Saturday, January 4, 2020

The Beatles capsules: the American LPs



This page exists solely as a symptom of my lifelong disease of Beatles completism, though I hasten to add that obsessing over Beatles minutiae is also a source of great comfort and mental stability for me, and I say that without irony. The Beatles' discography was standardized worldwide in 1987 to (mostly) reflect their original British releases, but before that, American fans -- and those in other countries, but America most famously -- had a much messier and more confusing set of records and tapes to contend with. Capitol adapted the band's albums to fit the U.S. standard of shorter LPs with generally twelve tracks rather than fourteen, they padded things out and retreaded singles, and used their own wild and wonky sequencing, album art and album titles while also at times issuing different mixes. Some of said mixes were terrible fake stereo or mono fold-downs, some simply added reverb to existing masters, and some were actually provided by George Martin. All this is described below. Note that again, these are by no means essential releases for any normal person, but it can be interesting for harder core fans to hear things the way they were processed in America at the time, or at least to learn about this alternate-universe version of the same discography. Most of the really significant alternate mixes are included on Purple Chick's bootleg expansions of the individual LPs, and I've addressed them in my reviews of those collections as well.

As a reference, I have included tracklists for each record that indicate which mixes are used; I used the invaluable Usenet Guide to Beatles Recording Variations to keep track of this often confusing situation. "Canon mix" refers to the widely available version of a given song issued as part of the band's standardized CD and digital catalog, with the exception of the tracks that originated on the British albums Help! and Rubber Soul, in which case I refer to the original 1965 UK mixes as "canon" rather than the now-standard 1987 remixes.

The Beatles: Introducing... the Beatles (Vee Jay 1964) [r]
{Mono, side one, all canon mixes except noted:} I Saw Her Standing There [canon version with count-in edited]; Misery [possible unique mix, longer intro]; Anna (Go to Him); Chains; Boys; Ask Me Why [later pressings only]; Love Me Do [first press only] / {Mono, side two, all canon mixes:} Please Please Me [later pressings only]; P.S. I Love You [first press only]; Baby It's You; Do You Want to Know a Secret; A Taste of Honey; There's a Place; Twist and Shout / {Stereo, side one, all canon mixes except noted:} I Saw Her Standing There [canon version with count-in edited]; Misery; Anna; Chains; Boys; Ask Me Why [later pressings only]; Love Me Do [first press only, mono mix] / {Stereo, side two, all canon mixes:} Please Please Me [later pressings only]; P.S. I Love You [first press only, mono mix]; Baby It's You; Do You Want to Know a Secret; A Taste of Honey; There's a Place; Twist and Shout

The story of how the great Chicago independent gospel and soul label Vee Jay ended up, for about two years, with the rights to the Beatles' early EMI recordings is complicated and fascinating and told extremely well, with rich detail, by Bruce Spizer in his book The Beatles' Records on Vee Jay, available now in lavishly illustrated ebook form on his website and strongly recommended. The short version is that when EMI's American label Capitol rejected the first few Beatles singles and their first LP, George Martin shopped around for a Stateside distributor and Vee Jay, who'd had some great success in the pop market with the Four Seasons and with EMI's British signee Frank Ifield, picked up the option and released the singles "Please Please Me" and "From Me to You" in 1963. Both had some regional success but failed to take off nationwide. ("She Loves You" and its German variant "Sie Liebt Dich" would be issued by a smaller label, the formerly Dick Clark-affiliated Swan Records from Philadelphia, previously best known for Freddy Cannon's classic "Palisades Park.") Then, when the first U.S. major label single "I Want to Hold Your Hand" started to take the country by storm, accompanied by Capitol's huge marketing push, Vee Jay realized they were still sitting on a goldmine in the form of the other masters for the Beatles' first album. The LP had been delayed in 1963 thanks to some unsavory financial practices at the label, and there were now legal questions about their rights to the material, but they threw caution to the wind and got this reconfigured version of Please Please Me onto the marketplace and in record stores nationwide nearly simultaneously, give or take ten days, with the officially sanctioned Capitol debut Meet the Beatles!. Both records were enormously popular and Vee Jay would sell more than a million slabs of Introducing over the next year, on top of milking the material they had for multiple singles (including a #1 hit, "Love Me Do," on the Tollie subsidiary), several strange repackagings of the album and even an EP.

