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Saturday, February 28, 2015

1

The Beatles greeted the new millennium by releasing what should have been the ultimate greatest hits collection.  While it does achieve the feat of putting all of these recordings on one CD for the first time, as usual, there are disputes about what does or does not constitute a number one hit in a few instances.

All tracks were remastered for this release, which was not as controversial a decision for most fans as the remixing done for the Yellow Submarine Songtrack, especially since the band's original producer, George Martin, was involved in the process this time.

Of course, the collection was also released in a vinyl LP format, so I will list the tracks (along with any pertinent comments) as they appeared on that 2-record set, as is my wont.

SIDE ONE

Love Me Do - This is the version with Alan White on drums and Ringo on tambourine which went to number one in the US in 1964.
From Me to You
She Loves You
I Want to Hold Your Hand - Starting with this track, all songs are presented here in stereo, though up until 1969, all of the original singles were mono.
Can't Buy Me Love
A Hard Day's Night
I Feel Fine
Eight Days a Week

SIDE TWO

Ticket to Ride
Help! - This, too, is the stereo version, but since this package is supposed to represent number one singles, it should be the mono release with the alternate Lennon vocal.
Yesterday
Day Tripper - This remastered version finally fixes the momentary guitar dropout in the final verse.
We Can Work It Out
Paperback Writer
Yellow Submarine
Eleanor Rigby

SIDE THREE

Penny Lane
All You Need Is Love
Hello Goodbye
Lady Madonna
Hey Jude

SIDE FOUR

Get Back - This was the last single to be released in mono in the UK, yet the first to be issued in stereo in the US.
The Ballad of John and Yoko
Something
Come Together
Let it Be
The Long and Winding Road

If you can find printings of the actual charts from the 1960's, the inclusions of both Yellow Submarine and Something are questionable (even William J. Dowlding's book Beatlesongs from 1989 does not list them as number one hits), yet they have come to be regarded as number ones due to some revisionist history.  But the exclusion of Please Please Me, the single acclaimed as the group's first number one in early 1963, is simply inexcusable.  Sadly, the Record Retailer, the chart used as a resource to assemble this collection, was the only UK chart on which the song did not hit the top spot at the time of its release.

Despite these inconsistencies, fans both new and old eagerly embraced this collection in a record-setting way.  Appropriately enough, the CD debuted in the number one position in the US, hit the top spot in many countries all around the world and eventually became the biggest seller of the decade.  Not too shabby for a group that had ceased to exist thirty years earlier.

Friday, February 20, 2015

YELLOW SUBMARINE SONGTRACK - side two

Still from the film's live action sequence
Baby You're a Rich Man - This was the first song to be specifically written and recorded for the film in 1967, but after it was hastily used as a B-side to All You Need Is Love only the intro made it into the movie.  The odd-sounding clavioline is more prominent than on the 1987 Magical Mystery Tour CD (though not as prominent as on my original vinyl album), and the vocals and echoing handclaps are right up front in the mix.

Only a Northern Song - In his excellent website The Beatles Recordings, Graham Calkin notes that this collection marks the first time this Harrison number had ever been released in true stereo.  Recorded in February '67 as a contender for Sgt. Pepper, it features multiple layers of sound, made even more complex when two different takes were overlaid to create the master in April of that year.  The many components are spread across the sonic landscape for maximum listening pleasure in this new version.

All You Need Is Love - The recording which benefits the most from these new mixes is this anthem from the Summer of Love.  The original always sounded muddy due to the fact that it combined parts recorded live during the Our World broadcast on top of an already-dense backing track.  Every element is cleaned up nicely here, giving the tune a new immediacy.  Though used in an abridged form by the animators, it is central to both the action and the message of the film.

When I'm Sixty Four - My ears do not detect any significant improvement to this whimsical track from Sgt. Pepper.  This song is used in a clever sequence as the submarine travels through the Sea of Time.

