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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Beatles EP Collection

All of the group's vinyl EPs (with the exception of the unreleased Yellow Submarine, of course) were gathered together for the boxed set The Beatles EP Collection issued on December 7th, 1981.  This deluxe package included reproductions of the original sleeves, with Magical Mystery Tour boasting the 32 page booklet from its 1967 release.  In addition, MMT was issued here in both mono and, for the first time in the UK, in stereo.

The icing on the cake was a bonus EP which, like the "White Album," was simply titled The Beatles.  This disc featured stereo versions of four B-sides and used the same photograph as the Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever single from 1967 on its sleeve.

SIDE ONE

The Inner Light
Baby You're a Rich Man

SIDE TWO

She's a Woman
This Boy

The tracks are presented in reverse chronological order, boldly starting with Harrison's most authentic Indian-flavored song The Inner Light from 1968.  This is followed by an actual Lennon/McCartney co-composition Baby You're a Rich Man from '67.

I have not actually heard the record myself but Allen J. Weiner reports in The Beatles: The Ultimate Recording Guide that McCartney's She's a Woman from late 1964 is preceded here by a count-in.  The final track is a fake stereo version of Lennon's This Boy, one of the band's first great B-sides from 1963.

This collection was reissued in the CD format in 1992, retaining the sleeve reproductions, the mono and stereo versions of Magical Mystery Tour with its accompanying 32 page booklet and the bonus disc.  Though this is a very handsome item, it has always been a bit on the pricey side, thus making it something that only diehard fans and collectors would be truly interested in.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Yellow Submarine

Like the two Get Back albums compiled by Glyn Johns, a Yellow Submarine EP was never released but, according to Mark Lewisohn in The Beatles: Recording Sessions, a master tape for just such an item was sitting in the archives of Abbey Road Studios at the time Lewisohn did his research for his book in the 1980's.  What was the story behind this forgotten compilation?  

When the soundtrack LP Yellow Submarine appeared in January of 1969, fans had every right to be disappointed.  Many were upset that side two of the record simply contained orchestrations by George Martin, though this was actually just a variation on what United Artists and Capitol Records had done for the American versions of A Hard Day's Night and Help! respectively.  Most upsetting was the fact that there were only four new songs by the Beatles sandwiched between the obligatory title song and the July '67 A-side All You Need Is Love which factored prominently in the film.

The Beatles were sensitive to this criticism and once again (as with Magical Mystery Tour) decided to revive the EP format in an attempt to appease their fans.  Lewisohn records that on March 13th, Abbey Road employee Edward Gadsby-Toni compiled and banded a master tape with the following line-up:

SIDE ONE

Only a Northern Song
Hey Bulldog
Across the Universe

SIDE TWO

All Together Now
It's All Too Much

As you can see, the tape not only includes the four "new" songs from the film soundtrack but a bonus track, as well - Lennon's Across the Universe which was still unreleased at this point in time.  In order to accommodate the length of the songs, the EP was designed to play at the LP speed of 33 & 1/3rpm instead of the usual 45rpm of a standard 7" record.

Had this been issued in place of the album, it certainly would have been sufficient, but to release it after most fans had already bought the LP probably would have resulted in even more criticism despite the presence of a bonus track.  Wisely, the decision was made to keep it on the shelf.

The only downside of this was that Across the Universe remained unreleased at that time.  It would be fascinating to hear that version, however, as it is most likely the only version to feature all of the original instrumentation and all of the voices played at the original speed before George Martin, Glyn Johns and Phil Spector began toying with the track in different ways.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Nowhere Man

Parlophone continued its practice of releasing tracks that were seven months old with the arrival of this collection on July 8th, 1966.  The difference this time was that the Beatles were now developing rapidly in their songwriting and their use of the studio, making these songs sound almost out of date when compared to the previous month's single Paperback Writer b/w Rain.

SIDE ONE

Nowhere Man
Drive My Car

SIDE TWO

Michelle
You Won't See Me

The photograph on the front cover was relatively new, having been taken during the making of a promotional film for Rain.  The back cover gave the same details about the songs that had originally appeared on the Rubber Soul LP.  In addition, it listed some "swinging" EPs by the group that fans might also enjoy, but only the six most recent ones.  Even record company executives seemed to be sensing that the older material was already being regarded as quaint as the Beatles and their fans started to mature.

Lennon's Nowhere Man had recently been a single in the US and peaked at number three on the Billboard chart.  Though buoyed by some beautiful three-part harmonies from John, Paul and George and a chiming guitar solo by George, the song still comes across as a bit depressing due to its subject matter and the downward spiral of its melodic line.  Only in the bridges does the tune manage to soar.  McCartney's ultra cool Drive My Car perks up the proceedings.  Paul and John share the lead vocal as Paul's bass and George's lead guitar drive the song forward relentlessly.

Both songs on side two are McCartney compositions, beginning with the sentimental ballad Michelle.  Though this was one of those love-it-or-hate-it numbers for some fans, its overall popularity could not be denied.  The disc ends with You Won't See Me, a lesser-known tune which I have always loved.  It was a last-minute effort for Rubber Soul, though it is done with such superb craftsmanship that one would never suspect that to be the case.

The US chart performance of the title track was apparently no fluke, as this EP only managed to hit number four on the Record Retailer chart.  Whether that played a part in the decision or not, Parlophone discontinued issuing EPs by the group following this release.  It took the Beatles themselves to revive the format for their double EP Magical Mystery Tour (which I have already covered in an earlier entry) at the end of 1967.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Yesterday

The timing of the next EP to be issued, on March 4th, 1966, was somewhat peculiar, as it contained material not from the latest album, but from the one previous to that.  The four tracks featured, all of them from the non-soundtrack side of the Help! LP, were seven months old at the time of this release.

SIDE ONE

Yesterday
Act Naturally

SIDE TWO

You Like Me Too Much
It's Only Love

Once again, the back cover simply listed the tracks included and, in addition, advertised the ten previous EPs and their contents.

By making McCartney's Yesterday the title track of this disc, the Beatles and their team dispelled all of their past doubts and fears about that solo effort misrepresenting the group in the public eye.  By now, the song had been a runaway number one single in the US credited to the Beatles, not to Paul McCartney.  It was a worldwide hit and already well on its way to being one of the most-covered compositions in history.  The band had even added it to their live set list late in 1965.  The second track on side one, Ringo's cover of the country and western tune Act Naturally, had served as the flip side of the American single.  The group even added this number to their stage act in the latter half of the year as the drummer's vocal spotlight on some occasions. 

Side two begins with Harrison's You Like Me Too Much, a song he had originally written for consideration for the Help! soundtrack.  It lost out to his other composition I Need You.  The final track is Lennon's It's Only Love, a song he was never particularly proud of, chiefly because of what he deemed to be poor lyrics.

Apart from Yesterday, the material here is weak overall, though it should be pointed out that this is the most democratic of all of the group's EPs, with all four Beatles getting a lead vocal.  On the strength of the title track alone, the disc had no trouble hitting the number one spot on the Record Retailer EP chart.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Beatles' Million Sellers

Talk about stiff competition!  On December 6th, 1965, only three days after the release of both the double A-sided single Day Tripper/We Can Work it Out and the album Rubber Soul, a new greatest hits EP arrived in stores in the UK, just in time for Christmas.  Beatles fans must have been delirious at the array of high quality merchandise beckoning to them.

SIDE ONE

She Loves You
I Want to Hold Your Hand

SIDE TWO

Can't Buy Me Love
I Feel Fine

Robert Whitaker's photo on the front cover was already a year old, taken at the session which had produced the cover shots for the American album Beatles '65.  The back cover once again merely listed the titles of the disc's tracks along with a list of eight of the previous nine EPs, omitting Long Tall Sally.

The group's second EP, The Beatles' Hits, had featured their first three A-sides and one B-side.  Here, the sequence picks up with the fourth A-side, the song that truly launched Beatlemania, She Loves You.  Not only was this monster hit the first to sell over a million copies in the UK, but it would remain the band's biggest seller of their career.  The fifth A-side, I Want to Hold Your Hand, had the distinction of being the song that paved the way for the British Invasion in the US.

