Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Beatles: Purple Chick deluxe- With the Beatles (1963)

(bootleg [3CD])

The stereo mix of With the Beatles, transferred here from the somewhat controversial "audiophile-oriented" MFSL releases of the early '80s, isn't quite the dynamic, bottom-heavy revelation that Please Please Me is; while both albums are obviously superior in mono, the second album is monumentally so, though certain cuts like "All I've Got to Do" and "All My Loving" have some extra life in the stereo mixes, and the closing cover of Barrett Strong's "Money" is only definitively heard in the louder, more dangerous stereo variation, which thanks to some extra piano reverb sounds like it's clawing at the walls whereas the mono is, John's vocal aside, comparatively polite. PC enhances the LP's tracklist with a whopping three singles covering the rest of 1963: "From Me to You"/"Thank You Girl," "She Loves You"/"I'll Get You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand"/"This Boy." Stereo improves the first of those slightly but doesn't help the A-side's status as the weakest of the early Beatles classics; the mono mix of "Thank You Girl," a better song, has an oddly unfinished feel, missing several signature overdubs that are especially familiar to American listeners. Because of a fiasco with the original tapes, which never have been recovered, "She Loves You" and "I'll Get You" don't exist in stereo, though a couple of vintage attempts at faking a mix are dutifully documented here. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" never did find its vitality when divided into two channels despite several tries, with one here each from 1963, 1966 and 2003, the best being the newest because it attempts to lift some of the inexplicable mania of the mono single. "This Boy," with announcement leader preserved, sounds quite good in stereo, being one of the earliest four-track Beatles songs.

The major outtake considered for this volume is "One After 909," which gave the Beatles a major headache during the March 5th session and was left incomplete; PC edits together a stereo mix and incorporates the mono edit from Anthology 1, which is where you can read more about this surprisingly terrific version of this particularly malleable song. Alternate stereo mixes uncover some slight futzing around with editing and emphasis on the single tracks, the hot items being the edit of "One After 909" from the unissued Sessions album (there's also what seems to be a mixdown of take 2, for unclear purposes), and the sole album cut: the unedited "All My Loving" with the unexpected hi-hat intro, which first surfaced randomly on a foreign collection called Beatles Greatest and is a good way to make your Beatles mixtape just that slight bit less conventional.

Most of the actual With the Beatles sessions are lost, the only such incident in their catalog. However, the sessions for both sides of the "From Me to You" single have leaked out in almost complete form, and impeccable quality, with apparently every take of "From Me to You" on the third disc here (takes 1, 2 and 5, the first a breakdown because Paul hears "talking" and John hears "a whistle," made it to Bootleg Recordings 1963). Stripped of its opening harmonica, the intro sounds like lite jazz, and the Beatles have already mastered the song by the time they present it to George Martin, so there's not a lot of narrative here, but if you're the type who needs some verité audio of the Beatles at work, this is your moment; the overdub sessions are weirdly entertaining, with a few extremely strange ideas like an ominous opening vocal hum floated and disregarded. To someone who isn't a great fan of the song it all sounds like a bunch of desperate attempts to make the track more compelling, but then, it went #1 and people loved it then and still love it. "Thank You Girl" gives additional opportunities for banter, and for Paul to explore the bluesier side of his vocal approach, but there are a lot of false starts; takes 1 and 5 were eventually released officially. As presented unedited, these sessions are seriously great insight into the Beatles' process as of early 1963, especially on "Thank You Girl," with still a great deal of inter-band discussion on the arrangement, led by John, and some genuinely funny (and, here and there, slightly tense) moments.

"One After 909" runs with this same feeling by preserving all of the frustration of the peak early days of mounting Beatle-oriented madness, and you can hear the stress much more clearly on the full tape than you can on what Anthology 1 chooses to preserve, John asking George "what kind of solo was that?" (it really is pretty bad) and demanding to know if Ringo is out of his mind because he's drumming too hard. Then when John himself fucks up, he instantly goes on the defensive. Even though they can't fully crack the song, though, when in unison they really sound impeccable, as you'd expect.