Alas, legal questions about the release continued to dog the label, as indicated by a few oddities. All versions of the album contain two fewer songs than Please Please Me, but which two are missing varies by pressing. The original inclusion of "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You" was stymied by legal action from EMI's publishing arm Aardmore & Beechwood, and they were immediately replaced by "Please Please Me" and "Ask Me Why," though Vee Jay coyly snuck the first version into the stockpile as well. The record was such a rush release that it exists with three different rear covers, including a blank one and one comprised strictly of ads for other Vee Jay albums. Then there's the fact that both Vee Jay and Capitol put "I Saw Her Standing There" on their respective LP releases, a further indication of how much confusion there was around who was actually allowed to release this material. You can read all about it in Spizer's book. The important thing is that Introducing is not really necessary for fans today, since we all have access to the complete Please Please Me. The songs are in the same sequence and have the same exact mixes in both mono and stereo, with just two very minor editing anomalies: the mono "Misery" seems to have the full piano intro from the stereo version rather than just the last three notes, but it's been argued that this means the whole mono record is simply a fold-down (apart from "Please Please Me" which features the correct mono take without John's vocal flub and would be the only inarguable "tell" that the LP was a fold). And, somewhat amusingly, "I Saw Her Standing There" lops off part of the count-in so it sounds for all the world like the record begins with Paul shouting "fuck!" Vee Jay managed to secure permission to keep the record on the market until the end of 1964, and the following year Capitol prepared their own even more cut-down version of the PPM tracks known as The Early Beatles; see below. [Note: Introducing may also hold a claim to being the most counterfeited record in history; if you're a collector trying to determine if a copy is legitimate, Spizer's your man for that too.]

The Beatles: Meet the Beatles! (Capitol 1964) [r]
{Mono, side one, fold downs of Capitol stereo album except noted:} I Want to Hold Your Hand [canon mix]; I Saw Her Standing There; This Boy [canon mix]; It Won't Be Long; All I've Got to Do; All My Loving / {Mono, side two, all fold downs of Capitol stereo album:} Don't Bother Me; Little Child; Till There Was You; Hold Me Tight; I Wanna Be Your Man; Not a Second Time / {Stereo, side one, canon mixes with reverb added except noted:} I Want to Hold Your Hand [fake stereo]; I Saw Her Standing There; This Boy [fake stereo]; It Won't Be Long; All I've Got to Do; All My Loving / {Stereo, side two, all canon mixes with reverb added:} Don't Bother Me; Little Child; Till There Was You; Hold Me Tight; I Wanna Be Your Man; Not a Second Time

The heavily marketed -- "the Beatles are coming!" the ads proclaimed -- Capitol debut looks and sounds explosive, and served as a tremendous soundtrack to the whirlwind two months in which they took the nation by storm, flew to JFK and appeared on Sullivan, but it hasn't aged as well as the British counterpart from which it's condensed, With the Beatles, mostly just because of the slightly disappointing song selection on the back half. Side one is all gangbusters with the American breakthrough "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and its domestic and foreign b-sides followed by the three sterling openers from With: "It Won't Be Long," "All I've Got to Do," "All My Loving." And nothing on the back half is less than very good, only lackluster compared to the murderer's row on the other side with the exception of the stunning "Not a Second Time." These songs all make better sense with the smoky vibe of their proper brethren in the UK sequence, which in volume and set variance approximates a Beatles Cavern set, late '63-style. Still, Dave Dexter (Capitol A&R man and architect of the Beatles' American recorded output) and company knew what they were doing when they put this together, as the record did in fact sell in unprecedented numbers. Capitol also controversially added echo to nearly all of the songs (while even more controversially using "duophonic" -- fake stereo -- rechanneled mixes of "Hold Your Hand" and "This Boy" in place of stereo tapes they hadn't received); the reverb does add a bit of extra power to already exciting recordings, but your tolerance for it will depend on whether you grew up hearing the songs this way. At any rate, unlike some of the later American albums, this one is not just enormously significant as an artifact but is tremendously fun to listen to, especially in tandem with its sequel.

The Beatles: The Beatles' Second Album (Capitol 1964) [hr]
{Mono, side one, fold downs of Capitol stereo album except noted:} Roll Over Beethoven; Thank You Girl; You Really Got a Hold on Me; Devil in Her Heart; Money (That's What I Want); You Can't Do That [unique U.S. mono mix from EMI] / {Mono, side two:} Long Tall Sally [unique U.S. mono mix from EMI]; I Call Your Name [unique U.S. mono mix from EMI]; Please Mr. Postman [mono fold-down of Capitol stereo mix]; I'll Get You [Capitol-made mono remix with added reverb]; She Loves You [ibid] / {Stereo, side one, canon mixes with reverb added except noted:} Roll Over Beethoven; Thank You Girl [canon mix]; You Really Got a Hold on Me; Devil in Her Heart; Money (That's What I Want); You Can't Do That [fake stereo] / {Stereo, side two:} Long Tall Sally [unique U.S. stereo mix from EMI]; I Call Your Name [unique U.S. stereo mix from EMI]; Please Mr. Postman [canon mix with reverb added]; I'll Get You [fake stereo]; She Loves You [fake stereo]

