Wednesday, September 9, 2009


So the day is upon us: the long-awaited remastering campaign of the Beatles catalog, which hasn't been touched since the albums were first put to CD in 1987...

And, since unfortunately I couldn't nab myself a copy of the box set from EMI (though I did get a rather amazing--and surely soon-to-be collectible--two-CD sampler in the mail on Saturday), I have to acquire these the old fashioned way, purchasing them at my local Target and/or FYE. This, however, proves to be a bit of a challenge, as I only have select fundage to purchase only five of these titles. It's a conundrum that has proven to be a bit of a head scratcher, as I spent this past weekend arguing with myself over which of the five Beatles remasters I want to own on CD, especially given that I already have the band's entire catalog on vinyl and MP3. So, after endless self-deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that my first five purchases from these new Beatles reissues will be as follows (in order of importance):

1. Abbey Road
Ever since I was a wee baby, Abbey Road has been my favorite Beatles album. It was definitely up there with my mom, who played it all the time for me. Though the band was in turmoil during its recording, the unity and tension displayed across these songs gave Abbey Road a most perfect balance of beauty and brashness. Plus, there is nary a better Side 2 than old Abbey's, highlighted by the much-beloved "Abbey Road Medley", rife with tales about financial woes ("You Never Give Me Your Money"), praises to higher powers ("Sun King"), recollections of India ("Mean Mr. Mustard"), mannish women ("Polythene Pam"), inventive stalkers ("She Came In Through The Bathroom Window"), a tribute to a 17th century songwriter ("Golden Slumbers") and references to the Fabs inevitable breakup ("Carry That Weight"), climaxing with a final epic threeway guitar battle between Macca, John Lennon and George Harrison that's second to none ("The End"). It also contains the song Frank Sinatra once hailed as one of the greatest love songs of the last 50 years, "Something", which, coupled with the beautiful, early morning hymnal "Here Comes The Sun", established Harrison as a major songwriting force beyond the Lennon/McCartney axis. Not to mention "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", 7:47 of Yoko-inspired progressive dirge rock that stands as the Fab's most propulsive, explosive moment on tape. Sure, Ringo's "Octopus' Garden" is a little goofy, but who gives a shit? Five-year-olds around the world love it even forty years later and that's all that matters. And while Let It Be ultimately served as the band's final word in record shops worldwide, Abbey was the perfect punctuation mark to end the band's magnificent decade-long run; one that saw the stormy rainclouds of drama that mired the LIB/Get Back sessions give way to a silver lining to togetherness and brotherhood that can be so resoundingly heard in the last lines of the medley--"And in the end/The love you take is equal to the love you make." With Abbey Road, the Fab Four proved that in spades, clubs, diamonds and hearts.

"I Want You (She's So Heavy)" rehearsal, 1969:

2. Revolver

After getting their tootsies wet in the early days of psychedelia on Rubber Soul, the Beatles dove headfirst into the acid bath on Revolver, the band's seventh album. Backwards guitar playing, tape loops, mellotron, musique concrète, strings, horns and Indian music all came into play here, thus finding the Fabs completely abandoning their teen idol personas in favor of mind-expanding introspection and sonic experimentation. My favorite story about the recording of Revolver has to be about its most hypnotic and trippy number, "Tomorrow Never Knows", whose lyrics were influenced by Timothy Leary's book The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The song is considered to be a precursor to drone music and electronica, as McCartney, a renowned fan of German minimalist composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, was inspired to manipulate the studio's tape recorder to work on a continuous loop and encouraged Lennon, Harrison, Starr and their longtime producer George Martin to follow suit. So amazing.

