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Friday, November 30, 2012

THE RED ALBUM - sides one and two

In 1973, finally accepting that the Beatles had no intention of reuniting and noting that fans continued to purchase the back catalog in impressive numbers, EMI decided to put together a retrospective package worthy of the greatest act in recording history.  Though the group had only issued recordings for about seven and a half years, both the quality and quantity of their material pushed the limits of a typical greatest hits collection.  The result was a sprawling four-record set combining all of the number one singles with many well-known album tracks and a few B-sides.   

Asking fans both new and old to shell out the money for a four-record set was a bit much, but since the group's career neatly split into two pretty distinct halves, the obvious solution was to create two two-record sets.  The public could thus decide to concentrate on only one half of the Fab Four's output or all of it, if they so desired.  The collections were officially titled The Beatles/1962-1966 and The Beatles/1967-1970, but because of the colors of the packages, they quickly became known as the Red and Blue albums. 

With only a few exceptions, the selections are laid out chronologically according to their original release dates.  And though there are some tracks that are questionable for their inclusion and others that are curiously absent, these are mercifully few.  Indeed, part of the fun for die-hard fans is arguing such issues for each and every compilation that has followed over the ensuing years.

SIDE ONE

Love Me Do - The single that started it all.  It was a number one hit in the US a year and a half after its initial release.

Please Please Me - Their first big hit, a number one on all of the British charts except the Record Retailer, where it peaked at number two.

From Me to You - The first undisputed number one in the UK.  Amazingly, this collection marked the first time that this song appeared on Capitol Records (or on an album) in the US.  It had only been available as a single on VeeJay Records during the group's career.

She Loves You - The monster hit that spawned Beatlemania.  It was the group's biggest-selling single in the UK.

I Want to Hold Your Hand - The song that conquered America.  The British Invasion soon followed.

All My Loving - The first album track in this collection, from With the Beatles.  Technically, it should be placed ahead of I Want to Hold Your Hand in this collection, as the album was recorded and released first.  This song made the charts in the US as an import single from Capitol of Canada.  It was the first number the group played on their historic appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. 

Can't Buy Me Love - Recorded in Paris, this single topped the Beatles' jaw-dropping domination of the US charts in the spring of 1964.

SIDE TWO  

A Hard Day's Night - The title song of their first film.

And I Love Her - A well-known and loved album track from the film.

Eight Days a Week - An album track from Beatles for Sale.  In the US, Capitol released it as a single in February of 1965 and it became a number one hit.

I Feel Fine - This single was released ahead of Beatles for Sale and should appear before Eight Days a Week in this running order, even though the latter song was recorded first (confusing, I know).

Ticket to Ride - From the Help! soundtrack, but released as a single well ahead of that film.

Yesterday - The most famous song in the group's catalog.  Initially, it had only appeared on the non-soundtrack side of the Help! album in the UK, but Capitol released it as a single in the US in September of 1965 and it became a huge number one hit.  As far as this collection is concerned, the song is out of sequence, as Help! and You've Got to Hide Your Love Away were recorded months earlier, but it works well in this position to bring the album side to a beautiful close. 

Note that side two only has six songs.  A superior B-side like This Boy or She's a Woman, or a great album track such as Twist and Shout would have fit nicely on these first two sides with a little juggling of the running order. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

GET BACK - side two

For You Blue - A little chatter and a false start lead into the same take of this Harrison number that Phil Spector used for the Let It Be album, but this mix by Glyn Johns tones down Paul's piano and brings some fine acoustic guitar work by George (which Spector oddly buried) to the fore.  We also hear George's actual vocal, which for some reason he chose to wipe and re-record in January of 1970.

Two of Us - On this take of McCartney's acoustic tune, Paul and John begin singing different lyrics at the start of almost every line until one of them wins out.  Despite this, they somehow manage to turn in a full runthrough of the song.

Maggie Mae - The group only did this snippet of an old Liverpool ditty once, so it's the same version we're used to hearing except that Johns begins to fade it out before it petered out on its own.

Dig It - Johns gives us the last four minutes of this twelve-and-a-half-minute-long jam, proving that Spector chose the only interesting section of the piece for the Let It Be album, wisely eliminating Paul's monotonous simultaneous vocal in the process.

The Long and Winding Road - This is the version of the song we are now familiar with from Anthology 3, before Spector overdubbed an orchestra and choir.

I Me Mine - This version is also available on Anthology 3.  Since George was seen strumming and singing a bit of the number in the documentary, Johns had to include this recording made in January 1970 even though it contained overdubs.

Across the Universe - The other late addition to the line-up was this number also heard briefly in the film.  The song was now available on the World Wildlife charity album.  Johns returned to the February 1968 master, stripping away almost all of the instrumentation except for acoustic guitar, tamboura and percussion.  For some reason, he kept the Lizzie Bravo and Gayleen Pease backing vocals while eliminating those by the Beatles themselves.  Best of all, he neither sped it up like George Martin nor slowed it down like Phil Spector, making this the only version available at the actual speed at which it was recorded.  

Get Back (reprise) - The album concludes with the coda of the title song.  Though it fades out early on the single, the group naturally played on for some time with Paul ad libbing and adding some goofy "ho ho hos."  Johns fades it out one more time after giving us a little taste of it.

As had been the case with the first Get Back album compiled by Johns, the group rejected this second effort.  It is perhaps understandable since this would have been the only release of most of the material contained herein.  The decision by Johns to use several inferior takes (and in the case of I've Got a Feeling, an incomplete one) did not show the band in the best light, even though he tried to stick to the no overdubs concept.  Though Spector threw that concept out for many of the tracks on Let It Be, there is no longer any question that he chose the best takes for every song.