While the compositions on side one were co-written by Lennon and McCartney, side two's Can't Buy Me Love, the sixth A-side, is the work of McCartney, with some assistance in its arrangement by producer George Martin.  The seventh A-side, A Hard Day's Night, does not appear on this collection, as it did not achieve the million seller mark, possibly due to many fans choosing to hold off to buy the album of the same name instead.  Thus, the final song on this record is the group's eighth A-side, Lennon's composition I Feel Fine from late 1964.

Despite the other releases mentioned at the top of this entry, The Beatles' Million Sellers went to number one on the Record Retailer EP chart.  In fact, those other items also went to the number one spots on the singles and album charts respectively.  It was a Happy Christmas, indeed, for the Beatles and their fans.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Beatles for Sale (No. 2)

Two months after the EP Beatles for Sale, the ingeniously-titled Beatles for Sale (No. 2) arrived on June 4th, 1965.  The four tracks issued here definitely qualify as deep cuts culled from an album that was now six months old.

SIDE ONE

I'll Follow the Sun
Baby's in Black

SIDE TWO

Words of Love
I Don't Want to Spoil the Party

For the first time, there were no liner notes on the back cover apart from a simple track listing.  Instead, the eight previous EPs, along with their contents and catalog numbers, were listed.  This meant, of course, that all of them were still in print and available for purchase at record stores throughout the UK at that time.

Whether it was by design or not, all four of these songs are essentially duets by John and Paul, with one or the other occasionally taking a solo line or two.  These tracks highlight a period of close collaboration between the two songwriters which was already showing signs of coming to an end.

First up is one of McCartney's earliest compositions, the lovely ballad I'll Follow the Sun.  Paul sings the verses alone (sometimes double-tracked) on this song, then John joins in with his harmony line in the bridges.  Baby's in Black is an actual Lennon-McCartney 50/50 composition, an increasingly rare commodity even at this point in the group's career.  It's an odd piece, not nearly up to their usual standards, yet they chose to add it to their stage act in 1965.

Side two opens with Words of Love, the one and only cover of a Buddy Holly song the Beatles would officially record for release.  John and Paul imitate the rock and roll icon's vocal style, singing in a manner they would never duplicate.  Lennon's rockabilly I Don't Want to Spoil the Party rounds out the program with John and Paul trading the lead vocal line between the verses and the bridges.  George's twangy Gretsch Tennessean guitar dominates the band's sound on both of these numbers, as well as on Baby's in Black on side one.

Despite the presence of I'll Follow the Sun, the overall feeling of the disc is downbeat, a fact which may have contributed to its relatively poor sales.  It only managed to reach the number five spot on the Record Retailer EP chart even though it had no competition from any other Beatles' single or album for over a month.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Beatles for Sale

On April 6th, 1965, only three days before the release of the new single Ticket to Ride b/w Yes It Is, an EP arrived in stores in the UK with the title Beatles for Sale, featuring four tracks taken from the previous year's album of the same name.

SIDE ONE

No Reply
I'm a Loser

SIDE TWO

Rock and Roll Music
Eight Days a Week

For the back cover, press officer Tony Barrow wrote some extensive liner notes, giving more detailed information than usual about the four tracks appearing on the disc.  These songs are true standouts from the album - so much so that three of them had been considered as potential singles before Lennon came up with the hit I Feel Fine.  In fact, Eight Days a Week had recently been issued as a single in the US and had gone to the number one spot on the Billboard chart.

The songs on side one are the same two numbers which had kicked off the Beatles for Sale album.  Both are compositions by Lennon, starting with the stark but brilliant No Reply, which is surely the moodiest song chosen to open any Beatles album.  Next up is the rockabilly tune I'm a Loser which Barrow notes is most definitely influenced by Bob Dylan, citing John's great admiration for the American folk icon.

Side two opens with the only cover song on the record - a rollicking version of Chuck Berry's Rock and Roll Music, sung by John.  The boys decided to revive this crowd-pleasing number in their live act around this time, probably as a result of making this recording.  The program concludes with the swinging Eight Days a Week.  Though this composition is primarily by McCartney, John is more prominent in the vocal mix, making his voice the dominant one on all four songs on the EP.

Despite stiff competition from the new single, both releases sold briskly and this disc managed to go to the number one spot on the Record Retailer EP chart.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Extracts from the Album A Hard Day's Night

The second EP issued on November 6th, 1964 featured a title nearly identical to the first one, merely inserting the word "album" in place of the word "film," though that simple substitution accurately differentiates the contents of the two discs.  This release contained songs from the non-soundtrack side of the LP A Hard Day's Night, running them in the same order as they had originally appeared on that record.

SIDE ONE

Any Time at All
I'll Cry Instead

SIDE TWO

Things We Said Today
When I Get Home

On the back cover, once again, press officer Tony Barrow used some of his original liner notes from the album A Hard Day's Night, adding only a few new bits of information in reference to the specific contents of this disc.

The program begins with Lennon's tough but tender mid-tempo rocker Any Time at All.  This is followed by the Lennon rockabilly number I'll Cry Instead, which was always mistakenly listed as being part of the soundtrack in the US, yet never was in the UK, correctly so.

Side two opens with McCartney's beautiful and brooding Things We Said Today, which had also served as the B-side of the single A Hard Day's Night.  This, of course, begs the question as to whether or not this song should have been replaced by Lennon's equally beautiful and brooding album-closer I'll Be Back.  But that would have made for an all-Lennon lineup, as the final offering here is Lennon's When I Get Home, a wild recording that threatens go to off the rails both vocally and instrumentally until it comes to a satisfying conclusion.

While fans had been eager to obtain the soundtrack songs on the Extracts from the Film EP, thereby pushing that release to number one on the Record Retailer EP chart, they were decidedly less enthusiastic about this disc, causing it to peak at a disappointing number eight.  This would be the lowest chart performance of any EP issued by the Beatles during their career, which is surprising due to the quality of the material presented here.  Perhaps two releases on the same day forced fans, many of whom could not afford albums in the first place, to make a hard choice, and the well-known soundtrack songs made for a more attractive package. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Extracts from the Film A Hard Day's Night

Hard on the heels of the EP Long Tall Sally in June of 1964 came the release of the soundtrack album A Hard Day's Night in July.  Parlophone bided its time before issuing any material from that album in the EP format, then took the unprecedented step of releasing two EPs on the very same day, November 6th.  The first of these featured four tracks from side one of the LP (the soundtrack side) in the order as listed on the front cover pictured above.

SIDE ONE

I Should Have Known Better
If I Fell

SIDE TWO

Tell Me Why
And I Love Her

On the back cover, press officer Tony Barrow simply reused some of the liner notes he had written for the album to promote the film, though he did add a few more detailed descriptions of the songs included here.  He refers to these four songs as the "highspot items" from the album, obviously overlooking the two smash singles Can't Buy Me Love and A Hard Day's Night.

Lennon's I Should Have Known Better gets the program off to a joyous, rollicking start.  Most of these soundtrack songs were good enough to be singles (and, with the lone exception of Tell Me Why, all of them were issued on singles in the US) and this number fits into that mold perfectly.  This is followed by the stunning ballad If I Fell, also a Lennon composition.  Apart from John's vocal intro, it is sung as a duet by John and Paul - easily one of the most gorgeous of their entire career.

Side two opens with yet another offering from Lennon, the rousing Tell Me Why which launches the concert sequence at the end of the film.  This number features those trademark three-part harmonies of John, Paul and George which fans had already come to expect as a staple of the group's act.  As on the first side, we are then treated with a ballad, McCartney's beautiful acoustic tune And I Love Her, an example of a second-tier song that went on to become a well-loved standard in its own right, with numerous cover versions by other artists.

This oddly-titled release went to the number one spot on the Record Retailer's EP chart.  The same could not be said, however, of the companion disc also issued on that day.

Friday, November 13, 2015

All My Loving

Robert Freeman's famous shot of the boys from the album With the Beatles also graced the cover of their fourth EP, though in this version their turtleneck sweaters are clearly visible.  Released on February 7th, 1964, this new compilation combined two tracks from the latest LP with their first two B-sides, recordings dating back to 1962.