Promotional video for "Tomorrow Never Knows" from the Love album:

3. Beatles for Sale

Split up and released as Beatles' 65 and Beatles VI here in the states back in 1964, the smiling faces of The Beatles present on the American versions hardly evoke the weariness the band portrayed on the cover of Beatles for Sale, which illustrated the Fabs' growing distaste for the whole "Beatlemania" phenomenon as it reached its crescendo of female screams with looks of fatigue on all four of their otherwise shiny, happy faces. Their fourth album in 21 months, it also depicts the band's growing influences beyond 50's American rock 'n' roll, most notably the sound of a rising young star on the folk scene named Bob Dylan replicated in the phrasing and style of Lennon's self-deprecating "I'm a Loser". While Beatles for Sale is indeed highlighted by one of the band's biggest hits, "8 Days a Week", there are deeper tracks on here that also deserve further praise and attention, notably "Every Little Thing", a McCartney-penned tune sung by Lennon, and "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party", another John-written number that further delves into his feelings of pain and alienation (albeit with a snappy beat). Even the covers get a little deeper and more obscure, like Lennon's take on Roy Lee Johnson's "Mr. Moonlight" and an incredible run through Buddy Holly's "Words of Love". This is definitely the most slept-on album in the Beatles canon to this very day, hands down.

Beatles doing "I'm A Loser" in Paris, 1965

4. Please Please Me
Before Beatlemania, the Fab Four were a quartet of young, hungry kids from Liverpool who sweated it out in the famed Cavern Club during the early 60s playing Chuck Berry and Little Richard covers as if the band's goal was to dive into the souls of their heroes and pull the songs out from their gullets. Enter George Martin, who brought the Fabs into their first foray at Abbey Road Studio and nailed a pitch-perfect replication of their raucous early gigs in three one-hour takes. 14 songs in a little over a half-hour, loaded with scalding takes on such early rock classics as the Gerry Goffin/Carole King Cookies hit "Chains", Bobby Scott's "A Taste of Honey" and, of course, Lennon's scorched-earth rendition of Phil Medley and Bert Russell's "Twist and Shout". As for the originals, the title track, "I Saw Her Standing There", "PS I Love You" and "Love Me Do" are essentially the Top 5 early Beatles songs. Even though late-period Fab fans get a little turned off to the pop buoyancy of the group's first few albums, Please Please Me is a must-own for any Beatles fan if you want to get a quality glimpse of the biggest band of all-time during their salad days.

Beatles' performing "Some Other Guy" at the Cavern Club, 1962:

5. Let It Be
Technically billed as the soundtrack album for the Michael Lindsay-Hogg film of the same name, Let It Be was the Beatles' 12th and final work as a group, though much of the material was recorded prior to Abbey Road. This album became legendary due to its exhaustive recording sessions, which are in and of itself worthy of its own box set(bootlegs of the sessions are at least thirtysomething compact discs long, depending on which set you own). Originally titled Get Back (after the album's funky key track featuring the dexterous keyboard work of the late, great "Black Beatle" Billy Preston) and under the auspices of producer Glyn Johns, the initial idea of Let It Be was to be a perfect bookend to Please Please Me, a back-to-basics recording cut live in the studio with minimal overdubs (complete with original album art replicating that of their debut), especially following the sprawling psychedelia of The White Album. However, following the band's breakup in 1970, the unreleased Johns tapes were handed over to Phil Spector, who worked his Wall of Sound magic on them to create the Let It Be we have all come to know and love. Well, except for Macca, who was unhappy with Spector's production. Paul ultimately got his way in 2003 with the release of Let It Be...Naked, a song-for-song recreation of the album utilizing the original Glyn Johns masters. However, if you are a fan of both Spector's production and the Fab Four, the original version of Let It Be will always be your favorite. Let's just hope they finally release the film on DVD and maybe a definitive official box set of the sessions, yeah? -Ed.

Original film trailer for "Let It Be":


Richard said...

Actually, the guitar duel at the end of Abbey Road is a 3-guitar thing, with Paul playing third guitar as well. Cool write-up, Ron.


Thanks, Richard. I updated the article. Never knew that. That's what I love about the Beatles: There's always something new to learn.