Shiny New Beatles
It has been over twenty years since The Beatles were released on compact disc in 1987. For that time, the albums were presented pretty well. What I liked best was that the catalogue was cleaned up, primarily by favoring the UK versions of the albums (more or less) while letting the sloppy USA versions disappear. This is why we never hear anyone ever talk about Introducing The Beatles, Meet the Beatles, The Beatles' Second Album, Beatles VI, "Yesterday"... and Today, or the rest of those hodge-podge American releases that threw around tracks so carelessly.
However, many of The Beatles' most famous singles didn't appear on any of those albums. They were simply released as 45s. This is why, when the compact discs were released in 1987, two volumes were compiled entitled Past Masters. These volumes included all the A and B sides of singles, the two German recordings, an EP release, a various artists appearance, and a song that only appeared on one of the American albums. As the Past Masters liner notes, therefore, puts it: "If you have the other 13 CDs, and these two, you have everything that The Beatles, the most successful artists in the history of recorded sound, commercially issued during their remarkable reign."
Fair enough, but I think I can do better.
Let me back up and tell you a story. In high school, when I was getting into The Beatles, I asked someone the seemingly simple question, "What album is 'She Loves You' on?" The answer: "It's not on an album." What? The only way I could listen to "She Loves You," the centerpiece of Beatlemania, was to buy this weird thing called Past Masters Volume One.
I realize why, of course. The Beatles, as well as most artists of the time, would release their best song (or couple of songs) as a single. An album would follow that may or may not have that single on it, but the main thing was having the single. A girl would go down to the record store, pick up her 45, listen to "She Loves You," sigh, and then listen to it again... and again. Maybe she'd flip it over and listen to "I'll Get You" from time to time. I remember buying 45s myself in the early 80s. (My first was John Lennon's "Watching the Wheels," actually.) I can still get that occasional thrill with bands, like Belle and Sebastian, who continue to release singles of songs that don't appear on full length albums.
But today there's no good reason to have "She Loves You" by itself. And listening to them shoved together on a singles collection like Past Masters doesn't provide any kind of context. Therefore, when the Beatles catalogue is eventually remastered and re-released (which should be any day now, based on the number of random re-dos we're getting lately: The Yellow Submarine Songtrack, The Beatles 1, Let It Be... Naked, etc.), my proposal is to include those singles (and other Past Masters tracks) within the contexts of the albums themselves--not as bonus tracks, but organically.
To those who want to argue that I'm sacrificing the integrity and history of the original albums and destroying the artists' original intent: read on. As I discuss each album, I hope you'll see that my new idea actually heightens the original intent, enhances the history, and (if nothing else) provides modern Beatles fans with a new and improved versions that rejuvenate what is already one of the most outstanding catalogues in the history of rock and roll.
PLEASE PLEASE ME
The Beatles' first singles were "Love Me Do" / "P.S. I Love You" and "Please Please Me" / "Ask Me Why." In order to cash in on these hit singles, the songs were released on an LP. But, in order to have fourteen songs total (a convention of albums in the UK at the time), the Beatles spent a day recording ten extra songs (spending about an hour per song, six of them covers). When Please Please Me was released, they stuck five songs in the front, five songs in the back, and shoved the four single tracks in the middle.
The beauty of The Beatles was that -- in spite of the speedily done, commercial idea -- this album actually came out great. What could have been filler came out as energetic and original. ("Twist And Shout" is now a Beatles song as far as most are concerned.) So, yes, this was an album artificially created and slapped-together, but it also works. I think it would work even better for twenty-first century audiences (who may not have the luxury of running home screaming from their record shops, tiny vinyl hand) if the single that appeared one month later -- "From Me To You" / "Thank You Girl" -- appeared right there in the middle of the album, after the other two singles (in order). Most of the Beatles albums, at the core, are simply collections of very good songs, rather than albums with an overall theme or purpose: especially in these early albums (though later too). In fact, it wouldn't have hurt much to flop some of these songs onto the second or third album and still get a good record (as the US releases would prove).
There were two versions of "Love Me Do": the album version (which features session drummer Andy White on drums, for reasons which still make Ringo sad) and the single version (which features Ringo). I would replace the Andy White version with the Ringo version and include the Andy White version as a bonus track. This is the Beatles, after all, not three Beatles and some dude. (I would also include a considerable amount of space, at least 20 seconds, before the bonus track appears. I don't like bonus tracks that seem like they are part of the album, and I usually would rather not see any at all. In my new discography, I avoid them when possible.)
