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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Beatles EP Collection

All of the group's vinyl EPs (with the exception of the unreleased Yellow Submarine, of course) were gathered together for the boxed set The Beatles EP Collection issued on December 7th, 1981.  This deluxe package included reproductions of the original sleeves, with Magical Mystery Tour boasting the 32 page booklet from its 1967 release.  In addition, MMT was issued here in both mono and, for the first time in the UK, in stereo.

The icing on the cake was a bonus EP which, like the "White Album," was simply titled The Beatles.  This disc featured stereo versions of four B-sides and used the same photograph as the Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever single from 1967 on its sleeve.

SIDE ONE

The Inner Light
Baby You're a Rich Man

SIDE TWO

She's a Woman
This Boy

The tracks are presented in reverse chronological order, boldly starting with Harrison's most authentic Indian-flavored song The Inner Light from 1968.  This is followed by an actual Lennon/McCartney co-composition Baby You're a Rich Man from '67.

I have not actually heard the record myself but Allen J. Weiner reports in The Beatles: The Ultimate Recording Guide that McCartney's She's a Woman from late 1964 is preceded here by a count-in.  The final track is a fake stereo version of Lennon's This Boy, one of the band's first great B-sides from 1963.

This collection was reissued in the CD format in 1992, retaining the sleeve reproductions, the mono and stereo versions of Magical Mystery Tour with its accompanying 32 page booklet and the bonus disc.  Though this is a very handsome item, it has always been a bit on the pricey side, thus making it something that only diehard fans and collectors would be truly interested in.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Yellow Submarine

Like the two Get Back albums compiled by Glyn Johns, a Yellow Submarine EP was never released but, according to Mark Lewisohn in The Beatles: Recording Sessions, a master tape for just such an item was sitting in the archives of Abbey Road Studios at the time Lewisohn did his research for his book in the 1980's.  What was the story behind this forgotten compilation?  

When the soundtrack LP Yellow Submarine appeared in January of 1969, fans had every right to be disappointed.  Many were upset that side two of the record simply contained orchestrations by George Martin, though this was actually just a variation on what United Artists and Capitol Records had done for the American versions of A Hard Day's Night and Help! respectively.  Most upsetting was the fact that there were only four new songs by the Beatles sandwiched between the obligatory title song and the July '67 A-side All You Need Is Love which factored prominently in the film.

The Beatles were sensitive to this criticism and once again (as with Magical Mystery Tour) decided to revive the EP format in an attempt to appease their fans.  Lewisohn records that on March 13th, Abbey Road employee Edward Gadsby-Toni compiled and banded a master tape with the following line-up:

SIDE ONE

Only a Northern Song
Hey Bulldog
Across the Universe

SIDE TWO

All Together Now
It's All Too Much

As you can see, the tape not only includes the four "new" songs from the film soundtrack but a bonus track, as well - Lennon's Across the Universe which was still unreleased at this point in time.  In order to accommodate the length of the songs, the EP was designed to play at the LP speed of 33 & 1/3rpm instead of the usual 45rpm of a standard 7" record.

Had this been issued in place of the album, it certainly would have been sufficient, but to release it after most fans had already bought the LP probably would have resulted in even more criticism despite the presence of a bonus track.  Wisely, the decision was made to keep it on the shelf.

The only downside of this was that Across the Universe remained unreleased at that time.  It would be fascinating to hear that version, however, as it is most likely the only version to feature all of the original instrumentation and all of the voices played at the original speed before George Martin, Glyn Johns and Phil Spector began toying with the track in different ways.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Nowhere Man

Parlophone continued its practice of releasing tracks that were seven months old with the arrival of this collection on July 8th, 1966.  The difference this time was that the Beatles were now developing rapidly in their songwriting and their use of the studio, making these songs sound almost out of date when compared to the previous month's single Paperback Writer b/w Rain.

SIDE ONE

Nowhere Man
Drive My Car

SIDE TWO

Michelle
You Won't See Me

The photograph on the front cover was relatively new, having been taken during the making of a promotional film for Rain.  The back cover gave the same details about the songs that had originally appeared on the Rubber Soul LP.  In addition, it listed some "swinging" EPs by the group that fans might also enjoy, but only the six most recent ones.  Even record company executives seemed to be sensing that the older material was already being regarded as quaint as the Beatles and their fans started to mature.