A happy accident of sequencing and commercial opportunism somehow resulted in the most blistering half-hour (actually, 27 minutes) of rock & roll ever laid down by the planet's greatest rock & roll band as of 1964. Cynically rushed out just two months past their American explosion and smugly given a title that's completely inaccurate, and filled out with just eleven songs -- mostly the unused covers from With the Beatles that didn't make it to Meet!, plus three songs heretofore issued in the States by indie labels Vee Jay and Swan and three actual new-at-the-time recordings -- it's nevertheless an unqualified triumph. There's a reason Dave Marsh was able to wring a whole book out of it, and a reason why the Flamin' Groovies and Yo La Tengo have had a field day parodying its iconic cover art. George Martin and the Beatles favored a lot of variance and careful pacing on the Beatles' real LPs over in England; eleven straight hard rockers and R&B numbers wouldn't have likely been viewed by those parties or manager Brian Epstein as a good display of their many strengths any more than a whole album of ballads would have been. Indeed, this very eclecticism is why the Beatles continue to matter so much, but Second Album proves handily that a speedy, powerful, huge-sounding collection of the band's most pounding, propulsive rockers from the '63-'64 period is more than credible, it's actually a stunning display of their unassailable ferocity as a band. There's no quicker way to appreciate just why they made waves here and at home that were incomparable to anything else that was happening, or would happen.

Once again, all of the mixes have been, in fan parlance, "Dexterized" -- beefed up with reverb and a towering sound meant to add to their commercial appeal. It still feels a bit superfluous. Whatever you do with it, the Beatles' version of the Miracles' "You Really Got a Hold on Me" is for instance an almost unrelentingly filthy masterpiece of pent-up tension; and their "Money" howls to the very verge of sanity. These aren't performances that have any interest in matching or bettering the Tamla-Motown originals; they simply show how much and how deeply the band, John Lennon in particular, responded to those records' passion, energy and lyricism. As a happy corollary, hearing this brilliant highlight reel summing up Beatlemania -- and peaking with "She Loves You," which sounds muddy as hell here but still somehow perfect -- makes you want to go and listen to With the Beatles again. This stuff is incredibly addictive, and while I no longer believe quite as strongly as I once did that the Beatles' early work towers massively over their more "adult" material from later on, even if I do still prefer it, I don't think there's anything wrong with labeling this as a snapshot of their very peak as a band. Note that in addition to their own tweaking, Capitol was provided a couple of special mixes for the American market; "Long Tall Sally" and "I Call Your Name" were not yet released in the UK and would be newly mixed for that market when the time came, so both have subtle differences, which are especially apparent in the double tracking, lead guitar and percussion on the latter. The hot-off-the-presses b-side "You Can't Do That" is also reputed to be a unique mix in mono and was apparently made separately on the same day according to studio paperwork, but there are no audible differences.

The Beatles: A Hard Day's Night OST [U.S.] (United Artists 1964)
{Side one, canon mixes unless noted plus instrumental score:} A Hard Day's Night; Tell Me Why; I'll Cry Instead [unique U.S. mono mix from EMI with extra verse]; I'm Happy Just to Dance with You / {Side two, canon mixes unless noted plus instrumental score:} I Should Have Known Better; If I Fell; And I Love Her [unique U.S. mono mix with single-tracked vocal]; Can't Buy Me Love

American teenagers who trotted out to the shops in 1964 to get the album accompanying the Beatles' terrific new movie were given, sure, all of the new Beatles songs in the film plus "I'll Cry Instead" (listed erroneously here as "I Cry Instead"), but rather than the peripheral tracks that occupied Side Two of the British album, the eight Beatles originals were joined by oddball Muzak versions of the band's hits orchestrated by George Martin. Only two of these were actually used in the film, one quite effectively ("This Boy") while the rest just serve as album filler. The record is unmitigated consumer fraud but if you like this era of easy listening and "Beautiful Music" (and don't forget that Beautiful Music titan Bert Kaempfert gave the Beatles a shot before almost anyone else), and of course if you like Martin's kitschy orchestral albums, there's something perversely fun about the release, even though it's obviously pointless today. Martin's "And I Love Her" is especially schmaltzy and glorious... but don't expect the genuine artistry you can find in his Yellow Submarine score; this is all rather goofy stuff with a very, very limited audience. The mono LP uses the regular British mixes except in the cases of "I'll Cry Instead" with extra verse and "And I Love Her" single-tracked, both more conveniently available on Something New (see below). The stereo LP is a total sham; it just uses mono mixes and slightly pans them to one side (except "I'm Happy..." and "I Should Have Known Better" which don't even make that half-assed attempt to approximate stereo), while Martin's recordings are in actual stereo. I suppose you could make the argument that this blatant false advertising beats "duophonic" mixes... but really, it's astonishing that this thing stayed in print as long as it did -- and ultimately made it to compact disc!