WITH THE BEATLES
"She Loves You" / "I'll Get You" came out three months before With the Beatles, and I can't imagine a better intro to this album and this era (even though "It Won't Be Long" was, itself, a great opener). "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" / "This Boy" came out only a week after the album's release, and I can't imagine a better closer (with a little inversion of the A and B side). The singles provide the bookends, and the original album is in the middle. I finally get my answer to the question "What album is 'She Loves You' on?" During this time, also, "She Loves You" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" were recorded in the German language as "Sie Liebt Dich" and "Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand." These would make excellent bonus tracks.
A HARD DAY'S NIGHT
The first seven songs of A Hard Day's Night (side one) were from the movie of the same name. The last six songs (side two) were written for the movie but not included. This time, all the singles were included on the album ("Can't Buy Me Love" / "You Can't Do That" and "A Hard Day's Night" / "Things We Said Today"), so there's no need for insertion there. However, there was a four song EP called Long Tall Sally released a month before this album came out. The Beatles released many EPs, but most of them were tiny samplers from albums, singles, or both. Long Tall Sally is the only one that had songs that didn't appear on any of the proper albums. My suggestion is to include those four songs between side one and side two, a little rock and roll break, giving the album three distinct (or not so distinct) parts instead of two.
BEATLES FOR SALE
The single "I Feel Fine" / "She's a Woman" was released a month before Beatles for Sale and seems just as fitting as the original album openers, especially since this is a collection of songs that could be presented in almost any order. (Give me an artistic reason, for example, for closing the LP with "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby.")
Like A Hard Day's Night, side one (the first seven tracks) contained songs from the movie Help!, while side two contained non-movie songs. One of those songs, Larry Williams' "Dizzy Miss Lizzy," was recorded specifically for the American audience. Another Williams song, "Bad Boy," was also recorded but not released here. (It was only released on the US album, Beatles VI, two months prior.) The fact that they stuck "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" on here at all (and mysteriously did not include "Bad Boy" once they did), and especially since they chose it as a closer for the album rather than the obvious "Yesterday," shows again that it is ridiculous to think that there were "true" orders for these early Beatles albums.
My solution is to start with the seven movie tracks, following that with the B-sides to the singles for "Help!" ("I'm Down") and "Ticket To Ride" ("Yes It Is"). Next comes the two US songs. (We slide "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" up a few tracks for this.) Then we end with the final six, closing with "Yesterday" and saving the album from itself.
Although the Beatles seemed to be in the early stages of crafting something closer to actual "albums" (as we've come to understand the word) by this point, it still seems that "Daytripper" / "We Can Work It Out," the single released on the same day as the album, fits on this collection. Though "Daytripper" would have been a great opening, "Drive My Car" is better still, so that remains. "Daytripper" now closes the album, to give the ending some punch (which "Run For Your Life" didn't do) and "We Can Work It Out" (a middle song if I ever heard one) appears at the end of what was side one.
This seems to be the first collection of songs that gels as a true album. That's not to say that every song is thematically linked or anything like that, but the order seems nicely thought-out. I would feel shame in interfering with it, except that the single "Paperback Writer" / "Rain" fit perfectly. (The other single was "Yellow Submarine" / "Eleanor Rigby," which they included on the album.) In the fashion of the early albums, I've placed the two songs in the middle (after side one) and that section flows nicely (from "Rain" to "Sunshine").
SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND
Paul McCartney still argues the "concept album" idea of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, that a fictional band (featuring Billy Shears) is introduced, they play their show, and then (as suggested in the reprise) they play their last song and go home. However, John Lennon reminds us that nothing he wrote had anything to do with this Sgt. Pepper concept. With the exception of the "Pepper" songs themselves, in fact, neither did Paul's. (George's Indian-inspired song certainly didn't.) So, again, this album is still another collection of good songs rather than an unalterable concept album.
