Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Beatles


What more can you say about The Beatles? You either love them or hate them. Along with The Stones, The Kinks and The Who (“The Big Four”), they helped pave the way for every decent guitar band that followed - and quite a lot of rubbish ones as well. Yes, some of that early Merseybeat stuff is a bit patchy, but from “Revolver” onwards, they barely put a foot wrong.

Having become not just one of the best, but biggest, bands in the world upon their demise in 1970, it was probably no surprise that their parent label, EMI, set about repackaging the Beatles back catalogue in various forms in the years that followed. And whilst some of those releases seemed just a tad pointless (the “Love Songs” album wasn’t even released anywhere near Valentines Day), other releases were quite impressive. Especially the box sets.

Since the start of the 80’s, the LP’s, Singles and EP’s the band released during their lifetime have all been compiled into (at least) one box set per format, something which can’t be said of the others in the “Big Four”. In this article, I shall detail the box sets that I own, and shall also look at what else the band released both pre and post-split.

The Beatles Box Set (Parlophone CDS 7 91302 2)

Sometimes known as “The Bread Bin”, because it came housed in a box which had a sliding front, just like a bread bin, this was a CD box set issued in 1988. All of the Beatles’ albums had been issued on CD in 1987, and this set put them all into one handy pack. The Beatles recorded 12 studio albums, although the second half of “Yellow Submarine” consisted of George Martin helmed orchestral recordings, with no Beatles present, so has always struck me as being more of a soundtrack album than a Beatles one.

The first four CD’s in the box, “Please Please Me”, “With The Beatles”, “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Beatles For Sale”, were all in mono, the remainder of the studio albums were all in stereo. A Thirteenth Studio Album was also included, “Magical Mystery Tour”. This release had started life as an EP, but in North America, the band’s label decided to release it as an album by sticking stray A-sides and B-sides onto the release. When the CD reissue campaign was conducted, the decision was taken to issue this version on CD, having already made it’s debut in this form in the UK as a vinyl LP in 1976. As such, the likes of “I Am The Walrus” and “Hello Goodbye”, are now thought of as album tracks, despite having spent the first decade of their life as EP and A-side material.

“Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” had celebrated it’s 20th anniversary in 1987, and as the most famous Beatles record, was given a fancy release - it was housed in a slipcase, with a booklet tucked inside with lots of nice pictures and lyrics. This version was also included in the box set. 1968’s “The Beatles”, AKA “The White Album” on account of the original vinyl pressings coming in a white sleeve with the band name embossed in white, was not that white anymore once it was on CD, as the band name was printed in grey on the cover. The follow up, “Abbey Road”, was issued in 1969, whilst the final studio album was 1970’s “Let It Be”, although the bulk of it consisted of material taped pre-“Abbey Road” for the abandoned “Get Back” project. Whilst this fact is quite well known, and plenty of people talk about “Abbey Road” as being the final proper LP, what’s not so well known is that some parts of “Let It Be” were actually taped POST-”Abbey Road”, with most of the band returning to the studio in early 1970 to add the finishing touches. John had already left, and the band didn’t so much split up as just disintegrate.

The box set was padded out with two more CD’s, “Past Masters Volume 1” and “Volume 2”. Although these releases have come in for a bit of a slagging over the years, they were both actually very important releases, containing between them all of the non-album material the band had released between 62 and 70. The two releases had been issued earlier in 1988, one in a black sleeve, and one in white. I understand the reason for their slagging came from the fact that an earlier vinyl album box set had included a bonus LP called “Rarities”, which was then issued in it’s own right, and that the “Past Masters” releases just tended to cover the same ground. However, when the back catalogue was remastered in 2009, the two “PM” releases got issued again as a double-disc “Past Masters” CD - proving how important these CD’s actually are. Furthermore, a lot of material on “Past Masters” wasn’t actually on “Rarities” in the first place!

“Volume 1” of “PM“ includes the 7” mix of “Love Me Do”, which includes John, Paul and George, plus Ringo on drums - the version on the debut LP has a session drummer instead with Ringo reduced to shaking a tambourine. You then get both sides of the “From Me To You”, “She Loves You”, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “I Feel Fine” 7” singles. Also included are a couple of German language recordings, the entire “Long Tall Sally” EP, and a few other odds and sods including the non album B-sides “Yes It Is” and “I’m Down”. The first five songs on the CD are in mono.

