Wednesday, July 4, 2018
The Beatles: Purple Chick deluxe- Beatles for Sale (1964)
RECOMMENDED (rating reflects the outtake material, not the original album, which is an A+)
The main thing that Beatles for Sale, as a listening experience, proves today is that conventional wisdom is deeply unreliable; the stereo mix is markedly superior to the mono. Admittedly one reason the latter comes across badly is because of weak mastering; the original 1987 CD is dire, and the 2009 mono disc is only a little better, but pop on a copy of Sean Magee's 2014 master and the room fills up. (As an aside, I vividly recall buying this album on CD in the 1990s -- it contained the last few Beatles songs I hadn't heard yet, because I'd never found Beatles VI on vinyl or cassette -- and noticing even then that I felt like a sheet had been laid over the music. It sounded as if something was wrong with the sound.) In general, however, Beatles for Sale and Help! suffer from the muddiest mono mixes in the Beatles' catalog, and while Help! is compromised in the canon now for reasons we'll get to later, Beatles for Sale is stereo boasts remarkable clarity and beauty. The Purple Chick disc offers a wonderful opportunity to compare the two versions directly. The main thing about the stereo is how previously unnoticed detail just leaps out, some subtle (the guitar interplay on "I'll Follow the Sun") and some obvious (the instrumental arrangement of "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party" is brought far enough up in the mix to actually be heard), while hearing the rip of a late '70s Parlophone pressing provides a great chance to live inside John's ferocious vocal on "I'm a Loser," or his sly sneaking in of the word "black-beat" on "Rock and Roll Music."
The complementary single on the table this time out is the superb "I Feel Fine," backed with "She's a Woman"; both songs were released in America drenched in echo, rumored to be the result of George Martin providing heavily reverbed custom mixes for Capitol to which Dave Dexter then added even further reverb. Those are the strangest of the alternate mixes here; there is, admittedly, a kind of dramatic heft to the American single version of "I Feel Fine" that makes it sound towering and vast, a My Bloody Valentine-like wall of sound, but that only serves as a distraction from the pure beauty and brilliance of the song itself, whose magnificent riff and traces of impatient strangeness don't need additional trickery. The already thin "She's a Woman" suffers even more, sounding like the song is being played in a cave several hundred miles off, and while it's not here, you should try to get through the Capitol fake stereo "duophonic" mix of this remix on the Beatles '65 album sometime.
Also on offer on discs one and two: some Anthology remixes, including a very lovely mix of "I'll Follow the Sun" and a dreadful one of "Rock and Roll Music." Plus the major outtake from these sessions, the soaring "Leave My Kitten Alone," in its proper mono mix (distorted into duophonic on Anthology 1) and in the fabulous DVD stereo mix. (Note that PC includes a couple of minor oddities in with the regular tracklist here as well. "I Feel Fine" comes complete with the mysterious whispering that opens the track on the UK 1962-1966 "red" album, and "Mr. Moonlight" has a slightly longer outro heard originally on the U.S. contraption Beatles '65. The outtakes disc also encompasses the errant count-in that made it into some later official releases of "She's a Woman.")
The outtakes on the third disc are often remarkable, and come to us in terrific sound quality, presenting the most wide-ranging portrait of a Beatles album's creation since the leaked-out session tapes from Please Please Me. Eight takes of "I'm a Loser" provide a glimpse of the band getting used to the track; the first take, a breakdown, has what sounds like a completely different arrangement. We're privy to the beginning of a conversation about changing it but jump straight to a redesigned intro on take 2, which is complete but looser, less dramatic, more desperate than the master (and has someone quietly mouthing the future guitar solo on the break). George Martin sounds slightly annoyed, George Harrison never seems "ready," John keeps changing his mind about the key of his vocal (this also happens on "I Feel Fine" later on) and alters lyrics a few times ("I should have known I would lose in the end," frankly a better line than the one he ultimately went with), and blows takes several times because of being too close to the microphone and "popping." One of the complete takes, number six, is the angriest of the lot and adds a new dimension to this mournful, magnificent song.
The sessions included of "Mr. Moonlight" (in two different mixes, oddly), "No Reply," "Kansas City" (superior to the released cut) and "Eight Days a Week" (in some ways, also better than the song they released, and certainly more sonically interesting, though less vocally rich) were officially released on Anthology 1. What's quite surprising, though, are the things that weren't: take eleven of "What You're Doing" is a surprisingly new experience, a bluesier, harder-rocking arrangement with additional harmony vocals that could easily warrant official release. The intriguing sixth take of "She's a Woman" (in stereo in a rather lopsided mix, and better-balanced but shorter on an acetate rip also included) shows off the Beatles and Paul in particular delving full-on into R&B, with a wild and ragged vocal that smacks of Wilson Pickett and even, at times, Prince; the weirdest element of it is that it seems to come out of nowhere, and while the band follows him willingly into a hot mess of a jam, it seems almost like an act of frustration against the boredom inherent to the song. No doubt "She's a Woman," as released, has its merit as a quick and dirty, skeletal Beatles b-side, Paul's "plastic soul" idea in full force, and an example of amusingly dumb but crafty lyrics, but twenty minutes of its incessantly simplistic non-riff can make you want to lie down for a while, so you can't imagine how the band itself must have felt. Nevertheless, this version is really unlike anything the Beatles ever released, and they acquit themselves well as a blues rock unit, ahead of their audience as usual, in 1964!
We're also privy to what sounds like most of the takes of "I Feel Fine," but the band is much more confident about it, right down to the opening feedback squall which is nearly identical on each take (and, it couldn't be clearer, was very much not an accident). The highlight is hearing the master take, the ninth, without its fade. The third disc closes with some session snippets, some doubled superfluously because of slight differences in the Anthology DVD mix; it seems unnecessary, and with the 2009 release of Beatles Rock Band, is also of course incomplete. "Leave My Kitten Alone" also shows up in (apparently) the lost mix for the abandoned 1980s Sessions album. All in all, the only flaw here is that more from these sessions hasn't made it out into the world to make the picture more complete. How cool would it be to hear "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party," "Baby's in Black," "Honey Don't," "Every Little Thing" in progress? Perhaps someday...