Lennon's Nowhere Man had recently been a single in the US and peaked at number three on the Billboard chart.  Though buoyed by some beautiful three-part harmonies from John, Paul and George and a chiming guitar solo by George, the song still comes across as a bit depressing due to its subject matter and the downward spiral of its melodic line.  Only in the bridges does the tune manage to soar.  McCartney's ultra cool Drive My Car perks up the proceedings.  Paul and John share the lead vocal as Paul's bass and George's lead guitar drive the song forward relentlessly.

Both songs on side two are McCartney compositions, beginning with the sentimental ballad Michelle.  Though this was one of those love-it-or-hate-it numbers for some fans, its overall popularity could not be denied.  The disc ends with You Won't See Me, a lesser-known tune which I have always loved.  It was a last-minute effort for Rubber Soul, though it is done with such superb craftsmanship that one would never suspect that to be the case.

The US chart performance of the title track was apparently no fluke, as this EP only managed to hit number four on the Record Retailer chart.  Whether that played a part in the decision or not, Parlophone discontinued issuing EPs by the group following this release.  It took the Beatles themselves to revive the format for their double EP Magical Mystery Tour (which I have already covered in an earlier entry) at the end of 1967.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Yesterday

The timing of the next EP to be issued, on March 4th, 1966, was somewhat peculiar, as it contained material not from the latest album, but from the one previous to that.  The four tracks featured, all of them from the non-soundtrack side of the Help! LP, were seven months old at the time of this release.

SIDE ONE

Yesterday
Act Naturally

SIDE TWO

You Like Me Too Much
It's Only Love

Once again, the back cover simply listed the tracks included and, in addition, advertised the ten previous EPs and their contents.

By making McCartney's Yesterday the title track of this disc, the Beatles and their team dispelled all of their past doubts and fears about that solo effort misrepresenting the group in the public eye.  By now, the song had been a runaway number one single in the US credited to the Beatles, not to Paul McCartney.  It was a worldwide hit and already well on its way to being one of the most-covered compositions in history.  The band had even added it to their live set list late in 1965.  The second track on side one, Ringo's cover of the country and western tune Act Naturally, had served as the flip side of the American single.  The group even added this number to their stage act in the latter half of the year as the drummer's vocal spotlight on some occasions. 

Side two begins with Harrison's You Like Me Too Much, a song he had originally written for consideration for the Help! soundtrack.  It lost out to his other composition I Need You.  The final track is Lennon's It's Only Love, a song he was never particularly proud of, chiefly because of what he deemed to be poor lyrics.

Apart from Yesterday, the material here is weak overall, though it should be pointed out that this is the most democratic of all of the group's EPs, with all four Beatles getting a lead vocal.  On the strength of the title track alone, the disc had no trouble hitting the number one spot on the Record Retailer EP chart.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Beatles' Million Sellers

Talk about stiff competition!  On December 6th, 1965, only three days after the release of both the double A-sided single Day Tripper/We Can Work it Out and the album Rubber Soul, a new greatest hits EP arrived in stores in the UK, just in time for Christmas.  Beatles fans must have been delirious at the array of high quality merchandise beckoning to them.

SIDE ONE

She Loves You
I Want to Hold Your Hand

SIDE TWO

Can't Buy Me Love
I Feel Fine

Robert Whitaker's photo on the front cover was already a year old, taken at the session which had produced the cover shots for the American album Beatles '65.  The back cover once again merely listed the titles of the disc's tracks along with a list of eight of the previous nine EPs, omitting Long Tall Sally.

The group's second EP, The Beatles' Hits, had featured their first three A-sides and one B-side.  Here, the sequence picks up with the fourth A-side, the song that truly launched Beatlemania, She Loves You.  Not only was this monster hit the first to sell over a million copies in the UK, but it would remain the band's biggest seller of their career.  The fifth A-side, I Want to Hold Your Hand, had the distinction of being the song that paved the way for the British Invasion in the US.