The Beatles: Something New (Capitol 1964) [r]
{Mono, side one, canon mixes except noted:} I'll Cry Instead [unique U.S. mono mix from EMI with extra verse]; Things We Said Today; Any Time at All [unique U.S. mono mix from EMI]; When I Get Home [unique U.S. mono mix from EMI]; Slow Down; Matchbox / {Mono, side two, canon mixes except noted:} Tell Me Why; And I Love Her [unique U.S. mono mix from EMI with single-tracked vocal]; I'm Happy Just to Dance with You; If I Fell; Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand / {Stereo, side one, all canon mixes:} I'll Cry Instead; Things We Said Today; Any Time at All; When I Get Home; Slow Down; Matchbox / {Stereo, side two, canon mixes:} Tell Me Why; And I Love Her; I'm Happy Just to Dance with You; If I Fell; Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand

The first of Capitol's truly daft LP packages for the Beatles, though in a sinister commercial sense you have to admire the sheer ballsiness of this one: released as immediate competition to United Artists' soundtrack album for A Hard Day's Night, already a bit of naked consumer fraud anyway, while cannibalizing a considerable percentage of its actual Beatles content, and then throwing in the Beatles singing one of their hits in German for literally no conceivable reason. To its credit, it does get closer to matching the tone of the masterful British album than the other label's "soundtrack"; in fact, if not for title recognition, one suspects it would have sold better than its sibling, since it clearly has more bang for your buck sans repetition, with no non-Beatles instrumentals cluttering it. There is considerable humor in the Beatles' massive star power at the time, though, considering that for months they had the #1 and #2 albums on the charts with much of the exact same material. The second big boon with Something New for big fans is that the mono version contains quite a few fascinating oddities, and in contrast to all the piled-on after-the-fact echo on the earlier Capitol LPs, these are variations actually mixed by George Martin and company at EMI. (The stereo LP is less interesting, consisting entirely of the standard mixes, with even Dave Dexter -- despite coyly snatching a coproducer credit -- leaving them alone.)

As on the American A Hard Day's Night LP, "I'll Cry Instead" provides the most noticeable anomaly with an entire extra verse -- not a loop of the song's opening as was often reported by enthusiasts who didn't listen quite carefully enough, but an edit floated in from a different performance. While the add-on is basically redundant (constructed specifically for the aborted idea to use the song in a chase scene in the film), for anyone who treasures the song it's nice to have a bit more of it -- and it made it feasible for Capitol to push the song as a fairly uneventful single release. "And I Love Her" also, as on UA's album, has its character altered a fair bit with the absence of the double-tracking on Paul's vocal (which makes it, in some ways, lonelier and more effective). "Any Time at All" almost wholly mixes out the piano, which is especially evident during the instrumental break; some percussion is also missing. Lastly, "When I Get Home" has some major vocal differences on the bridge, due to John's double-tracking being mixed out on the stereo and British releases. It all makes for a fun bit of scavenging, somewhat redeeming just how goofy the whole entity is as an "album." Cool artwork, too.

The Beatles: The Beatles' Story (Capitol 1964) [c]
Not strictly a Beatles LP -- more a spoken word album with occasional musical interludes from the band and the Hollyridge Strings -- and in fact something I only finally listened to in full for this project, but included here because Capitol has always labeled it as part of their official Beatles discography and kept it in print for decades -- and transferred it to DAT for some unknown purpose in the 1990s -- culminating in a CD release on the Apple label a few years ago. It's a painfully uncool kitsch item useful only as a mirror into the way the straight world viewed Beatlemania as of 1964, primarily as a way of siphoning money from adolescents; there's only scattered talk of music, and a lot more about business and haircuts, though there is a bit of hyperbole about a future in which there will "always be" Beatles fans, which turned out to be prophetic. Still, the occasional kernel of truth in the narrative doesn't make up for the overall superficial nature of the (admittedly handsome) package, and the narration is stilted and unconvincing. It seems like a piece of commercial fraud, but do consider that Capitol was copycatting a similar and apparently somewhat beefier Vee Jay album called Hear the Beatles Tell All. It does boast the dubious honor of being the first ever official Beatles double album, at any rate.

