Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Review: Vinyl Reissues of Four Beatles Compilations

1966 was the first year The Beatles released only one LP. Since Revolver came out in mid-summer, this meant there’d be no new Beatles product for the Holiday spending season for the first time since With The Beatles appeared in November 1963. Parlophone took care of this by issuing the UK’s first official Beatles compilation, A Collection of Beatles Oldies. International comps would not appear until 1973 with the releases of two double-albums devoted to the 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 eras. Although Allen Klein compiled the so-called “Red” and “Blue” albums as counterattacks against an unsanctioned As-Seen-on-TV collection called Alpha Omega, they have become integral components of The Beatles’ discography. A lot of future Beatlemaniacs (such as your humble narrator) cut their teeth on these four records and went on to pick up everything else the band put out, both because they highlighted the high quality that surely lurked in every groove on every proper Beatles record and because they had so many gaps. The songs I knew from regular radio rotation that weren’t on 1962-1966 (“Twist and Shout”, “Good Day Sunshine”, “Do You Want to Know a Secret”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, “Got to Get You Into My Life”, “I’m a Loser”, “I Should Have Known Better”) or 1967-1970 (“When I’m 64”… ummm, there were way fewer of them on the second collection) forced me to hunt down A Hard Day’s Night and The Early Beatles and Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s, and I am forever grateful to Allen Klein for that (and only that) reason.

Even with the whole Beatles collection in hand, these first two major compilations are still great listens for those rare days when I just hanker for the hits. No, they are not perfect. Why is nearly half of Rubber Soul on the first collection but there are only two tracks from the superior Revolver? Why was that awful, echo-saturated version of “I Feel Fine” included on 1962–1966?  Why weren’t there any liner notes?

Capitol/Ume’s all-new vinyl reissues of these key compilations fix some of those issues. “I Feel Fine” doesn’t have all that echo. Liner notes that presumably first appeared in the CD reissues are included on large cards. Naturally, the track line-ups remain the same because you just don’t monkey that much with history unless your last name is Lucas and your first name is George. That’s fine by me. After all, Rubber Soul is very good.

The big news for Beatles vinyl aficionados is that like the recent Mono box set, the 54 mostly stereo recordings on these new editions of 62-67 and 67-70 were culled from the analogue masters, which means that you won’t hear the stereo mixes sounding better anywhere else on new vinyl. They are louder and deeper than the digital remasters from 2009, which you can hear on the Stereo box set or in much smaller doses on another compilation newly issued on vinyl.

1 was released in 2000 as a budget solution to anyone who somehow managed to not be so enchanted by the Fabs to want their entire output— or at least the more inclusive 62-66 and 67-70 collections. Gathering all the band’s British and American number-one hits in one place is a logical approach to compiling The Beatles onto a single disc, but it leaves some pretty brutal holes in the story while making room for songs that simply aren’t among their very best. “All You Need Is Love”, “The Long and Winding Road”, “Love Me Do”, and “From Me to You” are here, but “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “A Day in the Life”, “In My Life”, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, and “Here Comes the Sun” are not. Of course, altering the concept for this vinyl reissue would not make a lick of sense, but I’m not quite sure why Capitol decided to go with those 2009 digital remasters instead of the analogue ones used on the “Red” and “Blue” albums. So for song selection and sound, you’re way better off saving your pennies until you’re able to afford the reissues of those 1973 collections instead of settling for 1 even if you’re barely interested in The Beatles… unless you really want the full-size poster depicting picture sleeves from around the world that comes with it, which I admit is really fab.

I’m not exactly sure who the audience for Love is. Is it for Beatles completists who can’t stand the idea of not hearing their favorite band in every weird configuration imaginable? Is it for people who don’t think The Beatles are that great and could use a lot of unnecessary modernizing? I appreciate the amount of skill it takes to make a “mash up” and George and son Giles Martin do pretty good jobs mashing “Drive My Car” with “What You’re Doing” and “Come Together” with “Dear Prudence” or whatever, but to my ears, Love is really just a novelty to hear once and set aside before cracking back into Revolver for the 3000th time. I suppose the fact that it isn’t just the same old songs in the same old versions is what earned Love a spot among the “canon” compilations while others—Rock and Roll Music, Love Songs, Reel Music, 20 Greatest Hits, even Rarities—have bitten the dust. Whatever the reason, this one is now on double vinyl for the first time too.

Get Capitol/Ume’s new vinyl editions of 1962–1966, 1967–1970, 1, and Love on Amazon.com here:
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