Friday, January 10, 2014

Turn Left at Greenland, Part 1: ‘Introducing… The Beatles’ and ‘The Early Beatles’


In this new monthly feature on Psychobabble, I’ll be looking at how The Beatles were presented on long-playing vinyl in the United States.

“…Fah!”

A mistake. That’s how Americans first heard the biggest band in pop history on LP when Introducing… The Beatles was released on this day in 1964. Blame the engineer at the Universal Recording Corporation of Chicago. It has become something of a cliché to include the four-count at the beginning of a recording of a particularly blazing Rock & Roll number (just ask Bruce Springsteen). This was not the case in 1963 when that engineer heard a new song called “I Saw Her Standing There”. He assumed the mistake was its inclusion on the tape, and in an attempt to fix it for this strange English band’s American debut album, he sloppily snipped off Paul McCartney’s shouts of “One, two, three…” just short of that climactic “…fah!

That a mistake begins The Beatles long-playing introduction to America is appropriate considering how messy their presentation would be throughout their first three years in this country. It also isnt the only difference between The Beatles’ U.S. and U.K. debuts. In Britain, EMI’s Parlophone imprint released Please Please Me as a fourteen-track album. Because such a generous number of tracks would have necessitated paying more publishing royalties than stingy American record companies wanted to, U.S. LPs usually only had eleven or twelve tracks. For extra value, British record companies tended to leave singles off LPs to save consumers from feeling ripped off when buying both an artist’s latest releases at 45 and 33 rpms. In this way, Introducing… The Beatles was more similar to a British release. The Beatles’ second U.K. single was the first to be released in America. After EMI tasked entertainment lawyer Paul Marshall with dumping The Beatles on an American label, he managed to hook them up with Vee-Jay Records, which put out “Please Please Me” b/w “Ask Me Why” on February 22, 1963. These were the two songs initially clipped from Introducing… The Beatles.

The Beatles first appeared in the U.S. in a drearier image than they enjoyed in the U.K. On Please Please Me, they look impish peaking over the railing of EMI headquarters. On Introducing… The Beatles, they are posed stiffly in garish pink dress shirts against an ugly grey backdrop.
 
The album was supposed to follow that single by just a few months, but it was delayed after Vee-Jay’s president Ewart Abner stepped down after using company cash to pay off his own gambling debts. So Introducing… The Beatles was not introduced until the following January 10. This was just ten days before EMI finally took advantage of the cash cow in its stable and its Capitol Records released Meet The Beatles, 27 days before the boys had their first U.S. number one single with “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, and just one month before Beatlemania exploded with the boys’ appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show”. EMI used its ownership of the “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You” to legally block Vee-Jay from distributing further copies of Introducing… The Beatles. The impoverished label would not see their one opportunity to earn taken from them so easily and simply replaced those two forbidden tracks with “Please Please Me” and “Ask Me Why”. So much for British-style value. Thus Introducing… The Beatles could be sold again... at least until October 15, 1964. That’s when Vee-Jay’s right to distribute its small cache of Beatles songs expired according to a settlement between that label and Capitol.

With that, Introducing… The Beatles sank from history despite being the very first Beatles album released in America, a milestone of no small historic value. It has never been reissued in the United States in either its “Love Me Do”/“P.S. I Love You” or “Please Please Me”/“Ask Me Why” incarnations, leaving kids who grew up on the album stuck with fast forwarding through the first three seconds of “I Saw Her Standing There” and skipping the appropriate two tracks on their Please Please Me CDs to approximate reliving the experience of listening to their first Beatles album.

The withdrawal of Introducing… The Beatles had other consequences in America. When Capitol finally took advantage of the void it left on March 22, 1965, by reissuing Vee-Jay’s previous stash as The Early Beatles (complete with incongruously recent cover photo torn from the back cover of Parlophone’s Beatles for Sale), it was missing three tracks. In the case of “I Saw Her Standing There” this was not a big deal since Capitol had already used it on Meet The Beatles. More consequently, two Lennon/McCartney originals—the neat, girl-groupish “Misery” and the phenomenal, introspective “There’s a Place”—had been removed and would not be released on a Capitol LP until the Rarities compilation in 1980 (though Capitol did release both tracks in Canada as single B-sides, “There’s a Place” finding a place on the flip of “Twist and Shout” released in conjunction with The Early Beatles and “Misery” coming out on the back end of “Roll Over Beethoven”). This was a major blunder considering that a couple of the lesser covers, such as “Chains” and “Baby It's You”, would have made much more sensible omissions.

Unlike Introducing… The Beatles, The Early Beatles also monkeyed with the running order of Please Please Me. “Love Me Do”, which Vee Jay’s subsidiary Tollie sent to number one in the states in May 1964, was moved to the top position even though this lightweight folk-blues ditty made for an infinitely less forceful opener than the wild “I Saw Her Standing There” (incidentally, since “Love Me Do” and its flip side were never mixed in stereo, mono mixes appear on the stereo The Early Beatles, thankfully avoiding the duophonic or "fake stereo" treatment that would muck up many other stereo Capitol albums, as we shall hear in future episodes of this series). The even more out-of-control “Twist and Shout”, plumped out with a bit of extra echo (as was P.S. I Love You), was shipped from the climactic position on Please Please Me to the number two spot on The Early Beatles, somewhat lessening the impact of this delirious track.

From there, the running order basically followed that of Please Please Me, but those initial changes and the different number of tracks further altered the listening experience. As we shall see in subsequent episodes of “Turn Left at Greenland!—The Beatles in America”, Capitol’s records often differed from Parlophone’s by concluding on a melancholic note instead of a delirious one. Doing so ended many Capitol records with an unsettled ellipsis rather than a fully satisfying and very final exclamation point. The sensation created anticipation for the next release that was never far behind instead of implying the show had peaked and ended. On The Early Beatles this happens at the end of both side A. Had it totally mirrored Please Please Me from “Anna (Go to Him)” on, “A Taste of Honey” would have finished the album. Capitol made one more alteration by sending “Do You Want to Know a Secret” past that track to the end. This was a fairly smart move since having a Lennon/McCartney original complete the album is more satisfying than ending it with one of The Beatles’ least Rock & Roll covers. Still the emotional effect would have been similar since “Honey” and “Secret” are both slightly moody ballads.

With The Beatles’ rapid progression being fully evident on their previous American LP, Beatles ’65, The Early Beatles did not sound of its time when released in early 1965 and was largely treated as a closet-cleaning platter by Capitol. There was little promotion and it did not sell in as high quantities as the other Capitol LPs, only achieving its one-millionth sale in 1973 and going gold the following year. By that point, it had been the only way Americans could obtain such popular tracks as “Twist and Shout”, “P.S. I Love You”, and “Do You Want to Know a Secret” for the ten years since Introducing… The Beatles had been withdrawn. As such, it remained an important catalogue item until it was replaced by the more fulfilling Please Please Me on compact disc in 1987. Nostalgic Americans have gotten opportunities to return The Early Beatles to their collections with its CD release on the Capitol Albums Vol. 2 box set in 2006 and will be able to do so again this coming January 21st when it is rereleased on its own and as part of the U.S. Albums set. Because it differs so little from its UK equivalent and offers nothing outside the Please Please Me track list, The Early Beatles is really only valuable as nostalgia. Capitol made a much more interesting Bizarro-World Beatles album with its very first release on January 20, 1964. We’ll meet that record in next month’s installment of “Turn Left at Greenland!—The Beatles in America”…
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