Nowhere Man - The original stereo mix of this Rubber Soul track was simply vocals on one side and instruments on the other (except for George's gorgeous guitar solo).  Here we have a beautifully-centered mix with a fuller sound overall.  

It's All Too Much - Harrison's psychedelic extravaganza closes out the album in all of its sonic glory.  This six-minute-plus track actually ran over eight minutes, which explains why we hear a verse in the movie that is not available anywhere else - and the film version is still extremely truncated.

The only song missing from this collection is A Day in the Life, though only the orchestral crescendo from that track is used in the film as the submarine voyage begins.  Of course, numerous other songs by the Beatles are referenced throughout the movie in the dialogue, as when Old Fred arrives in Liverpool and calls out, "Won't you please, please help me?"

Many purists were upset by the remixing when this package was first released in 1999, but they seem to have misunderstood that these mixes were done for the soundtrack and were never intended to replace those in the band's official catalog.  They merely offer an interesting alternative to the recordings we've known for all these years.  

Friday, February 13, 2015

YELLOW SUBMARINE SONGTRACK - side one

Taking advantage of new technology, a digital version of the soundtrack was created for the 30th anniversary re-release of the film Yellow Submarine.  This naturally extended beyond the work of the voice actors and the many sound effects to include the musical selections by the Beatles, as well.  The new mixes - some of them close to the originals and others dramatically different - were compiled for a tie-in album.  Perhaps recalling the criticism heaped upon the 1969 album - that it shortchanged the record-buying public - the decision was made to include all (well, almost all) of the songs used in the movie, even those that are represented by mere snippets in the context of the film.

Yellow Submarine - The new clarity of the digital sound is immediately evident on the title tune.  The sound effects are not brought to the forefront as strongly as they were on the Anthology's Real Love EP, but they certainly have more presence than on the master version we all know.  And John's echo of "a life of ease" is kept in.

Hey Bulldog - Lennon's late addition to the soundtrack features more prominent vocals, as do most of the tracks on this collection.  The promotional film for Lady Madonna, which was shot during the recording of this number in 1968, was re-edited and broadcast with this song to promote this new package in 1999.

Eleanor Rigby - The vocals are stronger without sacrificing the sharpness of the string octet.  And Paul's "Eleanor" at the top of the first verse is no longer double-tracked.  The use of this song as the submarine arrives in Liverpool is perhaps the best sequence in the movie, rivaling Can't Buy Me Love and Ticket to Ride from the group's earlier films as a stand-alone video.

Love You To - Only the slow introduction to this song is heard in the film when George's character is introduced, but his first Indian piece was remixed in full for this release and it sounds wonderful, with the vocals and instruments nicely balanced.

All Together Now - This song is used twice in the film.  First, when the submarine voyage commences, and in the live action sequence at the end featuring the Beatles themselves.  You can actually pick out individual voices in the chorus as they are spread out in the new stereo mix.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds - In truth, even though it was only done on four-track tape, the production on the Sgt. Pepper album was so far ahead of its time that little improvement can be discerned in the new mixes made from those master versions.

Think for Yourself - On the other hand, the new mix for this tune from Rubber Soul (one of the earliest songs used for the movie) is a marked improvement.  The film only uses the vocal track from the one line "and you've got time to rectify..."

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - You can really appreciate the vocal blend of Paul, John and George with the clarity of the new mix.  This song is central to the action of the film as the boys impersonate the real Sgt. Pepper's band in order to rouse the people of Pepperland.

With a Little Help from My Friends - As on the Sgt. Pepper album, the previous song segues straight into this number, though we only hear a bit of this one's first verse in the film.  This track sounds practically identical to the brilliantly-produced original version we all know and love.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

ANTHOLOGY 3 - side six

Something - The final demo done by George on February 25th, 1969 was the simplest, as he accompanied himself on electric guitar and sang his greatest composition.  He had some additional lyrics at this point which he ultimately dropped and replaced with his sensational guitar solo on the Beatles' sublime master version.