The Beatles: Beatles '65 (Capitol 1964) [r]
{Mono, side one, all canon mixes:} No Reply; I'm a Loser; Baby's in Black; Rock and Roll Music; I'll Follow the Sun; Mr. Moonlight / {Mono, side two:} Honey Don't [canon mix]; I'll Be Back [unique U.S. mono mix from EMI]; She's a Woman [unique U.S. "echo" mono mix from EMI]; I Feel Fine [unique U.S. "echo" mono mix from EMI]; Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby [canon mix] / {Stereo, side one, all canon mixes:} No Reply; I'm a Loser; Baby's in Black; Rock and Roll Music; I'll Follow the Sun; Mr. Moonlight / {Stereo, canon mixes except noted:} Honey Don't; I'll Be Back; She's a Woman [fake stereo made from U.S. mono mix]; I Feel Fine [fake stereo made from U.S. mono mix]; Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby

Again, this is not a defensible package, apart from its rather stylish graphics; it's Side One of Beatles for Sale with the same album's closer, the current single and an errant A Hard Day's Night leftover tacked on. But folks, in fourth grade a few months before I finally joined the space age with my first CD player, I bought a copy of this from a real-life Beatles collector my dad knew and I will never forget what a big impression the first three songs made on me. I knew the White Album and Sgt. Pepper already, but they almost seemed like a different band to me from the Help!-era mop tops; here, the Beatles sounded like their younger selves but the songs they were singing seemed so sullen and grown-up and, well, stark. That carried through for most of the record's songs I didn't already knew ("I'll Be Back" in particular, which is still one of my favorite Beatles songs), and I loved the entire thing. I have no doubt I would have loved it even more if I'd sprung for Beatles for Sale instead... but those positive associations are not meaningless. Because the slowed-down mono "I'll Be Back" sounds like some sort of an error (with odd, wobbling speed that sounds like a tape problem), the most interesting variations are the U.S. single versions of "I Feel Fine" and "She's a Woman," which are positively slathered in echo to a degree that seems very antithetical to the band's intentions; word is it was Martin's attempt to approximate the strange "Dexter"-ized sound of Meet the Beatles! and The Beatles' Second Album. There's some accidental appeal to the American versions, and I don't think it's just because they're the ones I grew up with; obviously I prefer the dryer mixes, but "I Feel Fine" has a rather striking "vastness" here that sort of places emphasis on the Beatles' larger-than-life quality. The vocals sound distant, strange, like some proto-Loveless thing (and with the tape flutter on "I'll Be Back," this is practically Shoegaze '65, am I right folks!?). On the stereo album, these two songs were given "fake stereo" mixes that add even more absurd reverb and sound absolutely dreadful. (Apparently there was a lot of extra reverb thrown onto early masterings of "I'll Be Back" on this LP, but that was eventually repaired.) All that said, at this stage there's no use denying that Capitol's dicking around was getting sillier and sillier.

The Beatles: The Early Beatles (Capitol 1965)
{Mono, side one, all fold-downs of Capitol-made stereo remixes except noted:} Love Me Do [fold-down of fake stereo album version]; Twist and Shout; Anna (Go to Him); Chains; Boys; Ask Me Why / {Mono, side two, all fold-downs of Capitol-made stereo remixes except noted:} Please Please Me; P.S. I Love You [fold-down of fake stereo]; Baby It's You; A Taste of Honey; Do You Want to Know a Secret / {Stereo, side one, all Capitol-made stereo remixes except noted:} Love Me Do [fake stereo]; Twist and Shout; Anna (Go to Him); Chains; Boys; Ask Me Why / {Stereo, side two, all Capitol-made stereo remixes except noted:} Please Please Me; P.S. I Love You [fake stereo]; Baby It's You; A Taste of Honey; Do You Want to Know a Secret

Boasting "NOW ON CAPITOL!" in bold letters on the front as though that were a serious selling point for most consumers, The Early Beatles was the label's reissue and revision of Introducing the Beatles after Vee Jay finally lost the rights to the Beatles' pre-"She Loves You" material in late 1964, thus allowing it to join the rest of the catalog. Apart from the slightly more attractive (though period-inappropriate) cover art, the release is a severe downgrade in every way. For two decades, this was the only way most of the Beatles' Please Please Me album was in print in the U.S., which is quite a cheat because it's such a cynical, whittled-down pale imitation of the real thing, robbed of three of the record's songs ("Misery," "There's a Place," "I Saw Her Standing There"), the last because it had already been on a Capitol LP (Meet the Beatles!), and the others lopped off for a poor-selling single on Capitol's budget Starline subsidiary and never heard again on a long-player until 1980. Capitol's reasoning for shortening the album to this extent is hard to figure. They could have substituted "From Me to You" for "I Saw Her Standing There" (having already put "Thank You Girl" on an album) and had done with the whole shebang, but apparently there were too many other potential opportunities for future money grabbing. The result is one of the shortest and weakest of Capitol's Beatles LPs, though at least the songs do all belong together, and of course are top-tier material in and of themselves, though closing out with "Do You Want a Know a Secret" (a hit single in the U.S., granted) and moving "Twist and Shout" to the forefront is perverse. Capitol didn't promote the record heavily, really intending it as a catalog hole-filler (most fans as of '65 would already have owned the Vee Jay album), which is exactly what makes its lack of completeness so irritating. Dave Dexter also did some twiddling around with the stereo mixes (as far as I can hear they're just volume-boosted, very marginally slowed down, and the two channels are perhaps separated slightly) and the tape copies sound a little distorted. The mono album is just a fold of the stereo record; you can tell because "Please Please Me" includes the stereo-only vocal flub. It's just a weak experience on the whole and there's no compelling modern reason to queue it up.