“Volume 2” includes both sides of the “Day Tripper”, “Paperback Writer”, “Lady Madonna”, “Hey Jude”, “Get Back”, “Ballad Of John And Yoko” and “Let It Be” 7” singles, along with an alternate version of the “Let It Be” album track, “Across The Universe”, tossed away on the 1969 World Wildlife Charity fund LP, “No One’s Gonna Change Our World”. The b-side of “Hey Jude”, “Revolution”, appeared in re-recorded and re-titled form on “The White Album”.

I have listed below the individual albums that are in the “Bread Bin”. Each were available separately, and until the 2009 remasters campaign, these were the only CD editions available in the UK of the UK albums. Some of the band’s US albums (which had appeared in different sleeves, with different track listings, and with different titles!) had made it onto CD in the UK a few years before courtesy of a couple of box sets. The order is not quite sequential, as the box was designed to hold the CD’s in a “specific” way, so the order shown here is the order they are supposed to be displayed inside the box.

Please Please Me (1963, CD, Apple 7 46435 2)
With The Beatles (1963, CD, Parlophone CDP 7 46436 2)
A Hard Day’s Night (1964, CD, Apple 7 46437 2)
Beatles For Sale (1964, CD, Apple CDP 7 46438 2)
Help! (1965, CD, Apple CDP 7 46439 2)
Rubber Soul (1965, CD, Apple CDP 7 46440 2)
Revolver (1966, CD, Apple CDP 7 46441 2)
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967, CD, Apple CDP 7 46442 2)
The Beatles (1968, 2xCD, Apple CD-PCS 7067/8)
Yellow Submarine (1969, CD, Apple CD-PCS 7070)
Magical Mystery Tour (1967, CD, EMI CD PCTC 255)
Abbey Road (1969, CD, Apple CD-PCS 7088)
Let It Be (1970, CD, Apple, CD-PCS 7096)
Past Masters Vol 1 (1988, CD, Apple CD-BPM 1)
Past Masters Vol 2 (1988, CD, Apple CD-BPM 2)

CD Singles Collection (Parlophone CDBSC1)

Whilst the “Bread Bin” pretty much covers everything the band ever recorded pre-split (mono and stereo mixes aside), you may well wish to get hold of the band’s 45’s in their “original” 2-track format, to at least try and trace how the band developed.

The band released 22 singles before the split in the UK, all of which had been reissued on vinyl at various times before the mid 80’s. In 1982, to tie in with the 20th anniversary of the debut 45, “Love Me Do”, all of the singles were released as 7” picture discs. In 1988/89, each of the 22 singles were released in chunks on 3” CD Singles, housed - of course - in picture sleeves. Being a 60’s band, most of these singles had simply been issued in standard company sleeves when first pressed, with the exception of “Strawberry Fields Forever”, so the picture sleeves used were ’representative’ of the time of the original release dates for 21 of the releases - “SFF” of course used the original picture sleeve from 1967.

The picture sleeves had been used before - as well as the picture disc pressings from 1982, there had also been black vinyl 7” pressings housed in picture covers at the same time. Of the 22 releases, some appeared as “Double A Side” releases, although on CD, of course, track 2 was still track 2! The AA releases, for the record, were “Day Tripper”/”We Can Work It Out”, “Yellow Submarine”/”Eleanor Rigby”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”/”Penny Lane” and “Something”/”Come Together”. However, only the “Yellow Submarine” and “Something” CD’s credited the ‘other’ a-side on the front cover.

At the end of 89, the “CD Singles Collection” box set was released which compiled all 22 3” singles into a single box. Details of the individual contents are shown below.