SIDE ONE

All My Loving
Ask Me Why

SIDE TWO

Money (That's What I Want)
P.S. I Love You

Press officer Tony Barrow's hype on the back cover reached new heights - justifiably so, as the group was in the midst of "conquering" the American market.  And while the older B-sides are still listed as being by McCartney-Lennon, the title song bears the more familiar Lennon-McCartney credit.

That title tune, McCartney's rollicking number All My Loving from With the Beatles, kicked off the disc.  This is one of those great second-tier songs that might have been a single (in fact, it was issued as a single by Capitol of Canada) and it was about to be the very first offering by the group to over 70 million Americans tuning in to the Ed Sullivan Show.  Next up was Ask Me Why, the B-side of the band's second single.  This is a surprisingly mellow composition from the young John Lennon, showing a tender side that he would reveal sparingly throughout his career as a Beatle.

Side two opened with a cover of the Motown rocker Money (That's What I Want) from the latest album.  John's delivery of this vocal is downright ferocious, demonstrating his tremendous range with a simple flip of the record.  The program ends with a jump back to the group's very first B-side P.S. I Love You, a song that shows young Mr. McCartney already able to come up with a fine standard that also could have served as an A-side.

By putting these two B-sides out on this record, twelve of the fourteen tracks from the LP Please Please Me had now been released on EPs.  Conversely, All My Loving and Money would be the only tracks from With the Beatles to be issued in this format.  Regardless of the unusual mix of materiel, All My Loving went to number one on the EP chart.

The next EP in sequence was Long Tall Sally on June 19th.  Since that disc contained previously unreleased tracks, I have already covered it in one of my earliest threads, so you may go back and read it at your leisure if you so desire.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Beatles (No. 1)

The third British EP from the Beatles was released on November 1st, 1963.  This one returned to the first LP Please Please Me as its source and took the first four tracks from that album, issuing them in the same exact running order.

SIDE ONE

I Saw Her Standing There
Misery

SIDE TWO

Anna (Go to Him)
Chains

Since this is the third EP, the significance of the title (No.1?) remains mystifying.  The front cover used a different shot by Angus McBean taken at the same photo session which had yielded the cover of the group's first LP.  And, as usual, the back cover featured more hype from publicist Tony Barrow.

As with the Twist and Shout EP, fans were treated to lead vocals from three different Beatles, showing off the band's range in a way that the singles simply could not do.  Side one kicked off with the tremendous opening track I Saw Her Standing There by McCartney - the band's first original rocker.  This was followed by Misery, a composition credited primarily to Lennon, though it is sung as a duet by John and Paul. Despite the title, the song is delivered in an upbeat, tongue-in-cheek manner by the boys, who seem to be on the verge of laughter during the fade-out.

Two cover versions make up the second side of the record, the first being Anna (Go to Him).  With backup from Paul and George, John delivers a heartfelt vocal performance of this torch song by one of his personal favorites, Arthur Alexander.  The final number, Chains, is by the famous Brill Building songwriting team of Goffin and King.  George takes the lead vocal on the verses of this tune which had originally been recorded by the American girl group the Cookies.  The refrains feature one of the earliest examples on record of the superb three-part harmony that John, Paul and George had perfected through countless hours of live shows in Liverpool and Hamburg.

This release stopped just short of the top spot on the Record Retailer EP chart, peaking at number two.  Either not enough fans were still looking for material that had now been available for eight months or, perhaps, they were saving their money for the forthcoming second LP With the Beatles, which was due out in a mere three weeks.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Beatles' Hits

The fourth UK single She Loves You b/w I'll Get You had just taken the country by storm when this record was released on September 6th, 1963.  This was only the second EP from the group and, perhaps surprisingly, instead of being more tracks from the album Please Please Me, it was a collection made up entirely from singles.  The lineup was the same as listed on the cover pictured above.

SIDE ONE

From Me to You
Thank You Girl

SIDE TWO

Please Please Me
Love Me Do

Once again the back cover featured some hype by Beatles' press officer Tony Barrow.  More than a year before their next press officer Derek Taylor wrote his oft-quoted liner notes for the LP Beatles for Sale, Barrow penned a very similar bit of conjecture, challenging fans to pull out this record ten years into the future and betting them that people would still be talking about the Lennon and McCartney Songbook.  In both cases, it was either amazing foresight or great PR - or simply a combination of the two.

Side one of the EP contained both sides of the third single - From Me to You and its B-side Thank You Girl.  Both are true Lennon-McCartney collaborations (although all songs were still listed as McCartney-Lennon at this point in time), and are equally strong tracks demonstrating the rapidly growing pop craftsmanship of that songwriting partnership.

Side two moved backwards through time giving fans just the A-sides of the first two singles.  Lennon's Please Please Me was the breakout hit which had topped all but one of the British charts and made the group a national sensation.  And McCartney's Love Me Do was, of course, the simple, raw tune that had started all the buzz in late '62.  The original single had featured the version with Ringo on drums but for this release, as on the LP Please Please Me, the remake with session man Andy White on drums and Ringo on tambourine was used.

The Record Retailer had a separate chart for EPs in the early 60's and, despite the fact that all of these songs had previously been available as singles, this disc went to number one, just as the first EP Twist and Shout had done.  (Coincidentally, it was the Record Retailer's singles chart on which Please Please Me had stalled at number two.)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Twist and Shout

The group's first EP arrived in stores in the UK on July 12th, 1963, featuring one of their most popular stage numbers as the title track.  Whether or not it was a conscious choice, the line-up just happened to be the last four songs from the debut LP Please Please Me, which had been available for four months at this point in time, though those songs appeared here in a different order than they did on that album.

SIDE ONE

Twist and Shout
A Taste of Honey

SIDE TWO

Do You Want to Know a Secret
There's a Place

The front cover used one of the earliest iconic photographs of the Beatles (so iconic that director Richard Lester made the boys perform similar jumps for a slow motion sequence in the film A Hard Day's Night) while the back cover contained some extensive and effusive hype by the band's press officer Tony Barrow, who points out that Do You Want to Know a Secret had also recently been a hit for Billy J. Kramer.

For fans who had only bought the group's first three singles, this disc presents an opportunity to hear the Beatles as more than just a hit-oriented unit.  Side one opens with the raucous number which had closed the first album, one of the surest crowd-pleasers in the band's repertoire.  The boys had not rocked this hard on any of the singles to date, nor had they presented a crooner the likes of the next number, A Taste of Honey.  Going from John's screaming of the Isley Brothers' rock classic to Paul's smooth take on a romantic ballad allowed the group to demonstrate their versatility to fans who did not own the debut album.

And, once the record was flipped over, a new treat awaited the uninitiated - a third lead vocalist singing Do You Want to Know a Secret.  George's handling of the sweet and simple tune Lennon had given him may have been awkward in comparison to Billy J. Kramer's delivery of the same material, but it showed the depth of the Beatles, a depth few other groups possessed by limiting themselves to having only one front man defining their sound.

The final tune, There's a Place, is written by Lennon, but he and Paul sing most of the song as a duet, with some plaintive harmonica fills already so familiar from the three hit singles.  While fairly straightforward, the composition reveals another kind of depth in the songwriting ability of the young Mr. Lennon who is dealing with something more here than the standard love song and (unconsciously, of course) hinting at the possibilities to come.

Note that three of these songs would appear on singles in America in March of 1964, with A-sides Twist and Shout and Do You Want to Know a Secret both reaching number two on the Billboard chart.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The British EPs

In my initial look at the official Beatles catalog as issued in the UK, I chose to bypass the superfluous EPs, most of which were released throughout the first half of the band's career.  I only dealt with Long Tall Sally and the double EP Magical Mystery Tour, as these contained original material that was an essential part of the group's musical progress.

In the 1960's, the EP or extended play record was the same size as a single (7"), but it generally featured two tracks on each side, usually compilations of songs already released on albums and singles.  They seem to have been less popular in the US than they were in England at this time.  In my recent thread of American releases, I covered the three official compilation EPs issued in this country during the group's career - one on VeeJay Records and the other two on the Capitol label.

