Follow by Email

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

PAST MASTERS VOLUME TWO - side two

Get Back - The huge hit single from April of 1969.  It was originally intended to be the title song of a live project begun in sessions in January of that year.

Don't Let Me Down - Lennon's best song from those sessions wound up only being released as the B-side of this single.  Both sides bear the credit "The Beatles (with Billy Preston)."

The Ballad of John and Yoko - Only John and Paul appear on this track, singing and playing all of the instruments.  This single was released at Lennon's insistence in May of '69, hard on the heels of Get Back.  Though it was eventually followed by two great singles, it managed to be the group's final number one in the UK during their career.

Old Brown Shoe - Harrison's second B-side is this nifty uptempo rocker.

Across the Universe - From the World Wildlife Fund charity album No One's Gonna Change Our World.  Apart from its appearance on that album, it had been made available on both the UK and US versions of Rarities.  Producer George Martin had deliberately sped up the tape and added bird sounds onto the beginning and end of the song for the WWF release.

Let It Be - The group's final single in the UK was the version of this song produced by Martin and featuring brass, more vocals and a mellow guitar solo overdubbed by George Harrison three months after the track was originally laid down at the live Get Back sessions.

You Know My Name (Look Up The Number) - The final B-side was this comedy number from Lennon that was gradually put together over two and a half years.  It is the only track presented in mono on Past Masters Volume Two.

With the release of Past Masters Volumes One and Two, the group's entire catalog was now available on CD.  It would be six years before the next official Beatles product appeared, and it was one that would showcase them in a manner that most of us had never experienced before.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

PAST MASTERS VOLUME TWO - side one

As great as Past Masters Volume One is, many feel that Volume Two is even better, probably because it features more hit singles and less deep cuts.  In The Mammoth Book of the Beatles, Sean Egan goes so far as to state: "For this listener, Past Masters Volume Two constitutes the greatest collection of music ever assembled." 

Day Tripper -This stellar album kicks off with both sides of the double A-sided single from December of 1965.  This side went to number one in the UK...

We Can Work It Out - ...while this side was a US number one.  Both of these great songs were recorded during sessions for Rubber Soul. 

Paperback Writer - This single was recorded in April of 1966 during the Revolver sessions.

Rain - The amazing B-side of that single.

Lady Madonna - We jump 1967 entirely and pick up with this rocking single from March, 1968.  It was recorded during a series of sessions specifically designed to create a single for release while the group was in India studying transcendental meditation.

The Inner Light - The B-side features George Harrison's first song to appear on a Beatles single.  The Indian instruments were recorded at EMI's Bombay studio during sessions for Harrison's soundtrack for the film Wonderwall.  Vocals were added a month or so later at Abbey Road.

Hey Jude - The monster single from August 1968 was recorded during sessions for The Beatles, aka the "White Album."

Revolution - The B-side of that single.  Lennon had pushed hard for this to be an A-side, but once McCartney brought in Hey Jude, John acquiesced.  This could easily have been another double A-sided single, though.  Few acts have ever had the ability to produce two such widely different songs, each strong enough to be a hit, let alone put them back-to-back on the same record.

Friday, May 10, 2013

PAST MASTERS VOLUME ONE - side two

For anyone who might be wondering why I am still issuing these posts as "side one" and "side two" even though I am now covering material released on CD, the fact is that these collections were also available on vinyl and cassette.  I owned Past Masters Volumes One & Two on cassette years before purchasing my first CD player.  Furthermore, it is my hope that keeping each of my entries relatively brief will make for a more easily digestible experience for my potential audience.

Long Tall Sally - This Little Richard cover was only available on an EP of the same name in the UK.  It was recorded in one astonishing live take on March 1st, 1964 during sessions for the soundtrack of A Hard Day's Night.

I Call Your Name - This Lennon composition was also recorded on March 1st and appeared on the Long Tall Sally EP.

Slow Down - Side two of Long Tall Sally featured this Larry Williams cover recorded on June 1st, 1964 during sessions for the non-soundtrack side of A Hard Day's Night.

Matchbox - Rounding out the Long Tall Sally tracks was this Carl Perkins cover recorded in the composer's presence on June 1st.

I Feel Fine - The band's eighth single boasted this progressive pop song by Lennon.  It was recorded during sessions for Beatles for Sale in October of 1964.

She's a Woman - The B-side of that single was this bluesy composition from McCartney.

Bad Boy - Another Larry Williams cover.  This one was recorded on May 10th, 1965 following a request from Capitol Records in the US for a few new songs for their album Beatles VI.  It did not appear in the UK until A Collection of Beatles Oldies in December of 1966.

Yes It Is - This is the only song appearing out of sequence on Past Masters.  It was recorded in February of 1965 during sessions for the soundtrack of Help! and released as the B-side of Ticket to Ride in April of that year, a full month before Bad Boy was even recorded.

