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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.