So, if EPs usually only contained material already available, what exactly was their purpose?  The fact of the matter is that not everybody owned an expensive turntable capable of playing albums back in those days.  Many young fans simply listened to 45s on smaller devices.  I myself had one such record player given to me by my parents which, apart from its electronic components, was largely plastic.  It ran on batteries, was portable and perfectly suitable for listening to my small collection of singles.  Since it only played discs at 45rpm, it would have also served the purpose if I had bought any of the American EPs.

Those who did not purchase albums in Britain had to possess great patience, as Parlophone tended to issue EPs well after the same material was available in the LP format.  And, while the tracks on most of the EPs came from albums, some of the collections simply contain previously released singles and, therefore, would have been redundant for many fans.  They are an eclectic mix, as you will discover, and they present an interesting overview of the band's work, ranging from the instantly recognizable to some rather obscure songs.  If you didn't know who the Beatles were, you could get a pretty good sense of their impact between 1962 and 1965 simply by listening to these discs.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Long and Winding Road b/w For You Blue

March 1970 saw the release of Let It Be b/w You Know My Name (Look Up the Number) which would prove to be the final single in the Beatles' official UK catalog, though nobody realized this at the time.  Only a month later, however, Paul's first solo LP McCartney appeared along with an interview written entirely by Paul himself stunning the world with the revelation that the group known as the Beatles was no more.

While they may not have been working together anymore, the Beatles still existed as a corporate entity and manager Allen Klein was still tasked with raising revenue on the group's behalf.  The film Let It Be and its accompanying album were ready for release (indeed, Klein and the other Beatles had tried to stop Paul from issuing his album in advance of the group projects) and Klein saw yet one more way to squeeze some money out of the available material before the well dried up for good.

He allowed Capitol Records to take advantage of its new agreement to once again create an additional single and opted for The Long and Winding Road as the A-side.  The irony of this choice is incredible, of course, as this track was the straw that broke the camel's back as far as Paul McCartney was concerned.  He was outraged that producer Phil Spector had added a massive orchestra and choir to the basic track without his knowledge or permission and, when Paul attempted to have this slight addressed, nothing was done to appease him.  He therefore refused to change the release date of his solo album and drew up his mock press release.

The single was released on May 11th, 1970, one week before the final album appeared in stores in America.  Even though both songs are included on the Let It Be LP, the single still went to number one on the charts - the group's twentieth number one in the US in only six and a half years.

Though Harrison's bouncy tune For You Blue is the B-side, Billboard took the unusual step of listing the single as The Long and Winding Road/For You Blue on its chart as if it were a double A-sided record.  Cash Box, however, listed the songs separately, with the A-side hitting number one and For You Blue peaking at number seventy-one, proof (as if any were needed) that far more people were buying the record for McCartney's glorious ballad.

In the many years since the end of the group's career, Capitol's releases have been largely in line with the official compilations, though there have been occasional deviations.  I have tried to note as many of these as possible in my earlier entries regarding those collections.  For now, this long and winding road detailing the American versions of the Beatles catalog has come to an end.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

HEY JUDE

Though Allen Klein had given Capitol Records permission to once again issue compilation albums in late 1969, he apparently did not trust the American label to assemble one in keeping with his personal tastes and exact specifications.  And so, the Beatles' new manager hand-picked Allan Steckler, from Klein's own company ABKCO, to put together the next release.  According to the entry for this album on Wikipedia, when his work was completed Steckler even had the tapes mastered at Bell Sound Studios rather than at Capitol.

Made up entirely from American singles that had not appeared on Capitol albums, Steckler's lineup was as follows:

SIDE ONE

Can't Buy Me Love
I Should Have Known Better
Paperback Writer
Rain
Lady Madonna
Revolution

SIDE TWO

Hey Jude
Old Brown Shoe
Don't Let Me Down
The Ballad of John and Yoko

A mere ten tracks (probably because Hey Jude is twice the length of most tracks), resulting in what amounted to the running time of a standard eleven-track Capitol album.

As is always the case with compilation albums, fans can speculate endlessly over why certain tracks were omitted.  With only two tracks from 1964 and two from '66, Steckler's focus is clearly biased towards more recent material.  Thus, songs from the group's early days that had also never appeared on a Capitol album are still missing, such as Misery and There's a Place from the British LP Please Please Me, the A-side From Me to You and even the A-side A Hard Day's Night, though its American B-side I Should Have Known Better did make the cut.  One could also argue for the alternate single versions of Love Me Do and Help!, plus the latter song's great B-side I'm Down and the German rarity Sie Liebt Dich.

Steckler was no doubt afraid of Harrison's Indian-flavored B-side The Inner Light, but why oh why did he include the B-side Don't Let Me Down without its A-side Get Back?  Yes, the latter song would eventually appear on the LP Let It Be but Steckler had no way of knowing that, as Phil Spector had not yet begun his re-production work on the band's final album.

This compilation was originally given the title The Beatles Again.  First pressings still had that title on the label on both sides of the record and are surely of value to collectors.  It was released in the US on February 26th, 1970 and appeared in many other countries under the EMI umbrella, as well, though not in the UK.  It is the only album issued during the group's career that I do not possess in any format due to the complete redundancy of the material on it.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Capitol and Apple

Before his untimely death in August of 1967, manager Brian Epstein had set in motion a plan to build a company for his beloved Beatles.  At the first meeting after his demise, the boys foolishly decided that they would now manage their own affairs while carrying on with Brian's master plan.  Apple was naturally centered around the group's music, giving them their own record label, but it would also have other divisions including film, electronics and even a clothing boutique in London.  However, Apple Records would still be distributed by EMI and its worldwide network of labels such as Parlophone, Odeon and, in America, Capitol Records.

The final single by the Beatles to appear on the orange and yellow Capitol label was the March 1968 release Lady Madonna b/w The Inner Light.  Starting with the August '68 single Hey Jude b/w Revolution, the apple (shiny and whole on the front, cut in half on the B-side) became a familiar sight.

Capitol Records was now back in line with the British releases and remained so with the issue of the "White Album" in November of '68.  The January 1969 soundtrack album Yellow Submarine was the same as far as the music goes, but Capitol deviated in the packaging.  The back cover of the UK album reprinted a glowing review of the "White Album" from The Observer, deflecting attention from the obviously subpar record in the listener's hands.  The American label chose instead to print an amusing bit of hype for the outstanding feature-length cartoon associated with the soundtrack, comparing the Beatles to some great heroes of yore.

The next single, Get Back b/w Don't Let Me Down in April of '69, was issued in mono in England, as all singles had been up to this point.  But, giving in to the demands of the time, Capitol made the unprecedented step of issuing it in stereo, which would become the new norm in both countries beginning with the release of the single The Ballad of John and Yoko b/w Old Brown Shoe only a month later.  In October of 1969, Capitol released the album Abbey Road and the double A-sided single Something/Come Together with no changes from the British originals.

But, at the same time, major changes were occurring for the Beatles.  The group's attempt to manage its little empire for the past two years had been nothing short of disastrous and a nasty power struggle had taken place between McCartney and his bandmates over who should be brought in to keep everything they had from slipping away - either Paul's new in-laws Lee and John Eastman or brash American Allen Klein.  After a brief period of joint management (to nobody's satisfaction), John, George and Ringo's choice eventually won out.

Amazingly, the Beatles, still the biggest act in show business worldwide, had mismanaged Apple so badly that they were now cash-poor.  In an effort to improve revenues, Klein renegotiated the group's royalties deals yet again and eliminated the artistic agreement preventing Capitol from creating compilation albums and additional singles.  The American label wasted little time and began putting together a new album...good thing, too, because unbeknownst to all except the group's inner circle, John had quit the Beatles.

