Tuesday, July 5, 2016

8 Beatles Archival Releases Psychobabble Would Like to See

For the past few years, sometime between now and autumn, the keepers of The Beatles’ archives—Capitol Records in conjunction with Universal Music—have announced a major release to coincide with the coming holiday season. Last year we got the 1+ Blu-ray video collection set. The year before that was the landmark mono vinyl box (as well as Criterion’s superb Blu-ray of A Hard Day’s Night). The year before that was a second volume of BBC sessions, the year before that was a deluxe release of the Magical Mystery Tour film, and so on. With so much Beatles product squirming around out there, it’s surprising that there are still some things that deserve to get yanked out of the archives and buffed up. Here are eight products Psychobabble wouldn’t mind seeing under the Christmas tree in 2016.

8. The Singles & EPs Box

All of The Beatles songs have been rereleased in various configurations, but one configuration that has not received much attention in recent years is the 45. In the days before The Beatles convinced the world that the pop album is a genuine piece of art, the single was considered to be their quintessential medium. A set of all of those terrific singles gathered in a snazzily designed carrying case would be pretty neat, whether it was a collection of Capitol sides, Parlophone sides, or dare I suggest mixing the bloodlines, both. Even with the vinyl resurgence, singles are not as popular as LPs, yet groups such as The Who, Cream, and The Turtles have all been the subjects of vinyl singles boxes in recent years. The Beatles seem a natural addition to that list of groups. The set’s value would be increased with the addition of all of their EPs and posthumous singles (“Got to Get You Into My Life” b/w “Helter Skelter”, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band/With a Little Help from My Friends” b/w “A Day in the Life”, etc.).

7. The Compilations Box

Perhaps an even more interesting way to repackage all the stuff we already own would be to give The Beatles’ compilations the same treatment their U.S. albums received in 2014. The Beatles haven’t been repackaged as often and heedlessly as, say, The Who, but there are quite a few compilations that would stir some serious nostalgia in longtime fans. The essential red and blue comps are the only ones that have received the attention of The Beatles’ catalog proper, but there are also the more compact hits packages A Collection of Beatles Oldies and 20 Greatest Hits (though that one may seem particularly redundant in light of 1); oddball theme sets such as Love Songs, Rock and Roll Music, and Reel Music (a selection of the most popular songs that appeared in their five films); and most essential of all, Rarities, which includes a few items that still aren’t available on CD (alternate mixes of “And I Love Her”, “I Am the Walrus”, and “Penny Lane”, for example). If Team Beatles really wanted to get creative, it could add some of the stranger compilations released outside the UK and U.S., such as The Essential Beatles from Australia, The World’s Best from Germany, or Por Siempre Beatles from Spain.

6. Analog Stereo LP Box

Three years after Capitol remastered and rereleased The Beatles’ CDs to much fanfare in 2009, a vinyl box of their stereo albums slipped out with less attention. The downside of the set is that it utilized the same digital remasters as the CDs, amounting to a box of unusually large, black, expensive, and easy-to-scratch CDs. Two years later, Capitol/UMe put much more care into releasing the band’s mono records on vinyl, exclusively using analog equipment and ending up with superior sounding discs. Since the release of the last stereo box was so recent, it isn’t likely that Capitol/UMe is ready to rerelease it the right way just yet, but giving the stereo albums the same deluxe treatment afforded to the mono ones might be something to consider in the future.

5. The Live in ’65 Collection

The Beatles’ performance at New York’s Shea Stadium on August 15, 1965, was a major milestone in Rock concert history. Playing to an audience of 55,600 screaming teen maniacs, The Beatles officially made ridiculous crowds and sprawling sports arenas normal—if terrible—ingredients of the concert-going experience.  A 1966 BBC special about the event captured the Shea show’s lunacy as The Beatles sweated through their military jackets while goofing through versions of “Help!” and “I’m Down”, as blown away by the mammoth audience as that audience was blown away by The Beatles. Released in 1977, The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl was a live album of another gig on that 1965 U.S. tour. While the constant white noise of teen screams prevents the album from being the ideal audio experience, it would be a rather inauthentic document of The Beatles on stage without it. A bonus-footage appended Blu-ray of the BBC doc and a remastered copy of the Hollywood Bowl album would make a dandy pair.