The Beatles: Beatles VI (Capitol 1965)
{Mono, side one, all canon mixes:} Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey!; Eight Days a Week; You Like Me Too Much; Bad Boy; I Don't Want to Spoil the Party / {Mono, side two, all canon mixes:} Words of Love; What You're Doing; Yes It Is; Dizzy Miss Lizzy; Tell Me What You See; Every Little Thing / {Stereo, side one, all canon mixes:} Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey!; Eight Days a Week; You Like Me Too Much; Bad Boy; I Don't Want to Spoil the Party / {Stereo, side two, all canon mixes except noted:} What You're Doing; Yes It Is [fake stereo]; Dizzy Miss Lizzy; Tell Me What You See; Every Little Thing

Another month, another Capitol hodgepodge with "Beatles" in the title -- the rest of Beatles for Sale (including the Stateside hit "Eight Days a Week") plus some advance non-soundtrack sides from Help!, and the only occasion on which one of these Capitol LPs is a "proper" home for a song, the cover of Larry Williams' "Bad Boy" that was laid down specifically for the American market. ("Dizzy Miss Lizzy" was too but ended up being used on the next UK release.) This was the package that George Harrison once called out specifically when complaining about Capitol's strategy, and it really is the worst of these to date as a listening experience, supplanting Something New because the material is considerably weaker. There are some great songs ("I Don't Want to Spoil the Party," "What You're Doing," "Every Little Thing"), some covers of varying innovation and quality, some oddities and some of the more lackluster originals in the catalog ("Tell Me What You See," "You Like Me To Much"), but "Eight Days a Week" really leaps out as the only burst-out-of-the-speakers classic. Not the best cut here, but the sole relief from what feels like a haphazard gathering of odds and ends ripped of their original context. It's just a further reiteration of how good George Martin was at sequencing Beatles music and putting albums together; none of the British records lacked bite to this extent. One big evolutionary point, though: with the exception of the missing stereo version of the b-side "Yes It Is," these songs all made it to America in their fully intact original mixes. If you consider it as a double album with Beatles '65, it has its utility, or did at one time.

The Beatles: Help! OST [U.S.] (Capitol 1965)
{Mono, side one, fold-downs of stereo mixes plus instrumental score:} Help!; The Night Before; You've Got to Hide Your Love Away; I Need You / {Mono, side two, fold-downs of stereo mixes unless noted, plus instrumental score:} Another Girl; Ticket to Ride [canon mix]; You're Going to Lose That Girl / {Stereo, side one, all canon mixes plus instrumental score:} Help!; The Night Before; You've Got to Hide Your Love Away; I Need You / {Stereo, side two, plus instrumental score:} Another Girl [canon mix]; Ticket to Ride [fake stereo]; You're Going to Lose That Girl [unedited version with very, very brief stray sound at beginning; I mean insanely brief, like I-can't-believe-this-is-listed-as-a-variation brief]

I've used the word "fraud" three times already on this page, but to be fair to Capitol Records, in a lot of ways they were just conforming to industry standards of the time; it's only in retrospect that all this seems nefarious rather than just inconvenient. Still, one wonders how millions of fans were subjected to a package like this without instituting some kind of revolt -- maybe this gives a clue to why they didn't succeed in changing the world a few years hence. The seven new Beatles songs in their second film are joined by Ken Thorne's score, which is admittedly a bit more successful than George Martin's for A Hard Day's Night, insofar as it quite cleverly rearranges Beatles songs as dramatic crescendos and at one point transforms "A Hard Day's Night" into a sitar-driven Indian piece. (Like Martin, Thorne actually wrote very little music here.) It's sometimes alleged that Thorne's score led directly to George Harrison becoming interested in the sitar, but I increasingly suspect this is largely apocryphal; still, if nothing else the incorporation of these then-exotic instruments on a mainstream "rock" LP does seem somewhat forward-looking. But that's about it, as far as positive things you can say here. Ahead of its time or not, Thorne's score couldn't have held any interest to the bulk of those buying the record.