Come Together - By now, you probably know that the boys delivered many outstanding first takes over the years.  This one is yet another fine example.  Ringo, Paul and George have already found the smokey groove that this Lennon composition required, as John provides handclaps, occasional tambourine and a growling guide vocal until his voice cracks and he mangles a few lyrics.  And without the heavy echo of the master version, we clearly hear his eerily-prophetic "Shoot me" before each verse.

Come and Get It - Paul arrived at the studio ahead of the other Beatles (something he often did since he lived closest) and recorded this demo in one hour, including a double-tracked vocal, maracas, drums, piano and bass.  Only days later, he produced an almost note-for-note version of the song for Apple group Badfinger, thus giving them their first hit for the soundtrack of the Peter Sellers-Ringo Starr film The Magic Christian.

Ain't She Sweet - On July 24th, 1969, the same date as Paul's demo, the Beatles worked on the basic track of Sun King/Mean Mr. Mustard, two conjoined Lennon songs for the album's big medley.  Between takes, they slipped into a jam of this tune which they had recorded with Pete Best on drums back in their pre-fame days in Hamburg.  The key is a bit high for John, whose voice cracks throughout, but George's guitar work is sublime, and the mellow arrangement is a marked contrast to their earlier German beer hall version.

Because - After giving us all-instrumental versions of Eleanor Rigby and Within You Without You, the Anthology now presents an all-vocal variation of this simple, gorgeous Lennon composition.  John, Paul and George spent many hours over two days perfecting their three-part harmonies under the tutelage of producer George Martin.  He recorded them three times over, resulting in nine heavenly voices for the finished product.

Let It Be - While it makes some sense to place this McCartney hymn near the end of the series - after all, it was the group's last single and the title track of the final album to be released - this early take really belongs with the rest of the Get Back selections.  Paul seems to be introducing this song on January 25th, though the others soon join in, with John and George providing some nice backing vocals.  For no apparent reason, the Anthology tops and tails this take with remarks from John made on the 31st.

I Me Mine - On the other hand, this short ditty from Harrison absolutely belongs here.  It was the last new song to be recorded by the Beatles, though John had quit the group months earlier and was not present.  George, Paul and Ringo spent January 3rd, 1970 in the studio working on this tune so it could be included in the second attempt by Glyn Johns to create a Get Back album.  Months later, Phil Spector extended the song by repeating the chorus and second verse, then overdubbed an orchestra and choir onto the track.

The End - The only choice to bring this exhaustive collection to its logical conclusion is this closing piece from the Abbey Road medley.  The track picks up at the point of Ringo's drum solo, which we now hear wasn't actually a solo at all, as guitars (later deleted) continue to squawk around his steady beat.  Then a jump is made straight into the guitar duel, followed by the cosmic couplet and an enhanced version of the orchestra's grand finale.

But wait!  There's more!  (And I swear I even predicted this before hearing it for the very first time - though not in this exact form.)  Out of the silence, a sound grows: it is the final E major piano chord from A Day in the Life played backwards, getting louder and louder until the actual moment that John, Paul, Ringo and assistant Mal Evans struck the keys simultaneously.  The sound then fades as it normally did at the end of Sgt. Pepper. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

ANTHOLOGY 3 - side five

The Long and Winding Road - One of McCartney's finest compositions is presented here as he originally intended it to be heard, without the massive orchestra and choir that Phil Spector added to the track for the Let it Be album.  Spector also edited out Paul's spoken section in the middle and cut the song off after John's rising bass line, though Paul clearly continued to play a tinkling melody line on piano.

Oh! Darling - While the Abbey Road release of this McCartney tune features a masterful vocal performance by Paul, it is still a treat to hear Paul and John share the vocals as this song is introduced at the Get Back sessions.  And Billy Preston adds some tasty licks on electric piano, to boot.  As they finish playing, John announces that they have just learned that Yoko's divorce is final, so he launches back into the song and improvises a verse.