Even still, like Revolver, it seems pretty perfect as it is, and this one even has a stronger sense of theme, many songs being about the bittersweet melancholy of everyday life events. Even the US version of this album is exactly the same as the UK version, a first. Unlike Revolver, however, I feel even more justified including the single "Strawberry Fields Forever" / "Penny Lane." They were recorded for this album, they fit the theme, and they were only released early because their manager Brian Epstein felt it was time for a single. Beatles producer George Martin has expressed regret that these two didn't appear on Pepper's, and I'm sure many fans would rather it appear here than as leftovers tagged onto a truly "unofficial" version of Magical Mystery Tour (more on this soon).
I have included both songs after the banded-together introduction songs. This addition is the only way to make this classic album even more of a classic.
MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR
In the UK, Magical Mystery Tour was not released in the form that it appears on CD today. It was released as a six song EP. In the US, they took this EP and added the singles that were out at the time. "I Am The Walrus" was already on the EP, so it's flip-side ("Hello Goodbye") was added. Next they threw in the "Strawberry Fields Forever" / "Penny Lane" single. They closed out side one with the single "All You Need Is Love" / "Baby You're a Rich Man." In 1976 (many years after The Beatles had broken up) they released it in this form in the UK, and this is the version they chose when creating the CDs in 1987.
I applaud the 1987 decision, since it's essentially what I'm doing now: adding era-specific singles to an album to create a new, better, and more representational entity. But now Mystery Tour could be improved, especially now that we've moved "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" to Sgt. Pepper's.
To add to this clutter (and we're getting slightly ahead of ourselves, but only sort of), we have the 1969 release (after "The White Album") of the soundtrack for Yellow Submarine. Like the movie of the same name, the Beatles themselves barely participated. Only four new songs were included, and only two of them ("All Together Now" and "Hey Bulldog") were specifically written for the album and movie. The other two were George Harrison songs ("Only a Northern Song" and "It's All Too Much") that didn't make it to Sgt. Pepper's. The other two songs on the soundtrack were "Yellow Submarine" (of course) from Revolver and the single "All You Need Is Love." ("Baby You're a Rich Man" was also written for the movie, but didn't make it, so ended up as the B-side to "All You Need Is Love.") Side two of this album consisted entirely of instrumentals by George Martin, the score for the movie: nice, but not something you don't want on a Beatles record. (I would like to see a collection of the compositions that George Martin made for Beatles movies, especially since some of them appeared on the US versions of the soundtrack albums.)
Many (including myself) don't really consider Yellow Submarine an "official" album, and the fact that four (desirable) songs can only be found here (and not even on Past Masters) makes it that much more of an annoying release. In my new canon, I'm getting rid of it altogether (while keeping the new songs, of course).
But first, one more thing. Around this time, the Beatles were working on the song "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)," but it didn't appear until the very last single (as a B-side, backing "Let It Be"). It would fit nicely here, not only because it finds its proper era, but also because it fits the whimsy of the surrounding songs.
So here's what we have for the new version of Magical Mystery Tour. We begin with the original EP (saving "I Am the Walrus" for later), continue with the "Hello Goodbye" / "I Am The Walrus" single, then "Baby You're a Rich Man" to transition into the four songs from Yellow Submarine, then "You Know My Name," then end (as always) with "All You Need Is Love."
I admit there could be other logical versions of this album. One of those versions subtracts "Yellow Submarine" from Revolver (where it always sounded out of place to me) and includes it in a double EP collection called Magical Mystery Tour / Yellow Submarine. Another option is just to mix these up so that they flow nicely, not worrying about where they originally appeared. One problem is that there are a few songs that would be good intros ("Magical Mystery Tour," "All You Need Is Love") and even more that would be good final songs ("It's All Too Much," "You Know My Name," "All You Need Is Love"), not to mention the hi and bye of "Hello Goodbye." However, for an album that wasn't really an album to begin with, I think this track list is a good incarnation.
The Beatles (aka "The White Album") is a big ol' monster, and that's why we love it. Let's make it an even more lovable monster by adding the four songs released or recorded during this time. "Hey Jude" / "Revolution" was the single released three months before this album. "Revolution" fits nicely near the end of disc one, providing one "Revolution" to help balance the two (or at least one and a half) found on disc two. That's followed by "Hey Jude," a long song to close disc one (a much better closer than "Julia").