Love Me Do/PS I Love You (Original release 1962, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 4949)
Please Please Me/Ask Me Why (Original release 1963, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 4983)
From Me To You/Thank You Girl (Original release 1963, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5015)
She Loves You/I’ll Get You (Original release 1963, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5055)
I Want To Hold Your Hand/This Boy (Original release 1963, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5084)
Can’t Buy Me Love/You Can’t Do That (Original release 1964, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5114)
A Hard Day’s Night/Things We Said Today (Original release 1964, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5160)
I Feel Fine/She’s A Woman (Original release 1964, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5200)
Ticket To Ride/Yes It Is (Original release 1965, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5265)
Help!/I’m Down (Original release 1965, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5305)
We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper (Original release 1965, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5389)
Paperback Writer/Rain (Original release 1966, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5452)
Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby (Original release 1966, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5493)
Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane (Original release 1967, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5570)
All You Need Is Love/Baby You’re A Rich Man (Original release 1967, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5620)
Hello, Goodbye/I Am The Walrus (Original release 1967, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5655)
Lady Madonna/The Inner Light (Original release 1968, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5675)
Hey Jude/Revolution (Original release 1968, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5722)
Get Back/Don’t Let Me Down (Original release 1969, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5777)
The Ballad Of John And Yoko/Old Brown Shoe (Original release 1969, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5786)
Something/Come Together (Original release 1969, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5814)
Let It Be/You Know My Name (Look Up The Number) (Original release 1970, 3”, Parlophone CD3R 5833)

EP Collection (Parlophone BEP 14)

The EP has always been a funny format in the UK, with some bands ignoring the format, and others tinkering now and then. The Stones only released two EP’s in the UK in the 60’s, both consisting of brand new material, whilst The Kinks released five or six, a mix of “Greatest Hits” EP’s, and others consisting of at-the-time exclusive songs. The Beatles released 13 EP’s before 1970, although only two of these offered up “new” material when they were first issued - the aforementioned “Long Tall Sally” and “Magical Mystery Tour”.

The latter tied in with the film of the same name, and included six new songs. It had originally been intended to try and squeeze all the songs onto a single disc, pressed at 33rpm, but concerns over the impact this would have had on the sound quality, saw the decision instead to release it as a double 7” set, housed in an impressive gatefold sleeve. The track listing reveals that when the material was issued on the album of the same name, the songs were placed in a different order - so “Blue Jay Way” closes the EP, and not “I Am The Walrus”.

Although the EP’s were reissued after the band’s split as individual pressings, it was not until 1981 that they appeared in a boxset, the “EP Collection”. The box went down the “incentive purchase” route, by including a bonus EP, simply called “The Beatles”, which included alternate mixes of older Beatles tunes, some previously unissued (supposedly). The bonus EP came in a “Strawberry Fields Forever” sleeve, and has never been issued for sale individually by EMI.

Again, everything here (except the bonus EP) is on “Past Masters”, “Magical Mystery Tour”, and the original albums but it’s a fascinating package. The original picture sleeves are used for each EP, but the obvious difference is that none of these reissues are in flipback sleeves, whilst the labels on the actual vinyl are different to the original versions. “MMT” does, however, still come in it’s superb gatefold sleeve, complete with the original “photo book” insert.

I have listed below the EP’s that were included in the box set, including the bonus 7”. It is worth noting that all three of these boxsets mentioned have appeared in slightly different form on other formats, including Cassette.