All Things Must Pass - The Anthology now begins jumping back and forth in time, moving ahead now to February 25th, 1969 when George went into the studio on his birthday to record demos of three songs he had ready to go.  He had presented this composition (and several others) to the other Beatles during the Get Back sessions, but it would not be issued until it became the title track of his epic triple disc solo album in late 1970.  This demo is gorgeous, featuring a distinctive double-tracked guitar part and a heartfelt vocal.

Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues - The Anthology now slips back to the Get Back sessions for a listen of this Buddy Holly B-side being tackled by the boys.  It's a slower tempo than on Holly's original version, but John does a pretty good job of mimicking his rock and roll hero's vocal style.

Get Back - This is the last time the group played the title number of these sessions, just as the police arrived on the scene to shut down the rooftop concert.  It starts out a bit shaky, especially when John and George's amplifiers are temporarily shut off during the first chorus, but once that situation is rectified they hit a groove, with Preston turning in a superb variation of his solo.  Paul then seizes the moment vocally, ad libbing about "playing on the roofs" and Loretta's momma having her arrested.  While it is certainly not the best take of the song, it is definitely the most exciting.

Old Brown Shoe - It's back to George's birthday for his demo of this uptempo composition.  He overdubbed two guitar parts onto his piano and vocal track to give a fuller sense of the feel he was going for with this toe-tapping number, even approximating the tricky bass line that Paul would eventually play on the master.

Octopus's Garden - By April of '69, the Beatles had begun sporadically recording a number of new tunes that would ultimately wind up on their final masterpiece Abbey Road.  The basic track of the second solo composition by Richard Starkey was laid down by the group on the 26th of that month.  This is take 2 and it is not much different from the master, take 32.  In fact, George has already worked out his rockabilly guitar line very well.

Maxwell's Silver Hammer - By July 9th, a concentrated effort on the album Abbey Road was well underway, though John had been absent due to a car accident.  He returned on this day, but did not participate in work on the basic track of this McCartney song.  That left Ringo on drums, Paul on piano and George on bass for 21 takes.  Take 5 is presented here on the Anthology and again, it is not significantly different from the master, though Paul immediately asks for "One more" at the end of the take.

Friday, January 16, 2015

ANTHOLOGY 3 - side four

The Get Back sessions of January 1969 are represented by the next batch of tracks.  As there were no proper recordings at the Twickenham Film Studios rehearsals in the early part of that month, all of these selections come from late January when the group reconvened at 3 Savile Row in their unfinished Apple Studios using borrowed equipment and adding keyboardist Billy Preston to the live proceedings.

I've Got a Feeling - This is the first official release of the take that engineer Glyn Johns used on both of his Get Back albums, neither of which met with the approval of the Beatles in '69 and '70.  The performance is quite good, featuring a particularly fine vocal by Paul on the bridge, but it breaks down before the final section.

She Came in through the Bathroom Window - McCartney debuted this composition at these sessions, though it did not surface until its appearance as part of the medley on Abbey Road at the end of the year.  This version is considerably slower and has some nice touches that I love, including John's harmony vocal on the chorus and George's pedal-tone guitar work.  After the take, Paul demonstrates what he terms a "classical" variation that he feels the song could use.

Dig a Pony - The Anthology chooses to give us a somewhat shaky runthrough of this Lennon tune - one not nearly as good as the rooftop version on the Let It Be album.  We do get to hear the "All I want is" line at either end of the song - something re-producer Phil Spector decided to edit out of that earlier release.  And John forgets his own lyrics in a few spots, which is not unusual for him, though the tricky wordplay of this composition makes it understandable in this instance.   

