Ringo did is of course unknown, but the Pete Best Combo nail the 1965 folk-rock sound so my guess is yes he would). A bunch of Cavern Club rehearsals come next, including an unreleased McCartney Shadows pastiche (‘Catcall’, heard twice here – the second recording of which is new to me), a ragged ‘One After 909’ (seven full years before ‘Let It Be’), an exciting ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and best of all a dynamic ‘Some Other Guy’ (reportedly Lennon’s favourite ever song, so it’s amazing it never ended up on a Beatles record – although The Searchers arguably got there first). We really didn’t need ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘PS I Love You’ (any Beatles fan interested enough to buy this set already owns that first single many times over), but full marks for including the ‘first’ radio interview a fortnight after the release of ‘Love Me Do’ (note, though, the first ‘interview’ is the TV footage from a ‘People and Places’ Liverpool special that was taped with the ‘Some Other Guy’ footage). Overall, then, an enticing and exciting way of getting many Beatles gems from 1962 together in the same place at a cheap price – I look forward to buying both the Beach Boys ‘Surfin’ 1962’ (their first ‘Surfin’ Safari’ album plus outtakes) and Janis Joplin’s ‘California Blues’ (her much-bootlegged set as a teenage folkie with an already powerful voice) in the same series soon. Not to mention eagerly anticipating the 1963 releases for the Beatles and Beach Boys et al next year when they too fall out of copyright... No of course they're not as good as 'the real thing' and the official albums but Apple shouldn't worry - overall The Beatles come out of this set rather well. 


"The Beatles' Bootleg Recordings 1963"
(Apple, December 17th 2013)
There's A Place (Takes 5,6,8 and 9)/Do You Want To Know A Secret? (Take 7)/A Taste Of Honey (Take 6)/I Saw Her Standing There (Take 2)/Misery (Takes 1 and 7)/From Me To You (Takes 1, 2 and 5)/Thank You Girl (Takes 1 and 5)/One After 909 (First Version Takes 1 and 2)/Hold Me Tight (Take 21)/Money (That's What I Want) (Take Unknown)/Some Other Guy (BBC)/Love Me Do (BBC)/Too Much Monkey Business (BBC)/I Saw Her Standing There (BBC)/Do You Want To Know A Secret? (BBC)/From Me To You (BBC)/I've Got To Find My Baby (BBC)/Roll Over Beethoven (BBC)/A Taste Of Honey (BBC)/Love Me Do (BBC)/Please Please Me (BBC)/She Loves You (BBC)/I Want To Hold Your Hand (BBC)/Til' There Was You (BBC)/Roll Over Beethoven (BBC)/You Really Got A Hold On Me (BBC)/Hippy Hippy Shake (BBC)/Til There Was You (BBC)/A Shot Of Rhythm and Blues (BBC)/A Taste Of Honey (BBC)/Money (That's What I Want)(BBC)/Anna (Go To Him) (BBC)/Love Me Do (BBC)/She Loves You (BBC)/I'll Get You (BBC)/ A Taste Of Honey (BBC)/Boys (BBC)/Chains (BBC)/You Really Got A Hold On Me (BBC)/I Saw Her Standing There (BBC)/She Loves You (BBC)/Twist and Shout (BBC)/Do You Want To Know A Secret? (BBC)/Please Please Me (BBC)/LOng Tall Sally (BBC)/Chains (BBC)/Boys (BBC)/A Taste Of Honey (BBC)/Roll Over Beethoven (BBC)/All My Loving (BBC)/She Loves You (BBC)/Til' There Was You (BBC)/Bad To Me (Demo)/I'm In Love (Demo)
"You won't leave me 'cause I've told you so and I've no intention of letting you go!"
A real surprise this one: available on I-tunes without advance notice, in some countries only for a matter of hours before it got taken down. If you didn't hear about it, don't worry - you weren't meant to. In fact Apple would rather you forget this set was out at all. The only reason it's appeared (with a second volume rumoured soon) is to combat the copyright laws, which state that although previously released material can be 'protected' for 70 years, unissued material is fair game after 50 and so is ripe for pillaging by all sorts of record labels in 2014. Apple clearly feared that year would see several semi-official CDs full of Beatles recordings available on bootleg and recorded in 1963 and decided to jump in first. What that means for the listener is the chance to hear several nearly-identical performances of songs from the 'Please Please Me' LP and a smattering of yet more BBC sessions not included on the first two sets. Clearly these sets aren't for you if you have only a passing interest in The Beatles  and don't already know relatively obscure songs like 'Misery' and 'There's A Place' backwards. For true monkeynuts Beatle fans, however, this is what we dreamed the Anthology sets would be like: a minimal amount of packaging and fuss, no ridiculous editing putting several takes of songs together into an un-natural whole and a strictly chronological running order that means we can hear, note-for-note, how The Beatles grew into the phenomenon they were. The Abbey Road takes are fascinating, especially the ones for 'Please Please Me' whose outtakes here were recorded barely minutes versions the whole world knows: the odd changed harmony part here, fluffed guitar solo here is the music world's equivalent of the art world's Leonardo Da Vinci or JMW Turner sketches of their most famous pieces, remarkably not for being that different but just for existing at all alongside something everyone knows really well (or should know really well).
There are rather more BBC recordings than I was expecting and these are decidedly less interesting - all alternate versions of big hit singles that have already appeared in superior versions on the first two 'Beatles at the BBC sets (the cream of the fab four's radio crop is in 1964 anyway and the 'Pop Go The Beatles' series). There's also an interesting closing duo: two demos Lennon recorded especially for Billy J Kramer, both of them in inferior sound than most bootlegs than contain them and neither that brilliant as songs, the disdain in Lennon's voice giving away what he thinks of them. Still, why weren't these rare recordings of a real live Beatle singing songs not otherwise available on real live Beatle products not included on 'Anthology' in favour of the soundtrack of the Morecambe and Wise Show and Blackpool Night Out? The Mind boggles! Whether hearing the Beatles makes mistakes and have bad ideas makes them more 'human' and fallible (as Apple have so long feared) or more incredible and gifted (surely the fact the final products came because of so many false-starts shows a remarkable facility for hearing what 'worked' and what 'didn't') is up to you, but I know what my money is on...Roll on 2017/2018 when the likes of unreleased sessions for 'Revolver' 'Sgt Peppers' and beyond is due for release!














Love Me Do/From Me To You/Thank You Girl/She Loves

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