The Beatles’ Hits: From Me To You/Thank You Girl/Please Please Me/Love Me Do (1963, 7”, Parlophone GE 8880)
Twist And Shout: Twist And Shout/A Taste Of Honey/Do You Want To Know A Secret/There’s A Place (1963, 7”, Parlophone GEP 8882)
The Beatles No.1: I Saw Her Standing There/Misery/Anna (Go To Him)/Chains (1963, 7”, Parlophone GEP 8883)
All My Loving: All My Loving/Ask Me Why/Money/PS I Love You (1963, 7”, Parlophone GEP 8891)
Long Tall Sally: Lomg Tall Sally/I Call Your Name/Slow Down/Matchbox (1964, 7”, Parlophone GEP 8913)
Extracts From The Film A Hard Day’s Night: I Should Have Known Better/If I Fell/Tell Me Why/And I Love Her (1964, 7”, Parlophone GEP 8920)
Extracts From The Album A Hard Day’s Night: Any Time At All/I’ll Cry Instead/Things We Said Today/When I Get Home (1964, 7”, Parlophone GEP 8924)
Beatles For Sale: No Reply/I’m A Loser/Rock And Roll Music/Eight Days A Week (1964, 7”, Parlophone GEP 8931)
Beatles For Sale No.2: I’ll Follow The Sun/Baby’s In Black/Words Of Love/I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party (1964, 7”, Parlophone GEP 8938)
The Beatles’ Million Sellers: She Loves You/I Want To Hold Your Hand/Can’t Buy Me Love/I Feel Fine (1964, 7”, Parlophone GEP 8946)
Yesterday: Yesterday/Act Naturally/You Like Me Too Much/It’s Only Love (1965, 7”, Parlophone GEP 8948)
Nowhere Man: Nowhere Man/Drive My Car/Michelle/You Won’t See Me (1965, 7”, Parlophone GEP 8952)
Magical Mystery Tour: Magical Mystery Tour/Your Mother Should Know/I Am The Walrus/The Fool On The Hill/Flying/Blue Jay Way (1967, 2x7”, Parlophone SMMT-1)
The Beatles: The Inner Light (Stereo)/Baby You’re A Rich Man (Stereo)/She’s A Woman (Stereo)/This Boy (Stereo) (1981, 7”, Parlophone SGE1)

Other Releases

Whilst the box sets pretty much do the job as far as material pre-split is concerned, there are other releases of note, including one issued whilst the band were still on ongoing concern.

The group’s first best of in the UK was 1966’s “A Collection Of Beatles Oldies”, an album compiling stand alone singles and highlights from the studio LP’s. It was issued as a record company money-spinner, released in the run up to Christmas, but it did include an at-the-time rarity in the form of “Bad Boy”, a cover unreleased in the UK, having previously turned up on one of the Beatles’ US albums. It has since found a home on the first “Past Masters” release.

In 1970, with the band now deceased, a fan club only LP “From Then To You” was released. It consisted of the material that had been included on the band’s fan club only flexi discs, which had been released on an annual basis from 1963 to 69, each in their own picture sleeves. The flexis usually consisted of spoken messages from the band, but with some musical moments on each. However, by pitching the compilation at the fan club, many of whom would already have had these releases, it felt like a missed opportunity. As such, both the original flexi discs and this album, are major collectors items.

In 1973, the band released what are probably their most famous compilation albums - “1962-1966” and “1967-1970”. Each album used a similar photo, of the band looking down at the camera from over a staircase, with the “1962” LP using a photo almost identical to that of the “Please Please Me” album cover, and the “1967” one using a similar shot - but from a photoshoot in 1969. The photo had been originally planned to be used as the cover of the cancelled “Get Back” album, which would have been printed in a similar style to “Please Please Me”. Each album came with a different coloured border, and so tend to be referred to as the “Red Album” and the “Blue Album”. Although the two albums were nothing more than expansive best-of’s, both included rarities, with alternate mixes being used of several songs. So famous are these sets, that they have been reissued several times - coloured vinyl pressings were produced in 1978 (on, yes, you guessed it, red and blue vinyl respectively), whilst there have been CD reissues in 1993 and 2010.

In 1976, EMI released arguably the most famous Beatles track, “Yesterday”, as a single. It had only ever appeared in the UK, apart from of course on LP, as the lead track on an EP of the same name, but was getting an A-side billing in the band’s home country for the first time. It appeared in a green picture sleeve designed to look - from a distance - like a Parlophone company bag. All of the band’s preceding 22 45’s were also reissued in similar style sleeves. Later the same year, EMI issued “Rock And Roll Music”, a slightly pointless collection of the band’s rockier recordings, presumably to remind people of the band’s Hamburg days. To coincide, “Back In The USSR” was issued as a 7”, with “Twist And Shout” from the band’s debut LP on the flip. It was followed by a live album, “At The Hollywood Bowl”, taped at the height of Beatlemania. However, reaction towards the album has always been hostile, which explains why it has never been released on CD. The sound quality of the shows that were taped for the album were generally poor, and indeed, earlier planned releases of this material were all scrapped for this reason.