The graphics are a bit better than those on the UK album; there's even a gatefold with lots of pix of the hot guys from the film. But you just don't get much for your theoretical money here. One interesting note is that "Help!" is here presented with a dramatic prelude provided by Thorne that's more or less a parody of the James Bond theme. Certain American fans still think of this as the intro to "Help!"; even though it wasn't on the single, it (probably accidentally) got tacked onto the 1962-1966 "Red" album. I used to include the Bond intro when I played "Help!" at my DJing gigs so that if any of the half-dozen people in the room were hardcore Beatles fans they might want my friendship, perhaps even my body. I did not, in the end, meet my wife in this fashion.

The Beatles: Rubber Soul [U.S.] (Capitol 1965) [r]
{Mono, side one, canon mixes unless noted:} I've Just Seen a Face; Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown); You Won't See Me; Think for Yourself; The Word; Michelle [unique U.S. mono mix from EMI] / {Mono, side two, all canon mixes:} It's Only Love; Girl; I'm Looking Through You; In My Life; Wait; Run for Your Life / {Stereo, side one, canon mixes unless noted:} I've Just Seen a Face; Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown); You Won't See Me; Think for Yourself; The Word [unique U.S. stereo mix from EMI]; Michelle / {Stereo, side two, canon mixes unless noted:} It's Only Love; Girl; I'm Looking Through You [unedited version with false starts]; In My Life; Wait; Run for Your Life

Let's put this to bed once and for all: Capitol's condensation of the UK Rubber Soul album is not better than the original, and while I understand feeling that this version more cohesively plays up the "acoustic Beatles" folk rock angle, I strongly object to the whole theory becoming conventional wisdom. On top of being two songs shorter, the U.S. album actually lacks four songs from the original record, replacing two of them with castoff Help! tunes: "I've Just Seen a Face" (which I readily admit fits well) and "It's Only Love" (which is fine but hardly a classic). And the missing songs are not slouches -- "Drive My Car," "Nowhere Man" and "If I Needed Someone" all major, "What Goes On" minor if charming. Moreover, the theory that the rockers are all gone and therefore the experience is more consistent doesn't really hold, with half the songs still being fairly fast and hard-edged. Plus ending the record with the solid but not revelatory "Wait" and "Run for Your Life," uninterrupted here by one of George's most sensitive ballads, feels somewhat anticlimactic. The color scheme on the cover is slightly better than on the original release (and the 1987 CD would go on to inherit it, perhaps unintentionally) and I always really loved the two false starts that open "I'm Looking Through You" in stereo, which add to the feeling of a campire Beatles session even though it's really just the result of an engineer forgetting to cut them off. I enjoy listening to the American album, don't get me wrong, but there's absolutely no question that the UK variant is a better, fuller experience.

The Beatles: Yesterday and Today (Capitol 1966)
{Mono, side one, canon mixes unless noted:} Drive My Car [fold-down of stereo mix]; Nowhere Man; Doctor Robert [unique U.S. mono mix from EMI]; Yesterday; Act Naturally / {Mono, side two, canon mixes unless noted:} And Your Bird Can Sing [unique U.S. mono mix from EMI]; If I Needed Someone; We Can Work It Out; What Goes On; Day Tripper / {Stereo, side one, canon mixes unless noted:} Drive My Car; I'm Only Sleeping [unique U.S. stereo mix from EMI (early pressings use fake stereo)]; Nowhere Man; Doctor Robert [unique U.S. stereo mix from EMI (early pressings use fake stereo)]; Yesterday; Act Naturally / {Stereo, side two:} And Your Bird Can Sing [unique U.S. stereo mix from EMI (early pressings use fake stereo)]; If I Needed Someone [canon mix]; We Can Work It Out [unique U.S. stereo mix from EMI]; What Goes On [canon mix]; Day Tripper [unique U.S. stereo mix from EMI]

The weirdest of Capitol's Frankenstein creations, issued in the summer of 1966 and containing material from three extremely different UK albums -- Help!, Rubber Soul and Revolver -- as well a double-sided hit single and more Ringo lead vocals (per capita) than any of the band's canon releases. It's as odd a selection of songs as Beatles VI, with leftovers from various releases plus three completed Lennon numbers from the forthcoming Revolver (two of them rather pedestrian), though with two U.S.-only hit singles ("Yesterday" and "Nowhere Man") it might well have seemed like a pop miracle at the time. The biggest problem with the American discography is how it prevents you from getting a handle on the Beatles' actual evolutionary narrative. It makes very little sense for "If I Needed Someone" to coexist with "Act Naturally," or "What Goes On" with "I'm Only Sleeping," etc. The songs are mostly excellent, but it feels like shuffle mode.