Two of Us - Another ragged runthrough - this time of a McCartney number.  The Beatles seem to be still working out the arrangement at this point, with no drumwork from Ringo before the bridges and some hesitant guitar picking the second time around.  Paul and John are also uncertain of which lyrics to sing at the beginning of some of the verses.  And the track is oddly faded out before it would come to a natural stop, as all of these live tracks were required to do.

For You Blue - The boys only spent one day working on this Harrison composition, yet they seemed to have a lot of fun doing so.  Paul plays an intro on piano on this take, though he does not take a solo during the instrumental break.  George's acoustic and John's slide guitar parts and Ringo's drums are pretty much the same as on the master.

Teddy Boy - McCartney tried to sell the group on this song on two separate occasions, both of which are represented on this combined take.  John grows bored at one point and starts calling out as if he were at a square dance in time to the music.  Paul would have to wait until he began work on his first solo album to make a proper recording of this little gem.

Medley: Rip it Up/Shake, Rattle and Roll/Blue Suede Shoes - Countless oldies were played during these sessions.  Few were complete versions and many were merely a line or two, but an extended medley occurred on January 26th.  Since there was no thought of releasing this jam, John and Paul's shared vocals are half-hearted in places, but the playing by the Beatles and Billy Preston is quite good on this sequence of tunes by some of their rock and roll heroes.

Monday, January 12, 2015

ANTHOLOGY 3 - side three

Glass Onion - This performance by the Beatles of this Lennon composition is the master version, but John decided to add sound effects to it during producer George Martin's extended holiday from the "White Album" sessions.  When Martin returned, he suggested a score for strings instead of the ringing telephone, breaking glass and shouts of "It's a goal!" - an idea John embraced.

Rocky Raccoon - Take 8 of this McCartney composition finds the basic instrumentation in place, but Paul is still making up lyrics here and there.  John suggests the line "he was a fool unto himself" for the spoken introduction before they start playing and Paul gamely gives it a try.  Rocky is from Minnesota on this take and Paul reacts to his verbal fluff "sminking with gin" instead of "stinking" among numerous other variations.

What's the New Mary Jane - For me, these are the most excruciating six minutes that the Beatles ever committed to tape.  The first couple of minutes are almost redeemed by some typical Lennon wit in the lyrics, but the tune he sets them to is mediocre at best.  The track then devolves into aimless, amateurish banging away on piano, guitar and various percussion instruments far too long for no good reason.  The decision to keep this mess off of the "White Album" must have been a no-brainer.

Step Inside Love/Los Paranoias - This track fades in on an impromptu version of a song McCartney wrote for Cilla Black's TV show.  As this occurred during a session for the basic track of his song I Will, Paul is on acoustic guitar with John and Ringo providing percussion.  Before resuming a proper take of the new composition, John's remark of "Los Paranoias" spurs Paul to ad lib a silly new song, which fades out after a minute.  All in all, this is a fun look at the creative synergy the group could still muster at its best moments.

I'm So Tired - This slow Lennon rocker was recorded in a single night.  The Anthology presents a version of the basic track made from three separate takes.

I Will - The Anthology now returns to the session for the basic track of this number - to the very first take, in fact.  The entire arrangement is already set, but Paul would not be satisfied until take 67 that he, John and Ringo had gotten it right.

Why Don't We Do It in the Road? - Take 4 of this McCartney number reveals that Paul originally sang one verse softly, switched to the howling voice he wound up using on the master, then continued alternating.  After several verses, he stops and asks, "What do you think?"  The next take would be the master, so the decision to stick with the strident voice throughout was made at this point.

Julia - Lennon's only solo performance as a Beatle was this beautiful tribute to his mother.  He starts singing here on take 2, but quickly stops and concentrates on his finger-picking.  When he begins singing again midway through the song, his playing breaks down.  This is followed by a fascinating exchange with Paul, who has been listening up in the control booth.  John is respectful and almost deferential to his longtime partner - a far cry from the disdain he would project in many future interviews.