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Thursday, December 20, 2012

THE BLUE ALBUM - sides three and four

The inner gatefold of the Blue Album
SIDE THREE

Back in the U.S.S.R. - The opening track of The Beatles, aka the "White Album."

While My Guitar Gently Weeps - George finally gets a song on this collection (on the seventh side of the two packages) - another selection from the "White Album."  By the time of this release in 1973, it was well on its way to becoming a mainstay of FM radio.

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da - The third and final well-known track from The Beatles.

Get Back - The monster single released in the spring of 1969.

Don't Let Me Down - The strong B-side of that single.

The Ballad of John and Yoko - Another single, released hot on the heels of Get Back.  It hit number one in the UK (and it was the last for the Beatles in their home country during their career), but it stalled at number eight in the US.

Old Brown Shoe - While George's B-side is a fine song, but I find its inclusion here questionable.

SIDE FOUR

Here Comes the Sun - One of George's finest numbers, from Abbey Road.

Come Together - The opening track of Abbey Road, later released on a double A-sided single.  It went to number one in the US.

Something - The pinnacle of George's songwriting career was both an album track and his only A-side with the Beatles.

Octopus's Garden - Ringo's second and last composition for the Beatles is a fun little number, but truly not deserving of placement in a collection of their best work.

Let It Be - The last official single in the group's catalog went to number one in the US.

Across the Universe - A popular track from the album Let It Be.

The Long and Winding Road - Another outstanding track from Let It Be.  In the US, Capitol Records also released it as a single and it went to number one.

The Beatles: 1962-1966 has more hits, as the group released more singles in the first half of their career, but The Beatles: 1967-1970 has two more songs, and the running time of the average song was longer in the late '60s, so fans got more bang for their buck from the second collection.  Together, the Red and Blue Albums present an excellent overview of the band's development and extraordinary output.

Friday, December 14, 2012

THE BLUE ALBUM - sides one and two

The first half of the Beatles' career had already been tackled twice in retrospective packages, both in A Collection of Beatles Oldies and now in The Beatles: 1962-1966, aka the Red Album.  But a chronicle of their work from 1967-1970 had not yet been attempted, and it provided a bit more of a challenge.  The group had never lost the ability to deliver an accessible, well-crafted single on occasion, but their focus in the second half of their career had definitely shifted to the more complex possibilities that the long-playing format offered.  Assembling an expanded "greatest hits" look at this period therefore became a more subjective task at times, though there were plenty of landmark album tracks on which nearly all fans would no doubt agree.

SIDE ONE

Strawberry Fields Forever - This song was never intended to be a single, but the demand for new material from the Beatles in early 1967 forced it to become half of a double A-sided release - a curious choice, since it clearly stretched the boundaries of what the public considered an A-side at the time.

Penny Lane - A much more obvious choice for an A-side, hitting number one in the US, but kept out of the top spot by Englebert Humperdinck in the UK.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The title track of their most famous album.

With a Little Help from My Friends - As on the Sgt. Pepper LP, the title track segues directly into this signature tune written for Ringo.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds - The sequence of the original album continues with this well-loved track.

A Day in the Life - The magnum opus which closes Sgt. Pepper is presented here, and we are treated to the opening strums of acoustic guitar which were buried under the segued cheers of a crowd on the original album.

All You Need Is Love - A Day in the Life is an impossible act to follow, so side three should logically have ended with the fading piano chord from that song.  The fact that this is one of the group's weakest singles doesn't help its placement much.  In the summer of '67, it had been a worldwide number one nonetheless.

SIDE TWO

I Am the Walrus - This haunting song is from the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack, but it was also issued as a B-side to...

Hello Goodbye - Another worldwide number one single.

The Fool on the Hill - A well-known tune from Magical Mystery Tour.

Magical Mystery Tour - The running order is somewhat peculiar on this side, from starting out with a B-side to placing the title song from the soundtrack last, especially since this track was recorded many months in advance of any of the above songs.

Lady Madonna - The first single of 1968 was a number one hit in the UK, but it only reached number four in the US.

Hey Jude - A monster hit and truly one of their best songs.

Revolution - Now, this easily could have been a double A-side with Hey Jude, but they chose to release it as the B-side.  For the purposes of this album, it might have made sense to flip these two songs, letting the extended fadeout of Hey Jude bring the proceedings to a close.

Friday, December 7, 2012

THE RED ALBUM - sides three and four

SIDE THREE

Help! - Though the Red Album bore the Apple label, it was still distributed by EMI's various affiliates worldwide.  Thus, the 1973 Capitol version in the US featured a bit of Ken Thorne's "James Bond" theme music from the film soundtrack, just like the original American Help! album had, before the Beatles launched into the title tune.  This was eventually eliminated in reissues.

You've Got to Hide Your Love Away - A well-known track from the film.

We Can Work It Out - The first of eight tracks from the Rubber Soul sessions, the most highly-represented period on the Red and Blue albums.  This song was on a double A-sided single, going to number one in the US.

Day Tripper - The other half of the double A-sided single.  This side went to number one in the UK.

Drive My Car - The opening track of Rubber Soul.

Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) - A well-loved Rubber Soul track.

Nowhere Man - Also from Rubber Soul.  In the US, Capitol released this song as a single, peaking at number three.

SIDE FOUR

Michelle - The run of Rubber Soul tracks continues.

In My Life - Yup, you guessed it - from Rubber Soul.

Girl - The final Rubber Soul track.

Paperback Writer - A single from the Revolver sessions, released months ahead of that album.

Eleanor Rigby - Simultaneously released on the album Revolver and on a double A-sided single.  It went to number one in the UK.

Yellow Submarine - The other half of the double A-sided single, also appearing on the album Revolver.  This side was the hit in the US, but it peaked at number two.  Ringo sings the lead vocal, trumping George, who is shut out on this collection.

As was the case with side two, there are only six songs on side four.  Once again, this could have been rectified with a great B-side such as I'm Down or Rain, or a familiar album track from Revolver like Taxman, which would have given poor George some well-deserved love.

A couple of extra tracks would have also increased the value of the package for fans.  The four sides of the album go by very quickly, with only Ticket to Ride exceeding three minutes in length.  But overall, the Red Album is a brilliant look at the first half of the Beatles' career.  It almost made A Collection of Beatles Oldies redundant, since every track from that earlier package (minus the bonus track Bad Boy) now appeared on this new album.