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Friday, January 24, 2014

Real Love

On March 4th, 1996, the next component of the Anthology series appeared.  This time the process was reversed with the release of the single and EP Real Love in advance of Anthology 2.  The single featured Baby's in Black as the B-side.

Real Love - By the 1990's, the ex-Beatles paid so little attention to each others solo careers that Paul, George and Ringo were seemingly unaware that the demo version of this song had already been released as part of the soundtrack to the film Imagine: John Lennon.  Unlike Free as a Bird, this composition was complete, so it did not require as much original input from the Threetles.  The bulk of the work was left to producer Jeff Lynne and old friend engineer Geoff Emerick to make the sound of John's cassette blend with the overdubs, something they did much better on this number than they had on the previous one.  Once again, the highlights of the collaboration are the Beatlesque harmonies of Paul and George, and George's distinctive guitar work.

Baby's in Black - The inclusion of this number from the 1965 Hollywood Bowl concerts is nothing short of amazing considering that all four Beatles wanted nothing to do with The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl album when it was released in 1977.  For me, the best part of this track is not the performance of the song itself from August 30th, but rather John's typically outrageous introduction from the previous evening's show.  Of course, his remarks were most likely completely inaudible from the audience, but knowing that he was being recorded allowed him to express himself for posterity.  Given the great number of hits that the group had already compiled by this time, it strikes me as odd that they even chose this song for their live set.

Yellow Submarine - These next two tracks which adorned the EP are the first in the Anthology series to feature a new wrinkle - one that not all fans appreciated, either.  In this case, we have the same take we are all familiar with, but the sound effects have been brought to the forefront in order to showcase them.  Some are interesting when heard with such clarity, others less so.  The only truly fascinating addition here is Ringo's previously unheard spoken preamble to the song, though one can see why this incongruity was lopped off before the number was released.

Here, There and Everywhere - McCartney's perfect ballad from Revolver is given an unusual treatment, as well, but it is one that would be used multiple times on Anthology 2 and Anthology 3.  We first hear take 7 of the song with the group's simple but elegant backing track and Paul's guide vocal, but as the second bridge ends, a segue is made into a remastered take 13 to bring the number to an end.  While this combination of different takes is meant to be enlightening (and many listeners no doubt enjoyed it), the major criticism is that it simply does not illustrate the growth of a piece in the studio the same way a series of takes did so effectively on Anthology 1.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Free as a Bird

On December 4th, 1995, just a few weeks after the release of Anthology 1, Free as a Bird, which had already served as the lead track on that package, appeared as both a single backed with Christmas Time (Is Here Again) and a four song EP.  At first glance, the additional tracks on the EP - I Saw Her Standing There and This Boy - seemed redundant since they, too, were on Anthology 1, but these are studio takes instead of the live performances on the earlier release.

Free as a Bird - There was a quite a bit of nervous anticipation when it was announced that the Threetles would be overdubbing a John Lennon recording to create a "new" song for this project, and with good reason.  One of the main reasons that the group had not reunited during the 70's, even after they patched up their differences, was that they knew they could never live up to the hype.  But when Yoko offered a few of John's demo tapes to Paul, the temptation was simply too much to resist.  Paul, George and Ringo met in February of '94 to flesh out the tape of this song, which merely had John's vocal and piano.  Paul and George also added lyrics and a melody to the unfinished bridge.

Though fascinating, the end result could not escape being a disappointment, starting with the dirge-like tempo of the number.  Producer Jeff Lynne (of ELO and the Traveling Wilburys) is never quite able to mesh the thin sound of the demo tape with the 48-track studio technology at his disposal.  It is nice to hear Paul and George's Beatlesque harmony and backing vocals, and George plays his trademark slide guitar to great effect.  They add on a distinctly mid-60's coda to the song, featuring George on ukulele and a backwards message from John.    

I Saw Her Standing There - The version we have known for all these years was take 1 of this first great rocker by McCartney, but his famous count-in that opens the song is actually from this take - take 9.  The boys were clearly getting tired on their first full day in the studio, and multiple takes did not improve their performance of this number, especially George's guitar solo.

This Boy - By the end of 1963, they were already seasoned professionals in the studio, however, as evidenced by takes 12 and 13 of Lennon's three-part harmony tune.  They laugh off an early flub of take 12 and launch right into the next take, which holds up until John flubs a few lines in the final verse, causing another eruption of laughter from the boys.

Christmas Time (Is Here Again) - Though credited to all four Beatles, there isn't much to this little ditty, but it is one of the absolute joys of the Anthology series nonetheless.  The group sent out exclusive flexi-discs to members of their fan club every Christmas from 1963 to 1969 with little songs, skits and seasonal messages, and the '67 one featured the boys singing this tune along with producer George Martin and actor Victor Spinetti, who had appeared in all of their films to date.  We are also treated to some of those messages from '66 and a bit of Lennon gobbledygook over an organ playing Auld Lang Syne.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

ANTHOLOGY 1 - side six

Many critics and fans now consider the group's fourth album Beatles for Sale (and its American counterpart Beatles '65) to be a low point in the band's career, but I can assure you few of us thought that when they were first issued in late 1964.  Indeed, these releases helped the Beatles solidify their position as the number one act in the world at that time, a feat that no one could have predicted at the start of that momentous year. 

You Know What To Do - The group was most likely scheduled to record a fourteenth track for A Hard Day's Night on June 4th, 1964, but Ringo was taken ill and a replacement drummer named Jimmy Nicol was hastily called in to rehearse with the band so that he could fill in for the first few dates of their world tour, which began the next day.  Following the rehearsal, the other three Beatles recorded demo versions of tunes they had ready to go.  When the Anthology was assembled in the 1990's, George Harrison had absolutely no memory of this pleasant early composition, only his second to date.  It would have been interesting to see how they would have arranged this number had it resurfaced during the Beatles for Sale sessions.

No Reply (Demo) - John's demo on that day was a song that would resurface and be chosen to open that next album.  The lineup for this version probably has Paul on drums and George on bass.  John and Paul crack each other up repeatedly as they play around with the lyrics, particularly the phrase "your face."

Mr. Moonlight - In August of '64, at the second session for their fourth album, the group tackled this oddity with an arrangement close to the final version they recorded a few months later.  The major difference is that George plays a deliberately wobbly guitar part which would eventually be replaced by Paul on Hammond organ.  On this session tape, we hear John's voice crack the first time he attempts the opening shout of the title phrase.

Leave My Kitten Alone - At the same session, the boys also recorded the song most fans wish had taken the place of the previous number on Beatles for Sale.  We'll never know why that tune was favored over this one, but thankfully we can all enjoy this scorching rocker here on the Anthology.

No Reply - Picking right up where they had left off a few months earlier, John and Paul revived the "your face" joke on take 2 of this number.  But the arrangement, now with Ringo on drums and producer George Martin on piano, was already heading toward the dramatic feel of the master, take 8.

Eight Days A Week (False Starts) - We get a great glimpse into the evolution of this McCartney composition as John and Paul try a few variations on a vocal intro that would ultimately be scrapped in favor of an instrumental fade-in. 

Eight Days A Week - The complete take 5 still has a vocal intro and features a few differences in the ways they sing "hold me, love me" and the song's title.  I love the kicks Ringo adds on the drums before "ain't got nothing but love" and wonder why it was decided to drop them.  The boys also sing "oohs" on the outro at this point.

Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! - The released version of Paul's Little Richard tribute was take 1, but they did make an additional attempt at the number before that decision was made.  Not a huge difference, but this second take is simply not quite as good.