While the compositions on side one were co-written by Lennon and McCartney, side two's Can't Buy Me Love, the sixth A-side, is the work of McCartney, with some assistance in its arrangement by producer George Martin.  The seventh A-side, A Hard Day's Night, does not appear on this collection, as it did not achieve the million seller mark, possibly due to many fans choosing to hold off to buy the album of the same name instead.  Thus, the final song on this record is the group's eighth A-side, Lennon's composition I Feel Fine from late 1964.

Despite the other releases mentioned at the top of this entry, The Beatles' Million Sellers went to number one on the Record Retailer EP chart.  In fact, those other items also went to the number one spots on the singles and album charts respectively.  It was a Happy Christmas, indeed, for the Beatles and their fans.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Beatles for Sale (No. 2)

Two months after the EP Beatles for Sale, the ingeniously-titled Beatles for Sale (No. 2) arrived on June 4th, 1965.  The four tracks issued here definitely qualify as deep cuts culled from an album that was now six months old.

SIDE ONE

I'll Follow the Sun
Baby's in Black

SIDE TWO

Words of Love
I Don't Want to Spoil the Party

For the first time, there were no liner notes on the back cover apart from a simple track listing.  Instead, the eight previous EPs, along with their contents and catalog numbers, were listed.  This meant, of course, that all of them were still in print and available for purchase at record stores throughout the UK at that time.

Whether it was by design or not, all four of these songs are essentially duets by John and Paul, with one or the other occasionally taking a solo line or two.  These tracks highlight a period of close collaboration between the two songwriters which was already showing signs of coming to an end.

First up is one of McCartney's earliest compositions, the lovely ballad I'll Follow the Sun.  Paul sings the verses alone (sometimes double-tracked) on this song, then John joins in with his harmony line in the bridges.  Baby's in Black is an actual Lennon-McCartney 50/50 composition, an increasingly rare commodity even at this point in the group's career.  It's an odd piece, not nearly up to their usual standards, yet they chose to add it to their stage act in 1965.

Side two opens with Words of Love, the one and only cover of a Buddy Holly song the Beatles would officially record for release.  John and Paul imitate the rock and roll icon's vocal style, singing in a manner they would never duplicate.  Lennon's rockabilly I Don't Want to Spoil the Party rounds out the program with John and Paul trading the lead vocal line between the verses and the bridges.  George's twangy Gretsch Tennessean guitar dominates the band's sound on both of these numbers, as well as on Baby's in Black on side one.

Despite the presence of I'll Follow the Sun, the overall feeling of the disc is downbeat, a fact which may have contributed to its relatively poor sales.  It only managed to reach the number five spot on the Record Retailer EP chart even though it had no competition from any other Beatles' single or album for over a month.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Beatles for Sale

On April 6th, 1965, only three days before the release of the new single Ticket to Ride b/w Yes It Is, an EP arrived in stores in the UK with the title Beatles for Sale, featuring four tracks taken from the previous year's album of the same name.

SIDE ONE

No Reply
I'm a Loser

SIDE TWO

Rock and Roll Music
Eight Days a Week

For the back cover, press officer Tony Barrow wrote some extensive liner notes, giving more detailed information than usual about the four tracks appearing on the disc.  These songs are true standouts from the album - so much so that three of them had been considered as potential singles before Lennon came up with the hit I Feel Fine.  In fact, Eight Days a Week had recently been issued as a single in the US and had gone to the number one spot on the Billboard chart.

The songs on side one are the same two numbers which had kicked off the Beatles for Sale album.  Both are compositions by Lennon, starting with the stark but brilliant No Reply, which is surely the moodiest song chosen to open any Beatles album.  Next up is the rockabilly tune I'm a Loser which Barrow notes is most definitely influenced by Bob Dylan, citing John's great admiration for the American folk icon.

Side two opens with the only cover song on the record - a rollicking version of Chuck Berry's Rock and Roll Music, sung by John.  The boys decided to revive this crowd-pleasing number in their live act around this time, probably as a result of making this recording.  The program concludes with the swinging Eight Days a Week.  Though this composition is primarily by McCartney, John is more prominent in the vocal mix, making his voice the dominant one on all four songs on the EP.

Despite stiff competition from the new single, both releases sold briskly and this disc managed to go to the number one spot on the Record Retailer EP chart.