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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.