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Monday, March 23, 2015

The American Versions

Let's "get back" to the very beginning, shall we?

Since I have now covered all of the original UK albums and singles of the Fab Four, as well as the bulk of the post-career compilations, I would like to go back to square one and take a look at the releases as those of us in the US remember them.  Though this is not the way producer George Martin and the Beatles themselves wanted their work to be issued, it was the only way that most American fans in the 1960's knew of their music.  The first time I heard the British version of Rubber Soul, I was confused by the fact that it opened with the track Drive My Car.  I had not even been aware that there was a difference in the way the albums were released in the two countries, let alone the variations in every other country worldwide.  Nor did I realize at the time that we had been getting a skewed picture of the group's development in the first half of their career.

The release in January of 2014 of The Beatles US Albums box set (pictured above), as well as the individual release of each album contained in that set, confirmed that there is still a strong interest for those packages.  Indeed, the 2004 release of The Capitol Albums Vol. 1 and the 2006 release of The Capitol Albums Vol. 2 had already proven as much.  These collections each contained both mono and stereo versions of four albums.  Vol. 1 featured Meet the Beatles, The Beatles' Second Album, Something New and Beatles '65.  The line-up for Vol. 2 was The Early Beatles, Beatles VI, Help! and Rubber Soul.  A third volume never appeared, so the remaining US albums temporarily remained in limbo.

The 2014 box set almost completed the picture.  In addition to the eight albums listed above, it also included "Yesterday"...and Today, Revolver, Hey Jude, the United Artists soundtrack album A Hard Day's Night and the two-record documentary The Beatles' Story.  Unfortunately, the Vee Jay album Introducing the Beatles was left out.  This meant that the songs Misery and There's a Place were nowhere to be found, as they never appeared on a Capitol release during the group's career.     

Back in 1963, manager Brian Epstein was not required to share in the vision of his artistic team.  He understood the need to compromise in order to reach his ultimate goal - to break his boys in the American market, a feat no British act had ever successfully accomplished.  The Beatles recorded for Parlophone, a small label belonging to the conglomerate EMI, which also owned Capitol Records in the USA.  When the band's second single, Please Please Me, went to number one in the UK, Epstein approached Capitol with great confidence, but Capitol turned him down, telling him there was absolutely no interest for a British rock and roll act in America. 

Knowing that he was now free to pursue other companies, Epstein contacted numerous US record labels, only to be rejected time and time again.  Only Vee Jay Records, a small outfit in Chicago, was willing to take a chance on an unknown guitar group from England.  This was in early 1963, almost a full year before the Beatles finally "conquered" America.  And it is where I will pick up the story in my next entry.

(Please note that I choose not to cover any of the recordings that the Beatles made in Hamburg with Tony Sheridan for producer Bert Kaempfert.  Though these were repackaged many times in the US after the boys became world famous, they pre-date their EMI contract and I do not consider them to be part of the group's official catalog.)

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