4. The Beatles at Budokan

A year after their well-documented Shea Stadium and Hollywood Bowl gigs, The Beatles traveled to Japan to perform at Nippon Budokan, a martial arts arena in Tokyo. Once again, a film crew was on hand to record the event. While The Beatles appear giddy and very in-the-moment in the Shea Stadium footage, they are much less so at Budokan. The weariness resulting from their unrelenting schedule is apparent in the film, as may be their discomfort in playing a gig following a bit of protest from Japanese citizens who considered allowing a pop band to play at a venue for traditional Japanese sports disrespectful. However, the film is an important document of The Beatles’ artistic development in that it shows how much they’d grown out of being the band they were just a year ago. The performance reveals the difficulty of performing more harmonically intricate material such as “Nowhere Man” and “Paperback Writer” on stage, while also showing how they tried to adapt with a really interesting electrified version of “Yesterday”. It makes me wonder how they would have tackled things like “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Field Forever” had they decided to keep gigging away a little longer (actually, they probably would have just avoided those songs just as they did everything from Revolver). As rough as some of these performances are, it’s still very cool to see The Beatles on stage at their creative high point, and The Beatles at Budokan would make a fascinating 50th anniversary Blu-ray release.

3. The Saturday Morning Cartoons Blu-Ray Box

Sloppily animated, atrociously voiced (John sounds like the upper class twit of the year), and containing a few episodes just as racist as Help! (expect to see buck-toothed “Chinamen” and Indians who slumber on beds of nails), the Beatles cartoon series that aired on ABC from 1965 to 1969 was hardly in the same league as the delightful Yellow Submarine even though Al Brodax and George Dunning were responsible for both extremely dissimilar entertainments.  Yet, even with all of its serious flaws, The Beatles remains a megaton of fun and a transporting rocket of nostalgia. Each episode is loaded with great Beatles music, and several of the later ones even manage some really groovy pop art-inspired imagery to accompany the songs. It would look great on Blu-ray, but I’d even settle for a DVD upgrade of the multitudinous bootlegs already out there. Alas, that racism issue might prevent these cartoons from ever seeing official release, and if I were Ringo, I’d go out of my way to block it considering how he is consistently depicted as the world’s biggest idiot. Even the other cartoon Beatles seem to hate cartoon Ringo.

2. Anthology 4

The most significant Beatles release since Let It Be was 1995’s Beatles Anthology. The bootleggers finally got a run for their money with two discs of officially-sanctioned demos, outtakes, alternate takes, and live rarities recorded between 1958 and 1964. The second and third volumes released in 1996 covered the rest of The Beatles’ career. Yet, these three volumes did not cover everything that needs to be covered. A few essential rarities, such as alternate versions of “Yellow Submarine” and “Here, There, and Everywhere” and the fan-club-only holiday classic “Christmastime (Is Here Again)” were only available on CD singles. Other delectable oddities, such as the epic avant garde experiment “Carnival of Light”, George Harrison’s excellent demo of “Sour Milk Sea” (a flop single for Jackie Lomax), and the Twickenham sessions that yielded such “why weren’t these on Anthology 3???” items as “Watching Rainbows”, the extended “Mean Mr. Mustard” jam, and the band version of “All Things Must Pass”, weren’t part of the Anthology campaign at all. With other oft-bootlegged oddities like George’s “Circles” demo, a second alternate version of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, and the insane full-length version of “Revolution 1” that morphed into “Revolution 9” that leaked onto the Internet several years ago, a fourth Anthology seems not only doable but also genuinely worthwhile.

1. Get Back/Let It Be Box

The most glaring hole in the catalog of currently available Beatles items is Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 documentary Let It Be. While every other Beatles film has been released in multiple formats—including the critically lampooned Magical Mystery Tour—the third feature film starring The Beatles has been systematically brushed under the shag carpet, allegedly because Paul McCartney bristles at its bad vibes and his own bossiness displayed in the film. Really, though, the bad vibes are minimal, Paul hardly comes off as an asshole, and there are some neat musical performances, most notably the famed rooftop concert that ends the movie. Nevertheless, Let It Be is slight by the standards of A Hard Day’s Night, Yellow Submarine, and even Help!, so to truly make this the ultimate Beatles archival release, a Let It Be Blu-ray needs to be just one piece in a broader set covering the entire project. That would include a vinyl copy of the originally proposed Get Back album to be released in 1969 before Phil Spector dripped up the recordings with his choirs and strings and several CDs of additional outtakes. And believe me, there’s no shortage of those, my friend. While cutting material for the Get Back project, The Beatles jammed through some of their own oldies but goldies (among them, “Love Me Do”, “Please Please Me”, and according to TheBeatles Bible.com, “Lovley Rita”!), favorite covers (“Be-Bop-A-Lula”, “Rainy Day Women”, “Midnight Special”, “Hi Heel Sneakers”, “The Lonely Sea”, etc., etc.), future solo songs (“Hot As Sun”, “Hear Me, Lord”, “Isn’t It a Pity”, “Every Night”, etc.), and much, much, much, much more. If Capitol/UMe treated this project with the same attention and respect it gave to The Beach Boys’ SMiLE Sessions, it could be the twenty-first century’s ultimate Beatles archival release!

Which unreleased item would you add to bring the tally to number 9, number 9?
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