Dic two still needs to begin with "Birthday" to correspond with "Back in the U.S.S.R." from disc one, then you'll see that I've added "Across the Universe," a song that originally appeared on Let It Be. I'll get to that album in a minute, but for now suffice it to say that "Across the Universe" was recorded during this era and that it doesn't really fit the intended idea behind Let It Be and the "Get Back" sessions. I've also included the so-called "Wildlife Version" of that song (which was a contribution to a various artists collection) as a bonus track.
The other two songs near the beginning of disc one are from the "Lady Madonna / The Inner Light" single. Everything else stays put. (Oh, and for those who have problems with my new additions because it ruins the weird occurrences you "find" in the album's sequencing -- like the number of tracks on each of the four sides corresponding to each of the Beatles' last names -- I ask you this: really?)
LET IT BE
If anyone has shown that it's okay to tool around with the Beatles albums, it's Paul McCartney himself with the release of Let It Be... Naked. Not only did he add a song to the album ("Don't Let Me Down," the B-side of the single for "Get Back"), he subtracted songs ("Maggie Mae" and "Dig It"), subtracted dialogue, used alternate takes, cleaned up mistakes, removed overdubs, and more.
He had his reasons. What was to originally be called Get Back was doomed from the start. The plan to "get back" to live rock and roll after mastering the magic of the studio did not work out for the Beatles, especially when they had cameras pointing in their sad and tired faces for their final film, Let It Be. Instead of the fun they had found recording Please Please Me, they had a miserable time and eventually shelved this project to go on to Abbey Road, their true final album (although Let It Be was released last).
But (maybe unfortunately) it wasn't shelved forever. They gave the tapes to Phil Spector to see what magic he could work. Paul, famously, hated what Spector did to the songs, especially his adding strings to "The Long And Winding Road." I see his point: it ruined the idea of "get back" (which is why they were forced to "let it be"). However, as John Lennon put it, "[Phil Spector] was given the shittiest load of badly-recorded shit with a lousy feeling to it... and he made something of it." I see his point too: Spector made them better songs. The "naked" version of "The Long And Winding Road" actually sounds kind of cheesy to me, while the Spector version sounds pretty cool. On the other hand, the "naked" album is a technically better album, very polished and presentable. And yet, the original version is more charming and fun.
My point is this: because of the nature of the album, I barely consider it an official release. It's more of a curiosity that happens to contain really good songs simply because the Beatles couldn't help but be impressive even in their most troubled times. I don't care much what anyone (including myself) does to it because it wasn't something they produced in their tried and true recording-with-George-Martin kind of way. My goal was to retain as much of that curiosity as possible: the original intent mixed with the shit mixed with the strings mixed with the revisionist tendencies that comes from over thirty years of hindsight.
So, in my version, I've created a hybrid of the "naked" version and the original, not using any of the "naked" versions (because they're too radical even for me), but most of the "naked" order, removing "Across the Universe" and adding "Dig It" and "Maggie Mae." (I've kept "I Me Mine," too. It wasn't recorded until after the Abbey Road recordings were complete, but it was worked on during the "Get Back" sessions and meant to be on this album.) The album begins with the single version of "Get Back" and ends with the album version of "Get Back" (the one recorded on the rooftop, their last live performance), which seems to make some kind of sense. I've also included the single version of "Let It Be" as a bonus track.
This is a pretty purposeful album, but mostly on side two when the medley begins (with "You Never Give Me Your Money"). The songs leading up to that are just songs, and the first two are the "Come Together" / "Something" single. I've followed this with the "Ballad of John and Yoko" / "Old Brown Shoe" single that came out several months earlier. They fit even better here than the Sgt. Pepper's throwback ("Maxwell's Silver Hammer") that follows. Listening to this album last, ending with "The End," is the proper way for the Beatles to go out.
There you have it, folks. I hope you're convinced. If you are or if you aren't, there's no way that The Beatles or anyone else who will eventually release the new CDs will read this, so whatever. But if they miraculously do, and end up taking my advice, all I ask from them is that they put my name somewhere in the liner notes and provide me every Beatles album that ever comes out, in whatever new and zany format they come up with in the future. And, speaking of format, I suppose I'm a dinosaur anyway for caring about CDs when all the kids care about iPods or whatever. But I do, so sue me. You iPod folks should go off with your fancy playlists, program it up, and try this out. Let me know what you think. (That goes for everyone. I like email.) Me, I'm going to go now so I can make me some fancy new Beatles CDs.
Copyright © 27 Jul 2008
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