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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.