That said, as a package this is one of the most interesting of the Capitol LPs; there is first the novelty of its recalled cover, a rather appallingly eccentric bit of pop art popularly known as the Butcher Cover, adorned with Robert Whitaker's avant garde, pointedly satiric shot of the Beatles posing gleefully with baby doll heads and butcher meat. It's one of the best and most genuinely outrageous album covers of the 1960s, and it's a miracle that it made it to stores at all; regardless of its immediate recall, you wonder how on earth anyone at Capitol signed off on it. The Beatles' own approval of it is less mysterious; not only is a handy bit of subversion at a time when they were bristling at the limitations of their role in the universe, it also foretells the dark, cynical sense of humor they would employ on Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album. Its existence is easily the most memorable thing about this collection's existence, though its rush-release also produces a number of interesting features in mix terms. The Revolver numbers sound varying degrees of different from their later UK canon incarnations, particularly "I'm Only Sleeping" whose overdubbed backward guitar wanders unpredictably around the verses. It's all such a weird entity that you barely notice how incompetently sequenced it is.

The Beatles: Revolver [U.S.] (Capitol 1966)
All canon mixes in both stereo and mono - {Side one:} Taxman; Eleanor Riby; Love You To; Here, There and Everywhere; Yellow Submarine; She Said She Said / {Side two:} Good Day Sunshine; For No One; I Want to Tell You; Got to Get You into My Life; Tomorrow Never Knows

Not much to say about this one; it's just Revolver with three songs missing, and my inclination is to say it has no value whatsoever -- it has no unique mixes, no real reason to be considered in lieu of the proper canonical version of the album. But I'll say this: it drops two of the three weakest songs, so there's that. If you switched out "I Want to Tell You" with the missing "I'm Only Sleeping," a part of me might actually favor it, but don't tell anyone. Undoubtedly the oddest thing Apple has chosen to reissue on CD in the modern era.

The Beatles: Hey Jude (Apple 1970) [r]
Only issued in stereo - {Side one, all canon mixes except noted:} Can't Buy Me Love; I Should Have Known Better; Paperback Writer [rebalanced stereo mix]; Rain; Lady Madonna; Revolution / {Side two, all canon mixes:} Hey Jude; Old Brown Shoe; Don't Let Me Down; The Ballad of John and Yoko

The most attractively packaged of all the unique U.S. albums (apart from the butcher cover version of Y&T, naturally), and one of the most sonically bizarre, with two seemingly random A Hard Day's Night-era cuts slapped onto a compilation gathering most but not quite all of the Beatles' non-album cuts from 1966 onward. ("I Should Have Known Better" and "Can't Buy Me Love" apparently find their way here because of their absence from any EMI-controlled LPs on these shores, since both were left off Something New, which still doesn't explain the absence of "A Hard Day's Night." This album marked the American stereo debut of both songs -- and most of the album, actually.) It served as a handy enough compendium, nevertheless, that it became a popular import album in the UK and was eventually released there, where it functioned as a de facto companion to A Collection of Beatles Oldies despite being superseded by the Red and Blue sets. Today, with its mixes no longer special (there is an unusual "Paperback Writer" with reversed channels and some rebalancing that's never surfaced otherwise, but that's not especially important) playing the in-print compact disc of Hey Jude (initially labeled The Beatles Again) feels like you're listening to the second disc of Past Masters while regularly employing the skip button. But it's quite good anyway, and you can tell it was conceived by someone (Allen Klein) with a decent sense of quality control a far cry from stuff like Beatles VI despite the weird time machine effect of the first couple of songs; it's been argued that this allows the disc to provide a good cross section of the Beatles' appeal, and its surfeit of absolutely brilliant b-sides ("Rain," "Don't Let Me Down," "Revolution") certainly makes a strong argument for their infallibility above and beyond virtually any other '60s band. The strangest omission is "The Inner Light," which really seems like it belongs and wouldn't make it to a longplayer until Rarities. Stick to Past Masters unless you're nostalgic or like the photos (which are great).

(Why the everloving fuck did Spector leave "Don't Let Me Down" off Let It Be? Boggles the mind.)

***

Generally that's considered the extent of the Beatles' American catalog in terms of its divergences from the canon, but that's not quite true, though only absolute froot loops like me are likely to catalog the other differences. A new Capitol contract in 1967 prevented the label from altering the band and George Martin's track selections on their LPs, but the U.S. Sgt. Pepper lacks the hidden tone and inner groove; the White Album was unissued here in mono; Yellow Submarine has mythology-heavy liner notes based on the film, an improvement on the British record's White Album promo; Abbey Road listed "Her Majesty" on the back cover; and Let It Be was a gatefold with an ominous-looking red apple on the label. Nothing major, obviously, but worth mentioning someplace, and no doubt collectors interested in the Beatles' American legacy will still want the U.S. versions of those albums from the years prior to the catalog standardization.

No comments:

Post a Comment