Monday, September 21, 2015

MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR

At the end of 1967, Capitol Records faced a dilemma.  EMI and the Beatles had come up with a unique package for the six songs which made up the soundtrack of the group's film for television Magical Mystery Tour.  The British release was to be a deluxe double EP with three tracks per disc, featuring a booklet with photographs of the production.  Capitol knew that the American market would never go for the double EP format. The label wanted to issue an album, but the band had not recorded any additional new material as they had for A Hard Day's Night and Help! sufficient to make up a second album side.

The answer to the problem was to use the A-side of the concurrent single Hello Goodbye (its B-side I Am the Walrus was already part of the soundtrack) and the two other singles previously released that year to create a standard eleven track Capitol album.  The lineup was as follows:

SIDE ONE

Magical Mystery Tour
The Fool on the Hill
Flying
Blue Jay Way
You Mother Should Know
I Am the Walrus

SIDE TWO

Hello Goodbye
Strawberry Fields Forever
Penny Lane
Baby You're a Rich Man
All You Need is Love

The American release also featured a booklet of photographs, only album-sized instead of the size of the British EP.  Capitol tinkered with the sequence of the soundtrack songs on side one, improving upon it to my way of thinking.  There was once again only the briefest of pauses between tracks as on Sgt. Pepper.  And I Am the Walrus had a four beat intro in lieu of the six beat intro of the UK stereo mix.

The result was a curious hybrid of a soundtrack album and a compilation album, but what a compilation!  The quality of the songs on side two from the 1967 singles, particularly Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane, is incredible.

All in all, this was a very attractive package which quickly became popular as an import in Britain, where many fans preferred it to the double EP.  In 1976, EMI Parlophone took the unprecedented step of discontinuing the double EP and replacing it with the album in the British market.  And when the group's catalog was issued on CD for the first time in 1987, Magical Mystery Tour was the only album to appear in its American format - a nice tip of the cap to Capitol.

Astute observers probably noticed on the inner sleeve that the film for television was presented by a company called Apple.  And one credit on the booklet read, "Editorial Consultants (for Apple): Neil Aspinall & Mal Evans."  While it may not have been immediately apparent to us, something big was already underway on the business side of the Beatles' affairs.

Friday, September 18, 2015

A Capitol agreement

Capitol picture sleeve for Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever
When manager Brian Epstein informed EMI that there would be no new album, or even a single, by the Beatles in time for the 1966 Christmas market, Parlophone Records in England compiled a greatest hits package entitled A Collection of Beatles Oldies, but Capitol Records curiously declined to issue it in the States, thus leaving "Yesterday"...and Today and Revolver as the only albums to appear here during that calendar year.  Yet, as 1967 dawned, it was Capitol that famously pressed Epstein for a new release from the group after such a prolonged absence (six months!) from the public eye, resulting in the brilliant single Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever and removing those two titles from the current project-in-the-works, disrupting the concept of an album about the boys' Liverpool childhood.

Around the same time, in January of '67, Epstein negotiated new royalty agreements with both the British and American labels.  An important part of the deal with Capitol as far as producer George Martin and the Beatles were concerned was artistic control of their releases.  Back in 1964, they had been delighted merely to have "conquered" the American market and to have their records appear on such a prestigious label.  They were quickly disappointed, however, by the way their output was repackaged for consumption by US fans, with albums bearing little or no resemblance to the British originals.  Martin had taken great care with the layout of each album right from the start, arranging Please Please Me as an approximation of the group's live act.  By the time of Rubber Soul and Revolver, the exact sequence of songs was considered to be essential, not only on the album as a whole but even on each side of the record.

Now, Capitol agreed not only to begin releasing the group's albums as they were issued in Great Britain but also to refrain from creating compilation albums and singles beyond the official worldwide releases.  The timing of this agreement could not have been better.

On June 1st in the UK and June 2nd in the US, two identical versions of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band were released.  Well, almost identical...  American pressings of the album did not include the high pitched tone or the gibberish on the inner groove at the end of side two, but the thirteen tracks are all presented in the same running order and with the same unusually brief pauses between songs as on the British release.  Even the packaging was identical, right down to the cardboard cutouts.  For the first time, the artistic integrity of the project was not compromised, much to everyone's satisfaction. 

Capitol stayed the course in July with the release of the worldwide single All You Need is Love b/w Baby You're a Rich Man but, at the end of the year, a problem arose which prompted the label to deviate from the program.

Monday, September 14, 2015

REVOLVER

On August 8th, 1966, only a month and a half after the arrival of the Capitol Records compilation album "Yesterday"...and Today, two new worldwide releases by the Beatles hit the stores in the USA.  First up was the group's second double A-sided single Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine.  It was the track sung by Ringo that proved more popular with American fans, though it stopped just short of topping the charts, peaking at number two.  The unusual thing about this single is that both sides appeared on the album released on the same day (this was also true of the UK versions issued on August 5th) - not the typical value-for-your-money attitude previously associated with the group's manager Brian Epstein, who made this decision.

Despite the redundancy of those two tracks, the album itself was a stunner, featuring the following line-up:

SIDE ONE

Taxman
Eleanor Rigby
Love You To
Here, There and Everywhere
Yellow Submarine
She Said She Said

SIDE TWO

Good Day Sunshine
For No One
I Want To Tell You
Got To Get You into My Life
Tomorrow Never Knows

This was the closest yet that Capitol had come to giving us an album that was akin to its UK counterpart.  (Vee Jay Records had come closest of all with its two versions of Introducing the Beatles.)  None of these tracks are leftovers from a past album - all are from the British version of Revolver and, for once, Capitol did not keep any in reserve for a future compilation.

The major difference was the lack of three tracks by Lennon which, as you may recall from my last entry, had premiered on "Yesterday"...and Today.  While those songs tilted that album heavily in Lennon's direction, their omission here shifted the emphasis strongly toward McCartney (heck, even Harrison has three tunes to Lennon's two).  And, though it is once again a pure coincidence, this happened just as McCartney was hitting his creative peak as a composer, making this release a career high point for the future Sir Paul.

Instead of the backwards guitars on the fade out of I'm Only Sleeping anticipating the sitar on Love You To, here we have the abrupt ending of Eleanor Rigby in front of Harrison's first Indian excursion.  McCartney's two piano-based numbers, Good Day Sunshine and For No One, have a different feel when separated by Lennon's guitar-driven And Your Bird Can Sing on the British album.  The UK release also features the fade out of Doctor Robert cleverly leading into the fade in of I Want To Tell You.  These variations demonstrate how a few seemingly minor adjustments can significantly alter the experience of listening to a sequence of songs.

Yet, for me, a huge fan of Mr. Lennon, his overall absence is not at all detrimental to the American record, in part because of the incredible strength of the album as a whole, and also due to the fact that each side ends with his songs, leaving his contributions etched in my mind.  Nevertheless, producer George Martin and the Beatles were tired of being frustrated by Capitol's liberty to tamper with the layout of their albums...but that was about to change.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

"YESTERDAY"...AND TODAY

The first half of 1966 had been uncharacteristically quiet as far as Beatles releases go, with only the singles Nowhere Man b/w What Goes On and Paperback Writer b/w Rain appearing in the US.  Capitol Records had even resisted the urge to issue yet another compilation album - until June 20th, that is, when the most wide-ranging collection to date arrived in stores.

"Yesterday"...and Today made news even before its release due to the infamous butcher cover, showing the group with raw meat and baby dolls in pieces.  Complaints from disc jockeys and reviewers who had received promotional copies of the album resulted in the recall of 750,000 units, which were either destroyed or had the new steamer trunk cover pasted over them for resale.  The Wikipedia article for this album contains extensive information about the price that collectors have been willing to pay over the years for original copies in various conditions.

As to the record itself, the line-up was as follows:

SIDE ONE

Drive My Car
I'm Only Sleeping
Nowhere Man
Doctor Robert
Yesterday
Act Naturally

SIDE TWO

And Your Bird Can Sing
If I Needed Someone
We Can Work it Out
What Goes On
Day Tripper

First of all, note that Capitol had reverted to its standard practice of giving us eleven tracks, after magnanimously treating us to twelve on Rubber Soul.  Furthermore, only five songs were new to American fans, as the other six had all appeared on singles over the previous nine months.