In 1977, the aforementioned “Love Songs” double LP arrived, and was followed in 1978, to commemorate the - um - 11th anniversary of “Sgt Pepper”, by a single featuring the opening medley of “Pepper” and “With A Little Help From My Friends” - issued as a 7” in a “Pepper” styled picture sleeve. 1980 saw the release of “The Beatles Ballads”, whilst 1982 offered “Reel Music”, a compilation of tracks that appeared in the movies the band had starred in earlier on in their career, when they attempted - like Cliff and Elvis - to become movie stars. A mega mix style medley of songs was issued as a 7” overseas, entitled “The Beatles Movie Medley”, and although EMI hated it, they were forced into releasing it in the UK after import copies started to flood into the country. By the end of the year, another best of, “20 Greatest Hits”, had hit the shops.

After the “Past Masters” sets, things were a bit quiet until 1994, and the release of the “Live At The BBC” set, compiling the band’s BBC sessions and appearances. “Baby It’s You” was lifted from the album as a single to coincide, with three previously unavailable BBC recordings on the ‘B-side‘. In 1995, the first release of the much hyped “Anthology” trio of albums was conducted. A “new” Beatles song, “Free As A Bird”, was included on the album and released as a single - it was actually a post-split John Lennon solo demo from 1977, with the remaining “Threetles” adding their own voices and music to make it a Beatles record. The same thing was done with the next single, “Real Love”, used to plug 1996’s “Anthology 2”. No singles were taken from “Anthology 3”.

1999 saw the release of the “Yellow Submarine Songtrack”, effectively a revamped version of the original LP, with the George Martin tracks replaced by Beatles songs that had appeared in the film, but not on the original album, with everything then subsequently remixed for the set. The vinyl LP was pressed on yellow vinyl. Another greatest hits set, “1”, turned up in 2000.

“Let It Be…Naked”, turned up in 2003. The original “Let It Be”, released after the band had split, had therefore been released without the band really overseeing the final product, and as such, McCartney was horrified when he discovered producer Phil Spector had stuck string arrangements all over “The Long And Winding Road.” The “Naked” release (which came housed in a vaguely “negative” version of the original sleeve) thus removed many of the extras Spector had tagged onto the LP. The vinyl edition came with a free 7”, which featured not so much any new songs, but what I can only describe as a piece featuring “The Beatles Messing About In The Studio”.

2006 saw the release of “Love”, a sort of remix/mash up project, designed to tie in with the Cirque Du Soleil production of the same name. It consisted of 26 Beatles songs, but with bits and pieces merged in with others, so you get about 40 Beatles songs in one form or another. Whilst such a thing could be thought of as sacriliege, it’s actually quite an entertaining listen, and strangely, you do find yourself going back to it again and again. The deluxe edition featured an alternate mix of the album on DVD. The 2009 remaster series saw a pair of box sets of the albums issued again, with a “Stereo” box and a “Mono” box, the latter of which included an exclusive freebie CD, entitled “Mono Masters”.

IMPORTANT POST SPLIT BEATLES SINGLES

Yesterday/I Should Have Known Better (1976, 7”, Parlophone R6013)
Back In The USSR/Twist And Shout (1976, 7”, Parlophone R6016)
Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band/With A Little Help From My Friends/A Day In The Life (1978, 7”, Parlophone R6022)
The Beatles’ Movie Medley/I’m Happy Just To Dance With You (1982, 7”, Parlophone R6055)
Baby It’s You (BBC)/I’ll Follow The Sun (BBC)/Devil In Her Heart (BBC)/Boys (BBC) (1995, 7”, Parlophone R6406, also on Picture Disc, Cassette and CD)
Free As A Bird/I Saw Her Standing There (Take 9)/This Boy (Takes 12 & 13)/Christmas Time (Is Here Again) (Edit) (1995, CD, Parlophone CDR6422)
Real Love/Baby’s In Black (Live)/Yellow Submarine (Remix)/Here There And Everywhere (Take 7/Remix) (1996, CD, Parlophone CDR6425)

So, that’s the basics over and done with. Over the years, Record Collector have excitedly done ridiculously in depth articles looking at matrix numbers, and first pressings, but this is all big money stuff, so we'll ignore that nonsense. Instead, if you don't already have it, treat yourself to a copy of "1" (recently reissued) and see just where Oasis got all those ideas from.


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