I'm Down - McCartney's screaming rocker was recorded in June of 1966 during sessions for the non-soundtrack side of the Help! album.  It appeared as the B-side of Help!, the group's tenth single.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

PAST MASTERS VOLUME ONE - side one

The job of assembling all of the Beatles non-album tracks for release on CD was handed to a fellow by the name of Mark Lewisohn.  In the mid-1980's, Lewisohn had been granted unprecedented access to the vaults at Abbey Road Studios and had listened to every known take of every song officially recorded by the group in order to prepare his astonishing book The Beatles: Recording Sessions.  Though there are many experts when it comes to the career of the Fab Four, none can match Lewisohn for his exhaustive first-hand research.  Indeed, much of my second-hand knowledge comes from his book and his insightful liner notes, especially those on the Anthology series.

Thirty-three tracks were selected by Lewisohn - enough to stretch over two CDs.  And though, as usual, die-hard fans could quibble over a few omissions, Past Masters Volumes One and Two quickly became as indispensable as the albums they were designed to accompany.

Love Me Do - The group's very first single featured this version, recorded on September 4th, 1962 with Ringo on drums.  For the album Please Please Me, it was replaced by the September 11th version with Andy White on drums and Ringo on tambourine.  In the US, this original recording had only appeared in 1980 on the Capitol album Rarities.

From Me to You - The third single, recorded on March 5th, 1963 - the first unqualified number one.

Thank You, Girl - The B-side of that single, recorded on the same day.

She Loves You - The fourth single, which ushered in Beatlemania.  It was also their biggest seller in the UK during their career.

I'll Get You - The fourth B-side, recorded on July 1st, 1963, the same day as She Loves You.  Oddly, the number of takes for these two songs is undocumented - a rare omission for the Abbey Road staff.

I Want to Hold Your Hand - The fifth UK single and the one that conquered America.  It was the first song to be recorded on four-track tape, all earlier material having been recorded on two tracks.  Starting with this song, everything on the rest of the CD is stereo, even though, as I stated in reference to the albums in my previous post, producer George Martin and the Beatles only cared about the mono mixes up through Get Back in 1969.

This Boy - The flip side of that single is also the first truly great B-side released by the group.

Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand - The German version of I Want to Hold Your Hand featured new vocals and handclaps over the original four-track tape.  It was produced at the request of EMI's Odeon label in West Germany.

Sie Liebt Dich - The German version of She Loves You was a complete remake.  Both were recorded at EMI's Pathe Marconi Studios in Paris on January 29th, 1964.  They also laid down the basic track for Can't Buy Me Love on this date.  This marked the only time that the Beatles made a record as a group outside of England during their career.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Beatles on CD

It took the advent of the compact disc for the Beatles to regain control of their own destiny.  Before EMI could begin to re-release the group's catalog on this new format, they had to obtain permission from Paul, George, Ringo and Yoko.  The surviving members had not been happy with the many compilations issued between 1973 and 1982, and took this opportunity to make a few demands.  First and foremost was that they would now decide what was and was not going to be made available to the public.  And Sean Egan surmises in The Mammoth Book of the Beatles that they probably also renegotiated their low royalty deal - pathetically low considering that they had been the biggest act in the world.

All of this took time.  A lot of time.  The first commercial music CDs in the world were issued around 1982.  By 1985, David Bowie had re-released his entire catalog on CD, and still there was nothing from the Fab Four.  Oh, there were the inevitable bootleg CDs in circulation, including a version of Abbey Road that I recall seeing, but fans were waiting with bated breath for the real thing.  Of course, producer George Martin took advantage of the delay and remastered every title ever officially issued by the group.  Finally, in 1987, we were rewarded for our patience.

The first four albums - Please Please Me, With the Beatles, A Hard Day's Night and Beatles for Sale - were finally released on CD on February 26th, 1987.  To the dismay of many undiscerning fans (and I must count myself among them at the time), they were issued in mono.  But remember that up through 1968, Martin and the Beatles themselves always concentrated on the mono mix - stereo was an afterthought to them.  The case can therefore be made that until the CD version of Abbey Road, only these four were issued as they were truly meant to be heard.

The public's voice was heard, and when the next batch - Help!, Rubber Soul and Revolver - were released on April 30th, they were now only available in stereo.  Sgt. Pepper, as befitting its status, was issued alone on June 1st, the twentieth anniversary of its original release.  One surprise occurred when Magical Mystery Tour appeared (out of sequence, in fact, after The Beatles and Yellow Submarine) in its American version, but the Capitol album had always been preferred over the Parlophone double EP even by British fans.  This was Capitol's one and only victory in 1987, but even that would change with time.

When Abbey Road and Let It Be came out on October 19th, the collection of albums by the Beatles on CD was at last complete.  But many of the group's singles had never appeared on albums in the UK, and they were still nowhere to be seen.  How would EMI and the Beatles handle the release of the thirty or so titles yet to be issued?  With two of the most incredible packages ever assembled, of course.