But the new tracks were glorious, starting with Drive My Car and If I Needed Someone, the last two leftovers from Rubber Soul.  Even better were the three world premieres from the current album-in-the-works, by coincidence all Lennon compositions.  When the request for material to fill out this album had come from America, producer George Martin had quickly prepared mono and stereo mixes of these songs for Capitol, but he would later submit them to further mixing before their release on the UK version of Revolver.  The most obvious difference is on the track I'm Only Sleeping, with the US mix lacking some of George Harrison's backwards guitar part.

The resulting album spanned almost a full year in the recording history of the Beatles, with a heavy emphasis on songs by John Lennon.  This could have been balanced somewhat if McCartney's great B-side I'm Down (recorded on the same day as Yesterday) had been included.  Instead, that track became one of only a few to somehow never appear on a US album during the group's career.     

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Nowhere Man b/w What Goes On

On February 21st, 1966, Capitol Records continued its policy of issuing a single created from two tracks it had held in reserve from the most recent British album.  Rubber Soul had presented the American label with a number of superior songs from which to choose a suitable A-side including Drive My Car, Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), Michelle, Girl and In My Life, but it was Nowhere Man that was ultimately selected.  And, banking once again on Ringo's popularity among Stateside fans, What Goes On was chosen for the B-side.

After Eight Days a Week b/w I Don't Want to Spoil the Party and Yesterday b/w Act Naturally, Capitol was hoping to continue its string of self-created number one singles, but this one stalled at number three.  (The number one spot for the entire month of March was occupied by The Ballad of the Green Berets, which held on to become the number one single of the year.)  In retrospect, perhaps McCartney's love ballad Michelle would have been preferable to Lennon's introspective mid-tempo number - the first non-love song produced by the Beatles.

The picture sleeve recycled a photograph from the back cover of the 1964 UK album Beatles for Sale, which Capitol had already used as the front cover for The Early Beatles in early '65.

The next single, both sides of which were recorded early on during the sessions for the group's upcoming album, not only featured two songs that were not about love, it also introduced a richer, bass-heavy sound uncharacteristic of anything else in the Fab Four's previous catalog.  Paperback Writer b/w Rain gave fans a tantalizing glimpse of the work-in-progress that would transform the band from live performers to full time studio musicians.

This worldwide single was issued here in the US on May 30th, eleven days ahead of its British release.  As it hit number one on the charts, work continued on the accompanying groundbreaking album so, in the meantime, Capitol prepared yet another compilation album.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

RUBBER SOUL

Promotional poster
On December 6th, 1965, two new releases appeared in the US, three days after similar releases in England and barely in time for the Christmas market.  First up was a worldwide single, the brilliant double A-sided Day Tripper/We Can Work it Out.  As I mentioned in my 2011 entry for this single, it is interesting to note that while We Can Work it Out was the number one hit here in the States, Day Tripper appealed more to the UK audience.

The accompanying album was remarkably similar to its British counterpart, yet substantially different, as well, due to the selection of the four tracks excluded by Capitol and the two substituted in place of those left off.  The American lineup was as follows:

SIDE ONE

I've Just Seen a Face
Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
You Won't See Me
Think for Yourself
The Word
Michelle

SIDE TWO

It's Only Love
Girl
I'm Looking Through You
In My Life
Wait
Run for Your Life

For the first time since Meet the Beatles! we were given more bang for our buck - twelve new songs instead of the usual eleven.  It was also the first time where it was not even necessary to put the group's name on the front cover - they were the most famous act in the world, after all.

I have stated before that it has often been suggested over the years that the American label was attempting to capitalize on the current folk/rock craze by opening the album with I've Just Seen a Face, a song left over from the UK version of Help!  If this is true, then Capitol had remarkable foresight in withholding that song (along with It's Only Love) from release months earlier.  The more likely explanation is that it was purely a case of sheer, dumb luck on the part of the label.  Omitting the electric-guitar tracks Drive My Car and If I Needed Someone does give the US album more of an overall acoustic sensibility, however.

I was still unaware of the differences between the US and UK releases as late as the early 80's until an acquaintance played an imported album for me.  I was stunned to hear Drive My Car open side one and to discover that there were fourteen tracks on the record.  It was only with the 1987 release of the group's catalog on CD and the appearance of Tim Riley's book Tell Me Why a few years later that I actually began to appreciate the importance of those differences.

Yet, for someone who grew up with the American releases, this version of Rubber Soul will always hold a warm spot in my heart.  In particular, I love the opening of side two with It's Only Love serving as a much better lead-in to Girl than What Goes On in my opinion.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Yesterday b/w Act Naturally

By the summer of 1965, Capitol Records had become very good at selecting just the right tracks to withhold from the latest UK albums in order to begin creating the next US compilation, as well as any future single.  In September, two songs were chosen from the four held in reserve from the non-soundtrack side of the British version of Help! for release as one such single.

The fact that Yesterday was one of those songs should come as no surprise, especially considering that there had been much discussion about issuing it as a single in England by the Beatles, their producer George Martin and manager Brian Epstein back in June when it was recorded.  The merits of the tune were obvious but, since Paul was the only Beatle performing on it, it was problematic.  Ultimately, it was decided that the record was not representative of the Beatles as a group, nor should it be released as a solo piece credited to Paul McCartney.

Capitol was not bound by such artistic constraints and, as the song was already gaining considerable attention despite being buried as the thirteenth track on the current British album, the label was free to issue it as a single attributed to the Beatles in the US market.  The surprise here is that it was not originally supposed to be the A-side.

That's right.  Ringo's popularity among American fans was still so strong that his country and western cover song Act Naturally was initially chosen to be the A-side of the single.  Fortunately, the powers that be at Capitol came to their senses in time and flipped the two songs before the single was issued.  According to Wikipedia, this decision was made so late that Capitol never corrected it in the company files.  I can confirm that the Capitol version of both the Red and Blue Albums in 1973 contained a cardboard insert listing all albums and singles issued on the label to date, and this single was still listed at that time as Act Naturally/Yesterday.

Released on September 13th, the record became the second Capitol-created Beatles' single (after Eight Days a Week earlier in the year) to hit the number one spot. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

HELP!

In April of 1965, Eight Arms to Hold You became Help! and the group duly recorded a Lennon composition of that name.  It was America's turn to get the initial release of the next record (this flip-flopping seems to have been the early pattern) so, on July 19th, four days ahead of the UK issue, we got the single Help! b/w I'm Down, the B-side being an insane McCartney rocker that unusually was not available on any album during the group's career, even in the US.

But, as great as it was, the single merely served to whet our appetites for the soundtrack album and the film itself.  This time, continuing the alternating trend, British fans were offered the album first, on August 6th, followed a week later by the American version.

Now, Capitol Records has taken a lot of heat over the years for this release, but the truth is that it was pretty much using the same model that United Artists had with its soundtrack album for A Hard Day's Night.  Only the seven new songs by the Beatles used in the film appeared on the record, as well as six pieces of incidental music (the opening one not even listed) from a fellow by the name of Ken Thorne.

SIDE ONE

Help!
The Night Before
From Me to You Fantasy
You've Got to Hide Your Love Away
I Need You
In the Tyrol

SIDE TWO

Another Girl
Another Hard Day's Night
Ticket to Ride
The Bitter End
You're Going to Lose That Girl
The Chase

Of course, if any fans had bought the most recent singles, they already had the songs Ticket to Ride and Help! in their possession, so they really got only five new tunes for their hard-earned cash.  And the gatefold cover, which contained photos and hype about the film inside, made the cost of the album an additional dollar to boot.

Unlike George Martin's score for A Hard Day's Night, Ken Thorne's music for this film is often downright wacky, matching the tone of the movie.  His brief variation on the James Bond theme opens the album before the title song (Capitol even kept this in front of Help! on original pressings of the Red Album in 1973) and, of course, we should never lose sight of the fact that Thorne's medley of tunes from A Hard Day's Night played on instruments from India helped to introduce a young George Harrison to a lifelong fascination with the music, culture and religion of that Far Eastern country.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

BEATLES VI

Following the somewhat uneventful release of the Capitol Records album The Early Beatles on March 22nd, 1965, there was a great deal of anticipation for the next worldwide single featuring the latest new material from the band.  This time, British fans were treated first on April 9th and we poor Americans had to wait a full ten days before Ticket to Ride b/w Yes It Is appeared in the US.  As you can see above, first pressings of the American single incorrectly used the working title of the group's second feature film on the A-side, and copies of this are now valuable collectors' items.