The scattered recordings of WTB sessions that have survived are, of course, fascinating, especially if you know the relevant songs extremely well. (The tantalizing-sounding "Piano-Drum Instrumental" is, alas, just a warmup goof; sadly, we've long since heard just about every real Beatles song there is to hear.) The best of them are monitor mixes, which means they are extremely rough and poorly recorded, but they manage to preserve some modestly remarkable moments here -- namely, a "Please Mister Postman" with a more tentative, uncertain vocal by John and differing instrumentation, and a more abrupt ending; two takes of "It Won't Be Long" with different vocals and vastly different drum patterns. George sounds oddly defeated about "Don't Bother Me" before it's even laid down; the arrangement is still being adjusted but it already sounds mostly well-formed and the performances, his included, are fine, but he ends one take with a sarcastic remark about "rock & roll" and never seems to acquire any sort of enthusiasm for his own song (he continued to speak dismissively of it years later, for whatever reason; it's actually one of his finest numbers and fits very well in with the rest of the LP).

Finally, emerging from the monitor abyss with what seems to be the complete session for the remake of "Hold Me Tight" (a remake because it was attempted for Please Please Me and set aside, not the greatest vote of confidence); I've always liked and defended this Paul song but it can be fairly stated to be one of the less luminous originals on the album, and I won't go to bat for it with quite the conviction I will for "When I Get Home" one LP later. You can hear the Beatles struggling to really make it sing, and Paul having a lot of trouble making its strange climbing and swooping melody fit his voice. (Phil Spector heard potential in it and made it into a dandy single for someone called the Treasures, included on the Back to Mono box.) A particularly great moment is when a series of false starts culminates in Paul flubbing an early line and, in perfect Noel Gallagher fashion, spitting out "ah, bloody hell," immediately followed by the next take number being jokingly shouted from the control room. You have to turn the volume up a bit but throughout these sessions you can hear some trivial but intriguing interactions among the band and sometimes with George Martin; hardly anything earth-shaking, but plenty that will give some extra documentary glimpses into their day-to-day operations.

What's left on this last disc (which encompasses an incredible 64 tracks, though a lot of those are false starts and fragments) is mostly worthwhile for comedic value alone, with extracts of bickering and joking from the sessions for "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "This Boy" lifted from the Anthology DVDs and videos and offering next to no actual music. There's a longer fragment of two takes, one a breakdown, of "This Boy," but these were officially released, if buried, on the 1995 single for "Free as a Bird"; considering how moving the final master is, it's a bit jarring how little the band seemed to take the song seriously, but their in-studio levity was probably just a relief from their punishing schedule at the time. Somewhat more substantial are three attempts at a promotional message the Beatles were to record for EMI in Australia, encouraging them to keep working the band's records; the first stab sounds natural and fine, but George Martin raises some minor objection and lives to regret it, with the four of them immediately losing their focus and turning it into an apathetic joke; the brief two-minute recording closes with a genuinely funny non-contribution from Ringo. You could sometimes mistake all this frivolity for a sign that the whole enterprise was just a bit of a laff, but as on the BBC tapes, the Beatles are exercising an important part of their appeal here, even when (as far as they know) nobody significant is watching.

The obsessive fans-only remarks from the Please Please Me material are more important for this second volume in the deluxe series; this is really more an archival piece than anything you'll want to hear more than once for pleasure. That's not because the performances are lackluster, but because their presentation and preservation (not PC's fault) is so erratic. And the outtake performances that could have some value to more general listeners are monitor mixes that sound quite dreadful. Thus it's hard to know how to rate this; it's indispensable for us nuts who need everything, if slightly less so now that the stereo and mono mixes are both officially out there, but nothing here has the chilling immediacy (forgiving sound quality) of the Cavern rehearsals or Star-Club tapes, nor -- because With the Beatles was recorded carefully over a much longer period -- does it have the excitement of hearing the Beatles lay down a full LP's work in a single day as on Please Please Me, to say nothing of those outtakes' sparkling clarity. So unless you really like hi-hats or you're a completist, this can safely be one of the last PC sets you track down.

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