Around this time, Capitol had several tracks stockpiled, yet not quite enough for another compilation album, so the label made a direct request for more recordings in order to assemble a new collection.  This resulted in a unique event - the Beatles went into the studio on May 10th to record two rockers by Larry Williams specifically for release in the American market, though Dizzy Miss Lizzie would soon find its way onto the British version of the album Help!
The album, unimaginatively titled Beatles VI, was issued on June 14th with this running order:

SIDE ONE

Kansas City
Eight Days a Week
You Like Me Too Much
Bad Boy
I Don't Want to Spoil the Party
Words of Love

SIDE TWO

What You're Doing
Yes It Is
Dizzy Miss Lizzie
Tell Me What You See
Every Little Thing

Kansas City should have been listed as Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey! but it was not printed that way on either the front or back cover or the label, nor was Little Richard Penniman given credit on the label as co-composer of this medley along with Leiber and Stoller.

In addition to the remaining tracks from Beatles for Sale and the debut of the Larry Williams covers, both sides of the February single plus the B-side of the most recent single were included.  You Like Me Too Much and Tell Me What You See, both of which were not chosen for the soundtrack of the upcoming film, were being given their world premieres. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

THE EARLY BEATLES

On the heels of its biggest repackaging success to date - the creation of the number one single Eight Days a Week b/w I Don't Want to Spoil the Party - Capitol Records made its biggest miscalculation.  By March of 1965, it had been five months since Vee-Jay had lost its rights to the early catalog of material by the Beatles, so perhaps Capitol felt the time was right to repackage that material, but Vee-Jay had already oversaturated the market with the same sixteen songs so many times that its own repackaging attempts had met with less and less success over time.

Nonetheless, Capitol assembled a typical eleven track album with the following running order:

SIDE ONE

Love Me Do
Twist and Shout
Anna (Go to Him)
Chains
Boys
Ask Me Why

SIDE TWO

Please Please Me
P.S. I Love You
Baby It's You
A Taste of Honey
Do You Want to Know a Secret

Note that the song Anna's subtitle (Go to Him) is printed only on the record label, not on the front or back cover of the album.  Also, the photograph on the cover is not an early 1963 shot of the boys, as the title might suggest.  It is, in fact, taken from the back cover of the December 1964 British album Beatles for Sale.

When choosing eleven tracks out of the fourteen available from the group's first UK album Please Please Me, leaving off I Saw Her Standing There was probably a given, since Capitol had already released this song twice - as the B-side to I Want to Hold Your Hand and on the album Meet the Beatles!  However, the omission of both Misery and There's a Place - both fine, early Lennon/McCartney compositions - is hard to understand.  Neither of these tracks would appear on Capitol until the 1980 US version of the album Rarities.

The response to The Early Beatles, issued on March 22nd, 1965, was underwhelming to say the least.  Most fans must have already had the Vee-Jay album Introducing...the Beatles in their possession, as this release only hit number forty-three on the Billboard chart, making it by far the poorest performance of any official Beatles' album during the group's career (I am obviously discounting the oddball Vee-Jay repackagings).  Even the two-record documentary The Beatles' Story had gone all the way up to number seven, while every other American album went to either number one or number two.

Friday, May 29, 2015

An EP & an American #1

As 1965 began, Capitol Records surprisingly decided to issue a second Beatles EP.  Surprising because the previous year's Four by the Beatles had only hit number ninety-two on the Billboard chart, but it had inspired the label to start an entire "4-by" line for its artists.  Thus, on February 1st, 4-by the Beatles appeared.

SIDE A

Honey Don't
I'm a Loser

SIDE B

Mr. Moonlight
Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby

Of course, all four of these songs had already been released back in December on the album Beatles '65 but, as Bruce Spizer relates in his book The Beatles' Story on Capitol Records, Part One: Beatlemania and the Singles, the idea behind the "4-by" series was to "complement the artist's singles and albums and not compete with the performer's current hit single."  Still, this EP merely peaked at number sixty-eight on the charts even though, by leading off with Ringo's vocal showcase from the recent album, it seemed to be another attempt to cash in on the drummer's popularity with American fans.

Several years ago, I stumbled upon a copy of this record (minus its cardboard picture sleeve seen above) at a yard sale in a pile of singles.  Though it was very scratched up, I still considered it to be quite a find, and that was before I learned that Capitol deleted this item at the end of 1965.
On February 15th, only two weeks after the release of the EP, a new single arrived.  This one was a true stroke of genius on the part of Capitol (probably Dave Dexter, Jr., we should admit).  Two songs were chosen from the six still unreleased from Beatles for Sale to create the single Eight Days a Week b/w I Don't Want to Spoil the Party.  Whether Dexter or any other decision-makers at Capitol were aware of it or not, the Beatles themselves had considered releasing Eight Days a Week as a single before John came up with I Feel Fine, so it was clearly a wise choice.  Issued as it was in the dead of winter, this song was a natural hit and a breath of fresh air with its breezy pop sound, rising straight to number one and giving Capitol's repackaging campaign its first major victory.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

BEATLES '65

While Vee-Jay was flooding the US market with its final flurry of re-releases in the fall of 1964, Capitol was uncharacteristically laying low, though not for lack of trying.  With the permission of manager Brian Epstein and the Beatles, the LA-based label had recorded the group's Hollywood Bowl concert on August 23rd with the intention of issuing a live album, but the relatively primitive equipment of the time and the overwhelming screaming of the crowd made those recordings unusable (thirteen years later, producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick would find a way to create an album using those same tapes).

Instead, Capitol assembled a documentary album entitled The Beatles' Story and issued it on November 23rd.  Amazingly, this two-record set went all the way to number seven on the Billboard albums chart.  On the same date, the single I Feel Fine b/w She's a Woman was released, four days ahead of its UK debut.  These exciting songs were the first new material from the group since A Hard Day's Night back in the summer, and the single quickly became a number one hit.

On December 15th, just barely in time for Christmas, the latest album arrived - Beatles '65.

SIDE ONE

No Reply
I'm a Loser
Baby's in Black
Rock and Roll Music
I'll Follow the Sun
Mr. Moonlight

SIDE TWO

Honey Don't
I'll Be Back
She's a Woman
I Feel Fine
Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby

Eight of these songs were from the new British album Beatles for Sale (in fact, the tracks on side one of this album are the first six from that one, and in the same order for a change).  Of course, that left Capitol with six tracks in reserve for a future compilation.  In addition, we were finally treated to I'll Be Back, the one leftover from the UK version of A Hard Day's Night, plus the almost obligatory inclusion of the two songs from the latest single.

At this point, I find it necessary to invoke the name of Dave Dexter, Jr. - a name which lives in infamy for many Beatles fans.  It was he who had turned the group down on behalf of Capitol Records multiple times in 1963.  When the label eventually agreed to issue their material in the US, Dexter was the man who decided how to repackage it for the American market.  He also had the authority to reproduce the recordings, frequently sweetening George Martin's preferred dry sound by adding reverb.  The most extreme example of this by far is on the songs from the single, I Feel Fine and, most egregiously, on She's a Woman.  Yet when these tracks are followed on this album by Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby - a song on which Martin and engineer Norman Smith themselves added a tremendous amount of reverb to George Harrison's vocal - they don't sound that out of place.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Vee-Jay's last gasp

The over-saturation of material by the Beatles in the American market during the latter half of 1964 was only partly due to the multiple releases of songs from A Hard Day's Night.  The other side of the story involves our old friends at Vee-Jay Records, whose six-month window of opportunity to cash in on the early Beatles catalog was about to close on October 15th. 

The first flurry of activity occurred on August 10th, when Vee-Jay re-released the following four singles (two of which had originally appeared on its subsidiary label Tollie Records):

Please Please Me b/w From Me to You
Twist and Shout b/w There's a Place
Do You Want to Know a Secret b/w Thank You Girl
Love Me Do b/w P.S. I Love You

Fans seemed to have had enough of this older material as all four of these singles failed to even chart at this time.  Unfazed, the label made plans to re-release Introducing...the Beatles under various guises.  The album had been a great success for Vee-Jay despite the legal entanglements with Capitol Records earlier in the year.  In fact, when the Beatles appeared at the Hollywood Bowl on August 23rd, Vee-Jay presented the group with a Gold Record award for sales of 1.3 million units.
One repackaging took advantage of both of Vee-Jay's former superstar acts in a deluxe two-record set with Introducing...the Beatles on one record and Golden Hits of the Four Seasons on the other featuring Sherry, Walk Like a Man and Big Girls Don't Cry.  Though highly unusual, The Beatles vs. the Four Seasons is a truly outstanding collection for anyone who did not previously own any of this material.  Either many fans already did or the price of a double album kept them at bay because this release only hit number 142 on the Billboard album chart.
The other re-release was entitled Songs, Pictures and Stories of the Fabulous Beatles.  It was simply Introducing...the Beatles in a three-quarter gatefold sleeve with information about the boys printed inside that you might find in any typical fan magazine of the time.  This release performed somewhat better, eventually peaking at number sixty-three.  Though the covers of these two albums were new, Vee-Jay did not even bother to change the label on the record within, still listing it as Introducing...the Beatles.

On October 10th, just before Vee-Jay's rights expired, it also reissued Jolly What! The Beatles and Frank Ifield on Stage with a new cover depicting the Beatles as pictured at the top of this entry.  If the information in the Wikipedia article about this album is correct, less than one hundred copies were pressed, making this an extremely rare item and one of the most valuable for collectors.   

Thus ended the Fab Four's association with the tiny, troubled label that had taken a chance on them  and attempted to introduce them to the American market when no others would in early 1963.  From this point forward, Capitol Records would handle all future releases of the official Beatles catalog in the USA.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

SOMETHING NEW & Matchbox b/w Slow Down

On July 20th, 1964, the same date that the singles I'll Cry Instead b/w I'm Happy Just to Dance with You and And I Love Her b/w If I Fell were issued, Capitol Records also released the album Something New.  It contained all four songs from those singles, thus marking the third release of said songs in less than a month when you factor in the United Artists album A Hard Day's Night.

Probably because of United Artists' exclusive rights to an official soundtrack album tied in to the film, Capitol avoided including the title song and even I Should Have Known Better, though Tell Me Why did appear (and why was that song was not on a single in place of the non-soundtrack song I'll Cry Instead?).  It should be noted that the song A Hard Day's Night never appeared on a Capitol album during the group's career.

SIDE ONE

I'll Cry Instead
Things We Said Today
Any Time at All
When I Get Home
Slow Down
Matchbox

SIDE TWO

Tell Me Why
And I Love Her
I'm Happy Just to Dance with You
If I Fell
Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand

Oddly, the song I'll Cry Instead is presented in its full-length American version in mono, but only in its truncated British form on the stereo album.

Three songs from the non-soundtrack side of the British A Hard Day's Night album are featured, along with two cover versions of American rockers from the UK EP Long Tall Sally.  The final number is the German version of I Want to Hold Your Hand.  The inclusion of this track is curious, even taking into account that Swan Records had released Sie Liebt Dich a few months earlier.  Add to that the fact that Capitol left the terrific song I'll Be Back (also from the UK version of A Hard Day's Night) in the vaults for several months instead of  releasing it here.

It was not an uncommon practice for American record companies to issue songs as singles after they had already appeared on albums, so it should have come as no surprise to see the arrival of Matchbox b/w Slow Down a month later on August 24th.  This seems to have been a clear attempt to capitalize on Ringo's popularity in the US.  He had been the most popular Beatle with American fans from the start, and his wonderfully understated performance in the film only added to his personal fan base.

Ringo's take on the Carl Perkins number only reached number seventeen on the Billboard chart, however, while John's scorching rendition of the Larry Williams rocker on the B-side hit number twenty-five.  There is no question that the market was over-saturated at this point in time with Beatles' material, much of it redundant.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Capitol floods the market

For the second time in only a matter of months, Capitol Records learned that it had been outfoxed.  A legal settlement had finally been reached with Vee-Jay Records over control of the Beatles' earliest output, but there was simply no legal recourse to be had against United Artists.  UA had secured the exclusive rights to release the official soundtrack album of the group's first feature film back in 1963, months before Capitol even showed any signs of interest in the Fab Four.  But Capitol still maintained the rights to all of the Beatles' recordings, so it could also release the same material as long as it did not package that material as a soundtrack album. 

United Artists was allowed to issue its album first on June 26th, 1964 which, as I noted in my last entry, was a few weeks ahead of the film's premiere.  Capitol waited until the film's debut and then reissued most of the songs from the soundtrack, some of them more than once.  Though this was a clear case of overkill, sales were still impressive.  In fact, neither Capitol nor United Artists could complain in the long run.

Three singles appeared in rapid succession, the first on July 13th featuring A Hard Day's Night b/w I Should Have Known Better.  (The film's title song was the only single issued in the UK at this time, but it was backed with the non-soundtrack song Things We Said Today.  As with I Want to Hold Your Hand, Capitol somehow felt the need to change the B-side for the American audience.)  The label on each side of the single contained the words From the Motion Picture "A Hard Day's Night" A United Artists Release.

The next two singles both arrived a week later on July 20th - I'll Cry Instead b/w I'm Happy Just to Dance with You, and the two great ballads And I Love Her b/w If I Fell.  All four of these songs bore the credit From the United Artists Picture "A Hard Day's Night" (as pictured above) even though I am compelled, as always, to note that I'll Cry Instead is not used in the film.  The American version of the song both here and on the United Artists album is also about twenty seconds longer than the version released in England as the result of a different edit.

All three A-sides made the Billboard Top 40, with I'll Cry Instead hitting number twenty-five, And I Love Her coming in at number twelve and A Hard Day's Night becoming the group's fifth number one hit in the US market.

But Capitol wasn't content with merely issuing singles...

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A new label, a new album, A HARD DAY'S NIGHT

The decision-makers at United Artists had either remarkable foresight or extraordinary good luck in October of 1963 when they secured the rights to a feature film starring an English rock and roll band called the Beatles.  It was probably a combination of both, but the fact of the matter is that the group was completely unknown in America at that time, yet one of the main reasons that United Artists signed them to make a film was to also get the exclusive rights to the accompanying soundtrack album for release in the US market - a curious roll of the dice, to say the least.

But even before filming began in March of '64, the United Artists gamble paid off as the Fab Four unexpectedly became the hottest property in show business in the intervening months.  The only worry, if there was one, was that their popularity might peak before the film and album could be completed and released.  United Artists was permitted to issue their album on June 26th, a few weeks ahead of the film's premiere and even ahead of the British album of the same name, thus making seven of these songs world premieres.

SIDE ONE

A Hard Day's Night
Tell Me Why
I'll Cry Instead
I Should Have Known Better - instrumental
I'm Happy Just to Dance with You
And I Love Her - instrumental

SIDE TWO

I Should Have Known Better
If I Fell
And I Love Her
Ringo's Theme (This Boy) - instrumental
Can't Buy Me Love
A Hard Day's Night - instrumental

I'll Cry Instead (which is not an actual soundtrack song) is incorrectly listed on both the back cover and the label as I Cry Instead.

I'm sure I was not alone in hating the instrumentals by the George Martin orchestra, which interrupted the flow of each side of the album for me but, while the compositions and (to some extent) the recordings of the Beatles have a timeless quality about them, these instrumentals are positively stuck in time.  They are a perfect representation of how rock and roll was homogenized for the older generation in popular entertainment in 1964, and I now find them to be absolutely wonderful, especially the insanely kitschy version of And I Love Her.

Thankfully, the entire album is now available on CD both individually and as part of the 2014 release The Beatles U.S. Albums.